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Coloring book draws on diversity to empower young girls

It was 2014 and forensic psychologist Stephanie Tabashneck was running a support group for more than 100 homeless families at a hotel in Waltham, Massachusetts. Most of the people she worked with were ethnic and racial minorities, primarily African American, Somali, and Cuban. But when she purchased a batch of coloring books for a mother-daughter bonding activity, she found that they almost exclusively depicted thin, white girls with blonde hair. Many were dressed like princesses, belying the strength, intelligence, and diversity of the female population.

“It made me feel sad,” recalls Tabashneck, L’18, now a first-year student in Northeastern’s School of Law. “It sends a bad message to children of color about what they can achieve.”

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Stephanie Tabashneck, L’18.

After looking for coloring books that depicted non-white girls in positions of power and coming up empty-handed, Tabashneck decided to author her own. In short order, she hired an illustrator, worked up some design concepts, and then published Dream Big! More than a Princess in August 2015.

The coloring book consists of 25 illustrations of women in a variety of powerful careers, from surgeon and Fortune 500 CEO to biologist and president of the United States. Each drawing includes an aspirational phrase, reinforcing the potential for young girls to become trailblazers and changemakers: One phrase—“I’m going to be president and lead the country to a bright future!”—is printed above an illustration of an African American president delivering the State of the Union address. Another phrase—“I’m going to be a programmer and become a leader in technology”—is emblazoned above an African American computer scientist sitting at a desk with a computer and a coffee cup imprinted with the words “Code like a girl.”

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Each drawing includes an aspirational phrase, reinforcing the potential for young girls to become trailblazers and changemakers.

Dream Big—which has attracted press coverage from The Washington Post, Upworthy, and Ms. Magazine—is currently being used in low-income elementary schools throughout the country. It includes a copyright waiver, allowing schools to buy one book for $6.99 and then make as many copies as they want for their students.

“I hope that using the coloring book will lead girls to have bigger dreams,” said Tabashneck, who worked at the Waltham facility as part of her postdoctoral fellowship with William James College’s Center of Excellence for Children, Families, and the Law. “Instead of being a princess, maybe they’ll want to be a biologist or run for president.”

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