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Reading for pleasure Representation

Why is representing rainbow families in children’s books so important?

It’s no secret that I’m passionate about the representation of rainbow families in children’s books. Indeed, a conversation with my son about the lack of positive representation (particularly in funny books) was my starting point for The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series which I’ve previously blogged about here.

In my opinion, the answer to this question is:

A. to give children with two mums or two dads the choice to read a book that reflects their reality

and

B. to help children from more traditional family units to broaden their understanding of the world.

But why?

According to the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education’s ‘Reflecting Realities’ report (2020), representation is the key to successful reading for pleasure (another of my passions).

When a child sees themselves in a book, they feel validated, their self-confidence sky-rockets as they realise they’re not alone. Moreover, they’re more likely to read for pleasure and, if this habit is sustained, they’ll have better life chances, get better grades and report higher levels of wellbeing (OECD). 

So given that in 2019 (according the ONS) there were 212,000 same sex families in the UK (and three years on, this figure will surely be greater), representing rainbow families is key to reading for pleasure for a large number of children.

That’s the ‘mirror’ element of reading.

But reading about people who are different to you, is of equal importance. This is where ‘windows’ come in.

To be able to read about life from another person’s perspective, helps children to make sense of the world around them. When a reader from a family with a mum and a dad reads a book that contains a rainbow family, they learn to empathise and accept. Essential conversations are sparked which can often lead to a deeper understanding of ‘different’ and a celebration of the many similarities that unite humans.

So, in summary, from picture books for babes in arms, right through to longer reads for older children, books have a huge role to play in helping youngsters to understand our world. Whether that’s to boost an individual’s self-esteem, to help nurture empathy for different, or just to cement the fact that all family units, whatever they look like, are valid, worth writing about, normal.

Can you recommend any great children’s books that contain positive representation of same sex parents?

Yes! BookTrust has some marvellous suggestions on these pages:

Middle Grade recommendations (age 7-11ish)

Younger readers

And here are a few recommendations from me:

My Daddies written by Gareth Peter, illustrated by Garry Parsons – a rhyming picture book adventure that includes a celebration of adoption and is perfect for introducing children to a family with two loving fathers.

Love Makes a Family written and illustrated by Sophie Beer – a board book depicting a wide range of families and what they may typically do on a daily basis.  I love this book’s main message: the one thing that makes every family is love.

The Pirate Mums written by Jodie Lancet Grant, illustrated by Lydia Corry  – an adventure picture book that helps children to embrace uniqueness – whether that’s because you have two mums, or that your parents are pirates!

Uncle Bobby’s Wedding written by Sarah Brannen, illustrated by Lucia Soto – an uplifting celebration of love in all its forms.  I vividly remember my nephew worrying I might not have time to play when I told him I was getting married!

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. (3 books) written and illustrated by me! – think Wimpy Kids meets Tom Gates, but with a witty female protagonist who, incidentally, has two mums and was adopted as a baby.

The Last Firefox written by Lee Newbery, illustrated by Laura Catalan – a fantasy tale about finding your own courage with lovely representation of an adoptive family with same-sex parents (two dads).

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It by Susie Day – an exploration of masculinity told via an exciting adventure and including a family headed up by two fathers.

Proud of Me by Sarah Hagger-Holt – a lovely coming of age story with multiple LGBT themes, told from the point of view of twelve year old siblings Josh and Becky who have two mums.

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What was World Book Day Like for you?

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with all the wonderful World Book Day (AKA World Book Fortnight!) activities and events I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in.

Schools, libraries, theatres, bookshops – thank you so much for having me.

Audience participation in Answer The Question Before 🙂

It’s been completely brilliant to see children so enthused about books – laughing, sharing tales, dressing up as Billie, asking some inciteful questions and, best of all, telling me how much they love my series.

#Authorgoals – a potato of my protagonist – Billie Upton Green

Here are some of the most popular questions I got asked over the last couple of weeks and some short and sweet answers in case you’re interested:

When did you write your first book?

When I was seven. It was completely magpied from a book I loved to re-read when I was this age: About Teddy Robinson by Joan Robinson. Mine was called About Teddy Carney. The teddy lost his leg, played tennis and got a cap with the number 88 on it. Deep.

Practise makes…better…

What’s your favourite biscuit?

A question I love and one I often answer thus: A Tunnock’s Tea Cake – brilliantly dismantle-able; delicious to boot. Oddly, it doesn’t feature in TOBLA’s Biscuit Laws. Yet.

The first five Biscuit Laws in The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.

What inspired you to start writing?

  1. My mum. She wrote funny poems about my family and I loved her reading them to me.
  2. A teacher at High School called Mrs Gray who gave me tons of positive feedback and encouragement about my penmanship.
My lovely mum (and toddler me)

Have you had any other jobs?

Yes, many! Here’s a few of them: family learning tutor, KS2 teacher, working in a shoe shop, working in a bank, bid-writer, project manager, leaflet deliverer.

Here’s me working as a project manager on a gardening project

Why did you write this series?

I wanted to make sure that my children (and subsequently children all across the country/world) had the option to read a funny and interactive book that featured a main character who was happily adopted by two mums – because that’s what my son wanted when he was 10.

There are currently three books in The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series. You can order them here if you like!

How long does it take to write a book?

Tricky. For me, writing a first draft might take about four months (predominantly working 9.30-2.30 Monday to Thursday). But the rest of the process takes much longer – working with an editor to make everything shine, the illustration process etc. It can take over a year for a book to get from an idea in my head to being available in a shop.

Some of the books I’ve recently signed for Ebb & Flo bookshop

How old are you?

I like to answer this question, and the one about how long I’ve been writing, with a maths problem.

My age is 9 x 5, half of 90, three lots of 15

I started writing stories when I was seven. That was in 1983.

(This detail is correct as at 13th March 2022!)

Me and Rachel – the wonderful children’s bookseller at Waterstones in Warrington. Say cheese!

Do you have any tips for writing funny books?

Keep a notebook handy. When you see/hear/think of something funny, write it down for reference. Test your material out on your intended audience. Be prepared to make some drastic cuts!

A child laughing…I think because she’s been allowed to dismantle a custard cream in class.

What’s your favourite book?

I honestly don’t have one. I love reading all sorts of books. When I’m asked this question by children, I often recommend a book I’ve recently read and enjoyed. This week I read a couple of advanced reader copies of books I loved, both of which are out later in 2022: Secrets of An Undercover Activist by Nat Amoore and My Name is Sunshine Simpson by G.M. Linton. I do love realistic, contemporary stories with humour and heart.

#authorperks …publishers send you early reader copies of brilliant books like this.

Can you tell us a joke?

My answer here varies. Here’s an oldie, but a goodie: Knock knock. (Who’s there?) Europe…

I’d like to finish this blog with some HUGE thank yous to the following schools and organisations for inviting me to connect with readers during this bookish time of the year:

Orpington Library Chatterbooks group, The NENE Trust schools, Tameside Libraries, Albany Academy, Coleham Primary School, Horwich Parish C of E, St Joseph’s RC Primary, Woodside Junior School, Chorley Theatre, Ebb & Flo Bookshop and all the schools in Chorley who attended my World Book Day live event either in the theatre or via the livestream, Boldmere Primary, The Vineyard School, Hull Schools Library Service, Hampshire Schools Library Service.