Children’s books with color characters


Nneka Ruiz Montalvo shows off the range of books available at her children’s bookshop My Reflections, Red Edge Mall, St James. – AYANNA KINSALE

When Nneka Ruiz Montalvo learned of the tragic killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May 2020, she felt the need to do something.

Not one to take signs and protest, she decided to spread something that had a positive influence and impact on her while she was growing up: reading.

“I felt so sad to see how he was treated (by the police) like he just didn’t matter. I ended up thinking about my son growing up in a world where people who look alike are treated as if they don’t matter. He would have to face discrimination from the police etc. and it made me think that I had to do something to bring about a lasting and positive change in the world.

“I wanted my son and other kids like him, kids of color, to grow up to have high self-esteem so they felt really important, felt affirmed and validated.”

A few months later, she opened My Reflections Children’s Bookstore, which at the time was an online store. The idea was to have a powerful impact on TT children by allowing them to see themselves in the books they read.

Ruiz Montalvo recalled that as a child she read many books but never one with a character that looked like her. The same can be said for many adults, and even today children grow up wishing they had straight hair or blue eyes because that’s what’s depicted in the books they read. So either they want to be like that or they feel left out.

“Books are meant to be both mirrors and windows. Children experience the “mirror” when they see someone who looks like them in the books they read, in terms of their ethnicity, cultural background and belief system. This “mirror” experience is very important for a child’s self-image.

Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright is available at My Reflections children’s bookstore. – AYANNA KINSALE

“Children experience the ‘window’ when they read books with characters different from them. The “window” experience is essential for a child to be open-minded, compassionate, and see the world from another person’s perspective.

“When African or Indian children are only exposed to books with Caucasian or animal characters, they never get the ‘mirror’ experience.”

So at the time of Floyd’s death, feeling that she needed her then four-year-old son, Matthew Ruiz Montalvo, to grow up knowing his worth, Ruiz Montalvo took a long look at his library and noticed his books. . only had animal or Caucasian characters.

Later, she learned from American publication statistics that the vast majority of characters in children’s books are 50% Caucasian, 27% Animal, 10% African, 7% Asian, 5% Latino, and 1% Native American/First Nations. nations. And that seven percent of Asians include characters from all parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands, such as Korea, China, Philippines, Cambodia, India, and others.

“I wanted my son to be passionate about reading, to love reading and for reading to be a very important part of his life, and I wanted him to feel validated and see himself in the books. therefore decided to get him books in which characters look like him.

She went looking for books with characters who were people of color. She only found two locally and the subjects were associated with slavery, which she didn’t want to introduce to a four-year-old.

She turned to the internet, looking for fun and engaging books in which Matthew could see himself and identify with the characters. And, after a while, I found websites focused on children’s books with black characters.

It was then that she decided that not only her son, but other children should benefit from a healthy self-image, which could be a launch pad for the rest of their lives.

Some of the books sold at My Reflections Children’s Bbookstore owned by Nneka Ruiz Montalvo at Red Edge Mall, St James. – AYANNA KINSALE

Plus, she says, reading sharpens the brain since it’s an active process. While reading, people use their brains to formulate words and sentences, as well as to visualize and interpret text. It also expands vocabulary and improves spelling and grammar, unlike watching TV or watching videos on a device.

“I just decided to go brave. Yes, we are in a pandemic, but I was so determined to make a positive change that I said, “Yes”. I’m going to open this bookstore in the middle of a pandemic when the whole world is going crazy.'”

In January 2021, she launched the children’s bookstore My Reflections.

However, people wanted to see the books and look at the pictures before buying them, which encouraged her to open a physical bookstore, which she did at Red Edge Shopping Mall, St James in October 2021.

Since then, My Reflection Children’s Bookstore has expanded its range of books. On January 19, 2022, it began to include a wider range of children’s books with Indian characters.

Ruiz Montalvo recalled local authors and clients of Indian descent telling him that they had gone through the same experience as many others, feeling inferior because they never saw themselves in the books.

A friend, who is Hindu, told Ruiz Montalvo that she grew up ashamed of her beliefs for the same reason. She wanted books that would make her daughter feel validated as an Indian and a Hindu. She wanted to protect her daughter and make sure she had good self-esteem.

“It really caught me off guard because I didn’t think Indians had that same sense of inferiority. But my friend, and another author, told me about colorism in the community, the preference of light skin over dark skin, and that’s something that can be addressed if kids see themselves in the books they read, feel validated. They would be less likely to engage in colorism or racism.

She consulted an Indian educator based in Canada who recommended a list of books with Indian characters and she ordered them through a distributor.

In the books, Indian children can see themselves in characters who are superheroes, fearless activists, and even a science-loving mermaid. There is also a wide range of books with African American and Caribbean characters.

Additionally, many books delve into science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) in hopes that kids will get excited about the topics.

“For our country to thrive, it’s essential that the next generation work towards building careers in STEAM. Rather than trying to push your kids into these areas or lecture them, introduce them to entertaining books with fun and relatable characters who are passionate about STEAM.

“Prime Minister Patrick Manning had a 2020 target but we’re not there yet. And that’s because we’re not spending enough time reading, learning, thinking and developing our minds. Instead of that, we spend too much time with iPads, iPhones, and TVs, and we’re not really growing as well as we should.

“I really try to build our children so that they love reading first because, according to Barack Obama, reading makes all other learning possible. So, I want kids to get excited about reading and I want them to have good self-esteem and a good self-image.

About Joey J. Hott

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