Where are we going? An interview with an inclusive children’s book author

One landscape book is balanced on another landscape book, on a lilac background. The background of the book is white; across the top, in purple writing, is the title, "Where are we going?"; in the bottom left it says, in purple writing, "Written by Vie Portland" and, in the bottom right in purple writing, it says, "Illustrator Donna McGhie". In the image, the main character and her adult are sat in a yellow dinghy which is on a rainbow sea (all the waves are bright colours); there's a rainbow flag flying on the boat; the main character is sat on the side of the boat; over her blue t-shirt, shorts and tutu, she is wearing an orange life vest; her feet are just above the water. The female adult is sat in the boat, holding an oar; she is wearing an orange life vest and light blue leggings. Behind the boat there is a black and white cat surfing on a green surfboard.

I met Vie online earlier this year because we were both in one of the same Facebook groups. What started as a virtual coffee chat has become a friendship, even though we haven’t actually met face-to-face yet. Welcome to 2020! But actually it’s not that unusual for me to have virtual friendships. The internet has opened up so many.

Inclusion is important. There is a place for explaining our differences and talking about them, but it’s also vital that disabled people are seen in films, books, tv shows, and news articles, where the focus is on the everyday things and the things we have in common, rather than the one thing that makes us different.

I would like to share Vie’s current project with you because I think it’s really important. I’ve done an interview with her so that she can tell you more about it.

If you have children, are looking for Christmas presents for children, or just would like to support other children by making this book available to them, please have a look and see whether this is something that you’d like to support.

Can you please tell us something about yourself and the work that you do?

I am founder and director of a Community Interest Company that teaches self esteem and confidence workshops to children and young people, aged 4 to 19. As a Community Interest Company, I can apply for some grants, although that has been very difficult in this year of Covid; have fundraising events, again, difficult this year; and take donations. I decided to set up as a CIC because I knew that schools needed the workshops I offer but often can’t afford to pay for external facilitators to go in.

What motivated you to write a children’s book/what gave you the idea?

I love children’s books! I have worked with children most of my life, as a Nanny, in schools, in groups, so I have read a lot of books; some I don’t recall, some are awful, some are amazing! I am also a regular user of public transport, both alone and with the children I’ve looked after; if you’re open to it, a journey on a bus with a young child can be one filled with wonder, as they can see things us jaded adults often can’t.

Many times, I have been waiting for a bus at a stop, and a child has asked a simple question of the adult they’re with, only to be answered in a snappy tone. I wanted to write a story that demonstrated that, in around the same amount of words it takes to answer in a snappy way, the same question can be answered in a magical, encouraging way.

As young children, we’re encouraged to be imaginative in school, then, as we get older, we’re told to “grow up”, to “not be silly”; it’s no wonder that many adults feel they can’t use their imagination. I want to give people the encouragement to say the silly things that come to mind; to encourage them to dream big. If we can dream big, we’re more likely to aim higher in our lives.

Who is the main character in your book?

The image is of a young girl with ginger curly hair, bright blue eyes and a beautiful smile; she is wearing a blue long sleeved t-shirt with a pink heart on the chest, blue knee length shorts, a pink tutu, and pink trainers; her left leg is a prosthetic limb.

A huge part of who I am, of what I do, is about acceptance and inclusion. I have said about my love of children’s books; in all the ones I’ve read, the only ones where there is a child with a disability, the story is about their disability. Although those books are very important, and they definitely have value, but, for me, it encourages people to think of them as “other”. In my story, the main character has a visible difference and it’s not mentioned, other than in the activity section at the back of the book; I want people to see her as a child having wonderful imaginary adventures, who just happens to have a disability. It’s important that all children see positive representations of themselves; it’s also important that other children see children that are different to them in a positive way.

What age group do you think would enjoy the book most?

The age group I would suggest this is for is 3 to 6, maybe 7, years old; it’s a great story to share and also a lovely story for a child to practice their reading.

What can you tell us about the underrepresentation of disabled characters in fiction?

In children’s stories, only 3.4% of books have a character with a disability in (Cooperative Children’s Book Council – CCBC – 2019), but, in the UK, there are 800,000 disabled children under the age of 16 (around 8%), which equates to one child in 20 (Contact A Family). Children need to see a positive representation of every child.

