Voices of Change: A Parent Speaks

October 16, 2017

by Brenda Payne Whiteman

I love my blackness
Good to know who I am
Hailing from my parents’ and ancestors’
Collective womb
Nurturing, strong and proud

I face a cold world
When pain is inflicted
With words that cut into my heart
Sharp as a knife
By looks that burn a hole in my soul

I feel invisible at times in a sea of whiteness
By those encaged in bold, cocky entitlement
Basking in their reality

I have news
The world does not revolve
Around you
It revolves around us all

We all share this planet
As human beings
Who laugh, cry, and bleed the same red
No one is more supreme than you or me
We all have something to give

Brenda Payne Whiteman is an aspiring children’s picture book writer and a member of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is a parent, age 58.

Read about Voices of Change on The Brown Bookshelf.

The Brown Bookshelf opens up this space to you — to young readers, to parents and caregivers, to educators, and all who work directly with children and teens. See previous entries here.

What are you thinking? How are you feeling about what is happening in our towns and cities, our world? Where do we go from here? What would you like to see happen? What do you want to do? How can we offer our support?

Please feel free to share your words and/or images with us, by sending them to teambrownbookshelf@gmail.com. And we will post them here. Posts with profanity, explicit imagery, etc will not be accepted or published. Unless a contributor requests otherwise, we will share first initials, age and/or position only.


Call for Submissions – 28 Days Later

October 11, 2017

28dayslaterlogoIt’s that time. The submissions window has officially opened for the 11th annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of black children’s book creators. We will take nominations today through November 10th.

Over the past decade, we have proudly saluted more than 250 authors and illustrators through our signature initiative. But there are so many more who deserve to be showcased.

That’s where you come in. Help us identify under-the-radar and vanguard black children’s book creators we should consider featuring. Let us know who we should check out so we can give them the praise they’ve earned.

After the submissions window closes, we’ll research the names you’ve submitted and our internal nominations. Then, we’ll choose the stand-outs who will be the next class of 28 Days Later honorees. The celebration of their work begins February 1.

Too often, the work of black authors and illustrators goes unsung. With 28 Days Later, we put these talents in front of the folks who can get their books into the hands of kids – librarians, teachers, parents and booksellers among others.

Nominate your favorites in the comments section. Please note that due to the limited resources of the team, we can only take nominations of traditionally published books. We may highlight a small number of self-published children’s book creators for the 28 Days Later campaign, but these authors and illustrators will be internally nominated.

You can check out past honorees in the 28 Days Later pull-down tab in the menu above. If you could make sure your nominee hasn’t already been featured, that would be a great help.

Spread the word and nominate often. With your support, we can make a difference. Thank you.

Voices of Change: Youth Speak

October 2, 2017



Artwork by JGL, 13




-by A, 13

Strove through strife
A motto for Black children
Blackness is excellence
We are not too dark to be noticed
It is not a reason for abuse
Blackness is beauty
They tried to shape our hands
To fit only chains
We made a fist.
To show love
In our community
To hold a pen
Mightier than a sword
To hold a microphone
That ensures we will be heard–
Say it loud
Be it loud
Black and proud.





What are you thinking? How are you feeling about what is happening in our towns and cities, our world? Where do we go from here? What would you like to see happen? What do you want to do? How can we offer our support?


Your lives matter. The Brown Bookshelf opens up this space to you — to young readers, to parents and caregivers, to educators, and all who work directly with children and teens.

Send your submission to teambrownbookshelf@gmail.com


Please feel free to share your words and/or images with us, by sending them to teambrownbookshelf@gmail.com. And we will post them here (Unless a contributor requests otherwise, we will share first initials, age and/or position only.)

Read this for more about Voices of Change on The Brown Bookshelf.














Voices of Change: A New Series on the Brown Bookshelf

October 2, 2017

illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

“As we struggle to bridge the chasm and search for common ground, we must remember our strength, show our resilience and think of the children.”

Those were the words of the Brown Bookshelf’s Declaration in Support of Children in November of 2016, and we reaffirm that commitment. In the wake of continued violence, bigotry, and state-sanctioned expressions of hate across the country, we are thinking of you, our readers, every day. It takes love and courage to stand up for what’s right. There is only one side in the fight against evil. One of our promises was to listen, and that promise stands stronger than ever.

