Last summer I sold my first book, an art guide on how to draw Japanese comics, also known as manga. This came after years of writing about manga, including their feminist aspects, and adapting manga into English. Afterwards, my publisher asked me if I had any ideas for Minecraft books, and I let my imagination loose.
Minecraft is an internationally bestselling video game that lets people build whatever they want with block-shaped items (but also lets you fight zombies and other monsters if you’d like). It can be played purely for fun, yet teachers find it’s useful in schools to teach subjects as diverse as math and history. The Minecraft books out there seemed pretty male-dominated when I took a look at what had already been published. I know very well, though, that a number of entertainment mediums deemed “male” (like video games or comics, for example) are important to girls, too, though some creators and companies seem unwilling to accept that fact. For years I’ve been a big comics fan and would love to see more women in comics, so I thought I could use this as an opportunity to make Minecraft books that focus on boys and girls equally.
I pitched a Minecraft novel called Escape from the Overworld, in which the main characters are two eleven-year-olds: a boy and a girl. The boy, Stevie, lives in the virtual Minecraft world and is feeling insecure about his building skills. When he discovers a portal into the real world, he meets a girl named Maison. Maison is being bullied at school because her tastes are not considered feminine enough. She enjoys baseball, building, and playing video games, and she wants to be an architect. Maison is hurt by the bullying, but she’s not willing to sacrifice who she is to please others. In the end, her special skills enable her to save her school.
In the book, I combine the real world and the fantasy of the Minecraft world. Yes, zombies do attack the school, which brings in the action and the fantasy of Minecraft, but I also wove in issues of bullying, female empowerment, and deconstructing gender roles.
I do think people are noticing the content. I see it when girls come to my author signings and realize that this book is not only about their favorite game, but that there is also a girl like them in it. I see mothers and fathers (especially fathers, in my personal experience) realize that there’s a Minecraft book out enables not just their sons, but also their daughters to find characters like them in the pages. For boys reading the book, they read it and get hooked into the story; they don’t think, “Well, Maison shouldn’t act that way because she’s a girl.” Maison acts that way because she’s Maison.
The book also caught the attention of Saving Our Cinderellas, a new celebrity-backed curriculum that works to fight bullying and mentor young girls of color in cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta. In the program, celebrity mentors like Grace Gealey from “Empire” and Shanola Hampton from “Shameless” teach girls everything from performance arts to personal empowerment. The curriculum wasn’t initially going to include books, but due the popularity of Minecraft and the power of Maison, I was honored when they offered to include Escape from the Overworld. Forbes also picked up on the anti-bullying, girl power angle in the book. A sequel, Attack on the Overworld, which deals with cyberbullying, will be out later this year.
Both Maison’s character and Saving Our Cinderellas are giving girls the means and encouragement to go after their interests and be rewarded for them, instead of being told, “You can’t do that,” which is something too many girls and women in our society hear. I know I’ve heard the phrase enough times when I’ve said I wanted to be a writer. I have always felt inclined to follow my dreams, so I’m always writing more and looking to publish more books. I hope that my writing can help encourage others to follow their dreams as well.