It’s my stop on the blog tour for A World For Me and You by Uju Asika and Jennie Poh which celebrates the beauty and joy of living in a wonderfully diverse world. I am delighted to be sharing a very important guest post by Uju about why diversity in children’s books matters.
A World For Me and You is a joyful, uplifting picture book that encourages children to imagine the world as a vast library, with room on the shelves for everybody’s story. It is a celebration of our incredibly diverse world as it really is: home to 195 countries with thousands of different cultures, 10 million colours and 4,300 religions.
So, it’s over to Uju to tell us more about why books like A World For Me and You are so important for children today…
In France, they would call me an ink drinker. That’s the French equivalent of a bookworm or, as they say, ‘buveur d’encre’ (sounds romantic). I started drinking ink at 4 years old. I was a smily, shy, daydreamy young girl growing up in West Africa. Books were my happy place. My favourite stories were about characters like Winnie the Pooh, Noddy and the Famous Five. Even in my Nigerian surroundings, the majority of books that I had access to didn’t feature anyone that looked like me.
Coming to the UK, I already had ideas about who belonged in stories and who didn’t quite fit. Going to an all-White school cemented these thoughts in my head and so did reading and studying books that were mostly written by dead White men. As a teenager, discovering more books by writers of African descent not only boosted my self-image but it gave me the courage and desire to tell more inclusive stories.
When I became a mum, I couldn’t wait to pass on my ink drinking habits. My first son Ezra would beg me to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar over and over. We read children’s classics like Where the Wild Things Are, The Velveteen Rabbit, Goodnight Moon. I loved sharing these tales but something was missing. Where were the books featuring Black and Brown people?
I didn’t want my kids to grow up feeling like they didn’t fit either. I’ll never forget Ezra’s excitement when he saw a picture book titled Hi, Cat! The main character was a Black boy with Afro hair like his. The book even had my son’s name on the cover (the author is Ezra Jack Keats).
In my book Bringing Up Race, I wrote about Keats and his (at the time) revolutionary idea to put an African American character at the centre of his stories. Simply because he noticed they were missing and, as he said, ‘they should have been there all along’.
We all need to feel part of the story. When you exclude or erase the voices and the narratives of Black people, Asians, mixed-heritage, women, Muslims, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities and other marginalised individuals, you create an incomplete picture of what it means to be human. Little kids of all descriptions should be able to see themselves in books.
As children’s literacy campaigner Rudine Sims Bishop said: “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”
In 2018, a study showed more animal or vegetable characters in kids’ books than Black or Brown people. Things improved in 2020 after worldwide anti-racism protests. However, 2022 stats show a 23% decrease in children’s bestsellers with a Black main character.
Reading is one of the main ways that children (and grown ups) learn about life and about themselves. As a parent, you can help shape their worldview by examining your bookshelf and asking: “What can we add? Whose stories are missing? How can we do better?” Raise your kids to ask those questions too.
Thank you so much Uju!
A World For Me and You was published by Wren & Rook, 15 September 2022
Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour:
About the author:
Uju Asika is a multiple award-nominated blogger, screenwriter and creative consultant. On her popular blog, Babes About Town, she shares ‘witty, informative and beautifully written’ stories about London, culture and family life. She is also the founder of digital consultancy, Mothers and Shakers. A former journalist, she’s written for publications such as The Guardian, Time Out and Salon.com and her poetry appears in select literary anthologies. As a screenwriter and script editor, she’s worked on some of Africa’s hottest TV shows, including the award-winning series Tinsel. Born in Nigeria, Uju grew up in the UK and has worked in London, New York and Lagos. She lives in north London with her husband and two football-mad boys.
About the iIllustrator:
Jennie Poh studied Fine Art at the Surrey Institute of Art & Design, alongside illustration courses at Central St Martins. As well as illustrating children’s books, Jennie also creates art for greetings cards and wrapping paper. She works mainly digitally but enjoys making her own paintbrushes using natural materials she finds out on her walks. Her love of nature and conservation heavily influences her work and shines through in her beautiful children’s books. Jennie lives in Surrey.
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary feature contains my honest opinion.