The author of a new children’s book is hoping it will help increase Asian representation in Canada’s literary landscape and encourage children to embrace the things that make them different.
A former educator, first-time author Melody Kiang says the book, titled I am Different, I am Great, is based on her personal childhood experiences.
“I actually was born and raised here in Toronto but I moved to Singapore for a few years because my parents were working there,” she explains.
“I picked up a Singaporean accent and I didn’t think anything of it, but when I came back to Toronto, I had a very thick accent and my teachers couldn’t really understand me, my friends couldn’t understand me.”
She says she felt out of place and insecure because she didn’t sound like everyone else and also began to feel isolated.
“A lot of my friends actually ran away from me when I was younger because they were, I think, embarrassed to play with me because they couldn’t understand me,” she says.
The book’s main character Mei Mei deals with similar experiences. Kiang says while she was sent to English as a Second Language classes and speech therapy as a child, Mei Mei looks inwards.
“Her mom really encourages her to look within herself to see — what are the good qualities about yourself? What are you happy about? What are you proud about?” explains Kiang.
“So she really goes through the motions and thinks it through and says to herself, ‘oh, I’m really good at taking care of my friends,’ or ‘I’m really good at taking care of my brother,’ — and when she finds those type of qualities, she’s actually discovering that she’s more than just her accent.”
Kiang feels the book will be relatable to first- and second-generation immigrants, with a core message that your accent or anything you feel insecure about is not tied to your true worth as a person.
“I myself am actually a second generation Asian immigrant. So this book was actually written for all the families out there that struggled with what I struggled with,” she says. “I know a lot of children, as they grow up, they have a lot of insecurities about themselves. You can feel insecure, but don’t let the insecurity define you.”
She also hopes a wider audience will see the book as an accessible way to approach topics of inclusion and acceptance with children and aims to bring more diversity to children’s literature.
“This book is a lot about inclusion and diversity. As a teacher, as an educator I didn’t actually see a lot of books about Asian families [in bookstores]. So I actually wanted to diversify children’s books,” she says.
To complement the book, Kiang created free activity sheets online for parents to print and complete with their kids as they read it.
After the positive feedback about I am Different, I am Great, Kiang is now working on her second book.
“It’s called Grandma’s Dumplings, and that story revolves around the same character Mei Mei, but she’s actually making dumplings with her grandmother and understanding her culture — understanding the foods that she eats and why it’s so important to the culture,” she says.
Click here for a look inside I am Different, I am Great.