by Beth Cox
When I was a child I LOVED reading but always struggled to come up with creative ideas, and would often have only managed to write one line by the time my peers were on their second or third page! For this reason, I’m surprised that I’m now able to call myself an author! It’s not something I ever intended but when a Sam at b small asked me if I could write a book for them it was an opportunity I couldn’t let pass me by so I just said ‘yes’ and decided I’d figure out the ‘how’ later!
I’ve worked in the world of children’s books for many years, but mainly on other people’s projects. Either editing them to make them the best they can be or supporting them to make them more inclusive. What I discovered when tackling my first book was that writing non-fiction is a bit like editing – you’re taking information and putting it into a format that makes it easy for people to understand.
Both my favourite and the most challenging part of creating a new book is the initial exploration. This is where I scribble down notes, ideas and possibilities in a very non-sensical order – which I then have to try and make sense of. That’s where the challenge comes in. Finding out how to put it in a logical order so that the book flows and makes sense takes a lot of trial and error, and when there are lots of interconnecting ideas finding the right order is even harder.
When I was approached to write All Bodies are Wonderful I knew I didn’t want to just make a book about celebrating different bodies. I wanted to do something a bit different. As the book started to come together, what it needed to contain became clearer, and the idea evolved from the one that had originally been discussed – but that is what makes it unique and powerful, just like all of us.
With All Bodies Are Wonderful, I wanted to help readers understand why bodies are different, and to learn to value their very unique bodies. I decided that I wanted to start this book by looking at the science of bodies.
Only one problem with that… I’m not a scientist! It’s an area I’ve always been interested in, the development of a human from a bundle of cells is something that I find completely fascinating and mindblowing! Luckily I found an amazing scientist who was keen to be involved. She helped me to understand some very complex science and left me to it to translate the information into child-friendly language. Luckily she also gave the book some final checks to ensure that the correct facts hadn’t become distorted in translation.
Why is starting with the science so important? Very often children and young people are encouraged to think a certain way but aren’t necessarily given the information to understand why. It’s something I’ve always found frustrating – understanding something makes it much easier for me to get on board. (There is a caveat here which I’ll talk about later and in the book). In the past year, I’ve learned that I’m autistic, which helps explain why I feel this way (and a lot of other things), but regardless of the way your brain wired, I
think it’s still helpful to understand why all bodies are different rather than just being expected to embrace the fact that they are all different.
It's not only science that impacts our bodies and who we are, the world around us does too, so that’s what the book focuses on next. The environment we spend time in, along with the people we spend time with all influence the person we become. And it works the other way too. We have an impact on other people and the world, so the book looks at the impact of discrimination and stereotyping, how we can take action to challenge these things, and how we can explore being confident about who we are.
The book works can be read from start to finish, but many of the spreads could be used independently for starting particular discussions or teaching certain concepts. And there’s a fabulous teaching resource created by Mark Jennett that is available to support the book.
Being an author is a small part of my work, my main role in children’s books is supporting book creators and publishers to make their books more inclusive? What does that mean? It involves looking at who is included in the story and in the pictures, what kind of role they take on. It means considering every word that is used, and whether it could reinforce a stereotypes, or build biases (that readers aren’t even aware of). It’s about making lots of small tweaks to books to make them even better, and sometimes it’s about making big changes. It involves a lot of thinking and considering things from a variety of perspectives, and a lot of putting myself in other people’s shoes (it’s a common misconception that autistic people have trouble feeling empathy or understanding other people’s feelings, for a start, all autistic people are different and some autistic people have hyper-empathy, and this is what helps me do this!).
Inclusion in books isn’t just about seeing people who are familiar to you or people who are unfamiliar in some way, it’s vital for mental health. So often we think we have to act a certain way to fit in, or look a certain way. Seeing a diverse range of people in books shows us that there are many ways of being human, and that it’s okay to just be ourselves. And being ourselves and being happy with who we are means that we value who we are.
Inclusion is also about bodies. People are generally discriminated against or stereotyped because of something linked to their body – it could be their ethnicity or skin colour, their size, a disabling condition or impairment or something else.
By accepting all types of bodies, including our own, we can start to build a more inclusive world.
Inclusion and mental health are things we should be conscious of all year round, but a good time to refresh any commitments and focus on these areas is Children’s Mental Health from 5-11 February. You can find resources for it here.