Your lives matter. The Brown Bookshelf opens up this space to you — to young readers, to parents and caregivers, to educators, and all who work directly with children and teens.

What are you thinking? How are you feeling about what is happening in our towns and cities, our world? Where do we go from here? What would you like to see happen? What do you want to do? How can we offer our support?

Please feel free to share your words and/or images with us, by sending them to teambrownbookshelf@gmail.com. And we will post them here (Unless a contributor requests otherwise, we will share first initials, age and/or position only.)

We begin with reflections from two young people, a poem and work of illustration.

Educators are using the hashtags #CharlottesvilleCurriculum, #CharlottesvilleSyllabus, #TeachResistance, #ImmigrationSyllabus on Twitter to share resources related to these issues. Scholars, writers, artists, and activists have begun to collect resources that can be helpful in your classroom, library, and home. In the wake of the hate crimes in Charlottesville, VA, there are a number of “Charlottesville Syllabi” available free online, such as The University of Virginia Graduate Student Coalition’s zine that continues to be updated and revised, and the jstor compendium. The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility offers a number of free classroom resources, including this one on DACA, this on responding to violence like a mass shooting, and another to foster a sense of connection between young people, their communities, their world. Teaching for Change shares a bibliography and other resources on Puerto Rico’s past and present. Teaching Tolerance also offers some tips on discussing the crises in places like Puerto Rico, and Rethinking Schools shares the stories of student activism.

We continue to “plant seeds of empathy, fairness and empowerment through words and pictures.” In keeping with the Brown Bookshelf’s mission to celebrate Black creators of children’s literature, we’d like to share a few titles that we think can promote justice during these times: please feel free to share your recommendations in the comments.

Touch, by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

    Picture Books


Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation
By Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub

Tiny Stitches
By Gwendolyn Hooks

If You Were a Kid During the Civil Rights Movement
By Gwendolyn Hooks

Milo’s Museum
By Zetta Elliott

We March
By Shane W. Evans

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton
By Don Tate

One Million Men and Me
Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Peter Ambush

Afro-Bets Book of Black Heroes
By Wade Hudson, Valerie Wilson Wesley

The Great Migration: Journey to the North
By Eloise Greenfield

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer
By Carole Boston Weatherford

White Socks Only
By Evelyn Coleman

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Be Malcolm X
By Ilyasah Shabazz

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World
By Christine King Farris

Preaching to the Chickens
By Jabari Asim

As Fast As Words Could Fly
By Pamela M. Tuck

Goin’ Someplace Special
By Patricia C. McKissack

Freedom on the Menu
By Carole Boston Weatherford

The Other Side
By Jacqueline Woodson

Freedom Train
By Evelyn Coleman

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down
By Andrea Davis Pinkney

Child of the Civil Rights Movement
By Paula Young Shelton

By Nikki Giovanni

Coretta Scott
By Ntozake Shange

Sweet Smell of Roses
By Angela Johnson

    Middle Grade


The Watsons Go to Birmingham
By Christopher Paul Curtis

The Laura Line
By Crystal Allen

Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales
By Virginia Hamilton

One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven, Gone Crazy in Alabama (Gaither Sisters Trilogy)
By Rita Williams Garcia

Let It Shine! Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters
By Andrea Davis Pinkney

Through My Eyes
By Ruby Bridges

Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls
By Tonya Bolden

Maritcha: A 19th Century American Girl
By Tonya Bolden

Midnight Without a Moon
By Linda Williams Jackson


    Young Adult


March Trilogy
By Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Piecing Me Together
By Renée Watson

This Side of Home
By Renée Watson

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas

Dear Martin
Nic Stone

Parable of the Sower
By Octavia Butler

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom
By Lynda Blackmon Lowery

Brown Girl Dreaming
By Jacqueline Woodson

The Rock And The River
By Kekla Magoon








Throwback Thursday: Jesmyn Ward

September 28, 2017

Since this post was published in 2015, Jesmyn Ward has come out with two new titles: The Fire This Time is an anthological response to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time which addressed race on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. In Ward’s anthology several writers reexamine race in America. Sing, Unburied, Sing is due out this month and is being hailed as a Southern road novel reminiscent of The Odyssey and the Old Testament. She also teaches at Tulane University.

The original post follows.

Where the Line Bleeds.

