Finding myself and my family | Guest blog by Sam Langley-Swain

Updated: May 10

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.


Sam Langley Swain is the founder of inclusive picture book publisher, Owlet Press. He's a gay, adoptive dad of two, who fell into the book world and never looked back. He strives to create positive change for all kinds of children, families and communities through publishing powerful stories from underrepresented voices.


Sam's Website: www.owletpress.com

Who makes up your family?

I have two adopted children, who are now teenagers (what fun). My husband and I have been together for nearly twenty years and are a very strong family. I run Owlet Press and work a lot of hours to keep the company afloat, and my family are a great support here.


They all believe that what I'm doing is important and I am grateful for the sacrifices or compromises they make for me. I'm also really passionate about the arts (which you'll see in future publications) and to wind down I either paint or sew (I should really say READ too!). My husband bought me a starter knitting kit at Christmas, so that's another hobby to learn!


Why is inclusion in children’s books important to you on a personal level?

I'm Welsh, of Romany decent, from a working class background, larger than the average body shape and gay - as an adult it is incredibly rare for me to see these aspects (and many others which are equally important) represented in books being published. Having never seen myself in books growing up (and this is from a position with reasonable privileges) it has absolutely flawed me how important inclusion (and the lack of it) really is. As a publisher and author, when I meet parents who are close to tears after seeing themselves or their child reflected in a book for the first time, it gets me every time and motivates me to carry on.


Can you recall any occasions when you’ve found representations of yourself/your family in children’s books?

The only real example of a two dad family I came across (while going through the process) was 'Tango Makes Three' - an incredible book that tells an important message in a simple way. Since then, there are obviously more titles coming through which show 'two dads' and all kinds of families, which I hope is working in challenging stigmas.


How did it feel to find these representations, not find any representation or to find inauthentic or negative representation?

Having grown up with a sense of shame attached to my identity/sexuality, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and acceptance - from TWO PENGUINS ON A PAGE! This is me, as an adult, experiencing something so powerful from a picture book. In my role as a publisher, I do find inauthentic representation a frustration - authenticity takes a lot of leg work and there is a fine line between helping to represent a community and being lazy.

It is a learning process too though - as long as publishers listen, learn and pivot when needed!


How could someone authentically represent you/your family in a children’s book? What nuance would make it authentic?

I think working hard to avoid stereotypes is key, and adding depth. Yes there is a child that has two dads, one box is ticked, but let's tick a few more while we're there - what is their cultural background, body shape, social background, ability, profession etc? I think character development is key - again I'm learning here too, by listening to my creators.


If you or your family could be in any children’s book (as yourselves) what book would it be? Why?

Well, I get VERY irate about the orphan trope. Having trauma-affected adopted children - so much content around adoption and losing a parent, and experiencing the care system, is triggering for them, and it's very lazily used across the majority of children's fiction. I'd love to put them into (and am working on a text for) a book like Peter Pan, where their experiences as 'lost boys' and their connections to the concept of a mother can really be explored in depth.


What is your favourite children’s book? Why?

Wow - this is a hard choice (and I shouldn't pick any Owlet title either). I think Julian is a Mermaid is a real stand out book for me in terms of the simple, beautiful narrative and incredible illustrations.


If you could give one message to people in the children's book world, what would it be?

Put in the work (even if it means making sacrifices), it's needed!


 

For more information, you can find Owlet Press on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Sam also has a personal Instagram.


If you would like to take part in this blog series, fill out this form to submit your responses.


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