Finding my Family is a guest blog series exploring how 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.
Liz Marqueiro is an English language consultant looking to create inclusivity and equality in English language assessment and training.
Find Liz on LinkedIn.
Who makes up your family?
My wife and I have 7 year old twins who were conceived via anonymous donor. As well as including our immediate family members grandparents, aunts and cousins, we also have a blended family set up with our very good friends who are a same sex male couple whom our son calls dads.
Why is inclusion in children’s books important to you on a personal level?
As already mentioned above, we are a same sex couple who have boy girl twins conceived by mixed-race anonymous donor. It was and still is, impossible to find our story in mainstream books. Diverse books helped my twins to learn about their story and gave us, the adults, the vocabulary by which to talk about it. We now talk about all forms of inclusion openly but still don't see it in the books they are now able to read themselves.
Can you recall any occasions when you’ve found representations of yourself/your family in children’s books?
Only in 'other' 'diverse' category.
How did it feel to find these representations, not find any representation or to find inauthentic or negative representation?
Finding these representations was life changing for us. Our son immediately understood our family set up. It helped our children to see that there was nothing lacking in our family. It also introduced language such as donor and sperm and egg in a way that we would not have known how to introduce, nor indeed, if we should.
Now that our twins are of reading age, it would be so much better for them to be able to read books that reflected the world around them more accurately.
It shouldn't be a surprise to come across a disabled person, or different family set up. We shouldn't stop short and go "Wow, this cartoon has gay parents" or "this programme is about a trans girl at school."
People shouldn't have to feel grateful for being included. They should just be included.
How could someone authentically represent you/your family in a children’s book? What nuance would make it authentic?
The fact that our children look more like one parent than the other but when they speak, their mannerisms, etc reflect both parents.
That family isn't about blood connection.
That in my family it is me who wields the power tools and my partner who does all the cooking. Sometimes that surprises people as they may have made assumptions based on our looks. Stereotypes and labels can be assigned to us based on appearance, (even within the gay community). But we are not that single story; nobody is.
Even within inclusive groups stereotypes exist. I am the B in LGBTQI but am not viewed in the same light as those in the group that I share the letters with.
To make a children's book authentic I think it is vital that we show those nuances both in the story and in the illustration. Don't make a group inclusive but then still resort to stereotypes of that inclusive group. Our children need to learn that people are multi-layered.
If you or your family could be in any children’s book (as yourselves) what book would it be?
Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson. That book made me cry the first time I read it to my babies. They were too young to understand the story fully, but when the caterpillar says 'you see none of my children looks like me' I cried, because neither of my babies look like me but I am still their mother. It was almost inclusive. I changed the ending of that story every time I read it. The baby monkey cries 'Mummies' at the end not Mum and Dad.
What is your favourite children’s book? Why?
My children's books reference are all ones I have read to my children as they have grown up, not ones from my own childhood. I loved Julia Donaldson's The Snail and the Whale also. The story was beautiful. A sense of true friendship, family between two species who have nothing in common. I guess it's the underlying message that family is whoever it is that loves you and whom you love.
I also remember loving Blubber by Judy Blume. I only remember it because I remember feeling represented and seen. A book about a fat child as the main character. I haven't re-read it since and fear I might not feel it is as inclusive as my rose-tinted memory has me think.
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