MI middle schooler explores identity, community & friendship in her new children’s book

March 12, 2021 | by Naomi Tomky

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When Naledi Tardif realized that a lot of other people on Mercer Island shared her feelings of not belonging in the community, the middle schooler decided to do something about it: she wrote a book.

Naledi Tardif, author of The Fish in the Pond

Fed up with people making her feel othered, inspired by her mother, and looking to embrace her own talent, she crafted a story about a fish named Edward and his bird friend, Hetty, to show kids how everyone’s identity has its own unique benefits.

In school, one of Naledi’s classmates told her, “I like your type of music.” When Naledi asked what that meant, her classmate told her “Black history music.” She heard about swastikas drawn at the school. She wanted to combat these incidents the best way she could, which she decided meant using her own passion as power: writing. 

“I wanted people to have a book that they could read and maybe feel like they belong even more.”

In The Fish in the Pond, Edward, feels left out as a fish among birds. Wrapped in the brightly colored illustrations, Naledi weaves a deeper lesson, using the birds as a metaphor for spreading one’s wings. 

“Edward embraces his identity through doing a lot of things that a bird would,” she explains. “And flying is one of them.” 

Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t work out for him. In the end, though, Edward’s swimming abilities end up saving a bird’s life. Instead of changing himself to fit in and learn to fly – an impossible task – he uses his own natural skills in the water. It echoes Naledi’s personal story, where she found a use for her gift for words. 

“Writing about different topics that affect me as well as other people helped me find my community more,” she says. 

Through her book, she hopes to make people feel more welcome and confident. 

“Edward’s success came from him being happy to be a fish and knowing that his talent is swimming,” she points out. 

She wants kids reading the book to see that the things that make them different can actually be assets, and that they can find community even among people who are not similar to them – like Edward’s friendship with the birds.

Naledi found inspiration both for her story and the writing of it in her mom, Lindi Tardif, herself the author of a memoir about growing up in Soweto as a Black woman in apartheid South Africa

“I wish my great-grandmother, Gertrude Dladla, was here to see this day,” says Lindi.

Naledi Tardif and Lindi Tardif, mother-daughter author duo

As a housekeeper to a white family and with minimal schooling of her own, Lindi’s ancestor saw the importance of self-discipline and education and made sure her daughters received one. Lindi’s grandmother trained to be a nurse and the push continued, with Lindi’s mother becoming an attorney. Now, Lindi is an attorney and a writer, and her daughter, Naledi, a writer herself. 

“I feel like she would be so proud,” says Lindi of her great-grandmother. “It’s a great story of progression through the generations.”

Lindi takes pride in the values she, too, passes down to her children – Naledi, her sister Amelia, and brother Abraham – describing them all as “politically astute and with a heart for serving others.” While she helped her daughter with getting the book illustrated and put up on Amazon, she underlines that the story belongs entirely to Naledi. 

“When I read the story,” Lindi says, “I noticed that forgiveness is such a central element of it, and I was just so touched by that.”

But she also hopes that people see that Edward doesn’t realize his own talent for swimming until a bird explains it to him. 

“It speaks to the importance of being surrounded by people who are supportive and can help us uncover who we truly are,” Lindi says. 

It’s a concept that Naledi’s foray into the writing world seems to prove that Lindi puts into practice with her family – and that Naledi is now doing for her community with The Fish in the Pond