Published by Arsenal Pulp Press, The Name I Call Myself highlights Ari, a young person who doesn’t like to be called by their birth name. This engaging and beautiful picture book illustrated by alum Cathryn John (BDes 2018) and written by award-winning author Hasan Namir focusses on the story of Ari as they navigate the ins and outs of their gender identity.
Through their eyes, we see how they prefer princesses and dolls, want to grow out their hair, and struggle with the pressure put on them by their parents.
A sweet and moving picture book depicting Ari’s gender journey from childhood in order to discover who they really are. Moving from age six to adolescence, The Name I Call Myself depicts Ari’s tender, solitary gender journey made meaningful by unconditional love.
The book is impactful and important. We talked with Cathryn about her involvement in the project and bringing the story to life visually. Cathryn found out from a mutual friend that Hasan was looking for an illustrator for a new children’s book. “I was put in touch with Hasan through a mutual friend,” said Cathryn. “Once we got in touch, we knew we wanted to work together. We shared many values and knew that we would be able to work well together.”
Cathryn’s illustrations for The Name I Call Myself are imaginative, capturing childlike wonder and fear. The book highlights the mixed bag of emotions that Ari goes through in their journey of self-discovery. “I think it comes down to portraying the intended emotion of the character and reader through each illustration,” said Cathryn. “Coming from a design background, I approached the project from a design perspective.”
The designer worked closely with the author, going over each line of the text. “We discussed what we imagined and then how I could bring it to life,” said Cathryn. “It was important for me to know on each page, how Ari felt and how we wanted the reader to feel.”
Throughout the process, Cathryn noted that Hasan clearly explained his vision and the intended feelings throughout the book. “I then used visual metaphor to try to highlight those feelings while referencing back and augmenting the text,” said Cathryn. “A great children’s book should have the text and illustrations work together to create something greater than either would be on their own. I am lucky to work with such a talented author whose writing is so powerful.”
This book will certainly hit a chord with many families. The feedback the pair has received has been resoundingly positive. “We have received messages from a number of different readers all around the globe, that have found the story truly relatable and powerful,” shared Cathryn. “What is clear to me is that we need to work on having more representation in the publishing world.”
There have been a number of stories Cathryn and Hasan have received in response to the book, but there is one in particular that really stuck with Cathryn. “There was a mother that mentioned to us that it had brought her to tears because her child was going through something similar,” said Cathryn. “I’m so glad that our book has the power to help people see that they are not alone in their struggles and that no matter what, they are loved as they are.”
Cathryn expressed gratitude around support in bringing the book to life and urges people looking to purchase the work to consider your local bookstore. You can also get in touch with both the designer and author through social media. Cathryn can be found on Instagram and Hasan on Twitter.
The Name I Call Myself is available in most local bookstores. In Vancouver you can find it at Massy Books, Kinder Books, New Westminster Riverside Market, and nationally at most Chapters Indigo stores as well.
Hasan Namir is an Iraqi Canadian author who graduated from Simon Fraser University with a BA in English, and received the Ying Chen Creative Writing Student Award. He is the author of God in Pink (2015), which won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Fiction and was chosen as one of the Top 100 Books of 2015 by the Globe and Mail. His work has also been featured on Huffington Post, Shaw TV, Airbnb, and in the film God in Pink: A Documentary. In 2019, his poetry book War/Torn (Book*Hug Press) received acclaim, and he was recently named a writer to watch by CBC Books. Hasan lives with his husband, Tarn Khare, in Vancouver, and they are proud parents of a baby named Malek. Hasan loves TV, film, and Arabic music. He speaks Arabic and English fluently.
Cathryn John is a Vancouver-based illustrator and designer with a passion for social equity and the environment. She attended Emily Carr University, where she studied industrial design with a minor in social practices and community engagement. Cathryn is an award-winning designer for “The Plant Project,” which serves to improve people’s relationships with plants. This project was also features at the Museum of Vancouver “Why I Design” event in November 2018 and the PNE in the summer of 2019. She recently started her own business, Flo. Studios, where she does illustration, design, private lessons, and paint parties. Her practice includes a wide range of mediums from acrylic painting to ceramics and woodworking. Outside of work, Cathryn enjoys drinking a great cup of coffee in the morning, listening to audiobooks, hiking, and spending time with her family, friends and cat. She keeps a small garden and hopes to one day be mostly self-sufficient with a bit of a homestead.