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CADS Alumna writes children's book that encourages diversity and inclusiveness among children and their parents

When Cultural Anthropology alumna Monique Tekstra-van Lochem was having children and she wanted to teach them more about diverse cultures, she was unable to find many children's books that addressed this issue. Therefore she decided to develop a childrens book in which every kid can recognize himself. In May "Hé, wie ben jij" (Hey, who are you?) will be published, a children's book in which twenty fictional children from all over the world take you with them into their daily lives.

All her life, Monique has been interested in how people live the way they do. As a child, she would put her hand on a paper, trace it over and draw on each finger a puppet from a different continent. After an exchange to South Africa in high school and a gap year in Ecuador and Ireland, her hunger for travel was unstoppable and her interest in other cultures only increased. So she decided to study Cultural Anthropology.

Tibetan monks

During her study years in Leiden Monique focused within the study Cultural Anthropology on Tibetan medicine and graduated on Tibetan child monks in India. Upon returning to the Netherlands, she didn't just want to share her story with adults, she also wanted to tell it to children. So she wrote her first children's book "Tenzin viert feest," which was based entirely on her fieldwork in India. She combined the stories of the children she met in India into one main character, Tenzin. Monique: "It is not a book that teaches you everything about Buddhism, but it is a funny short story that allows children to get to know Buddhism a little.' Most publishers told Monique that children would not understand this story because it is about a monastery. 'But that's rubbish, the book explains that a monastery is a village where people live. Adults attach complex concepts and prejudices to that, but for children it is just a village where everyone lives and dresses the same way,' says Monique.

Open and unprejudiced

'Children are very open and unprejudiced. They see similarities where adults don't. Adults often linger on appearances and put a value judgement on something. Children don't tend to have that, they see what they see and don't think much of it,' Monique explains. Besides cultures, children have always been a common thread in her life. When she was twelve she got a little sister whom she played with and cared for a lot. She also worked in a daycare center in addition to her studies. When Monique had children of her own, she moved to Amersfoort-Vathorst, a Vinex district that is 'not necessarily very multicultural'. She noticed that what her children would learn at school about culture depended very much on the teacher in charge of their class. 'The teachers mainly knew things about Christianity, but not about other cultures or religions. Even though it was a public school. I thought that was a huge shortcoming.'

Hé, wie ben jij? - Hey, who are you?

Hey, who are you?
And so the idea for "Hé, wie ben jij? " was born. In the book, twenty completely different illustrated children from various backgrounds show how they live. Monique based the characteristics of each character on stories of people she has met. Each page has a different topic, such as Who are you, how do you talk, what do you do and what do you believe. There is also a mirror on each page so that a child who reads the book can see themselves among all the other children in the world. Monique hopes that her book will help people to let go of prejudices and start to realize that other ways of living are not thrilling but interesting. 'Children can recognize themselves in everything and often see similarities where adults do not immediately see that.  A shared love of animals, for example, or because they both like to wear a hat. Skin color or origin play no role. If that awareness arises, also among the parents, that would be very cool.'

Hé, wie ben jij? will be launched on May 21, the International Day of Cultural Diversity, and can be purchased at www.hewiebenjij.nl. 

Schrijfster Monique Tekstra-van Lochem houdt haar boek Hé, wie ben jij? omhoog
Monique Tekstra-van Lochem
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