That’s the headline of a piece published to Wandering Educators (thanks, Dr. Jessica Voigts) about my last picture book With Grace. It begins…
Once I realized that With Grace was turning out to be a fairytale, I did not resist it…but I did do my best to subvert the tropes of the genre.
Why didn’t I resist, though not strictly speaking a children’s writer (I had only one previous children’s book among five to my credit)? Because as a writer, I enjoy wrestling with genres I’ve never attempted before – even if that cage match is to be within the deceptively simple and straightforward world of ‘once upon a time’ where they ‘all lived happily ever after’. Also, as a long time dreamer and reader, it was joyful to revisit the genre that helped me fall in love with stories in the first place.
So, why subvert? Because for all the ways it helped open up my imaginative pathways, the fairytales of my childhood did their share of inadvertent damage, as well. While every race and culture has its own fairytales, as a black girl coming of age in the Caribbean, in the retellings that were popular in my part of the world, I was never a part of the story nor was anyone who looked like me. Also, unlike the women I saw in real life, the girls in the fairytales were invariably in need of rescuing, usually by a Prince (or the Prince was in some way the pathway to happiness). I’m not going to do a deep dive in to feminist and racial and cultural and problematic in many other ways readings of Western fairytales, but I will say that as With Grace, my own Caribbean faerie tale, revealed itself to me, I wanted to tell a different story. I say revealed because, let me be clear, it was never my intention to be heavy-handed; whatever rebellion was to happen had to happen naturally. My primary goal was to tell a good and engaging children’s story. I hope I’ve done that. But a writer can have secondary goals.