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What do we see in our daily lives?

Sure, it probably depends on the city you live in, but it's likely that you see a variety of skin tones. A palette of whites, browns, blacks, golden and tan hues — filling up spaces in classrooms, restaurants and sorting through the racks and shelves of retail stores.

What is it you see in your home? Perhaps a family who looks like you, or a family that relates to you. 

At least that's what I saw. I grew up in a two-parent household, with three siblings. I am fortunate for the love and support I had as a child, and that bonding time has made me into the woman I am today. When I was not with my immediate family, I spent a lot of time with my late great-grandmother.

Valma Mosby was a timeless woman — fabulous in every way — the perfect example of a strong, smart woman and another great Black female role model I had to look up to. She was like most grandmas: spoiling her grandbabies with whatever they wanted, giving wise words left and right, and telling stories from "back in her day." She's a big reason why I appreciate the importance of spending time with my elders.

I'm grateful I had this experience with her in real life, but I didn't see these experiences reflected in the books on my shelves. I can name one book from my childhood about a young Black girl and her life with her mom (that's Amazing Grace by Debbie Allen, one of the greats), but one book isn't enough. I decided to change that.

I wrote, illustrated and published Grammy and Me, in late 2017, heavily based off of my memories with my Grammy, Valma. I wrote it after she passed away in 2014 as a way to cherish and celebrate her legacy. "Me," the main character alongside Grammy — who doesn't have an exact name — has giant brown curls and full lips. She starts her day being fed by her grandma, taken shopping, followed by baking cookies and watching television. A typical delightful day with a grandparent. The chills I get when a child tells me "this is what I do with my grandma," or "she looks like me," while pointing at the main characters, are an indescribable feeling.

So why aren't these real-life visuals portrayed as often in children's literature? I'm not talking about chapter books made for middle school kids, but picture books made for children under the age of 10. Year after year, a majority of picture books released by publishing agencies continue to misrepresent underrepresented communities. A 2018 study done compiled by the librarians at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) found that half of the books released that year featured white characters, and coming in second were books that featured animals as main characters. Using your imagination is great, and children should always be encouraged to do so, but animals can't talk. That same year, books that featured American Indian/First Nation, Latinx, African/African American and Asian Pacific Islander/Asian Pacific American characters were on the back burner. 

These are the characters in our real lives. They are characters that kids need to see before they go to bed at night, not only preparing them for their future, but also normalizing the fact that people who look like them exist in the world.

It's all about having something to relate to. Through books, children can celebrate special family situations in a way that is easy for them to comprehend — and that's what I hoped to accomplish in publishing Grammy and Me

Books that highlight family diversity don't have to do with just race. Diversity comes in many forms, like disabilities, families that were formed by adoption or families that have LGBTQ+ members. Here are some of my favorites:

– Mixed Me by Taye Diggs

"Mom and Dad say I'm a blend of dark and light: ‘We mixed you perfectly, and got you just right.’”

– My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete

Actress and national autism spokesperson Holly Robinson Peete collaborates with her daughter on this book based on Holly's son, who has autism.

– And That's Why She's My Mama by Tiarra Nazario

"Mamas come in all different shapes, colors and ages, but they all have one thing in common. They love you!"

– The Royal Heart by Greg McGoon

The Royal Heart is the first book of a classical styled fairytale series recognizing LGBTQ characters.

In times of uncertainty and civil unrest, family is more important now than ever. Not only will children see themselves in the books they are reading, but they will be exposed to and celebrate the variety of family units out there — and all the love that can be shared within. 

Happy reading!