Although Sandra Belton is the author of eleven books, she didn’t always want to be an author. She did, however, always want to be a storyteller—and story is certainly at the heart of Belton’s fiction.
Belton grew up in West Virginia, and after graduating from Howard University, she went into teaching. This path eventually let her to working in education technology. After writing books for the educational market, she took a chance and decided to write something that would bear her own name. This work eventually became From Miss Ida’s Porch, which Publishers Weekly praised as “a memorable and personal introduction to the larger issue of racial segregation.”
Belton’s latest novel, The Tallest Tree, was born from a true incident. A few years ago, she overheard a young person asking who Paul Robeson, and was immediately taken aback. “The idea that our young people have not heard the name of this Renaissance man of the twentieth century…blew my mind,” Belton said. Belton researched numerous sources, including Robeson’s biography, Here I Stand, before setting off to find a way to “talk about this hero without being didactic.” The result was The Tallest Tree, which Booklist called, “A realistic, hopeful story of finding one’s roots…” With the novel, Belton hoped to not only inform young people about Paul Robeson, but to also inspire her readers to investigate on their own. In the back matter of the novel, the author included a wealth of information including websites and book lists about Robeson.
The Tallest Tree was not Belton’s first foray into novels featuring famous African-Americans. From Miss Ida’s Porch celebrated the life of opera singer Marian Anderson, who, like Robeson, was a famed entertainer and activist. The novel, based on her own childhood community in West Virginia, is as much a celebration of family and community as it is of Anderson.
When asked why she writes for children, Belton called children “an honest audience,” stating, “I feel that if I can pull together imagery that would appeal to a kid—if I can hit that 10-14 year old group—I can affect an attitude…a way of thinking.”
Based on the number of books she’s written and fans she’s collected over the years, I think we’d have to agree that Sandra Belton has succeeded at her goal.