Who Are You?, a children’s picture book that encourages discussions about identity and heritage, is now available in bookshops across the UK.
Written by Richmond author Smriti Halls, it focuses on the ‘pieces, places and people that make us who we are.’
Halls, who is currently judging the Costa Book Awards said: “Who Are You? felt like something special – I wanted to create a book where every child could find the capacity to talk about their experience in some sort of way.”
Inspired by her Anglo-Indian background, the book delves into a reader’s life through topics from family and friends to facial features and hair.
Having lived in Richmond for the past 15 years, Halls, who was born in South India and grew up in Wales, Newcastle and London, expressed that the question of where you’re from can often fail to capture everything about you – especially for children of colour.
She added: “All of us are a myriad of wonderful places and people that contribute to who we are.
“We wanted to give children the chance to explore those things in a text that would be fun to say out loud, make them want to talk about with their family, and feel very celebratory and joyful.”
Halls has worked in children’s publishing, books, magazines, and television for 20 years, as well as having a role as an in-house writer.
Who Are You? is a break from the humorous, rhyming, and fictional poetry books she usually writes.
She expressed that she didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to engage with heritage in a celebratory and sensitive way, and to contribute to how we help children see themselves in books.
Who Are You? comes at a time where conversation about diversity and inclusivity in fiction is on the rise.
The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) found that only 4% of children’s books featured BAME characters in 2017.
This increased to 7% in 2018 and has reached 30% in recent reports.
However of that 30%, only 3% were Asian characters, which is a lower percentage than the the UK’s Asian population.
Representation is important in fiction as it enables children to visualise themselves in various spaces, without questioning whether they belong. Halls also aimed for this when writing the book.
The idea for Who Are You? was suggested to Halls by her publisher and illustrated by Ali Pye.
Halls said: “We went back and forth with Pye to make sure to include children in a non-cliched way.
“We spoke to a wide range of people to make it as sensitive and carefully diverse as possible, and we wanted to avoid cliches and tick-box diversity.”
The book successfully achieves these aims as it shows children with a range of ethnicities, abilities, and interests on every colourful page.
This pairs with Hall’s writing about family, with lines such as, ‘Who’s your mum’s mum? How far back can you go? Who’s your dad’s dad? How much do you know?‘
Each double-page spread ends with a prompt for the reader to wonder about themselves, for example: ‘Who else is important in your life?’
Pieces, places and people
Halls explained: “The front cover talks about pieces, places and people who make you who you are; puzzle pieces represent us and how we are interconnected with everyone else.
“This is a book about self-discovery, but I hope there’s also a sense of looking outside of ourselves to a wider community and world; it’s important for children to think globally.”
Halls hopes for Who Are You? to enter classrooms, giving teachers and children the chance to not only see what a child could be, but also for minority children to feel proud of who they are and celebrate themselves.
She said: “I’ve tried to bring the change I’ve been speaking about, to commission books with children of all sorts of ethnicities.
‘I hope all children really enjoy it and feel super proud of all the things they are and discover what they didn’t know about their wider family.”
Smriti is a veteran of children’s publishing, having served as a BookTrust Writer in Residence until March this year.
Her recent books have seen successes in the Hampshire Book Awards and Oxford Picture Book Prize.
She expressed: “I have lots of funny fictional books featuring children of colour and will continue writing them. I hope there will be more in this series too.”
You can purchase Who Are You? online and in stores.