The Circle, a children’s book I wrote, is about a young student who is different from everyone else in their school. The main character is a circle shape that goes to an elementary school where all the other students are square shaped. The circle gets bullied and excluded for being unlike the other students. The circle eventually speaks up for themselves and lets the teacher know what is going on so that the teacher can do something about the injustice occurring. The primary message that I wanted to convey in my narrative is that I believe we all have a “circle” feature that makes us stand out from the crowd and we should not let it be a barrier from having our ideas heard. During the process of creating The Circle, I made a lot of specific choices of what went into my book and what did not. In this essay, I will explain those choices for the purpose of pointing out current issues and relevant themes.
As I started to research statistics of children’s books, it was brought to my attention the lack of children’s books about people of color even though the majority of America’s youth are not white. In 2014 America became a minority-majority nation in public schools, (Carr.) By 2044, the majority of the U.S. population will be people of color, according to an analysis from the Bureau of the Census projections. But representation in the media lacks people of color. The media doesn’t just mean movies, TV shows, and advertisements; it also includes novels and children’s books. Children’s books are one of the most imperative media outlets because it is one of the first representation of the world children see. They see this media at the most impressionable age. As children read and see these books they start to create their first impressions of other people, society, relationships, education, etc. These impressions make up their worldview for the rest of their life. That is why it is important that children’s books portray correct representation of ethnicities, genders, relationships, and other important topics.
Children do not usually question what they see in the media, it just becomes fact to them. So, if an issue, topic, or a certain minority group is represented incorrectly or only in one way, it becomes what the child believes throughout their life. For example; TV shows that are geared toward children, like on the Disney Channel, depict high school in an quixotic way. These shows illustrate unrealistic beauty standards and impractical problems, while neglecting real problems children will face in their futures. Then, when these kids who watched these shows grow up and go to high school, they realize that it is not like what they saw on those shows. These teenageers may start to question things when they grow up. They question the things that that they saw as children and have to re-shape their worldviews.
This realization happened to me, and I have become more and more cognizant of real things as I find my place in the world. I am very thankful for the environment that I am in now, which lets me see and experience things that I was oblivious to previous to high school. Why do I have to realize these things now? Why can’t we as a society show children how things actually are in our world? Why do we sugarcoat things for young people and portray mature things unrealistically? If only I could have been showed how things really are with correct representation of people. Then, I could have used the time I spent re-shaping my worldviews on other things.
“In 2014 the number of [children’s] books by/about people of color jumped to 14% (up from 10% in 2013)… Though not as high as it should be, the number shows definite improvement,” (Ehrlich.) More than half of the children’s books about people of color are written by white authors. “In 2014, there were 393 books published about people of color, of which 225 (57%) were by people who were not from the culture about which they wrote or which they illustrated,”(Ehrlich.) This is a tremendous issue because it can give wrong impressions to children who see these books about the culture the authors are depicting. If an author writes about a culture that they are not from, it is a much less accurate portrayal than if someone from that culture were to write the book. Nobody experiences life the same way, especially people of different races. This is why I, as a white person, chose not to write and illustrate about an underrepresented race, so that I would not add to the statistic of 57% of children’s books about people of color written by a white author.
Less than 15% of the books children read have representation of ethnicities other than white. Yet, the majority of the kids under the age of 10 are people of color in the U.S, (Wazwaz.) So, the books that are offered for kids in public school libraries are primarily not about the backgrounds they come from. This is an example of a disadvantage people of color receive. They don’t receive as much relatable media as caucasians do. The largest ethnic minority of children in America are hispanic (22%), but Latinos are one the most underrepresented ethnicities in children’s books. Less than two percent of children’s books are about Latinos. Latinos are one of the most underrepresented minorities in film as well, with only about 5% of actors in top films are Latino (Leifeste.) This is a great injustice because then children who don’t have characters to be able to relate to try to become the character that they do see. This has created unachievable beauty standards that now even young children are worrying about. Children should be able to recognize characters in the media images that are similar to what they see in the mirror or at home. This let’s them know it is okay to be who they are and that they don’t have to change their appearance or adhere to a different culture to be accepted.
In The Circle, my characters are geometrical shapes instead of humans to capture the mood of the story being a metaphor for acceptance. I also did this so the book wouldn’t be specifically about certain ethnicities or body types that we see in real life. These categories (race, body types, etc.) fall into the metaphor for acceptance because in our society different races and body types are not yet fully embraced.
The teacher character in my story is a rectangle shape to show authority over the young square shaped students, but to not be so different from the “normal” square shape I chose for the students. I chose the square shape because it’s a “normal,” regular, everyday life kind of shape, that is simple. A circle is more complex and more irregular. So that is why the circle shape becomes the one that all the square students have trouble accepting.
I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community who identifies as pansexual and genderqueer. I could have written about the personal struggles I have experienced because of my sexual orientation and gender identity, but I chose not to because my experience is very specific and I wanted to create content a wider audience could relate to. This is also why I did not include any gender specific pronouns and made most of the clothing and colors gender neutral. The book is not about gender and any person, regardless of gender, should be able to relate to this kind of content. However, LGBTQ+ people are also very underrepresented in the media, especially in children’s books. There are little to no statistics about the representation of LGBTQ+ topics in children’s books. But in the media outlet of film there were about 18% of gay and lesbians characters in big films during 2015.
Technology use for kids is rapidly increasing. Most children read electronic versions of books or use apps to play interactive story games on tablets and other devices. Most kids watch movies instead of reading books now a days. Texting has become a main source of communication. So I chose for the dialogue boxes to be in the shape of text bubbles to grab the kids’ attention. Also on page 11 there is an allusion to the “Mrs. Krabs” meme that is widely spread through millennial and teen internet culture that is displayed in meme form to display confusion. I included it as pop culture reference and a nod to the changing times in modern history.
Throughout history there has always been stories. Some of the first things we know about mankind’s history is through stories that have been passed down through generations. Stories are passed down through verbal retellings or through ancient documents, like cave paintings, woven blankets, chiseled rocks, etc. Then the printing press was invented in 1440 in Europe, which was used to mass produce books that could be written, sold, and kept more easily. Factual stories, fables, fairy tales, and riddles that had been passed down were created into books, some included pictures. Nathaniel Crouch’s Winter-Evenings Entertainments (1687) is sometimes known as the first children’s book because it contains pictures that pair with the text. Most early children’s books that were made were fables meant for adults that were turned into kid friendly stories. Books that were actually written for children didn’t appear until the 18th century, mostly from a group of publishers and authors in London (Grenby.)
Children’s books have been making impressions upon children for hundreds of years. But most of the content being made for children through contemporary media outlets like TV, movies, and children’s books are idealistic, biased, and not well suited for the majority of kids. They portray society in a sugarcoated way. That portrayal may be the kind of society we want, but it definitely isn't an accurate depiction of the society we have today. An accurate depiction of society isn’t one certain ideal that can fit into a perfect cookie cutter of a story told by people who haven’t gone through the same experiences. An accurate depiction of society is told from true personal experiences with real problems. Children need real stories that will guide them through life and set their worldviews closer to reality. Young people don’t need to go through their life thinking that they are not good enough because of how their body type, skin color, sexuality, and interests are portrayed in the media they see as a child.