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Norwin grads collaborate on gender-neutral, race-neutral children's book

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, 8:45 p.m.

Two Norwin High School graduates collaborated on a gender- and race-neutral book designed to promote acceptance and equality and create a new level of “normal” in children's literature.

Author Rachael Bindas, 20, of North Huntingdon, a freelance writer studying at the University of Pittsburgh, and illustrator Alyssa Minko, 20, a 3-D artist studying at Rochester Institute of Technology, are self-publishing “Before the Sun Wakes Up.”

Minko said the book challenges the existing literary landscape.

“It is not relying on race, gender or familial structure, while simultaneously challenging these values in an implicit fashion,” she said. “No child should ever have to read a story and wonder why they cannot see characters like themselves.”

Bindas and Minko graduated from Norwin in 2015. Bindas wrote for the student newspaper and Minko, an accomplished artist, won first place in the 2015 Congressional Art Contest for a pencil drawing that was displayed in the U.S. Capitol for a year.

Bindas said she got the idea for the book while reading to her 4-year-old sister, Bria. One of the books she read — “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” — “promoted equality in young children, and that's what's important to me,” Bindas said.

She began thinking that “there is absolutely no reason I can't do this, so I did.”

Bindas started writing in early June, putting a few words on each page as she wrote the book for children 3 and younger.

Bindas credits Minko with proposing that the main character be racially ambiguous.

“Stories consisting of only white characters may inhibit children of color from connecting to the characters and may leave them wondering why children like themselves cannot be seen in books, therefore inciting questions of self-worth,” Bindas said.

The child is only referred to as “you” and the messages are conveyed through the illustrations, Bindas said.

“The racial diversity and gender neutrality would not be present without the illustrations,” Bindas said.

“The playful papercut illustrations in ‘Before the Sun Wakes Up' create a soft, tangible feel that aims to draw children in and allow them to connect to the world we have created,” Bindas said.

Norwin children's librarian Barbara Flynn said that children's literature in the last 20 years has become more focused “on children in all situations” pertaining to gender and race.

“We like to have a lot of books with diversity and they are sometimes hard to find,” said Flynn, who said she would like to have the children's book from the Norwin graduates when it is published.

The co-creators of the book conducted a Kickstarter campaign that raised $1,500 in pledges when it ended Sept. 30, topping their goal of $1,000. For every additional $500 raised through the campaign, they will donate 50 books to children's hospitals, libraries, preschools and day care centers in the Pittsburgh and Rochester areas.

The book is expected to be available in the spring. For more information, visit www.beforethesunwakesup.com.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

Rachael Bindas, 20, of North Huntingdon
Rachael Bindas, 20, of North Huntingdon
Alyssa Minko, a 3-D artist studying at Rochester Institute of Technology
Alyssa Minko, a 3-D artist studying at Rochester Institute of Technology
“Before the Sun Wakes Up' book cover
“Before the Sun Wakes Up' book cover
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