The importance of diversity in children's literature

June 1, 2021

In this episode of Here to Help, Indeed CEO Chris Hyams is joined by Curtis Box, Senior Corporate Counsel at Indeed and author of recently published children's book, Fox Eats: A Rainbow. Chris and Box speak about the importance of bringing more diversity to children’s literature — and Box shares how his daughter inspired him to write his first book with one simple question.

- Welcome everyone, I am Chris Hyams, CEO of Indeed. And welcome to the next episode of Here to Help. This is our look at how Indeed has been navigating the global impact of COVID-19. Today's May 24th, we are on day 447 of global work from home. And working from home has been a feature of all of our conversations over the past year on Here to Help and our guests have shared their personal stories of balancing these new demands with us. And what's clear is that no two stories are the same, and the pandemic has fundamentally changed our relationship with work and with life. And today I am joined by Curtis Box, Senior Corporate Counsel here at Indeed, and a recently published author with his debut children's book "Fox Eats a Rainbow." Curtis, thank you so much for joining me today.

- Thanks for having me, Chris.

- Well, let's start off where we always start these conversations with a check-in. How are you doing today, right now?

- Right now I'm pretty good. The weather's not great, but it's okay. I'm fresh out of birthday weekend. Last weekend was my birthday and it was great.

- Fantastic, well let's dive right in. I mentioned the beginning that you just published a book. Can you tell us a little bit about the role COVID played in the idea for the book and the story of how this came together?

- Yeah, good question. So with COVID everything froze, everything shut down. So vacation plans, friends and family gatherings, everything was done or stopped. So I realized I had a lot of free time, a lot of extra time at home and I was basically stuck or trapped in the house with a toddler. But I saw it as a great opportunity to slow down. I went through a period of time where I was living life quickly, and I thought I had to be on the go in order to be productive. And COVID gave me a chance to reassess that. Slow down and live in the moment, in the present. And so what I call mindful. I don't call it that, that's what it's called. It's being mindful of the present. And so I took that new perspective and applied it to parenting, becoming a mindful parent to this toddler. We were stuck together. I say stuck but it was really a great thing. So that said, I realized I wanted to pay more attention to her. So before COVID I was a great father. Took her to the park to get rid of some of that toddler energy. I read to her before bed, made sure she went to bed on time most nights. And it was great. But because of COVID, because I was able to slow down and really pay attention and be mindful, I like to say I graduated from being a father to being a dad where I was actively and intentional about every moment with Ruby. And fast forward to to one day at the park, she asked me. I don't know where, we had just finished playing soccer. Again, I do whatever I have to do to get that toddler energy out. And we were just playing soccer, headed back to the car. And I thought she was ready for a nap because she was very quiet. And she said, would Fox eat orange, in that exact phrase. "Would Fox eat orange?" And I almost did the dad, the typical father thing which is no fox won't eat an orange, foxes eat rabbits or squirrels or whatever. I don't know what foxes eat. But the point is I almost corrected her, gave her the accurate answer. But again, being a mindful parent I decided to entertain it. Because I realized in that moment she was having this inner dialogue. Not once did we talk about foxes that day. And we typically oranges are part of our breakfast. So I wasn't surprised about the oranges, but for her to connect those two in that moment after soccer told me she had some type of inner dialogue happening even if I'm not privy to it. She's thinking actively. And I was just given the opportunity to join in that conversation with this interesting question, "Would fox eat orange?" And so I entertained it. I took it as an opportunity to embrace her imagination. So I said, "Maybe a Fox would eat orange. What do you mean? Tell me more." I let her do the talking. And I took that from being an attorney it's in negotiation. The one who speaks first is probably the one not going to be as happy at the end of the negotiation. So I put it back on her. "You tell me what would a fox eat?" And she matter-of-factly explained to me that a fox would in fact eat both the color orange and the fruit orange and I was blown away by again, this inner conversation that she was sharing with me and the fact that she was associating these things internally and sharing it with me. So it was a fascinating experience having those conversations, that was just one of many. And then of course, as any writer I kind of skipped this part I guess, but I write as a hobby and COVID allowed me to slow down and rediscover that passion as well to write. But as any writer, I was like this is good content. This is good material. It's better than what I'm coming up with in my head. So let me write this down. I took notes and and it eventually led to what you have there. "Fox Eats a Rainbow." We explored this fox curious, excuse me, curious about his world. And he explores his world by tasting it by eating. And it all started from that one question: "Would Fox eat orange?"

