It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Over and over again, the diaspora continues to prove this old adage correct. Countless new forms of expression originating within the diaspora all start with one simple thing- the need to express oneself. Sharing our stories of happiness, strife and everything in between is quintessential to the black experience. Despite our differences, finding new ways to relate to and build with each other is critical to a future where we not only survive, but thrive for generations to come.
When young black children are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in a story with relatable characters and experiences, something happens within their psyches. These diaspora-friendly tales reaffirm the validity of our struggles, our triumphs, and our very existence.
This is the story of how black girl magic gave life to Black Boy Joy in a very literal sense.
“It started after I had my son, I was reading a lot of books to him and I just noticed that a lot of the books we were reading didn’t look like him,” says Thomishia Booker.
“We had a pretty verbose library of books, black books with characters that are black, but the majority of our library [had books with] characters that were not the same color as him and didn’t have the same experiences. It was frustrating.”
Not one to be stifled, Thomishia made a choice that changed things for her and her son, Carter. She decided to tell Carter’s story.
“I wanted to write a book that he would be proud to read and that other children would be proud to read.”
Starting a new venture is exciting; sometimes, it can also be overwhelming. In an effort to properly prepare, it can be easy to get caught up in the details. Some of us may have even been stopped or intimidated by our lack of resources and/or expertise. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to start from where we are and boldly forge ahead. Thomishia did just that.
“I’ve always been a writer. I have a doctorate in psychology and have always been a scholarly writer.” Using what she had, Thomishia took her experience, put pen to paper until she had a story she was proud to share and her son was excited to read. Instead of trying to do it all herself, Thomishia recruited her community to be part of the process. Surveying children and parents provided invaluable market research that guided her work.
“Hey Carter Books is the name of the company and I have a children’s book series that I plan to write. My Brown Skin is the first book in the series.”
Although modeled after her son, Carter, the main character was created to be relatable to children everywhere.
“The older I get, the more I realize that I can’t wait around to be recognized in mainstream spaces. I have to get a book out there that needs to be heard and seen and I can do that myself.”
Thomishia’s projects have been wholeheartedly embraced by children and parents ready to see their experience reflected in the stories they read. Thus far, it’s been common for Thomishia to leave events with nothing left to spare. Her books, business cards, flyers all in the hands of newfound fans. Appreciative of her craft, her community continues to show love in an overwhelming fashion.
“Children love it, parents love it, and it’s been received really, really well.”
Among other things, the illustrations shine in Thomishia’s book. Refusing to settle, she partnered with an illustrator who connected with the project.
“It was important to me to find an illustrator that had a professional style of drawing. A lot of times in self-published book, that’s where they go wrong. The artwork really needs that professional look to it.”
There’s something to be said for having the right people at the right time. Sure, there are plenty of capable illustrators out there, but it was critical to find the one who really understood the “why” that inspires Hey Carter Books. After rounds of revisions, they realized Thomishia’s vision.
“I also really wanted a black female illustrator as well because I’m really into empowering moms.”
Having a vision is one thing. Properly executing it is another. Hey Carter Books reminds us to stop asking and start taking our lives and our stories into our own hands.
“I like to take a grassroots approach to selling and really get out in my community. I do vending events in summer. I do our local Art and Soul festival, I do Juneteenth, and a Hip-Hop-in-the-park event. I like to meet people. I feel like they want to buy the book when they hear the story, meet the person behind the book, and get to connect to you face-to-face.”
Thomishia isn’t stopping there though. Her plans to expand include a My Brown Skin coloring book in addition to other projects. Her latest project, Black Boy Joy will be available very soon. “Kids deserve to see images that look like them. They deserve to see things and read things that reflect their experiences when they’re reading books.”
One day Thomishia received a call from a friend informing her that a local school had no plans to celebrate Black History Month. Thomishia welcomed the invitation to read her book and started a very timely dialogue.
“It was definitely an interesting experience reading a book about skin color and brown skin color to kids who don’t have brown skin. In the book, it says ‘My skin is brown and perfect just like my mommy’s. One little girl said, ‘But my skin isn’t brown.’ In reality, this book isn’t meant for them, but it definitely opens the conversation about diversity and differences and appreciating them. I hope that the teachers were able to continue that dialogue about differences and how to respect them, love them, and appreciate them. I hope that’s what they got out of the book.”
The idea of inclusion isn’t lost on Thomishia either. My Brown Skin is also available in Spanish. “Representation matters. All of my books are translated in Spanish. Brown is brown. I want all children of color to be able to see images that look like them. Having a book in a language that you speak is something that you need.”
Great storytellers- the ones we celebrate and venerate- do more than give us catchy slogans or slick rhymes to repeat. They remind us who we are, where we come from and invite us to refresh our lives in a very practical sense. What Thomishia would say next during our time with her let us know that although she may be new to this publishing game, in time, it’s very likely that she will become a household name.
“You need to do things that inspire you, that you love and that really connect back to your community. When you have a business or a product that fills your soul and also builds the community, you’ll have something that’s worth more than gold.”
And before she dropped the mic, she left us with this:
“I’ve tried a lot of different business before this point and I think they all started with ‘how can I make more residual income.’ I think they didn’t succeed because that’s what was behind it. When you have a passion behind it, love for your community and a goal that really, really, really pours love into other people, you’re headed for success.”
Pick up one, or two, or three of Thomishia’s books at melaninmommy.com, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. Check out her latest projects via Facebook at @Melaninmommy. Reach Thomishia directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.