Salvage the Bones.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir.

If you have not been previously acquainted with the work of author Jesmyn Ward, consider today your lucky day.


Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi, a small rural community with which she had a “love-hate relationship.” These hometown experiences have informed each of her three novels to date. While not technically published under the banner of children’s literature, Ward’s novels are particularly suited to the older YA audience due to the ages of the characters and the relevancy of their themes. Her pre-publication literary accomplishments are substantial: an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan (where she received five Hopwood Awards); a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University(2008-2010); a John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence at The University of Mississippi (2010-2011). She currently serves as Associate Professor of English at Tulane University.


Shortly after receiving her MFA, Ward and her family were forced to flee their flooding home by Hurricane Katrina. Where the Line Bleeds (Agate Publishing, 2008) is Ward’s first published novel. It is the story of twin brothers who grow increasingly estranged after one of them begins to sell drugs to assuage the family’s post-Katrina financial burdens. It endured three years of rejection before finding a home at Agate.


The prolonged devastation Ward encountered day to day–driving back and forth through ravaged neighborhoods on her way to work at the University of New Orleans–rendered her mentally and emotionally unable to write anything new during the three years it took her first novel to sell. Landing her first book deal, however, inspired Ward to pick up the proverbial pen again. Her renewed efforts produced Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury USA, 2011) which, although roundly ignored by the literary community upon publication, ended up winning the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction. Post-nomination, it was suddenly and profusely well-reviewed. Another rich tale centered around Katrina, Salvage the Bones chronicles twelve days in the lives of a pregnant teen, Esch, her three brothers and her father. The twelve-day account includes the ten days leading up to the storm, the day it hits, and the day after. According to the book’s copy, it is “[a] big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty…muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.”


Men We Reaped: A Memoir (Bloomsbury USA, 2013) is Ward’s most recent book. It is a reflection on her personal experience with the death of five young men in her life (including her brother). Causes of death range from suicide to drugs to accidents to the plain old “bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men.” In a starred review, Kirkus called it “[a]n assured yet scarifying memoir by young, supremely gifted novelist Ward…A modern rejoinder to Black Like MeBeloved and other stories of struggle and redemption–beautifully written, if sometimes too sad to bear.”


In her acceptance speech for the National Book Award, Ward said this about the motivation behind her writing: “I understood that I wanted to write about the experiences of the poor, and the black and the rural people of the South…so that the culture that marginalized us for so long would see that our stories were as universal, our lives as fraught and lovely and important, as theirs.” This sensibility makes her novels significant mirror and window books for mature teens of all ethnicities and backgrounds.


If you had not been previously acquainted with the work of author Jesmyn Ward, I hope you’ll consider today your lucky day. I certainly do.

Throwback Thursday: Charles R. Smith, Jr.

August 24, 2017

Charles R. Smith, Jr.

“This was my first book and it came about by accident,” says Charles R. Smith, Jr. regarding his first book for children, Rimshots: Basketball Pix, Rolls and Rhythms (Dutton, 1999).   In the years that have followed this work of happenstance, Smith has written, or photo-illustrated (or both!) more than 20 titles for young readers, including: Hoop Kings and Hoop Queens; Brown Sugar Babies; Loki and Alex; I Am America; Dance With Me; The Mighty 12: Superheroes of Greek Myth; and My People (Ginee Seo, 2009), recent winner of the 2010 Coretta Scott King Book Award for Illustration.

Smith, the husband and father of two, is a graduate of the Brooks Institute of Photography, and a California native who currently resides in Poughkeepsie, New York. Prior to his career in children’s literature, he worked as a freelance photographer doing magazine shoots, novel covers and even projects for a cruise line. Smith is also an ardent sports fan—with a particular passion for the game of basketball.

Over the past decade, Smith has published an array of books for children ages pre-K through young adult, with some of the most highly esteemed publishing houses in the business:  Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, Scholastic, Candlewick, and Ginee Seo/Atheneum. Still, of the project that jumpstarted his career in children’s literature, Smith says, “If there was no Rimshots, there are no other books.” On behalf of the kidlit community, thank goodness there was a Rimshots!

On this final day of our 28 Days Later campaign, we present our final Spotlight feature: Mr. Charles R. Smith, Jr.