- I love the story so much. And I saw initially someone had shared your Kickstarter campaign. And so I'd seen this when you were raising the funds to get the book finished. And what I love about it, the parents and caregivers group at Indeed recently asked a few of us to answer the question. "What does it mean to be a parent?" Which is like what does it mean to be a human. I mean, it's a pretty big question. But one of the things that I said was that, I think part of the human condition is that we see the world through our own little narrow lens. And if you have kids, actually what I said was we have an opportunity if we pay attention to see things from another perspective. And I love that part of the story that you had that choice. Am I going to just say, no, foxes don't eat an orange or you sort of chose to look at the world from a different perspective. And so I guess I'm curious as a parent, what are some of the things that surprise you the most about the way Ruby sees the world?

- Yeah, you touched on it. She sees the world from her perspective and I didn't appreciate that before. I think, I mean I read a bunch of how to be a parent books or I skimmed them. I didn't finish most of them, let me not lie to you. But while expecting I did my due diligence as much as I could stand it. But no one really explains to you that this is a person. They're your child, son, daughter, what have you, but they're their own person. And eventually they start to show that independence. But before they show that independence, I think that independence starts internally. Kind of like with the question Ruby posed, "Would Fox eat orange?" She was having this conversation with herself before she invited me with this question. So I guess what surprised me most is that how early this inner dialogue starts to happen. She's only two years old. She'll be three in November, but she's already having this incredible, creative mind. And she's already able to associate things that I didn't expect her to. Now, I will say this. So "Fox" was my nickname growing up. That's a whole different conversation for a different day. But so I love foxes and so of course she loves foxes or at least I'll make sure she has lots of foxes in her room and in her environment. So the idea of the fox was not a surprise, they're everywhere in our home. But again, to see her connect a fox to an orange, color and fruit was completely surprising to me. So again, it was an opportunity for me to see how her mind is starting to work. And again, not to dismiss it trying to make sure she's correct and perfect, but giving her a chance to embrace her mind embrace her creativity and imagination.

- So as a writer, what was it like writing and publishing a book during a pandemic?

