Lilac border with illustration by Gurleen Rai of herself on the left. A south-Asian young woman with two braids, wearing a yellow top with red collars and oversized eyeglasses. Text reads: Featuring storyteller and animator Gurleen Rai
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Lilac border with black tag in bottom left that reads: Seeds of Knowledge. Saffron Press logo in gold. In white space above, photo of Kyo Maclear on the left with short black hair, wearing a blue top. Book cover of Spork beside her. On right, text reads: Featuring children's book author, novelist + essayist Kyo Maclear.

Spork was one of the first picture books we shared with our little one.

I had recently launched Saffron Press and was thrilled to find a book written by a Canadian author about a subject I am fiercely passionate – diverse representation in children’s books. I connected with Kyo all those years ago and she graciously agreed to share her responses to questions that are still relevant and especially urgent, given the surge in anti-Asian hate since COVID-19 began. As allies and co-conspirators in the work of anti-racism, we are aware that these sentiments did not begin just a year ago – we have a long history of anti-Asian discrimination in Canada.

Reading books written/illustrated by Asian authors, or about their experiences is not the answer to tackling issues of hate, of course. Books serve only as a beginning in the work of becoming anti-racist.

(Image Description: Book trailer for Spork by Kyo Maclear from YouTube)

 

I would like to welcome children’s book author, novelist and essayist, Kyo Maclear.

Kyo Maclear’s children’s books have been published in over twenty countries and nominated for numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award, the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. In addition to writing for children, Kyo is also a novelist and widely published essayist. She is on faculty with The Humber School for Writers and the University of Guelph Creative Writing MFA.

Kyo lives and works in Toronto/Tkaronto where she shares a home with two sons, two cats and a singer.

She is represented by Jackie Kaiser of Westwood Creative Artists.

For a full bio and more information about her writing for grownups, please visit:
 www.kyomaclear.com

(From Kyo Maclear Kids).

 

Book cover of Bloom by Kyo Maclear. Title is hand lettered in pink at the top. Underneath, text reads: A story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli in black. Image shows a young (white-presenting) woman with short dark hair looking forward with her eyes wide open. She is surrounded with flowers in a pink palette.

Bloom by Kyo Maclear, illustrations by Julie Morstad. ©Tundra Books 2018. No copyright infringement is intended.

 

Meet Kyo Maclear:

 

 

NAVJOTSpork was inspired by the birth of your first child. Did you feel that there were other books available that connected to your child’s story at the time?  If not, what is your perspective on the lack of diverse books for children?

KYO: No. I wrote the story originally as a chapbook for family and friends because I wanted to celebrate our son’s birth and the diversity of our family. I was unaware of other stories featuring mixed race children–especially stories that had fanciful/playful element.

Book Cover for Story Boat by Kyo Maclear. Robin blue background and title in white text at the top. Image shows two people in a creamy coloured teacup boat. A salmon coloured sail on the boat and a flower rises from behind the characters. Dark and white waves under the 'boat'. Birds, a butterfly and suitcase fly around the image.

Story Boat by Kyo Maclear, illustrations by Rashin Kheiriyeh. ©Tundra Books, 2020. No copyright infringement intended.

 

 

NAVJOT: Can you recall an anecdote that demonstrates how Spork has given a child a sense of belonging?

KYO: I visited a Catholic school this year (2012) where over 90% of the children speak a second language and/or have parents who were born outside of Canada. There were over twenty countries represented in the class I visited. I found that Spork really resonated with them. I think it speaks to that feeling of in-between-ness that comes with being a first generation immigrant. I still think children feel pressure to assimilate into the mainstream (consumer) culture. Spork opens up a space to talk about multiple heritages and makes “not fitting in” a point of pride.

 

 

NAVJOT: As a young person growing up in London (U.K.) and Canada, did you feel you had books representative of your British/Japanese/Canadian cultural identity?

KYO: There were no books that spoke to this aspect of myself. I read British children’s books (Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, etc.) and I read Japanese folktales (Momotaro, The Peach Boy, being the one I remember most vividly.)

 

Page from Spork by Kyo Maclear. Text in centre reads: But Spork stuck out. Neutral palette with personified spoons illustrated at the top and personified forks at the bottom. Spork looks confused placed beside the text.

Spork by Kyo Maclear, illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault. ©Kids Can Press, 2010. No copyright infringement is intended.

 

NAVJOT: I remember growing up in England as a south-Asian girl and never seeing anyone who looked like me in the books I read unless they were folktales. I did not connect to those tales. Did this happen to you and how did it make you feel?

KYO: Yes, my Japanese heritage was represented by the “folkloric” stories I mentioned above…When I moved to Toronto in the 1970s there was this festival called Caravan, which was basically a pageant of multicultural food and dress. It was benign in some ways but also stereotypical because it presented cultural difference as something quaint and cosmetic. I think it’s important to consider this when we talk about diversity and representation. What kind of images do we want to see? More is not always better if the stories are reinforcing stale ideas about cultural difference.

In conclusion, I asked Kyo if she could share her own seed of knowledge for aspiring writers and illustrators.

NAVJOT: As an author (unpublished in the traditional world of children’s books), stepping out on the path of creating an independent press all those years ago, I would embrace any and every opportunity to learn from fellow creators. What wisdom would you share with creators venturing into the world of writing and/or illustrating?

KYO: To creators, I might say: Serve the work. Not a wonky idea of the market or a false idea about ‘what’s popular’ or even the chorus of negative voices in your head.

Thank you for sharing our space Kyo, here at the Pod. To learn more about Kyo Maclear’s work, please visit her website.

Image of author with thank you message for supporting a small, independent press.

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