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June Behrmann

June Behrmann is a longtime special education teacher (pre-K to grade 6) who retired for about two seconds, and is now prospecting for accessible instructional resources. Follow June on Twitter @aimnoncat. Thank you to AIM-VA: Accessible Instructional Materials for sharing this blog with us.

'We Need Diverse Books' Values Authors Who Know Diversity Personally, Including Disabilities

March 31, 2016

A call for submissions for the 2016 Walter Grant is out for new U.S. authors and/or illustrators who are diverse themselves and not yet published. The grant program is inclusive of writers who identify themselves as having a disability as well as other categories of diversity including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion that are listed in the grant application guidelines.

The tide turns

Where once many authors writing about disabilities may not have personally experienced a disability or divulged it, there is a move on to increase the supply of books with diverse characters written by authors who personally experience the diversity that they depict. Take as evidence the grant program from We Need Diverse Books™ that recently set a month-long submission date beginning on April 15.

Appreciating diversity

The grant is named in honor of Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014), a renowned author of children' s and young adult books known for his lifelong advocacy for diversity in youth literature. He was a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for the Library of Congress whose writing touched thousands of lives, says We Need Diverse Books™ (WNDB). In his memory, this grassroots organization of children’s book lovers created the Walter Grant program. The nonprofit organization "seeks changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people."

Identified with diversity

Five winners of the Walter Grant each will receive $2000. The deadline for submission is May 15. Only authors in the following categories need apply. Individuals must identify as a person with a disability, a person of color, a Native American, LGBTQIA+, or be from "a marginalized religious or cultural minority." Applicants should be "working toward a career as a children' s author and/or illustrator." Because many publishers are supporting various projects and programs at WNDB™ and all of them seek individuals that know diversity personally, it is safe to say a change is underway that may impact future national, state and local book, author, and illustrator awards.

Defining diversity

"Being married to, a parent of, or a sibling of a diverse person, or being someone who has grown up with diverse people, will not qualify an otherwise ineligible applicant," according to the grant rules.

Tips for teachers

Teachers can support WNDB™ in many ways, according to Ellen Oh, the organization's founder, president, and author of the Prophecy Series and other books for young adults and middle grades.

They can buy, read, and champion them she told writer Rachel Carter in an interview on BookTrib, an online destination for book lovers. The article values diverse books for their positive impact on giving young people a chance to see reflections of themselves in literature, learning the true nature of the world around them, and seeing themselves in characters and their environment. The article is a worthwhile read.


Watch for the full submission guidelines on the WMDB website or direct questions to [email protected]. Learn more about diverse books:

  • Download the free 2015 Booktalking Kit in partnership with the School Library Journal.
  • Make and upload a WNDB cue card addressing disability as a needed diversity category.
  • Check out the summer reading series that creatively pairs diverse books. Come back for 2016 summer learning ideas, online-exclusive extras, more resources, and additional titles.
  • Learn about the 2016-­17 collaboration with Scholastic Reading Club involving eight flyers featuring diverse book options from toddlers to teens.
  • Explore the WNDB™ internship program with publishers.
  • Read about the 2016 winners of the first Walter Award on Jan. 20: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, and two honor books: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle and X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon.
  • Keep up with curated news and features on the WNDB™ Tumblr site.

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"I used to walk to school with my nose buried in a book." — Coolio