Creating Universal and Diverse Characters

Richy K. Chandler author of You Make Your Parents Super Happy! and When Are You Going to Get a Proper Job? talks through the challenges that come with creating diverse characters in stories, and why it is so important to do.

When I was working on You Make Your Parents Super Happy! (my recent picture book for children whose parents have separated but still both want to be part of their child’s life), I was conscious of keeping the gender and race of all characters ambiguous. While the book deals with a very specific situation, I hope that the universality of the characters’ appearance means that as many children and families as possible can see themselves as the beings found within the pages. This could be two dads, a mum and a dad, two mums and a multitude of relationships also representing the full range of cultures and ethnic back grounds that exist.diverse charactersSimilarly, with Lucy the Octopus, my webcomic that looks at the effects of bullying and bigotry (hopefully in a humorous and super cute way), I wanted to make the lead character as universally relatable as possible. The strip touches on racism, homophobia and not fitting into gender stereotypes but it’s never made clear exactly why Lucy, the heroine, is so unliked. Lots of readers have told me that they see part of themselves in Lucy, and not always for the same reasons. I’m usually both happy that the character is relatable and saddened for the readers to have gone through similar horrible experiences. 
diverse characters
As a writer who has no desire to create comics starring myself (hats off to those brave enough to make candid, graphic autobiographies), there are other good reasons for making characters more universal.  With Lucy the Octopus, I wanted to talk about experiences of feeling picked on and ostracised in my own school years, but I’d rather avoid the spotlight being on myself. Making Lucy a girl and an octopus certainly did that job and frees me up to wildly exaggerate my own experiences within her fantastical world. For example, my own family were not terrible to me like Lucy’s are (except that year I got Scrabble for my birthday instead of the Crossbows and Catapults game I’d wished for, but I’m a survivor and made it through that bleak day). Continue reading

How to make your school an LGBTQ friendly place for students and staff

At the end of last year, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) issued new guidance on how to ensure that schools are friendly and inclusive places for gender diverse students and staff. Backed by leading LGBTQ campaign group Stonewall, the government and Ofsted, the guidance is the first of its kind in the UK, and covers key issues including harassment, discrimination, bullying and lack of visibility, and underlines the role and responsibilities of key leaders.

In order to make gender diverse students, teachers and pupils with trans relatives feel welcomed and positively represented, the guidance suggests that: “Primary school leaders may want to ensure books featuring trans parents or celebrating gender identity and difference are included in the curriculum.”

We have a collection of books that feature trans and non-binary characters, perfect for use with primary school pupils in the classroom.

This book introduces children to gender as a spectrum and shows how people can bend and break the gender binary and stereotypes. It includes an interactive wheel, clearly showing the difference between our body, expression and identity, and is an effective tool to help children 5+ understand and celebrate diversity. Read more.

‘A much-needed non-fiction children’s book exploring gender. Who Are You? will benefit every child!’
– Pamela Wool, Director of Family Services, Gender Spectrum

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Maria and Me: A father, a daughter (and Autism)

Maria and Me

To celebrate the festive season, and Maria and Me‘s inclusion in the Reading Agency’s 2018 Summer Reading Challenge collection, we thought we would share with you a snippet from the book itself – so without further ado…

Enjoy the extract!

Giving a father’s insight into life with his daughter Maria, aged 12, who has autism, this comic tells the story of their week holiday in the Canary Islands, Spain. Delightful illustrations and dialogue between father and daughter show the day-to-day challenges that people with autism and their carers face, and how Miguel and Maria overcome them.
Funny and endearing, this comic helps to show how Maria sees and experiences the world in her own way and that she’s unique, just like everyone else.

Discover Maria and Me: A father, a daughter (and Autism) here, and help us spread understanding and compassion about autism.


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Interfaith Meetings: Working out how to conduct vigils

vigil

We sought out Reverend Tom Wilson, co-author of Learning to Live Well Together, to find out any advice he had for frequently encountered issues with regards to interfaith meetings. In the second of two common scenarios, Tom discusses what must be considered when working out how to conduct vigils.

