Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by and about great Canadian children’s writers! Today’s guest: Mahtab Narsimhan. Take it away, Mahtab!
I dread reading the news these days. It’s important to stay up to date with current affairs but what do you do when almost everything you read ratchets up the stress, the tension?
I’ve figured it out.
You keep your eyes and ears, but especially your heart open for good news, for a story that makes you smile.
In 2017, I found that story in The Telegraph. It had gone viral and rightly so. It made me grin as I read it. A young Caucasian boy needed a haircut and asked his mother if he could get one exactly like his best friend so that their teacher wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. The picture accompanying the story was a slam dunk into my happy place. The Caucasian boy’s best friend was African. The only difference that this boy saw between them was their hairstyle.
It took a while for the picture book to come about but once I had it worked out in my head I wrote it in a single day. In the following months I tweaked and massaged it. The shorter a story is, the more difficult it is. Anyone who says otherwise has not attempted a picture book. At a hundred and forty words, this was the hardest thing I had ever written!
The more I read it, the more I loved it. If the kids in that story could see only hairstyles as the distinguishing aspect between them, at what stage in life would they start noticing other aspects? When would they begin to draw a line between them and us? Did it have to be this way?
I knew I had to write this story in a form that was accessible to the very young. If we could show kids that differences on the outside did not matter, that only shared interests and mutual love and respect mattered, we’d have a more tolerant future generation.
I’m grateful to Editorial Director, Karen Li, and Publisher, Karen Boersma, at Owlkids Books who saw the potential in this story and agreed to publish it. With vibrant and colourful illustrations by Lisa Cinar, this story now has life. I hope You and Me Both reaches a wide audience and encourages meaningful discussions.
As a person of colour, I have faced a fair share of discrimination. I’ve lived in India, the Middle East and finally Canada. While most of my experiences have been positive, there have been times I wished I could be someone else. I don’t feel that way anymore. The zeitgeist encourages diversity, and openness. I am thrilled to be part of the conversation and am committed, through my writing, to champion diversity.
As a child I often read books that were windows. Though I glimpsed fascinating worlds I wasn’t familiar with, I always longed to see someone like me in those stories. Now I have the privilege and responsibility to provide a mirror.
You And Me Both is a step in the right direction and I sincerely hope we continue down this path towards an empathetic future.