I’ve been commissioned to write and illustrate an inclusive children’sÂ book (full details later, it’s a huge project with lots of people involved).Â Feeling really proudÂ to beÂ working onÂ it, I mentioned it to a friend. SheÂ askedÂ Why?
SoÂ how do youÂ explain inclusivity to someone with seemingly no understanding of the term. To someone who doesn’t work with children or communities.
I asked how she felt about some children being under-represented in books or on TV.Â She didn’t believe that this was the case. Instead insinuating that we (as a society)Â are rammingÂ inclusivity down peoples throats when there’s no need.
We talked about the project some more and I explained how everyone involved doesn’t want an ‘issue’ book. How nobody wants or feels the need to lecture young children on what a family is or how many shades of skin or conditions and disabilities there are. The aim is to normalise, not to set apart.
Again, I couldn’t get through. She felt it was unimportant and that children are too young to be taking notice of these things in picture books. Essentially, that it was unnecessary.
Later in the week, my youngest (6) was playing on the floor. There was a local news feature on TV about adoption rates in the area for LGBT couples. I prepared myself for a barrage of questions as I decided it was a really good time to test the water and try and gauge his understanding of family units. I said something along the lines of ‘Aww, look at the baby with his dads – they’ve adopted him’. He looked at me strangely, so I pre-empted and said ‘Some children have two dads and some have two mums and…’ He cut me off and said, ‘Yeah, I know…But what doesÂ adopted mean?’
It was one of those moments that made me stop and smile. Just like I did when he told me all about recycling, the week before. These little tiny people are more aware of their environment and diversity than ever before.
That conversation with my friend ultimately ended up biting me, as she came to the conclusion that my portfolio is not very diverse. We weren’t arguing, I should probably point that out…All very civilised over a cup of tea and a cake.
She’s right. Evaluating my own portfolio, it is imbalanced. I could do a lot more and I will make more of an effort in future to be inclusive. And if a six year old goes home comfortable with and accepting of cultural and lifestyle differences like mine did, I’d be very proud to have created that material under her (or his) nose. The point is, he didn’t find it unusual. And this is down to exposure. This is where children’s authors and illustrators have a big responsibility. Show diversity in your words and pictures. Expose children to an open society where everyone is equal. Show little girls they don’t need to be rescued and show little boys there’s no shame in pushing a pram.
Above all else, don’t make a big deal of it.Â How do you draw a gay man? You draw a man.