When I first heard that less than two percent of children’s books published last year were written by African American authors, I was shocked. I felt blessed to be a published, black children’s book author, but saddened there were still so few of us in print. Sometimes we’re faced with big issues and it feels overwhelming, like the enormity of it can just swallow us up. Other times, we search for small ways we can chip away at the problem.
I found a way I could contribute when Paula invited me to be part of The Brown Bookshelf. The idea of belonging to a group dedicated to celebrating African-American children’s and YA authors filled with me with hope. It will take time for children’s book publishing to be more inclusive of African-American voices. But The Brown Bookshelf is embarking on a mission we can tackle right now — letting parents, librarians, teachers and others know about wonderful black authors and books they’ve written.
I had an experience recently that shows why that’s important. An African-American man came up to me at a Washington children’s book festival. I could tell from his frustrated expression that something was wrong. He said he wanted to buy a series with a black girl character as a Christmas gift for his young niece, but he had been told there were none out there. I’ve seen that look of pain before. I’ve seen it in the eyes of disappointed moms who find few children’s books by black authors in their local bookstores, in my own eyes as I’ve searched for a special book for my daughter.
But in this case, I could help. For nearly three years, I’ve facilitated a book club for African-American girls. After I found out his niece’s age, I recommended some series he could check out — Willimena Rules! by Valerie Wilson Wesley, the NEATE series by Just Us Books, Carmen Browne series by Stephanie Perry Moore. The man wrote down the titles and thanked me. His frustration was replaced with joy.
The books are there, but people have to know about them. That’s what The Brown Bookshelf is doing: We’re bringing children’s books written by African American authors from the margins to center stage. I’m so happy and proud to be part of this special initiative. Please pull up a seat and join our celebration: It’s show time.