- Yeah, it was pretty tough. I mean, I just didn't know what I was doing at all. So, like I said, I've written my entire life just mostly for me. I've never written seriously for publishing or sharing it with... I share it with my circle. Most writers have a circle that they want to share their stuff with where they feel comfortable. But getting out of that comfort zone was pretty difficult. I mean, I wrote everything. I write poetry. I write short stories. I even wrote a screenplay once. This was many years ago. And it was really just my spin on "The Matrix" which was the hot movie at the time. So the screen play will never see the light of day but the point is I did a lot of writing. I have the content and I think the skill, but I've never written to the point that that I'm ready to share it and publish it with the world. And so I had to learn this entire industry brand new. What does it take to publish, what contents not necessarily sales, but what attracts people. Because a romance novel is not focused on the same audience as a children's book. And so it's common sense obviously, but there are little details and nuances in marketing, in communicating and connecting with your audience that I just didn't understand until this project. And so, yeah, the marketing was tough. Word of mouth is the most powerful tool you have in writing I think, especially with children's books. Because at least in my experience, parents want to hold the book. That is really the sale. They look at it, they feel it. It usually has some creative thing on the front or inside where the pages pop open and lift up. There's always something physical that really attracts you to the children's book. And so how could I overcome that fact when I'm just marketing and selling? It's a physical book, it's not a digital copy, but how do I overcome what I call the COVID gap? I can't get in front of you because of COVID to show you this book. But I love the idea that my daughter and I have come up with. So that was a whole, again another conversation for another day. But I figured that out with a lot of research, working with a lot of professionals in the industry, just getting advice and sending out a lot of cold emails. Most went on answered, but some people were friendly and wanted to help. And then I hired an illustrator on Fiverr. Fiverr it's just an app, a tool that allows you to hire freelance workers of all skills and I used it to hire an illustrator. I thought it was going to be a gamble. I mean, it was a gamble. I don't want to lie to you. It was a gamble because you can't meet this person. You have to hopefully work well together. And I shot out a piece of the manuscript to three different illustrators. And I wanted to see which one, I was kind of pitting them against each other without them knowing it. And one of them really stood out and that's the one that I eventually hired. He was able to see the vision in this little, a few words, a few lines from the manuscript. He saw my vision and took it somewhere that even I couldn't have imagined it could go once you're actually drawing it. And so I was like, "You're hired. Just drop whatever projects you have, you're my person from here until I decide I can't write anymore children's books." So great conversations, great partner to work with. So yeah, there was a lot of lessons learned. But it was a passion project. I didn't set out to get rich or anything. This was really about showing Ruby that her ideas and her creativity really mattered. When I first, very beginning when I started out, I just wanted to produce one unit. Just one book so she can have it on her bookshelf and say, "Look at what Daddy and I made." But in my research I realized I could do a lot more by sharing this book with a lot more people.

- Well, we usually only have a one guest at a time here on Here to Help. But would you like to bring Ruby on and maybe read us a short excerpt from "Fox Eats a Rainbow"

- I can do that. Yeah, which color should we read? What color is that?

- Red

- Red, okay let's see. "Fox Eats Red." All right, let's see. Apples, strawberries and cherries too. Chili peppers are red but don't taste like fruit. Careful little fox, this spice will burn your tongue. Yeah, we might breathe fire like a dragon. That's right. Crab and lobster to the rescue with the fire wagon. Red light scatters overhead as the lazy red sun crawls out of bed.

- What's over there?

- What's over there? That's a puma. So there's an excerpt. "Fox Eats Red" that's one of the colors, obviously. What's your favorite color?

- Red.

- Red is your favorite color. That's right.

- Why?

- I want to.

- 'Cause you want to. That's fair, good answer.

- That was wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. And thank you so much for joining us for Ruby. So Curtis when you are not creating new worlds of imagination you work as a senior corporate counsel here at Indeed. Can you talk about how in that role you help people get jobs?

- Yeah, great question. So I'm a technology lawyer. So I provide legal counsel to tech companies and product teams. The companies and the teams, they're the brains. They are the ones that figure out, you guys build and innovate. I provide the guidance so that whatever you build complies with the law that may be implicated. Sounds easy or maybe it doesn't sound so easy, but it's very complicated because your issue spotting in real time. Chris, you know all the things that you and your teams hope to build and develop to help people get jobs, they all can go in different directions. Your mission is the same. You want to help people get jobs, but my job is to dig into the details. When you say help people get jobs, my role is to really dig into each of those and understand what do you mean? What do you mean by help? How much help is too much or not enough, at least from a legal perspective. Who are the people? Are you negatively impacting some people by focusing here and are you being equitable and truly supportive to all people, those types of things. So I really dig into what it means when you guys are doing the smart things you do to build it, I'm looking at the details. What are we building and how are we helping people get jobs? And I guess in a way I advocate, not in a way. I do, I advocate for the job seeker. My role is to think and look around corners. You guys do the great things of building and innovating. Whereas I'm looking around the corner to see what things are we not considering or have we failed to consider in pursuit of this innovation, and how can we better serve the job seeker? And of course, how do we maintain compliance with the law, that goes without saying. That's just top of mind for everything that I do, but of course looking out for the job seeker and making sure that we have balance. I bring balance to that innovative process that we have here at Indeed.

