At Primrose schools, teachers use our Balanced Learning® approach to help foster a sense of belongingness in every student. One of the goals of belongingness is ensuring that children see themselves represented in the classroom with materials that celebrate the many diverse cultures that make up our community. We spoke with Joanna Ho, the author of “Eyes that Kiss in the Corners,” about the importance of belongingness and the joy of seeing yourself represented in a story.
When did you decide to become a children’s author and why?
I have always loved reading, but as a student, I struggled with writing. It was very challenging for me to find the words to express the thoughts in my head. I became a children’s book author after my first child was born. I was looking for diverse children’s books for him and there were so few available. As an educator that’s passionate about equity, inclusion and anti-racism, this was painful for me. I know the importance of representation. It was during this dive into children’s books that I was inspired to start writing my own stories.
In “Eyes that Kiss in the Corners,” the main character has strong, inspiring relationships with her mother, her grandmother and her sister. Do you have any female figures in your family that inspire you?
I was raised by a single mom who sacrificed so much and worked so hard to raise my brother and me. My mom hustled to make ends meet by working multiple jobs, selling bike helmets at the flea market, and slowly building up her own business. I will never know or fully appreciate all that she did for me.
There are several references to Chinese legends and mythology in your book. What led you to include figures like the Monkey King in your story?
Growing up, I read and reread a set of books about Monkey King over and over again. My mom got these books for us in Taiwan and they had the most gorgeous illustrations. I loved seeing my culture in the stories and loved the magical tales of his mischievous and powerful adventures. These are stories that remind me of my own childhood and that I hope to pass on to my kids!
Why do you think it’s important for children of all backgrounds to see themselves represented in books?
Children of all backgrounds need to see themselves and everyone else represented in books because representation conveys worth, value and affirmation. When we see ourselves in stories, we learn that we matter. When we see people with different backgrounds and experiences, we learn that their stories and perspectives matter also. We recognize ways in which we are all connected and are also more able to celebrate our differences.
Why is it important for children to embrace the features that make them special, like eyes that kiss in the corners?
Our features are more than physical attributes. They are passed on to us from our parents, our grandparents and the ancestors that came before, whether or not we are related by blood. They hold our histories, cultures and stories. As such, when we embrace our features — and the features of others — we show pride in our full selves, where we came from and who we hope to become.
Belongingness isn’t just about being proud of what makes you special; it means celebrating others as well. As a mother, how do you encourage your children to respect and celebrate their peers who are different from them?
I am very intentional about the books and media in my home. I curate a collection that is inclusive and I don’t shy away from discussing all kinds of subjects with my kids. Children’s books offer so many entry points into having critical conversations about race, culture, disability, religion, etc. with young people, and when we create safe spaces for kids to ask questions, we are also inviting them to think critically. This helps them develop tools for navigating a diverse world with empathy and critical consciousness and curiosity.
What message do you want readers to take away from Eyes that Kiss in the Corners?
I hope readers understand that this book is about more than a young girl recognizing her own beauty. It is about power. It is about recognizing our own ability to interrogate existing systems and creating positive change.
At Primrose, the books in our classrooms help teach children that everyone belongs and that differences are to be celebrated. After you read “Eyes that Kiss in the Corners” with your child, ask them these questions to reinforce these important concepts.
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