A children’s book that celebrates differences and the history that helped bring it to life.
On June 12, 1967, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark ruling in the legal matter of Loving v. Virginia, stating that banning interracial marriages violated a person’s civil rights. Fifty-three years later, local mom Cyana Riley intentionally chose June 12, 2020 as a historic date to launch her first children’s book, “Not So Different.”
Born in Washington, D.C. and now living in Gambrills, Maryland, Riley recalled the Loving case and reflected on its importance. If not for the Supreme Court’s decision, she would not have been allowed to legally marry her husband. Riley, a Black woman, married her husband Doug, a white man. Together, they have two children, daughter Teagan and son Hunter.
An Educational Tool to talk about Differences
When Riley was expecting her first child and learned it was a boy, she “instantly felt anxiety about raising a Black boy.” After Hunter was born in 2016, Riley thought deeply about what it meant to raise a biracial child. For several years, she yearned to create some type of tool for Hunter and his peers to talk about their differences, because she was mentally preparing her family for all the questions she knew they were going to get. The tool had to be a conversation starter, a good way to break the ice and talk about difficult things relating to race, identity and body differences.
As time passed, the gears of creativity churned in favor of a children’s book. Riley envisioned writing a picture book that would provide colorful visuals celebrating the differences in skin color and hair texture in children, giving representation to Black and brown children. She knew that children craved to see themselves in picture books.
Riley’s goal was to publish her book in 2019, and by then, she had found an illustrator and book publisher. Unfortunately, more time passed and the pandemic added new complications to Riley’s plans. In late May 2020, George Floyd’s senseless murder caused the Black Lives Matter movement to take center stage.
In the middle of global health concerns and in light of the raw emotions that arose from the Black community, Riley felt unsure of herself and her creative vision to publish her children’s book, thinking that larger social issues were more pressing than her project. She briefly paused to reflect on the seriousness of the situation and decided to move forward with a new planned launch date of June 12, 2020.
Using her Book to Encourage Honest Discussions
For Riley the date was significant, as it reminded her of the sacrifices that were made in 1967 that allowed her to legally marry her husband years later. Tying together the theme of interracial marriage was the birth of biracial children who would grow up in a society where people would question them or judge them based on the color of their skin or the texture of their hair. She hoped her book would give parents a starting point for bridging curiosity or discomfort by having open, honest discussions. “I hope interracial couples and biracial children look at this book and realize what they’ve known all along – love is all that matters,” Riley noted in a post on her Facebook page.
Riley was thrilled when “Not So Different” launched. She sold books on her website for a few months and republished them with Amazon on October 5, 2020. Written in a pleasing rhyming pattern, in a picture book filled with gorgeous full-page whimsical illustrations, “Not so Different” follows the adventures of a young child named Riley. The illustrator drew the character of Riley as a light- brown-skinned, young person with long, full waves of cascading, dark brown hair. The character Riley does not feature gender-specific traits – another intentional decision made by Riley, who stated that she wanted both boys and girls to see themselves in this child.
Celebrating Each Other’s Differences
Riley framed her book to acknowledge how each one of us is different and encouraged readers to celebrate each other’s differences, not just in physical attributes, but in personality and other characteristics as well. “I want children everywhere to realize that the thing that makes them different or the thing that makes them stand out, is the very thing that makes them special and unique,” she says.
Riley observed how her readers interpreted her book using an analogy of windows and mirrors. Mirrors are a way for “minority children to see themselves,” while with windows, “you’re looking at someone else’s life, like the white or Asian child looking at the experiences of biracial children.”
Riley has been busy doing book readings for her first children’s book and has already written and published a second children’s book, “Boobies Go Bye-Bye: A Weaning Story (The Adventures of Fancy Faye).”
Visit notsodifferentbook.com for more information and to purchase the book.