Cork author’s positive celebration of diversity in new children's book

Pet O’Connell has Cork connections covered in newly-released children’s books
Cork author’s positive celebration of diversity in new children's book

All The Rainbows Colours, by Emma Ledden and Lola Svetlova (Little Bear Press €12)

“NEVER judge a book by its cover” is a worthy maxim, yet one that can be difficult to adhere to.

Traditional publishers are acutely aware of the importance of making a good first impression, even to those of us who delude ourselves into thinking we are above such persuasion.

They usually invest considerable resources, therefore, into ensuring that in those fleeting seconds when the potential reader is glancing at titles, deciding whether to make a purchase, the cover of their new book presents its contents in the most favourable way possible.

Traditional publishers, after all, have a vested interest in the success of the books they produce, and while they have their faults, they rarely release books whose titles contain glaring grammatical errors.

Those who pursue their own, possibly faster, routes into publishing must shoulder the responsibility for the proof-reading and presentation of their work.

Apostrophes aside (since not everyone is a grammar nerd), those who do venture inside Emma Ledden’s new children’s book will be rewarded by the discovery of a positive exploration of diversity and inclusivity, attractively illustrated by Lola Svetlova.

The Russian artist depicts children of all shapes and sizes, all ethnicities, with and without disabilities, dressed in clothes from many cultures.

“Some are tall and some are short, some are in between. Some are big and some are small, some just like being seen,” according to Ledden, the Cork-born former presenter of BBC children’s show Live And Kicking.

“Some are white and some are black, some are freckled too, some are all the rainbow’s colours, pink, yellow, green and blue.”

In a picture book aimed at children aged three to six years, it is unclear whether this multicoloured inclusivity refers to the LGBTQ rainbow or to skin colour, in which case we’re well prepared for martian ethnic diversity should the need arise. The message is clear, however, and Ledden makes some good points about acceptance.

“Some think they’re better, with their noses in the air, Some treat others badly, which isn’t right or fair.”

She adds: “We can all look very different, but inside we are the same, thinking you’re better than others is untrue and really lame.”

It’s hard to disagree with the overall sentiment, which echoes the reason given by the author, a mother of two boys, for publishing her second children’s book in two months, following the release in February of My Mammy Knows Everything.

“I wrote this book in the hope my boys grow up in a more accepting world,” she said.

“We live in an increasingly diverse world and all our children will encounter people of different races, cultures, and abilities. They’ll make friends with children from different familial structures.

“This book is to help them understand and celebrate difference at the age they start to notice it.”

With space at the back of the book for children to fill in coloured strips with descriptions of their own “special and unique” qualities, this is a positive celebration of difference from a writer described on her website as an award-winning best-selling author and leading international communication coach. In a career that also saw her become the first ‘Irish MTV VJ’ and perform a variety of modelling roles, she may still be best known to many for her teenage appearances with Dustin, Soky and Ray D’Arcy on The Den.

Meanwhile, lending weight to any argument in favour of judging books by their covers is the eye-catching turquoise binding of Simon Philip’s Fred: Wizarding Wonder (Simon & Schuster €8.40), illustrated by Cork’s Sheena Dempsey. The illustrator of children’s books by Bressie, Fearne Cotton, and Swapna Haddow now adds her magic touch to this series charting the misadventures of a woeful wizard.

Not without its Harry Potter plot similarities, the third instalment sees Fred land into the MAGIC camp for Magicians of Astounding Genius, Intrepidness, and Courage — none of them characteristics Fred is known to possess.

The camp becomes a trial for Fred, whose spells have a habit of producing unintended results, but it’s also a stern test of his friendship with his best friend Marvin, who is enchanted by the magical prowess of another student.

This interesting exploration of childhood social interaction is enriched throughout by Dempsey’s bubbling cauldrons and array of unpleasant magical creatures that would give JK Rowling’s blast-ended skrewts a run for their money.

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