I think biracial children, as readers, often have to choose a side.
When I was younger, the choice was limited – I had Indian mythology for my dad’s side, and everything else for my English side. Now the choice has improved hugely. From Nizrana Farook to Roshani Chokshi, I feel envious of the choice I would have had today.
There is still a way to go, of course, but I’m optimism that one day, whatever mix you are, you’ll be able to find at least one book for each side of your family.
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But you will still be choosing sides.
Because for many biracial kids, the odds are small that they’ll find a hero with the same precise mix they are, and even smaller if they’re looking for it in a specific genre, like adventure. There are just too many permutations.
A multiplicity of identities
This inability to find your precise mix isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We are all made up of a multiplicity of identities. We don’t need our heroes to match us precisely. Indeed, part of the joy of reading is to empathize with characters who might be quite different from ourselves.
Also, for many biracial people I know, the ability to switch sides can bring joy. I could feel tanned with my England cousins and fair with my Indian ones. I could eat spicy food at one grandma’s and a roast at the others. I could support England or India in cricket, depending on who was winning.
It was win-win, literally.
But there are downsides too of playing both sides. Sometimes you don’t want to choose. Sometimes you end up feeling one thing or another – and never quite yourself.
Ghostcloud: adventure in the in-between
my book, Ghostcloudis first and foremost an adventure, but it also explores these themes through its biracial hero and his gift.
Luke Smith-Sharma, my protagonist, has to save the world and his friends, just like any decent middle grade adventure hero worth his salt… but he also has to figure out where he belongs. He starts the story feeling he is lacking. He is half-Indian, half-detective, and as he discovers, ‘half-ghost’, but initially all he wishes is that he could be ‘one thing properly’.
But as the story progresses, he realizes this can be strength. That he isn’t lacking. That though he moves between worlds, he doesn’t need to pick one, or belong in one or the other. That he can be happy in between. He can be happy halfway.
He also realizes that it’s not just him – or your race or heritage – that can leave you feeling like this. His friend Jess, is a girl and wants to be plumber. His friend Alma, is a ghost, but doesn’t want to go to the ‘End Place’. Both of them feel the pressure to change themselves in order to belong, but decide they don’t want to.
I saw this kind of stuff all the time as a primary teacher. A girl who identified as South American but was embarrassed that she didn’t speak Spanish. A boy who wanted to play netball instead of soccer at break. Most of us don’t fit at times. Most of us move between worlds in our own little ways.
In books, though, I don’t see this explored enough, especially around heritage and race. And I hardly ever saw it in the kind of fast-paced adventures the kids in my class loved to read. And that’s why I wrote Ghostcloud like I did. I wanted it to celebrate duality and not quite belonging.
Because I think that’s something that many biracial people can relate to, whatever the ‘permutation’.
I’ll finish with a mix of hard and soft facts.
When I was born, being biracial wasn’t even an option on the US census. In the 2020 census, however, there were 33 million of us (10% of the population) – a 276% increase on the previous census. This will no doubt be higher still in 2030.
Unfortunately, the annual CBBC diversity report into representation in children’s literature does not include biracial as a category – so we do not know how books are being published by or about biracial characters. I’m sure there’s a reason for this, but as a person of mixed-heritage, I do find this disappointing.
As for the softer fact, it is that every 2-3 school visits, there is a biracial Indian kid in the class, who is so excited to find that I am, and that my hero is too, they practically jump out of their chair to tell me. And every time they do, I feel so happy my little author heart just bursts.
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And when this happens, what I feel is connection. I think that’s a word that resonates with me more than representation. As writers, and readers, we connect with so many characters that are so different from us – that’s the beauty of the books. I hope that by having more biracial characters in books we can make those connections deeper.
Meet the author
Michael Mann is a teacher by day, dad by night, and mostly writes when he should be sleeping. He owes the idea for his middle grade novel, Ghostcloud, to his coal-mining grandad and a lifelong love of cloudspotting. He’s half-Indian and passionate about diversity in children’s literature, and loves books that keeps kids turning the page.
Twitter: @mikebmann |
Instagram: @mikemannwrites |
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A riveting, magical escapade about finding friendship and the courage to set yourself free against all odds
Kidnapped and forced to shovel coal underground, in a half-bombed power station, 12-year-old Luke Smith-Sharma keeps his head down and hopes he can earn his freedom from the evil Tabitha Margate. Then one day he discovers he can see things that others can’t. Ghostly things. A ghostly girl named Alma, who can bend the shape of clouds to her will and rides them through the night sky. With Alma’s help, Luke discovers his own innate powers and uncovers the terrible truth of why Tabatha is kidnapping children and forcing them to shovel coal. Desperate to escape, Luke teams up with Alma, his best friend Ravi, and new girl Jess. Can Luke and his friends get away before they each become victims to a cruel and sinister scheme?
Debut author Michael Mann delivers a wildly imaginative middle grade fantasy set in a smoke-stained world that’s sure to entertain readers who are eager for an adventure with paranormal superpowers.
Publication date: 09/27/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post