Biting back - with a tooth fairy

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Verna Wilkins set up Tamarind Books 18 years ago because she had seen her son become bored and disenchanted with the all-white books he was offered in school.

Rather than raise race-related issues in her children's books, she concentrates on publishing straightforwardly enjoyable stories in which all the characters, including the fairies, are black. One of her most popular books features a black tooth fairy. "I do believe that publishing can be both inclusive and profitable and the Diversity Matters conference will go some way to change things. But we must get it right. Some parents have searched the bookshops in vain and no longer return."

She recently ran a bookstall at the Black Hair and Beauty Show at Alexandra Palace, to target young mothers ("I decided to take the mountain to Muhammad"), and noticed children's excitement at a rack of books with black faces on the covers. "It seemed a tragedy to me that after all this time, this is still such a surprise to black children, that they are so unused to seeing themselves in books. That's not some-thing that happens to a white child."

But she recognises some progress. One of her most recent books was com-missioned by the son who started it all. She adds, "The schools and libraries that I go to these days are aware that a black female can be a publisher, so when I arrive they don't ask me when the publisher is coming."

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