Home Book Analysis Creating An Anti-Racist Manifesto With Zetta Elliott: #FamilyManifesto4BlackLives

Creating An Anti-Racist Manifesto With Zetta Elliott: #FamilyManifesto4BlackLives

via Zetta Elliott

Sharing this post on social media? Use this image description to make it accessible. [Image description: Scene from ‘A Place inside of Me’ by Zetta Elliott & Noa Denmon. Everyone in a barber shop turn up to look at a news broadcast announcing the shooting death of another Black girl. Text reads: “there is sorry inside of me / a sadness deep down inside of me / that is cold & dark / as a watery grave / at the bottom of the sea.”]


A Place Inside of Me

A Place Inside of Me

A Place Inside of Me

Picture Book, Best for ages 4+ years



Books For Littles(BFL) is free and accessible for readers who can’t afford a paywall. Posts may contain affiliate links, which allow me to earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Check out the full affiliate disclosure along with the BFL statement of accountability. If you’re into supporting libraries (please do!) more than consumerism, you can also support BFL on Patreon.


Your chance to take what’s inside your heart and make it public

As a part of our #FamilyManifesto4BlackLives event, We’re hosting a recording of the live chat between powerhouse author Zetta Elliott & the phenom Francie of Wee The People. on the Family Summer 4 Black Lives Facebook page, and that will be up until 8/10/20. Go watch it!

We weren’t able to get live captions to show up, but if below you can find a transcript of the chat.

Zetta & Francie’s Live Chat

Francie:

Hello! Hello, hello, hello Facebook fam! Hello Family Summer 4 Black Lives fam! I am Francie, from Wee The People, one of the partners in #FamilySummer4BlackLives!

I’m so excited. I’m gonna try not to fangirl…

Zetta:

Ohhh…

Francie:

Ridiculously and embarrassingly?

Zetta:

Ohhhh!

Francie:

But I’m here with Zetta Elliott! Hi Zetta!

Zetta:

Hey! Good morning everybody!

Francie:

It is so awesome to have you as a part of our summer family of action – #FamilyManifesto4BlackLives. We are already getting in some manifestos. Which is really exciting. Whoo! You got your manifesto ready to go!

Zetta:

I’m workin’ on it. You should see the mess right here. It’s like…

Francie:

Awesome! So we’ve got white accountability going, we’ve got Black joy going, we’ve got POC solidarity going! It’s gonna be great. It’s gonna be lit.

I will super quickly introduce you, so folks know what’s gonna happen right now. And then you’re going to read from your new picture book, and then we’ll chat! We’ll talk! We’ll get down.

All right. Elliot is an award winning black feminist poet – essayist, novelist, and writer of stories for children. She was born in Canada, has lived in the US for the last 20 years or so?

Zetta:

Twenty-five.

Francie:

Twenty-five wow! And is living outside Philadelphia in Lancaster Pennsylvania.

Zetta:

LANG-cu-ster.

Francie:

Oh, is that a thing? You have to say ‘Lang-cu-ster?’ Okay. Alright, my bad.

Umm…we don’t have time to go over all of these amazing books, and the book that she’s featured in, but I will just shout out my faves so: Dragons in a Bag, which my 10-year old devoured, which is a middle grade fantasy novel. The sequel, The Dragon Thief, Say Her Name, which came out this year – it’s a young adult poetry collection. Milo’s Museum which I always have next to me, because we use it a lot in Wee The People.

And now, the newest, the latest, a poem – A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal The Heart. That’s what we’re going to hear from now.

Zetta:

Yes, thank you so much for that introduction Francie – and thank you to everybody in your coalition, your crew. I feel like I always say Raising Luminaries and Philly Children’s Movement, and then I leave other folks out [Revolutionary Humans, Wee The People & MassArt’s Center For Art And Community Partnerships] so thank you to everybody who’s tuning in and everybody on your team.

When you reached out to me I was so surprised. And so honored that you wanted to include my book – feature my book, as part of your day of action.