You never know when you will have to conduct a vigil; the nature of tragedy is that it takes us unawares. But this does not stop us planning. Many may know of the existence of plans for Operation London Bridge, the code name for the activities that will take place across the United Kingdom when the Queen dies, as she must do one day. Whilst it is inevitable that every individual dies, and so we must of necessity plan how to mark those deaths, the nature or fact of a terrorist attack is not as clear-cut. But given recent history, with four terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom in a few short months, it is nevertheless important that we have some ideas of what we might do should something terrible happen. Continue reading

Interfaith Meetings: How to handle concern about a planned mosque visit

Interfaith Meetings

We sought out Reverend Tom Wilson, co-author of Learning to Live Well Together, to find out his advice for frequently encountered issues with regards to interfaith meetings. In the first of two common scenarios, Tom considers how to respond to concerned parents who have approached a head teacher about the prospect of a planned visit to a mosque.

A significant proportion of the work that the St Philip’s Centre undertakes is educational work with school children. We are recognized providers of learning outside the classroom. Our focus is on bringing religious education to life. Rather than pupils reading about Sikhism in a textbook they visit a Gurwara, see the reverence afforded the Guru Granth Sahib and smell the vegetarian food cooking for langar. Instead of discovering that Muslims wash before they pray from a book, they are taken into the Wudu area of a mosque, and their guide explains, step-by-step, the process of purification he undertakes before joining in congregational prayers.

It is the scenario of visiting a mosque that can, at times, unfortunately become problematic. In the past few years, after there has been a major terrorist incident in the United Kingdom, it has become not uncommon for a school visit to be cancelled or postponed. The situation might not be this drastic; it might simply be that parents begin to voice concerns about whether such a visit is appropriate. Continue reading

How to be a trans friendly employer

Jennie Kermode, chair of Trans Media Watch, shares her advice for employers on how to make the work place supportive and inclusive for trans and non-binary people. 

Proportionate to their numbers in the general population, trans people are under-represented in the workforce. If your company is positive about diversity and has a friendly workforce and sound policies on inclusion, yet you’re still not managing to recruit trans people, what can you do about it? Are you missing out on potential talent because people don’t see you as approachable? How can you make sure that your recruitment process is up to scratch?

Advertising

A Totaljobs survey recently found that 43% of trans people seek out trans-friendly employers when looking for jobs. This means that it’s worth sprucing up your website to make sure your diversity policy is easily accessible and to stress that your organisation is committed to equality. It also means, however, that advertising in mainstream publications might be passing trans people by. If you advertise in publications aimed specifically at the LGBT community, trans people will see this as evidence of your good intentions, and will be more likely to apply. You can also try contacting trans support groups in your local area to let them know that you’re a friendly employer, or approaching national organisations like Stonewall and Proud Employers where you can be listed as such.

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Have you ever questioned your gender identity?

‘How To Understand Your Gender’ is the ultimate gender identity bible. Here, we share some of the lived experiences of the many different gender diverse people who have contributed to the book. Do you recognise yourself in any of these accounts? 

 

Sex, gender, and sexuality

‘I just couldn’t figure it out. I was born female, I am attracted to men, but I never felt comfortable wearing skirts, makeup, or spending time with girls, like I felt I was supposed to do. People kept assuming I was a lesbian, and even I wondered about it for some time. Eventually I realised that’s just who I was. I am a masculine woman, attracted to men.’

‘People kept wanting me to choose, but I just couldn’t. I’ve always been sexually attracted to women and femininity, while feeling much more relaxed with, and emotionally close to masculine people, regardless of their gender. I now identify as a bisexual, homoromantic trans man.’

‘Everyone assumes I’m gay because they think I’m “soft” and “artistic” for a man. I guess my mannerisms can be more effeminate than those of most guys. However, I am straight through and through. I just can’t be bothered with proving my masculinity in a way other people want me to.’

‘I love everything about femininity: the clothes, makeup, the fierce feminist history. I am just a proud femme who also happens to be a lesbian. Unfortunately, often people assume I’m straight, even at lesbian events. They also seem surprised at my job as a mechanical engineer. I always liked pulling things apart, figuring out how they work, and putting them back together, or even making them better!’

‘I’ve never felt at home in dresses or lipsticks. I always wanted to play with boys. Eventually I found other people like me and who were into me. I am a stud and proud of who I am.’

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