I’ve been blessed, as well as called, to produce vibrant and diverse children’s books from an #OWNVOICES perspective since 2014. Only recently, however, did it come to my attention that not everyone is on the same page about what #OWNVOICES means.
According to School Library Journal, #OwnVoices means a book written by a marginalized community member from which it depicts. In other words, if you are writing a character from the LGBTQ community, an #OwnVoices hashtag or description would mean that you, as the author, are also from the LGBTQ community.
The #OwnVoices hashtag and term indicate that a member wrote a book of a marginalized community that it depicts. In 2017, when still only 28 percent of children’s/YA books published each year represent people of color, and when fewer still portray marginalized experiences (such as disability, sexual orientation, or religion), it is essential to note the ties and tensions between diverse representation and diverse creators. Fiction is for everyone, of course, but nobody knows a community better than someone who is a part of it. While publishers have begun to respond to the calls for diverse books, most of those being released are coming from white authors—not the marginalized groups who are struggling so much to be heard. #OwnVoices responds to this wide gap between diverse books written by outsiders and diverse books written by diverse creators. ~excerpt from School Library Journal.
As my amazing mom used to say, “some lessons you have to live to learn,” and this mantra of hers sums up #OWNVOICES perfectly. From my standpoint, #OWNVOICES is the sharing of an authentic experience from someone who has “lived it to learn it.” As the world slowly becomes more tuned into the voices and opinions of people of color, I would like to add this thought: if you are genuinely concerned about amplifying empathy, encouraging inclusion, and embracing diversity as a human being, the best place to start is with the next generation.
As an author of over a dozen diverse picture books for kids, I often hear the comment, “it’s so nice that you write books for Black children.” I could be offended, but instead, I use those moments to educate people that I write books for ALL children. Books of a multicultural and diverse nature are not just for multicultural and diverse readers; they are for ALL readers.
This is where I feel adults (who are not attuned to this thought) sometimes fall short in the area of what they choose to place on the reading shelves of their children. The phrase “Mirrors and Windows” was initially introduced by scholar Emily Style for the National SEED Project back in the late 1980s. That term has since become widely used to help kids “see” themselves (Mirrors) in the pages of the books they read.
But frequently, adults forget the Windows part of this equation. A Mirror is a story that reflects your own culture and helps you build your identity, but a Window is a resource that offers you a view into someone else’s experience. It is critical to understand that students cannot truly learn about themselves unless they learn about others. To drive the point home, white kids need to read books that provide a “window” into new cultures, races, traditions, family dynamics, and religions.
If you really care about fostering empathy in children, you need to genuinely care about the journey of other people who don’t look and live as you do.
We need to provide books for our kids that do not contribute to harmful stereotypes and misconceptions. This can occur much more easily when the book is not written by someone who lived that life and learned firsthand from the experience. Instead, we owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to share books that help us see the world as the vast, beautiful, and fascinating place that it truly is- from the perspective of many. The most authentic story is told by the one who lived it. Let us tell our stories. Support our stories. Amplify our voices.
Kayla: A Modern-Day Princess Series Book One is HERE!
Kayla: A Modern-Day Princess: is a heartwarming story about family, role models, dreams, and discovering a determination for growth. This five-part diverse picture book series shines the spotlight on a little brown girl who loves musical theatre and never lets anything get in the way of her dreams. It seems that everyone else has an idea for who she should be, but in the end, she discovers that she is the one who gets to decide.
Grab your copy of Kayla: A Modern-Day Princess (Book One) in the Make A Way Media Bookstore or on Amazon in paperback form or for Kindle.
Kayla: A Modern-Day Princess: Dishes, Dancing, and Dreams will be available for purchase on June 1, 2021!
The Kayla: A Modern-Day Princess series of #OWNVOICE books is for Dreamers and the Doers of all ages. This diverse picture book series is a heartwarming look at the importance of family, speaking our truth, dreaming freely, and knowing our worth. Book 2 is part of a five-part series that shines the spotlight on a little Black girl who never lets anything get in the way of her dreams.
Parents, Caregivers, and Educators: By investing in this series, you help every child see that Black and Brown girls can be leaders, princesses, and the stars of their own stories. Children need to read stories that include characters who look like them. Offering these types of books to young readers is an essential part of building self-esteem, cultivating empathy, encouraging tough conversations, and letting children of color know they matter.
GO HERE to order your copy of Kayla: A Modern-Day Princess: Dishes, Dancing, and Dreams (Book Two in the Kayla: Modern-Day Princess series).