I wrote a book about a giantess in the clouds who had dark skin. She was conflicted and beautiful. She was cruel and vulnerable. Unlike the other giants who had pea-sized hearts, she had a secret heart that was as big as a bonfire. Her name was Olga, and she was compelling enough to have the book named after her.
The giants in most fairy-tales are assumed to be white for one reason— the storytellers don’t say what color they are. This is an unhealthy symptom of our heritage of stories. Examples include giants, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy. Things are changing. But for now, characters with no specific color are white, and characters with color are seen as symbols and messages.
One blogger wrote that my book created issues for people of color because Olga, the evil giant, was described with dark black skin. The passage that truly gave me pause was when she imagined herself in the shoes of a young reader of color. She wondered if she would be hurt by the book. She decided she would be.
I usually assume that whatever people say about me is probably correct. If you call me an idiot, my gut instinct is to agree. I dislike confrontation more than anything else.
I thought about the many intelligent girls I knew who had read the book. I worried I had hurt them. I actually went into a funk, which is a kind of depression that makes writing horribly difficult because everything you try to imagine is fuzzy, and falls apart before you can describe it. I was in that funk for a while.
Then I was speaking with a black reader who is ten years-old. She told me I should write books with more black characters. She meant black like Olga. But she also meant young, American and human like her. With a heart as big as a bonfire, I thought.
So who was Olga? I reread my book. I remembered that I had not written a book with an evil black giant. It was something else altogether. Olga was the flawed heroine, and it seemed unfortunate to me that she could be misunderstood as much in our world as in her own.
The Giants in my story are cruel. In that world, Olga struggles to do the correct thing. She herself is cruel at times. She lies sometimes. She does many wrong things out of fear. In the end, she does the right thing out of a sense of hope. The children in the story learn to see her secret heart, and she uses her magic to protect them from giants more powerful than herself. And at the finale, she helps them face the most terrible giant of all, a giant named Fear.