The Sowing Circle by Alice Faye Duncan, Tameka Fryer Brown, Kelly Starling Lyons and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Thanks so much for hosting us on the Nerdy Book Club. The Sowing Circle is a collective of four Black women children’s book creators – Alice Faye Duncan, Tameka Fryer Brown, Kelly Starling Lyons and Vanessa Brantley-Newton, whose mission is to sow words and images into the hearts of children. We hope people help us reap a harvest through literacy by donating our books or sharing with children they know. Learn more about the Sowing Circle at https://sowing-circle.com.
Alice Faye Duncan
JUST LIKE A MAMA is a lyrical story, spare and heartfelt like a poem. It celebrates children, who are chosen, cherished and cared for by adopted mothers, foster care guardians, grandmothers, aunts, and big sisters. The book is suited for ages Pre-K to 3rd grade. Ultimately, I want the story to affirm and uplift children, who do not reside with their biological parents. As for children who do, I want them to hear or read the book and be inspired with empathy and warm feelings of compassion.
My mother inspired this story. Before I was born, Mama adopted her little sister, when my grandmother died in1966. Mama was 28 years old. Her little sister, Pat, was 10. Mama “mothered” her sister, raised her up, and sent both of us to college. My main character, Carol Olivia, does not live with her biological parents. She resides under the adoration and admonition of her sweet, “Mama Rose.” Loving living conditions bolster Carol Olivia with joy and confidence.
I serve my local school district as a National Board Library Media Specialist. This is my 27th year working in education. During the course of my career, I have seen countless children succeed because “kinfolk,” stepped-up to nurture them. Surely, I was thinking of these former students and thinking of my own mother and aunt, when I wrote the first draft of this book in 1993. The illustrator is Charnelle Pinkney Barlow, granddaughter to Caldecott Winner, Jerry Pinkney. Resounding creativity is her DNA. This is Charnelle’s first book. Because of the lyrical quality of the text, JUST LIKE A MAMA demands to be read aloud. Children can hear me read the story on my website at www.alicefayeduncan.com.
Tameka Fryer Brown
For so long, the Black children’s books that have received the most accolades and shelf space—whether contemporary or historical, fiction or non-fiction—have been those about struggle and racial oppression. Are such themes rooted in aspects of reality? Yes. Should they disproportionately represent the Black experience narrative relayed in children’s books? No. Especially not in 2020.
Kids need to read stories steeped in Black Joy. By Black Joy I mean the public and unapologetic expression of happiness, humor, pride and/or love by, for, and among Black people. In children’s books, it looks like a vivacious Black girl who dresses in cowboy boots, speaks with a Texas twang, and gets into all manner of comedic mishaps. It looks like a self-aware Black boy who exudes unrestrained confidence before, during, and after getting the freshest of haircuts. It looks like two young parents of African Diasporic heritages living in a large two-story home on acres of land, proudly and lovingly affirming everything about their sweet brown baby—especially his brownness.
Black Joy books like BROWN BABY LULLABY are important for all children to consume because they reflect the varied and multidimensional nature of Black life and culture. They reinforce all that is beautiful and enjoyable about Blackness for Black children. They equalize, humanize, and provide positive emotional encounters with Blackness for children who are not. Young people need books brimming with Black Joy in their literary diets—not to erase stories that convey the struggles of the Black experience, but to provide a fuller representation and counterbalance for them.
Kelly Starling Lyons
When you think of Black heroes, who comes to mind? Maybe you picture Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglas or Harriet Tubman. Or you flash to contemporary trailblazers like Barack and Michelle Obama. They’re inspiring and important for all kids to know. But there are so many Black ground-breakers who remain unsung. Architect Philip G. Freelon is part of that number.
In DREAM BUILDER, young readers get to go along on his journey from being a kid who loved to draw and build models to bringing to life a century-long dream as the architect of record for the National Museum of African American History & Culture. They learn how a setback can become a strength. In his early years, Phil excelled in math and science but had a tough time learning to read. Through support and hard work, he discovered his gift for visualizing numbers could help him see word pictures too. DREAM BUILDER shows how family support, talent, determination and cultural connection can shape and inspire a mission.
It’s essential for all children to read books celebrating diverse Black heroes. They need to see Black people growing up in the city, country and suburbs, coming of age in families with differing resources, dreaming and achieving the full range of what we can be. That practice destroys stereotypes that define Black excellence in narrow terms and instead reveals the countless people who have made a difference. Maybe there’s a child who doesn’t realize their inner light can illuminate the world. I hope through Phil’s story and others, kids will dream bigger, feel pride in who they are and find strength in their gifts. They are our future dreamers and builders.
In my newest book, JUST LIKE ME, I wanted to tackle things that little girls go through. Being 5 or 8 or 12 doesn’t mean that you don’t face hard times or have upsetting experiences. Some may feel like they don’t fit in. Or try to make friends and it seems so very difficult. Or wish something was different on their body or that they weren’t so this and that.
In JUST LIKE ME, I share poems that explore those feelings. Loving your body. Being a city girl longing to be a country girl. That nasty little pimple in the middle of your face before your school pictures. Even longing for a father. I wanted to hit everything that I could think of when I was a child and the things that my friends spoke about. I am hoping that when little girls get this book they will see themselves in every poem or at least read something that will connect with them.
I chose poetry for this project because it’s such a powerful vehicle to teach children. My desire is to empower them through the written word. Poetry allows children to put language to use to make it serve a deep internal purpose. It allows them to break the rules of grammar, punctuation and capitalization, and help find their voice. It gives them their own representation. It also helps to develop creative writing skills, self-expression and natural rhythm. I want this book to empower girls. Poetry is powerful.
Tameka Fryer Brown
Tameka has gone from medical sales and full-time-mom to marvelous and amazing writer for young readers. Her picture book titles include Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day and My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood. Her work appears in the anthology, We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices and NOW for bubbly, bouncing babies EVERYWHERE, her 2020 release is BROWN BABY LULLABY. From infants to preschoolers, every child needs a bedtime story! Visit Tameka at www.tamekafryerbrown.com
Alice Faye Duncan
Alice Faye Duncan is a National Board Library Media Specialist and writer. She wrote the toe-tapping classic, Honey Baby Sugar Child, A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks, and Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop–a 2019 Coretta Scott King Honor Medal. Alice’s 2020 release is JUST LIKE A MAMA. This love song celebrates the heart connection between children and forever Mamas, who cherish them. JUST LIKE A MAMA is for ages Pre-K – 3rd Grade. www.alicefayeduncan.com
Kelly Starling Lyons
Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a self-taught illustrator, doll maker, and crafter who studied fashion illustration at FIT and children’s book illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She is the author and illustrator of Grandma’s Purseand has illustrated numerous children’s books, including the ever-popular and fantastic–King of Kindergartenby Derrick Barnes. Her January release–JUST LIKE ME, is a picture book and collection of poems celebrating girlhood. It is perfect for ages Pre-K to 3rd Grade. Visit Vanessa at www.vanessabrantleynewton.com