Back to School With Two SIB Authors Making Sure Our Children See Themselves, Despite the Obstacles!
Updated: 11 hours ago
Almost every Christmas, my cousin goes on a great wide search to find quality books for my daughter with Black representation, actually written by Black authors. The not so shocking truth is that of the children’s books published in 2022, only 13% were written by Black writers. “I often said that trying to publish a book was equivalent to trying to become an actor,” explained author and founder of Sweet Pea Books, Monique Duncan. “It felt like a one in a million shot.”
Passionate about writing stories as a youngster growing up in Westchester, NY, it wasn’t until Monique became a school teacher when the worlds of teaching and writing collided. Seeing the disparity firsthand for children of color, in 2009, Monique penned, D is for Dragonfruit, a unique alphabet guide that teaches the origin of fruits from around the world.
However, the road to getting the book on shelves was far from easy. “Publishers would say, “we have a book like that in the market already” or “your book doesn’t quite fit with our company,” recounts Duncan. Disappointed, but not dejected, the new author was forced to self-publish. First, Monique joined various organizations and took classes, studied layouts, retail costs, page counts and copyrights. Next, Monique found a printer overseas, a local book distributor, editors, and graphic designers to help her put the book together…all out of her own pocket. “I spent thousands of dollars,” Duncan shares. “Some lessons were hard and I wasted money. But every experience— every lesson, was invaluable.”
As a champion of great books, which she often shared on her social media
platforms, budding author and licensed speech pathologist, Taye Jones, too recognized the imbalance of children’s books by Black writers. “When Black children do not see themselves in the books we read to them, they grow up believing that their lived experiences are insignificant and hold less value in society,” says the Jersey City native. Encouraged by her community to take a chance at writing her own children’s book, Taye birthed 2020’s, Liam’s First Cut, inspired by Black father and son relationships.
Despite the noted obstacles for Black authors to get published, a chance meeting for Jones led to her first book deal. “I met the owner of the (publishing) company at a brunch. I was with a friend who encouraged…basically forced me to introduce myself and tell her about my project. I was afraid, but I am grateful that I listened.” Even with self-doubt, Jones landed a pitch meeting and the publisher loved the idea! “ That is a testament to the power of networking and the power of having friends who encourage you and believe in you- even when you don’t completely believe in yourself!” While the publisher handled a lot of the heavy lifting involved with distributing her book, there were other costs that Taye had to handle on her own. “There were additional services that I did not anticipate at the onset of the process. Marketing is one of the most important steps, second only to writing the book," laughed Jones. It can be an expensive investment.”
Today, both of these sistahs continue to thrive and contribute to the children’s book space. This year, Taye chose a different path for her second manuscript, The Season of Yes!, by self-publishing. “I wanted to get the story out to the world and I didn’t want to trust it to an agent or publisher who did not see the value of my story or the experience shared,” said the Having Our Say founder. “Remember your book will be a part of your legacy so take all the steps to ensure that your final product represents you.”
In 2018, Monique self-published her second offering, When Mama Braids My Hair, but received exciting news last month. “After 14 years of dedication, lots of disappointments, and all-nighters, a publisher contacted me to publish my (upcoming) book. I am grateful and thrilled for this opportunity,” shared Duncan. “Black children need to be widely reflected, honored, and celebrated in children’s literature. It can affirm their existence and help us all connect to the truth of our shared humanity.”
Monique and Taye are doing their part by writing wonderful books filled with representation for our children. Now, it's your turn to support to keep their books and others written by Black authors on the shelves! Visit The Sistah Shop online to shop a wide variety of children's books and spread the word!