I have to say I have not been doing all that well for the past few weeks – and it’s been really busy and stressful. And it’s been such a relief. And a release! To tune in to see what your day of action is. Because there’s always an activity.
You can see over the over my shoulder my Black Lives Matter sign that I made for #WeeChalkTheWalk

And I wrote a poem. Ashia asked me if would write a poem for #WeeChalkTheWalk and I did that. That’s going to be in my next poetry collection – American Phoenix.

And now I’m working on my manifesto: I believe black women. I strive to center black youth. And I’m gonna keep going and doing these artistic activities, these kind of crafty things – is such a great way to center yourself and to get back in touch with what really matters. Because you can feel so overwhelmed with all of the information

I’m unfortunately a news junkie and I just consume way too much radio and television and it’s constantly analysis and then it leads to…I wouldn’t say despair, but I have not been feeling all that hopefull. And yet I have a book out right now called A Poem to Heal The Heart.

And so I feel like I need to get back in touch with making sure I’m doing things – focusing on healing myself. In addition to healing others. So thank you for inviting me.So, A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal The Heart, is I think, my 38th book for kids and young people. It is Noa Demnan’s illustration debut, if you can believe.

Every time I look at this book, I can’t believe that she hasn’t done like 50 books and already won the Caldecott.
I sincerely hope she gets recognized for her brilliance, because this book is pretty special.

And so I’ll start with my dedication “For Zion, and all the children who missed the hand they used to hold… trust that you will laugh again and love again, once your heart has had time to heal.”

And for those of you that aren’t familiar – Zion is the eight year old nephew of a Atatiana Jefferson, who was shot in her own home. While she was playing video games by a white police officer in Fort Worth and Zion witnessed it. Noa dedicates the book “To the readers, may you love yourselves, most of all.”

(And I hope the Philly folks out there, can appreciate that Noa was living in Philly – we both were at the time that this book was being created.)

Transcription Note:

// Zetta reads from her book, which you can view live here through 08/10/20. I’m not gonna transcribe her book because that’d be a copyright violation! – Ashia R. //

Zetta:

Alright, so that is the book without my commentary and analysis, but I would love to know what you think, and to take any questions or comments, or we can go back and look at particular illustrations.

Francie:

Yeah. Sure. Umm. Hooo… I just. I need to breathe, breathing.

Thank you so much for that. And for sharing that with all of us. Um, I guess the thing that – Well, I don’t even know where to start. Um, so one of the things that really, really moved me is just this layering on, layering on, layering of emotions – and states of being and feeling and personhood. Right?

I think there’s been a lot of conversation, reflection. Some beginnings of action around t- one of the big sort of inequities – around whiteness and Blackness. Is just white people being portrayed sort of like, in their fullness as people. And Black people being seen (for a long time and today) in these one dimensional ways.

In the media that we consume and the way that white people interact with Black people. And so I’m really wondering if you could talk about that a little bit more that progression, because there was, you know, there was joy or sorrow, there was hunge,r there’s pride, there was just a lot of layers. Really centering this, this boy.

Zetta:

Yeah, I think it was… I mean I wrote this poem 20 years ago. I wrote it in 2001. Yeah, so you know every time I talk about my books I have to talk about the publishing process.

Because, you know, there’s a reason why certain stories don’t get published, or only do get published at a particular moment. And that was, you know, something I had some anxiety about.

I wrote an essay – it’s gonna come out in the Horn Book, I think in September, about the editorial process. Because I wrote this poem, you know, when I was in Ohio writing my dissertation on lynching and writing books for kids – writing for young readers was a way of helping me process, the kind of really heavy material that I was studying and also it was in the aftermath of 9/11.

And you know when you look at the history of racial violence in this country, it’s very easy to just get mired in either rage, or grief, or to feel powerless. It was really important to me because I’ve worked with kids for 30 years. It was important to me to figure out a way to make the material that I was focusing on as a graduate student into something comprehensible and useful for children and families and educators.

So I just wrote that poem and it wasn’t in the order that it’s in now – some of the stanzas we ended up moving around because my editor Grace Kendall, had the idea to use the illustrations to reflect a protest narrative.

