PERSONALITIES: Teacher takes diversity in children’s book | Saturday Q&S

It was her brother’s birth that made Joy Houlder of Vernon try to write, at first only for him and her family.

But encouraged by her college professors to think bigger, Houlder expanded her introductory theme to include “Calvin Dreams: And That He Will Be Bigger Than the Moon!” – a book that pays homage to diversity and inclusion.

At the time, she was a senior at Emmanuel College in Boston. “Having a new sibling” was super exciting for me. So I thought, well, let me give them (her father and stepmother) a book that shows a child who would look like my brother, a little black boy, “she said. .

However, none of the books already published fit the happy occasion.

“I had a hard time finding material that was uplifting, whimsical and adventurous at the time. I came across a lot of things that had to do with civil rights and slavery or really heavy material that is extremely important for every single child to learn. about, ”she said.

“It starts to get exhausting when the only way you are able to see yourself (is) as a protagonist fighting against white supremacy (in a book). I just really wanted something fun for him. ”

So Houlder considered making his own book for his little brother.

“It started as a simple project. I took an individualized class (i) my final year with my professors. A couple of my study art professors guided me and I created the book, ”she said.

At the time, she was not interested in publishing the book, but just wanted to gift it to her family as a surprise.

Her professors “pushed me to publish the book. They saw more in it than what I was initially trying to get out of it,” she said.

While her little brother, who is now 4, was her primary source of inspiration for the book, she was also influenced by the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement and wanted to change the portrayal of black men that was widespread in the media.

She now had a wider audience. “My little brother, like another little black boy – to be born into such a cruel and unjust society. For my people (the black society). I thought, how can I alleviate the trauma that he is going to face? How can I encounter the injustice he may be subjected to? “

The answer: “By giving him a book that shows him as a protagonist, going through these impossible, difficult worlds and doing it with ease. So I wanted to inspire my little brother. That was what inspired me,” she said. .

In the book, Calvin talks to flowers that speak different languages, flies in the sky with whales, on adventures through dark forests and finds really bright fairies and mushrooms with his sidekick, Bunny.

“It’s really light-hearted and funny, while pushing the message to every child that no matter what they look like or (regardless of their) walk (in life), they can do great things and have fun while doing it,” she said.

Her job as a family resources specialist for ECHN at Maple Street School in Vernon, where she facilitates positive youth development programs, also brings her to other schools in Vernon to study “Calvin Dreams.”

During a recent visit to Center Road School, Houlder said, she had a strong interaction with a student after reading the book.

“She got up from her circle and ran towards me as I walked. She reached out her hand and put her hand next to mine. She shines and says, ‘We have the same color, brown.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, we have the same color, brown,’ and she jumped back to her chair. I think there was a hint of pride in her that this person, this author, this illustrator, came in. in my classroom, looks like me. “

And that’s what makes Houlder excited about having Calvin as a positive protagonist.

“The classes I read for or the schools I attended, the responses from all the kids are ‘Hey, I want to be like Calvin’ or ‘I relate to him this way,'” she said.

“We move away from seeing only one type of hero, one type of protagonist. Anyone can be who they want to be. That is why representation is so important. ”

Melissa Trantolo, director of teaching and learning for Vernon Public Schools, agrees. Houlder, she said, “is an example of all the great things you can accomplish when you work hard.

“The kids absolutely loved her. They are able to quickly connect with her, and her book shows students of color in a positive light and lets all students know they have a place. It’s just amazing,” he said. Trantolo.

Houlder said it is important to strengthen diversity and representation.

“Representation is incredibly important for every single child, not only for colored children, but also for white children, because it normalizes seeing people in different positions. I believe that white supremacy harms us all, every single one of us, and thus it benefits every child to push the narrative of diversification of protagonists and role models, ”she said.

Houlder, who graduated from Rockville High School and Greater Hartford Academy, still enjoys having his roots in Vernon.

“A lot of my family is still here. And a lot of collegiate roots are attached here to Vernon through my work in the Family Resource Center,” she said.

She said her favorite and most popular programs she leads are her therapeutic art groups.

“I am not an art therapist, but my education is in counseling psychology and study art. So in that group, we find ways to deal with and strategize with our emotions, our environment using art. So it’s really important to me, ”she said.

Houlder said there are several books on the way that show under-represented children in the genres of adventure and fantasy, but her latest engagement and wedding planning is where her creativity is currently focused, as she made cards and invitations along with planning the decorations. for her special day.

“Hey, I’m an artist, I might as well do that. So hopefully when all that’s settled, or I can find time to work on my craft at the same time,” she returns to write.

Deidre Montague covers the towns of Vernon and Stafford.

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