Colour and Me! by Michaela Dias-Hayes
It’s no secret that I’m a very big fan of Owlet Press. I was very excited to receive a copy of Colour and Me! to review. Sam, who’s the director of Owlet Press, first got in contact back in February 2021. Owlet Press is very close to where I live; only a few miles away and we began to collaborate on book releases.
Even if I’m not specifically asked to collaborate on a book launch I usually end up adding their new releases onto my wish list. Then I end up buying them as there is something truly magical and inspirational about the books Sam chooses to publish. This certainly was the case for Nen and the Lonely Fisherman by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew. One of my favourite reads of 2021. Do check out my full review with activity ideas here.
Sam isn’t trying to publish ANY books. He’s trying to publish books that matter, books that will make a difference, books that every child can hope to see themselves in and books that ooze wonderful, positive diversity.
Michaela Dias-Hayes Illustrator & Author
You may already be familiar with the vibrant work of Michaela Dias-Hayes – I was astounded by the beauty of Sunflower Sisters – each spread bursting with life.
Colour and Me! is both written and illustrated by Michaela. Another book is coming in Summer 2022 from Michaela called Family and Me!
I joined the Instagram Live launch for Colour and Me! (link here) and very much enjoyed listening to Michaela talk about her work and her experiences as an artist and reader. I think it’s really powerful to hear from different people their experience of books and reading and I very much encourage you to watch Michaela’s interview with Sam. I think it’s only through own voices that we can truly start to understand the damage of the absence of representation.
What We Read Matters
For me, reading books has always been something very dear to me. It was and is my solace when times were hard but also filled my days with joy. Sat under the branches of a tree in my home town by the river or in a nook in the library or the local bookstore. I find it very hard when I listen to people discuss their love of reading or even just their experience of reading and how they felt they could never see themselves in the characters of books. It’s something that fills me with deep sadness. I’ve been very fortunate to, even if I can’t completely see myself in a story, find snippets that I relate to and characters that resemble me.
Looking back, I see that many of the books that I read as a child were heavily stereotyped and lacking in diversity. For example, I’ve been a glasses wearer since I was 3 years old (something I feel incredibly grateful for), many of the characters that wore glasses in the books I read were portrayed as ‘nerdy’.
It didn’t seem possible that a character could just wear glasses – it had to have an underlying meaning that often had negative connotations. Almost like adding a cape made you a superhero, wearing glasses made you geeky! This stereotyping would then often be the start of playground bullying.
Funnily enough, glasses was actually the reason Sam from Owlet Press initially got in touch with me. I’d commented on someone else’s Instagram post about how lovely it was to see a main character wearing glasses. Not for a reason or purpose, just because some people wear glasses. Sam got in touch to ask if I’d like to review the book.
Omar, the Bees and Me
The book was Omar, the Bees and Me by Helen Mortimer and Katie Cottle. It wasn’t just the story that I fell in love with. It was because in this terrific little book there was diversity everywhere – it bloomed like the flowers in the story. I don’t mean in an – I’m a book about diversity way (I’m not saying these books don’t have their place – they do). The story was brilliant, and the diversity within the book was as it should be, just there, woven into the fabric of the community; just as it is in our communities. That’s the moment I fell totally in love with Owlet Press.
What we see and hear and the actions of others is important to us. In the interview with Michaela she talked about how supported she’d been by her family to pursue her love of art. However, she relives experiences of being told not to just mix all the colours together to make brown. Brown in yucky. You can’t use the playdough once you’ve mixed the colours and just made brown.
Although these statements seem innocent, we have missed the glaringly obvious fact that a black or brown child either consciously or subconsciously hearing these words may feel that brown is somehow less, that they are somehow less and they are not.
Michaela’s book is a celebration of colour, of all colours but especially of our protagonists colour that’s perfectly her – brown.
Endpapers are something I always look forward to when opening a book for the first time. How fabulous are Michaela’s endpapers? It just makes you want to dive right in with paint and get exploring.
The books explores our main character’s exploration and experimentation with colour mixing. She enjoys creating different colours from others and the colours she makes remind her of familiar things around her including one that is perfectly her.
My daughter loved the main character in the story and the beauty of all the different hair styles throughout the book. On the spread above I adore the look of serious concentration on the character’s face as she’s squeezing her paints.
Often when children first begin to explore with media and materials as adults we can be too prescriptive with what they should be doing. This look reminds me of the planning and determination my daughter has when she is creating. Frequently, the best thing we can do is just observe and say nothing allowing them the freedom to explore in their own ways without judgement.
Favourites and Recommendations
The rhyming text is gentle and simple. The simplicity is perfect to allow this book to be shared with very young children. I feel this book should be in every early years and school setting and should be a starting text for learning about colour exploration.
Children will also admire Myrtle the turtle who pops up throughout the book, generally covered in paint!
My favourite image in Colour and Me! is of Nanny giving a kiss below. Isn’t it just the most heart-warming image?
One thing my daughter wanted to ask Michaela was how does she make the facial features show up so well when she draws black and brown people. Floss was very happy to get a reply in the live from Michaela who suggested using slightly lighter shades around features such as the eyes to bring them out more. I think you can see what Michaela means in the image above and how her subtle shading makes all the difference.
What Can We Do?
What can we do? YOU can make a difference and ensure that all of our children and their families and communities are represented in the books they read. It’s not just about representing who they are now maybe as a very small child but who they dream of being in the future. Here are a few things that you can do that will make a difference:
- Support diverse authors and illustrators. You don’t have to have money to buy all their books. Liking, sharing and engaging with social media posts all helps.
- Support books with diverse characters especially ones in which diversity isn’t the theme it’s just a normal part of life.
- Support publishers who are getting diversity right and get in contact with those who could be doing better.
- Request diverse books, authors and illustrators at your local library.
- Ensure the books your child has access to at home and school are diverse.
- Actively remove books that go against diversity. The time has passed to say that there is not enough other books to read and to read just for nostalgia without consequence. There are a plethora of exceptional books out there.