'That's the magic of it': Author talks about the growing audience for diverse children's books

There's magic to be found in differences, author Yolanda T. Marshall says. Giving children the gift of diverse picture books helps them explore that.
Posted at 2:11 PM, Dec 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-11 08:25:14-05

If there's an industry that has actually had a positive turnout from 2020, it may just be book publishing.

"Publishers Weekly" reported in October that book sales in the first three quarters of the year were up by more than 6% compared to 2019. The surge can be accredited to the demand for books about social justice, and the need parents had for children's books. According to Publisher's Weekly, children's nonfiction and fiction book sales were among the highest categories for the first nine months of the year. Juvenile fiction sales rose 9.5% over the first nine months of 2020, and juvenile nonfiction sales jumped a whopping 29.1%.

Guyanese-born Canadian author, Yolanda T. Marshall, is the author of five children's books. Her readership grows more and more every year as audiences continue searching for titles with diverse characters and storylines. She says a lot of her readers are in the United States.

"People are out there looking for this, and I'm more so educating our younger generation, so with every book that comes out, I find more people are gravitating, and that's great," Marshall said.

"There's so much more to me and so much more to you, and let's explore that. That's the magic of it," Marshall explained of children reading and realizing there are all kinds of people in the world. "It promotes intelligence and literally eradicates ignorance on many levels when you know a person, who they are, where they came from, and the beauty of their culture."

Yolanda T. Marshall holding her book "A Piece of Black Cake for Santa."

The importance of kids seeing themselves in the fictional characters they love — like Santa — teaches children self-worth.

"Kids like to believe in little stories, and this is one of them — they're not going to escape the Santa story — and I would like to know that if my kid is like, 'OK, yeah, Santa's going to bring me a gift.' Well, guess what? Santa looks just like you. Santa looks like you because you matter. And your culture matters," Marshall said.

Picture books are not only about being able to see yourself; it's about seeing everyone and respecting them for their differences.

In her book "A Piece of Black Cake for Santa," Marshall explores the differences between the traditions of Western Christmas and Caribbean Christmas. In it, the children give Santa sorrel, a Caribbean drink, and black cake, which is traditionally served during the Christmas season in the West Indian and Caribbean cultures, instead of cookies and milk.

"I want to make sure that when my kid goes to school, he can proudly say, 'well yeah, you have cookies and milk, guess what? I'm gonna leave out some sorrel and black cake for Santa,' and no one will laugh at him," Marshall said.

"It allows you to have an imagination and have it relate to your home, and also teaches other children to respect that. That this is how it is in my home, and this is how my Santa is going to be, and that's just fine."


Marshall says that the importance of kids seeing themselves in the fictional characters they love is just as important as seeing characters who do not look exactly like them.

"For myself, I'm a parent, and I want my readers to know that guess what, you're gonna learn about new cultures, and you're going to learn about yourself too. Even as Guyanese, with 'Sweet Sorrel Stand' a lot of Caribbean people didn't know, 'hey, this is from West Africa.' They actually drink it too, like every day. So it's a learning lesson," she said of her work.

Marshall says her book sales, especially A Piece of Black Cake for Santa, continues to grow year by year because it's deeper than just representation.

"There's just the joy and the happiness in your soul that you matter," Marshall said.

You can buy Marshall's children's books at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.

MORE | Places to visit a Black Santa Claus in Indianapolis | 'I've worked years for this moment:' Black Indiana bookstore owner watches sales soar|