BBS:    Charles, welcome to The Brown Bookshelf…and congratulations on your CSK win!

CRS:    Thanks for featuring me.

BBS:    Where were you when you found out the news?

CRS:    I was actually eating breakfast and had my son grab my cellphone off the charger. Since it was charging, I never heard it ring. He saw that there were two missed calls and I had to figure out who would be calling me so early during the week. My wife thought that the awards might be given that day so she dashed into her office and looked up the awards and they had literally just announced that I had won. I guess the only number they had was my cell phone. I’ve made it a point to keep it on my nightstand now.
BBS:    What have these past weeks been like since you won—both personally and career-wise?

CRS:    Personally, it’s been great because when you do what I do, you’re pretty much alone, but with the award came press and local publicity which drew attention from friends and colleagues. Career-wise, it’s already opened doors to projects that use photography. The old knock that photography doesn’t do well seems to be moot now.

BBS:    You won for your book MY PEOPLE, a photo-illustrated version of the brief, but poignant Langston Hughes poem. Your pictures in this book are beautiful and resonant.  How did this project come to be?

CRS:    I had always loved the poem and considered doing photos for it for a while, but since it was so short, I wasn’t sure it could be done. Finally, at one point, I just broke it down page wise and saw that it would be very simple but strong with so few words.

BBS:    I’ve read how your first book, RIMSHOTS, came about, and find the story fascinating. Recount for us how one of your greatest passions, your acquired technical skills, and your natural abilities—all converged at one point in time, and set you on the path to a whole new career.
CRS:    I truly believe that we create our own luck. That book (Rimshots) came about in the oddest way, because I wasn’t there to sell a book at all; I was there to do photos for a jacket. Nonetheless my skill in photography was there and my passion for writing was there and since I had been hustling my tail off until that point, it was only fitting that things happen the way they did. One thing I’ve learned is that if you do something you love, then that love will shine through and it can’t help but be noticed. Those basketball photos were done for the sheer love of the game. My skill in photography allowed me to share that love with others.

BBS:    Your love for sports, especially basketball, is evidenced in the majority of your books to date. What’s your first memory of the game…how’d you fall in love with it? Why do you think it still occupies such a prominent place in your heart today?

CRS:    When kids ask me why I love basketball, I ask them the same question and get a million different answers, but the primary one is simply that it’s fun. I can’t remember my earliest memory, but my childhood is filled with memories of the game being played with my father and family and friends. That’s probably what I remember the most; the connection with all the people. I have two boys now and we have a hoop in the backyard and I look forward to teaching them things my father taught me, about ball and life.

BBS:    You are one who is equally writer and illustrator. You even have books where you’ve served as writer, solely (the graphic novel, THE MIGHTY 12: SUPERHEROES OF GREEK MYTH; LET’S PLAY BASEBALL and LET’S PLAY BASKETBALL). At what point in your life did you first start writing? Did you ever take any courses or workshops to develop your talent in this area?

CRS:    I’ve been writing for enjoyment as long as I can remember. While in school, we all have our favorite subjects and writing just happened to be mine. What I do remember standing out is that I always had a big vocabulary and knack for words. Probably because my parents emphasized education and my mom was always telling me to look up a word in the dictionary if I asked her how to spell it. I was in honors English all through high school but the college I went to was an all photography school, so I didn’t get to really study my writing. I actually think that’s a good thing, because writing is a very individual thing and if you study with a group of people, you can all end up sounding similar because you’re constantly listening to others critique your work. On my own, I just relied on knowledge gained through reading lots of books through the years.

BBS:    DANCE WITH ME (illustrated by Noah Z. Jones) is a popular picture book for the pre-K set that you authored. How did you come up with the idea for this one?

CRS:    That actually came from seeing my oldest son (who, at the time was about 3) dance when music was played. I wanted to do something for that age set and something musical made sense.

BBS:    Let me ask you about CHAMELEON, the first YA novel you’ve published. As a writer, how was the transition from crafting picture books, to crafting a novel?

CRS:    To me, they’re all words. It’s just how they’re put together. Picture books are not easy because you have to be mindful of page count, so you choose your words carefully. In a novel, you can use as many words as you need. In that regard it was much easier. When I would re-read what I had written, I just asked myself if I wanted to read more. I try to keep it real simple.

