Finding myself and my family is a guest blog series exploring how people and families are represented in children's books, whether that's due to set-up, ethnicity, neurodivergence, disability, LGBTQIA*, socio-economic status or any other facet of diversity.
Rebecca Olayinka resides in the UK and has been a qualified social work practitioner for 9 and a half years. She is also a freelance writer and is currently writing her own personal and powerful memoir to inspire Black Foster Children to live a life of their own creation.
Who makes up your family?
For the first 9 and half years of my life I grew up with my foster mother, who was white. At 9.5 years old I went to live with my biological mother. My family is my siblings: my brothers, Hackeem and Matthew, my sister Kemi and my sister in law Alice. I also have seven nieces and one nephew. I have some close friends also who are similar to family: Camille and Esther. My parents as well as my foster mother are now all deceased.
Why is inclusion in children’s books important to you on a personal level?
It's important as we identify with those who look like us and we learn through the struggles of those who went before us with similar experiences. There are unique challenges that Black and Minority Ethnic people encounter and if they are not represented in Children's books children can be left feeling unseen and heard. I know I did when I was growing up. There were not many children's books that were made for Black Children. There is a Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie -"The danger of a single story" which outlines the issue of underrepresentation of Black and Ethnic Minority voices.
Can you recall any occasions when you’ve found representations of yourself/your family in children’s books?
No, except for the book I mention below: Mummy, Sugar Falling Down! I am sure there are now, however, I have not seen any. I do not have children myself so maybe that's why. I have bought my nieces some books however I these are more around the topic of being a Black Girl.
How did it feel to find these representations, not find any representation or to find inauthentic or negative representation?
I didn't think of it when I was growing up as I did not know any different. Being fostered by my white foster mother, it was a lovely time, however where I grew up there was no other Black children around or Black people so I never thought about it. I was at the time a "product of my environment."
How could someone authentically represent you/your family in a children’s book? What nuance would make it authentic?
For me as a child it would be my foster mother and me up until age 9.5. My foster mother did not work and was a full time foster carer. I was her last foster child that she had. I did not grow up with my brothers and sister so I grew up as an only child even though I had siblings. This was very confusing for me.
If you or your family could be in any children’s book (as yourselves) what book would it be? Why?
It would be estranged siblings/where is my family? I say this because all my siblings are older than me. My eldest brother Hackeem is 17 years older, Matthew is 12 years older and Kemi (my sister) is 7 years older than me. We never grew up together. My two brothers grew up with my father in the home, but by the time my sister and myself were born he was gone. When I went back to live with my mother my two eldest brothers had left and my sister was only with us for another year before she left to go to university.
What is your favourite children’s book? Why?
My favourite children's book is Mummy, Sugar Falling Down! I loved this book as a child as Elizabeth comes to England from the Caribbean and sees snow for the first time (hence the title) I really enjoyed this story as I could relate when I left my foster mother coming to a new place - London (albeit not another country).
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