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Rastamouse author Michael de Souza on diversity in books

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Whitney27

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TRINIDADIAN-BORN writer and author of Rastamouse is calling for more diversity in children’s books.
After his recent stint as a Blue Peter Book Awards judge, Michael de Souza, swimming instructor and author of Rastamouse – the patois speaking, skateboard riding, crime-solving rodent book and television series – spoke to Life & Style about the growing diversity issues in mainstream children’s books:
How did it feel to be part of the Blue Peter book Awards?
I felt really, really privileged. There are so many other authors that they could have approached so I felt really privileged that they asked me.

What were you looking for when creating the shortlist?
I was looking for fun and diversity and a variety of subjects. But the main focus was diversity either in the language or with the characters such as their background or heritage.

Why is diversity important?
Simply because the children can relate to it more. There are so many nationalities in the UK, and it’s important that when a child picks up a book, they can see themselves in it sometimes.

Is there a lot of work to do when it comes to diversity in children’s books? 
Without a doubt. When you ask someone to name a [black] author, you think of Malorie Blackman and then after that, you’re stuck. There are too many children who are going to miss out on reading. The first thing that will attract children to read, are things they can relate to, and things they can see themselves in. Black people are doing all kinds of things, and people need to be aware of that.

You released your first Rastamouse book in 2003; did you have the idea for quite some time? 
I did a draft in 1999. And then I developed it even more when I realised there was a need for the Caribbean language and Caribbean voice to be heard, so that’s how it came about.

What was the initial response for the book? 
Well in actual fact, it was an incredible response. It was self-published and I also promoted it myself. I just went round to shops and the response was excellent. Even when I go to visit schools now, there’s a great love for Rastamouse, and I still find it quite overwhelming.

In comparison with the book, there was mixed reactions when the CBeeies television adaptation aired. How did that feel? 
I was surprised. I was really taken aback, because I never received one single complaint about the language before, so it definitely took me back.

Are you working on any other books?
I’m working on another black character now, called Professor Splash.

Will Professor Splash be human or will he be another animal character?
That’s my dilemma at the moment. I still haven’t decided whether the character will be a human or animal.

Where did you get the idea for this new character?
I wrote the story, which is called The Swimming Lesson, long before I even wrote Rastamouse, actually. I’m a swimming instructor, and I felt so upset about other swimming teachers’ attitudes to children. They don’t seem to consider that children need fun, and fun is the best way to learn.
I actually specialize in eradicating the fear of swimming, because that’s the thing that holds everyone back. I was so angry, so I decided to write the story of this swimming teacher called Professor Splash.

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