Written windows | Local features
Determined to make a positive change in the world, Nneka Ruiz Montalvo, a banking professional with more than two decades of experience in her field, has opened a bookstore.
Ruiz Montalvo believes black stories are important and works to make these stories more accessible to children through his online bookstore, www.myreflectiontt.com, which sells children’s books with black main characters for newborns and children up to 14 years old.
The murder of George Floyd by police officers in the United States, which fueled the Black Lives Matter movement, also fueled a passion in Ruiz Montalvo to do his part to ensure that black boys and girls were represented on the shelves.
Ruiz Montalvo said that many books with black main characters feature children in leadership or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) roles, which she says “… gives children the inspiration to believe in themselves and become a great performer When kids see someone like them doing something they never thought of, it makes them think “It might be me someday”.
âBooks are meant to be windows, where we can see the world through the eyes of someone different from us, and also mirrors, where we can see the world through the eyes of someone like us. At that time, all of my son’s books were windows, because he didn’t even have a single book with a main character that looked like him.
âAs a result of this horrific incident and the Black Lives Matter protests that were going on, I was disappointed with the many incidents of people in Trinidad and Tobago damaging their reputations, careers and businesses by making hateful comments and anti-blacks. I was determined to make a positive change in the world. Since I know how much reading can impact a person intellectually, emotionally and psychologically, I wanted to start by making a change in my son’s library first.
âUpon further research, I was shocked to discover that, based on 2019 US publication statistics, 50% of the characters in children’s books are Caucasian; 27 percent of the characters are animals and 23 percent of the characters are children of all other ethnicities combined. According to these statistics, a dog, a cat or a goat is more likely to be seen in a children’s book than my son.
These disturbing statistics determined me to provide the children of Trinidad and Tobago with books with black main characters. After weeks of research, I compiled a list of engaging and inspiring books and signed up and launched the My Reflection children’s bookstore.
âWhile children can learn important values ââfrom characters of all colors, black children benefit from books with characters who resemble them for the following reasons. Books are mirrors, reflecting an aspect of our own life, our hopes and our dreams. Reading is therefore a form of assertiveness. When children see themselves reflected in their reading material, they feel validated.
âChildren of other ethnicities benefit from exposure to books with black main characters because it encourages empathy, acceptance and perspective. The âwindowâ experience is very important for children as they can learn about people and families different from them. When parents encourage diversity in their children’s books, it facilitates their social skills and prevents them from succumbing to negative and harmful stereotypes that could harm their personal and professional lives as they age, âsaid Ruiz Montalvo.
She said her books are on demand. âFor picture books, I got a lot of requests for self-esteem-focused books such as I Am Every Good Thing, which is a positive affirmation book for boys, and Naturally Me, which is address to both boys and girls. For girls, many parents have purchased books that focus on celebrating Afro-textured hair, such as Big Hair Don’t Care, Hair Love, and God Created Me Coily.
âThe greatest demand has been for chapter books for children who can read on their own. Reluctant readers and avid readers between the ages of eight and 14 have really turned to graphic novels, which are novels in the form of a comic book, like Twins, New Kid, and Class Act. I have also seen a lot of requests for series such as the STEAM Chasers, the President series, the Carver Chronicles and the Sophie Washington series, âsaid Ruiz Montalvo.
Next month, Ruiz Montalvo will be opening a physical store at the Red Edge Shopping Center on Western Main Road in St James. All the books available on the site will be available in store. âI am expanding the selection of books, including coloring books.
In addition to managing his online bookstore at www.myreflectiontt.com,
Ruiz Montalvo blogs as well. âMy website has a blog where I write about the importance of black portrayal in children’s books, the importance of cultivating a reading habit in children, and the powerful impact of reading on children. My goal is to increase the time children spend reading for fun.
The literacy rate in Trinidad and Tobago is only 77%, which is totally unacceptable.
âI also write articles on how to develop self-esteem in children, including self-esteem for the texture of their hair. My goal with these articles is to give parents tools to improve their children’s self-esteem, as self-esteem is essential for success, achieving goals, enjoying life and being compassionate towards others. âSaid Ruiz Montalvo.
Writing books is not yet on the cards for Ruiz Montalvo. âSince I have a full-time career in banking and also run this bookstore, writing books is not an option for me right now. I’ll probably stick to blog posts. Considering my love for books, anything is possible, so I’m not going to rule it out.
Visit www.myreflectionstt.com to buy books online. Books will be delivered within three working days by courier to any address in Trinidad and Tobago. Visit the My Reflections bookstore at the Red Edge Mall in St James.
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