And at first I was a little wary of that because I felt like you know the publishing industry is now interested in the movement for black lives. But you know this has been going on for centuries basically. So I didn’t want it to feel like a gimmick.

And then we agreed that if we moved the stanzas around a bit like in my mind – it was almost like a calendar, like it just would have been a stanza with a beautiful illustration, and it didn’t have to reference a specific event. But then when we decided to do the protest narrative, you know there’s that scene “there is sorrow inside of me” and they’re in the barber shop and there’s a TV screen which Noa just did really expertly – said, you know, someone who’d been shot and we said, “could we make it a girl?” you know, could it be a Black woman who’s been shot.

So then there became all these different ways we could add nuance to the narrative, and then we could show a community, right? It’s not just the child, because we don’t heal in isolation. So it’s not just this child who’s grappling with his emotions. It’s about his ability to access his emotions and express them more fully and process them in community.

And so all of these people surround him – classmates, right? When they’re doing meditation. nd his neighbors when they’re holding the candlelight vigil, you know, and there are the moments where he feels alone and afraid. When he’s in his room and the police cars outside – the room is full of the swirling red and blue lights.

I really wanted sort of a picture book for older readers, you know, my first picture book Bird was for older readers as well.

And I feel as though it’s a book that parents can use to start talking to their kids, about their own emotions about what it might feel like to be part of a community where the people you love are being victimized and targeted by police. Again and again and again.

There are parts of the book that if I were reading it today I would probably write differently. So I’m sort of glad that it’s that poem from 20 years ago because I was sort of a different person then. I think more hopeful thann than I am now, maybe.

But yeah, it was really important to me that a child – especially now…

One reviewer said the book is for boys and it’s not –  in the same way that Say Her Name is not for girls.

But I definitely feel like it’s important for all kids to know that they’re entitled to their emotions. When you honor your emotions and let them live, when you let go of shame and silence, that’s when healing happens. And I’ve had to learn that myself too.

I’m not good at asking for help, and I’m an introvert, and I do tend to spend a lot of time alone – but it’s really in connecting with others. And that’s what’s so beautiful about what you’re doing, through the Family Days of Action, really helps people to know that they’re not alone.

Francie:

Thank you. Yeah. Yes. And so you touched on something that also really struck me – that has to do with vulnerability. One of the things that we talked about a lot in our Wee The People workshops is sort of radically reframing these ideas, these narratives that are just so… that we’re so conditioned by right?

And one of them is this idea of strength, like black strength and stoicism and resilience. And, you know, pushing on.

I love the conversation between, sort of like, images, and people who represent strength, right? So I saw the image of Beyoncé at Coachella – all of these like barrier-breaking legends and icons, from the past and then today.

But also, we just need to be ourselves, and we need to be allowed to be ourselves, including at our most vulnerable.

Zetta:

Right. Right. We can’t be magical. We can’t always be superwoman and the strong Black woman. Yeah.

You know I think magic is really about power. And power is almost always a negotiation. So, you know, I, I really want to make sure that because there are moments where I feel like, there’s nothing I can do – or that being a writer isn’t enough.

You know that people are out there marching in the street and they’re doing much more important work than I am. And you know, Breonna Taylor – those cops still haven’t been charged. And only one has been fired. And what’s what’s poem gonna do? Right? Like I’ve already written 50 poems for Say Her Name about the victimization of Black women and girls by police.

I think it’s important to me right now, to be able to say, you know, I’ve lived with mental illness since I was a teenager. And first I was kind of thinking the pandemic would be easy for me because I’m used to spending time on my own. And I thought I’d have lots of time to write. And then you just realize how quickly and easily, even when you have coping skills – you can still get overwhelmed.

And how important it is to have compassion for yourself and to cut yourself some slack, some days. Right? If you didn’t do as well as you hoped you would, and to try to do better tomorrow.

I think that’s really important and that’s not – that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate, when we are fantastic and wonderful and creative. I just started watching Black Is King last night. I’m going to try to do it in small doses.

:::laughter::: So I can fully process what’s happening.