BBS:    While your photographs are all phenomenal, I must say I’ve got special fuzzies for your “baby” books:  the BABY LOVE board book series, and the one that started it all, BROWN SUGAR BABIES.  The text is pure and simple, the pictures beyond adorable.  And the only project direction you had for BROWN SUGAR BABIES was a title, is that right?

CRS:    Basically. I had a meeting with Andrea Davis Pinkney and she just wanted to do something that focused on diversity regarding blackness. The first thing that popped into my head when she said the title was Sugar Babies the candy. That led to treats that we often use to describe ourselves like honey or caramel or chocolate.

BBS:    Your children have inspired your work. Of course, so have sports.  Is there any other person, place or thing that spurs your creativity?

CRS:    As an artist I’m really just inspired everyday by life. The best way I like to describe it to kids is that I’m a raw nerve and everything triggers something in my brain. I could be speaking at a school and hear a child’s unique name and questions pop into my head like, why did their parents name them that? Or, how will that affect them when they’re older? Or, who else in that family had that name? What were they like? Things like that. My mind is ALWAYS going, but I think that’s the case with any creative artist; painter, photographer, actor, musician, etc. We see the everyday and take something creative out of it.

BBS:    What’s been the most difficult professional obstacle you’ve had to face thus far?
CRS:    The biggest obstacle probably has to be, editors and others asking, what am I? Am I a photographer who writes? Or a writer who take pictures? These questions are posed to me in a roundabout way, because I just consider myself an artist; I create. I’ve done a CD where I did the music, but I don’t call myself a musician. I’ve done some acting, but I don’t call myself an actor. I’m simply an artist. When people are used to artists doing one thing, they have an idea of what they can do, but once they start doing very different things (such as writing and photography) it confuses them because they don’t know the skill level you might possess in each. The biggest thing the CSK award has done is open people’s eyes to my talents. I also received the CSK Author’s Honor award for (writing) my book, Twelve Rounds to Glory, about Muhammad Ali. Now that I’ve WON the award for illustration, people see that I’m serious about both.

BBS:    Is there anything you haven’t yet done in the childlit field that you’d still like to do?

CRS:    Well, I’m not dead yet, so there’s plenty left for me to do. I would love to do a few different novel series. I would particularly love to do a series that has the same appeal as Percy Jackson or Harry Potter but featuring black characters, without the focus on them being black. Black people could fly too ya know. :-0  I have many more biographies I’d like to do. I’d like to write a modern day Native Son. I’d like to write more novels that appeal specifically to boys, young black boys. I have tons that I’d like to do and I’ll keep creating until I heave my last breath.

BBS:    Charles, list five words that describe the traits aspiring authors and illustrators must have to achieve success in their craft.

CRS:    Confidence. Perseverance. Creativity. Teamwork. Discipline.

BBS:    What new projects are you working on?

CRS:    I’m currently working on a biography of Jimi Hendrix. It’s written as a song. Right now, it’s a long song, but that’ll change.

BBS:    I know this is an exciting, but crazy period for you. Thanks for taking time out to share your thoughts and experiences with us.

CRS:    No prob. It’s fun looking back on the past and forward to the future.

BBS:    A few more questions, I promise they won’t take long… Planned or pick up game?

CRS:    Pickup.

BBS:    Wood floors or concrete?

CRS:    For basketball, wood floors because of my knees.

BBS:    Hot Dogs or Nachos?

CRS:    Neither. Chips and salsa. (Hey, I’m a California boy!)

Critical Praise for My People:

” ‘At just thirty-three words total, [this] poem is a study in simplicity,’ writes Smith (Rimshots; If); in its visual simplicity, his picture-book presentation is a tour de force. Introducing the poem two or three words at a time, Smith pairs each phrase with a portrait of one or more African-Americans; printed in sepia, the faces of his subjects materialize on black pages. The night, reads the opening spread, across from an image of a mans face, his eyes shut; is beautiful, continues the next spread, showing the same face, now with eyes open and a wide smile. The text, sized big to balance the portraits, shows up in hues that range from white to tan to brown-black, reflecting Smiths reading that the words celebrate black people of differing shades and ages. An inventive design adds a short, shadowed row or column of small portraits to the edge of many spreads; these quietly reinforce the concept of my people. Whether of babies, children or adults, Smiths faces emerge into the light, displaying the best that humanity has to offer—intelligence, wisdom, curiosity, love and joy. Ages 4–8.”— Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

