Just Like Grandpa Jazz is the debut picture book from Tarah L. Gear, illustrated by Mirna Imamovic. Written from Tarah’s personal experiences of privilege and racism within her mixed-race family, the book subtly educates readers on racism and immigration, whilst focusing on the joy of intergenerational relationships, and emphasising that we must continue to share family stories generation after generation, to better understand and celebrate our heritage and roots. For this special NSSM Q&A, Tarah talks about her inspiration for the story, the theme of ‘belonging’ in a mixed-race family, and what she hopes readers will take from the book.
Tarah, can you tell us a bit about your new book? What’s the story about?
Just like Grandpa Jazz tells a story about Frank and his beloved Grandpa. Grandpa Jazz is a big character and “a master storyteller”. Frank is enthralled by Jazz’s boyhood anecdotes and his experiences coming to the UK, although he’s not entirely sure if they are all true! Because Frank and Jazz have different skin colours, the outside world might see them as different, but this is a concept Frank finds absurd because they are so alike.
What inspired this story?
It’s based on real people. Jazz is based on my own dad and Frank represents my children. The idea for the story came to me when I realised that my children would never get asked about their Mauritian heritage, like I always did. Because my children ‘appear’ white, would that mean they have less of a connection to their Grandpa’s side of the family? It then struck me – that is why telling stories and passing down special memories is so important. Through Jazz’s stories, Frank is able to connect with his heritage and feel belonging within a culture he is still learning about.
How do you think stories help children discover a sense of belonging?
Stories hold so much power. They document and therefore validate so many different experiences. On the surface, my book is about how storytelling connects us – to patterns and tropes which make us feel safe and at home, but also to our past, to our ancestors and those whose footsteps in which we follow. If it wasn’t for these stories, my sons would grow up without a connection to their heritage, without realising their privileges and without truly knowing their Grandpa. Without diversity in books we reinforce negative stereotypes and cement unconscious bias. Writers hold a lot of power to actively change readers’ subconscious perceptions of the world, where you can either choose to exclude and alienate or provide a sense of belonging for all.
What do you hope readers will take from the book?
I hope that readers will be entertained by Jazz’s anecdotes and compelled to tell stories about their everyday lives. I hope it serves as a reminder, too, that if you are lucky enough to have your Grandparents, there’s plenty we can learn from them. It’s such a special relationship. Finally, I hope the also shows how race and racism can affect families in different ways and that there’s not always a simple or straightforward answer to address these challenges.
Will there be any more adventures starring Frank and Grandpa Jazz?
We’ll see! I do imagine them having lots of fun on their holiday and getting up to mischief and having lots of laughs. Jazz has lived through such unique times I think there’s plenty more we could learn from him.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently developing some writing about place and evoking a sense of place through nature and environment. As a child I lived in Saudi Arabia and I’m trying to bring to life some of the memories, sights and sounds. As so much time has passed, small details and the feeling of being there are the only memories I have left, so I’m enjoying exploring what I can do with that. It might turn into my next book… but it might not!