Ever since I can remember, I have loved books – words and images, all combining to create millions of pictures in my mind!
One of my earliest memories is hearing my teacher reading the stories of Heidi by Johanna Spyri and being immediately transported to the mountains of Switzerland, standing amidst the goats, listening to the sound of their bells clanging in the cold air.
Books for me personally have always been synonymous with freedom – the chance to escape the everyday, mundane events of life and vicariously experience adventure from my armchair.
I feel impassioned to encourage others, especially children and young people, to develop and nurture their own love of reading. Books give us a vital opportunity to educate and inform children about the world, encouraging them to embrace all the differences that make us unique.
In this culture of uniformity, where everyone strives so hard to be the same and “fit in”, we must teach our children that differences are positive characteristics and not tools that can be used to taunt or victimise a person with.
Looking different is part of who we are and we should feel rightly proud to celebrate what makes us stand out as different from others. Characters in books can be used to actively show that perceived flaws, scars and other visible differences are to be celebrated and accepted. If we are to successfully create a more accepting, caring society it can and will start with the younger generation.
They have no pre-conceptions of what’s right or wrong, other than those that adults enforce upon them. Let’s begin to use books to nurture a society that can accept people for who they are and not for what they look like. Let’s empower the next generation, giving them the ability to be able to understand and ultimately value difference of any kind.
Positive portrayals of people with visible differences
A book that seeks to raise awareness about differences is Wonder by R.J. Palacio. The character of Auggie features in a film based on the book. The story chronicles how Auggie, born with a craniofacial condition, starts school and highlights the struggles he faces regarding prejudice and bullying within society.
We really hope that this positive portrayal of a child with a visible difference will be another crucial step in changing the perception of society towards anyone who looks different. Changing Faces has resources for anyone working with children and young people to use, and there’s a special pack all about the book and film, Wonder.
Through my work as a Changing Faces campaigner, I hope that I can help and support children to understand and respect the fact that differences are a positive attribute. Looking and feeling different in a society where beauty is valued very highly, can be extremely difficult.
It’s important to reinforce all those positive values that can make our world a more caring and inclusive place to live.