We are delighted to welcome Tanya Lloyd Kyi to the blog today.
Tanya Kyi is the author of more than 30 books for children and young adults. She writes about science, pop-culture, and places where the two overlap. Tanya has worked in the past as a graphic designer, an editor, and a dishwasher. (She considers herself entirely qualified for that last one.) Her favourite color is blue, her favourite food is cheese, and her favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time.
Discusses the brain science behind stereotypes. It’s very intriguing!
Blurb: An essential overview of the science behind stereotypes: from why our brains form them to how recognizing them can help us be less biased.
From the time we’re babies, our brains constantly sort and label the world around us — a skill that’s crucial for our survival. But, as adolescents are all too aware, there’s a tremendous downside: when we do this to groups of people it can cause great harm. Here’s a comprehensive introduction to the science behind stereotypes that will help young people make sense of why we classify people, and how we can change our thinking. It covers the history of identifying stereotypes, secret biases in our brains, and how stereotypes affect our sense of self. Most importantly, it covers current research into how science can help us overcome our biases, offering hope for a future where stereotypes are less prevalent and the world is more fair for everyone.
Received a starred review from Kirkus as well as other praise:
A must-read primer for change.―Kirkus Reviews, starred review
… fascinating …―Booklist
A worthwhile purchase … that will help readers recognize, understand, and eradicate stereotypes.―School Library Journal
Alongside Drew Shannon’s colourful illustrations [Lloyd Kyi] encapsulates key sociological and scientific research on racism and stereotyping.―New York Times
Thanks for joining us today, Tanya! This is such an intriguing topic, how did you come up with it?
One afternoon, I listened to a Hidden Brain podcast about implicit bias. That evening, my husband called from Edmonton, where he was giving the keynote speech at a conference. My husband is Asian Canadian and when he’d arrived at the conference venue, he’d been mistaken for the custodian. I thought… aha! That was implicit bias at work. I did some sleuthing to see if there was enough research about the topic to fill a children’s book, and there was so much fascinating material! I could have written three books on the subject.
Can you give us a short explanation of how science and stereotypes are related?
What do you see when you picture a senior citizen? What about a ballet dancer? Or an environmentalist? You probably picture an old grey-haired lady, maybe doing some knitting. You might imagine a girl in a tutu and a bearded guy in sandals. But those are generalizations. There are plenty of tennis-playing seniors, male ballet dancers, and suit-wearing environmentalists. Stereotypes live in the same place in our brain where we store implicit memory — things we know without necessarily remembering how we know them. You understand how to use scissors, you know the grass is green, and you believe ballet dancers wear tutus. Relying on our implicit memory for scissor use is fine, but when we allow our brains to supply us with snap-judgement images about people, we can be led astray by our own assumptions.
We don’t always realize we have biases (or maybe we hide them!), so scientists have to be tricky in order to study them. Sometimes they pretend to be studying something else, while actually watching what choices we make. Or they might ask us to make choices quickly, so we don’t have time to hide the stereotypes we hold. One of the most famous tests of bias is one developed by Harvard, and you can take it yourself, online. It’s called the Implicit Association Test
Can you give us a sneak peek of one or two of the activities that you have in your book to help people understand their own ways of thinking?
There’s so much we can do to combat the stereotypes in our own brains. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to write this book. If kids notice gender bias in toys, they can email the toy companies. If they want to make their school a more accepting place, they can volunteer to create a display of diverse books in the library. But one of the most researched things in all of stereotype science is called the contact hypothesis. A psychologist named Gordon Allport came up with the idea in the mid 1900s, and studies have been done in hundreds of countries since then. The contact hypothesis says that if you hang out with people who are different than you, you will hold fewer stereotypes. So the very best way to combat stereotypes? Make all sorts of friends!
What do you want young readers to get out of your book?
I’d love young readers to begin to recognize biases in the world around them, and to understand that they have the power to make change. You don’t have to get a university degree to combat stereotypes; you just have to pop by a GSA meeting at school, or redecorate your school computer lab in gender neutral themes, or pick up a book about characters who live in a different part of the world.
Do you have any tips for writers who want to break into nonfiction children’s books?
Information books for children have changed dramatically in the last decade, so don’t rely on your memories of your own school library shelves. Head to a local bookstore and check out the ways writers, illustrators, and publishers are using new formats and forms to capture kids’ attention.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just released a middle-grade novel called Emily Posts (published by Penguin Random House) and I have a picture book coming out called When You Meet a Dragon (illustrated by Udayana Lugo and published by Orca Books). While these aren’t information books, they were both inspired by research. Emily Posts is about a young influencer who encounters censorship while podcasting about the climate crisis, and When You Meet a Dragon is about the power of community to overcome existential, dragon-sized problems.
Thank you for having me, Jennifer! It’s an honor to be featured on your site.
You’re so welcome, Tanya. I loved learning more about how this book came to be, and I’m sure our readers did as well.