As a lover of and a strong advocate for children’s literature, in particular, that which features a giant peach or perhaps one particularly hungry caterpillar, I must say I’m tired of reading about the same old predictable and recycled protagonists. A young girl in a perfectly symmetrical pink triangle dress, a boy with spiky hair who plays soccer, and a very clear framework in which female and male characters align themselves. Where’s the diversity in that huh? What kind of lessons are we teaching our younger generations about representation within a creative domain? And how on earth does she get her dress always looking so damn triangular?
Enter Louis Hanson, Daisy Squires, and their artistic love child ‘The Be You Collection‘. This powerhouse team from Melbourne are changing the lens on children’s literature, and replacing old predictable and recycled protagonists with refreshing, realistic, and beautifully constructed characters that advocate and appreciate diversity and individuality. ‘The Be You Collection’ is a startup company that stems from the desire to see a wide range of representations within the realm of children’s exposure to culture and artwork, whether that be diversity within gender, sexual orientation, race, or ability. Motivated by their own experiences with identity, culture, and belonging, Daisy and Louis are leading the march (rainbow flag proudly in hand) toward a future that ensures younger generations have a broader understanding of the richness and diversity that exists within society, and that their relationship within this scope is a healthy and ever-expanding one. Even giant peaches and hungry caterpillars belong within a healthy understanding of society, right? I had a sit down with Daisy and Louis to discuss the birth of ‘The Be You Collection’ and what the future has in store.
THE MINDS BEHIND THE MOVEMENT
designer/artist/superwoman: DAISY SQUIRES & author/advocate/inspiration: LOUIS HANSON
Why children’s books? What made the both of you so passionate about this project that’s essentially aimed at a much younger demographic?
Daisy: Louis and I love to dream and play with big ideas that seem unachievable at the time. We believe in ourselves that we can make them come to life and make them our reality. We chose a children’s book as it provides an opportunity for kids to learn, it generates conversation, curiosity and inspires. This book strips things back, ensures kids that being their unique selves are wonderful. If we can instil that into them whilst they are young, this movement could change lives.
Louis: I had an encounter with a little boy – he must have been about three of four – on a train last year. We both looked at each other and realised that we both had the same bright, red nail polish on. It was such a bonding moment; it’s like we just both understood each other. After he left, I realised that he’d go through a lot of self-realisation and would think that he’d be able to paint his nails. I wanted to write this story for him, so he could see himself, but also for any child who feels as though they can’t see themselves in stories.
Do either of you have a specific memory of being a child and feeling the weight of gender stereotypes influencing you?
Daisy: I feel there were many times where I felt I had the pressure of being ‘the sporty chick’ (which let me tell you, I most definitely wasn’t)… Instead of running around, ‘embarrassingly’ chasing a ball I really didn’t know how to catch, I would rather spend my time drawing or sitting my 10 year old self down with my friends and chatting about love, life and family. There are so many social constructs that we at every age are faced with, I just hope one day we are able to embrace our individuality wholeheartedly and that we truly accept and are accepted for who we are.
Louis: As a little kid, I felt confused because my hobbies didn’t align with those of the boys around me (I liked anything pink and shiny). When I first started school, I was made to feel ashamed because I only hung out with girls. As I grew older, I thought that my malehood meant that I couldn’t share my emotions. These memories all hindered me in some way.Daisy, did you find it hard conceptualising how you were going to create these characters in a physical sense or did they come to you quite naturally?
Daisy: Ben was based on Louis as a kid, so that was an easy start for me. All other characters came pretty naturally from there on. As a team we wanted to include diversity within the illustrations; diversity that we see in everyday life. I think creating the rest of the characters, that followed Ben, just flowed as I feel I naturally brought out certain characteristics from the people that influence and surround us in our everyday lives.
Louis, you seem to draw a lot of parallels between yourself and the protagonist in your first book ‘Ben’, was it a difficult process writing about his character or was it a cathartic process?
Louis: Writing this story was such a therapeutic experience for me. In some ways, I can write my thoughts better than I can verbalise them. Whenever I write something, it’s as I’ve made peace with it and I’m able to move on. That’s why I’ve written, even as a young kid.
Where did you find inspiration for the characters you have created in ‘The Be You Collection’?
Louis: For the first book, I definitely used a lot of my own story as inspiration. For example, women have always played a powerful role in my life; this led to Ben’s best friend, Violet, and his mother being his support system. From there, Daisy and I worked together in ensuring that the characters in this collection were as diverse as possible.
Can you tell me a bit about the other characters we can expect to read about in the collection?
Daisy & Louis: The next books will deal with kids from different racial backgrounds, gender identities and abilities. Our aim is to share the stories of as many identities as possible. We’ll be looking to work closely with children and adults from these perspectives in order to make sure we are staying true to their experiences.
What are you hoping the future of ‘The Be You Collection’ will look like, both as a company and as an educational resource?
As a series of books, we are hoping to see this collection in libraries and schools, readily available to the public. As a company, we hoping to see it expand as much as possible. For one, we’d love for ‘The Be You Collection’ to become a workshop-type program in schools educating kids on the beauty of difference. We guess time will tell!If you’re a bit like Ben, and are holding back tears at the thought of a younger you feeling acceptance and support within the big wide world of literature, you can support this incredible movement by donating to help fund the production of ‘The Be You Collection’ and spread the word to any rugrats you know who are in need of a little inspiration, and colour in their life.