It was a beautiful display of Blackness for the babies!
We are constantly talking about the lack of representation in the media, looking to fill those gaps through the creation of our own platforms and works of art that speak to us as a whole. The same need extends to our babies as we try to find ways to make sure they aren’t marginalized in the conversation and have the tools to see themselves fully across the spectrum whether it be in animation, afrofuturistic visual storytelling, or the color crayon they use to draw themselves. One mom has made representation her personal charge, putting the focus on children’s literature and launching a book club to highlight Black authors.
Christina Wilds is an author and the founder of “Tristyn’s Book Club,” a community she named after her first daughter. Inspired by a challenge she received to read 500 books to her daughter before she started school, Wilds realized this challenge could be best realized in community, launching the book club in April 2020 as a way to connect families through reading and share resources. Today, the book club has reached more than 500,000 families and this past March 4th, Wilds hosted a group of independent Black authors in celebration of Black Children’s Book Week.
The weeklong celebration is the brainchild of Veronica N. Chapman and was celebrated this year from February 24th - March 4th. Intended to be a “global celebration of Black children and the people who ensure Black children are represented in books and other children’s media,” Black Children’s Book Week is powered by Chapman’s Black Baby Books. The Atlanta entrepreneur is hoping to make it easier for the masses to discover children’s books with Black authors through her company and the creation of these types of global celebrations.
With multiple events taking place during the week across the country, Wilds wanted to make sure she did her part, holding her celebration for Black Children’s Book Week at a place called Dream Village, in her DMV hometown. The first annual event of its kind for Tristyn’s Book Club, the book enthusiast made sure she connected her audience under a banner that aligned with the club’s own mission, while bringing awareness to the importance of the week.
“I just learned about this event last year but everything was virtual so I wanted the opportunity to do something in person and this is our first in person anything for Tristyn’s Book Club. I felt like it was time for us to start connecting with our audience in person [because] we’ve just done everything virtually for the last three years. So this was finally our opportunity to get in front of people and bring awareness to Black Children’s Book Week,” Wilds told Because Of Them We Can.
The day was filled with fun and lots of literature for children to choose from. Each author present had their books available for purchase and the children and their parents were able to participate in storytime sessions, an interactive shopping experience, and a bookmark making workshop room. The children’s literature ranged from financial literacy to affirmative books to reimagined fantasies that took children on a whimsical ride. Co-authors Lola Ajayi and Darrion Beckles said they were ecstatic to be there to share their books, including one which taught kids the importance of money.
“Mrs. Honey’s ABCs of Money” is not only an important tool for children, but a book that can also help parents have the tough conversations necessary. For Beckles, “financial literacy is a superpower,” and one he plans to share with as many readers as possible. Both authors agreed that events like Wilds’ and Black Children’s Book Week are necessary for amplifying the work that Black authors are doing in the world.
“I’m hoping that people see the work we’re doing and say ‘yes, we have valuable information that’s necessary not just for Black kids to see, but for all kids to see.’ Yes we’re Black authors…but it’s not just for Black children, it’s for all kids,” explained Ajayi.
The origin stories of the authors were diverse, many of them inspired by their own parenthood journeys to get into the children’s literature space. Such was the case for Naeemah Staggs, a veteran counselor who penned her book “Dear Daughter: A Celebration of Love,” for her child, who was present and beaming as she explained the inspiration behind the book to event attendees.
“I was inspired to write this book as a girl mom. I really wanted to write something that would be inspirational for my daughter but also her peers, something that they could look back on and something that could inspire them in times of good and bad, said Staggs”
Others had heartwarming experiences that pushed them to the precipice of becoming a children’s book writer. A story all too familiar for Maryland author Keisha Juanita who wrote her first book for her son after the death of her mother.
“My inspiration behind becoming a children’s author was my son, he was my motivation. My mom passed away in 2013 and he had a really great relationship with her so I wanted him to remember her and that’s how I came up with the concept of this book, Grandma’s Love. I wrote this book to memorialize her so he’ll always have her with him,” said Juanita.
After publishing, she realized that there were more stories to tell and more reasons to continue creating characters with Black children in mind. A deeply personal journey for Juanita, she hopes her books inspire kindness and creativity in other children while letting them know that anything is possible.
“I’d like children to read my books and realize that they can maintain kindness and make good choices in life. I would also like to encourage creativity in children and help them use their imaginations. I want children to see themselves and the diverse characters in my books and know the possibilities are endless for their futures,” she added.
