I interviewed BAME author Ruby Lovell about the importance of diversity in children’s fiction for my Writing for Children slot in Writers’ Forum #200 June 2018.
She revealed when she moved to London from Sri Lanka at seven years old, the culture shock was quite something.
“I spoke very little English and my school mates had never met anyone from Sri Lanka, so didn’t really understand me or my culture. I found it hard to fit in at first and that experience stuck with me, especially when I looked at the books available to me as a child. All that was on offer were things like Enid Blyton and stories about white British children getting up to great adventures. Growing up on exotic tales from my grandmother, that lack of diversity in reading always stuck with me.”Ruby Lovell
She explained her experience made her aware of the lack of diversity in books and wanted to see more children of colour represented in children’s literature for her own children who have never been to Sri Lanka and experienced all the wonderful things she did as a child growing-up there.
This inspired her to write her Ruby series of picture books published by Lychee Books. The adventures that the character Ruby gets up to are all based on real-life experiences her boys had during their first trips to Sri Lanka. They visited an elephant orphanage where they saw how injured elephants are cared for, rode tuk tuks and they learned to play the traditional drums and see snake charmers and much more.
Ruby enthusiastically spoke about how this unique experience awoke an explosion of an exciting new culture that was part of them.
“My writing and the books I create for children all come from my heart. I had a huge amount of help from my young sons and writing something that means something to you is so much more special than an idea picked out of thin air. I want my books to not only be a ‘go to’ bedtime story for children of a South Asian background, but for children of all races and backgrounds who want a good adventure story.”Ruby Lovell
Ruby explained she was motivated by the fact you find a lot in books for kids that characters are anthropomorphised so they appeal to as many people as possible but she wants to see books with people of colour on the cover, people who are differently able, a range of genders and shapes and sizes. She elaborated children are unique, so let’s write books that are as varied as they are. A diverse book is one that explores a different point of view than those represented in the majority of books on the market. This can be a different racial/cultural point of view in the case of Ruby’s book, or a different point of view about physical ability, sexual orientation etc.
Hearing other people’s stories helps children appreciate other points of view, especially those that differ from their own. The more diverse a child’s reading experience, the more understanding, tolerant and accepting they will become as human beings. They will also form friendships with children of various backgrounds and this is healthy as when they become adults this helps them become accepting of a world filled with so many different cultures, religions and customs.
Ruby would also like to see more books featuring mixed race characters of all combinations of backgrounds and smaller racial groups and backgrounds. For example, the Disney film Moana was one of the first mainstream representations of Polynesian culture for children.
Ruby’s tip on writing for children is to run your book past real children before you send it out to agent. See their reaction, learn which jokes soar and which ones fall flat. Children are wonderfully honest critics, but don’t just rely on your own kids. See if you can go into a local primary school and do a reading of your final manuscript (with some illustrations if you can). The feedback and reaction you receive will shape your writing like nothing else.
Find out more about Ruby Lovell and her picture book Ruby Rides an Elephant and the other books in the series at: www.lycheebooks.org You can follow her on Twitter @RLovellAuthor and on Instagram @rubylovellauthor
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