North Yorkshire author Christina Shingler, who features in one of a series of Black British Stories films commissioned by the BBC, has spoken about the importance of libraries and, in particular, what Ripon library has meant to her.
Ripon library provides a backdrop for part of the short film, in which Christina speaks to her ten-year-old grandson, Felix, about growing up in the city in the 1960s.
Her experience as a child and the opportunities afforded by visits to the library inspired her book, Princess Katrina and the Hair Charmer, which was unusual when it was published in 2004, because the main character was a black princess struggling with anxiety about her hair.
County Councillor Greg White, Executive Member for Libraries, said: “Our staff were happy to make the library available for filming, especially to support such important messages, not only the issue of hair discrimination addressed in Christina’s book, but also the value and rewards of developing an early love of books and reading.”
In the film, Christina says: “Growing up black with white foster parents in a small North Yorkshire town back in the ’60s had its challenges.
“When I went to school, I was one of only two black children. The thing that people seemed to notice most of all was my hair. They stared at it and they wanted to touch it and, of course, a lot of kids would say pretty mean things.
“I started to think that I had this beast that I would have to somehow learn to tame. And I think, in a way, what I did was escape into reading. From as young as I can remember, I used to go to the old library in Ripon.”
But it was difficult for Christina to picture herself as a princess in the stories she read, because they all had sleek, long, blonde hair, while her Afro “had no swishability about it at all”.
Christina’s book set out to redress the balance.
“When the book came out it was very innovative, because it was about a black princess and was celebrating Afro hair,” she said. “Since then that’s become a big thing, but it wasn’t when I did the book.”
The book is currently out of print, but Christina, who now lives in Harrogate, hopes interest in the BBC film might lead to it becoming available again.
“I am hoping the film might lead to a relaunch of the book, because a lot has happened since it first came out and I think there is a much larger interest now in the theme of it, which is celebrating what you’ve got, not trying to be something you’re not.”
Christina’s association with Ripon library has lasted throughout her life. Her job as a press and information officer for a number of government departments, including the Royal Household, meant that she was organising the media when the Prince of Wales officially opened the new Ripon library in September 2002. And for Black History Month last year Christina recorded a video on unconscious bias for the county’s library service.
She said: “The old library in Ripon was like an Aladdin’s cave to me. I suddenly thought the world opened up for me with Ripon library. Because although I was never reading about people like me it was like I suddenly had this world of literature and books at my feet. That was the beginning for me of a reading and a writing life.
“Libraries are the beginning for a lot of kids. That’s where that love of books starts and just seeing all those shelves full of books is marvellous.”
The Black British Stories film featuring Christina was screened on CBBC and the film is now available on BBC Teach, the broadcaster’s service for schools.
It is one of a series of ten made by production company CTVC.
Fellow Riponian Alastair Collinson, digital assistant producer with CTVC, said: “When the BBC commissioned CTVC Productions to make ten films about brilliant black individuals who have contributed to British history, I immediately thought of Tina Shingler as she is a lifelong friend of my mum and I've always been aware of her writing ambitions.
“I recalled she’d had Princess Katrina published back in 2004. Knowing the current low (but increasing) percentage of children’s books featuring black characters written by black authors, I thought attention should be called to Tina’s book. I felt she was ahead of the curve, the percentage was frighteningly low back then, and Princess Katrina brought into focus the subject of hair discrimination for people of colour when it wasn't a talking point like it is now.
“As a fellow Riponion, I thought it would be great to highlight our city and one of its brightest residents.”