by Tarah L. Gear
Tarah L. Gear is the debut author of new picture book Just Like Grandpa Jazz, illustrated by Mirna Imamovic. Written from Tarah’s personal experiences of privilege and racism within her mixed-race family, the book subtly educates readers on racism and immigration, with a nod to Windrush, whilst focussing on the joy of intergenerational relationships, and emphasising that we must continue to share family stories generation after generation, to better understand and celebrate our heritage and roots.
What motivated you to begin a career in writing?
My parents tell a cute story about me as a child - I always said I wanted to be an author. I was so enthralled by stories, books and storytelling that it was an obvious choice. Creating imaginary worlds with joy, threat and possibility had such powerful allure.
When I was two, we moved to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. Except for a swimming pool (which of course, was wonderful) and the few toys we could fit in our suitcases there was little to light my imagination. So, I buried myself in books. I remember looking out of our apartment window at an expanse of shiny new construction in the desert and seeing a beautiful, very tall mosque. I believed it was a far-away castle and that I was in my very own fairy-tale!
I studied writing at university but then took a corporate job. Writing and story telling has always been there, but there are curious moments in any writer’s life when in periods of quiet or unrest, the words, characters and plotlines come rushing to the surface.
What inspired you to write this new book, Just Like Grandpa Jazz?
It’s a story for my kids, and an ode to my dad. The more I write, the more I come back to my own stories.
I have also spent quite a bit of time thinking about race, and my own experience of being mixed-race. When I had my own children, I realised they would have a different experience to me and I wanted to highlight this. Race and mixed-race is so complex. I can only present my experience and I have no answers or advice. But I suppose in its own way that’s what is important. A real, lived experience of what it’s like to live within a family where people have different colours.
Finally, there’s something so precious about the relationship between a child and their grandparent. For kids lucky enough to have them, or someone like a grandparent in their life, they enjoy fun, unconditional love and often they seem to inhabit a little world all of their own.
How would you suggest primary teachers use Just Like Grandpa Jazz?
They could look at the relationship between objects and the stories they hold – a sort of show and tell. Perhaps it could be a family object or heirloom which helps them tell the story about their family. There are some notes in the back of the book about migration, what that means, and the different reasons people migrate. Children could tell stories about their family or people they know who have migrated to and from different countries. I think there are also more serious conversations to be had about race and heritage and how mixed families come together and what they should do to remember and celebrate their diversity.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently writing a story about climate change. I have a lovely, animal related concept, but it’s hard to tell these stories in a way that doesn’t frighten or upset children. Whilst we’re now more aware of so many important issues and we have better language to share them with our children, I’ve learned first-hand with my own that their innocence and heightened emotions need to be protected. I’m also working on a collection of poetry and an exploration of place and nature writing.