Today’s spotlight features an interview with the author of a picture book and simplified board book that has really resonated with me. In these mirrored books, a mixed race girl is wondering why her skin colour is different to both her parents. Through a metaphor of painting, Tania and illustrator, Vanja, show Violet’s journey of identity and being proud of who she is.
Title: I Am Violet (0-3 years) and Violet (4-8 years)
Author: Tania Duprey Stehlik
Illustrator: Vanja Vuleta Jovanovic
People come in a rainbow of beautiful colours. A little girl looks around her and sees that some people are blue, some are green, some are red. Her mum is red, her dad is blue, and she is a mix of the two.
Below is the trailer for the picture book version, in which Violet first begins to ask questions about her skin colour when she starts school.
Now, Tania is going to share some insights into the books and the 10-year publishing journey.
Hi Tania, please can you tell us a little bit about Violet and the inspiration behind it?
Growing up, I was incredibly proud of my mixed Indian and French-Canadian heritage, but I never saw my mixed-race family reflected in the media around me. The TV shows and movies I watched and the books I read had families that were racially homogeneous. The story of Violet came out of my own experience questioning my cultural and racial identity. My dad recalls how I came home from kindergarten asking why I wasn’t white. I used memories like that to shape my story.
It’s been ten years since Violet was first published, how does it feel to now have a simplified version of the story coming out as a board book for younger children?
I was initially surprised when my publisher proposed the idea of making Violet into a Board Book. It had been 10 years after all.
But I’m so happy that they did, because now little kids can see their family reflected in a colourful way.
I am so fortunate to have Vanja Vuleta Jovanovic as my illustrator again. Her images carry the story, especially since the Board Book has such simplified text.
Did you always know you wanted to write a book one day?
In fact, the book was initially a homework assignment.
I was studying to be a teacher at the University of Toronto and was assigned a project to write an “All About Me” story. The goal was to write something to read to the students in my upcoming practicum class as a way of introducing myself. The students would in turn write me stories about themselves. I thought long and hard about what part of myself I wanted to share, and since I had rarely seen stories about mixed kids, I decided to write about that.
What were your favourite books growing up?
I have memories of reading the Baby-Sitters Club books on long road trips in the back seat of our mini-van. Reading the new graphic novels brings me right back.
Violet’s story has really touched me, having gone through a similar experience myself. What responses have you had from children reading your book over the years?
I’m lucky to be surrounded by children everyday at work, so I get lots of opportunities to hear from kids. The letters, the pictures, the conversations…they never grow old. It always feels amazing to hear that someone saw themself in Violet.
I love to witness the pride that kids display when they tell me that they are mixed like me.
Do you have any advice for someone trying to publish a picture book?
Check out the Canadian Children’s Book Centre online. They provide a kit called ‘Get Published: The Writing for Children Kit’. This is what got my manuscript into the hands of publishers.
The kit offers practical advice on getting published and includes a list of Canadian children’s publishers that are currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts and artwork. It costs about $20, and is worth every penny.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and experience, Tania.
Being mixed race, I am always on the look-out for books to share with my daughters. I read and loved the board book version first, and I was fascinated when I discovered Violet – it’s wonderful for the story to be told for both age ranges. The board book is simplified and focuses primarily on using the colour analogy.
In the picture book version, there is a lot of dialogue and Violet’s interactions with other school children who are equally curious about her skin colour.
By using primary colours, this book isn’t limited to a specific cultural background.
As you would expect, we get to see more of Violet’s journey in the picture book but what I love is that both books end in exactly the same way: with Violet proudly saying, “I am Violet!”
Buy the picture book now!
Publisher: Second Story Press
Publication date: 1 August 2009
Pre-order the board book now!
Publisher: Second Story Press
Publication date: 14 April 2020
About the Author:
Tania Stehlik is an elementary school teacher in Toronto, Ontario. Her Indian and French Canadian heritage served as inspiration for her story Violet, as well as the adapted board book, I Am Violet. Tania is happily married and is the proud mother of two amazing daughters. She lives in the city with her husband and kids.
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with copies of the books. This review is my honest opinion.