This month I’m collaborating with fellow children’s book authors and featuring a series called “Why Representation Matters in Children’s Literature.” Each week, I’ll be sharing a guest essay by one of my favorite children’s book authors on this topic culminating with a book giveaway. Today I’m excited to welcome my friend Dorena to the blog. That’s right! We have the same name, but a different spelling, and we share a passion for multicultural books. I met Dorena in person a few years ago and knew right away she was a kindred spirit. Be blessed by her personal story today!
By Dorena Williamson
In 2004 a new children’s book made a delightful debut. I Like Myself, written by Karen Beaumont, used energetic rhymes to deliver a story of self-love that featured a little brown girl with a dynamic personality. David Catrow’s whimsical illustrations featured a lead character with spiralling black hair.
This sweet book found its way into my home and into the hands of my then four-year old daughter Chase. I remember her walking around and quoting the lines that had been read over and over to her:
I like myself!
I’m glad I’m me.
There’s no one else
I’d rather be.
This book was so loved that Chase felt the need to write a note inside the front cover:
Chase This book!
Sixteen years later, Chase would find her purpose as a skilled painter, passionate about capturing brown skin toned beauty on canvas. In a recent interview upon the release of her first published artistic work, Chase was asked about her inspiration for painting diversity. She mentioned I Like Myself and the impact of seeing a character who had spirally black hair just like her.
Educator Rudine Sims Bishop teaches about the need for children to find mirrors of self-affirmation in books. I wanted that for my four black children as we raised them in a charming southern town. Many hours were spent at our local library, pulling books and engaging in storytime. While our diverse church was faithful to provide curriculum and images that reflected the beauty of diverse skin tones, I also wanted our home library to give my children both affirmation of their God-given beauty, and reinforcement of our faith-filled values.
Visits to the local christian bookstore did not satisfy this need; and often, the mainstream bookstores only had a few titles that featured characters that looked like my children. When I came across books that gave the double duty of ethnic diversity and faith, I grabbed them to stock our home and classrooms.
Five years ago when God began giving me story ideas, I collected them in my journal, thinking a blog was forming. But slowly, as I reflected on cultural events and the frustration I felt when well-meaning white christians bragged about teaching their children to be colorblind, I felt called to make a difference by writing books that would impact young hearts. God mined decades of diverse church leadership and shaped a new mid-life adventure for me. And as I began researching and learning the world of publishing, all the treasured picture books that my kids had outgrown became valuable resources.
I am so thankful that there are more options of representation available for children. Diversity of ethnicity, culture, ability, religion, and family background is widely featured in forthcoming releases for children. And it is both an honor and a joy to be one of many who are passionate about providing literary mirrors for little children, especially brown and black children who, like my daughter, deserve to feel the delight of seeing a character who looks like them.
Parents have shared the power of ColorFull giving their children a tool to describe the shade of skin God made for them. A mother wheeled in her toddler son for a hospital book signing for ThoughtFull and thanked me for writing a book that included a boy in a wheelchair. Messages have poured in from grateful parents and ministry leaders, sharing the need for resources like GraceFull that help open up dialogue on difficult and relevant subjects. These words all deeply bless me and remind me that representation impacts both the children who see themselves, and the adults who read alongside.
Coming in October, The Celebration Place will give children a window into the beauty of diversity in our church experiences. And I celebrate Black girl joy next January with the release of Crowned with Glory – focusing on self-love and celebrating how we each are crowned with God’s glory.
I treasure the psalmist’s reflections in Psalm 104:24:
What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.
Books open up a wonderful world for young minds curious about the diverse people and places around them. I also believe adults need to cultivate hearts that are open to learn and grow.
And there are young little girls like my Chase out there. I’m writing for them, for the delight that will fill their eyes and the joy that will overflow as they see their beautiful selves on the pages of a story. I’m hoping they know that they are seen, valued and loved.
One dog-eared book shaped my young daughter and the purpose she would grow into. I pray that many more just like her will be impacted by the power of representation.
Dorena Williamson is a best-selling author who writes children’s books that adults need too. She is a longtime bridge-builder and co-planter of Strong Tower Bible Church, a multicultural faith community in Nashville, TN. She is married to Dr. Chris Williamson and they have four teenage and adult children.
In case you missed it, check out the articles in this blog series here:
-“Representation gives readers a glimpse of heaven” by Xochitl Dixon
-“Mosaic voices: Why representation matters in children’s literature” by Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young
*Stay tuned for a special giveaway of this book along with 3 others by children’s writers of color! Our next installment of this series releases next Monday, August 16, 2021.