“My bookstore sells children’s books with black main characters for newborns up to 14-year-olds. Although my bookstore only has children’s books, adults sometimes get more excited about the books because it’s the first time many of them have seen children’s books with black main characters.” Nneka Ruiz, owner of My Reflection Children’s Bookstore located in St James, tells her story:
Children’s books that focus on STEAM
Books are meant to be windows, where we can see the world through the eyes of someone different from us and also mirrors, where we can see the world through the eyes of someone just like us.
I conduct extensive research on the vast array of children’s books to find the most positive and inspiring books.
I lean towards books that focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) because I want to encourage children in Trinidad and Tobago to aspire to careers in those fields.
A deeper interest in STEAM careers among children is essential for the development and advancement of our nation.
Why does black representation matter for black children?
While children can learn important values from characters of any colour, black children benefit from the “mirror” experience for the following reasons:
- Representation – when children see themselves reflected in their reading material, they feel validated.
- Affirmation – many of the books with black main characters celebrate a child’s brown skin and afro-textured hair. This leads to self-acceptance and builds a child’s self-esteem, self-image and confidence.
- Inspiration – many books with black main characters feature children in leadership or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) roles. This gives children inspiration to believe in themselves and become high achievers. When children see someone who looks like them doing something they never thought of, it makes them think, “This could be me someday!”
Why does black representation matter for children of other ethnicities?
Children of other ethnicities benefit from being exposed to books with black main characters as it encourages empathy, acceptance and perspective-taking. The “window” experience is very important for children as they can learn about people and families different from themselves.
When parents encourage diversity in their children’s books, they facilitate their social skills and guard them from succumbing to harmful, negative stereotypes which could damage their personal and professional lives as they get older.
Most popular books
For picture books, I’ve gotten a lot of demand for books that focus on self-esteem such as I Am Every Good Thing, which is a book of positive affirmations for boys and Naturally Me, which is for both boys and girls. For girls, many parents have purchased books that focus on celebrating afro-textured hair such as Big Hair Don’t Care, Hair Love and God Created Me Coily.
The most demand has been for chapter books for kids who can read on their own. Both reluctant readers and avid readers aged 8 to 14 have really gravitated towards the graphic novels, which are novels in the form of a comic book, like Twins, New Kid and Class Act. I’ve also seen a lot of demand for series such as the STEAM Chasers, the President series, the Carver Chronicles and the Sophie Washington series.
Professional and family life
I am an experienced banking professional, wife and mother of a spirited and energetic 5-year-old boy. I have over 2 decades of experience in banking, an MBA in Finance and Management Science and I am a certified Project Management Professional. I credit my academic and professional achievements to my parents who raised me to value getting a solid education and continuously build my knowledge, vocabulary and view of the world through reading.
I have a voracious appetite for reading which my parents nurtured by reading me bedtime stories every night and providing me with a steady supply of new books to read. They also led by example by reading many books and magazines and being very knowledgeable about global current events and trends.
My hobbies are hiking, cycling, watching movies and of course… reading. My husband is my chief motivator. He really believed in the idea and encouraged me to push past my fears and launch the bookstore.
Making a change in the world
I was determined to make a positive change in the world. Since I know how powerfully reading can impact a person intellectually, emotionally and psychologically, I wanted to start by first making a change in my son’s bookshelf.
At that point, all of my son’s books were “windows”, because he didn’t even have one book with a main character who looked like him. It reminded me of my childhood during which I read hundreds of books by Enid Blyton and Judy Bloom and also read series such as Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club. Although I enjoyed those books thoroughly, I always felt a bit sad and left out because none of the characters looked like me.
I went to a few local bookstores and saw that only a handful of books had black main characters. It made me determined to provide children in Trinidad and Tobago with books with black main characters. After weeks of research, I came up with a list of engaging and inspiring books and registered and launched My Reflection Children’s Bookstore.
Enjoyable experiences with customers
All of my experiences with customers have been good. I’m touched by each parent and grandparent who shops at my store for the children in their lives. My most enjoyable experience with a customer was meeting Coryn Anaya Clarke, who is a 5-year-old author who wrote two books, both of which can be purchased at my store. She actually came to the store to interview me and it was a fun and enjoyable experience.
Purchase children’s books and improve literacy rates
Let us all take responsibility for improving our literacy rates in Trinidad and Tobago by increasing the time children spend reading for pleasure. Customers benefit from two convenient shopping options:
1. They can order books online at www.myreflectiontt.com and their books are delivered by courier to any address in Trinidad and Tobago within three business days.
2. They can shop in store at our location at Red Edge Shopping Centre, #40 Western Main Road, St James. The store is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am to 5pm.
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