Following the publication of The Polka Dot Shop (you can read our review here), we are delighted to host a guest post from author Laurel Remington.
In this blog post, Laurel discusses the topic of diversity in children's fiction and explores how the polka dots can become a symbol for individuality and inclusivity.
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has made polka dots her life’s work. Her elaborate dot art includes everything from vast installations, to photographs of George Clooney, and is both evocative and strangely beautiful. The themes she explores include individuality and inclusiveness, the importance of the individual, and ultimately, the insignificance. Each of us is a unique, never to be repeated “dot”, and yet, we are just one among millions of others.
One thing that has surprised me since becoming a published children’s author is how wide an appeal my books have to children from all different backgrounds, ethnicities and situations. It is always a joy to visit schools and meet and take questions from children of different backgrounds, each one of whom brings a unique perspective when reading one of my books. I teach that one of the four pillars of story writing is theme, which is essentially the message of the book. As an author, I have an idea of what I would like my readers to come away with at the end of the book. But the wonderful thing about theme is that it is interactive with the reader. What you take away depends upon your unique view of the world; or, as is sometimes said: where you stand depends on where you sit.
In The Polka Dot Shop, I wanted to represent a diverse range of characters. There is a transgender teacher, a girl who uses a wheelchair, a mum suffering from depression. When asked whether I am an advocate of increased diversity in children’s books, my response is a resounding ‘yes’. That said, I don’t set out to shoehorn diversity into my books. To me, a character is a character, not a box to tick, and they are each special, with their own traits, problems and emotions.
In my view, a good children’s book has characters that are relatable by children of different backgrounds, regardless of the character’s gender, ethnicity, and social class. The problems that my characters have to overcome, and the feelings that they face in adversity, are universal. However, with more children reading than ever before, I do think it’s important that children’s books move in the direction of better reflecting the demographics of readers.
The problem, and ultimately, the solution, I believe, lies with authors. On one level, writers are taught to ‘write what you know’, though most writers learn very quickly to move beyond this. We can then do different levels of research, and ultimately, ‘live’ the story and the world in our heads. Nonetheless, it remains difficult to write authentically about real life situations that we have not experienced ourselves. I therefore strongly believe that what we need in order to gain more diversity in children’s books is more diversity among authors. I try to convey the message to my student audiences that: ‘At the end of the day, the best person to write your story is you.’
The world of children’s fiction is stronger and more diverse than it has ever been, which is a good thing, because there are more readers than ever before. As writers we have a duty to continue to write universal stories, but ones that can also touch the hearts of children who may have in the past been underrepresented in children’s literature. We are each only one dot among millions of others. But we are each a unique and important dot.
You can read our review of the book here.
Many thanks to Laurel for sharing this guest blog post with us and to Jazz at Chicken House for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.