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  • Writer's pictureTeacher Peter

"What's Your Superpower?"

ME: I write and I teach and I nurture. Also, I never run out of ideas.

What's yours?

I spend a lot of time each year asking young children this question. I think it's very important that children see themselves as the hero of their own story. That's why I think representation matters so much. Also, one of my favorite Ted Talks is "more than a single story".

I was talking with another local author yesterday at the Farmer's Market, and she reminded me that when we're writing for children and about children, too often our tales about others -- children of color, neurodivergent kids, little humans with disabilities -- focus on the "other" or the trauma. In children's books, there is the temptation to focus on "the problem" not the joy.

She had the best advice for me: "Start with the Joy!"

Here is a link to the story, The Proudest Blue by by Ibtihaj Muhammad

What I like about this book: everything. First of all, it's written by an Olympic fencer and one of the first women that I ever knew of to normalize the hijab in Olympic play and sport.

Second of all, this is no celebrity side job. One of my small annoyances as a children's author is when celebrities try to trade on their well known name and write a book. Writing books is hard. Writing books for children is DOUBLY hard-- you've got to keep it short, you've got to keep that word count tight, and you're also taking on the task of modeling kindness and building up some young child's vision of themselves.

In short, writing books for children is sacred. So, please bring your "A" game and come correct or don't come at all . (That last statement was meant to be read with the swagger of an old Brooklyn Jew who thinks he's wiser and cooler than most. If you don't know what that sounds like, please see the section of my website where I offer private lessons in Being Awesome.)

Anyway, what I love about the Proudest Blue is that it's a story of joy and sisterhood and family but it's also a tale of fighting back against racism. I'm working on a picture book manuscript currently about using Intelligence and Love to battle the Ignorance of Racism.

(Capitals intended . These are big concepts we're talking about.)

In my early drafts (5) I made the mistake of going straight to the part where the kids of the Global Majority fight back against a young white kid who says "Go back where you came from!" My friend, and local author, S, helped me to see that when you're writing a story like this, it helps to start with the joy. After all, I am taking on one of the most hateful and shameful ways that Xenophobes have used language to hurt others. It's not original. It's not truth. But ever since the first White people came to the Americas around 1492, they've been finding ways to tell Bipoc people, "you don't belong here."


It takes a lot of audacity to show up at someone's home, a land they've inhabited for centuries, and say " hey, I like your beautiful home. It's nice. Now GET OUT!" White people have been telling those of the Global Majority "you don't belong here" since before the United States of America was founded. It's past time we wrote more books telling young children that they belong.

Which brings me to the book that sparked this rambling blog post:

I didn't expect to like this book. I love comic books. My 6 year old child is obsessed with all things Marvel to the point that he will not read, view, or consume nothing else. However, most Marvel and DC superheroes tend to maintain the status quo. Now that I'm an adult, my greatest heroes are those cannot simply accept the world the way it is, but , rather, try to transform it into something better.

What I like about this book: Family is a superpower. Think about that. In this story the greatest superpower that the Justice Leaguers have is not super strength, telekinesis, nor super speed but the fact that they belong to a family. "Your sister's got your back!" , " Your grandpa looks just like you! "

This book is filled with everyday moments, of everyday mortals, doing brave things like showing kindness and standing up to bullies.

Are there better written books about showing kindness and standing up to oppression? YES! Does this book have lots of drawings of DC superheroes in it? Also, Yes! Most of the illustrations in this book are of White people. There are a few people of the Global Majority pictured, including at least one in a Hijab. But if you know a child who is obsessed with superheroes, this is a good break from fighting "crime" (ooh boy, a lot to unpack there) and a good way to remind your kiddo that they are already powerful . Why ? Because ...

Family is a Superpower!


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