An American Psychological Association (APA) article called “Talking to Kids About Discrimination” notes that people can be hesitant to talk to their children about differences. Parents may want to avoid difficult topics, but the article says that having conversations about differences can actually help kids appreciate diversity and recognize discrimination.
Local author Dr. Fawzia Reza said that learning about other cultures is crucial in fostering understanding and acceptance. Reza’s doctoral research at Cal State Long Beach and her work as the Diversity and Inclusion Faculty Advisor and Adjunct Faculty at the American College of Education made her cognizant of a need for literature that promotes under-represented groups.
A Pakistani-American mother of two, Reza was deeply touched by the stories of social injustice she uncovered in her studies. One young Pakistani girl was taunted by classmates who told her “you better stay away from me because you people are terrorists.”
Hearing about this incident inspired Reza. She said she decided to do something that would offer children a glimpse into Pakistani culture. The result was "Mary and Her New Friends," a colorful picture book created for young readers.
It tells the story of a shy Pakistani girl named Mariam (called Mary by her friends). Mary’s wheelchair keeps her from playing games at recess and makes her feel isolated and lonely. A fairy visits Mary and encourages her to showcase her artistic talent. After Mary covers her arms with henna tattoos, she finds herself surrounded by friends who are eager to learn about this tradition.
The book offers simple, easily digestible text by Reza and eye-catching drawings created by Madelyne Oliver. At the end of the story, five pages feature different henna designs that children can color.
Reza said her goal is to introduce South Asian culture “so that children from this part of the world also feel represented in a positive manner, given the media’s constant negative messages about people from Pakistan.” She said she wants to promote multicultural education and make everyone feel special and included.
The book also aims to encourage empathy for children with disabilities.
“I believe that children and teachers should be provided guidance to develop sensitivity and empathy towards those brave children who come to school and work hard in spite of their disabilities,” Reza said.
Determined to make all children feel welcomed and represented, Reza said this book is just the beginning; she already has another story in mind.
“The more I read and learn, the more I recognize the need to develop more sensitivity,” Reza said. “Children should not feel marginalized. American is a modern country and other countries look up to us. We need to promote the best practices and make the world a better place to live.”
"Mary and Her New Friends" can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target.