Do you have to be the same race to draw children of diversity?

 A photo from google images that I used for reference,
not to exactly copy, but to get ideas for the look of Jamilla, the main character in a book I'm illustrating for the US Baha'i Publishing Trust.
Illustrations by Leona Hosack
Cover for Jamilla Does Not Want A Bat In Her House,
now in Square format!

Illustration by Leona Hosack for US Baha'i Publishing Trust
Jamilla reading a prayer for the bat!
A number of years ago, I went to a children's book conference at the University of Mass. with some friends. We got to see Tommy Di Palo (StregaNona, etc.) speak about his Italian-Irish family and how he based many of his books on his upbringing in that culture. 

One of the workshops I took that day was presented by the noted African-American children's book illustrator James Ransome. He showed slides of his work and discussed his method of illustration and especially how he used composition to compliment the action in his books! After the workshop I got to ask him a question I had because I was working on a children's book at the time that featured an African-American child. 

I asked about illustrating children from a different culture or race of your own. I had recently read an article saying that illustrates or writers should stay within their own race or culture in their artistic endeavors. In other words, since I'm white do I have the right to illustrate a child of color, and can I be accurate in doing so even if I am not of that race or culture?

He was very kind and encouraging and said that as long as you research your subject well, anyone should be able to write or illustrate any race or culture. He mentioned that he had created illustrations of white people and had always wanted to be very accurate in his portrayal! I was so grateful for that interchange and glad that I had had the chance to meet him!

Here's a quote by James Ransome stressing the need for illustrators of all races to create children's books that represent minorities!

Q. Do you feel there is a lack of books out there to show minority children images of themselves?
 "I think the industry is changing, but I think there's lots of room for more books about different kids. Usually, the burden is put on African-Americans or Hispanics or Asians to do books about themselves, so they can be represented. If an illustrator is doing a book, why not have some of the kid's friends be of different nationalities? So often, the burden of inclusion is dealt with only by minorities. It's not dealt with by white illustrators. Without it being written in the text, I would like to see more of that. I think that would help everyone. The responsibility is not just with minorities trying to depict minorities indifferent situations. Everyone should be trying to do it.

I also recently found an article and quote from an African- American mom turned picture book writer that mentions how important it is to show children of color in picture books! "Justice pon di Road really needed to make its way into the world. A recent Op Ed piece in the New York Times by Walter Dean Myers reaffirmed my decision to self publish.  Statistics show that, despite tremendous ethnic diversity in our country, only about six percent of the children’s books published each year feature children of color. Three percent of those books are about African Americans.  For me, it’s really important for black children to see themselves in a positive light.  I want them to know that their lives and stories matter.


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