Two of the authors, Jazzmyne Townsend and Shadra Strickland, both veteran educators who found their way to becoming authors through their work with children, spent their time reading to the children and sharing their stories with parents. The need for representation was a common theme and while the paths were different, the outcome remained the same, both Townsend and Strickland creating books that add to the depth and breadth of Black children, their history, culture and experiences.
Townsend’s book, “Hattie Leads The Way” is a 21st century spin on the story of Harriet Tubman for the littlest history buffs. In the book, Tubman is reimagined as Hattie, a young girl on the playground who fights against tall obstacles and mean kids, crafting inventive plans so she can lead her and her friends to the playground promise land on the other side.
In contrast, Strickland’s book “Jump In!” taps into the themes of play and fun to tell a rhythmic story of a community bonded through double dutch. The book features full page fold outs and captivating illustrations done by Strickland herself to really capture the culture and feel of the community through children’s eyes.
Both women agree that it is these worlds they’ve created that are most important to the growth of young children. Worlds that are both imagined and very real, that allow children to see themselves as both human and hero.
“I’m a 14 year urban educator here in Washington, D.C. I’ve always loved kids, I spend a lot of time with kids, and I was just realizing that I’ve read so many stories to my kids over the years and I never saw enough Black faces, my kids never saw themselves in stories. So I wanted to make sure that I could add to that, so they can see themselves, not only represented but celebrated in children’s books,” said Townsend.
Still many of the authors, while grateful to be part of such a dynamic celebration of their work, agreed that the road to publishing wasn’t easy. While it’s one they encourage more Black authors to take, putting this work out in the world was a process that was more arduous than not. However, the reward was worth the sacrifice and Strickland says if she has any advice for others looking to follow in their footsteps, it’s just to “keep going.”
“It was hard. A lot of rejection at first but I just kept going. I started as an illustrator so once I got the doors open that way…it wasn’t so hard but it is really difficult to break in. Keep going and read everything. A lot of people don’t respect the industry but it is literature for children and …you have to do your research,” Strickland told BOTWC.
The day was a success for Wilds who was surrounded by her family and said this was even more than what she imagined, completely filled with gratitude. She hopes to continue creating a platform for independent authors like the ones who attended and others who may not have an opportunity to gain access to such a robust community.
“Growing up we didn’t have these books with Black characters on the cover so to be able to celebrate Black authors, indie authors, and mainstream authors during this time is something I definitely wanted to make sure we used our platform [in service of]...it’s very hard to find 500 mainstream Black authors, but there are thousands of Black people who have written these books and these stories that I would love to continue to just put out there,” said Wilds.
Also present at the event was former Washington, D.C. educator and philanthropist Azel Prather, his “Move With Mr. Prather” album tracks serving as the soundtrack and videos for the day. The kids found it entrancing, especially Wilds’ daughter Tristyn, who couldn’t seem to take herself away from the screen as she danced along with Mr. Prather. One of the few Black men at the event dominated by Black mamas, Prather spoke about the importance of Black men showing up in these types of educational spaces.
“I know it's an underrepresented space, I also know where there is a lack of representation, that’s where we need to be. Being able to be in this space and being able to create content in this space where it's relevant, where it's necessary for children, I think it gives them somebody to look at that looks like them, that talks like them, that walks like them. Representation is everything and that’s what we lack, so that’s the importance of it, honestly,” Prather explained.
Wilds hopes to continue this event annually while also making plans to one day open a brick and mortar store for Tristyn’s Book Club. For now, she’s focused on building out tiny libraries in her hometown of Southeast, Washington, D.C. While highlighting authors is a huge part of her work, she also doesn’t want the message of reading to children to be lost. With the attack on Black children’s books in schools, and the 85% of Black students lacking reading proficiency as reported by The Hill, reinforcing the concept of reading to your child is even more vital for Wilds. It is not just an important academic ritual, but it's an important bonding ritual for children and their parents and one that she’s seen have real time impact in her own household, recalling the joy she feels hearing her daughter recite her favorite books.
“My daughter loves to read, it’s a part of our nightly routine. At night time we brush our teeth, we read a book, we say our prayers. It’s like building family traditions, and it's something I hope she will continue to do because reading is everything…I hope that people just read to their kids, create these bonding moments…time is flying and [you] have to savor these moments with [your children],” said Wilds.
Tristyn’s Book Club hosts indie authors in celebration of Black Children’s Book Week/Tristyn and mom Christina Wilds during Black Children’s Book Week event, 2023/Photo Courtesy of Tristyn’s Book Club