Did you know people do look at our fabulousness, and in a way that also leads to a kind of dehumanization because then we become superhuman right? And then “nothing gets us down because we’re still out here singing and dancing and creating and laughing and being beautiful and wonderful and…”

Yeah we definitely need that balance. You know, I’m not interested in suggesting that Black people are morally or emotionally, or creatively, you know better than.

We are vulnerable and we need support. And we do love each other and that’s that’s sort of the miracle is that after everything that we’ve been through, we can still manage to love each other and to love ourselves. That’s sort of what I want to focus on right now. To encourage people to be taking care of themselves.

Take good care of yourself if you need some time, you know, a minute, alone. If you need to turn off the computer. If you need to not go to the protest and just stay home and drink some water or run a bath, you know, that’s okay too. So glad there are people like The Nap Ministry and, you know, there are folks that they’re saying we deserve a break sometimes. The struggle continues –  but we deserve to take care of ourselves.

Francie:
So one of the things that this summer of action – these family days of action is really asking families to engage around is sort of this bigger conversation about roles, right? So like, whose job is it to fix racism?

Whose job is it – as we say to kids – whose job is it to disrupt white supremacist ideology and culture?

While we lead resistance movements, but do need to heal. Heal each other, heal ourselves. And so when we design these family days of action, we ourselves on our crew are our wrestling with sort of like, How can we prompt and inspire white families to confront their whiteness? And the accountability and responsibility that comes with that…without centering whiteness or white families?

And how can we also create entry points for BIPOC families to engage in whatever way they choose, or feels the most relevant to them.

And so I’m wondering if you can speak to, as an author whose work is super anchored in Blackness – centers Blackness, and Black experience, and Black agency. How do you wrestle with that?

When you go into a room with mostly white kids or mix of kids or all Black kids. How are you showing up differently, if at all?

Zetta:

It’s interesting because somebody, I think in Massachusetts, wanted me to consider visiting I think it was an entire school district, and they came and saw a presentation I did in Boston. I believe it was Roxbury, with Wondermore. And at the end of the presentation.

The guests observer, you know asked if – what I would do differently if the room had been full of white children? Because that classroom was full of black and brown kids.

And I was like, “Nothing.”

Like why would I change my message?  I don’t understand like – what would I do different? What do you think I should do differently for white children?

It’s only in the past year I’d say that I’ve actually been invited to majority white schools. So, up until that point I’ve really only been invited to present for Black and brown kids. Which suits me fine, I’m totally okay with that!

And when I started presenting for white children, you know, they’re not uncomfortable with anything that’s in my presentation. Because my presentation starts with, “I’m an immigrant. Immigrants are awesome. Here’s how I grew up.”

I read all these books that only featured white children and then I started to write and I erased myself and only wrote white kids in my book because that’s all I’ve been seeing. And that’s not good. Is it?

Young children have a very keen sense of what’s fair. And when I put up that graphic from that Sarah Parker Dahlen and commission based on the CCBC statistics. Is it fair like a white child has 73% of the books? Of course it’s not fair. They know it’s not fair. And I generally pivot to – “Here’s what you need to remember, everyone has a story to tell. And if everyone had a chance to tell their own story, we wouldn’t have 73% of the books about one group of kids only.”

And that is so basic. It’s so easy for kids to understand that. The only person who might be uncomfortable and the room is probably a white educator or a white librarian or maybe a white parent. But if they’ve already invited me, chances are they knew and I was gonna say.

You know what I really would like white parents to do, and I’m giving a talk on Tuesday for another group in Massachusetts, Spark Kindness – what I really encourage white families to do is to talk about power.

Talk about power.

Every time you are reading a book, every time you go to the library, every time your child is assigned a book at school, talk about gatekeepers, how did that book come into existence? There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to demystify the publishing industry for children.

And if we do that, it will become very evident, how power plays out into production of books, right? So you know that there is an editor. And maybe even to get to an editor, you need an agent. So somebody has to give you the thumbs up , or a thumbs down. And let’s talk about what a gatekeeper is.

