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'Representation makes a kid say that there are endless possibilities' | Author speaks on importance of representation

Sonia Lewis is an activist, teacher and now author of a new children's book. She says representation in literature is crucial.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Books, activities, and representation. That's what brought six-year-old Aalayah Williams to Oak Park's Underground Books this past weekend.

What brings Williams the most joy when reading is seeing characters who look like her own family.

“It reminds me of when me and my dad use to always give us hugs and we always spend time together,” Williams said, adding she sees herself in these stories and dreams of her own possibilities. “I put myself in the book and my wish was to be a teacher."

"Monsters and Aliens," the book Williams was reading, was the first children's book from author and activist Sonia Lewis. She hopes to add more representation of people of color in literature for kids like Williams.

“When we arrived, we arrived in the Meadowview community, Lewis said of her move from the Bay Area to Sacramento in 1985. 

When she left for college, she said she vowed to never come back to Sacramento because of the disparities she witnessed growing up.

“It took me several years being away from Sacramento to realize my community needs me and my voice is representative of this community,” Lewis said.

Lewis says representation is important in all spaces for young Black children, which led her to write "Monsters and Aliens."

“Imagine a world where young people don't have to heal from their childhood. What is that voice that you wished they heard? What is that thing you experienced, you wish you could have spoken, but you were scared to do, that's 'Monsters and Aliens',” Lewis said.

The book is written from the perspective of a 7-year-old Lewis and her struggles with understanding the awful injustice of Black people in America, one of which was when her cousin was gunned down by police.

“He was literally walking in the middle of the street in his underwear, no weapon, but because he was defiant and not paying attention he was shot in the back," Lewis said. "And so, listening to that as a young child, I think I internalized that. We just had a lesson on the Statue of Liberty [in school] and my teacher said something about liberty is like the freedom to live, the freedom to choose. And I was like, well, then killing cousin Carl wasn't liberty."

With photos of Lewis' childhood sealed on the cover, she hopes her book continues the conversation about why all types of representation is necessary.

“I'm saying representation makes a kid say that there are endless possibilities,” Lewis said.

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