As an illustrator, I usually buy books whose art inspires me. Many of the books that I purchase, of course, are books featuring African Americans. As an illustrator, I hadn’t actually read many of them until I took the online writing course.
Over the past four weeks, I’ve read over 100 children’s picture books, and I noticed something that I hadn’t before: Of the books that are published featuring African American characters, it seems that most of these books are written for girls. In addition to mostly female characters, they use sort of a — I don't know — brown-sugar-in-honey-sweet language, words dipped in sun-kissed apple dumplin's.
Where are the books for African American boys, those who fight off dragons; who defeat the bully; who spend their summer vacations bucking broncos? Ok, go ahead and throw rocks at me, but my wife actually agreed with my assessment. And she never agrees with me about anything.
On holidays, for the children in our family, my wife always purchases books. She tries to find books that positively portray African Americans, and that somehow relate to the child she is purchasing the book for. For example, she purchased DANCING IN THE WINGS (Debbie Allen) for our niece who practices ballet. She admitted to never having trouble finding books for the girls in the family. But finding books for the boys usually presents a challenge (African American biographies excluded).
Last week, I wrote a book that stars a young African American female, and a female mentor. I chose a girl because...well, I do want to sell the manuscript. But secondly, I started off writing a story that reflected my own experience. But I had trouble using creative license, the storyline much too close to my own. But by changing the character to a girl, and deviating from my own walk, I was able to free myself to create. But, I’ve decided to change directions in the rewrite — I’m changing the character to a male, and a male mentor(if I can sell it that way). My son (and grandson, I can’t forget, I’m a grandpa) are going to need books that speak to them.
By the way, I did discover that my son’s favorite book, is also the favorite of my 100-plus books read, over the past four weeks: SUPER DOG: THE HEART OF A HERO, Caralyn Buehner, Mark Buehner. (Interesting, the book that spoke the loudest to both me and K, features a weenie dog in a Super Man outfit)
Here are a few books in my personal library that feature African American boys:
Hewitt Anderson’s Great Big Life, Jerdine Nolen
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, Kadir Nelson (which is universal, but features a young black male)
Cosmo and the Robot, Brian Pinkney
Max found two sticks, Brian Pinkney
Peggony-Po: A Whale of a Tale, Andrea Davis Pinkney
Summer Sun Risin’, W. Nikola-Lisa (universal, but features a young black male)
Joshua’s Masai Mask, Dakari Hru
Max, Ken Wilson-Max
Salt in his Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of his Dream, Deloris Jordan, Roslyn M. Jordan
Thanks, D. Yes, my comments were turned off. I was trying to turn on the spam thing.