In a world filled with Barbie's and American Girl Dolls, there is a clear picture that is engrained in every young girl's mind of what they are 'supposed' to aspire to look like. The damage that could come with these impossible societal standards is infinite.
Even when diverse dolls and figures come out, they are not often on the forefront of displays at Toys R Us, Target or any other kid stores. The literal white space and lack of inclusion in children's media is glaringly obvious the moment one walks down a toy aisle or looks at the covers of children's series' in bookstores.
Representation is so important in this ever-changing society and gone are the days where one-dimensional are all girls have to look up to. Ylleya Fields knows this well. As a mother of four girls and two boys, Fields sees first hand the lack of representation of black figures in television, books, toys, and media. That is why she set out to make a change and took it into her own hands to give her daughters the role-model they deserve by writing a series of books called "Princess Cupcake Jones". The protagonist is based on her girls' so a lot of the traits and scenarios have real-life inspiration. The books all have messages and lessons for young girls, and the illustrations each contain the word 'love' hidden inside to show Cupcake Jones fans how loved they are. SWAAY sat down with Fields and got all the details on what's to come for the future of her books.
Photo Courtesy of Princess Cupcake Jones
1. What was the inspiration for "Princess Cupcake Jones"?
The inspiration for the "Princess Cupcake Jones" series is my daughters. Every story is based on something they've done or a feeling they've had. Luckily, I have four daughters, so there's plenty of material to work it.
2. Why is it so important for kids to have characters that represent them?
Representation is important because it helps kids define who they are and even more important who they want to be. When they see strong images of people that they can identify with (through race, gender, etc) they are getting affirmation that they can be and do anything they want.
3. What is the most challenging part of writing children's stories?
I think the challenge of writing any story is making sure that the plot is engaging to your audience from start to finish. Children stories arent as long as novels so you have to get your storyline across pretty quickly. And of course when you write in rhyme that can be even more tricky.
4. Why is the word 'love' hidden in every illustration?
Love is actually my eldest daughters' middle name. So it was my way of acknowledging her yet again in the series. But I think the word LOVE is so powerful and meaningful to people that by finding it with their children it keeps what is most important at the forefront of our readers' minds.
Ylleya Fields. Photo Courtesy of Princess Cupcake Jones
5. You've won a few awards for Princess Cupcake Jones, including the 2013 Mom's Choice Award and 2013 Winner of the Family Choice Awards. What does it feel like to be recognized for your work?
It feels amazing! I never set out to win awards but the fact that our series has been recognized as a great body of work is so fulfilling!
6. What do you think kids will learn from reading your books?
That depends on the book! Each book has an underlying message or value that children reading can apply to their everyday lives. In “Princess Cupcake Jones and the Missing Tutu", children learn that by cleaning up and staying organized, they can find things that are important to them easier. In “Princess Cupcake Jones and the Dance Recital", children learn that practice makes perfect, and doing your best is all that really matters.
Photo Courtesy of Airplanes and Dragonflies
7. Why do you think the number of African American characters is so limited in children's books?
I've touched on this before but the answer remains the same. It comes down to the fact that there are publishers that don't believe that books that feature African American characters sell or worse; doubt that there is even a market for them. Clearly, they're incorrect. The fact that Princess Cupcake Jones is popular and we are even doing this interview counters that notion.
8. What advice do you have for moms who want to help add more representation of black figures?
My advice is to diversify, diversify, diversify. Make sure your children have different kinds of characters in books, music, movies, etc. By diversifying their surroundings, you're actually helping them with representation by simply doing. It sounds cliche but it's really as simple as that.
9. What is the most rewarding part of writing books?
The most rewarding part is having other parents and their children tell me how much they love the series. Even going as far as thanking me for writing/creating her. I never thought that this could be as inspirational as it has become. My original mission was just to create something my own daughters' would be proud of, and in the process, I've created a character that empowers all little girls.
10. What do you see for the future of "Princess Cupcake Jones"?
The sky is definitely the limit! We have a new book coming out any day, “Princess Cupcake Jones Saddles Up", a brand new clothing line, and I just finished writing a new book (as yet untitled).
11. Is there anything you would like to add?
Just a thank you to all of our Cupcakettes for the love and support they've given over the years!
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.