- So I think for a lot of people looking at it from the outside, the law might feel incredibly rigid and prescriptive and there's a little very narrow path that you can navigate through. But you're a creative guy and what you're describing sounds a little more nuanced. Can you talk about what where is there room for creativity when it comes to the law?

- Yeah, good question. Not a lot, no, I'm kidding. You would be surprised. I mean, the law has a reputation for being rigid and inflexible, and in a lot of cases that's true. But at least in the space that we're in, where technology is being used to serve and produce things, there's more things unsettled than there are that are settled. So I guess another way to think about it is there are black and white topics, but a lot of what we do lives in this gray space and in that gray space is where creativity can happen. In my experience, there are three types of lawyers. The one type, and there's no order here no one better than the other but there are three. One is the "Rule Setter." They set rules in their respective industry. So for example, this type of lawyer wants to make sure that everyone is painting a penguin using the colors red and blue, that's type one. Type two, the type of lawyer is what I call, "Picture Perfect Lawyer." And I don't mean that facetiously or in a bad way, but this type of lawyer wants to make sure everyone is using the colors red and blue and they're coloring inside the lines as perfect as possible. And then there's the third type which is what I call, "The Creative Lawyer." This type of lawyer understands that the law is to paint a penguin and we have to use the colors red and blue, but this lawyer has the ability to see that there's nothing in the rules that stops you from giving your penguin wings of a dragon. This lawyer can also see that when you combine red and blue, the colors that were prescribed, you get purple. So again, this lawyer, this third type is focused on innovating within that gray space of the law. There's nothing stopping you from, in our example at least, from painting your penguin with the wings of a dragon using purple. And so I guess, yeah, those are the three types. You could probably break it down a little bit more, but in my view, in my experience those are the three types. So to answer your question, yes, you can be creative in the legal space. I mean honestly, my job is to be flexible. To understand what the Product Teams want to develop, how we want to help people get jobs. Identify what laws and regulations are implicated from that proposal and figure out how do we make it work? Together how do we paint that purple penguin with dragon wings? That's my job.

- I love that. That's fantastic. I will definitely ask the legal team in the future where the purple penguin with dragon wings are when we hit a brick wall. So one of the things that you talked about was the the importance of listening to different perspectives, both in your work as an attorney and with your daughter, how do you think about diversity within the legal profession?

- The short answer is not enough. There's a lot of room left, a lot of work left to do. But it's it's definitely critical. Diversity in the legal space whether you're an attorney or just a legal professional, it's critical. We need new perspectives in the law. And this isn't limited to the law, of course. But that's where I'll focus the conversation. We need those new perspectives. Our world is changing for the better. For a long time, the law was controlled by a select group of people who typically look the same, came from the same background. I'll just take the gloves off and say it. No offense, but for a long time the law was written, interpreted and administered by White males. So it's really no surprise that so much of the law focuses on that perspective. It really was developed from one dimension when as we understand our world is multi-dimensional. And so through diversity persons of color and underrepresented groups can really have proper representation on legal matters. And I don't just mean in the courtroom, representation in the courtroom. I mean representation of what issues, sociological issues are impacting these different groups of people and how can the law be developed to serve those people and to address those issues. In other words, their voices can now influence how the law and how those resources are administered. But honestly, in my mind diversity and inclusion in the legal profession or in the world, it really doesn't exist as long as we have to use the phrase, "underrepresented groups." We're not there if we still have a category of people that are "underrepresented." And so that's why I say the legal profession has a long way to go in terms of diversity as does the world but we are making progress.

- So representation, I think is an important part in talking to you also about some of the inspiration for the "Fox Eats" series. So the idea of the book was I think more than just listening to your daughter, but also bringing more diversity to children's literature. Can you talk a little bit about the meaning of that for you?

