After spotting an Instagram DM from Kyanne Stennett of Big Queen Little Queen Publishing, I found myself on her website; and I loved what I saw! Kyanne is at the beginning stages of developing a publishing enterprise that strives to celebrate diversity and inclusivity, and I couldn’t resist firing over a little online interview in the hope of finding out more.
The questions below have been answered in Kyanne’s own words, using terms and metaphors for disability that she identifies with. This interview was conducted a couple of weeks ago and was scheduled to be published later this month, and as such is focussed more centrally on disability inclusion rather than racial diversity. However, given the recent tragic death of George Floyd, it’s only right that we should be highlighting the work of talented POC at this moment in time.
So without further ado, here is Kyanne’s story, all about these important first steps in creating a more inclusive environment within children’s literature… and why they matter now more than ever. Once you’ve read this piece, please do go and show your support for Kyanne’s work over on Instagram!
Hi Kyanne, thanks for chatting with me today! Would you like to introduce yourself and tell us about your background?
Hi Pippa, thank you for setting this up and letting me share a little about who I am and what I do. I am 26 years old and I live in Toronto. I am an author, illustrator and business owner. Before I ventured off into this niche, I completed a Bachelor of Sciences in Molecular Biology and Genetics and Human Kinetics. My plan was to either go to medical school or become a physiotherapist. In my last year I found a passion for working with amputees so I did a post-graduate Prosthetic/Orthotic Technician Program and hoped to start an amazing career fabricating devices and helping people have a better quality of life. Due to my chronic migraine condition I had to walk away from my field and head in a new direction toward a different dream thus starting my own children’s book company Big Queen Little Queen Publishing.
Starting an indie publishing business is no small feat! How did Big Queen Little Queen Publishing first come about?
Well, there was no single event that led me to creating this company but instead a collective of life experiences. I decided to start my company two years ago when I was chatting with my partner about my future. The idea was a perfect opportunity for me to learn new skills, to express my truths, to use my education in a creative way, to raise awareness and advocate for others but most of all the chance to overcome my adversity and transcend my limitations.
I won’t dive too deep into the details but sometimes when you have certain family dynamics or you belong to an ethnic minority group or you are living with a disability people begin to assume you cannot do great things or they expect less from you because of your circumstances. Unfortunately, sometimes you doubt you can have a fulfilling life yourself. So Big Queen Little Queen Publishing was my chance to be more than I thought I could be. I was diagnosed with chronic hemiplegic migraines that progressively worsened over time. My disability required me to not only leave a full-time career of fabricating prosthetic and orthotic devices but any occupation. I couldn’t work or drive, I was discouraged from travel and I never knew if my body would be able to make it through the day when I woke up but I could still love those around me, have new experiences, advocate for myself and others and create fun, educational and inclusive literature for young readers.
Big Queen Little Queen Publishing is committed to publishing diverse and inclusive children’s books that showcase characters from underrepresented communities. Every child deserves to see themselves in the books they read no matter the colour of their skin or medical differences.
Inclusivity is at the centre of every book you produce, and your diverse characters are fabulous! Can you tell us about the thought process behind the themes and issues you weave into your stories, and why these are so important?
Thank you and of course! I think all children want to see themselves in the books they read in the roles they love. I also believe books are a great and important tool to teach children good behaviour, to answer questions they might have, to develop their literacy and stimulate their imagination.
My goal with each of my stories is to teach something, to use empathetic language, to show that anyone can do anything and highlight the importance of loving yourself and others. Whether the book is about the a girl who loves her dashiki or superheroes with disabilities or the solar system, young readers will be exposed to inclusive behaviour and a celebration of diversity. It is so important that children of colour and children living with disabilities are featured as main characters in children’s books, this is something that should be normalized because we all want to be respected, included and loved no matter what we look like or how we function.
At the moment you’re authoring and illustrating books and developing this enterprise single-handedly… no small feat for anybody, let alone when you’re dealing with debilitating health issues of your own. Do you have any tricks or coping mechanisms for keeping things afloat whilst keeping mindful of your own wellbeing?
