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It’s certainly rare to find an illustrated children’s book that confronts racism, homophobia and class inequity, but author Julie Pehar found that a simple approach can sometimes be most effective when tackling complex issues.
Pehar, who is an instructor in the University of Guelph-Humber’s Family & Community Social Services program, has recently published The Pink Purse, a whimsical and winsome story about a young girl named Kallie and the feathery handbag that accompanies her adventures.
With themes of diversity and inclusion, the charming tale has far more on its mind than fashion.
“It was a relief in a way to take complex theory about racism, for example, and bring it down into a couple sentences that I think kids could understand,” said Pehar, who has a background studying inequity and diversity and teaches a class on interpersonal communication at UofGH.
“In a way, the book delivers its message in a way we should all hear it: being mean to someone because of the colour of their skin or their accent is wrong, so don’t do it.”
In addition to racism, the book also tackles homophobia when Kallie’s uncles are getting married and her friends at school tell her that two men getting married is weird. When she tells her family about the incident, her uncle tells her that “love is beautiful, not weird,” Pehar explained. Kallie learns another lesson when she attends a birthday party where there are no presents, because the person celebrating asked for charitable contributions instead.
Pehar never set out to write a children’s book, but this one is based on a true story in a way. A friend of Pehar’s really did own a fluffy pink purse that seemed to attract admirers wherever she went. Pehar borrowed it to attend a wedding, and afterward realized that it could make the basis for an appealing kids’ book.
“It feels like the story found me,” she said.
Part of Pehar’s University of Guelph-Humber course revolves around understanding the way a person’s language influences and affects other people, so her book and its message are relevant to the class. And she adds that appreciating and understanding diversity should be a core component of all learning.
“The message is: start the conversation,” she said. “It’s simple because it’s for kids, but it starts the discussion about systemic discrimination.”
Learn more about Family & Community Social Services at the University of Guelph-Humber.