By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Tami Charles to the WNDB blog to discuss her picture book All Because You Matter, illustrated by Bryan Collier, out October 6, 2020! We also have an exclusive book trailer to share with you.
Discover this poignant, timely, and emotionally stirring picture book, an ode to black and brown children everywhere that is full of hope, assurance, and love.
Tami Charles pens a poetic, lyrical text that is part love letter, part anthem, assuring readers that they always have, and always will, matter. This powerful, rhythmic lullaby reassures readers that their matter and their worth is never diminished, no matter the circumstance: through the joy and wonder of their first steps and first laughter, through the hardship of adolescent struggles and the pain and heartbreak of current events, they always have, and always will, matter. Accompanied by illustrations by renowned artist Bryan Collier, a four-time Caldecott Honor recipient and a nine-time Coretta Scott King Award winner or honoree, All Because You Matter empowers readers with pride, joy, and comfort, reminding them of their roots and strengthening them for the days to come.
Lyrical, personal, and full of love, All Because You Matter is for the picture book audience what The Hate U Give was for YA and Ghost Boys was for middle grade: a conversation starter, a community touchstone, and a deep affirmation of worth for the young readers who need it most.
Where did the inspiration behind this book come from?
This story was born from love and a deep desire to keep my son, Christopher, little forever and protected from the cruelties of the world. But time waits for no one. My son grew older, he entered school and made friends with children of many beautiful cultures and backgrounds. He learned things, heard things, experienced things. And along came the questions. Why did they assassinate Dr. King? Why can’t I play with my Nerf guns outside? And most recently, who is George Floyd?
In other words, my precious, innocent son had questions about the injustices against people of color. People who very much looked like…him. I needed to do something to foster meaningful conversation with Christopher. What better way than to write a love letter to remind him of all the reasons why he matters to me, and to the world?
All Because You Matter connects the Black Lives Matter movement to actual matter, to what the universe is made of, space, galaxies, ocean waves, and more. Why did you choose this imagery to show Black children that they matter and how they are connected to every piece of the universe, of our world and beyond?
My take on this is pretty simple. If the universe could make room for all the beauty we see: Stars, sun, and moon, then surely the universe made space for children of color. We are currently experiencing a reckoning of sorts in our country, with the rise of both COVID-19 as well as injustices against Black men, women, and children. Now more than ever, having conversations about why Black lives matter is important for us all if we are to raise children to be strong, empathetic leaders. Our children matter just like any other human, planet, or distant galaxy. They’ve mattered since the beginning of time and always will.
Many aspects of this book can become conversation starters for parents with their kids, such as when you introduce things like taking a knee or Trayvon Martin. Are you hoping the book will be a guidepost for parents to talk to their kids about anti-racism?
My hope is that All Because You Matter serves as a go-to book for parents, teachers, and caregivers when their children have difficult questions about current events. This book is meant to uplift and affirm a child’s self-worth, even during times that may show otherwise. Let’s have these important conversations about why people choose to take a knee, why some choose to take a stand, or why some march for their beliefs. Be open and listen to what is on the minds of young people. Let that be your guide for how you will conduct meaningful conversations with your children.
You’re a former teacher. How did your work as a teacher inform your writing, especially since you write for kids and teens?
I think being a teacher gave me a front-row seat to the cares and concerns of young people. In my class, we held “family meetings” to shift us into a positive mindset for the week. My classroom was their safe space. My students told funny stories, talked about a new game they tried or book they read, and in some cases, they would share personal stories of loss or disappointment. This experience deeply impacted me because it helped me understand the brilliance and effervescence that children are born with. They are these wonderful human beings, trapped in miniature bodies! We, as adults, have so much to learn from them. As a writer, it is an honor to show the fullness of their experiences on the page.
The art in this book is absolutely stunning and vivid. What was it like working with Bryan Collier for the illustrations?
Working with Bryan has been an absolute dream come true! It’s not very often that an author gets to be a part of the illustrator selection, but in this case, the Scholastic team and I were very much on the same page. I love that Bryan invited my son and me to do a photo shoot with him, from which he took those images to do the art. Seeing my son brought to life on the page is a gift that my family will have for generations to come!
What other books do you think All Because You Matter is in conversation with?
I think All Because You Matter would pair well with Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, A Place Inside Me by Zetta Elliott, and on the young adult side, I’d even put this book in conversation with The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. All of these books put social justice issues at the forefront of nationwide conversation in a way that is palpable among people from all walks of life.
What’s one question you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
What is up next for you?
My next book is entitled, Muted, and publishes February 2, 2021, with Scholastic Press. It’s a young adult novel in verse that tackles the #metoo conversation through the eyes of Denver Lafleur, a singer in an R&B trio. Inspired by true events, Muted is a fearless exploration of the dark side of the music industry, the business of exploitation, how a girl’s dreams can be used against her—and what it takes to fight back.
Tami Charles is a former teacher and full-time author of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, and nonfiction. As a teacher, she made it her mission to introduce her students to all types of literature, but especially diverse books. While it was refreshing to see a better selection than what she was accustomed to as a child, Tami felt there weren’t nearly as many diverse books as she’d hoped for. It was then that she decided to reignite her passion for writing. Tami is the author of middle grade novels Like Vanessa and Definitely Daphne; Becoming Beatriz, a YA novel; and the picture book Freedom Soup.
Bryan Collier loves to paint. He has successfully channeled his creative energy and love of art into an illustrious career as a children’s book illustrator and writer. He began painting at the age of fifteen and eventually landed a scholarship to attend Pratt Institute in New York. The Coretta Scott King Awards praised Collier’s work in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2006, and he has won the Caldecott Honor for Dave the Potter, Martin’s Big Words, and Rose. Bryan lives in New York City.
Alaina (Lavoie) is the communications manager of We Need Diverse Books. She also teaches in the graduate department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College and is a book reviewer for Booklist. She received a 2017 Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her work in the publishing industry. Her writing has been published in New York Times, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Allure, Healthline, Glamour, The Oprah Magazine, and more. She currently lives in Boston with her wife and their two literary cats. Follow her @AlainasKeys on Instagram and Twitter.