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.

6 Responses to “Note to self:Don’t get lost in animal stories.”

  1. Chris

    Ashley, your post hit me right here (thumping on chest)
    Passionate about Publishers allowing Illustrators to paint the main character brown, not just include a brown sidekick/friend, or token child of colour in the classroom/background, I asked this question at a conference a few years back… why do almost all the higher profile, big budget pic books feature a white child as the main character?
    A few Editors answered, oh, we do want diverse books, write them. My reply was, I’m not a writer, I’m an Illustrator and any book your publishing could easily be Illustrated as a child of colour.
    It got a little tense there for a moment, no one wanting to say marketing and sales would have a problem with this. Another of the faculty spoke up and said there are pic books using animals that cross that bridge/gap. My reply: no little brown girl should be expected to be content being represented by a bunny or a dog or a mouse, not while a little white girl can always see herself, as a human!
    Over 50 years ago Ezra Keat’s wrote and Illustrated “The Snowy Day”. When asked why he chose to make “Peter” brown, he said this:
    “None of the manuscripts I’d been illustrating featured any black kids—except for token blacks in the background. My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.”
    50 years after receiving the Caldecott, 50 years of being on the best seller list and still publishing has changed so little!

    • Avatar photo Ashley Franklin

      Chris, thank you so much for reading and commenting. This was a difficult post for me to write, so it means a great deal to find someone who truly gets it.I have two boys of my own now and while I may not be able to fully control what the characters look like in the books I hope to one day get published, I hope to at least grant them the opportunity to be seen.
      I know that was important for me, and I want my children to have that feeling–the feeling that of being different but being able to do the same things.

      • Chris

        Ashley I am SURE you will have that book published, and another and another. So will other Authors who envision their main character as a child of colour. Illustrators will be set free to choose their own palettes…burnt umber, mixed with a touch of red and white, both pale and darker hues.
        Vanessa Newton is an Author and Illustrator who has been championing diversity, championing her brown children characters. She is a hero of mine and there are others. You would think this fight would have been over long ago… it’s not, it’s really only begun sadly. But it will happen. A newer commercial pic book that hit the market, “Little Red Gliding Hood”, had Tony Cummings painting his child brown. The problem is it’s a struggle to name books that do feature a child of colour, that are not what I call “issue” books. Books about historical struggles of a people, or that focus on a religious holiday or theme.
        We need just books about being a child, that’s what I want to see. Funny, poignant, first day of school jitters, visiting Grandma, nightmares living in the closet. LIFE!
        You’ll do your boys proud!:)

      • Chris

        And oops, I messed up on the Illustrators name for Author Tara Lazar’s book “LRGH”… that should have read TROY Cummings:)

  2. Chris

    I really wish there was an edit button, so I could add to my previous comment/s rather then plug up your blog with just my thoughts post after post, sorry…:) but thought to add this morning that we DO need the “issue” books as well. Perhaps more now then ever, with so much hate, suspicion and fear in the world, specifically the US, our children (and hopefully they will educate their parents and grandparents) need to read about other peoples pasts, religions, cultures, and crumble to the ground the myths and stereotypes.
    But what is really lacking are the simple, STORY, pic books that allow any child to recognize themselves in daily life. It benefits all of us in the end.

    • Avatar photo Ashley Franklin

      I agree. Issues books are great. They definitely have a role that they fulfill. Having stories that show you can just exist in a space are plenty helpful as well.