Random thoughts from an accidental publisher
Empathy Lab says:
"In today’s divided world, the need for more empathy has never been more urgent. Helping children put empathy into action will reduce prejudice, and build a more caring society. The UK’s shocking post-Brexit rise in hate crimes has highlighted the urgency of educating children to enter into other people’s feelings.
Empathy Lab was founded to incubate an empathy literature and social action programme for 4-11 year olds, aiming to make a real difference to thousands of children's lives, story by story."
Alanna Books says:
"To find the right stories, a team at empathy Lab selected 30 books for it's 2018 Read For Empathy Guide. AlannaMax is thrilled that Lulu Gets a Cat by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw was selected."
Anna McQuinn says:
It's sad how much the Brexit Referendum (both the run up to it and the aftremath) has given space to an uglier voice in our society. It's a voice and a narrative that sets people against eachother. One that particularly casts any 'other' as enemy.
As Empathy Lab says, 'the need for empathy has never been greater'.
I find it heartening how many contributions by immigrants there are on the Read for Empathy Guide. Here at AlannaMax, both I and co-publisher, Ken Wilson-Max are immigrants (from Ireland and Zimbabwe respectively). At Tiny Owl, both of the founders, Delaram and Karim are from Iran (they published The Parrot and the Merchant). And Lantana's You're Safe with Me is written by another, Chitra Soundar who hails originally from India.
Londoners all, together we are blogging and tweeting as #ImmigrantVoices for #EmpathyDay and each of us is blogging and recommending some good reads from our countries of origin. Here's mine!
People don’t really think of you as an immigrant if you’re Irish. But I came to the UK as an economic migrant (the worst kind!) in 1988 - along with many other young people.
However, the narratives the started in the run up to the Brexit referendum have been horrible – divisive rhetoric has pitted people against each other and often cast anyone from somewhere else, anyone who is not white as a problem to be got rid of.
As someone who has spent almost 30 years writing, editing, publishing and promoting stories that encourage understanding and empathy, this has made me feel particularly defeated.
On the other hand, stories like these have never been more important and the Empathy Lab project gives me hope that books can change attitudes and lives. I love the project’s emphasis not just on growing empathetic feelings but also on promoting action. I love its emphasis on the three major aspects of empathy:
• emotional (reacting to other people’s distress);
• cognitive (developing accurate and deep insight into other people’s
thoughts and feelings) and, crucially,
• action (what you actually do with those emotional and cognitive
reactions – things like comforting, helping and supporting others).
I have been moved beyond words that my story about little Lulu getting a cat made it on to the recommended list – alongside SO many amazing books all working hard to encourage understanding and empathy towards others and to encourage children to be translate those empathetic thought and feelings into actions.
I would like to encourage everyone involved with Empathy Lab to act on what they learn from this powerful stories.
Read Stories • Build Empathy • Make a Better World
Our group of #ImmigrantVoices have decided to chose books from our country of origin which gives readers wishing to understand that country an insight.
I’m going to start with Walter Macken’s The Silent People (and old classic dealing with a period in Irish history know as The Famine which shaped all Irish people).
I also highliy recommend this pair: Kissing the Witch, written by Emma Donoghue
and Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan (illustrated by Karen Vaughan) - recent winner of the CBI Children’s Book of the Year Awards and a modern masterpiece by an amazing independent Irish publishing company, Little Island.
Make sure you follow the blog tour to hear what the authors have to say about the books selected
Just a quick one - equally saddened and delighted to read Mylo Freeman's piece in The Guardian today.
Delighted because I'm glad she found an original Dutch publisher and now one based in the UK for her wonderful Arabella series. Saddened that there are still so few Black princesses in picture books.
The Arabella series published by Cassava Republic
Saddened also at the reaction her original publishers got from American publishers who it seems thought readers would be offended by her 'uncombed' (I would say natural) hair.
Luckily not all American publishers think like this.
Like Mylo, who wrote her first Arabella book in 2006, I also wrote the first Lulu book in 2006 (what a fantastic year that was)! I was blessed to find a US publisher who fell in love with Lulu and published her - 'uncombed' hair and all.
My wonderful friend and colleague, Marijn Woudstra also published her in Holland where she is called Bibi (it alliterates with Bieb).
