As an organisation, we value the books that empower, ignite and encourage our readers to welcome, understand, empathise and learn about the world and people around them. Uju Asika writes a superb blog for us about diversity and her book, A World for Me and You!
The word diversity gets thrown around a lot these days. As someone who speaks to schools and organisations on the topic, it’s easy to forget what the word actually stands for (aside from being a corporate buzz term). When I was writing my picture book, A World for Me and You, one of my goals was to bring the joys of diversity to life in a way that even the smallest reader could appreciate. By exploring the wonders of various colours, flavours, languages and faces, I wanted to showcase a world where difference is not just tolerated but celebrated. Where variety isn’t just the spice of life, it’s the very essence of our planet.
For that’s what diversity means to me: it is a celebration of the world around us in all its many-layered, multi-hued glory. From a storytelling point of view, diversity is also about the worlds within… so many places inside each of us that we have yet to map and explore.
Like many kids who grow up as outsiders, I wasn’t so keen on diversity at first. As a little girl from Enugu, Nigeria going to an all-White school in England, I desperately wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to be the only one with brown skin and Afro hair and a ‘funny-sounding’ accent. I had no desire to stand out. If I’d been granted a wish from a genie, I might have wished to be another face in the crowd. However, in my teenage years, I started to read and listen to different voices and to embrace my unique identity. My coming of age was very much a coming home to myself and rediscovering the beauty of my cultural heritage.
Interestingly, I was born in one of the most diverse places on the planet. Nigeria has people from multiple ethnicities, religions and tribes eating a wide variety of foods and speaking up to 300 different languages. It’s one of the sources of the country’s incredible wealth of talent across film, fashion, art, sports and music.
Unfortunately, it’s also the root of the tribalism that plagues Nigeria to this day. For the flip-side of diversity is divisiveness, a fear of the other that we can only challenge by promoting values like collaboration, co-existence and self-acceptance.
These values are at the heart of A World for Me and You. The picture book is a helpful tool to talk about difference with young kids and also to encourage people of all ages to treat each other with fairness and compassion. I believe we should teach all kids the joys of living in a diverse world and learning to accept each other for what makes us special.
A World for Me and You invites readers to imagine how dreary life would be if everything was the same and to consider the marvels of sharing multiple experiences. It’s so delightful watching children’s faces light up when they see themselves or people who look like them inside its pages. And I loved being able to write about a mix of languages, skin tones and foods and to include some of the dishes I grew up eating like jollof rice, okra soup and fufu. To quote from the book: ‘Who’s hungry? Come and sit at our table. Everyone is welcome.’
A World for Me and You: Where Everyone is Welcome by Uju Asika (author) and Jennie Poh (illustrator) is published by Wren & Rook (Hachette Children’s Group)
Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation.