‘I am brown. I am amazing. I am you.’
Every child deserves to see their faces beaming back at them from the pages of the books they read. With 33.1% of our school children being BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), it is vital that school book collections reflect this. Lantana Publishing are certainly flying the flag for diversity in their ever-growing collection of titles.
‘I Am Brown’ is a vibrant celebration of all that makes us different and all that makes us the same. It explores different types of traditional clothing, introduces traditional foods, looks at the different types of places of worship and celebrates the vast wealth of languages which are spoken on this planet.
I love that all the children featured are seen playing imaginatively, making art and participating in physical activities – just the same as children the world over. The characters are also shown role-playing a range of aspirational future jobs such as a lawyer, scientist or president. Allowing BAME readers to picture themselves in those roles too – perhaps for the first time.
Most importantly, readers are told over and over that they are special, perfect and amazing – things that all children should hear about themselves on a regular basis.
The CLPE (Centre For Literacy in Primary Education) has recently published its second ‘Reflecting Realities’ report, looking at BAME characters in children’s books and found that there had been an increase of BAME protagonists from 1% to 4%. Titles like ‘I Am Brown’ play a significant part in helping slowly move this percentage upwards, year on year.
Ashok was kind enough to write this special piece about why it’s so important for all children to see themselves represented in the books they read:
Oy! Whee! I see Me!
by Ashok Banker
Bears get to bare it all.
Foxes get to outfox each other.
Squirrels get to squeal and shout.
Ducks and mice are superstars and oh, boy, do they know it!
Beavers are always eager to strut their stuff.
Lions love it.
Puppies are pampered.
Kittens are cuddled.
I could go on for hours but you get the picture, right?
Animals get to see themselves in books all the time. Not just a few books here and there, but entire boatloads and planefuls of books about them.
Beautifully illustrated, printed, designed, with lovely rhymes and delicious tales.
Libraries and bookstores are full of books about animals – you name the animal, however obscure, living or extinct (dinosaurs, anyone?) and you can bet there’s not just one or two but a whole bunch of books about it. Front and centre. Star of the show.
Kids too, of course – after all, kids books are meant for kids, so it’s only right that there should be a LOT of books about kids.
We all love reading stories and seeing pictures of people like ourselves. Who doesn’t?
That’s the whole point of books! To tell stories and show us things that we could do, or might do, or might have done, and what might have, could have, might still happen, or not, and what happens next. Because that’s what stories and books are for, to explore adventures and experiences that are like our own, yet not exactly our own.
So animals are really just stand ins for children themselves. Or people in general. We all know that. That’s why books featuring animals are such fun to read, because they are about us, yet not exactly us.
The difference makes it more interesting, sparking our imagination, making us feel empathy with even a lumbering brown furry beast that lives in the forests.
Because in some ways, at some times, that beast isn’t that different from us.
Now, imagine being an animal who loves to read books about animals.
What if they never get to see themselves in the pictures in those books – any of those books?
What if they never find a story about their kind? Or maybe just one or two in a whole vast library full of books about other animals?
What if they go through their entire childhoods and lives without ever seeing or reading such a book?
How would they feel?
How would they learn?
Now, imagine that you’re an animal that makes up most of the world’s animal population. There are many, many more like you around the planet than any other species.
And you still don’t get to see yourself in any books about animals!
Let’s get closer to reality now.
Imagine being a kid.
A kid who, like most of the kids in the world today – and most of the kids being born even in the western hemisphere at this point in time – never gets to see themself in any books about kids.
You’re just erased from existence.
You’re even less important than the dinosaurs, who died out tens and hundreds of millions of years ago (depending on the species) and still get to live on in a thousand times a thousand stories, pictures, books.
Why are you less important than dinosaurs?
Or foxes, squirrels, bears, llamas, beavers, elephants, and all the rest of the animal world?
How would you feel?
How does that child feel?
Every day. Every single day.
Over thousands of days of childhood.
Over a lifetime as an adult with children of your own.
Now, multiply that a few billion times.
Think about it awhile.
Aren’t you alive? Don’t you matter? Don’t you contribute to human society – in fact, aren’t you really the main reason why society goes on functioning the way it does? Because, after all, the majority of the world’s population is not just a single skin color, or race, or religion, or culture, or nationality, right?
Then, why don’t you exist in children’s books? In picture books? Chapter books? Middle grade books? Young adult books?
Are you a less important animal than all the others?
Are you a less important child than all the other children?
Then, maybe it’s time you were represented.
And while we’re about it, let’s see you having adventures, magical quests, fart-filled fun, solving mysteries, detecting and solving, fixing and inventing, puzzling and quizzing, doing everything possible and maybe even things that we’ve never seen before in these books.
Let’s see you.
Let’s be you.
You are seen.
You are loved.
You are me.
And I am you.
Thank you for reading!
An uplifting, spirit-restoring title which belongs in every classroom and on every bookcase.
What a wonderful note to end on!
The book will be in bookshops in the UK on 5th March and in the US & CAN on 3rd March.
OR buy your copy from Lantana’s online shop and donate a book to a child in need via the UK charity Read for Good.
*Many thanks to Lantana Publishing for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. Make sure you visit the other stops too*