The Book Series I wish I had growing up.
I grew up in the 80’s. I played with Cabbage Patch Kids and I also had a My Child. I read The Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins (and then Sweet Valley High) and was obsessed with any book in the Point Horror Series. There weren’t any real characters or toys that I felt super connected to because they looked like me or resonated with me, but I was an avid reader with a vivid imagination and simply enjoyed a good story. Ann M. Martin, Judy Blume, R.L. Stine and Francine Pascal wrote great books, they are who I read as a child, but they were missing a very important element. ME. They weren’t the most diverse stories, luckily I was able to block that out and focus on the story and I created my own idea of the characters in my head….but I think I’ve always been a writer so doing this wasn’t difficult. Should a reader have to do this? Absolutely NOT.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” -Toni Morrison
When I started writing books for children, my goal wasn’t just to create a sense of adventure through storytelling. I also strive to recreate the experience I had as a reader with book series- there is a sense of belonging and a connection with literary friends when readers are invested in a series. The books in the series becomes more than just another book – readers look forward to seeing their friends experience life and they feel like they are a part of their journey. I want to recreate the experience I had as a lover of books but with Black and Brown characters that have features and experiences that my target readers are familiar with and can relate to. For example – I remember as a reader, there were always descriptions like “ice blue eyes” or “long flowing blonde hair that blew in the wind”. I had none of that. And when there was a Black character (Jessica in the Babysitter’s Club series), I don’t recall ever reading about how her “thick dark hair bounced like cotton candy when worn in a puffy ponytail” or how her rich brown skin “looked like warmed chestnuts in the sun”. The imagery was much different for me as a Black reader absorbed in a White text. But there is a major piece of the literacy experience missing when this personal connection doesn’t occur for the reader. In addition, this is where self-awareness and self-esteem is strengthened. When readers can read about the beauty in their physical features, their complexion, the strength and power in their characteristics, their rich history – when readers experience these descriptors in a way that is as organic as telling a simple story, it becomes a natural part of their personal description and belief system. Its like another layer of support to help emphasize and reinforce all of the positive reinforcement they are already receiving or, if they aren’t hearing it enough, it helps plant that very important seed.
Meet the BeYOU Crew!
The BEYOU Crew is a creative product of the BeYOUtiful Brown Girl Project that was born in 2017. The BBGP was Dear Beautiful Brown Girl’s flagship initiative. It all started with a subscription box! I started the subscription box because I wanted to provide an authentic experience for girls – our quarterly box was a curated box filled with items designed to encourage and promote positive self-esteem and build cultural pride. I wanted every subscriber to feel special when they received their package in the mail – I partnered with an amazing illustrator and graphic designer, Diona Murray of Diona Nicole Design Studio, and she helped me to bring an amazing vision to life. We developed four characters in the likeness of my four oldest nieces: Roslyn, Reighan, Sommer and Marley. I created characters, giving them personality. I wanted the girls who came in contact with them to feel like they knew them. I wanted to embody what every little girl loves and feels. Being a teacher and an Auntie and of course a writer, this came to me naturally. And over time this concept grew into something bigger. First I added t-shirts, and buttons, enamel pins, and other accessories. But something was missing. This box, as cool as it was, was lacking in my opinion, a greater substance. The items were cute but I needed more than “cute”. So I stepped back to reflect.
And then Diona reached out to me after a few months and brought up a project we discussed over a year ago. She said to me, “Are you ready to start the Summer in the City project?” And just like that – A LIGHTBULB WENT OFF! And that one email changed the trajectory of Dear Beautiful Brown Girl.
I wrote my first children’s book in 2013 – Summer in the City. This book was my first attempt to create representation through vivid storytelling. I LOVE that book. My sophomore publication was the first book in a chapter book series, Ziggie Tales: Ziggie’s Big Adventure. My plan was to immediately follow up with two additional chapter books but was in a car accident that left me immobile for several months. As I recovered from that accident, I was pulled in another creative direction and started a button business – that led to the subscription box- and eventually back to writing through Dear Beautiful Brown Girl. So – as we discussed the relaunch of Summer in the City, I decided that I wanted to use the characters from the BeYOUtiful Brown Girl Project. I knew it was time to introduce 4 new characters and as I developed these characters – The BeYOU Crew was born! I was told by my niece Chloe that it was about time she had her own character, so boom. She was one of the four. I also added Marley’s younger sisters, Tasya and Cori. And Danasia, our fourth character is a former student of mine that has become like my niece to me over the years.
So why the BeYOU Crew? Why not? The BeYOU Crew is the epitome of girl goals in the 2000’s. They inspire, encourage, motivate, love and cherish their friendships. They are role models, thinkers, doers, leaders and shakers! They are who you want your Beautiful Brown Girl to look up to. The book series that I am in the process of developing launches in September following the relaunch of Summer in the City this coming July. You see how I did that? I combined my first love- with my passion and purpose and bring to you the The BeYOUtiful Brown Girl Project – Featuring The BeYOU Crew Book Series– it is The Babysitter’s Club meets American Girl Doll meets Girl Scouts meets BLACK GIRL MAGIC! This is the series I wish I had growing up.
WE are on an amazing journey and want you to come along for the ride – get to know us, love us and grow with us! Be sure to subscribe to my email list to learn more about our projects and products – we are more than accessories and books – we also host programs and workshops, share educational resources and contribute to our communities through service projects and fundraisers.
Talk to you soon!