Diversity in kid literature | Your experience matters too, little one – Multicultural Children’s Book Day
Guest Post from author Connie-Vee Hawkins
People often say I was born with a camera in my hand. I loved taking my parent’s camera and snapping pictures. I saw each picture as a story. As I grew older, everyone realized I was indeed the storyteller of the family. Storytelling is therapeutic. It helps us to process the negative experience and immortalize a positive experience. Many experiences turned into stories. Like the one I wrote while in elementary school. It was called The Wrong Turn. I later understood it was my way of processing moving to a predominantly white neighboorhood in the ‘70s.
Just about every day, my sisters and I were subjected to insults at school or when we walked home from school. “jungle bunny” “jigaboo” “spear chucker” and the constant hearing of the “n” word were all foreign to me. Never head that ending with a hard “r”-although it was similar to what I heard on the streets in Watts, this was different…painful. Maybe it was the look in the faces of my White schoolmates and their parents when they said it? Maybe.
Mr. Hayes was my 5th-grade teacher. He was a White man that suffered from the Marfan syndrome, which made him this long-haired, extremely tall and lanky hippy-like man. Coming from Watts made him even extra particular to me. I really liked him. I being his only black student made him take an interest in me, I think he was just as curious about me as I was him.
“Have you ever read the book, Sounder?” he asked me one day. I hadn’t. He then handed me the book. I read it twice over the weekend. I was so moved by the characters and the experience which, although in two different worlds we were experiencing the same thing. When I finished the book, I wanted more. I wanted to read about my experience. The next book he gave me was, The Miracle Worker-The Helen Keller Story. Although she was a White lady, I related to her. Being the outcast. Different from her peers. Misunderstood and struggling to assimilate. Assimilation was survival. After reading her book, I started writing my own stories. I was in 5th grade.
As an adult, I became the mother of two children. Of course, I wanted to read stories to them that was like my experience. Stories that valued family, hard work, unity, and more. I wanted my girls to see characters that looked like them and their experience. So, instead of going on the exhaustive hunt for these books, I started writing them myself. I even tried to illustrate them. They loved them.
I’m not sure if people understand just how valuable it is for kids to see diversity in kid literature. It’s like, the world is looking at you and saying…hey, your life matters too. Your experience matters, little one.
As a mother, I wanted to share with my children my experience as a nature lover. I grew up camping in the Angeles Forest and although we often experience racism, it was always overshadowed by the beauty of nature. I discovered, there were tons of books dealing with, cooking, sibling-rivalry, and sharing, but nothing on nature with black families. So I started writing short stories for my children’s bed-time stories that featured topics that included characters that were nature lovers or loved hiking, camping and more. It just seemed to make storytime extra special. Most of those stories are still on longhand on some paper in a box by my bed. But I vowed to share them with the world. One book at a time.
Adventure one: Up and Out, is just the beginning. Much more to come. 🙂
Writing was my first connection to creative expression. I have always been fascinated at how words strung together in a story can awaken one’s imaginations while inspiring us to live a better life.
When my children were younger, I enjoyed reading folktales with a positive, message-driven narrative—only I wanted to see more characters that looked like my daughters and the children of color in my community. I began writing those stories myself and eventually shared them at local schools, where they were well received. Now I’m making them available in paperback, e-book format and audio version—one story at a time.
“Connie-Vee is a talented storyteller and gifted, generous teacher. It was a pleasure to work with her. She has the courage to try to make the world a better place by celebrating diversity while also showing the humanity and kindness that can unite us all.” –Robert Reese, Author
This content was originally published here.