Author and educator Dr. JaNay Brown-Wood discusses the importance of diversity in children’s books to support lifelong reading.
What is your background as an educator?
I have a bachelor’s in psychology with a minor in applied developmental psychology, a master’s in child development, and a doctorate in education. I currently teach at the college level and have been a professor of early childhood education and child development for many years.
Have you always been a writer?
Yes. In fact, my sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Welch predicted I’d be a best-selling author! My love for story comes from my parents being avid readers and always engaging me and my sisters in literacy.
© Ricky Ashmun Photography
Will you talk about your first book, Imani’s Moon, and why you chose to center a story around a Maasai girl?
Initially, this story did not take place in Africa, and it was not about a young girl. When I wrote the first draft, I shared it with my older sister, Erin, who reminded me of the beautiful Maasai people. From there, I came across some African mythologies and stories. I eventually decided to change my character to a girl and name her Imani, which means “faith” in Swahili, one of the languages the Maasai people speak. It was important that this story showed a young person of color persevering despite her circumstances. Diversity in books is of utmost importance, especially stories of overcoming.
What in that story resonates most with children?
Children connect with Imani’s drive to never give up. But I also have so many memories of sharing this book with young black children and of the pride in their faces as they hear a story from someone who looks like them about someone who looks like them. I remember a little girl at one reading excitedly pointing and saying, “That looks like me!” So, while my words and Hazel Mitchell’s beautiful illustrations resonate with children, their engagement with me and my work resonates with me, too.
What was your first book signing like?
My first book signing of Imani’s Moon was filled with love, pure elation, and pride. Both of my parents beamed with pride. When I finished reading, I talked about my family members and teachers who supported me in my storytelling. And guess who was right there in the crowd—Mrs. Welch, my sixth-grade teacher.
© Ricky Ashmun Photography
What advice would you give to writers hoping to publish their first book?
I would pull right from Imani’s Moon* and repeat what Mama tells Imani: “A challenge is only impossible until someone accomplishes it. Imani, it is only you who must believe.” For aspiring authors, it is possible to make it happen—it just takes time, patience, perseverance, practice, and motivation to get better and better as an author. Don’t give up. You can do it! You, too, can reach the moon!
For more info, please visit janaybrownwood.com