(Guest post from The Pack-n-Go Girls’ Janelle Diller)
Several years ago I was working on Mystery of the Thief in the Night, our Pack-n-Go Girls adventure about a girl from Seattle who sails to Mexico. Lisa, my business partner, and I had just made a conscious decision to make sure our American characters were as diverse as our international ones. And so I turned to my friend Angela, a first generation Chinese-American woman, for help in creating an Asian American character as the American girl in the story. She helped me, of course, with language and cultural details that I didn’t know. But the most important thing she did for me was to give me perspective. As we were winding down the conversation, she said, “Janelle, I’m so excited that you’re adding a Chinese American girl to your story. I can’t tell you how much it would have meant to me as a child to read a book that had a girl who looked like me in it.”
Even though at the time I absolutely believed in the importance of more diverse characters, she made it visceral for me. What would it have been like for me if as a child I had never seen my own face on a page? Would I have been such a voracious reader? Would I have always felt like an outsider? Would I have felt like someone who didn’t really belong?
The loss isn’t just for children who don’t see themselves on the pages, but the loss is also for the children who only see themselves on the pages. How do they learn to appreciate and understand other cultures? I grew up in the cocoon of a monochromatic small town in Kansas. If I hadn’t grown up in a traveling family, I’m not sure when I would have had my first conversation with a person whose skin color differed from mine. Seeing different ethnicities in the books I read would have at least stretched me to be a little less egocentric.
It turned out that we were too far along with the story and illustrations to make the shift for Mystery of the Thief in the Night. But my conversation with Angela stayed with me. Since then, we’ve added a Cuban American in our Brazil series and an African American in our Thailand series. And now, finally, with our next book, Mystery of the Min Min Lights, which takes place in Australia, we’ve added a Chinese American girl. We hope children will see themselves in our pages.
Thanks for the reminder, Angela, for what a difference that will make.
Janelle Diller is a co-founder of Pack-n-Go Girls. She writes the Austria, Mexico, and Australia books and hands it off to her business partner, Lisa Travis, to write the Brazil and Thailand books. Designed by girls for girls who love to play and travel, Pack-n-Go Girls engages the imagination of children ages 6-9 by introducing them to different countries around the world. Pack-n-Go Girls early chapter book adventures are packed with spooky mysteries, international friendships, and lots of fun and easy multicultural learning. Check out the Pack-n-Go Girls website for more learning fun and FREE learning activities: www.packngogirls.com