And imagine that we have a fence. And the fence is all the way around. Everything wonderful and special – it’s keeping everything safe inside the fence. And somebody stands at the gate and says “You can come in, but not you. You can come in but not you.”

So immediately kids are gonna be like, That’s not fair. Right? Why do we have to have a fence around all the things that are wonderful and special, right? Who decided you get to decide who gets in, and who doesn’t? Right?

But white families have to be willing to confront that often the person standing at the gate – certainly within the publishing community, whether that’s an editor, an agent, a reviewer, a marketer, a publicist a librarian a teacher – all of those people, booksellers through whom books pass – are white women. Just about almost all of them.

So, that doesn’t mean you’re teaching your kids hate white women. That just means you’re pointing out that there is one group who gets to decide what everybody gets to read. Is that fair? No, of course not. Right?

So I think having white families do an audit of your home library, figuring out which books are #OwnVoices and which books aren’t – think about that when you’re buying books.

If you participated in that initiative a couple of weeks ago to buy two Black books in one week – try making that part of a weekly practice. One book a week. Let your kids pick out an #OwnVoices book that they want to read and support.

I think there are a lot of things that white families can do, and I’m not the best person to be telling them – but I get asked that question a lot. And then you know the important thing is to just do the work and don’t sort of keep advertising and asking for cookies. I get a little fatigued with people who send me emails just to say “look what I did!”

Yeah, that’s great. Keep going. Pace yourself.

Because you know it’s only been a month, and this is going to be going on for a long time (hopefully).

If you’re making a true commitment, this requires sacrifice. Do something that’s going to cost you. Do something that’s going to disrupt your life. Don’t just do something superficial.

Francie:

Yeah, and to build on that. In choosing books. Yes, make it a weekly practice – mindfully. It would be very easy to make that a weekly practice for a long time, and only populate your shelves with, you know, oppression and resilience narratives, right? So…

Zetta:

Yes.

Francie:

And that’s one of the things that has really drawn me to so many of yourbooks. As a parent, and also as a racial justice educator. Because there is so much complexity and layers to all of the Black protagonists, families, communities in your books. There’s the message of who’s standing standing at the gate.

And – who are we letting tell which stories, right? When our stories do get through the gate – which stories are those?

Zetta:

Right. And if you’re noticing that every, you know, February, there’s another book about Rosa Parks.

Start questioning the industry. And what the industry is providing. And then look beyond the industry, right?

So most of my books are self published. And there are a lot of people who just love Dragons in a Bag, but they would never read The Phantom Unicorn, or The Phoenix on Barkley Street, or The Ghosts in the Castle. There’s a strange way in which people are so invested in a system they know to be corrupt and racist and exclusionary, and yet they won’t consider other alternatives.

And that might mean, you know, questioning your local independent bookseller who will not carry books by independent authors.

So, yeah, there are a lot of ways, we need to say, why are the books that get reviewed, always sort of the overcoming oppression narrative books?

And you know if people only looked at my traditionally published books they might think that was my focus right? “Oh she does trauma she’s focuses on Black pain”, but I have this huge this massive body of work and which I am writing about bunnies and all these different things. And people don’t know about those books because they don’t get reviewed. Right? Because reviewers won’t review self-published books. And then libraries won’t acquire books that haven’t been reviewed. So they need to understand the system, right?

It’s a system. It’s not a few bad apples  – just like police forces. it’s not, you know, just a few bad apples,  it’s cultural and systemic.

Francie:

And so how can families who are watching you now – how do they access that? Where do they go, if they don’t know where to go?

Zetta:

Where do they go to find alternative books?

I recommend Social Justice Books. SocialJusticeBooks.org is run by Teaching for Change. So they curate just incredible lists, and they started a video series now that includes Milo’s Museum, or… Benny Doesn’t Like To Be Hugged – sorry I’m not sure which one. But they they definitely include in the authors, and they always know what’s coming up from small presses. So they definitely look beyond the corporate presses.

See What We See is a subset of Social Justice Books and that’s a group of reviewers – some of my reviews are included. And we look at some of the more popular books and tell you whether, you know, just because a book is on the New York Times bestseller list doesn’t mean it’s necessarily free of problems.

