Asking a reader a simple question resulted in a profound response.
When I asked students at a local elementary school for feedback on the first book in the Waldameer Mystery Files series, I didn't realize I'd get such a profound response.
The school had done a grade-level read of The Long-Lost Locket, and we even had a field trip to Waldameer with activities related to the book. I wanted to get a sense of what readers thought: what drew them into the story, which parts engaged them, and any suggestions for future books.
However, the most profound response came to my simplest question: Who was your favorite character and why?
A reader named Parinita wrote, "My favorite character is Anh because she is from somewhere far away (Vietnam) and so am I (India)."
After teaching English to students in Vietnam and then immigrants and refugees in Erie, I wanted to incorporate my experiences into my writing. I decided to include characters like Anh, a Vietnamese immigrant.
I knew representation in literature mattered. I understood the importance of representation as a concept, but until Parinita's comment, I hadn't thought of representation in practical terms.
How meaningful for a reader like Parinita to read a book with an immigrant character? And a main character who is well-rounded at that. Anh is smart, kind, creative, and helpful. Her American friends help her with nuanced English phrases, and she teaches them about her Vietnamese culture.
Whether we know it or not, media has such influence over our ideas about ourselves, and especially so with children. Besides looking to adults in their lives, children also look to media for evidence that they are capable, lovable, important--that they matter.
Representation relates to two of the most essential values we try to impart to our children: They matter, and people different from them matter too.
After being struck by Parinita's response, I made a commitment to myself to include a range of diverse characters in the Waldameer Mystery Files series. Here's to more readers like Parinita seeing themselves represented and celebrated in the books they read!