BY: LEANNE BENN
Growing up, children often have vivid imaginations and fantasies, to be a princess, to be a superhero or to change professions every week. Sadly sometimes it’s unlikely to see images or representations of yourself reflected in the media, maybe it’s your skin colour, maybe it’s your hair texture. Why don’t I have blonde hair? After Paul Okoye began to hear questions like this from his 5-year-old daughter Zara, he realized the lack of diversity or representation of minority characters in children’s books or even movies. Princess Tiana had a lot of catching up to do to other well-known princesses such as Cinderella or Belle.
In fact, there is less than six percent of black characters featured in well-known literature and less than one per cent of aboriginal characters. This became a serious problem for Mr.Okoye. As Zara is very keen on hearing her bedtime stories, it was one night after Paul ran out of books to read to her that he came up with his own story, Princess Zara and the King, a short spoken story that grabbed Zara’s attention for weeks to come. Shortly after and with ample support the concept of MeBookz was born.
MeBookz is all about making every child feel special by seeing a version of themselves in literature. MeBookz is about creating customizable books and giving your child a chance to see themselves as the main character in these stories. It was founded in 2015 and now Mr. Okoye has teamed up with several illustrators and writers to create templates of standard stories to which parents can then have their child transformed into the main character. The process is simple, parents send in a photo of their children once the template of your story is picked and the illustrator designs a sketch of your child to be included in the story.
MeBookz is unique because it is not just a novelty idea but it is trying to bring attention to the lack of diversity in children’s books. Appealing to this problem is the only way to highlight the issue and not just for Black kids, but also for those that are mixed race, Asian, Aboriginal, Hispanic and the list goes on.
So far there are approximately nine books in the series along with French versions optional for some as well as a colouring book option for each story. Each book is also available in printed format or as an eBook. It takes approximately 10 days for book customization, printing, and shipping. Some books will also allow for up to two customizable characters, adding more fun to the mix, especially for siblings. Every child has the chance to be the star of the story. The latest book was launched on April 1st, 2017 and is entitled Incredible Me vs Dr. Puke, which is the initial start of the superhero series.
The story is written by author P.J Chuck and illustrated by MeBookz designs. This superhero series is a great chance for you to help build up your child’s self-esteem as they will be transformed into the ultimate superhero. Incredible Me isn’t just any superhero, in one version Zara transforms from an ordinary schoolgirl to Incredible Me to help take on Dr. Puke, a name that tells a thousand stories but also he is the menacing school bully. Zara is a superhero that always has a plan, this teaches kids to think logically for solutions to problems. The story also deeply touches on the issue of bullying in schools and transforms your child into a fearless leader and hero to save the day.
At the book launch event, kids had the opportunity to dress up as their favourite superhero and listen to a special reading for Incredible Me and were also given a chance to meet the Incredible Me featured in the book, Zara! The children and parents also enjoyed an interactive craft session, where they were given the chance to colour and create their own Incredible Me masks.
This book launch marked the first physical presence of MeBookz and parents were given the chance to order their custom book on the spot. For more information on MeBookz check out their website MeBookz.ca and stay tuned for future events in this series.