This dad couldn’t find children’s books that represented his daughters — so he created one
Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands when there’s a lack of representation of people who look like you in pop culture — and that’s exactly what Jerry Zhang did. This father of two couldn’t find any children’s books with Asians as the main characters to read to his little girls, so he set out to create one.
The end result is Pepper Zhang, who is described as “a spirited Asian toddler whose imagination takes her on a journey into creativity and art” on the book’s Kickstarter page. Pepper isn’t just funny, adventurous, spirited, or stubborn — she’s all of the above. Others seem to agree because, at the end of the campaign, 775 backers pledged $30,639 to get Pepper off the ground — well over the $5,000 goal.
The quest to create Pepper began when Madison — Zhang’s oldest daughter — told her dad she didn’t want to be Chinese anymore because Madeline and Eloise weren’t, and he couldn’t find Asian characters in children’s books that she could connect with. Pepper began as a way to remedy this situation and make it so that Everly — Zhang’s 1-year-old daughter — hopefully wouldn’t feel the same way, but Zhang quickly knew it could help many others, too.
“The book was originally something I wanted to write just for my daughters, so naturally, I wanted Pepper’s last name to be the same as our family’s,” Zhang told A Plus when asked if Pepper’s surname was the same as his family’s for a reason. “In fact, Pepper’s family is modeled after my family, with Pepper being inspired by my oldest daughter, Madison, who is now 4.”
Zhang said Madison is excited about Pepper and that even Everly “kept pushing the keys on my laptop” when he showed her images from the book — which was illustrated by Trisha Hautéa. While this is a positive reaction, Zhang thinks the impact will be felt as they get older.
“As a father, I constantly think about the memories and trinkets that’ll have a lasting impact on my daughters as they mature, and what they can look back on when they’re adults,” he said. “I wish I had more memories of my life when I was their age. I immigrated to the U.S. when I was Madison’s age, so I think that transition has caused a gap in my memory from that period of my life.”
And while this will give Asian kids like Zhang’s daughters someone to connect with in children’s books, he hopes it won’t be as noteworthy when they’re older and that there will be many other Pepper Zhang-like books in libraries or on shelves at bookstores for other young people to enjoy.
“At the very least, my daughters will always have a book that is inspired by them and has had an impact on other children,” Zhang added. “I think as Pepper gets more media coverage, people will start taking notice that representation in children’s books is an important topic. All children benefit from reading books with a diverse array of lead characters, because diversity is a part of our everyday lives — so we should celebrate it at a young age.”
And, for those of you wondering if Zhang has any plans for other Pepper books, you’re in luck. He “definitely” does, and also hopes to create a separate series featuring “a brave little Asian boy.”
By A Plus’ CARSON BLACKWELDER