It is such a battle when you are caught between listening to your body and not letting your disability control your life but I find the best thing for me to do is ask for understanding and empathy from others (and myself) and reciprocate it. Sometimes it can be so overwhelming and it’s easy to get stuck in negative thought loops, in these moments I try to give myself some emotional space to avoid spiralling into depression. I have to be patient. I prioritize my tasks and try to remind myself that the goal isn’t perfection.
With my friends/family and professional relationships, I am just honest about what I can and cannot do day to day. We discuss our needs through effective communication and find strategies to help us get what we need done. They give me understanding for my emotions and capabilities and vice versa; it isn’t always pretty but it works. Having peppermint oil, an ice pack and eye shades handy helps too!
In my opinion, the publishing scene in general still has a long way to go in becoming as accessible and inclusive as possible… although fortunately, progress is being made. Do you have any advice for those with long-term conditions looking to venture into the publishing industry themselves?
You are absolutely right, my estimates are that only 0.5% of children’s books include kids with visible disabilities and under 10% for ethnic minorities (combined) so we have a long way to go but we have seen an increase in these stats over the last 5 years.
My advice to those with long-term conditions looking to venture into the publishing industry would be “Do it!” The gap won’t be filled without us. It is difficult and at times it may seem impossible but we are not alone. There are great, supportive social media communities that you can join and local communities that are looking for people to share their movement with them. I’d suggest looking into freelance platforms if you need help with website construction, illustrators, etc. If you are self-publishing look into your local bookstore consignment offers. There a lot of tools we have access to and there’s a huge network of people who share a similar dream and would be willing to help you along the way. I am so grateful for the chronic illness community and children’s book communities I’ve joined and reached out to.
And finally, let’s talk about the future! I’m really looking forward to seeing Big Queen Little Queen develop, and there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll reach whatever you set out to achieve. With that in mind, can you tell us about your short-term and long-term goals?
Currently, my short term goals are to continue creating and publishing books and advocating for people with disabilities and people of colour on my social media platforms. I’m getting in touch with some freelance illustrators for a few new projects which I am really excited about. And I will also be donating some books to local children rehab centres, disability centres and libraries.
For my long term goals I’m hoping to book a few guest speaking events at local high schools to talk about disabilities and overcoming adversity. I will also be starting a few initiatives.
Capes for Diversity will be coming soon; it is in the works as I have just published The Bionic Bunch Vol. 1. It is the first book in an action-packed series showcasing superheroes with disabilities focused on dealing with bullies, disability awareness and practicing inclusive behaviour. It also highlights prosthetic and orthotic intervention. Here is a little peak at what I am trying to do.
Capes for Diversity:
Join our team! Every cape will help fill the gap of representing kids with disabilities in literature and make a difference in their lives. Every donation gifts a superhero cape and copies of The Bionic Bunch. Donations are gifted to children’s rehab centres, hospitals and disability centres.
- $20 buys books that celebrate diversity and characters with medical differences
- $50 buys diversity and inclusion sweaters and t-shirts for children and youth to raise awareness
- $100 provides art supplies and toys so kids can play and get creative
- $250 used to gift musical instruments for therapy and fun, self-expression
- $1000 provides financial aid to families for medication and special equipment
I am also looking to host inclusive kids’ play zones with activities, gifts and reading (2021).
Thank you so much Pippa for hosting this chat and helping me with my journey and success. You have been doing amazing work for the chronic illness community around the world which I know takes hard work, so thank you for your efforts and I wish you all the best on your future endeavours. Thanks again for chatting with me, it has been a pleasure.
[N’aw, this is the loveliest! Thank you!]
Thanks so much for reading, and many thanks to Kyanne for sharing her answers. You can find out more about Big Queen Little Queen Publishing on their website, and keep up to date with their work over on Instagram. I know I will be!