She didn't have any issues with her hair - in bunches or natural:
In the second title, Lulu is inspired by the books she reads to be lots of different things - a farmer, a mommy, a builder, a tiger AND a princess:
I read Mylo Freeman's piece this morning along with some emails including one from Karen Argent. I'd sent her a copy of Zeki Loves Baby Club to review and she'd road-tested it with her granddaughter, dropping me a personal note to say she'd loved it.
Today, she emailed to say the little girl is a bit older and had moved on to Lulu Loves Flowers.
No words are needed to explain why these books are necessary - you can see it in the little girl's delight AND her growing love of books.
It is well documented that children need to see people like themselves in stories in order to be motivated to read - especially to read for pleasure.
And just as it is vital for little girls like this to see themselves in the pages of children's literature, it is also important for little white kids to see Black children in literature and to learn that everyone has a right to star in their own story.
Wishing Cassava Republic and Mylo Freeman the best - I hope Arabella is a roaring success.
I hope the success and longevity of these two series show just how wrong those publishers and booksellers are who claim that diverse books 'just don't sell' or that white parents are put off by black characters. Lulu and Arabella are celebrating 10 years this year - now that's a successful story!
Lulu also made a brief appearance on The Apprentice courtesy of the Newham Bookshop.
Long-time fans of Lulu, John tells me they talked The Apprentice contestants through Lulu Loves Flowers as an example of a good picture book.
That bit ended up on the cutting room floor, but Lulu was in shot on the counter throughout - evidenced by all the people who sent me shots of their TV screens!! Lit up my Twitter for all of 20 minutes! Go Lulu!
We were VERY excited to launch Zeki Loves baby Club in Waterstones in Chiswick on Saturday.
Ruth Hearson the illustrator traveled down from Staffordshire and Anna McQuinn came from Slough. The members of the Acton Stripey Top Club were out in force (in their stripes):
We were honoured to have lots of children who'd inspired the story, who'd been photographed as reference and who are stars of the videos that accompany the book (you can watch them and sing along as you read).
Mia attended Baby Club when she was little and now baby sister Alexa is a regular. Vallysia (I hope I'm spelling right) for example, provided lovely images when we needed to work out how Zeki would choose toys from the toy box:
In the time it took to complete the book, baby Teo was born, came along to the club and starred in the video!
Best friends, Sophia and Lola also posed for lots of photos:
They are clearly recognisable in the book...
so it was a thrill to have Sophia come and sing with us at the launch (all grown up now and looking spectacular in her Minnie Mouse outfit)!
We were excited that everyone held their animals and sang 'Old Mac Donald' just like in the book:
Of course it comes naturally to stars - Benjamin is so photogenetic; Rithic loved the camera; Andrei loves to bounce and Eloisa is a natural. Olivia and Harry got in on the act, as did Hannah and Gwyllam, Katerina and Hugo. Lulu and Zeki even showed up - oh no! that was Hanna and Abdi!
Zeki Loves Baby Club is a celebration of songs and rhymes and you can watch the videos alongside and sing along at home. A lovely book for ALL children - because EVERYONE loves a good story!
To page through the book online, click on our link.
All links are in orange.
As writers, librarians, reviewers, critics, child care workers, teachers and parents, we know that children need a wide range of experiences – real and imaginative – to grow up to be rounded, healthy adults. However, the last decade has seen a huge growth in the gendered marketing of children’s books and toys. There has been resistance to this development, and in recent months this resistance has reached a crescendo, with the emergence of a plethora of groups (see below) fighting for the right of all children to experience a wide range play materials and books. The battle is only beginning however, as the mainstream counters with accusations that we’re not living in the real world; that the market is just responding to what children want; that our vision of childhood is some unattainable utopia and that a little bit of pink glitter never did anybody any harm...
But parents, and those who care for children know that harm IS being done. Lise Eliot, neuro-scientist and author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps – And What We Can About It says, "the potency of early learning means that what children learn early on, has a huge impact on what they become capable of later in life. Why on earth would we want to limit the breadth of possibility?"
As Lyn Mikel Brown, co-author with Sharon Lamb of the books Packaging Girlhood and Packaging Boyhood argues, “When you offer few options and give kids a very narrow slice of life, there are things they don’t learn, experiences they don’t have. What the children do learn is strict gender norms – and children who don’t adhere to those norms frighten their peers. They’re made anxious by difference because we’ve given them sameness. To alleviate that fear, they tease the child who doesn’t conform.” So, as books and toys become more and more gender segregated, the social costs of boundary crossing and the peer pressure to stay within the lines are huge.
