In 1963, Sharon Langley became the first Black child to legally ride the carousel in Baltimore’s Gwynn Oak Amusement Park after it was finally desegregated. Langley shares both the historical and personal circumstances leading up to this momentous act in the lovely and well-reviewed picture book, A Ride to Remember, co-authored by Amy Nathan, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Langley is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University and holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Mount Saint Mary’s University. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California. We are proud to present today’s 28 Days Later honoree, debut author Sharon Langley!
28 Days Later Picture Book Honoree: Sharon Langley
A Ride To Remember tells the story of my family’s participation in the integration of Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, formerly in Baltimore, MD. (The carousel is now located in Washington, DC on The National Mall.) Amy Nathan, the book’s co-author, interviewed me and other people when researching an earlier book Round And Round Together. After the publication of the earlier book, she and I thought about collaborating to tell the story in picture book format for young readers and their families. I think A Ride to Remember found a home with Abrams because it tells an important, but little known Black history story and perhaps, the earlier book helped open the door.
I am inspired by Floyd Cooper, illustrator of A Ride To Remember. Once our editor had accepted the manuscript, securing an illustrator was the next step. I wanted someone whose illustrations depicted Black people and Black families in a warm, inviting way. I also wanted illustrations that could convey a difficult topic in an approachable way for readers. Floyd did that in such a masterful way.
I also admire several of my female writer colleagues, especially Nikki Grimes and Andrea J. Loney. Nikki for her ability to write successfully across genres. I had the opportunity to connect with her briefly once and I asked her specifically about, The Watcher – based on Psalm 121. I asked if she had any reservations about writing on a faith-based topic. Her answer was quick and direct. “I write what I want. It will find a home.” Her confident and unequivocating response was reassuring and inspiring.
Andrea J. Loney is a colleague, mentor, and friend. We met a few years ago when I attended SCWBI in Los Angeles. She’d published her first book Bunnybear and was starting author visits at libraries and bookstores. I attended one of her visits and listened to the story watching the children and parents enjoyment. I thought, “This is wonderful. Her words are reaching even the youngest listeners.” I took a few pictures and offered to share them with her afterwards. She was so kind and receptive, it helped me to feel prepared for my own author visits in the future. Fast forward to NCTE 2019. I was on a panel at 8:00 in the morning. (Now we’re both from the West Coast, so 8:00am is actually 5:00am to us!) The panel was just getting started and Andrea came in and sat down. She took pictures of me on the panel. Afterwards, we went to the big NCTE lime, green couch and had a photo session. And she posted the pictures and shouted me out on social media. It was such a warm welcome to the world of picture book writers. Since then, we’ve attended each other’s launch events and supported each other’s books.
I find that I need to keep a notebook (or two) with me at all times. I jot down “bits and bursts” of inspiration that come to me throughout the day. At a later time, when I look over my notes, I can decide which ideas interest me enough for further research, outlining, and drafting. Before I became a professional writer, my mother used to send me newspaper and magazine articles or photographs that she’d clipped because she thought I might find them interesting. Now, I keep folders on my computer desktop for screen grabs of inspiring ideas, including articles, photographs and of course, memes.
I tend to write from a rough outline: I try to have a sense of where I’m going with the story. If my research or additional information leads me to change my outline, that’s fine, too. The most important thing is to get my draft on the page. There will be plenty of time for revision. I’m a member of a critique group and a poetry workshop, so in addition to my own thoughts about what to revise, I share my writing with my group members. They will ask questions or offer suggestions and having my words read aloud by someone else helps my draft to take shape.
My favorite place to write is at the beach. (That’s an advantage to living in Southern California.) I can drive to the beach and be there in about 15-20 minutes. Being outside with the ocean breeze with the waves in the background is very relaxing. And sometimes working at the beach inspires another story idea.
The State of the Industry
I think we’re starting to see some understanding of Black people as diverse: every story, every character, every world does not depict every Black person. For these reasons, it’s important that more diverse Black writers and illustrators write more diverse books.
We’re also starting to understand the importance of the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop and the value of “mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors.” Children need, of course, to see themselves reflected in the pages of books. It’s validating and affirming. They (We) need stories of achievers and achievement, especially when they are seeking their own triumphs. And they (we) also need stories of people and worlds we did not know of before. These stories invite us to discover and explore worlds and peoples. And I’m convinced that “sliding glass doors” invite other people groups to discover, know and experience us, too.