There’s something special about celebrating family. And that’s what you become when you publish with Just Us Books. Katura J. Hudson is the director of marketing for the company her parents founded three decades ago. She has lovingly edited and promoted countless titles by Black children’s book creators including mine. It’s a joy to honor her.
An original AFRO-BETS kid, Katura created literary treasures like AFRO-BETS Quotes for Kids and Langston’s Legacy, an activity book written with her mom Cheryl honoring the contributions of the Harlem Renaissance poet. But last year, she added something new to her resume – picture book author. Her debut, I’m a Big Brother Now (illustrated by Sylvia Walker), is a sweet story that salutes the new role a little boy plays in the family. From helping prepare for the baby to learning the ropes of being a big brother, this story shines with warmth, charm and pride. The motto for Just Us Books is “Good Books Make a Difference.” I would like to add that good people make a difference.
Please join us in celebrating Katura’s outstanding work and commitment to Black children’s literature.
I think the biggest surprise is that I actually wanted to write a picture book. I always loved reading and I grew up in the industry. My first job outside of babysitting was with Just Us Books, the publishing company my parents founded. I started out doing administrative work after school, then graduated to larger roles in editorial and marketing. I was always behind the scenes – helping to select manuscripts, working with authors to develop them, then promoting the final books. I edited a number of books, and partnered with my mom to create an activity book about Langston Hughes called Langston’s Legacy. But one day, I had an idea for a picture book and fast forward several years to the publication of I’m A Big Brother Now.
My friends Kim and Crystal, and their families inspired me to write I’m A Big Brother Now. They both had boys and were having their second children. It made me think about what an important role the oldest sibling plays in the family. Full disclosure, I am the older sibling in my family.
In writing the manuscript, I drew a bit from my experience, but even more from what I remember seeing in other family interactions: first born children getting used to their new role in the family, learning to share their parents’ attention, discovering that being the oldest can be a lot of work. Sylvia Walker illustrated the book and I think she did a fantastic job of capturing those special moments and bringing the story to life.
It might be easier for me to take a photo of my bookshelves. I’m inspired by so many gifted creators – in kidlit and beyond. As a kid, my favorite books were Cornrows by Camille Yarbrough, Stevie by John Steptoe, and The Best Time of Day by Valerie Flournoy, illustrated by George Ford. I’m a words person – but the images he crafted in that book – I can picture them to this day and I haven’t opened that book in years.
I think Mildred Taylor was the first author I claimed as “favorite.” Two of my favorite writers today aren’t in children’s publishing: Tayari Jones and Aliya King. Their writing makes me want to write – right there in the middle of reading their words on the page.
Beyond people who create books, I’m inspired by people who love books. I went to the first Well Read Black Girl Festival in September 2017 and the energy was amazing. People who use the written word to empower, uplift, challenge – and people who allow words to do those things for them – they’re my kind of people.
I have an office with a nice cherry wood desk and several special notebooks. And of course, I don’t use any of that for writing. I write when words strike – no special location, no outline, no character sketch, no planning. “No planning” is weird for me, because I’m a planner in most other areas of life. But sitting down with the goal to write doesn’t work for me. Ideas come to me when I feel free – or when I’m supposed to be doing something else.
With I’m A Big Brother Now, the title came to me first. I don’t remember what I was doing at the time, but jotted down the title and didn’t write the manuscript until weeks later. I knew once I had the title, the manuscript would flow. And it did. My biggest challenge in writing is capturing ideas while they’re still fresh, and making sure I revisit them and develop them. I have lots of random sentences and ideas stashed in my Notes app and saved in drafts in my e-mail. There might be some good books there.
The State of the Industry
I was fortunate that as a young reader, I had parents who knew how and where to get
books that celebrated me as a Black girl, books that did more than skim the surface of Black history, books that were authentic and diverse in their representation of Black culture. They weren’t always easy to find, and there weren’t rows and rows of them at bookstores, but they bought all the great books they could – and eventually went on to create great books of their own.
The landscape of publishing has changed some since then. CCBC research shows that the number of diverse books has increased over the years. However, the number of diverse children’s book creators really hasn’t. So, we’re seeing more diverse books make it to bookstores, libraries, and schools — but we’re not seeing enough of an increase in the writers and illustrators of color who are creating books that make it to the marketplace. It seems like the issue of diversity in children’s book publishing resurfaces as a hot topic every few years. For some of us, it never stops being headline news. The most recent cycle focuses more on “own voices” – creators from underrepresented groups telling their own stories. We need more of that, and we need to do more to support writers and illustrators of color who are sharing their stories and the book sellers of color who are helping to get those books into our children’s hands.
“This book is great for boys who are about to become big brothers. Although there are some unpleasant things about babies, like ‘stinky diapers,’ nothing beats the love and affection you feel towards a new little bundle of joy. I adore this loving middle-class Black family, especially the responsible older brother and how he welcomes his new sibling into the family.”
– Read Brightly (Black Boy Joy by Charnaie Gordon)
“There’s plenty of room on the new-baby shelf for this sturdy big brother.”
Learn more at www.katurajhudson.com.