Why is addressing this imbalance important to you as an author and somebody who works with young people?

I really believe that, if we’re kinder and more accepting of ourselves, we’ll be kinder and more accepting of others. I live with several chronic conditions, all of which are mostly invisible; I am frequently astounded by the lack of awareness people have around disabilities; the image most people seem to have of a person with disabilities is someone in a wheelchair; too often, people with disabilities are seen as people to pity or patronise, or as “inspiration porn”, rather than fully rounded humans, with a whole gamut of emotions, a whole lifetime of experiences. But, perhaps it’s not surprising that the majority of people have those attitudes when people with disabilities are so rarely represented in books, films, on tv, and, when they are, they frequently exacerbate the pity or porn attitude. We need more honest, more frequent, representation, for everyone’s benefit.

And that’s where my book comes in. It’s from the age of three that children start to make judgements on others bodies; if they are surrounded by more positive images, more inclusive images, from a young age, they will have a better understanding that all bodies are good bodies.

Can you tell us something about your plans for the book? What would you like to happen as a result, and what message would you like others to take away?

My book can be pre-ordered via Crowdfunder (link below) as a hardback; in the campaign, as well as other exclusive items, there are also options to donate a book to a primary school or group of your choice, right up to being able to donate a book to every library, nursery, or school in your area. I would love for as many children as possible to see my book! It would be wonderful to have the book in every reception and year one class in the country, every pre-school, so an understanding of inclusion is developed from a young age. Though, as someone in Texas has contributed to the Crowdfunder, maybe I need to think bigger!!

I would love for a child to listen to the story, participate in the adventures, and think, “That child is just like me” because of all the things they have in common, rather than see the main character as someone different to them.

How can people support you or find out more?

As a Community Interest Company, support is always needed. With the Crowdfunder, as well as contributing to get the book published, and donating books to nurseries, schools and groups, every supporter will also be supporting my CIC, enabling me to reach more children and young people.

The Crowdfunder link is here.
This is my website, and I am VieNessCIC on social media

Thank you

Thank you Vie for sharing this with us. I am supporting this crowdfunder and if this is something you want to get behind too, I’d encourage you to check out Vie’s links.

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Author: englishwithkirsty

I have two blogs. Unseen Beauty is my personal blog. English with Kirsty is my business blog for people who are interested in languages or learning English.

4 thoughts on “Where are we going? An interview with an inclusive children’s book author”

  1. Wow, this sounds fantastic. The company to teach self-esteem and confidence sounds similar to what I have thought for a long time would be such a good idea, which is to ‘teach’ assertiveness to children, because I think that’s a pivotal thing that could make such a difference in many ways. With so many of us lacking self-esteem and confidence into our adult years, the effects can be painfully long-lasting.

    I love Vie’s enthusiasm and sense of fun, it’s quite infectious! Not the best word to use during a pandemic but neither is ‘contagious’.

    Books for all ages need to be opened up in terms of characters. It’s eye opening to see that only 3.4% of kids books include a disability, which I almost would have thought would be higher as inclusivity does seem a little more at the forefront these days. Certainly when I was little I don’t remember there being any, not in terms of disabilities, certainly not sexual identities or sexuality, probably not race either. Let’s hope in future this can continue to change so that more people are represented and that more awareness is created, such as in the case of illnesses and disabilities, to younger age groups.

    Fantastic interview. Thank you for bringing this to our attention Kirsty, and thank you Vie for sharing this with us. Wishing you all the very best!!

    Caz xx

    1. Yes, we do definitely need more representation all across the board, and it’s so important to start young, teaching children about inclusivity and helping them to become more confident. Because children grow into adults. Also we need something to counteract all the other messages like “different is wrong” or “you need to be … before people will accept you”.

  2. These illustrations are so colorful and sweet. It sounds like a wonderful book.

    By the way, you currently have a formatting issue. You have a heading with the words “Why is addressing this imbalance important to you as an author and somebody who works with” and it cuts off there. Then the next two paragraphs are also headings. It should be quick to fix.

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