An educator tackles diversity in a children’s book


May 14 — It was the birth of her brother that prompted Joy Houlder de Vernon to try her hand at writing, at first just for himself and his family.

But encouraged by her college professors to think bigger, Houlder expanded her initial theme to come up with “Calvin Dreams: And that he’ll be bigger than the moon!” — a book that celebrates diversity and inclusion.

At the time, she was a senior at Emmanuel College in Boston. Having a new brother “was super exciting for me. So I thought, well, let me give them (his father and his stepmother) a book that presents a child who would look like my brother, a little black boy “, she said.

However, none of the previously published books matched the happy occasion.

“I was struggling to find uplifting, whimsical and adventurous material at the time. I would come across a lot of things that had to do with civil rights and slavery or really heavy material that is extremely important to every child. .learn,” she says.

Joy Houlder

Profession: Family resource specialist, author.

Hometown: Vernon.

Age: 24 years old.

Education: Graduated in 2019 from Emmanuel College in Boston.

Oo Shopping Book: “Calvin Dreams” is available for purchase on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

“It starts to get exhausting, when the only way to see you (is) as the protagonist fighting white supremacy (in a book). I really wanted something fun for him.”

So Houlder thought about creating his own book for his little brother.

“It started as a simple project. I did a tutoring (in) my senior year with my teachers. A few of my studio art teachers mentored me and I created the book,” she said.

At the time, she was not interested in publishing the book, but just wanted to give it to her family as a surprise.

Her teachers “pushed me to publish the book. They saw more in it than I was initially trying to get out of it,” she said.

While her little brother, now 4, was her main inspiration for the book, she was also influenced by the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and wanted to change the portrayal of black men that was prevalent in the media. .

She now had a wider audience. “My little brother, like another little black boy – being born into such a cruel and unjust society. For my people (the black community). dab the injustice he might face?”

The answer: “By providing him with a book that shows him as a protagonist venturing into these impossible and difficult worlds, doing it with ease. So I wanted to inspire my little brother. That’s what inspired me “, she said.

And Calvin

In the book, Calvin talks to flowers that speak in different languages, flies through the skies with whales, ventures into dark forests, and finds truly brilliant fairies and mushrooms with his sidekick, Bunny.

“It’s really light and fun, while getting the message across to any child that no matter what they look like or (however their) walk (of life) they can do great things and s having fun while doing it,” she said. mentioned.

Her work as a Family Resource Specialist for ECHN at Maple Street School in Vernon, where she facilitates positive youth development programs, also takes her to other schools in Vernon to read “Calvin Dreams.”

During a recent visit to Center Road School, Houlder said she had a powerful interaction with a student after reading the book.

“She got up from her circle and ran towards me as I was leaving. She reached out and put her hand next to mine. She shines and says, ‘We’re the same color, brown. I was like, “Yeah, we’re the same color, brown,” and she jumped up to her chair. I think there was a hint of pride in her that this person, this author, this illustrator who came to my class looks like me.”

And that’s what makes Houlder thrilled to have Calvin as a positive protagonist.

“The classes I’ve read or the schools I’ve visited, every kid’s responses are ‘Hey, I want to be like Calvin’ or ‘I relate to him that way,'” she said. .

“We’re moving away from seeing one type of hero, one type of protagonist. Anyone can be whoever they want to be. That’s why representation is so important.”

Children bond

Melissa Trantolo, director of teaching and learning for Vernon Public Schools, agrees. Houlder, she said, “is an example of all the great things you can accomplish when you work hard.

“The kids absolutely adored her. They are able to bond with her quickly, and her book shows students of color in a positive light and lets all students know they have a place. is just amazing,” Trantolo said.

Houlder said it was important to build diversity and representation.

“Representation is extremely important for every child, not just for children of color, but also for white children, because it normalizes seeing people in different positions. I think white supremacy hurts us to all, each one of us, and with that, pushing the narrative of the diversification of protagonists and role models benefits every child,” she said.

Houlder, a graduate of Rockville High School and Greater Hartford Academy, relishes that she still has her roots in Vernon.

“A lot of my family is still here. And a lot of college roots are connected here in Vernon through my work at the Family Resource Center,” she said.

She said her favorite and most popular programs she runs are her therapeutic art groups.

“I’m not an art therapist, but I have a degree in counseling psychology and studio art. So in this group we find ways to cope and strategize with our feelings, our environment using art. So that’s really important to me.” she says.

Houlder said more books are on the way that show underrepresented children in the adventure and fantasy genres, but her recent engagement and wedding planning is where her creativity is focused. this moment, as she made cards and invitations, as well as planning decorations for her special day.

“Hey, I’m an artist, might as well do that. So I hope that once this is all settled, or I can find time to work on my craft at the same time”, she will get back to writing.

Deidre Montague covers the towns of Vernon and Stafford.

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