Why it’s important for kids to see themselves in books
How important is it to see ourselves in stories? To see people, or families like ours in stories? For me, I never realised quite how important it was until my daughter, aged 3, asked me why none of her favourite books had ‘people like us,’ in them. When I asked her what she meant, she said, ‘A mum and a kid, living together. And a dad who’s lovely too, but just lives somewhere else.’
She pointed to the Gruffalo’s Child as one she identified with – a little girl and her dad in cave, she said they were like her and her dad and she liked it. Even though she didn’t live with him, it made her feel good to see a story about the relationship between a dad and a daughter where it was obvious the two loved each other, and there was adventure.
‘You should write one about a mum and daughter who live in a house in the country like us.’ So, I did.
I’ve been writing a long time. I’m 40. I decided to write seriously when I was still at primary school and wrote a book called, ‘The Girl with The Golden Hair’ about a girl whose reflection climbed out of the mirror at night and got up to all sorts of adventures. I wrote my first (awful) novel at 19. In my mid twenties I left a town/life/life I loved to go to UEA and do the MA in Creative Writing, instead of continuing with a budding career in magazines. I’ve put a lot of time and thought into stories. I didn’t know how not to.
Stories are the way we make sense of the world. Stories fill in the gaps and make our imagination overflow. Stories are the voices in our head made real. They’re not just in books. They are everywhere.
But. The chance to write something that would last, that my daughter could read when she was grown up, when I myself might not be around anymore, that showed a mum and daughter living happily together felt different, it felt utterly right to me. I remember somebody saying to me, ‘That poor girl,’ in the street about her dad and I not being together, and me looking at her, bright, happy, knowing both her parents loved her, and thinking, ‘I’d love it if people stopped automatically looking at separated parents, single parents, different family shapes as somehow ‘less’, somehow something to feel sorry about.’
I realised that really mattered to me.
Anyway. I’ve thought about it a lot since my daughter said what she did. Everybody deserves to see themselves in stories. We all need to do more to make sure everybody does.
The family shape ISN’T the story. Stories happen in all households. That’s what matters to me. Showing that, then getting on with the adventures. Imagination. Hope. Silliness. Bravery. The ability to find the bright bits of life, without pretending the dark bits don’t exist. Stories about the thrill and colour of every day magic. I just feel so lucky to have the opportunity to put that all into these books, and to see Pippa Curnick make such beautiful pictures from my words.