Carole Boston Weatherford & E. B. Lewis Discuss YOU ARE MY PRIDE

YOU ARE MY PRIDE is a powerfully written and beautifully illustrated picture book by award-winning author and illustrator team Carole Boston Weatherford and E. B. Lewis.  In the story, Mother Africa addresses her offspring of all colors in all corners of the earth, reminding us of our timeless bond. Kirkus gave YOU ARE MY PRIDE a starred review, calling it:  ★ “A love letter to humans, all of whom originated in Africa. Told in second person by Africa herself…in beautifully evocative free verse… Lewis’ gorgeous, dreamlike watercolors sharpen as they move closer to contemporary life….a strikingly illustrated, innovative story of human evolution at the intersections of science and art.”

Here, author Carole and E.B. discuss their work on this impactful title, which will be published by Astra Books for Young Readers today.

E.B. LEWIS: YOU ARE MY PRIDE is a love letter. How did you go about creating the voice of Africa?

CAROLE BOSTON WEATHERFORD:  I felt a huge responsibility writing in the voice of a continent, especially one that was the cradle of civilization. That was as audacious as writing in God’s voice for my books MOSES: WHEN HARRIET TUBMAN LED HER PEOPLE TO FREEDOM and for THE BEATITUDES: FROM SLAVERY TO CIVIL RIGHTS. Ultimately, I leaned into my maternal instincts to channel Mother Africa as she shares this creation story with her children—all humanity.

I am in awe of the way your watercolors convey that warmth and wonder of prehistoric Africa for YOU ARE MY PRIDE. Unlike other subjects and historical periods that you have depicted during his distinguished career, prehistoric early humans left few primary-source picture references besides fossils, artifacts, and cave paintings. With those “bones,” you imagined Africa at the dawn of civilization.

How did you approach the challenge of depicting this subject matter?

EBL: I’m used to enlisting models and setting up scenes. But I couldn’t go on location because it doesn’t exist anymore. I had to ask myself what it would look like for an early human to gaze at Mount Kilimanjaro or to see a thunderstorm. I had to create prehistoric man in action, without having references. I went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. An expert there vetted all my drawings, making sure that the landscapes and animals that I illustrated were of that time. I also watched the movie 2001 Space Odyssey again. The manuscript reminded me of the atmosphere in that movie, which is one of my favorites. I viewed it again and said, “There’s my atmosphere: beautiful sunrises, no pollution.”

The other thing was that I didn’t want readers to look at the early humans as black or white or in terms of race. So, every time you see humanids, they are bathed in colors reflecting the atmosphere.

I don’t think any other book has stretched me as much as this has. I’m using more of my imagination than I ever had to. I think this book is my best work.

CBW: What message do you hope that young readers will take away from the book?

EBL: I want them to understand how we are connected, that this common thread of humanity links us. We all came out of the same place. When we migrated our skin color, our hair and our physique changed to adapt to new geographic regions. So many things separate us. This book is about unity.

What did you have in mind when you wrote the poem?

CBW: I wanted to reach beyond the artificial construct of race to focus on humanity’s African origins. I hope children will understand that this bond is greater than our differences.

What is your favorite illustration in the book?

EBL: My favorite painting is the cover image. 

I’m always drawn to landscapes and water. I love the movement of the water and sense of distance in that piece. The unknowing is captured in that piece. It just resonated with me. I think this is my best work in children’s books.

What is your favorite spread? Favorite line or stanza of the text?

CBW:  Perhaps because of the warm color palette, I linger on the spread accompanying the verse: “Child, you are mine as much as Mount Kilimanjaro / as much as the Serengeti and the Sahara / as much as the baobab and the bush.”

As for my favorite line: Child, I knew you before word or the drum, / before trade or tools, before fire or the hunt. . .

What is your personal connection to Africa?

EBL:  I’ve had the amazing opportunity to spend time in Kenya on safari. This experience helped connect me to the awesomeness of the Motherland. 

Have you visited Africa?

CBW:  I wrote about Africa long before I ever set foot on the continent. When I finally arrived in the Motherland, I did not know what feelings the trip would conjure. However, I approached the journey with a sense of my heritage. In Dakar, Senegal; Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire; and Accra, Ghana, I was greeted with open arms. I long to return.