Michaela Dias-Hayes is the illustrator of Kate Greenaway Medal-nominated Sunflower Sisters, (Owlet Press, July 2021), for which she took inspiration from her part-Jamaican heritage and her former long term partner’s Indian family. Michaela’s first book as both author and illustrator, Colour and Me takes inspiration from conversations with her son. Here she talks about her new series.
I absolutely loved working with author Monika Singh Gangotra on Sunflower Sisters, as it gave me a chance to draw on my own mixed-race heritage and express elements of my background and culture through my illustrations. I’m very proud to now be launching my first series for young children as both author and illustrator, which starts with Colour and Me, out on 25th January. The main character, a young black girl, explores her creativity through mixing different coloured paints and connecting the colours she makes to some of her favourite things.
I was inspired to create this new book after mixing paints with my son when he was little. When he mixed all the paints together, he looked at me and said ‘Yuk brown … I hate brown!’ I explained, ‘It’s not yuk – it’s beautiful, like you and me.’ It made me think about how children see the colour brown as ‘not nice’ which could lead to black and brown children developing negative feelings about themselves and their skin colour. I realised that I, too, had felt the same way as a child and I believe this needs to instinctively change. I wanted to create a book, accessible to really young children, that celebrates brown skin and, on a really subtle level, nods to us all being a mixture of things and that we’re beautiful no matter what that ‘mixture’ looks like – we should all celebrate the melting pot of our heritage. I wanted to show that all families contain the same love and laughter, and that we’re all a beautiful mixture of traditions and cultures.
I work hard to create accurate brown and black characters in my books. For example, I love painting the beauty and detail in afro and braided hair – it’s my favourite element within my new books and I feel so dismayed when I see afro hair depicted in some other children’s books as basically just a scribble. I have an idea to create another story about a boy with beautiful curly hair!
As a mother I struggled to find books for my son that he could really see himself reflected in, so I hope that black and brown children will see themselves represented in Colour and Me as beautiful and joyful beings, and I hope all readers will see the beauty in brown skin. I think the book also provides an opportunity for readers to explore and share their favourite things – whether objects that spark memories or things that have significance to their own backgrounds and cultural heritage.
A second book, Family and Me, will follow this summer, which further explores heritage and the wonderful traits and traditions that are passed to us from older generations.
Colour and Me by Michaela Dias Hayes is published by Owlet Press on 25th January, £7.99 paperback.