Children Need to See Themselves in Books

My life changed forever in 2011. I became the mother to identical twin boys. At the time, I was an English teacher. The majority of my students were black. Although I loved reading Shakespeare, Whitman, Dickens, and Poe, I rarely read about black people or read literature or poems written by black authors or non-white authors. A couple literary greats were sprinkled into the curriculum in February, but there had to more great black writers than Langston and Angelou or more Latino writers than Mora and Soto.

As a teacher, I tried to give my students the opportunity to read diverse work by diverse authors or books where the characters were of color. I rarely used the literature book. It was hard work, but my students were invested and our classroom data showed students were learning. If I put in that much effort for my students, surely, I would come with that same energy for my black sons.

For my sons’ first birthday party, I made a double-sided invitation. One side was a picture of one of my sons and the birthday party details, and on the other side was a picture of my other son and the birth party details. This was my first attempt at trying to individualize birthday parties for my twin sons. I’m not sure if I have mastered that yet, but I’m trying. Below, I have included just the birthday party details from one side.

Note: Personal information was removed from the invitation.

Most of the birthday guests respected our requests. A few people couldn’t help themselves and bought identical outfits (those outfits found a good home somewhere else). My sons also ended up with identical books. This was not intentional. Many party goers mentioned having difficulty finding books with black characters throughout the entire book. People shared the the pickings were slim which meant many party attendees brought the same gift. Popular books were Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs and Please, Baby Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee. Both of these books were written by famous people who are not famous for being children book authors; they are famous people who wrote children’s books.

#BlackExcellence is real which means there are many talented black authors, and yet, these books are still hard to find. I wanted to do more than complain about the problem. My husband and partner in life was willing to join me in this mission. This is why we created Barnes Brothers Books, LLC. We wanted to be part of the solution. We named our publishing company after our sons who both are avid readers…this probably explains why they are in third grade but read on a fifth grade level. They are also avid writers. It is fitting that the first two books our company produced were written by them.

This year, in 2020, we will publish books by other authors. There are so many barriers authors of color face; this is why we have chosen not to be a vanity publisher. A vanity publisher is a publishing company that charges people to publish their work. We believe good books will speak for themselves.

This is hard work, but it is work I love. I’m a former English teacher and current school administrator, and if you would have told me I would be putting into the world books I was looking for as an English teacher, I would have laughed.

If you or someone you know is a diverse author looking to publish, consider Barnes Brothers Books, LLC. Let’s flood the shelves with diverse books. I don’t want any more children of color sitting in class hoping their teacher can find a diverse book for them.

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