Elephant characters of color?

So far we are thrilled and blessed to have received lots of wonderful feedback and reviews for our first multicultural children’s book Maya and Leela Present: Dances of India!  Shameless, indeed! 🙂

YET (see we are not COMPLETELY full of it), we have also heard from a few that wished we had chosen characters of color for our series, rather than human-like elephants (Maya & Leela) as our main characters. 

An extremely powerful point, especially, in light of the louder and bolder calls for more people of color in children’s books in the New York Times and HuffingtonPost recently.   The calls were sparked by a new study released by the University of Wisconsin, that about only 8% of children’s books published last year were about children of color – this is a decrease from the previous year! And I’m sure the numbers are even more dismal if we were to look closer at books in the age range that we are writing for.

Behind the scenes, both Kyra and I struggled immensely with this dilemma.  Our main goal was to address this dearth of multicultural content out there, for the super curious and absorbent (think diapers :)) little readers out there.  And to us, while race and ethnicity are very much a part of multiculturalism,  the term is much farther reaching.  For example, even in countries where people might “look,” the same, there may still be different ethnic backgrounds, religions, languages spoken, and simply differences in the way people live even from town to town. We want to bring light and celebrate as much of that diversity in the world and in our own communities and lives as we can.  Because c’mon – would we really want everyone and everything around us to be exactly the same?

When we were developing the idea and characters, we immediately envisioned two strong sisters for which you can blame our alma mater. But we grappled between the notion of promoting diversity and multiculturalism directly through the look of our characters, versus attracting parents and children (who might not otherwise select our book) because it looks “fun.”  And in doing so, we would have gained entry to exposing that family to the richness of another culture and way of looking at the world.

Ultimately, we opted for the latter in our first run.  Perhaps the easy way out, but we also thought that overall, there would be less judgment on animals versus the specific complexion of our characters from both inside communities of color and out.  Funny enough, we were at first more concerned with scrutiny around complexion within the South Asian community!  Elephants while somewhat exoticized, are majestic, graceful beings that we both love and still roam in India though that livelihood is being threatened in various ways.

While we are sticking with our human-like elephant sisters right now for the Little Loka Series ™, we are sensitive to the fact that we can do more to “show” better, the lack of diversity we are seeking to address.

The beauty of the world of children is that there is so much to discover and possibilities abound.  The Little Lokas Series ™ has the good fortune of playing in that world and so too, shall we listen and find creative ways to expand and evolve the way we tell and share our stories.

We gladly welcome any thoughts and feedback you may have to contribute on all of this!

Posted on: April 29, 2014, by : littleloka