Books should act as mirrors as well as windows - Formy Books: a profile
October 1st marked the start of Black History Month 2020, the annual celebration of the outstanding contributions people of African and Caribbean descent have made to the country and our communities. One of the core aims when it was first launched back in the 1980’s was to highlight the lack of representation of Black people in our history books, and it was a similar theme in mind that led to the creation of ground-breaking independent publisher Formy Books.
Founders and partners Ebony Lyon and Curtis Ackie wanted to address the lack of striking books for children written by Black creators. Ebony shared the inspiration behind their brainchild with us:
“As a family, we have always collected as many books featuring Black protagonists and characters as we could, and yet our collection was nowhere near as big as we wanted it to be. It is vitally important that our children grow up seeing their own rich culture in the books they enjoy, and an absence of an inclusive range of characters and role models can have a hugely detrimental effect on them. Sadly, during our search to beef up our collection, we found that so often the books we could find were not created by the people depicted within them. Formy Books grew organically through a desire to both impress our children with good quality representation and to give Black people from different backgrounds and experiences a chance to tell their own truths, through children’s books.”
Formy Books is a business with family at its heart. Ebony, leads the commercial side of the business and has a background in sales and marketing and her partner Curtis is the creative force of the operation. An author himself, he wrote the publisher’s first release, Later a picture book for children aged 0-6, depicting Afro-Caribbean family life, beautifully illustrated by Constanza Goeppinger. Together they are forging an impressive, disruptive path through traditional publishing to amplify the message that Black representation matters.
Ebony goes on to say, “Less than 4% of the children’s books published in the UK feature a Black protagonist, and if they are there, they are mainly used to celebrate differences, focus on their skin colour or highlight social injustice. There are very few that centre on joy or comedy and that is something we really want to change. In addition, shockingly, less than 2% of children’s book creators are Black and that is why we are championing ‘own voices’ books. It’s imperative that the responsibility of creating these books sits with authors and illustrators who can paint the characters and worlds with the necessary integrity and nuance.
"Our aim is to deliver more beautiful own voices children’s books by Black creators, giving children access to positive representation in both their books and the industry. All children deserve to see themselves reflected back in the books they love, in all genres and in a way that uplifts. As Black creators, we want to tell our own stories and share our cultures with all children.”
Most recently they have launched a kickstarter campaign to publish four new own voices children’s books by Black creators. With just under two weeks to go they are doing well but still need more support. Please click on the link for more details of the four new books and to support the campaign.
Ebony concludes by explaining why representation is so important to children as they grow.
“Representation helps children to build their identities. If they do not see their realities reflected in the books they read, or only see problematic representation, the impact can be extremely damaging.
"Books should act as mirrors as well as windows.”
Thank you to Tsana, aged 9, for giving us her top four book recommendations:
Legacy of Orïsha Trilogy by Tomi Adeyemi
Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman
Blackberry Blue and Other Fairy Tales by Jamila Gavin
Black and British: A short, essential history by David Olusoga