The Brown Bookshelf: Tameka Fryer Brown

February 28, 2022

Daymaker is energized by the possibilities of our growing relationship with The Brown Bookshelf. Formed and sustained by a collective of nine Black children’s book authors, The Brown Bookshelf is designed to push awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers.

Today, we are sharing an interview with Tameka Fryer Brown, author of the following published titles: Brown Baby Lullaby, My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood, and Around Our Way on Neighbors' Day.

In your KidLit interview you discussed cultural and emotional truths, and the universality of certain emotions. What is an example of cultural truth? Do some emotional truths only exist because of certain cultural truths (and/or vice versa)?

In the context of the Kidlit Social Distancing interview, the reference to cultural truth was about authentic storytelling, storytelling rife with nuanced details that come by way of lived experiences. One of my favorite examples of cultural truth in storytelling occurs in an episode of How to Get Away with Murder, during a scene between Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) and her mother, Ophelia Harkness (Cicely Tyson).

In the scene, a long-needed conversation (okay, more like a monologue) is had between Annalise and her mother. Days after the episode aired, this scene was the subject of several thought pieces, at least one calling it the Blackest moment on television—which is exactly how I felt. From the crackling sound of the comb going through Annalise’s hair as she sat between her mother’s legs to get her tight kitchen combed; to the parting and scratching, parting and scratching of the scalp; to the matter-of-fact revelation of an astonishing family secret during the sacred bonding ritual of doing hair…it was an on-screen display of Black representation at it’s most authentic. And because of all the authentic, nuanced, cultural details depicted, I felt seen in a way I’d never felt while watching a tv show.

I suppose emotional truths can be identified outside of a cultural context…but cultural truths must be recognized and affirmed by members of a particular culture, based on shared experiences and understandings.

Your books explore and equip children with the language necessary to name their emotions. However, due to identity- and class-based oppressions, we know that not all children are allowed the space to express and process their full spectrum of emotions. Do you grapple with this reality as you are composing your books? If so, what does your grappling look like?

Honestly, I do not grapple with this in writing my stories. I simply model the reality I believe should be. And in so doing, it is my hope that kids and their grown ups will come to also believe that feelings—all feelings—matter, and that we have a right to experience and express them honestly and fully. But even if my books can only plant the seeds of such an understanding in the moment, because of societal or familial inhibitors grounded in systemic oppression, the possibility of said message blossoming into a fully-realized belief system in the future will exist because of those seeds. Planting seeds is important work, too.

Recently, my mom pointed out that we never experience any one emotion in isolation -- joy often comes with grief, anger with passion, and so forth. What do you think about this? As a parent, guardian, or friend, how do you suggest we support children as they come to this awareness about dueling emotions?

I think your mom is a wise woman. I might change never to rarely, though. Emotions are often dialectic in nature, in that two seemingly opposite feelings can be experienced at the same time. I think the best thing adults can do is acknowledge this phenomenon as natural in all human beings, and model for our kids healthy ways to deal with complex feelings. We can also encourage mindfulness and self-reflection daily. We can be a safe person to whom our kids can express all their feelings in an honest, respectful way, and we can take time to talk through effective coping strategies with them. In the case of more significant and persistent mental health concerns, we can view and promote professional therapy in a positive light.

What do you hope readers will receive from your books? / How do you hope they will see themselves after interacting with the stories you've shared?

First and foremost, I hope they will see themselves, their families and communities, too. As I mentioned before, I consider myself a seed-sower. In fact, my author mission statement reads: “I write to sow seeds of self-love, pride, connectivity, and inclusion in the hearts of children, to reap future generations that are more confident, kind, compassionate, and less racially biased.” If, after coming into contact with one or more of my books, readers feel anything akin to this, I will have done my duty.

If you could stock every Black child's bookshelf with 5 books, what books would they be?

Oh my! I’d pick way more than 5. But to follow the rules:

Brown Baby Lullaby by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by AG Ford (Ages 0-6)

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Ages 4-8)

Fly by Brittany J. Thurman, illustrated by Anna Cunha (Ages 4-8)

A History of Me by Adrea Theodore, illustrated by Erin Robinson (Ages 4-8)

Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith (Ages 7-10)

The Brown Bookshelf advocates and celebrates Black children’s books, authors and illustrators, through their blog series, social media, virtual events, and their flagship initiative, 28 Days Later.

Corresponding with our inaugural Book Club, we interviewed Varian Johnson about The Parker Inheritance. Johnson is also a member of The Brown Bookshelf.