Picture book of the month and a chat with author Uju Asika about A World for Me and You
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- Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2022 15:48
- Last Updated on 06 July 2022
- Monica Costa
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There are lots of beautiful new picture books to take with you on holiday and read to the children this Summer. My personal favourite one has to be Uju Asika’s A World for Me and You, published with Hachette Children’s Group.
Uju is a fabulous mum and writer and I have recently caught up with her. She a multiple award-nominated blogger, screenwriter and creative consultant. On her popular blog, Babes About Town, she shares ‘witty, informative and beautifully written’ stories about London, culture and family life. She is also the founder of digital consultancy, Mothers and Shakers. A former journalist, she’s written for publications such as The Guardian, Time Out and Salon.com and her poetry appears in select literary anthologies. As a screenwriter and script editor, she’s worked on some of Africa’s hottest TV shows, including the award-winning series Tinsel. Born in Nigeria, Uju grew up in the UK and has worked in London, New York and Lagos. She lives in north London with her husband and two football-mad boys.
A World for Me and You is a beautiful book about encouraging children to celebrate, appreciate and understand diversity and also a great way to open up conversations with children surrounding acceptance and difference.
Enjoy our chat!
Q: What is your latest book about?
Uju: A World for Me and You (Where Everyone is Welcome) is a book about the wonders of diversity. I wanted readers to imagine how dull the world would be if we didn’t have different colours, skin tones, languages, foods… or even different faces! So the book walks you through this vision by contrasting that imaginary world with how things really are (and also how they should be).
Q: When did you start writing the book and what was your inspiration behind it?
Uju: I started writing the picture book after my first book Bringing Up Race was published in September 2020. The picture book is very much inspired by the themes of Bringing Up Race which focuses on raising anti-racist children who embrace difference and who practise kindness with themselves and others.
Q: How does writing a picture book about race and the importance of celebrating diversity for children compare to writing books for an adult parent audience?
Uju: Well, it was a much shorter project to write, so there was a lot less research and tearing my hair out! Actually, it’s not as easy as some people think to write a picture book — I compare it to writing poetry. You have fewer lines but there’s so much craft that goes into each sentence. It was a challenge but also a joy to write A World for Me and You because it gave me an opportunity to condense some rather sophisticated ideas in a way that younger kids could take them in.
Something I often say is that adults tend to overcomplicate when it comes to issues of race, but the core message is simple. We are all human and we each deserve to be seen and appreciated for who we are, no matter what we look like and where we come from. None of us should be treated as inferior or like we don’t belong simply because we are ‘different’ — after all, diversity is part of the magic of being alive. It’s pretty miraculous when you consider that we all share one planet and yet every leaf, every snowflake, every fingerprint is unique.
Q: Over the past couple of years there has been an increase in conversations relating to speaking to children about race, particularly within the parenting sphere. How do you see your book fitting into this conversation? What role would you want this book to play in educating children?
Uju: A World for Me and You is a wonderful introduction to talking about diversity and inclusivity. I wanted to show how you can open up these conversations in a really light and fun way. There are children’s books that are more explicit about race and racism and those are hugely important too. But having written an entire book about race, I wanted to come at it from a more playful angle.
One key message for both kids and parents is that it’s natural and right to notice and appreciate differences. Let’s quit the false and dehumanising idea of being ‘colourblind’ when it comes to race. Instead, let’s teach our kids to truly see each other and to normalise conversations around culture and identity.
Q: Is there a particular sentence, section or illustration in the book which is your favourite? If so, what do you like about it?
Uju: The illustrator Jennie Poh told me she loved reading all the sections about food and illustrating the various dishes. Those are some of my favourites too. I especially enjoyed writing about foods I grew up with, like okra soup and jollof rice, in a mainstream picture book. Another of my favourite lines is: ‘Say your name with pride, say it with your whole chest!’ It’s so important for children, especially those who are told they have ‘difficult’ names, to know that their names matter and should be celebrated. I love what Jennie did with the illustrations on that page.
Q: What are your top 3 tips for parents approaching conversations with their young children about race?
- Start as soon as you can. Don’t wait until the perfect moment or when you think your kids are old enough. They are already noticing differences and you can help them embrace and respect diverse ways of being.
- Use picture books to guide your conversations. There are so many books including mine that can help your child learn about other cultures or recognise themselves and how they fit in. Make every effort to build a diverse library of books to keep these conversations going as your child grows.
- Don’t let what you don’t know shut down a conversation. If you feel out of your depth, be honest with your child and use it as an opportunity to learn more. Read books, watch films, talk with peers, journal about your own experiences. Think about anti-racism as a lifelong learning project for your whole family.
Q: Do you have any other projects in the works and if so, can you tell us about them?
Uju: I’m writing another non-fiction book for adults. It’s also in the parenting sphere but should appeal to people who aren’t parents too.
Q: Are there any other resources that you would recommend to parents?
Uju: I have a great list of diverse books for kids on my blog Babes About Town and a list of movies and TV shows that you can watch with your family to spark interesting discussions. You can find them on babesabouttown.com and follow me on @Babesabouttown for more updates.
Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums