As a child, I loved writing stories, especially tales about little girls with blond hair and blue eyes named Susie or Patricia who went to boarding schools and attended ballet class. In my mind, I was just like these girls, except that I wasn’t blond. It took me ages to figure out what I was and when I did, I ran up to my mother with glee: “I know what I am!” I exclaimed, “I’m brunette.” Expecting her to nod along with me, I was heartbroken when she curtly replied, “no, you’re Indian.”
Even though I grew up in India, I mainly read fiction about British and American children. Looking back, it’s easy to see why I never wrote any stories about the world I occupied – the books I read had taught me that my reality was not worthy of representation. I can’t help but think that my view of the world and my self-image would have been very different had I read more stories about young people of colour, including those whose lives were very different from my own.
This is one of the reasons why books like Anisha Accidental Detective by Sarena Patel are necessary. Beyond being a story about a 10 year-old British-Indian super sleuth, the book paints a vibrant picture of a culture that is rarely represented in children’s books. The story follows aspiring scientist Anisha as she and her family gear up for her aunt’s wedding. Amidst the hullabaloo, the groom-to-be gets kidnapped, leaving Anisha and her animal-whisperer best friend in charge of saving the day before the grown-ups discover that something is amiss. Narrated by Anisha herself, the book takes the reader on a hilarious adventure with memorable characters, including a feisty grandmother, a glamorous bride-to-be, a sly little lobster, two terrible twins and of course, a very clever protagonist. Packed with funny illustrations, the book was a true delight to read. I know that a younger Tara would have devoured it, and kept her eye out for the upcoming sequel!
While the story is really enjoyable, the true beauty of this book lies in its portrayal of life in a British-Indian home. As a child, I never saw things I knew, like rotis or ladoos in the books I read, nor did I read about certain kinds of family interactions that I saw in my own home. Seeing details like this featured in books reminds me why the representation of characters from diverse backgrounds is so valuable. Not only is it a source of validation for children who come from the same cultural background as the protagonist, it also helps readers from other backgrounds learn about how colourful the world truly is.
Reading Anisha Accidental Detective gave me a lot of hope. I know that reading a book like this at age 9 or 11 would have made a world of difference to my self-esteem. Perhaps, for the first time ever, I would have known that dark-haired and dark-skinned girls called Tara or Anisha have a place in stories too. Although it may be too late for me, I’m thrilled that children of colour growing up today won’t have to live with the insecurities that I did.
Authors, illustrators and publishers – do you have a book that you’d like us to review? Drop us a line on email@example.com.