When Vese Aghoghovbia, 33, was looking for a children’s book for her daughter in 2017, she was shocked to find it hard to find one with a black main character.
At this time in 2017, research found that only 1% of children’s books had a black main character.
This revelation brought back memories of Vese’s own childhood and how previously it was even harder to find books with black characters.
“I was shocked to see that the world hadn’t changed so much since I was a child,” she told MyLondon.
Seeing such struggles reoccur in the world her daughter would grow up in led Vese to take matters into her own hands.
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“I was shocked to see that there are no main characters from ethnic minorities in children’s books,” she said, adding, “I always feel like you have to be the change you want to see.”
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She didn’t want her daughter, nicknamed Philly, to grow up in a world that didn’t represent her.
She said: “I wanted to let my daughter and my children know that they are special. When you become a parent, you realize the impact you and the world have on the child you are raising”.
That’s what inspired Vese to start Philly & Friends, an inclusive children’s book and toy business.
Philly & Friends aims to show children characters they can relate to. By creating various characters, she aims to allow children to explore their own identity and see themselves in the media they interact with.
their first book Who do I see in the mirror? has a young black girl (Philly) as the protagonist.
The character was designed for her and children around the world to love and relate to. The one who is strong, confident and happy, goes on adventures, is curious, laughs inside and loves wholeheartedly with tight hugs and lots of kisses.
“I didn’t want my daughter to be unrepresented. She’s special, she’s unique and should love who she is,” Vese said.
“Representation plays a huge role in raising confident kids – when you see yourself portrayed positively, you say it looks like me.
“I remember seeing my daughter act out the scenes from the book and that was enough for me. That’s when I knew the book was the right choice.”
The book was also read by the Duchess of York on her YouTube channel: ‘Storytime with Fergie’ and was voted one of the best diversity children’s books by Hello! Magazine.
“I was amazed when the Duchess read my book. I was amazed when they reached out and I was amazed at what God was doing,” Vese said.
After creating the first book, the plan was to have a series of children’s books. However, the response to his books was very positive and people were constantly asking for other products.
People were asking for affirmation cards, toys, dolls and more.
Vese realized that while having the title character in a book was her original goal, she knew it was her responsibility to continue to increase representation and diversify children’s products.
Another addition to Philly & Friends merchandise has arrived due to Christmas.
One Christmas, Vese’s daughter asked Santa Claus for a fairy doll. To Vese’s surprise (or lack thereof), she had trouble finding good quality black dolls in stores and this was a catalyst for another idea.
She said: “When we couldn’t find any nice ones to buy, from that moment I decided to make my own.
“I designed the doll, showed it to my parents who thought it was fantastic. So I added it to the site and now it can be purchased by anyone,” he said. she stated.
“The community was asking for dolls, so that’s what they wanted too.”
Philly & Friends created affirmation cards with sayings such as ” I’m super’ for the child to read. Then on the back he would say ‘ I think you’re pretty cool too’ for a parent to read back to the child.
“It confirms the claim,” explained Vese.
They also offer wall art, wooden dolls.
Another great part of the book and the cards is to show children that they are more than just how they look.
In the book, Philly undertakes a series of tasks or activities that she does. After each sentence, she says “I am much more”.
By doing this, it doesn’t devalue Philly to her looks, but rather highlights her as part of her whole identity. For Vese, this was an important part of the message.
“I wanted my daughter to know that she is more than her physical appearance,” she added.
By having all of these products, Philly & Friends hopes to add a sea of color to children’s products.
In addition to adding a sea of colors, for every book purchased, they send a book to an underprivileged child.
Vese says this will then hopefully give children a chance to dream of a “different situation for themselves and to visualize beyond their immediate surroundings”.
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