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“Children are not colour-blind” – Mylo Freeman on racial diversity in children’s books

Mylo Freeman

 
The Dutch author Mylo Freeman, who gained recognition for her Princess Arabella-series, which features a black princess as main character, recently wrote a piece for The Guardian on how the struggle for diversity in children’s literature still has a long way to go:

I’m a black Dutch author and illustrator of picture books and I’d like to tell you something about my work. The idea for my main character Princess Arabella came from a story I heard about a little black girl who was offered the role of princess in a school play, which she declined, simply because she didn’t believe that a princess could be black. I decided then and there it was high time for a black princess to appear in a picture book! Once the book was finished I had to look for a publisher of course. After some research I thought Eenhoorn, a Belgian publisher, would be the best candidate. I wrapped all the illustrations carefully and sent them by mail to Belgium. After that it was just a matter of waiting for a response…

“It was a rainy day,” my publisher told me later. “I had just attended what was supposed to be a meeting to celebrate an organization that provides books for children who are having difficulties learning Dutch as a second language. They were mainly children from a Moroccan background”. The books my publisher brought to read to them didn’t relate to them at all. Frustrated and disappointed she returned to the office only to find my first manuscript and illustrations for Princess Arabella carefully wrapped at her desk!

This was 10 years ago and now there are 10 Arabella books published and more to come! Princess Arabella’s Birthday was very well received, won prizes and was translated into many languages. However when it came to selling the rights to the US things got complicated. “It’s her hair”, white American publishers whispered, embarrassed, “her hair looks uncombed, our audiences will be offended”. I was baffled, how could Arabella’s and her mum the queen’s hair be offensive to anyone? I modelled it after traditional African hairstyles after all?

 
This of course had everything to do with African American history. A history marked by slavery and where generations after still reflected the white dominant culture. However, there has been a trend going on for some time now for black women to have their own natural hairstyles. And it seems that women nowadays get to make a choice as how to wear their hair and not out of an imposed sense of social pressure.

Continue reading here.

Princess Arabella’s Birthday
‘Once upon a time, there was a little princess called Arabella. She lived in a big palace with her father, the King, and her mother, the Queen. It was nearly Arabella’s birthday. But what do you give a little princess who already has everything?’Ruby-encrusted roller skates, a golden bicycle, a stuffed mouse, a cuddly mouse, a tea set, a doll’s pram carriage? No, Princess Arabella wants something different for her birthday: an elephant.But will she get what she wants?

Princess Arabella Mixes Colours
Princess Arabella thinks her room is boring. So she decides she’s going to do something about that – all by herself. She mixes up some paint and in no time at all her room looks fabulous.The latest book about the popular little Princess Arabella, with fun information about mixing colours.

Princess Arabella's Birthday

Book details

 
 

Princess Arabella Mixes Colours

 

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