When I first began illustrating children’s books, I decided not to work on stories about slavery. I had many reasons, one being that I wanted to focus on contemporary stories relevant to young readers today. In all honestly, though, what I wasn’t admitting to myself was that I was ashamed of the topic.
I grew up in a small town in the Midwest in the 1970s and 80s. At school, I was usually the only brown face in a sea of white. It seemed to me that whenever the topic of black history came up, it was always in relation to slavery, about how black people were once the property of white people—no more human than a horse or a wheelbarrow. Sometimes white kids snickered and made jokes about the topic. Sometimes, black kids did too.
As my career progressed, more manuscripts on the topic of slavery were offered to me. At first I hesitated. But as I read the stories and studied the history of my people, I had a change of heart. I realized that there was nothing to be ashamed of, and much to feel proud about.
I fell in love with stories that demonstrated the resilience of African-American people. And although the publishing industry could do a better job of balancing the topic of slavery with other African-Americans stories, tales of enslaved people deserved to be told.
On The Freedom Tour, I will take the books that I have written and/or illustrated on the road—public schools and libraries, book stores, and other special events. Along with my collaborators, Kelly Starling Lyons and Chris Barton, we will celebrate these wonderful stories of survival, resilience, and overcoming tremendous obstacles in the face of diversity.