A West London mum who grew up owning only one book featuring “someone who wasn’t white” has taken matters into her own hands and written a children’s book with her six-year-old son to increase diversity in literature.
Grace Francis, who is Black Caribbean and Caucasian, can only remember one book from her childhood that featured a minority ethnic protagonist: a story called Amazing Grace.
Amazing Grace was written in 1990 by Mary Hoffman and was heralded as one of the first picture books to feature a Black girl as the heroine.
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Real-life Grace, who coincidentally shares the same name as the books protagonist, is now 34, has raised three children and runs a creative education company.
Despite three decades having passed since the publication of Amazing Grace, the West London mum says she is still “very aware that there is a lack of diversity in books”.
She was spurred by statistics released in 2018 by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education to do something about the issue herself.
(Image: Grace Francis)
The Centre revealed that only four per cent of books published in 2017 featured Black, Asian or minority ethnic characters and only one per cent had an ethnic minority lead character.
In comparison, 32.1 per cent of school children in England identified as being from an ethic minority origin.
So, one evening in May 2021 she sat down with her youngest son, Micah, in their home in Hanwell to read a bedtime story and instead they made their own.
Grace sums it up pretty simply: “We made a beautiful story with lovely messages about self-worth and boundaries and got the ball rolling to get it illustrated and published.”
Sentence by sentence they worked together, discussing the rhymes and the storyline.
Grace would often see her son, who she describes as “very creative”, standing by the mirror, pulling faces to see whether he could catch his reflection out.
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That inspired the story, which takes a magical turn when the face in the mirror doesn’t copy the little boy back.
When Grace asks her son how he feels about being an author, she said: “He lifts his head high with a big cheesy grin, clearly very proud of himself, when I ask him how he feels he says ‘infinity awesome'”.
For Grace, she says it is just important “to be able to see yourself in the world”.
She added: “ We all come in different shapes and sizes and skin tones. In order not to feel alien you have to see yourself in the things looking back at you.”
She is also proud that herself and her son can call themselves authors.
“Having a young Black boy who is creative and believing in himself is inspiring,” she said.
A Meeting in the Mirror was published at the end of July with book launch events taking place in the coming weeks, including at Micah’s school in Southall.
The book is available to purchase on Amazon.
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