The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators held its annual conference in Los
Angeles recently, and a highlight for me came in the form of an author panel entitled “Creating Books That Matter,” moderated by author Linda Sue Park.
When the conversation turned to #ownvoices, and authentic and responsible representation, Park used the best metaphor I’ve heard to date, in order to articulate a viewpoint that A Novel Mind shares.
Originated by author Leah Henderson (@LeahsMark), it likens marginalized identities and/or communities to icebergs. What you can see from outside those identities or communities is only the tip of the iceberg- the 25 percent that’s visible above the surface. If we don’t belong to that minority, have not been raised within it, then all we can do is see and describe the small portion visible from our perspective.
In Linda Sue Park’s words, “Don’t write about that 25 percent, and call it culture.” Park was using Henderson's metaphor to speak specifically about cultural and racial diversity and representation, but the metaphor applies equally to neurodiversity and mental health conditions.
The 25 percent that’s visible to people without direct experience tend to be external symptoms. Under the surface lies the neurobiological underpinnings and embodied experiences of those who live those symptoms, along with the shame and misunderstanding surrounding them, and the misery of masking them. Representing symptoms without representing everything that gives rise to them, or a lifetime of living with them, is misrepresentation. It is mistaking the tip for the iceberg.
If you’re going to write about neurodivergence or mental health, we urge you to make sure
you’re intimately familiar with the whole 100 percent.
Kate Piliero is an author working towards the publication of picture books that feature neurodiversity with humor and heart. She lives in rural San Diego county with a motley crew that includes a husband, a pair of goofy, wild dogs, a pair of even goofier, wilder kids, and dozens of other pets ranging from fish to fowl to rabbits. When she's not reading or writing picture books she can be found assembling/cursing/purging toys with hundreds of small parts, snowboarding, binge-listening to podcasts, exploring tide pools, or baking layer cakes.
She is also involved in The Messages Project, a wonderful non-profit that helps maintain the bond between incarcerated parents and their children through filmed picture book read-alouds.