“Why Can’t You Look Like Me” (2009, Black Oasis Ent.) written by Ola Zuri and illustrated by Jenn Simpson, tells the story of a little girl who looks different from her parents, neighbors and schoolmates, and thus feels alienated and left out. Her fortunes change when another little brown girl arrives at school.
The book opens with this:
Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? How did you deal with it? This story is of a young girl who has been adopted transracially and feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere, even within her own family. Follow her journey of discovery.
Zuri, who lives in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia with her four children, was adopted trans-racially at two years of age. She says her first children’s book draws on her experiences.
“I sometimes wonder how it is possible that I have had a lot of different people ask me so many ‘why’ questions: Why is your skin so dirty? Why don’t you look like your mom and dad? Why is your hair so weird? Why aren’t you white like us? Why don’t you go back to where you come from? Why were you adopted? Why didn’t your mom want you? Why, Why, Why? I do wish at times, I didn’t stick out so much,” Zuri remembers.
“When I was younger, I wanted to look like everyone else around me so that I wouldn’t get so many why questions asked of me.”
Zuri shares a bit of her life story:
“My twin sister was born, prematurely, one hour and fifteen minutes before me. She was whisked away into the neonatal care unit of the hospital and then surprise… I was born. I was placed into the foster care system when I was just days old and was to be separated from my sister until weeks later, when she too was placed with me into the system. I would stay there until I was two years old and then was adopted, with my sister, by a white couple.
“Separation appeared to be something that was going to continue with me as | grew up. My sister and I were never sent to our preschool at the same time, nor were we sent to the same schools when it came time to attend. So, even though we had each other to be with when we were at home, we both had our own issues to deal with at school, on our own. Being alone at school was very hard for me and very sad. I don’t think separating my sister and I was very beneficial as it left me feeling alone, in my own world. At my school, I was picked on, teased and told that I couldn’t play with the other kids. I was pushed around and hurt by other children. I remember being singled out by teachers as well.
“While sitting in an assembly, a boy in my second grade class kept teasing me and was calling me names. I ignored him for a long time but I finally got really upset. I was mad and crying and so I hit him. The teacher grabbed me, took me to the office and told me that I had no right to pick on other children and that I was going to get the strap from the principal for my bad behavior. I told her what had happened and she didn’t believe me. In the end, I was the one who got the strap and detention.
“My dad’s reaction was that of anger and I can’t even remember what my mom’s reaction was. I just remember feeling really bad for getting in trouble at school and then for getting in trouble at home. After that incident, I never shared another story about mistreatment at school with my family again.
“It was very tough going to a school where I was treated unfairly and was constantly singled out. In grade six, another brown girl came to my school and we became friends. It was exciting for me to see that there really were other people like my sister and I. I didn’t recognize that my sister was a resource for me because we weren’t together to share our experiences at school. I rarely spoke about anything that happened to me, as I was afraid of what repercussions may come as a result. My sister never actually wanted to talk about her experiences. There were so many years that I spent with a sense of isolation about me and of the never-adequate attempts for me to do the right thing, with my family and for myself. | would continue with those attempts into my young adulthood and, I admit, that it was challenging for me. I tended to be nervous, quiet, shy, and even ashamed of my being adopted, and that made me feel uncomfortable around a lot of people. As I continued to grow, I started supporting everyone except myself, never stopping to listen to my own feelings. I didn’t see, until years later, when I really examined my life and I then realized that I had to listen to myself and make it different for the children of today, who may be going through a lot of the similar feelings that I went through.”
By writing “Why Can’t You Look Like Me?” Zuri hopes to provide a resource both for children and parents who are navigating the realities of race, culture, status and identity.
Zuri has made a copy of her book available for ARP readers. Respond to this thread by Friday, May 29, and you will be entered into a drawing to win the copy of “Why Can’t You Look Like Me?”. The winner is invited to write a review for the benefit of other readers.
Order “Why Can’t You Look Like Me?” online exclusively at www.mosaicbooks.ca or call toll free 1 800 663 1225.