The Hamilton Spectator

Teen helps young readers one diverse character at a time

Hamilton’s Ainara influences thousands of readers with her Instagram channel


Ainara Alleyne admits that reading is not a “very popular” activity at her age and that most people see reading as a chore.

“When your parents force you to read, or your teacher is making you read a book for a project, and you have a time limit and quizzes, you associate reading with stress,” Ainara said.

But the 13-year-old Hamiltonia­n is advocating for more “diverse, modern and fun” books for students.

The teenager has been influencin­g more than 8,000 followers on Instagram with her account “Ainara’s Bookshelf,” where she talks about current books whose authors and main characters are people of colour.

The idea of connecting with middle graders through social media came after Ainara — who is AfroLatina — noticed a lack of kid’s books from underrepre­sented communitie­s at her school and the local libraries.

Since then, she has reviewed books for the New York Times, acted as a reporter for CBC Kids News, and is Hamilton Public Library’s First Junior Librarian in Residence.

This year, Ainara is preparing to take her message to a bigger audience. Inspired by her Instagram content, the influencer recently launched a series on the marbleKids’ YouTube channel where she introduces her favourite diverse books and authors in her new series “Ainara’s Bookshelf.”

The series will also have its Canadian broadcast premiere on Feb. 2 at TVOKids. The episodes, both online and on TV, feature interviews with authors and celebritie­s — which were chosen based on books and writers Ainara is familiar with — such as David A. Robertson, Lawrence Hill, Jerry Craft, Claribel A. Ortega, and Peter Ramsey.

“It’s important to be in touch with the younger ages as well because if they are growing up with these books, it will be different,” Ainara said. “Instead of growing up and looking for diversity like I did, it’s always been there — that’s really important.”

Ainara said it’s rewarding to receive messages from teachers and parents who have shared or shown her videos in class or did an assignment on “Anaira’s Bookshelf.”

“This is why I do it, and this is what I am aiming for,” Ainara said. “To see messages of diversity and the importance of representa­tion when reading, and to see kids my age or younger actually listening means a lot to me.”

The series is a collaborat­ion with Ainara’s father, Shani Alleyne, who is also the executive producer of the series with the Hamilton-based Turtlebox Production­s.

Ainara and her dad share a similar love for books. “He’s definitely played a big role in my whole reading journey.”

Shani introduced his daughter to authors like Roald Dahl before she could read and encouraged Ainara to keep going by following the buddy reading system. Now, they exchange comic book recommenda­tions.

Ainara said a good way to get kids into a reading habit is to let them choose their books and decide how much they want to read daily.

“A lot of books we read in school are really old,” she said. “It’s not appealing to my generation. It’s important for teachers as well to get more modern books that kids might actually enjoy.”

Recently, Ainara brought her ideas to her own classroom and suggested a change to one of their reading assignment­s. “My classmates are very supportive (of my Instagram account), and they ask me for book recommenda­tions.”

Ainara said the teacher’s pick, “The Outsiders” — a coming-of-age novel by S.E. Hinton, published in 1967 — didn’t speak to her age group or represent the diversity of students in her class.

Instead, the teenager suggested “The First Rule of Punk,” a book published in 2018 by American author Celia C. Pérez, daughter of a Mexican mother and a Cuban father — which discussed the same topics as S.E. Hinton’s 56-year-old book but in a modern and diverse language.

“A few Spanish kids, like me, in my class were really happy to see themselves represente­d in this book as opposed to ‘The Outsiders,’ where all the characters are white. We enjoyed it a lot more.”

Ainara hopes the show reaches people, kids, and classrooms while inspiring others to keep reading and “getting the representa­tion in the books they deserve.”

Shelves organized by hardcover novels, paperback covers, and

another for graphic novels, early readers and children’s books take over the walls in Ainara’s bedroom. She said she has “too many” books.

Ainara has been made fun of for reading and called a nerd — “It’s the perfect word to describe me. That’s what I am, anyways. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. And I enjoy reading ” — she is not ashamed of her love for books.

“Reading helps me a lot in school work, so I know that I’m getting better grades in literacy, writing and even math,” Ainara said.

She doesn’t have many friends who read as much as her, but she is always trying to lend them books — which are her “most prized possession­s” so they don’t have to buy them.

Ainara added that most of her friends, including herself, read online comics like Webtoons — a digital comic site from South Korea. Thousands of stories across dozens of genres, including romance, comedy, action, fantasy, and horror, are available online.

When it comes to the future of her Instagram channel and series and its young audience, Ainara said it’s “definitely” going to change as she gets older. “Especially because now I’m starting to go into young adult books. But I won’t stop reviewing children’s books or middle-grade books.”

Ainara said “a lot of things” interest her. She loves performing but is also focused on spreading messages about diversity in literature, but she is still “figuring it out.”

Now, she is working on her writing skills and plans to have her first book out soon. “I do want to start with children’s books, and I have a couple of ideas.”

Kat Kelly Hayduk and Cam Hayduk, are partners at Turtlebox Production­s and in life, said it’s been “a joy” for them to amplify Ainara’s message and create something that is “expanding the world of a lot of young minds while introducin­g them to wonderful books and perspectiv­es.”

With a mission of “making meaningful fun,” the local production company said they didn’t want Ainara to sit in a studio like in an interview show.

“We evolved to travel and visit the authors in a setting that evoked the theme of the book,” Cam said.

The company said Hamilton’s Film Office supported the series

“The show speaks to the kids, not down to them. There is a gap in what’s being created for them,” Kat said.

When Ainara — who is also HPL’s ambassador — is not “pretty busy” speaking to teachers and students about the importance of literature she’s just a regular 13-year-old. She likes watching anime, having game nights with her family and playing sports. “I go to Barbados every year to visit family and unwind at the beach.”

“Ainara’s Bookshelf” is available on YouTube’s marbleKids channel and premiers on TVOKids Feb. 2 at 6 p.m.

 ?? CLEOPATRA'S CANVAS PHOTOGRAPH­Y TURTLEBOX PRODUCTION­OS ?? Ainara Alleyne, 13, loves connecting with her 8,000 followers on Instagram through "Ainara's Bookshelf.”
CLEOPATRA'S CANVAS PHOTOGRAPH­Y TURTLEBOX PRODUCTION­OS Ainara Alleyne, 13, loves connecting with her 8,000 followers on Instagram through "Ainara's Bookshelf.”

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