Children Need to See Themselves in Books

My life changed forever in 2011. I became the mother to identical twin boys. At the time, I was an English teacher. The majority of my students were black. Although I loved reading Shakespeare, Whitman, Dickens, and Poe, I rarely read about black people or read literature or poems written by black authors or non-white authors. A couple literary greats were sprinkled into the curriculum in February, but there had to more great black writers than Langston and Angelou or more Latino writers than Mora and Soto.

As a teacher, I tried to give my students the opportunity to read diverse work by diverse authors or books where the characters were of color. I rarely used the literature book. It was hard work, but my students were invested and our classroom data showed students were learning. If I put in that much effort for my students, surely, I would come with that same energy for my black sons.

For my sons’ first birthday party, I made a double-sided invitation. One side was a picture of one of my sons and the birthday party details, and on the other side was a picture of my other son and the birth party details. This was my first attempt at trying to individualize birthday parties for my twin sons. I’m not sure if I have mastered that yet, but I’m trying. Below, I have included just the birthday party details from one side.

Note: Personal information was removed from the invitation.

Most of the birthday guests respected our requests. A few people couldn’t help themselves and bought identical outfits (those outfits found a good home somewhere else). My sons also ended up with identical books. This was not intentional. Many party goers mentioned having difficulty finding books with black characters throughout the entire book. People shared the the pickings were slim which meant many party attendees brought the same gift. Popular books were Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs and Please, Baby Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee. Both of these books were written by famous people who are not famous for being children book authors; they are famous people who wrote children’s books.

#BlackExcellence is real which means there are many talented black authors, and yet, these books are still hard to find. I wanted to do more than complain about the problem. My husband and partner in life was willing to join me in this mission. This is why we created Barnes Brothers Books, LLC. We wanted to be part of the solution. We named our publishing company after our sons who both are avid readers…this probably explains why they are in third grade but read on a fifth grade level. They are also avid writers. It is fitting that the first two books our company produced were written by them.

This year, in 2020, we will publish books by other authors. There are so many barriers authors of color face; this is why we have chosen not to be a vanity publisher. A vanity publisher is a publishing company that charges people to publish their work. We believe good books will speak for themselves.

This is hard work, but it is work I love. I’m a former English teacher and current school administrator, and if you would have told me I would be putting into the world books I was looking for as an English teacher, I would have laughed.

If you or someone you know is a diverse author looking to publish, consider Barnes Brothers Books, LLC. Let’s flood the shelves with diverse books. I don’t want any more children of color sitting in class hoping their teacher can find a diverse book for them.

Books Can Bring Calm

When I’m not working with authors, I am a school administrator. I supervise and evaluate middle school English and social studies teachers. I also supervise art. My main focus is academics since I’m an academic dean. If you know anything about schools, you know no one can detach from helping students with their behavior and with self regulation regardless of his or her role.

My school is a K-8 school. Although my focus is the middle school, I have been making connections and building relationships with some of the elementary students. This is a win-win for me since these students will be in the middle school one day.

On Friday, an elementary student was really upset. I offered to spend some time with him. We did some deep breathing. Once he entered my office, he saw two books I had on display which were My Family’s Great Smoky Mountains Adventure and Ghost Text. He was really drawn to the cover of Ghost Text. (Special shout out to the illustrator Erica Branch). He asked if I could read it to him.

What made this day even better was I had the author of Ghost Text and the author of My Family’s Great Smoky Mountains Adventure with me. My school’s last day was Friday, but the young authors’ last day was on Thursday. My principal allowed the authors, who are my sons, to attend work with me. James, Jeremiah, and I took turns reading the book to him. As he listened to the book, I saw his body calm even further than it did when we took deep breaths.

That is what a good book does. It takes you from where you are and transports you to another place. I’m glad Ghost Text was the book that was able to help this student calm down and put his worries behind him.

First Grade Author’s Visit

On Wednesday, December 4, 2019, I left my third grade classroom to go to Mrs. Smith’s room. She was my second grade teacher last year. Now, she teaches first grade. I went inside, and she explained what I was going to do. She said to get any chair and sit down. Then, she said to start reading. Before I read my book, Ghost Text, she paid me for a copy of my book. She over paid me. I had to give her five dollars in change. After that, I read chapter 1 and 2 of my book. I didn’t enjoy reading my book as much because I sometimes messed up my words or forgot where I stopped reading. I need to practice reading my book aloud more.

When I was finished reading chapter 1 and 2, Mrs. Smith asked the first graders if they had any questions. One of them asked if I drew the pictures. I said my mom hired an illustrator to draw the pictures for me. When I was leaving, they wanted to read more of my book. I had to go, and I said bye. I wished I could have read to kindergarten after reading to first grade.

Click here to purchase my book online from Barnes and Noble.

James J. Barnes – First Author’s Visit

Watch the video below to hear how Ghost Text author James J. Barnes felt about his first author’s visit.

I’m Feeling Great

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I feel great that I made a book. I feel great about it because it’s the first published book I made. I was also inspired to write a book because my brother made one too. I’m happy that my mom helped me write my book. My  mom helped me by telling me how to fix my spelling.

I can’t wait for people to read my book. I want to know what readers think. You should read my book if you like scary books. Click here to purchase my book from Barnes and Noble.

Author’s Visit: Wayne Library

img_3122My brother James, my cousins Zoe and Phoenix, my mom, and I went to the Wayne Library Branch. When we first arrived there, we met a lady. She showed us where to go. Then, we got some food from the summer food bus. Next, we went to a tent. My mom introduced herself and me. My mom started reading my book to us and the other people as we ate lunch. When she finished reading, it was time for questions. Then, I went into the seat and answered questions. One question I was asked was, “How did I make the book?” Another question was, “Why did I make the book?” It was easy answering the questions because I had been asked those questions before. Then, I closed my book. We put our food in our bags, and then we left. My mom gave a copy of my book to the library. I hope to write another book soon!

My First Author’s Visit

On Thursday, April 4th, I read my soon to be published book aloud to my class. My mom brought a digital copy for my class to view while I read. My teacher, Mrs. Smith, gave me the microphone so my class could hear me better. After I finished reading the book, my classmates clapped, and then they started asking me questions. These are a couple questions they asked me, and this is what I said.

1. Why did you choose that topic?

I chose this topic because I went there. I wrote about it because I knew a lot about it.

2. How long did it take for you to finish your story?

It took a long time, almost one year.

My mom started talking about how you publish a book after I answered all of the questions. She is a librarian.  My mom showed my classmates different versions of my story. Then, kids asked my mom questions and even my teacher asked my mom a question.

When it was over, I felt proud of myself because I never read aloud to my class before.

Talk to you soon!

Jerry