- Yeah, absolutely. And I mentioned earlier when I first started this, I just wanted to print one book. But I realized doing my research realizing that there's just not a lot of representation of underrepresented people. I'm annoyed with that but it is what it is. There's not a lot of representation for underrepresented people, especially in children's books. There's a stat out there from 2017 I think, apparently only 7% of new children's books published within 2017 in the year were written by Black, Latino, or Native authors. And that's just 2017. What about all the other years where books have being published? It's probably around that 7-10% mark where these groups that are already underrepresented in society, they don't have a place or a voice, a significant voice in children's literature. And so I saw this opportunity - this book "Fox Eats a Rainbow" - as an opportunity to change that lack of representation, to inject our voice, myself and my daughter, to inject our voice and our imagination into that world of children's literature. 'Cause representation means more than simply including or promoting images of people of color. It also means promoting thoughts, stories and adventures that are created from our unique perspective. So again, "Fox Eats" I just want to make clear so "Fox Eats" is actually a series. You have book one. So I'm excited about that. So we use the Kickstarter campaign to turn what was initially one book, one unit into a series. And so when I say "Fox Eats" that's the whole series. And we're going to hopefully keep creating books, creating content for that goal of sharing with the world our perspective, the Black imagination. Because unfortunately so much of the Black experience is based on trauma. Which those stories need to be shared, don't get me wrong. But they shouldn't limit, or there's more to the Black thought and the Black imagination than just the traumatic experiences that many of us go through. I think we have a lot to share, a lot to say that is not based on struggle. And I hope that "Fox Eats" can contribute to that fact and inspire others who have a story in them to share their journey as well that is not based on struggle or trauma.

- Well, as we wrap up here I always like to close out by asking. And I think to some degree this has maybe been the theme of a lot of what we've already covered. But can you talk about something that's happened over the past 14, 15 months that leaves you optimistic for the future?

- Yeah, that's a good question. So with this project, the community really came together and helped. They lifted Ruby and I up for this project. Like I said the Kickstarter campaign was a huge success. Of course, friends and family contributed, but then people that I would say are associates that I haven't really talked to or built a great connection with also contributed. And they really formed around us and helped us kick this project off. And like I mentioned there are more books on the way. The second book "Fox Eats the Solar System" is coming in a few months actually. I'm waiting on my proof, my author proofs to come in so I can make sure that it prints properly. So that's that. And then I'm writing a poetry book about mindful parenting, it's called "Coffee and Strawberries." which is Ruby and I - our breakfast. Obviously she doesn't have the coffee but I have the coffee and she eats the strawberries. And so I'm writing a poetry book that's inspired by our relationship. My perspective of our relationship. If "Fox Eats" is her perspective, this is my perspective. And then of course our Instagram community is growing a lot as well where I share some of our adventure and a lot of my writing. But that said, it's kind of hard to celebrate the personal wins without acknowledging the macro issues. Let's just be honest, hatred still lives. The Asian community has experienced unprovoked, unacceptable violence lately. Anti-Blackness never left. It may not be the latest hashtag but anti-Blackness is still here. So we have to acknowledge those truths that the systems that create this hatred, that create the George Floyd and those unnamed victims, that system is no less potent. So we can't, I say we. I'll say on a personal level it's hard to celebrate knowing how much work we have to do. But we as a community, as a people we have to remember that the real goal is to remember the value of human life. So however you identify, or whatever group you see yourself in, don't forget that the real goal is to value human life - period. And so we have a lot of work to do. So I celebrate personally, there's a lot of work to do in terms of human kind.

- Well Curtis, thank you so much for joining me today. Really beautiful conversation and thank you so much for everything you do for Indeed and helping people get jobs, but also really for sharing your and Ruby's vision with the world and looking forward to more from the "Fox Eats" series and more from Curtis Box.

- Thanks for having me, I really appreciate it.