By Ameera Steward
Dee Edwards remembers her daughter Aubrey coming home from school one day upset that she didn’t look like her friends. The girl questioned things like the color of her skin and her hair texture and expressed feelings of wanting to be like everyone else.
Dee wanted her child and other girls of color to know that they may be different, but they’re still beautiful. Because Aubrey was in a diverse environment, Dee felt it was important to write their book “We Are Different and We Are Beautiful,” which was released in May of this year; the target audience is girls ages 4 to 7.
The book has two main characters, Aubrey, who is African American, and Hannah, who is white and one of Aubrey’s kindergarten friends.
“It was important for Aubrey and me to look at her friends and [note that] they’re different—and perfect and beautiful just the way they are,” Dee said.
The book went beyond Aubrey’s school.
“I started seeing different reality shows with little girls who looked like Aubrey, and … they were talking about the exact same thing I had to talk to Aubrey about,” said Dee. “I also saw a Facebook video in which the little girl was crying because she was different from her friend, and I just kept seeing it. … Plus, suicide rates among some little girls or little kids are starting to rise, and it’s mostly because they don’t understand that they can be different and beautiful at the same time.”
Dee wanted to let other kids and parents know, “You’re not alone with having to address this subject.”
Dee said she first started talking about differences among people when her daughter was in kindergarten. Aubrey, who attends Paine Primary School in Trussville, said she feels better knowing she can be different and beautiful simultaneously.
Dee and Aubrey, the co-author, started the book with Dee asking Aubrey questions and recognizing what made Aubrey different from some of her friends.
“I realized that getting her opinion on certain things helped me pull out what she saw as different,” Dee said.
For instance, one section of the book reads “My hair is curly, and Hannah’s hair is straight. I am glad that we are friends and we are classmates. We are different and we are beautiful.”
The authors used several techniques to put an “educational twist” on “We Are Different and We Are Beautiful.”
The words rhyme, and there is a sight-word section that includes words children are encouraged to memorize by sight, so they can automatically recognize them. The back of the book also includes a confession, or affirmation, that parents can read with their children. In addition to the reading book, Dee and Aubrey also published an activity book, which includes coloring pages, word searches, and a section in which children can write their own confessions, as well as draw pictures of themselves and their best friends.
“I did some research and, according to stressfreekids.com, [learned that] coloring can reduce anxiety and anger and have positive effects on the brains, moods, and emotions of children and adults,” Dee said. “So, I wanted to just give kids an outlet for when … they feel overwhelmed. Parents really don’t realize that they can give [children] activities to do to help reduce anxiety.”
Each activity leads back to building a child’s self-confidence. For example, the word search encourages children to find words that describe themselves—words like amazing, faithful, or blessed—and that parents can use to engage the children in conversation by asking questions like “Why do you feel amazing?” “What do you do to feel amazing?”
Dee said, “We found that little girls under the age of 10 tend to enjoy [the book] the most. We wanted to start at a young age because … getting them to start loving what is different about them at a young age is going to help them with accepting other kids who are different, [as well as] help them accept themselves even if they are bullied or talked about.”
Aubrey spoke about what happened when she was bullied and how it made her feel.
“[I felt] pretty sad … because every time I go to a new school, they always bully me. They bully me first, and then we start being friends. … I kept coming to my parents and … telling them people bully me badly. … People called me fat or stupid, and I didn’t like it.”
When Aubrey feels a certain way or is crying and upset about something someone has said, her mother always reminds her of the book and tells her “… we are different and we are beautiful.”
“I tell her to go read it to remind her of who she is and that being different is beautiful,” Dee added. “It makes me feel really good that we have a resource she can turn to. It makes me feel amazing, just being able to empower her and to show her that she can use what’s been against her to work in her favor.”
More Than a Mom
The Edwards family lives in Trussville. Aubrey has two brothers, and her mother Dee co-owns DeeEdwardsOnline.com with her husband, Michael Edwards. The couple works with startups to help them build profitable and sustainable businesses, especially in the tax industry. Dee also owns several tax firms, under the name Accurate Tax Services.
Dee started her business ventures a decade ago, after being laid off. She also has published five books about business or faith, and she and her husband plan to publish more books to teach faith-based entrepreneurs how to build successful businesses God’s way. The couple runs a mentorship program called the Entrepreneur Circle. They also are in the process of building a small-business hub called The Connect, which will have conference rooms, training rooms, co-working space, a meeting lounge, and private office space rentals, as well as podcast and audio rooms.
For now, the family is spending a lot of time getting the word out about “We Are Different and We Are Beautiful.”
“I think [the book] is relatable,” Dee said. “That’s the reason it was important for us to make it educational: … so teachers, principals, or officials would be more accepting of adding this to schools. That’s our next goal.”
In the meantime, the authors are spreading the book’s message across Birmingham. On May 13, Dee and Aubrey had a book signing at Off the Wall in Crestwood and a book reading at the Trussville Library on July 18.
And Aubrey is enjoying the process. Writing the book was a fun experience, she said, and it helped her not care about what people tell her.
“I just walk away,” Aubrey said, adding that she handles bullying differently: “When they bully me, I just read the book and maybe do the activities.”
Aubrey also looks at herself differently now: “I’m beautiful. I’m pretty. I’m a good girl. I’m loved.”
“We Are Different and We Are Beautiful” is available via several online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books a Million (search for the book title). To learn more about Dee Edwards, visit DeeEdwardsOnline.com.
For more author stories, click one of the links below.
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.