The importance of diversity in children’s books

In keeping with this year’s Black History Month theme of ‘celebrating our sisters’, we wanted to shine a light on Jada Johnson-Dutfield – Business Development Administrator here at Second Step – who’s the author of children’s Take It Back! Here Jada tells the tale behind the story.

I’d always loved writing, but it’s something I always did privately and kept to myself. When I was pregnant I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to buy books that are just full of diversity and that my toddler will see himself in.’ What I found was that lots of the books like that came from abroad and there weren’t as many here on our doorstep.

It was hard work being a new mum and I went to this amazing place called Bluebell Care in the centre of Bristol. This has since closed, which is a shock to many and a real loss as they were a charity providing mental health support to parents. They ran a creative writing course which meant they could look after my little boy – Atlas – I had this lovely course which encouraged me to write again.

So I put pen to paper and wrote a short story about our dog Monkey who was really put out when Atlas came along. It’s a dog’s take on a new baby in the family and Atlas adores it.

A sample page from Take It Back!

A sample page from Take It Back!

During the time, George Floyd’s death was in the news and the Black Lives Matter movement began, which brought so much to the forefront. I felt that I needed our son to feel he is in a place that he is seen. That he feels special and beautiful and that he is accepted. We had an upsetting moment when he asked, ‘Why am I this colour? I don’t want it Mummy.’ And that broke my heart. I’d tried so much to instill pride in him and wondered what I’d done wrong. Since then, however, he celebrates his hair, he has stood by me on marches and asked people “to be kind” and he speaks up when we watch the news and he hears of racism and people being unkind.

I think it’s so important that all our children have books on their shelves with people from different backgrounds and different cultures. Parents who are two mums, two dads or grandparents raising them. Just to show that families come in different shapes and forms. I thought the best way to do this was to have my book published and that’s what really drove me. Every child deserves to feel that they are represented; they should see themselves in the TV shows they watch, the books they read and the magazines they open.

The illustrator – Millie Bicknelle – really captured my vision and helped make the book come to life with African colour and style. When Atlas first saw the book, I asked him, ‘Do you know who wrote this?’ He said ‘Someone.’ I replied ‘Mummy wrote it’ and he said ‘Oh, mummy’ and hugged me. Him taking this book around with him was just incredible. When he saw himself, he beamed with pride.

Take a look at some other children’s books I’d recommend for strong representation of diversity below.

A selection of childrens books Jada recommends for their depiction of diversity, including Sulve by Lupota Nyong'o, Rapunzel by Rachel Isadora, Mixed Me by Taye Digs, Look Up! by Nathan Bryon, Little Leaders by Vashti Harrison, Who's In My Family? by Robue H Harris, All Because You Matter by Tami Charles and Love Makes A Family by Sophie beer
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