I am delighted to be a part of National Share a Story Month, which highlights the wonderful stories that can help children grow, find their voice, their identity and to feel like they belong.
What does ‘belonging’ mean? For me, it simply means being in a space where I can truly be myself and feel welcomed.
I have worked with children for many years and have witnessed that when children feel that they don’t belong in a group or a physical space, it can be detrimental to their mental health, well-being and their development. I recall this from my own childhood, and decades later as adults, some of them are still trying to fit in or belong in a space.
Belonging is a central theme in ‘I am Nefertiti’, my debut children’s book, illustrated by Natelle Quek and published by Five Quills. It is about a talented black girl who loves to play the drums. When she joins a new band, the music teacher Miss Potts welcomes her. Now the band sounds so sweet! But then Miss Potts carelessly shortens her name to ‘Nef’, making her feel like she doesn’t belong and isn’t seen. Nefertiti shrinks, and the band is in disarray . . . She must find the courage to remember who she is so she can grow back again. “I am Nefertiti!” she says. And together with the other children, they help Miss Potts truly recognize and celebrate her beautiful name.
Writing children’s books that feature black or brown children as the main character was a choice I made in order to empower children like my daughter to feel that they belong, can be who they truly are and take up space. Although the publishing industry appears to be making some improvements, it has historically eliminated us and our stories. The CLPE ‘Reflecting Realities’ report published in November 2021 states that only “8% of all children’s books published in the UK in 2020 had an ethnic minority main character, compared to 5% in 2019, 4% in 2018 and 1% in 2017.” This minimal upward trend is frustratingly low and doesn’t reflect the UK’s ethnic diversity. What if these children could grow up seeing themselves reflected as the smart, hilarious or adventurous main character in books, T.V. programs and other forms of media? This would encourage self-love, acceptance, confidence and feeling like they belonged; vital for healthy development. And what if all children were exposed to main characters from every sort of background? Not only would they have considerably more empathy for others, but they would grow up believing that everyone belonged. How much more peaceful would the world be then? This is why I wrote ‘I Am Nefertiti’, which features a main black character, alongside a group of children from diverse backgrounds in the band. It’s also why I am campaigning to make children’s mental health and well-being a much higher priority in the United Nations Sustainability Goals.
‘I am Nefertiti’ is a heartwarming, joyful story for everyone about identity, being proud of who you are, belonging and about recognising the importance each player has in the bigger team. It is an ideal story for classroom discussions, book group settings and at home around the themes of identify, self-confidence and peer support.
Twitter: @AnnemarieAnang Instagram: @Annemarie_Anang