My daughter turns 8 today and she loves to read. I’d be remiss if I didn’t steer her towards the books that place the image of a “chocolaty” (her word), urban girl front and center of its story. Within the blink of an eye, she’ll be a teen reader. She’s already gravitated towards some of the adult books on my shelf because of their whimsical, illustrated cover (in the case of the graphic novel series, Aya) or their intriguing title (she pulled out self-help book for black women entitled Stolen Women). She’s an avid reader of course, and in the third grade where the Statewide reading tests are crucial to her school’s and all other public and charter NYC schools’ overall performance, the importance of reading is stressed even more now than at any other age.
She’s in a very progressive and diverse charter school where I know a handful of the third graders are making their way through the Harry Potter series and they’re all about the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the Dork Diaries, and, of course, there’s the Manga and comic book bunch. Her class keeps a wide-range of books in their library and she has to take a few home each night and read for at least twenty minutes. But, as a writer, I make it my business to actually buy the books she wants to read. It gives her a sense of ownership and places value on not only the act of reading, but the story, the characters, and the writer. In kindergarten she learned all about “publishing”. She’s discovered all things Tomie DePaola, Ezra Jack Keats, and Mo Willems. She’s written several books where the teachers had them typed and bound complete with illustrations and an author’s bio. Her school’s curriculum is writing-heavy and she’s done things I’ve done in writing workshops that cost hundreds of dollars–character analysis, plotting, editing and proofreading. I’ve done this with plenty of groups of high schools students and it’s no small feat to have them complete a “book” much less a few short stories.
Since there are virtually no TV shows and few movies that promote healthy self-image for black girls, I encourage my daughters to find solace and entertainment in books–whatever books they choose to read. And I make a concerted effort to support all of the books that feature brown girls. So here are the few, very few, titles and series that my 8-year-old absolutely loves and has read more than once. She’s just now beginning to understand the concepts in Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor and Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes is at the top of her to-read list. Needless to say, the pickings are very slim at this stage. I’m looking forward to the YA years–with caution of course.