Children’s literature can sometimes be very nuclear in its depictions of family life. Whilst it’s perfectly fine for heteronormative families to be featured in stories, films and other aspects of our lives, sometimes families that look different feel alienated. This is especially true for the children within these families.
Lee Newbery, an author based in Carmarthenshire, is helping break the mould by releasing his new book ‘The Last Firefox’. The story follows a boy called Charlie and his adventures as he becomes the accidental guardian of the Firefox. Coming through a magical portal, the magical creature radiates heat, with the severity of the heat dependent on the creature’s mood.
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“Suddenly, Charlie is the guardian of this magical, fiery secret. And he’s got to keep the secret safe from bullies from school. The story is all about Charlie finding his inner fire, learning to be brave and sticking up for himself,” Lee explained.
In the story, Charlie has two dads and is adopted. Whilst he wanted to bring awareness to this, Lee said he didn’t want the book to become too issue-led. Inspired heavily by his passion for Pokémon, Lee began writing at a young age but seriously pursued the book in his 20s.
“I tried writing [the story] when I was growing up, but it didn’t really work out. When I got to being in my 20s, and being married to Tom my husband, and starting the adoption process, there weren’t really any other books out there that I could see where the main character was adopted, or has two dads or two mums. That’s when I decided to write a book where that was the case, and Firefox just came together.”
Lee and his family are vocal on social media about their lives. Starting off as a simple diary to preserve precious memories, Lee and Tom quickly formed a community online amassing an impressive 25,000 followers. Showcasing their adventures, Lee and Tom’s life has injected positivity into thousands of people’s days.
“It simply started as a sort of diary for ourselves, but it started turning into so much more, and I think it’s because families like ours deserve a voice and we deserve visibility. There are so many families out there, and we get so many messages from them because you don’t see families like ours everyday. We’re lucky because we have a network around us now. I think for adoptive families to see ones like them, doing normal things and going on adventures, it gives them a voice.
“And I think as well in this climate, the news isn’t really nice a lot of the time, so it’s good to spread some joy. Just to see how a normal family like ours, the happiness that exists, it shows that it’s not all trauma. We are just like any other family out there.”
Charlie and his family within the story strongly resemble Lee’s life. Seeing that there wasn’t much literature out there that his son could relate to, Lee decided to create a book that would cater to his son and children in similar situations.
“So I wanted him to grow up seeing himself in not just the books that he reads, but also, you know, all the stories that he consumes, whether it’s books, films, video games, comics, anything really. And I wanted that to start at home. So I really wanted him to be able to open books from a young age and see families like his.
“I think everybody deserves representation. But it is still lacking for same sex families and adoption in literature. So I really wanted that to start at home for him to see, you know, books can be like a mirror, so he can see himself in the books that he reads. He’ll open up the book and he’ll say ‘look it’s daddy and dadda’, so that’s lovely that already he’s relating that to his own family and the community around him.”
Released with PuffinBooks, The Last Firefox has been a huge success with thousands of people grabbing a copy and delving into the story.
“I wasn’t expecting it to do as well as it’s done, which has been fantastic. There’s been lots of families reaching out to us and saying that they’re reading the book to their children and they jump for joy because they see a family like theirs. We’re surrounded by these heteronormative families most of the time in literature, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But our kids might not relate as much.” You can subscribe to our Carmarthenshire newsletter to keep up to date with news from across the area here.