A four part series providing lessons learned along the journey of independently publishing my children’s books.
As a classroom teacher of colour, it had been unwaveringly apparent that the limited access to diverse representation within standard curriculum, or from the shelves and walls of our learning spaces, could be impacting outcomes for so many.
I still recall the geodesic dome we created from newspaper rolls one year, which remained in our classroom long after the Math lesson, as a cozy reading nook. Every child knew they were welcome to use that space, regardless of who built it. Teaching was about building trust and relationships, before any learning could take place. Classroom tasks were designed though an equity lens and routinely integrated into core subject areas whenever possible, especially in our monthly presentations around social-justice issues. As much as I trusted our Teacher-Librarian to find the many titles requested, there were always obstacles along the way. But this was over fifteen years ago, before social media, and when culturally responsive education was hardly talked about, let alone applied in real classroom settings. So, when the time came, I took all of this knowledge into cultivating the seeds of a small independent press that would advocate for diverse representation in children’s books – Saffron Press.
I did not realize how stark and immediate the realization for diverse representation would become, until our own child arrived. As I pulled books from shelves at home, my own collection felt lacking and over the years, I learned it too was problematic in ways I had not considered earlier. Looking for picture books that reflected our child’s reality was not as easy as asking our local Library or Bookshop for recommendations. There were titles available that illustrated his Sikh identity, but perhaps it was my inner ten-year-old still yearning for voices and images that looked and sounded more relevant to us.
Many of you who have followed our journey know, that part of our child’s identity includes that he is profoundly deaf. He wears bi-lateral aids but debunks the myth of not being able to communicate. He does. And he communicates really well, especially when he’s negotiating a later bedtime! The books I searched for needed to be intersectional, not only to open up the world to him, but also to reflect his lived experience of being a person of visible faith and deaf identity to the world.
Complete manuscripts had sat on my desk for a while before our little one arrived. As writers, editing is one of those things we cannot fully let go of, until we absolutely have to. Along with graduate degrees, I had completed additional university courses to understand the writing and editing process of children’s literature. Diving into the void of what the industry expected, was something I longed to understand. And so, I studied catalogues and book lists and begged and borrowed children’s books, so that I could make sense of what made a quality text, from layout, to rhythm, from font choices, to cover design. What I realized was that you cannot fully emulate a great writer’s voice or narrative, without your own truth. If a character’s voice is distorted by inaccurate nuances and if their lived experience cannot be pictured in the mind, the narrative will not touch a reader’s heart, no matter how shiny the cover. I polished and submitted the manuscripts with well-researched query letters, by snail mail, of course. Trade publishers rejected each one of them, time and time again. It was deflating. The silencing was resounding. I knew my stories were more than the personified dogs and trucks I kept encountering, but perhaps there was room for growth. There is always room for growth. My stories did not oblige the stereotypical storylines of cultural food, festivals and folktales. Mine told stories of lived experience, and hoped to disrupt the ignorance and hatred our community faced after the devastating events of 9/11.