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

Continue reading

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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The making of Robin and the White Rabbit

Emma Lindström

Illustrator Emma Lindström talks us through how Robin and the White Rabbit came to be, and shares her process for creating the striking water colour and photo imagery that adorn the book.

Under a tree in the schoolyard, a lone child is sitting. They sit there looking at the others… all the while turning further and further away. The feelings are piling up around the child, but no one’s there to help the child reach through the wall of feelings that separates them from the other children. The child is told that they must play with the other children, that they should be involved in the world around them. But how do you do that? The only thing the child knows right now is that it is fairly safe to sit under the tree… But what if a white rabbit would show up? A soft and kind rabbit who you can hug and play with…

Hello, my name is Emma Lindström. I am a preschool teacher with several years of experience supporting children with special needs, now specialising in visual aid.

In the summer of 2015, I sat at a café with my new-found friend Åse. We met only a few days earlier, by chance at a picnic. Åse talked about her experiences with people in need of visual communication, and soon we started to discuss the importance of understanding the need for people to communicate in ways other than spoken language. I related to my experiences as a support teacher in preschool and Åse talked about the various projects she participated in and her experiences from Konstfack College of Arts. After a while we considered what it would be like to create a picture book that highlights visual communication. Continue reading