And in fact, a book that ends up on the New York Times bestseller list is generally put there because white consumers like it. And if white consumers like it, you might need to ask why they do, right?

Kind of like the Hamilton situation. But anyways. Um so yeah I recommend social justice books.org.

The Bullhorn is a really great blog written by Innosanto Nagara and Janine MacBeth and a few other folks. And they’re always promoting social justice books and they include indie titles. And yeah, I think following you all – following Raising Luminaries and Philly Children’s Movement, and Wee The People. You definitely – I don’t even know how you find the books that you find – but you seem to always know where to look. So I’m so grateful that you have found my books. And that you’re modeling how to use books to become anti-racist and to promote social justice within children and families and communities.

Francie:

Awesome, Thank you for that. So let’s give families a little inspiration to take it out.

What does a Manifesto for Action mean to you in this moment? In this time? And how can how can families sort of wrap their minds and brainstorm around this to come up with some really tangible maps for action?

Zetta:

Yeah. You know manifestos take time. So that would be my first piece of advice is that consider your Manifesto. Manifesta…

…to be evolving. Even as I was starting to like cut and paste and put mine together I was like “I’m not gonna have enough room I’m gonna have to flip it over and do more in the back” and, you know, and then every so often I’m gonna have to check in and revise and review.

I think the main important thing is to get down what you believe. You know, put it down, write it down. Say it out loud – what you believe, and then check that your actions support what you say you believe, right? I think that’s the main thing.

So I think some people probably will feel a little bit of hesitation because they want to say, you know, something really powerful. But then they look at their life and they think, you know, that doesn’t necessarily reflect that.

So I love that the examples you gave included, I will right? I think a manifesto is ultimately aspirational, right? It doesn’t have to be “this is what I’m doing right now and this is what I have done and I have these credentials.”

Like I said, I often feel like I’m not doing enough. And I could do more. So it’s sort of a promise you’re making to yourself – except it’s a public promise, right? And who was it…Cornell West? Who said “Justice is what love looks like in public.” That Cornell West, right?

So this is your chance to take what’s inside your heart and make it public. And that is how we start looking at changing our personal practices, which can lead to a reconsideration of public policy, and an interrogation of institutions, you know, because it’s all interwoven.

And it can feel very overwhelming to try to tackle it all, but start with what’s in your heart. Start with what is in your mind, and your heart. What you think you believe, what you –

This is really key for parents, I think – think about what you are teaching your children, who you want them to become, right?

Because you know parents will often say, “I want my child to be anti-racist”

“I want my child to love everybody and to be open minded”

And then let’s do an audit of your home library because of all the books in your home library only reflect white children, or able-bodied children, or straight children, etc. etc. -Then that’s how you reproduce bias. Right? That’s how white supremacy gets reproduced in families.

There was that excellent blog post that was a while ago and there was a list of questions and they said, “Were there any Black people in your wedding party?” “When’s the last time a Black family came over for dinner? Who are the white people at your school?”

White parents are making choices. White families, you’re you’re making choices about what matters to you and who are most important in your life and in your community.

So, you know, put it down on paper – what you think, what you think you believe, what you hope you believe, what you want to model for your kids, and then think about ways that you could make that real.

Francie:

Excellent. Yes. Okay, so we are going to say goodbye. A couple things – you can find out about all of Zetta’s of books on ZettaElliott.com.

I also want to give a huge shout out to all the members of Family Summer 4 Black LivesPhilly Children’s Movement, MassArt’s Center for Art and Community Partnerships (for y’all who are not from Massachusetts MassArt is the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and their Center for Art & Community Partnerships is an amazing force for creative expression and change throughout Boston), Raising Luminaries, which is also based in Greater Boston – and Revolutionary Humans! 

Zetta:

Revolutionary Humans!  Who made the awesome toolkit, where I got my graphics!

Francie:

Yes, which is has an awesome tool kit – and who I know as Hold The Line. That’s why I always call it that – because they have this amazing magazine called Hold the Line.

