It was a complaint from my son when he was about eleven that drove me to write the first draft of what has since been published by Puffin as The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series.
At the time, the only kinds of books he’d read independently were laugh-out-loud funny, highly accessible to even the most reluctant reader, and (more often than not) heavily illustrated. (I’ll blog about my experience of the power of funny books for reluctant readers in a subsequent post.)
His complaint: Why do the main characters in these types of books never have two mums or two dads?
After failing to source him such a book, I figured I’d write one.
In all honesty, my initial draft was for his eyes only. Avoiding his reading kryptonite of text-heavy paragraphs in favour of interactive pages, doodles aplenty and gags about spellings, I created a protagonist whose life vaguely represented his reality (adopted by two mums) and I was overjoyed when he told me he loved it.
Or so I thought…
A couple of years later, I shared the manuscript with my then eight-year-old daughter and was thrilled to see her as engrossed as my son had been. It was when she expressed how much she’d love all children to have access to a mainstream ‘laugh about it in the playground’ book that illustrated how perfectly ‘normal’ ‘different’ families actually are, that I knew I needed to try my luck at finding a publisher!
Positive representation, I’ve learned, matters enormously to all children. At the time of my son’s complaint, our bookshelves were sagging under the weight of books featuring children who had been adopted and children with same sex parents. The problem was, they were all picture books we’d shared when our children were small, non-fiction books a little too earnest in their ‘you’re so special’ message, a bit depressing, or contained too many emotional triggers.
We also had plenty of books that featured families very similar to ours as a matter of fact – manic parents making questionable packed lunches, children recounting school mishaps, curious family anecdotes and so on. But none of the main characters ever had same sex parents.
It was the light-hearted humour, combined with the honest, matter-of-fact, ‘this is who I am’ nature of Billie, the protagonist of The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series, that my children took to. Not only did it satisfy their hunger to see themselves in a book, it enabled them to verbalize how a book like mine could fill the gap they were both acutely aware was missing from their peers’ libraries – a funny ‘middle grade’ read that would incidentally expose all children to the normality of everyday life of our kind of family.
I really enjoyed reading the adventures of Billie Upton Green (not Bug!!)! Billie is a delightful and relatable character, and her escapades are both funny and heart-warming. I particularly enjoyed the inclusivity in the text, and it’s a real joy to see such positive LGBTQ+ representation in children’s books. Jen has written a real treat for younger readers, and the artwork is fabulous, too!― L. D. Lapinski, author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency
Readers will love Billie’s adventures, and her funny, doodle-filled way of sharing them, as much as they love the Dork Diaries or Wimpy Kid stories, and it’s great too to see such a warm celebration of diverse family life.― LoveReading4Kids
Carney’s lively, upbeat Billie is a welcome inclusive addition to the world of illustrated diaries. Her two mums feel like people I know, her weariness at explaining their existence just as familiar – and Billie herself is a treat, from her passion for biscuits to her determined pursuit of the school thief. Fun, funny, and deceptively clever.Susie Day, author of Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It
A brilliant, hilarious and heartwarming book! I’m pretty sure if I’d read this as a child it wouldn’t have taken me quite so long to understand and accept my own queer identity. Amazing for normalising same-sex parenting and adoption, completely laugh-out-loud funny and a feast for the eyes with lots of fun and engaging doodles. I loved it!Abigail Balfe, author of A Different Sort of Normal