During my childhood, the library was my safe space (later I would add bookstores and museums to that list). I have vivid memories of my elementary school library which was situated in the heart of the school. One set of glass doors led to the lower elementary wing and another set led to the upper elementary wing. The hallways would be filled with chatter and laughter, that I often wasn’t a part of, but once I stepped through those glass doors the sound was sucked away. In that space, I could imagine anyone I wanted to be. I remember being drawn to the biographies of famous women like Amelia Earhart and Jane Goodall, and the fantasy of Greek mythology. Athena was my favorite.
And it was in the library that I discovered poetry. I was in 5th grade, and I checked out a poetry compilation for a class project. I distinctly remember reading “The Term” by William Carlos Williams. That poem amazed me. How could he paint such a clear image with so few words? The poem was both so quietly beautiful and hauntingly disturbing. Was it about the resiliency of the human spirit or coming grips with our human mortality, as our man made objects outlive us? Questions from my ten year old brain that I’m still working to answer.
I fell in love with poetry. And I suppose I’m still in love with poetry, because I can read the poem again thirty years later and still be awed by the words.
The first poem I received recognition for was one that I wrote in the spirit of my old friend WCW. The poem placed 3rd in my college’s literary magazine contest, validating my 5th grade poet’s heart.
Nothing is as splendid
as a homegrown,
That sweet, sticky juice
onto your shirt,
Libraries, bookstores, and museums will always be my safe spaces. When I travel, I duck into a bookstore or a museum to breathe in the ideas, and to be around people who need the space like I do. Ideas, questions, and possibilities that turn
With the wind over
And over to be as
It was before.*
Keep looking up,
*excerpt from “The Term” by William Carlos Williams
When my niece and nephew came into my life over a decade ago, I searched to find picture books with children of color as main characters. Representation is important. In particular, I was looking for stories with kids being kids in everyday situations, stories which were a challenge to find. I gave my nephew a collection of Ezra Jack Keats, and how thankful I was to find Not Norman by Kelly Bennett which was a contemporary book at the time. But it was even harder to find books with multiracial families. According to Diverse Book Finder, between the years of 2009-2014 there were 7-14 books published per year portraying multiracial families (yes, that’s 7-14 total books). No wonder I had a hard time finding the books I was looking for! In 2019 that number had increased to 44+, making progress.
About the time my nephew arrived, I got serious about writing. I knew if I ever wrote a picture book, I wanted him to see his family on the page. Representation is important. My niece served as the model for the main character illustration for When Daddy Shows Me the Sky. When my editor sent me samples from illustrators, I took one look at Kate’s illustration and said, that’s her.
At the heart, When Daddy Shows Me the Sky is about a daddy and a daughter learning from each other.
For my young readers: whether your family matches or you’re beautifully different, whether you were raised by two parents, a single parent, two moms, or two dads, whether you were raised in a blended family, by grandparents, or aunts and uncles, with lots of siblings or as an only child, your family has VALUE. A family is defined by love.
Keep looking up.