“Smith’s knack for pairing poetry and photography is well documented in books such as Hoop Queens (Candlewick, 2003) and Rudyard Kipling’s If (S & S, 2006). Here, his artful images engage in a lyrical and lively dance with Langston Hughes’s brief ode to black beauty. Dramatic sepia portraits of African Americans—ranging from a cherubic, chubby-cheeked toddler to a graying elder whose face is etched with lines-are bathed in shadows, which melt into black backgrounds. The 33 words are printed in an elegant font in varying sizes as emphasis dictates. In order to maximize the effect of the page turn and allow time for meaning to be absorbed, the short phrases and their respective visual narratives often spill over more than a spread. The conclusion offers a montage of faces created with varying exposures, a decision that provides a light-filled aura and the irregularities that suggest historical prints. A note from Smith describes his approach to the 1923 poem. This celebration of the particular and universal will draw a wide audience: storytime participants; students of poetry, photography, and cultural studies; seniors; families. A timely and timeless offering.”—Starred Review, School Library Journal

Learn More about Charles and his books at charlesrsmithjr.com

Grown Too Soon

August 7, 2017

Too many times we’ve heard the refrain “gone too soon” to allude to a life cut short. A wistful phrase lamenting the potential of one who has earned their wings prematurely. Sadly, the sentiment can also be applied to children of color and the premature death of their innocence.  But I’ll call it grown too soon, instead.

In Black culture, being “grown” is never confused with being a “grown up.”  Being a grown up means to reach adulthood and join the rat race, no matter how reluctantly.  To be grown, is to adopt adult mannerisms. This can be a sharp/sassy tongue, acting out or promiscuous behavior. If someone tells you you’re too grown, it ain’t nothing good. And it’s usually followed by a reprimand or worse.  Tressie McMillian Cottom (@tressiemcphd) covers the promiscuity aspect in an excellent NY Times Op-ed.

Few parents allow children to get away with being grown. Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, very few children of color have the luxury of maintaining child-like innocence beyond the age of 8. Both in my childhood experience and in raising my daughters, I’d say eight was about the time the world reached into our lives and dictated that it could no longer be sugar coated.

Sometimes the experience is a world event (9/11, school shootings, a certain Presidential campaign) and other times it’s more personal – like dealing with overt racism by a classmate. Whatever the situation, it requires the adult to shoot straight with the only thing that’s left, the ugly truth. They’re the conversations no parent likes to have because you know, at its end, you’ve stripped one more layer of innocence from your child.

We’re foolish to think we can keep chipping those layers away without it leading to a little grownness. At the very least, our children come away with a wary world-view made worse as incident after incident shows them how tough things can be when your skin has a tint.

Unless society changes drastically, this is simply the way things are for brown children. Luckily, many parents find ways to balance preparation for the real world with plenty of opportunities to let kids be kids.  And here, I applaud the authors of color who naturally portray this sticky wicket in our fiction. No heavy-handed lessons, just life as it is.

This matter hit home, recently, as I journey closer to the publication of my first MG novel, So Done. My wonderful editor sent over a sample book cover. I loved it. But the sample featured two young girls who looked years older than my 13-year-old characters. Despite the vivid color and fun lettering, the girls’ age was the first thing I noticed. The only, to be honest.

All I could think was – I don’t want these girls portrayed too grown. So Done’s underlying story showcases the adult issues facing the girls. I didn’t want them to look too mature lest anyone begin the age-old cycle of solely blaming young Black people for their grownness. You know the phrase  – “Well no wonder [fill in some offense that’s their fault], look how grown they look.”

I outlined these concerns and after quickly assuring me it was only a mock-up to squarely identify the artistic style and direction, my editor said something else important – that she understood my concerns. That they were noted.

I’d like more people to start there – understand and note the concern. Remember why so many Black kids and other children of color exude an air of seriousness or level of maturity that leans dangerously close to being grown. It’s not an act. And in most cases, the kid isn’t being disrespectful on purpose. They simply can’t unsee the world around them.

Being grown too soon is the reality of far too many of our kids. In order to provide well-rounded depictions of our children, authors of color must be at the table to show exactly how kids are still able to be kids in spite of the grownness thrust upon them.