Other advocates for change put it more strongly. In a recent blog, Amy Jussel, founder & executive director of Shaping Youth, said that we have reached a tipping point. “People are beginning to connect the dots to the larger societal context and environmental exposure of these media and marketing messages, and see how they play out in the real world.
We need to look at how product messaging significantly alters, shapes, depicts, and frames children’s identity, ambition, and self-worth, and hold media and marketing behemoths accountable,” she says.
But what can we do?
I trained to be an English teacher then returned to university to write a thesis on The Gothic Novel - a feminist reading of The Mysteries of Udolpho. When I moved to the UK shortly after, my ambition was to be an editor with a feminist publishing house like Virago, Pandora or the Women's Press. That was until I went to a conference run by Letterbox Library and realised that for young girls to grow into women who read books from these publishers, there needed to be far more positive books available to them as young readers. I began to appreciate how limited many children's books were.
After my 'Damascus moment' I moved into children's publishing, starting with the wonderful Child's Play, freelancing for Verna Wilkins at Tamarind and eventually starting my own (tiny) list Alanna Books, where I try to publish books which show a whole range of possibilities.
Of course, the challenges I face are the same as those of campaigners - many mainstream retail outlets and booksellers have narrow categories (separate sections for boys, girls and 'multicultural' or 'issue' books) and I struggle to persuade them that they can find an appropriate shelf for a little Black girl who wants to be a builder...
(well, that's just on Fridays - the rest of the week, she alternates between wanting to be a fairy, a pilot, a mummy, a tiger, a farmer and a monster!)
But we cannot allow children's reading, development, imaginations and dreams (as they work out who they are and who they want to be) to be limited by narrow revenue categories however convenient and successful they are for retailers.
So, while ours might be political campaigns, they are fought in a commercial arena and money talks...
So, a plea from those of us who are working hard every day to write, illustrate and publish books which include a range of children and a range of possibilities (often to be told our books are "not commercial" so we are pushed off the shelf by the 'easy sell' of pink glitter or adventure stories for boys) please buy our books! Blog about them, Tweet about them, recommend them to your friends!
And please check out Alanna's latest and most provocative challenge to the mainstream - What Are You Playing At? by Marie-Sabine Roger and publishing today to coincide with Universal Children's Day.
The voices opposing the increasingly gendered marketing of children’s books and toys are reaching a crecendo. This book creates a space for children themselves to debate the issues and challenge the voices who would limit their play and dreams of what is possible.
To join the campaigns or buy fabulous books:
A children's Bookseller (online)
celebrating equality and diversity
Toward the Stars
The World's Largest Marketplace For Empowering Gifts For Girls
Let Toys be Toys
A campaign organisation asking retailers to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.
A campaign that targets the products, media and marketing that prescribe heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls.
Brave Girls Want
Asking media creators to expand their version of what it means to be a girl, and recognize our girls as whole, complex people and not as gender stereotypes. Stop profiting from selling girls short.
A collaboration of consultants and campaigners with a passion for inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children's literature.
The Representation Project
Calling out sexism in the media
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Campaign to change children's programming
Blogs you might want to follow/read:
Amy Jussel's Shaping Youth
An amazing blog about media and marketing's influence on kids
Blogs for Huffington Post
Great blog about low expectations for girls
Great post: Books for Boys and Books for Girls: Problems with Gendered Reading
Click here to read about publisher, Anna McQuinn's trip to the USA to promote the Lulu books there.
Working hard on the video which will accompany Zeki Loves Baby Club next Spring. Sneak preview here:
Read all about Anna's trip to the American Librarian Conference in Chicago - click here
It's been a big year for Lulu. Shortlisted for the Coventry Inspiration Award, Lulu Loves Stories fought off stiff opposition to win outright!
Then it was chosen by Bookstart to enhance their offer to families who don't speak English as a first language. It's being piloted at the moment and Bookstart have made a wonderful e-Book available on their website.
The US edition was chosen by the state of Kansas as their One-Book-One-State and it was read to nearly every pre-schooler in the state in November!
Also in the US, the Spanish edition was a Junior Library Guild selection - go Charlesbridge!
This Spring sees the publication of the paperback edition of Lulu Reads to Zeki. Click here and see for yourself what a wonderful book it is - Lulu copes with the arrival of her new baby brother by reading to him at every opportunity - what else would you expect!