The Same but Different – an interview

Published Categorized as Books, What I have been up to

You can find an interview on the Reading Zone website about my latest book: The Same but Different here.

Reading zone questions

  1. Can you tell us what The Same but Different is about?

The Same but Different is a picture book for young children that explores some of the many ways that humans can be different from one another while at the same time acknowledging several things all humans share.

  1. Why did you want to write this book, and why as a non-fiction text?

I wanted to write this book to help children keep or develop an excitement towards difference rather than any kind of wariness of it. Prejudice towards, or reluctance to welcome difference, is learnt and therefore can be unlearnt and part of this ‘unlearning’ is about enjoying differences in others. This book is presented as a celebration of differences – with its characterful and inclusive illustrations and text.

Fiction books on this topic are fantastic but the scope of non-fiction books can be broader as the author doesn’t have to try to fit everything into a story or a metaphor. As the book is non-fiction, I was able to cover many differences between people.

  1. Did you need to research how to approach discussing difference with young children?

I used to be an advisor in all things PSHE/RSHE and some of the training I delivered spent a lot of time looking at how best to discuss difference with children. There can sometimes be some reluctance or nervousness to cover this topic as language changes, language is not always agreed upon within minority groups, few people are likely to have understood all of the specific issues pertinent to every minority group and you can spend a lot of time trying to ensure you have avoided stereotypes and still miss something – for example! However, helping children to celebrate difference and understand that prejudice is simply wrong can be quite easy to teach.

I consulted with a handful of experts over some of the content of the book but their approaches will still differ from other experts of course. Bloomsbury also gathered feedback from a variety of people on the book. The dynamic nature of difference and diversity issues can make it hard to write a book that everyone is completely happy with.

  1. The book covers difference including race, gender and more broadly such as interests and beliefs, but were any of these difficult to encapsulate in short sections in the book?

Of course, people can be different from each other in many more ways than those illustrated in the book. Each page lists a small number of the many ways people and their life circumstances can be different. Using this book with children, I would encourage them to investigate or think of more differences than those listed on each page.

  1. At this age, children like to be the same – how will this book help encourage them to celebrate their own differences, (Do you mean their own similarities?) as well as accepting others’ differences?

There is a section in the back of the book for parents/carers: that mentions how we like to feel that we ‘belong’ and that sharing similarities with another person can make us feel quickly connected. This is absolutely fine as long as any connection we make does not make us feel we can exclude someone because they do not share that similarity.

The end of the children’s part of the book looks at the things all humans share and the things we all deserve, so the book hopefully gets both the message that difference is great, as well as our similarities meaning that everyone deserves to be given the same chances in a fair way and to be treated with respect. The introduction states that anyone who treats anyone unkindly because they are different, needs to learn a better way of behaving.

  1. How important are the illustrations in helping to explain the text – were you involved in choosing what to illustrate?

Sarah Jenning’s illustrations do an enormous job and the book would not work well without them. I was very directive with what should be included in each picture. I was clear that I wanted as much difference incorporated into the pictures as possible.

  1. How would you like to see The Same But Different being used in homes and at school?

I think the book is best read by a child with an adult and each page considered carefully – looking at the pictures as much as the text. Children’s questions should be encouraged and if the adult does not know the answer, it can be investigated.

After reading the book, there are lots of activities parents/carers or teachers could do to reinforce the messages in the book. Some ideas for further activities after reading the book could include:

  • As I have already said, go back and read a page at a time and then see if children can come up with or investigate more differences (e,g, we celebrate different things, we can doing things differently).
  • Create a set of questions that mean no two people in a class answer all the questions in the same way (like on page 7). The questions: what is your full name and when is your birthday can’t be used though or it would be too easy! It’s a good lesson in open and closed questioning too.
  • Ask children to create lists of as many differences and similarities as they share with one other person and try to make both lists as long as possible. e.g. Similarity: We both have size 2 feet. Difference: He likes tomatoes and I hate them!
  • A class could investigate what single thing makes each child different from the rest of the class and make a poster with photos of all the children with a speech mark stating their unique-to-their-class fact. e.g. I am the only person who has been to Italy, I am the only person who has 6 brothers….etc
  • Children could see how many ways they can finish the sentence using this sentence start. ‘Everyone deserves….’
  1. There is also a section at the end of the book for adults on talking about diversity and difference. What does this cover and why did you want to include it? What do adults often get wrong in approaching differences with children?

I include a section for parents/carers in all of my picture books. I think the adults that read this book to children will probably have considered discussing difference with children with varied amounts of consideration but if they have bought this book, it is likely that it is something they have thought about. The parents’/carers’ page is just a neat little set of reminders about discussing differences in a positive way that many people will have already thought of but it’s good to have them all in one place.

  1. Are you planning more books in this series?

There are another two books in the pipeline but they don’t cover more about differences specifically. I appear to be slowly working my way through many of the topics in the RSHE curriculum. I think my background in education shows!

  1. Are there other authors you have read who are also brilliant at introducing children to difference – perhaps for adults as well as children?

For children I love:

  • A really old book: One dad, Two dads, Brown dad, Blue dad by Johnny Valentine
  • I love books that celebrate how children from around the world live differently such as the quite new book: Welcome to our world: A celebration of children everywhere by Moira Butterfield. I would have loved that book as a child!
  • And the biographical series Little People, Big Dreams is brilliant.

And for adults….

  • Trans like me by CN Lester
  • Biased by Jennifer L Eberhardt
  • No Place to Call Home by Katharine Quarmy
  • I am also a fan of the human library where instead of borrowing books, you borrow humans from a minority group you want to learn more about. I think it’s one of the quickest ways to tackle any prejudice a person might have.
  • I also think ContraPoints is a fantastic Youtuber.