As my 2-year old daughter, Sage, likes to say, “I did it!” After years of a holding on to my deferred dream, I finally published my first children’s book, Same Difference.
As a dedicated artist, wife, and mother of two girls (ages 4 and 2) and a teenage boy (a gift from my marriage), I’ve had plenty of good excuses for why I couldn’t complete the book that I’ve wanted to write and illustrate for so long. But here I am—at last. It’s been a long and often-emotional journey, but well worth it. The response that I’ve received thus far from people who have been touched by the story and message of Same Difference has been truly overwhelming.
This is a book for beginning readers (4- to 8-year-olds) that addresses the sensitive and sometimes divisive issues of beauty and identity within the African-American community. The story follows two cousins, Lisa and Lida, who do everything together, from wearing the same pretty dress to sharing the same imaginary friends. When they have to go to the bathroom, they even share the same toilet seat!
For as long as they can remember, Lisa and Lida have wanted to be exactly alike. Then one day, they realize that their physical differences seem to set them apart. Lida has light skin and hair that looks like waves in the sea, while Lisa has darker skin with curls that twirls like the wind.
With the help of their wise grandmother, the two precocious girls realize that their bond is much deeper than what they see when they look in the mirror. And they learn to love their own beauty while realizing that their differences are what make them special.
Although this book is based on my childhood experiences, I’ve noticed that these same issues of beauty and identity are manifesting in my own children. I’m just beginning to have the “hair conversations” with my oldest daughter, Skye, who wants to wear her hair “down,” but her small curls make that impossible without a lot of combing, curling, and crying.
I tell her “You have hair like your Momma’s – beautiful, little curls.” I have appeased her desire for the free-flowing, bouncy hair with sister-twists and cornrows with beads and I constantly reinforce how lucky she is to have so many hairstyle options. Yet, when we go to the store or the park, I can’t help but notice her eyes lock on to the little girls with swinging ponytails. Sometimes, I even notice how she looks at her little sister’s looser locks during their bath time.
As a mother, all I really want is for my children to love themselves, be intelligent, and move courageously through the world. Therefore, I feel compelled to engage in what I like to call my “covert operation” of moving my daughters’ black dolls to the front of their shelves, even though their own complexions are closer to their Caucasian dolls (that’s a whole ‘nother blog!).
I also read to them as much as possible. And I am proud to add their mother’s first book, Same Difference, to their library. I hope the book will reinforce my constant reassurance that they are strong, smart and brave. And I do all this to provide them with the confidence to fulfill their life’s dreams and to one day hear them exclaim, “I did it, too.”