We are delighted to share a guest blog from Clara Vulliamy about her new series and characters. The Dog Squad published earlier this month and has plenty of praise already.
My new illustrated fiction series, The Dog Squad, stars three brilliant young reporters, Eva, Ash and Simone, who have their very own newspaper. They stumble across their first BIG story when Eva finds a stray dog outside her home, a nervousyoung whippet called Wafer. Can Eva, along with her best friends, find Wafer’s real owner? But does she really want to, because won’t that mean they just have to give him back?
A heart-stopping mystery unfolds. I won’t give away any spoilers, but, as readers of my books will know, I don’t really go in for unhappy endings!
Writing this series has been, for me, a significant personal milestone in inclusive representation. Ash is non-binary – not a girl, not a boy – and uses they/them pronouns.
‘They say it’s so much better than being put in a box with the wrong label stuck on the outside. ‘I’m just me!’ they tell us. Simone made them a cool badge to remind everyone.’
And that’s it. It’s not a huge part of the story, it’s just who they are. And seeing them come to life on the page, with their curls and their dungarees and their direct, confident gaze, was a joy-filled moment indeed.
I was also really pleased to see how comfortably the singular ‘they’ sits in a text for young readers.
‘Ash is the cleverest person in the whole world – they are the newspaper’s STAR RESEARCHER.’
‘Ash is going on a bike ride with their dad.’
And with a very light touch, as the series progresses, Ash will tell us more about how they feel and who they know themselves to be.
I have already received cheering messages from parents who are eager to share this book with their non-binary child. But inclusive, incidental diversity isn’t just for the children represented, of course. It’s for every reader – to grow in empathy, respect and imagination. It’s about creating a broad community in which all are seen and can see themselves. I look forward impatiently to the day when including trans and non-binary characters in children’s books will be ordinary and unremarked-upon, the norm. This big old wheel is turning – Jamie by L.D. Lapinksi; Timid and woven throughout Grandad’s Pride by Harry Woodgate; My Own Way by Joana Estrela and Jay Hulme; the eagerly awaited Homebody by Theo Parish and Hooray for She, He, Ze and They! by LindzAmer and Kip Alizadeh – but not nearly fast enough.
We can learn a lot from young people. Children are open-minded, and completely comfortable with a more expansiveunderstanding of gender. But the current climate, particularly around guidance in schools, is worrying. Books have a keyrole to play. It’s more important than ever to write stories for ALL children, to let them know they are respected and valued, perfect just as they are, and that they belong.