The World Doesn't Need More Sad Stories
A few Sundays ago, I had the honour of pitching Small Fires at Melbourne SOUP, to a community of passionate change-makers. Here’s a slightly tweaked version of the story I shared on how this all started.
When I was little, I read stories about hungry caterpillars and adventurous British children (not unlike Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). I stayed up late, with my head and a torch under the covers, reading until the light would fade.
But I wasn’t really under the covers, I was off exploring faraway places. The words transported me, and I was hooked.
When I got a bit older and a bit more curious about the world, I started paying attention to what was on TV.
Saturday mornings were filled with Hey Arnold and Pokemon, which while fun, didn’t take me to new places or show me what other parts of the world looked like.
So I tuned into the serious stuff and couldn’t believe my eyes — the far away worlds I longed to know about were sold to me as places of tragedy, sadness, and disaster.
Once again, I was hooked. I wanted to do something about these images, to help the people that were looking back at me from screens.
It wasn’t until I grew up even more, got on a plane to “help these people”, arrived full of eagerness and goodwill… before I realised I wasn’t needed.
I realised the stories that I’d been told about these places growing up didn’t match the reality on the ground. I was expecting chaos and disaster, and what I found instead were people like me, like my friends and family.
Raise your hand (or take a moment to think about) if you’ve had the privilege of visiting somewhere completely unlike Australia?
Keep your hand up (or keep thinking about) if you found something in common with the people you met there.
The stories I desperately needed growing up didn’t exist. And they still don’t. Only 13% of kids books in the last 25 years have characters that aren’t white. And less than 7% of kids books are written by authors that aren’t white.
So, I thought it was time to change that number.
Small Fires is a series of children’s books about the world, as told by the people that live there. They celebrate our similarities and our differences and use the tradition of storytelling to build understanding.
But these books don’t stop there.
Each book is co-written with a change maker in a different country, and the money generated from the book goes back into supporting their work, in their community, because they know it best.
I’m aiming to launch our first story, which is set in Kenya, later this year in what I’m determined to turn into a movement in kids books. With diverse characters that aren’t just caterpillars or British children.
And, beautiful audience, tonight I’m here to ask you to join me on that journey.
Books are expensive to make, who knew? And I’m getting there slowly by self-funding it myself. The money from tonight would mean that I’m able to finish off the illustrations in the next few months, and launch a crowdfunding campaign to get the first print run into people’s hands by Christmas this year.
But there are other ways to be a part of this without dollars too.
I invite you to go into your local bookstore and secretly shuffle the kids books with diverse characters to the front of the shelves.
I invite you to look at some of the things you hold to be true about places and people, and ask if perhaps there’s more to that story.
And I invite you, if you’ve changed your mind about something or someone, to share that with the people around you.
We need more stories that are based in kindness and reality, and everyone has a part to play in that.
Thank you so much for your time.
I was humbled to win the crowd vote at Melbourne SOUP, meaning I walked away with $1000 to contribute to Small Fires, along with a whole range of new connections and supporters. Stay tuned for updates on all of that soon.
Thank you so much to the Melbourne SOUP team for organising such an amazing event and supporting all of the organisations who presented.
Thank you to the beautiful crowd who heard this story and came and chatted to me or connected with me later — it really means the world.
And finally, thank you to my fellow presenters for sharing your work, stories and support:
It’s amazing to know there are so many people out there, working to make a difference and who are all so willing to learn and grow together.
Melbourne SOUP #5 is coming up in September and I couldn’t recommend it more. If you’re interested in hearing ideas about improving our cities, or if you have an idea tucked away somewhere, go and get amongst this amazing community.