Ashley Franklin

Look, Ma, that boy is brown like me!

We were watching an episode of Goldie and Bear on Netflix yesterday. Both my 5yo and 2yo love the show. This particular episode had Jack and Jill at a sleepover with Goldie and Bear. Before I’d even had a chance to fully recognize it, this is what my 5yo yelled:

“Look, Ma, that boy is brown like me!”

The thing is, he didn’t stop there.

“His head is brown, like mine. His arms are brown, like mine. Do you think his legs are shaped like mine too? I think we’re twins!”

Yes, Jack and Jill were brown. He was so excited, all I could do was smile. Moments later, I was a bit sad. If he was this excited, this also meant that he’d noticed a lot of the things he watched had characters that didn’t look like him. Mind you, children’s television has lots of animal and inanimate object characters. That sort of equals the playing field. However, if those same animal and inanimate objects typically have grey or blue eyes, it’s kind of implying the same thing.
Some people think that when we call for diversity, we want to do away with what has typically been the norm. That’s not the case. We want the norm to be more inclusive. We want to share the spotlight. We want our children to see they can be and do anything too.
This experience reminded me of why I am striving to become a published picture book author. I know that I won’t be able to control the artwork, as I’m not an illustrator. But, I will work tirelessly to write stories that may help to widen the types of representations that are available for young kids to see. It’s time for diversity to go beyond being an idea in our heads and something we can tangibly see. Isn’t there a common saying that goes something like  “You have to see it to believe it.” Well, I’m already at the believing part, and I am truly ready to see it.

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To my son, on your 1st day of pre-k

I thought I’d be doing nothing but happy dances when you finally went to school. Boy, was I wrong. It’s the night before your big day, and I’m an emotional disaster. Today lots of people were tweeting #IStandForDiversity in support of diversity in literature. Clearly, there are many who feel differently. How truly ugly the world can be, that’s what I saw today. Someone said she received a death threat. A death threat? For promoting diversity.
Son, I have to be honest with you. I’ve lied to you. I’ve constantly told you that you can do anything. That’s just not true. You can’t make people like you. You can’t make people be your friend. It’s important that I tell you this because you’re Black and your Muslim. I can’t step in to protect you all the time. I realize that more now. It scares me.
I’ve always asked that you be a good boy for mommy. What happens when someone isn’t good to you? I don’t know. I hope that I’ve taught you something that will help you to still be a good person–to not be bitter or rude. I want you to be open to new friends, but more importantly, I want you to know that it’s okay to be you. It’s more than okay, actually. I want you to be proud of who you are. I want you to walk with your head help up high. I want you to know that it’s okay if you don’t look or act like everyone else. I want you to know that that’s perfectly fine. I also want you to know that as free as you are to be yourself, others are free to be who they are. Never make someone feel ashamed for being who they are.
And the most important thing I want you to know is that I love you-every minute of every day. Always know that you are loved.
I want to tell you all of these things. Instead, I’ll just tell you to be kind. Be the kind of friend that you want to have. Oh, and have an awesome first day of pre-k. Mommy loves you.
 
 

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Note to self:Don’t get lost in animal stories.

I feel like I am truly getting closer to my dream. Thanks to my overactive imagination, I can almost smell the picture book newness with my name on it. In real life, while I’m waiting to hear back from publishers, I am continuing to write. After all, that’s what you do to avoid stalking your email. Seems logical to me.
I’m drafting 4 new picture book manuscripts at once. (I can’t think one story at a time.) I realized that 3 of them have a non-human main character. For me, this is problematic.
I grew up loving animal stories. They were my comfort zone. Why? They felt like a safe alternative since I didn’t see much of me in the stories I loved. I’ve said before that I had copies of folk tales and all that. Still, I could only relate to them but so much.
Today, I made a vow to draft a manuscript focusing on a human character for every non-human character driven story. That might not mean much to you, but it does to me. To me, it matters. For the little girl whose imagination readily filled with White characters and animals but struggled to imagine someone who looked like her doing similar things, it matters. For the little girl who will always remember being told that she could only be the neighbor or the dog when playing “house” at school because she didn’t match, it matters a lot.
 
 

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Won’t you be my (bookshelf) neighbor?

This week on Twitter, I had a super brief conversation (after all, it is Twitter) in which I agreed that having diversity simply for the sake of diversity in literature is an epic fail. To be honest, I hadn’t even thought of this as an issue until the original poster’s tweet graced me with its presence.
That got me thinking. If folks think writers and publishers are seeking diversity at the expense of quality, it is seriously time to offer up some clarity. For example, it is my dream to be a successful writer. (My definition of that likely differs from yours, but we’ll save that for another post.) I don’t want a red carpet rolled out for me simply because I am a POC writing diverse characters. No! I want to be right alongside of any other writer, POC or not, whose work has received accolades if my writing is of the same caliber.
Yes, recognize that I am a POC and my characters will be diverse. However, don’t box me in. If I happen to write something amazing, I don’t want someone to say that the writing has merit and I’m a good writer for a POC. Nope! If I’m awesome, don’t segregate my awesomeness. Spread it around.
How do you organize your bookshelf? The present state of my bookshelf wold likely give someone hives. It’s just that unorganized to the untrained eye. To me, I have my books arranged by how much I like them. Sula is next to Madame Bovary. Great Expectations is next to Hamza’s Heroes. See, that may mean nothing to you. To me, it means I know exactly what I’m reading next.
Maybe one day I’ll be on your shelf. I wonder who will be my neighbor.

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On writing diverse children's books

The We Need Diverse Books folks have done a great job of making one thing clear: We do, in fact, need diverse books. They have their reasons and their mission, and I’m all for it.
Still, I have my own reasons as to why I have chosen to write diverse children’s books. I was an only child until I was 9. I spent plenty of time with books. I read oodles of books like they fed my soul. Or…maybe I’ve always been slightly socially awkward and books are my comfort zone. Either way, many books were read!
I read lots of animal stories, and I do remember having a copy of Aesop’s fables. I loved the illustrations. I loved the fact that there were brown characters like me. I wasn’t too keen on the fact that they didn’t sound like me. Other books did. For some unknown reason, Jan Wahl’s Timothy Tiger’s Terrible Toothache was one of my favorite books. I would be lying to you if I told you I remembered anything specific about the plot. I can, however, clearly remember how that book made me feel. I didn’t like pain. I had family that helped me when I needed it. Timothy sounded like me. He was my first favorite tiger. (Please don’t tell my kids that, as they firmly believe that there shall be no other tiger than Daniel Tiger.)
I want to combine those two childhood memories. I want to write books that children of color can relate to. I want them to see themselves and hear themselves. If they can do that, imagine how that will make them feel!

A little less lonely. A little more proud.  A lot more special.

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