So we are going to be raising funds to get lots of copies of your book out – as many copies as we can to Black and brown kids. We’re really excited about that.

Zetta:
I’m very excited about that. And thank you to my publisher FSG for donating 50 copies, too.

Francie:

YES yes. We appreciate that. That is gonna be fantastic. Thank you again for your vulnerability, your words, and your phenomenal phenomenalness.

Zetta:

:::bubble of laughter:::

Francie:

On top of the vulnerability. You’re amazing – thank you, thank you, thank you.

Zetta:

You all are amazing. Thank you for doing the work.

Sometimes I feel inadequate when I look at what you do on top of being an author, and a parent, and an educator. But if there is ever anything I can do to support all of you please do let me know. It’s very much appreciated not just by me, but by so many people.

Francie:

Thank you for being here with our families. Onward with #FamilyManifesto4BlackLives! Peace, Zetta!

 



Parenting is Praxis

Act on your manifesto and give. Through the first week in August, we’re running a book drive to get A Place Inside of Me into the hands of Black kids & communities. Raising Luminaries is donating $300 to the book drive. If you can donate $50, or even $5, it would mean a lot!

DONATE VIA VENMO OR CASH APP:

 



This is your go-to book for…

  • Ages 4+
    At younger ages, we can just discuss the images and let the text wash over them. The layers get deeper as kids grow older – and my guess is that this is going to resonate with kids through elementary school, likely up through middle grades.
  • Councilors, therapists, and school office waiting rooms
  • Families navigating both primary and secondary trauma from police brutality & anti-Blackness
    Not just kids who have been directly targeted – but every kid who has to change their behavior for fear that they will be targeted next.
  • Little free libraries
    And I’m not just talking little free libraries in Black & Brown neighborhoods. White kids should know that this is a common experience that Black children have to navigate as a part of daily life, and they should feel compelled to do something about it.
  • Every. Single. Library.

I’d read this in rotation along with…

This isn’t a one-and-done conversation. We need to read multiple books, and talk repeatedly about these concepts. Zetta Elliott is working to fill so many aspects of what we need to allow for joy and vulnerability in a Black child’s identity. Including some my favorites by her – but also some others that force families to re-visit the themes in A Place Inside of Me.

  • The Nightlife of Jacuzzi Gaskett – check out our Maker Spotlight with the author, Brontez Purnell, on making space for complex Black boys in kidlit
  • Dragons in a Bag – Giving a Black protagonist space to explore fantastical dragon adventures outside a narrative oppression (without erasing that reality.)
  • Milo’s Museum – Another one-of-a-kind book by Elliott, on the power of representation and being the change.
  • Say Her Name – For older kids (12+) and adults, Elliott’s collection of poems in tribute to victims and survivors of police brutality and activists fighting to end it.
  • Something Happened In Our Town – An explicit discussion on police brutality against Black Americans and the roles and responsibilities of white accomplices in stopping it. Check out the Student Ignition Society family discussion guide that we created to continue conversations along this story.


You might also like: All My Sons Deserve Respect – Complex Black Boys in Kidlit


Is this #OwnVoices?

Author: Zetta Elliott (she/her)

Illustrator: Noa Denmon (she/her)

Racially yes, but technically not for gender since the protagonist codes as masculine. Overall, in terms of reflection and story – I’d call this #OwnVoices since both makers have lived experience witnessing violence against their community and facing the trauma of that.

Learn more about #OwnVoices, coined by Corinne Duyvis.


How we calculate the overall awesomeness score of books.


Transparency & Cahoots!

I viewed a pre-print PDF of this book so I could tell you about it, and we are watching the live reading with the 6 & 8-year-olds. Zetta Elliott is one of our lovely Patreon supporters who makes my work possible. Although I had been a BIG HUGE FAN since long before that. (It still feels surreal that she knows my name!!!) In keeping with our family’s participation in #FamilyManifesto4BlackLives, I’m donating $300 (about 8.6% of my patreon income) to our book fundraiser. Join me! – Ashia R

You might also like:

Add Your Thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Accept Read More

Skip to content