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'Black children should be able to see themselves in books'

TURNING THE PAGE: Editor-turned-author Davina Hamilton

I’M SURE some of my old 'Voice' colleagues will remember me saying I wanted to write a book. It was one of my long-held ambitions.

What I didn’t know was that I wanted to write a children’s book. That goal was never so specific. But after having my own children, who both enjoy being read to at bedtime, I thought it would be nice to write a book that could be included in their reading collection.

At that point, I started thinking about what kind of story I could write for them. Aged three and four, my son and daughter obviously aren’t quite ready for the works of Zadie Smith or Marlon James. But they are old enough to enjoy and understand an age-appropriate story. So I decided to use the opportunity to create something that would not only engage them, but also inspire them.

And so, Riley Can Be Anything was born.

As the title suggests, the book follows the main character, Riley, who discovers that he can be anything he wants to be when he grows up. I decided to make it a rhyming story, to give it a child-friendly pace and I also decided to feature a range of professions, to allow the young protagonist to see some of the possibilities that are open to him when he gets older.

But perhaps most significantly, I decided to make my main character and most of the supporting characters black.

In some ways, it wasn’t a hugely significant decision. I’m black, my children are black, why shouldn’t my characters be black?

But having written many articles about the importance of diversity and representation, I knew this was an opportunity to address these issues through my own book.

I believe that black children should be able to see reflections of themselves in the books they read, so they don’t have to question why they hardly ever see black characters in books, or, worse still, they start forming their own negative ideas as to why they are so rarely part of the narrative.

Equally, I feel that non-black children should have access to books that feature characters of varying ethnicities. Both black and non-black children can benefit from seeing diverse characters in the books they read, as it will, hopefully, allow them to grow up viewing diversity as part of their normality, rather than an oddity.

So I hope my book is embraced by children (and parents) all around the world, and that it inspires a host of young readers to discover – just like Riley – that they can indeed be anything.

Riley Can Be Anything is out now, available through Amazon and www.davinahamilton.com

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