At ages 4 and 7, siblings Ari and Geo Bonner notice who is depicted in the images around them. They are excited to see their favorite superheroes and princesses. They are proud to point out people they recognize in books and movies. And, sometimes, they are confused when they don’t see people who look like them.
It was this confusion that sparked the idea for A Child of God, a new children’s picture book by their parents, Chantel and Mauli Bonner.
In a scene from the book, two children are looking at a mural of angels, and one asks, “What about the angels, will they stop and stare? When they see that I may not have their same color hair?”
Mauli shared that this scene first took place not in the pages of the book, but in his son’s life.
“Being a person of color who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there isn’t much representation of people that look like our families [in artwork], and so my son was asking questions about the pictures: ‘Where are the Brown angels, Dad?’ ‘Are there Brown angels?’”
And that’s how the idea for A Child of God was born. The characters in the book learn valuable lessons, such as how we are all children of God, how we can be like Jesus no matter what we look like, and how God created diversity in everything. The message of the book is that God created one big diverse family.
Artwork by Morgan Bissant
“We have to find ways to teach our children that when they don’t see someone that looks like them, we are still one family,” Mauli says. “We are all like our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is our Brother, and God is [everyone’s] Father.”
Now that Mauli and Chantel have written their first book, they are surprised the idea didn’t come to them sooner. After all, it’s a perfect combination of both their careers. Music has always been a part of Mauli’s life: His love of singing started when he was a child, and now he is a member of his family’s popular singing group, the Bonner Family.
“Our spiritual growth, our bonding—it all happened through music,” Mauli says.
Mauli is a Grammy Award-winning songwriter and helps develop and record well-known pop singers, such as Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello, and Kesha.
Chantel’s career also involves personal development, but in a very different capacity. As a marriage and family therapist, Chantel works to provide trauma-informed therapy to children in the foster care system.
“Growing up in the inner city of Los Angeles, it was important for me to utilize my education to spread awareness about mental health in minority communities,” Chantel says.
Chantel initially pursued a teaching career, and she noticed that kids were always drawn to her classroom during lunchtime. She loved engaging in advising and mentoring her students and realized that counseling was truly her passion. So she pursued a master’s of marriage and family therapy at the University of Southern California and became a mental health clinician.
As they worked together on the book, Chantel’s and Mauli’s talents came together in harmony.
“It was really awesome to go through this with my wife and connect my lyrical experience with her educational background,” Mauli says. “As I focused on the rhythm and patterns, she was able to address the diversity and communication skills needed to begin these types of conversations.”
The art in the book was created by Morgan Bissant, an illustrator based in New Orleans who specializes in characters with varied skin tones. Chantel says it’s important for children of color to have diverse pictures, stories, and books because many don’t often see themselves in educational or developmental material.
“Children can begin to feel marginalized when they don’t frequently see themselves represented. I think children in dominant cultures also need diverse material so they can see that there are other races and cultures that share in their childhood experiences,” Chantel says. “It allows them to live a more inclusive upbringing by seeing these images.”
A key part of the book comes after the story—a page entirely focused on discussion topics created in partnership with Let’s Talk Sis, an Instagram account run by Latter-day Saints Alexis Janique Bradley and Chant Stutznegger that provides resources for important conversations about race, diversity, and connection. The page features topics such as “We were all created in the image of God, regardless of race or gender (see Genesis 1:26–27).” Those are accompanied by discussion questions such as “What does it mean that we are created in God’s image?” and “How can our actions make us more like Him?”
“It felt like such a great idea to bring [Alexis and Chantè] on to assist in the educational discussions that can happen,” Mauli says. “Kids are kids, and I think it’s one thing to write a book, but it’s another to have parents or teachers facilitate conversations with the little ones.”
Chantel has noticed that some parents worry about exposing their children to issues surrounding race too soon.
“I think some people shy away from the topic because they may feel uncomfortable discussing it, but I think at the end of the day what we should be focused on is celebrating—really celebrating—diversity,” Chantel says. “This book provides a way that we can have a positive learning experience in a very child-friendly way.”
Building People, Building Faith
Though they plan to write more books in the future, Mauli and Chantel are involved in a variety of other projects. They work together on their nonprofit foundation, Lift Up Voices, which hosts music workshops and group mentoring activities with youth in underserved areas.
Another recent project Mauli has worked on is the new film His Name Is Green Flake. The movie tells the story of an enslaved pioneer who served in Brigham Young’s vanguard pioneer company, trekking across the plains into what we know now as Salt Lake City. Mauli says there has sometimes been a tendency to avoid sharing the stories of enslaved pioneers, but, just as with the enslaved people in the Bible, we can draw strength from their stories.
“For whatever reason, many shy and steer away from talking about history when we’re addressing the African American experience. When we do that, we’re missing out on faith-building stories of great men and women who came before us,” Mauli says. “I look forward to being able to share this story of Green Flake.”
This is the first time Mauli has written a screenplay and the first time he has directed a film. Although it was challenging, the film has won numerous awards, including best film in festivals in Los Angeles, London, Venice, and many others. Mauli says God has guided him through the process, and with Him all things are possible.
In soothing verse, the father assures his children that everyone can look like Jesus and the angels by the things they do. As the family walks through their neighborhood, the father points out the beauty in God's creations, from flowers, all unique and different, to all the children in their community. This book will start conversations in your family about appreciating the beautiful differences among all of God's children, helping your children become better disciples of Christ.