When authors build the characters for their books, there are several ways they can be born. I have some author friends who say the characters pop in their heads way before the stories. Writing Song of a Wingfin, things happened differently. The characters almost formed around the story. An exception to this was Noreen.
The sparks for this story began back in August of 2018. It struck me that most of the fairy tales I loved growing up were all featuring white kids. Was this because I was white, and that’s what was presented to me? Were there fantasy stories with kids of color out there that I just never saw? Either way, I knew I wanted Noreen to be of a mixed-race. My challenge came when the writing began.
Although my character development included photos of models and actors from the internet, my readers weren’t going to see any of that. I found myself nervous when I started writing about skin tones and such. I began having overwhelming feelings. What right do I have to write a POC? I was raised a white girl from the midwest. What do I know?
Let me tell you I shut that down real quick. I completely believe that representation matters, but my purpose was to tell Noreen’s story. I’m the author! I make her awesome and inspiring by her actions and moral character, not by her race. As a matter of fact, many people who read my book may not even see that her parents are a biracial couple. People tend to read from their perspectives.
The reason I asked the illustrator to create a cover that was a bit ambiguous was that I like to imagine my characters by reading the author’s description rather than being shown who the hero is before I even begin reading. However, if I were to reissue my book, I believe I would commission a new cover showing Noreen’s race. When so many children’s books are chosen by their cover, I’d love to show there can be more diversity within the genre.