We asked Mylo Freeman to share her experience and ideas about Diversity and Inclusion in the writing sector.
Mylo is a Dutch-American writer of children’s books, which feature mostly characters of colour. Princess Arabella, a princess of colour with a strong will, is one of her most famous.
Children need both mirrors and windows. Many non-white children see the world only through windows and they need mirrors. Other children
see only mirrors and they also have to learn to see the world through windows. We are eager to share her insightful perspectives with you.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Mylo Freeman and I make picture books, which means I write and illustrate my own books. I started writing around twenty-five years ago. It’s important to me to be able to tell my stories in my own words.
As well as being a writer, you are also an illustrator. How do you combine the two?
It all starts with a story, without that I can’t begin to illustrate, of course. But from the moment I have an idea for a story that isn’t completely finished yet, I start illustrating. Usually I begin with the cover, because that gives me a sense of having a grip on the rest of the book. Then I start sketching the other illustrations, meanwhile completing the story. Usually I work on two or three books at the same time, which keeps me focused!
Where do you get your inspiration?
I can be inspired by a story someone tells me or something I read on Facebook. It’s all a matter of keeping your antenna up and the things close to your heart will reveal themselves.
Your most famous character is Princess Arabella, inspired by a story about a Surinamese girl. Where did you get your ideas for her personality?
The character of Arabella is partly my own, and in a way a combination of my children when they were young. I guess you could say I have a childish personality (laughing). I think Arabella’s willpower and impatience are definitely part of me.
Your books feature mostly characters of colour. Can you tell us something more about that choice?
When drawing Arabella, it was a very conscious choice. Someone told me about a little Surinamese girl who didn’t think Black princesses could exist. This was shocking to me. Both that she was convinced they couldn’t exist and because I’d never thought of the image of a Black princess. I think it’s very important for children of colour to see themselves reflected in books, whether as princesses or as superheroes. A part of building up self-worth is seeing yourself reflected in positive images in society. That’s why I hope more writers will consider making their main character a child of a different ethnicity.
What is the project you are most proud of?
I’m very thankful for the Arabella books. They have made me more aware of my ‘Black’ side, having been raised in an all-white environment as a child. With that series, I’m proud and happy to have contributed to a more colourful world of children’s books.
Which book would you love to make in the future?
I want to make a book about a little Black girl living in the time of Rembrandt. I live very near the Rembrandt house in Amsterdam and I’ve learned that in his day there was a considerable Black community here. I already have the story in my head, but I need time to work it out.
Which inclusive books would you recommend?
- Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
- Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
- Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry and Vashti Harrison