Business owner seeks to help heal a broken world through children’s books

Can bedtime stories change the world? Mijha Godfrey, owner and founder of Jambo Books, a Decatur-based children’s book subscription service, said she hopes children’s books that promote such values as respect, justice, tolerance, and love can help lead to a world in which hostility and violence toward others based on their ethnicity—or other factors that lead them to be seen as “different”—is relegated to the dust bin of history.

“On March 16, an all-too-familiar tragedy struck in my hometown, Atlanta. Whenever there is a hate crime, especially one that ends lives, I feel broken.” Godfrey said, referring to an incident in which shootings at three local spas left eight dead, six of whom were Asian women. “Then the sheriff trivialized it by saying [the man accused of the shootings] was ‘having a bad day.’ I can think of eight people who had a worse one.”

Godfrey said those who perpetrate violence against Asian communities feel empowered by politicians and others who blame Chinese people—and Asians generally—for the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s ridiculous when people describe it as ‘Hong Kong flu’ and ‘the China virus,’ not so subtly blaming Asian people for the disease. No disease is the fault of one group of people even if the disease happened to have been first identified among them. Instead of demonizing the people who were the first victims of the disease we should be holding them up as a model for what can be done to control it,” she added.

“This has really broken my spirit. It has not gotten the level of attention it should among people who care about social justice. This sort of thing happens when people think of people different from themselves as in some way as less human than they are,” Godfrey continued. “Too many people lately have become targets of violence because they are Asian or Black or Muslim or because of their sexual orientation. We have to start with young children and help them see other people on a very human level.”

Mijha Godfrey, founder and owner of Jambo books, urges parents to select children’s books featuring lead characters of diverse backgrounds, saying, “Children pick up their values from their families and the stories that are read to them.”

She said when she was a child the books available to her featured mostly White males, sometimes with women and people of color in support roles. After Godfrey, who is Black, became a parent, her child’s grandfather sent a gift subscription of children’s books. “These were classic books from the 1940s and ’50s, but again it was a canon of books that almost never featured people of color as the main characters. It was very frustrating. We’re supposed to see the universality in the lives of White people, but they are not asked to see the universality in our stories.”

Godfrey responded in 2018 by starting a children’s book subscription service that features diverse main characters. She named the company Jambo Books; Jambo means “hello” in Swahili. “Children pick up their values from their families and the stories that are read to them. It’s important for children to read stories about children that look like them and children who do not look like them. It’s important that they see these children not just in their struggles but in their ordinary lives. I remember a great book about children enjoying summer, but the illustrations showed only White children. We get summer, too,’ she said, emphasizing that the books are not just to help children of all ethnicities feel comfortable with themselves, but to help them become comfortable with those who are not like them.

“The brokenness I feel makes me want to cover the world in books–books where people of color are the stars of their own stories, where they follow their own dreams rather than being the subject of others’ fantasies. Being tucked in at bedtime, after a story is read, is a great opportunity to help little ones tie the story to the outside world,” according to Godfrey.

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