Stella and Jackson,
I never want you to feel like you don’t belong. I want you to be able to play where you want to play, work where you want to work, do what you want to do and be who you were meant to be every step of the way. Your dad and I try to affirm how smart, beautiful and awesome you are every day and hope that you and the world see you the same way.
We intentionally send you to a school that believes in windows and mirrors, encouraging you to reflect on your own identity and also learn about others. We try to expose you to experiences that celebrate you. I just assumed that would easily extend to the books we would read together and that you would go on to read alone.
As a child, I loved to read. I pored over series like the Berenstain Bears, Nancy Drew, and The Baby-Sitters Club. When I found out I was pregnant, I couldn’t wait to introduce you to some of my favorite books and discover new characters and stories with you.
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I didn’t need all of the books on your shelves to reflect your image, but it was harder than I imagined to find light-hearted books that reflected our family,
I remember when the two of you were both going through a Fancy Nancy stage. You loved the books and television show featuring her character. “Ooo La La” were the words of the day. Stella, you were so excited to dress up as her for Halloween, a spunky little girl with red curly hair. You had the dress, the crown, and pink lip gloss. Soon after we got to a Halloween party, your excitement faded. I asked why but you never shared. You chose a different costume for Halloween Day. I wondered what went wrong. Was it that the dress you wore was out of character for you? Did someone say something? Did you feel like you needed her red, ringlet curls? All I know is that you never put on the costume again. I am not entirely sure why, but I was heartbroken for you.
One Sunday around that same time, when you were four and two, I managed to get through the entire paper and came across an article, “She Wants More Than MLK at Bedtime.” It was a piece that echoed what I had noticed – a lack of diversity in children’s books and the reality that the majority of the books that had any meaningful portrayals were so often about overcoming struggle or Black excellence.
So often seeing people who looked like you in the context of heavier topics was a lot for a child to carry.
And I thought, “What does it do to a child if they rarely see themselves in books about imagination or joy? What does that absence say to them? What does it say to a white child who rarely sees children of color in the books they read? Do they notice? “
Soon after reading the article, I started to write my own children’s book – one that was light, fun, imaginative and starring a young Black girl.
As your mother, I want you to be fully seen and for you to fully see yourselves. I feel this in a way that almost feels visceral.
It took four years from when I started writing for the first book to hit bookshelves.
The main character is named after you, Stella. You share a name with your great-great-great grandmother. She was fierce, and so are you.
I remember one prospective publisher who loved the story saying, “I can picture Stella’s hair flying in the wind.”
Details matter. I knew she was not the right fit. I was not convinced she could understand why it was important that Stella’s hair was coarse and curly and why it was important that her hair did not fly in the wind. Thankfully, Denene did and I was able to stay true to my mission through her imprint that celebrates Black joy.
Stella Keeps The Sun Up is now available in stores across the country.
Stella, when I did a book reading for your class, you introduced me in a way that I will never forget.
You said, “This is my mom. She is an author and a mother to me.”
Every time I think of your introduction, I stand a little taller. While there is still a lot of work to be done regarding representation and diversity in books, I am proud of the mark I am making. And I hope I set an example for you that, in ways big and small, you can be the change you want to see in the world.
I’ve seen pictures of little girls of different ethnicities dressed up as Stella, some rocking afro puffs, and some with their hair actually blowing in the wind, wearing their version. It warms my heart every time, as I hope characters like Stella help your generation (and maybe mine too) learn that, no matter what people look like or how your hair bends, we all belong.
This was for both of you.
I love you.
Stella Keeps The Sun Up is available in independent bookstores across the country, select Target, and Costco stores as well as Amazon.