With the times we are now in, we want to know how to help our youth understand what is happening around us, develop self-pride and think about where the future. Three books penned by Bakari Sellers, Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Anthony Tilghman encourage intergenerational talks about these and other challenging but necessary topics.
Who Are Your People?
By Bakari Sellers and illustrated by Reggie Brown; HarperCollins
People know Bakari Sellers as a political commentator on CNN and a practicing attorney. His memoir “My Vanishing Country” is a New York Times best-selling. Now Sellers is a children’s book author with “Who Are Your People?” The title sounds like the way a child speaks. This book is an easy, joyful reading experience beautifully illustrated by Reggie Brown. It’s a tale based on the premise that you want to learn about each other when first meeting someone.
In writing this book, Sellers says he was influenced by his three-year-old twins, Stokely and Sadie. But the approach is a far cry from his memoir.
“This was writing to a rhythm. You want it to read with a rhythm,” Sellers said. “You want it to be meaningful, knowing that you had minimal space for words. Each word has to have power.”
Brown’s illustrations of significant figures like Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, John Lewis, Jackie Robinson, and others appear to be watching over the two small children as they travel through history.
“For me, it was a conscious effort to engage a Black male,” said Sellers in being paired with Brown to illustrate the book. “Subconsciously through my writing and his illustrations, I thought maybe we could get more Black men reading to their kids because they felt their voice in these pages.”
Brown’s illustrations of multi-generational family gatherings ensure a place for anyone who wants to read this book to a young child. A strong family spirit runs through the pages. “Who Are Your People?” will turn a child’s curiosity into engaging conversations about history, heritage and determination. A bonus will be that readers, young or old, will close the book covers filled with pride.
African Proverbs for All Ages
Collected by Johnnetta Cole and Nelda LaTeef
Illustrated by Nelda LaTeef; Roaring Brook Press
Now we are going to the motherland, Africa. Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Nelda LaTeef have gathered more than 60 proverbs from the continent. A group of children dressed in African patterns are playing and holding hands in the colorful cover illustration for “African Proverbs for All Ages.” It is the first children’s book designated as “An Oprah Book.”
Cole and LeTeef have lived in several African countries, working throughout the continent and spending time on various research projects. When Cole was director of the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, LeTeef visited her. The women said they realized their mutual love of African proverbs and agreed to work together on a book.
“It was fun and never contentious,” said Cole about collaborating with LaTeef. “We each came with ones we loved, others we viewed and those we discovered recently.”
At times, these proverbs flowed like affirmations. I envisioned an elder sharing a couple of these sayings at family reunions. Then I felt a few proverbs would be helpful to a young adult starting their career. Others felt perfect for a mid-level employee moving into a management role. This 40-page book outweighs books with hundreds of pages that we purchased to guide our lives.
LaTeef’s illustrations accompany the four proverbs for each two-page spread. That is intentional to create dialogue as readers interpret the sayings. Since the book was published, it has been shared with children to get their reactions. There are a range of responses, but there are no wrong answers.
“Whether the reader is eight or 80, let’s give them an opportunity to be engaged with the book,” Cole said. “That’s how why we came up with the concept of four proverbs and the illustrations.”
What Cole and LaTeef have created with “African Proverbs for All” is an appreciation for guidance delivered in a simple format. The sayings can immediately take readers to a reflective place and all of us could use a pause.
Black Male, Black Hoodie
Written and illustrated by Anthony Tilghman; published independently
A Black male walks into a store or drives his car home from an errand. People are watching him. He’s followed down store aisles by a manager. He’s wearing what most males wear, sweatpants or jeans and a hoodie. It’s a scenario we hear about far too often. What should he do to not be confronted? Anthony Tilghman tackles the issue in “Black Male, Black Hoodie,” a 24-page paperback. In addition to being the author, Tilghman, an award-winning photojournalist, videographer and nonprofit executive, is also the book’s illustrator.
This book is a companion piece to “the talk” – that rite of passage for young Black males.
“I wanted to showcase this, especially to our African-American young males,” Tilghman said. “They need to know their rights, what to do when they encounter racism, particularly at establishments where they buy things.”
“Black Male, Black Hoodie” follows a young Black male in a grocery store. A white woman feels anxious and notifies law enforcement that the Black male looks suspicious. The questioning begins. Other shoppers stop and look but the store manager speaks up to vouch for the young man. The manager also “checks” the woman on her biases. Other shoppers speak up for the young man, as well. At the same time, store patrons continue to chat. The illustration shows the white woman feeling flustered. How does the young Black man feel? Is he relieved to get out one more time without a worse situation? Tilghman should know because this is his personal situation.
“That happens to me all the time when I walk into a store especially wearing all black and a hoodie,” he said. “I automatically get judged. I get followed around. There is always that tension that pops up in a store.”
“Black Male, Black Hoodie” is Tilghman’s fourth book that he has authored and illustrated. They capture his personal stories. Topics include the impact of the pandemic on children, bullying and moving from homeless to being cool. Proceeds from book sales go toward his nonprofit Make Smart Cool. The organization puts in thousands of hours offering programs for children. Community outreach includes hosting a weekly boys and girls reading club, donating backpacks with school supplies and awarding scholarships. For Tilghman, it is all about the children.
“It is important that kids learn about being profiled in the community,” Tilghman said. “I look forward to continuing to spread the word.
Twitter and Instagram: @bcscomm