Children in disadvantaged neighborhoods are subjected to the harsh realities of life from an early age. Encounters with loss, trauma, and racism become the first companions of many black youth, effectively stealing spaces that should be occupied in childhood development by imagination and wonder. In a world where children are forced to grow up fast, fantasy becomes a privilege, and “happiness forever” is less a promise than a joke in bad taste.
The KC Metro has a growing number of first-time writers, many of them self-published, in the black community who see the need to correct the lack of representation in children’s literature.
In May 2020, Dayonne Richardson joined this growing number. His first book I told the storm features a young black boy named Emry who navigates both figurative and literal storms in life.
“I wrote the whole book on the 14-hour plane ride home from a trip to China,” says Richardson. “When I landed I read it to my nephew and he kept wanting me to read it again.”
Richardson, who was born at KCK and has been a teacher there since 2012, was happy to create something that would apply to what she saw in her classroom as well as her daily life. His first book, published at the height of the COVID pandemic last year, found itself inundated with challenges and opportunities.
“I went out in some kind of storm,” says Richardson. “The pandemic, the racial unrest, everyone at home – it was a good platform for parents to have to help discuss these difficult issues and to have a way for parents to tell their parents. children: “Are you okay?” To ask their children what’s going on, and have another way [for kids to show parents they] agree instead of using anger and lashing out. As an educator, I have seen my children’s emotions and the impact of their fear and nervousness.
Richardson understands the cultural significance of young children in relation to a main character.
“Representation is everything, it affirms their identity and their self-confidence,” explained Richardson. “Books are a mirror for students. It is important for children to see themselves in the books around them in the classroom, to see a lot of little black boys who look like Emry holding the book. My main character wearing a hoodie was intentional. In some schools, a hoodie is still considered a form of challenge. You see more stories revolving around animals when it comes to children’s books than you see characters that look like our children.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center in Wisconsin has grim statistical data on children’s books: the genre is made up of 41% white characters, 29% animals, and 12% black characters. There is something sadly systemic about black children who see less than half the representation in these tales than animals.
“Over the past four years, I’ve met so many other black authors of children’s books because people have a story,” says Richardson. “You can either save your story or share it and help someone along the way. “
Death is an unfortunate event that many black children experience, but lack proper outlets to assess complex feelings and emotions that even most adults struggle to cope with. Of the 176 homicide victims in the KCPD’s final 2020 homicide analysis, 127 were members of the black community.
Studies from the Center for Disease Control throughout 2020 showed that blacks accounted for 18.7% of all deaths from COVID-19, while they made up only 12.5% of the population. Child mortality, heart disease and diabetes are also categories with an overwhelming number of members of the black community.
Christle Reed decided to use her experiences of loss to help children find a way to overcome their own grief. Reed released his first self-published book, Hugs from heaven, in January 2021. In addition to writing, she heads Love Creed, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides resources to children and families in response to hardships and traumatic experiences.
Reed’s book was written to help young children heal after losing a loved one. Based in part on the experience of losing her own father at a young age, Reed hopes the children will understand that they are not alone in their struggle.
“Eighth grade was extremely difficult for me,” Reed says. “My father’s death had really set in. My mother worked extremely hard to move up the corporate ladder and my sister was no longer at home. I had been kicked out for fighting and was now getting used to going to a private Catholic school. I barely passed grade eight because I was so out of touch with life. I mean, I was literally backstage at our graduation day doing makeup for success.
Writing this book was important to Reed not only to tell part of his story, but also to lessen some of the stigma surrounding death and children’s books.
“My children’s books focus on topics that are real to children, but rarely talked about,” says Reed. “Loss and grief is something very real in the African American community. It happens daily, in some of the most tragic ways. However, we rarely talk about it. “
A humanitarian at heart, the first-time author hopes her message will transcend racial themes because, as she puts it, “grief and loss are real to everyone. COVID-19 amplified the statement. Reed hopes that all children in all communities can learn from her journey and her work. She also wants black children to enjoy the benefits of the representation she had as a child.
“My parents were extremely proactive in making sure my sister and I had books and toys that looked like us. In retrospect, it had a positive impact on my overall self-esteem, ”says Reed. “In a whitewashed world, I am very proud to be African American. When black children are able to see themselves in literature, their potential increases and their imaginations of their future expand. ”
The thought pot by Nikiyah Crosdale is another local book aimed at helping children with mental health issues and building the power of positive thinking. Crosdale saw how dark the start of 2021 had become and decided to help in the only way she knew.
In the story, a little girl discovers how her negative thinking directly affects her actions and reality. Her teacher introduces her to The Thought Jar, a tool Crosdale herself used as a child to manage her thoughts and create positive thinking habits. The little girl has the power to use positivity to turn bad days into good ones.
“Growing up, some of my favorite books had characters that looked like me. There’s something about being able to see yourself in the characters that creates a different level of intimacy and connection to the story, ”says Crosdale.
As one of the many new authors entering this self-publishing space, Crosdale had to pay for copyright, advertising, marketing, illustrators, and to get the book in stores independently. – obstacles that authors with established connections and support in the industry rarely grapple with.
“As a black person, I can’t expect other ethnic groups to represent us,” Crosdale says. “It takes new black writers to step up and be the change they want to see.”
One has to wonder why the publication of black authors by major publishing houses has only started in recent years, and why many feel the need to self-publish. Do mainstream publishers just don’t see the value in sharing these experiences, or has the lack of diversity in publishing resulted in a type of lead character that seems unprofitable on paper?
Even though publishing increases the diversity of the industry and the books published, it does not yet really equal.
Tits new generation of writers are doing their job to ensure that the future of the urban core includes literature where children can see themselves and see their lives reflected. Hopefully, these children will grow up in a world where this thinking doesn’t seem like fluke. The day the publishing world becomes truly fair, inundated with the wealth of brilliant black writers looking for a platform, that’s when we’ll know the tide has changed.