Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Saturday 8 April 2017

On Representation in Children’s Literature

Guest blogger, Kate Gordon, is well known for her YA stories that present interesting and diverse characters in various Tasmanian settings – past and present. Kate is fascinated by identity and the importance of readers and characters being able to connect within the pages of the books and their stories.
When I was a kid, I never read books about me. Books about my experience. Books about people who were like the people I knew.
I know I was lucky. It wasn’t so long before my childhood that all children had to read was Enid Blyton with her lashings of ginger beer – a reflection of childhood that must have seemed bizarre to young people growing up a million miles away. And once you became a teenager? Well, YA books didn’t exist. Kids moved straight from The Faraway Tree to Far From the Madding Crowd.
I grew up in a time of great books for kids – I devoured Tamora Pierce, Judy Blume and, yes, Ann M Martin, too. And there were fabulous Australian books as well – Robin Klein, John Marsden, James Moloney, Isobelle Carmody …
But they weren’t about me.
I was a kid growing up in rural Tasmania. Not the outback. Not a mainland city. Wynyard. I couldn’t see kids like me anywhere in the books I read.
I was a quiet, shy, bookish, queer kid with severe anxiety and terrible dress sense. I was a bullied kid. I was a kid with an undiagnosed chronic illness that made me feel like a freak.
Where were the books about me?
Representation in literature is so important to forming a child’s sense of identity and belonging. If you never see yourself in the media you consume, how will you ever know that you are normal? That everyone is normal? Everyone belongs somewhere. The queer kids, the disabled kids, the trans kids, the fat kids, the kids with illness, mental or physical, the dark-skinned kids, the kids who wore hijab, the kids whose faces don’t look like the norm. It matters if a kid doesn’t see themselves anywhere.
It matters enormously when they do.

In my writing career I have striven to represent kids like I was. I’ve set all my books in Tasmania. I want Tasmanian kids to see themselves in literature. As I move into the next phase of my career it’s becoming increasingly important to me to foster writers to tell their “own voices” stories to show every kid that they belong and matter.
I’m working with Twelfth Planet Press, an award-winning Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF) publisher, to start a new children’s imprint called Titania. 
We aim to publish books that have diversity and inclusiveness at their heart, but aren’t defined by it. We aim to reflect diversity of sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity and religion within larger stories that could take us to the ends of the universe and back. These are not “message” books. These are books with rollicking adventures and strong, three-dimensional characters. These are books where the girls can save the boys and then go home to dinner with their two mothers. We aim to publish the work of people who speak from their lives and their hearts and have the talent and creativity to weave fantastic stories around their lived experience.

We aim to capture readers from their earliest forays into the marvels of books, and take them through to their teenage years. We aim to create readers.

Twelfth Planet Press is an award-winning publishing house that has always had a focus on thought-provoking work. Their Kaleidoscope anthology was a collection of
fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA with diverse leads. I’m proud to be working with them on this new venture.
I hope that there are some Tassie kids out there who have experienced comfort and a sense of belonging reading my books. I hope that Titania will take this further and help kids everywhere to understand how important they are; how normal and how magical.

Kate Gordon
YA author www.kategordon.com.au

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