Sunday, February 16, 2014

JCUF VOL 1 NO 1 (2014) - "Building the Identity of Urban Canadian Children Through Literature" by Angelot Ndongmo

Nothing could have prepared Kabrina, a Scarborough, Ontario mother, for the questions her 4 year old daughter asked after reading the award winning Children's book titled 'Loving Me.'

Kabrina had given her daughter the book for Christmas and after reading it with her a few times, she suddenly asked: “Mommy, am I black?” and “Are you black too?”

Dumbfounded, Kabrina mechanically replied “yes” both times.

Then she followed up with, “Mommy, is my doll white?” while Kabrina thought to herself… “Awkward!” then softly replied, “Oh, ummmmm yes,” realizing for the first time that her daughter was completely unaware of her own identity.

Kabrina quickly made a conscious decision to phase out the dolls that didn't resemble her daughter, just so she could first work on helping her daughter gain an understanding and love for who she was. She filled her daughter's library with urban children's books that would edutain (educate and entertain) her and that had characters that looked like her. As the days went on, her daughter began comparing her own arm's complexion against Kabrina's or would make references to the book saying things like 'Mommy that's my hair!' with the biggest smile.

There are countless mothers in urban communities who, just like Kabrina, have experienced the shock that comes with seeing their children struggle with their identities. Many are confused about when the breakdown happened, what caused it, or how to fix it.

Identity gives communities purpose and direction. It lets children know how they fit into the world and inspires thoughts of what they could be doing to contribute to their communities, or how they should behave, etc. By the time a child can recognize themselves in the mirror (18-20 months of age), their self awareness has already begun to develop. Once that child begins elementary school, he/she will begin comparing what they perceive to be their own laws against others' characteristics or behaviors, etc.: “She can run better than I can!” or “He can draw better than I can!”

The formative years (0-5yrs) are crucial for healthy development and building a strong identity. If parents are not vigilant during this delicate time, then the likelihood of the child rejecting themselves or feeling excluded from the human experience, can increase exponentially. They may even get the sense they are not important enough to be celebrated and/or wish they were more like someone who is.

It was not too long ago that a collective gasp could be heard throughout urban communities when they watched in despair as child after child showed preferences for the white dolls and wanted to be more like them. Although one test was performed back in 1947 and another one as recent as 2010, both tests yielded the same results. Many parents feel helpless when it comes to preventing their loved ones from becoming that child.

Rest assured, there are straightforward solutions to this dilemma, but that doesn't mean it will be easy. Most importantly, urban Canadian parents must take charge of the teaching tools they provide for their children in their home the way other communities do. Teaching tools can be dolls, movies or even programming. As well as being ready to answer those tough questions in a positive way, such as “why am I black?” Chances are your child will always be exposed to other types of materials once they reach school. This is definitely a good thing because it will provide balance. However, if parents continue to rely only on those materials used by the school system, they may continue to end up with a child who shows disdain towards their own identity.

One of the most influential teaching tools in nurturing your child's identity is children's literature. Books capture the imagination and help young readers find their voice.

Children become motivated or inspired to learn more. A story has the power to shape young hearts and minds. A book like Mathieu Da Costa: First to Arrive by Itah Sadu, or Marcus Teaches Us by Eleanor Wint, or Boy! I Am Loving Me! by Angelot Ndongmo, are all great examples of fusing entertainment and education together successfully for urban Canadian children.

As you reach for your child's next bedtime story, think about the effect it may have on them, as well as other books you have in their collection. Do the stories contain main characters who resemble your child and who are doing amazing things, or going on adventures or problem solving? Are the characters saving the day, having a great time, or being considered handsome/beautiful? If not, your literary selections could be doing more harm than good.

Tips for Success:

A) Foster a positive attitude towards embracing people's differences as well as their own through literature.
B) Engage. Always take on the responsibility of helping your child understand who they are before someone else does.
C) Regularly expose them to various books, activities, black businesses, etc., that help them dream big and reinforce their self-esteem.
D) Check in with your child now and again to get a sense of their awareness around their identity.

This award-winning children’s author’s first professional writing accomplishment was an article published in 'Black Woman & Child' magazine. She has always enjoyed working with youth and writing as a pastime. Those two worlds collided during her position as a youth worker. Remembering her own personal struggles as a young African-Canadian girl, she recognized the need for reading materials geared towards black children that would help them embrace their own beauty and enchanting features. A burning desire set in to do something about it and the end result was her first children's book titled 'Loving Me' which was met with great success! Many parents expressed their desire to engage their young sons as well, thus giving way to her follow up children's book titled 'Boy! I Am Loving Me!' Angelot Ndongmo continues to reside in Brampton and is currently working on her third story! Contact Angelot at:

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