One time in work, a black mother and her son came into the book shop I was working in. The boy went straight up to the Barbie dolls, picked out a doll that was black, had a fantastic hairdo and a prosthetic leg and claimed loudly that he wanted that one even though he was a boy. His mother smiled, bent down to look at it with him and said: “Of course you can have this doll. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl, you can play with whatever you want”.
This is the kind of message I think it’s so important to convey to children, and in a situation like this, it doesn’t matter what ethnic background a child has, or what gender they identify as – the most important thing is to encourage and promote independent thought and to support children in their interests.
Woke Babies founder Kelly-Jade Nicholls, said that “Woke Babies was born out of the frustration for the lack of diversity that there is in children’s books” during the Bookseller Children’s Conference on the 21st September this year.
Woke Babies is a shining light of representation of black authors and the struggle they have to go through to get their books on the market. According to Woke Babies’ website, only 2% of children’s book heroes are diverse, a statistic that is shocking to see in the 21st century.
That’s why the Woke Babies box sets and book options are so important to know about and celebrate. Their collaboration with Tangle Teezer didn’t just highlight the need for reimagined fairy tales that include people from diverse backgrounds, but shone a light on how hard it is to find literature that children can recognise themselves in, in a society that has marginalised inclusive literature.
Scrolling through the websites of bookshops and looking at the cover images of children’s books, the amount of non-diverse illustrations is something that people don’t necessarily think about. But is that born of ignorance or because it’s natural to not notice something that isn’t there?
Woke Babies is a platform that I wished I had heard of earlier – I have had children and adults come in to my store, looking for books that they recognise themselves in, or that tell stories about lives they can relate to, and yes, it would be unfair of me to say that these books don’t exist, but there are not enough. In children’s books where groups of friends go on adventures together and their little posse is comprised of children from different backgrounds, how often is the main character from a black background? How often are characters from different ethnicities represented as the protagonist rather than a supporting character?
The people who know of Woke Babies are lucky – they can provide their children with stories that appeal to them and that speak to them about familiar things, rather than “just catering to social issues”, like Kelly-Jade points out.
Who needs princesses with long, blonde hair, when you can have a modern-day heroine with braids that go through the clouds and down onto the streets? Who needs fairy tales when you can have hairytales?