As a mom of three Brown boys, my pursuit of books with positive representation of Black and Brown boys is neverending… and Derrick Barnes answered the call. He quickly become one of my go-to authors, and following Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut and King of Kindergarten… I found myself anxiously waiting for “what’s next?”.
And let me tell you, he did not disappoint.
I Am Every Good Thing, another collaboration between Derrick Barnes and illustrator Gordon C. James, releases September 1, 2020…and you should probably go ahead and preorder it now. My immediate response to Derrick when I first read it was: “Are you considering making this in wallpaper? I think I need to plaster my sons’ walls with all of these positive words and images about boys just like them”.
Summary: The confident Black narrator of this book is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and no doubt he’ll see them through–as he’s creative, adventurous, smart, funny, and a good friend. Sometimes he falls, but he always gets back up. And other times he’s afraid, because he’s so often misunderstood and called what he is not. So slow down and really look and listen, when somebody tells you–and shows you–who they are. There are superheroes in our midst!
I knew I wanted to do something special to not only highlight this book, but honor Derrick and hear directly from him the inspiration behind this life changing book. I am forever grateful for his willingness to answer my questions, but even more grateful that he has chosen to channel his gifts into books that portray my sons for who they are and all they dream to be…and written by someone who looks like them.
Literally Cultured: What inspired you to begin/finish writing this book?
Derrick Barnes: I began this book, as a poem, after the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his murderer in 2012. I didn’t finish it, but I picked it back up after Michael Brown and Tamir Rice were both murdered in 2014. I finally reworked and finished it after H&M put out an international ad, where a little African boy wore a green hoodie that read ‘Coolest Monkey In The Jungle‘. Enough was enough. If anyone is going to tell the story of what it means to be a Black boy in America, it’s going to be us, not them; not the media, not pop culture, not corporate America. Us.
Literally Cultured: What do you hope readers will take away from reading I Am Every Good Thing?
Derrick Barnes: Two things: 1) Black boys all over the planet have loved ones that are grooming them, preparing them, teaching and guiding them towards extremely bright futures. We love our sons and want nothing but the best for them. And 2) Black boys are not a monolith. I have four sons and they are all totally different. No matter where Black boys come from, I along with the people that love them want them to win in life. They are not living breathing stereotypes that fit like jigsaw pieces into your biases, only useful for your entertainment, and to justify your ridiculous fears. They are human beings capable of extraordinary feats.
Literally Cultured: As soon as I read the first page I was overcome with intense emotions, picturing my sons, and reflecting on the current world they face –how do you deal with the emotional impact of a book (on yourself) as you are writing the story?
Derrick Barnes: My job as an author of children’s books that highlight the brilliance of Black and Brown children primarily is to fill their lives with characters, stories, and affirmations. Period. I write in the same way that I raise my sons, and that is to say that we will be optimistic, hopeful, positive, and intent on making positive change in this world. I have no time to dwell in darkness, sadness or any other non-productive mindset. I’m about teaching truths and holding up a mirror to our babies to always remind them of how amazing they are.
Literally Cultured: Your son Silas was the inspiration for Crown, was there anyone in particular that was the inspiration or is featured in I Am Every Good Thing?
Derrick Barnes: This book’s protagonist was just an amalgamation of every Black and Brown boy in the world. Although, the cover model this time was the son of illustrator, Gordon C. James. His name is Gabriel.
Literally Cultured: What is your favorite page of the book, and why?
Literally Cultured: I am so thankful that my sons are able to reap the benefits of having texts that are written just for them, written by someone who looks like them…was there any author that influenced you or that you looked up to as a child (or growing up)?
Derrick Barnes: Langston Hughes. Period. He was a master poet, essayist, short fiction writer, and we’re both from Missouri. As I grew into my voice as a writer, I became more and more aware of the opportunity to carry on his tradition as a scribe that highlighted the beauty and the triumph of Black life in America. He is definitely one of my heroes.
Literally Cultured: What do you hope your legacy will be as a writer?
Derrick Barnes: Legacy is so important to me. So important. All of us have been given a charge to do something with our lives to make it better than it was before we came. No matter what gifts or talents you’ve been blessed with, we should use them to lift people up. To help someone see themselves and their lives as being valuable. That’s how I see my work. When all of this is over, I pray that my work inspires generations of children to hold their heads high and to be the very best versions of themselves.
And one more of my favorite pages…
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