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Introducing Formy Books & Their Mission to Publish Own Voices

Formy Books is an independent publisher, with a focus on ‘own voices’ children’s books. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign for founding author Curtis Ackie’s debut children’s book, Later, Formy Books is dedicated to delivering more books featuring Black characters and cultures. They aim to address the shocking imbalance in Black representation in both children’s book characters and creators.

How did the idea for Formy Books come around?

As a family, we collect as many books featuring Black protagonists and characters as we can, and yet our collection is nowhere near as big as we’d like. It’s vitally important that our children grow up seeing their own rich culture reflected back to them from the books they love; an absence of an inclusive range of characters, and creative role models, in children’s literature can have a hugely detrimental effect on them. Sadly we realised, whilst searching for these books, that aside from there not being very many, what we could find was also 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. What message do we send to our children when they do not see themselves featured in the books they love, or as creators of those books?

What makes Formy Books stand out as a publisher?

“Wi likkle but wi tallawah,” a well-known Jamaican proverb, meaning that although we are small we are strong and determined, is how we like to think of ourselves. As a publisher our aim is to address the shocking imbalance in Black representation in both children’s book characters and creators. We will do this by delivering striking children’s books by talented creators from across the diaspora; books that positively depict the richness of Black cultures for children of all backgrounds to enjoy, helping them learn about the beauty outside their front doors and beyond. This will also mean young Black people can see children’s book creation as a viable career choice. 

Why Own Voices?

We read the statistics published in the first CLPE Reflecting Realities Report in 2018 with extreme disappointment, but not surprise. Less than 1% of the children’s books published in 2017 had a Black main character. Even more discouraging, however, were the findings from the second report, published a year later. In short the industry had sought to address the concerns raised with quantity alone, yet the second report found some titles submitted featured problematic colour palettes to represent “BAME” skin, had issues with language choices for skin and hair, included amplification of features reducing characters to caricatures, and also had colourism. This is why we are championing ‘own voices’ books; it’s imperative the responsibility of creating these books goes to authors and illustrators who can paint the characters and worlds with the necessary integrity and nuance. All children deserve to see themselves reflected back to them 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. 

Would you be able to tell us a little more about Later, the first title from Formy Books?

Later is a tender look at Afro-Caribbean family life which actually started out as a surprise gift to my children! My biggest inspiration is my family, and representation is key, however I struggled to find children’s books that depicted our family life – a family of Afro-Caribbean heritage, with a stay at home dad and a mum who goes to work – so I wrote one. I feel that’s what makes it unique, it’s my family and will always be special to me, I knew that beautiful illustrations were going to be crucial for Later, so I scoured Instagram before coming across Constanza Goeppinger’s lovely work, I reached out and the timing happened to be perfect. Once I’d given her the project details she understood perfectly and created the wonderful illustrations in the book. – Curtis 

Do you have any upcoming campaigns you’d like us to shout about?

We have a very exciting and potential-filled campaign coming up! Our first steps toward achieving our long-term goals begins with launching a Kickstarter on September 29th, in order to publish four striking children’s picture books by eight talented creators from across the Black diaspora. We’ve put together an incredible team and cannot wait to bring these picture books to life. We want to ensure that all children have an inclusive range of characters, and creative role models in their literature and with your help we can make it happen.

Support the Kickstarter campaign here.

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