Once upon a time — eight years ago, to be exact — Oriel María Siu Ph.D.’12 went in search of children’s books to read to her soon-to-be-born daughter. That search only yielded frustration. She found that many books on the shelves overflowed with racial and gender stereotypes. To Siu's disappointment, children of color were rarely featured as main characters, and a great number of stories were based on whitewashed versions of history. Out of that experience, the series Rebeldita the Fearless was born.
Employing bright colors and rhymed prose, Siu — an Indigenous/Chinese writer who fled Honduras as a teenager — tells realistic stories through the eyes of Rebeldita, a fearless, inquisitive, joyful girl of Indigenous and African heritage.
Her first book, Rebeldita the Fearless in Ogreland — hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “a pioneering children’s book” — tackles family separation, immigrant detention and borders, as Rebeldita and her friends fight ogres to free parents from cages. Her second book, Christopher the Ogre Cologre, It’s Over! dismantles the myth of Christopher Columbus that’s been told throughout the years, with Rebeldita inspiring readers to be change agents.
“I believe children are fully capable of learning and engaging in what most white adults would call ‘difficult truths,’" says Siu, named in the "Top Ten New Latino Latinx Authors" by Latino Stories. If Black, brown and refugee children are old enough to experience these realities, we all have the responsibility to engage in these topics.”
Currently working on the third book of the series, Siu writes for her daughter and for all children of the Americas.
“Our ‘happily ever after’ will come only when we can normalize telling the truth about the Americas to children, and to ourselves,” Siu says. “I offer these books not just as mirrors, but also as maps, so they [children] may always find a way to ascertain their own stories with joy.”
Read more from UCLA Magazine's January 2022 issue.