“Different can be wonderful, and even quite colorful, anything else would be unsuitable.”
These words, spoken by Charity Michelle Harris, illustrate the beautiful message from her new book, What If We Were All the Same, which came out just this week!
What If We Were All the Same is a picture book that explores the importance of seeing and celebrating differences. I have already written this book into some of the Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies curriculum and highly suggest this book to educators, librarians, and families. You can use this book to start talking about diversity and intersectionality with your students! CM Harris’s book dismantles the idea of colorblindness (aka “I don’t see color”) that often reinforces implicit bias and institutional racism. It is a book that every child will benefit from reading.
After reading her book, I reached out to see if she would be interested in an interview, so that I could discuss her purpose in writing it. It was affirming to talk to CM Harris and explore the ideas of identity, diversity, and intersectionality. Check out our interview below!
Kaitlin Kamalei Jenkins (KKJ): Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Charity Michelle Harris (CMH): My name is Charity Michelle Harris and I am a new author, I love writing stories for children and turning them into picture books. I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma but now live in Orange County, California. Before I became an author I was a graphic designer and on the side I would tutor children in elementary school. Those beautiful children inspired me to pursue a dream I once had of writing stories, so now I am a children’s picture book author.
KKJ: I see you listed that you are a disability advocate on your Twitter Page (@cmh_books), which is much needed work! What work have you engaged in as a disability advocate?
CMH: In 2018, I became a certified ADA Coordinator because there is an unfortunate stigma towards individuals who have physical limitations and my goal is to change that one day. As a disability advocate I have spoken on panels related to informing college students and professors of accommodations that disabled students may need as I was one. I plan to do so much more with my certification but for now my focus is on writing.
KKJ: What is your racial and cultural identity? How does your identity add to your work as an author?
CMH: I identify as African American and my identity allows me to reach a demographic of children whom are overlooked.
KKJ: What do multicultural/diverse books mean to you? In your opinion, what is the importance of multicultural/diverse books?
CMH: I grew up in a predominantly Caucasian community and grew up loving to read but I had never read a book written by an African American author until I was in high school, which is shocking! Multicultural books mean a lot to me because growing up I never read a book about a character who looked like me. The first African American author I read a book by was Reshonda Tate Billingsley, after I discovered her novels is when I truly started to enjoy reading. Multicultural and diverse books are very impactful and important because children should grow up knowing that characters who look just like them have endless possibilities on the things they can do and the many adventures they can go on.
KKJ: Can you tell us about your newest book, What If We Were All the Same!?
CMH: What If We Were All The Same! is a children’s book that embraces the beautiful differences we all have in relation to height, hair type, abilities and much more. What kind of world would we be living in if everyone looked the same and did the same things? —- a boring one!
The idea of this book is to help children understand that there is nothing wrong with being different. Whether they have red hair or brown hair, green eyes or blue eyes, long legs or short legs, light skin or dark skin, glasses or anything else, it’s absolutely OKAY! Different can be wonderful, and even quite colorful, anything else would be unsuitable.
KKJ: We absolutely love the message behind What If We Were All the Same! What drew you to write about this message of inclusivity and embracing differences?
CMH: My goal for this book is to teach children that they can be friends with everyone, and not just the people who look just like them or even only like the same things they do. Friends can teach us new things, allow us to experience new things and they can even help each other. We all have different abilities and talents so when we befriend someone who has different interests it allows everyone to share and explore new things, eliminating isolation.
KKJ: What does intersectionality mean to you and how does it show up in What If We Were All the Same?
CMH: Intersectionality is a combination of factors and it should be embraced. My book mainly focuses on race, gender and abilities. Intersectionality to me means, yes I am African American as well as an educated woman, a creative, an American, a Christian and so much more. We are never “just” one thing. We use our strengths and multiple characteristics to make us who we are.
KKJ: How would you like teachers to use What If We Were All the Same in their classrooms? How do you envision your book being used with students?
CMH: Teachers can use my book to show that the children can be friends with everyone. The goal of this book is to encourage friendships and kindness between the children, if there’s a student who is more shy I would hope for another student to reach out and invite them into their group. Nowadays we see the effects of isolation and the feeling of being lonely and how it causes depression and other mental health issues. Every child should feel like they belong and that they are accepted by their peers. Teachers can help children at an early age embrace kindness and to include each other no matter who the other person is.
I am so grateful that CM Harris agreed to do an interview with us here at Colorful Pages! Check out her new book, What If We Were All the Same. Let’s help each other and our students move away from colorblindness and embrace diversity!