By Laura Nsafou
When Nathalie McGriff at seven years old complained about her skin color and type of hair, her mother decided to do something about it. With Nathalie’s help, her mom not only created a super hero that looked just like Nathalie, she showed her daughter that a comic book could come out of her frustrations. The result was a visible representation of “little girls like her” in graphic form. That comic proved its merit by winning over $16,000 in a local contest and now Nathalie is proud of the way she looks.
Many children are aware of their absence in the books they read, especially when they start to identify and to compare themselves with others. What makes Nathalie’s path special is not so much that she may not have seen herself represented and therefore did not feel value in her physical identity, but that she became the exception. Through her (and her mother’s) willingness to represent herself, she showed others the importance of representing her as well.
However, Nathalie’s story isn’t the norm. Most children do not have the option to express themselves and to fix their absence from media by producing their own books. Each person has their own story but it doesn’t mean we all have access to tell it. In the case of children, they are depending on an industry much bigger than they are. Authors are responsible for what they’ll see in bookstores and their school libraries.
As an author, you are creating and producing possibilities for children with your words. As inspiring as this sounds, being aware that this responsibility is not enough. What you perceive as needed in children’s literature and in young adult literature could be different from what those readers want, and it can be hard to know where to start. Here are three tips for providing representation for those who cannot provide it for themselves.