I am writing to you from the future because something very exciting is about to happen. Tomorrow (my tomorrow, not yours), our first picture book will be out in bookshops. I realise this might seem like several lifetimes away but I assure you, the years will fly by faster than you know. The book is called A World for Me and You and it’s for kids around your age, although anyone can enjoy it. I wrote this book so that more children can see themselves as part of the story. I wrote this book for you, Uju.
I remember taking this photo with Mummy and how you tried to copy her pose, resting your chin on your hand like a grownup. How you tried to imitate her smile because you thought it was the most beautiful smile in the world. You don’t realise it yet, but you inherited that smile. It will become your calling card.
In just a few years, you will be at a school far away from home, surrounded by people who don’t look like you. At times, you will feel very alone. You will spend nights under the bedcovers, escaping into books. You will dream about marmalade and ginger beer and Turkish Delight. Can I tell you something fun? In A World for Me and You, I wrote about jollof rice and okra soup. Maybe other little readers will stay up late, dreaming of what they taste like…
I’m sure you’re not surprised that you grew up to be a writer. After all, you’re already making up poems and stories. Soon, you will produce a whole book. You will make it with staples and crayons, but it’s a good first effort.
If I could zoom you to the future, I’d show you this amazing book we’ve created filled with beautiful drawings by an artist named Jennie Poh. I know you would read it again and again. Because you love stories. Although, for many years, most of the images in books or on TV make you feel invisible. Like you will never be the chosen one, the lovely one. Like you don’t fit in.
I want you to know, Uju, that it takes a special kind of courage to keep showing up even when you don’t feel seen. It’s also brave to keep being yourself when you’re scared of just how much you stick out. Guess what? When you get older, your sticky-outness will become your favourite thing.
Now I’ve written a book that’s all about sticky-outness. A World for Me and You is a big, bold celebration of different colours, skin tones, languages, faces and flavours. It’s about being kind to others and appreciating who you are and where you come from.
The central characters are inspired by me and my sons. That’s right, we’re in a book! And yes, I’m a mum to two funny, quirky and affectionate boys. They’re big lads now, but when they were smaller, they reminded me a lot of you.
Before signing off, I’d like to say thank you, Uju, for being brave and curious. For learning to meet people where they are and filling your imagination with stories from all over. Thank you for always finding stuff to smile and laugh about. You will be a lifelong giggler.
I really wish I could gift you this book and watch your face light up as we read it together. Sadly, time travel isn’t real yet. But don’t worry, I’ll save a copy for you.
Lots of love,