Malibu woman writes book celebrating inclusivity

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Betsy Hirsch Rosen with Grandson. Contributed photo.

Growing up in a pre-Sesame Street world, there wasn’t an abundance of books celebrating inclusivity and interracial friendships. Malibu’s Betsy Hirsch Rosen is changing that narrative for her grandson, Malibu children, and children all over with her first published book, “Black and White Friends.”

Rosen wants to encourage children to see the beauty in nature and embrace people’s differences, so, during a long period of downtime during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rosen set to do just that. As a retired occupational therapist, she had worked in all areas of her field but settled in pediatrics. Her experience working with disabled children and working in the school system gave her the ideal background on how children interact with one another and how they can learn. “Pediatrics has always been my first love so this book came very naturally to me,” the 13-year Malibu resident.

Although she “had it in her head for years,” Rosen was actually able to sit down and write the book during the pandemic when social gatherings were verboten. “COVID was a great opportunity to put it down on paper, find an illustrator — a really talented woman (Valerie Ann Wells) and get it published.” “Black and White Friends” was released in 2021. 

The book is geared toward children aged three to 10. 

“The three-year-olds love the pictures and the illustrations. It’s very colorful and very animated. All the animals in the book talk and form a friendship. The 10-year-olds get some of the jokes and subtle things that happen. 

“Having worked with children with differences and learning differences and motor differences and abilities, it was really easy for me to go this route and use “Black and White Friends” as a subtle way for people to appreciate people’s differences and see the beauty in differences and how they can get along,” the author said.

In the book, Rosen describes “a little journey that a zebra named Ziggy and his friend BeeBop, a bird, all black and white animals, meet other black and white animals as they walk into town and chat and become friends. It’s really just a nice little book about inclusiveness and seeing the beauty in people’s differences.” 

This creative outlet was a way to “subtly talk about everything that was going on in the news, especially in 2021. And my kids were always so beautifully inclusive of all,” Rosen recalled. She actually started dreaming about writing the book when her children were young but said she never had the time to pursue it. Her three children are all grown now, but Rosen remembered, “We always had people in our home of different backgrounds, different cultures. I learned a lot from them. People’s skin tone or color meant nothing. It was just beautiful.” When Rosen mentioned the book idea to one of her children’s childhood friends she says he said he thought it was a great idea and was very encouraging. “Now all my kids give this book to their friends when they have kids. It’s really kind of sweet,” Rosen commented.

Rosen herself is a grandparent now to one grandson. She incorporated the toddler, Max, into a character in the book who comments on animals he sees that are a mix of black and white. The book then becomes a good learning tool on awareness of all kinds of animals and their names for youngsters who are just learning about the varieties in the animal kingdom. In the book Max exclaims he wants to see animals of every color and is told he will. Rosen has at least two more books planned for a series. The future titles of the so far unwritten material will be called “Red and Blue Friends” and “Rainbow Friends,” that may explore differences between people and how people and characters come together in a common place of friendship and respect for one another. 

While the book may be titled, “Black and White Friends,” its pages are filled with color. The animals are black and white but they are surrounded by lots of vivid color on the pages. 

Rosen donated a copy of “Black and White Friends” to the Malibu Library.

The book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and FriesenPress, the publisher.