Eight-year-old from Bermondsey becomes published author with book of children’s fairy tales

Children are more likely to see objects like cuddly toys, cars or a bar of soap than a non-white face in their books, new research has revealed.

Which does not make much sense, when you are a precocious eight-year-old like Kayla-Mai Alvares.

The youngster, though, is now a published author in her own right. She is part of a group of young story enthusiasts brought together by publisher Winsome Duncan to create their own world of fairy tales with new themes – and faces like theirs.

Kayla-Mai said: “I am very excited and proud to be an author at eight years old. I thought only adults wrote books, so I’m so happy to be just like an adult.”

Her mum Vanessa said: “We are very proud of Kayla-Mai. She is an extremely keen author and was very excited to work on The Popcorn House.

“We hope that her passion continues and she will inspire other black, Asian and minority ethnic children to publish many more books in future.”

Winsome, from Bermondsey, set up the Look Like Me Book Challenge during lockdown, with three virtual workshops with 30 BAME children authors aged seven to 12 years.

They have written The Popcorn House together, with an emphasis on “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work”, to be published during Black History Month.

All the children drew characters and devised storylines. The Popcorn House is about two cousins named Zion and Nevaeh who mistakenly enter the magical land of Kalaria.

Using their superpowers, they can conjure an invisibility hoodie and Ether Spaceships to help them out on their adventures.

The project has raised more than £1,100 with a Go Fund Me page to continue the project – in reaction to a report by the Centre for Learning in Primary Education, in Elephant & Castle, which said: “Only four per cent of BAME main characters are in children’s books, compared to the 33 per cent of BAME children that are in the UK educational school system.”

Winsome, an award-winning entrepreneur and author of 14 books and chief executive of publishers Peaches Books, said: “We acknowledge that the low percentages are unacceptable, BAME young people are being taught that their stories are irrelevant and by continually underrepresenting them in fairy tales, where their imagination lives.

“My motivation is to leave a legacy of rich, diverse cultural stories by using the written word and to inspire the creative minds of the younger generation.

“You cannot be what you do not see. School children of colour need to see positive stories with characters that look like them.

“Something is wrong here. I simply could not stand on the side-lines anymore. I had to do something and become a part of the solution to help change those statistics. Children’s imaginations are incredible and I wanted to nurture that.”

“All the Look Like Me staff are volunteers including Winsome. I discovered Kayla-Mai working with Bermondsey food stylist Melanie Farquharson, her aunt.

“Straight away I could see she was confident on camera and had loads of ideas and pictures to contribute.

“It would be great if the Southwark community could support our efforts thus far and help spread the word far and wide.”

She hopes in the long-term to make an animated film out of The Popcorn House.

Free tickets for The Popcorn House book launch on Saturday from 2-4pm are here.

Pictured top: Kayla-Mai Alvares

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