One of my favorite people in the world is Claudia Kishi. Maybe you’ve heard of her?
She has a killer fashion sense.
She’s super talented at art.
And oh … she’s not exactly real.
Claudia happens to be a character from The Babysitter’s Club series, which I devoured like Snickers bars when I was elementary school. (And I can eat a lot of Snickers bars!) But do you know what’s funny? I actually don’t have very much in common with Claudia. She has a real gift for art whereas I struggle to mix paint. She doesn’t like studying for school whereas I was that annoying kid who hyperventilated over getting a B in biology. But none of that mattered to my childhood self. What mattered to me was that I saw myself in Claudia.
She was Asian-American.
I was Asian-American.
Here was a girl who looked like me! In a book that I loved!
When I read my very first BSC novel, my 9-year-old mind was honestly blown. I had never come across an Asian American character in a novel before. It felt as if Ann M. Martin had pointed a finger at my nose and said, “Hey, you! Yeah, you, I see you. And you matter.”
Over twenty years later, I hope that my own book might have the same impact on a young reader. And maybe it’ll impact a biracial reader in particular because the main character of my novel The Only Thing to Fear is half-Japanese and half-Caucasian. I can’t seem to find very many children’s novels with biracial protagonists, which makes me sad because the multiracial population has increased 50 percent — that’s right, 50! — since the year 2000 in America. These children are craving to find faces like their own in the books that they read. They’re yearning to find their own Claudias.
That’s one of the reasons why I created Zara St. James, the main character of my debut. She lives in a world very different from our own — one where the Nazis won WWII and colonized the United States — but she’s up against many of the same issues that multiracial people face in our society. For instance, Zara battles racism and bullying in her homogenous town in the Shenandoah valley because her face sticks out from the crowd. And she feels split between her two halves because she’s deemed not “white enough” or “Asian enough” to fit in with anyone else. She’s biracial and she has no problem with this fact, but some people make her feel like an outsider anyway. But Zara refuses to let these people get to her and, as the novel progresses, she’s ready to show everyone in her town and all of the Nazis in the US — even the Führer himself— that she won’t be underestimated.
It’s my humble hope that one day we won’t have to pore over the shelves at the bookstore and library to find books that feature diverse characters. I really want to read these books — and I want my biracial daughter to read them too. After all, doesn’t she deserve her own Claudia Kishi?
I think so.
And together, we’re going to find her.
Caroline Tung Richmond is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Highlights for Children, and USAToday.com, among other publications. The Only Thing to Fear is her debut novel and will be published by Scholastic Press on 9/30/14. A self-proclaimed history nerd, Caroline lives in the Washington, DC, area with her husband, their daughter, and the family dog Otto von Bismarck.
The Only Thing to Fear is available 9/30/14. Order it here.