Courtesy of librarian and YA literary activist Edi Campbell, we have a special guest Q&A with Breanna McDaniel, whose debut picture book Hands Up! is out today!
This triumphant picture book recasts a charged phrase as part of a black girl’s everyday life–hands up for a hug, hands up in class, hands up for a high five–before culminating in a moment of resistance at a protest march.
A young black girl lifts her baby hands up to greet the sun, reaches her hands up for a book on a high shelf, and raises her hands up in praise at a church service. She stretches her hands up high like a plane’s wings and whizzes down a hill so fast on her bike with her hands way up. As she grows, she lives through everyday moments of joy, love, and sadness. And when she gets a little older, she joins together with her family and her community in a protest march, where they lift their hands up together in resistance and strength.
Edi: Breanna, you have such a beautiful smile that you share easily! What’s the last thing that made you laugh out loud?
Bre: Edi, stahhpp! Thank you for that; can I just say though that my 8th grade crush once told me I had the most annoying laugh in the world and for a while I stopped laughing big and loud. Then I saw Gabrielle Union laugh in a movie and it was the brightest sound I ever heard. I decided I’d never dim my light again for anyone, crush or not! Back to the question! I rewatched the episode of Living Single where Regine is the soloist for their church’s 50th anniversary. The one with CeCe Winans? And Khadijah goes to church with that Bible she got from Goodwill? Classic.
Isn’t it sad how we let others take away our laugh– our audible sound of joy? Mine was lost when I taught and my students made fun of my laugh. I started watching Living Single over the break in my office. I’ll have to look up that episode!
Ugh, that gives me shivers. People look to superheroes and villains for something special when they literally have the power to shut people down and out with their words. I’m sorry about those students bullying you, that tears my heart. I used to do improv comedy and tried, briefly, to do stand up. I’ll do some of my bit next time I see you then we can laugh out together.
And it’s “Oh, Solo Mio” Season 4, Episode 16!
What’s the message on your favorite t-shirt?
One favorite that I had made says, first name only:
It’s a reminder for me of those whose work lay the path for me and others. A reminder I’m not alone and maybe one day I will also be a great Black woman thinker and creator.
Or is it that one day others will realize your greatness? Is it that you’ll change, or people’s perception of you will change?
Haha, oh my goodness, I don’t know about all that! I know that I am changing (“trying every way I can” sorry, I had to do it! #DreamgirlsIsLife). I’ve changed significantly since I started my PhD and most of it’s been good change. I know legacy is important to me. I take it seriously when people invest time and energy and love and care in me, like my mentors do, especially Doc Martin [Dr. Michelle Martin] … I really don’t know if I have any greatness in me, that may just be me talking to the moon, but I’m also down to be a hand for other people to get up. Lord knows I have many hands lifting me as they climb.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t answer this question. My bad.
You did answer it! And, you saw there what I did to your response? My mind went to the TV show and Dr. Michelle Martin deserves all her praise! And, by the way, I like that shirt! I may need one of those.
Just how excited are you about the release of your first book? How do you plan to celebrate?
I think I’m very excited? I’m most excited to hopefully hear from more kids about how they feel about the book, that’s probably what I’m looking forward to the most. When I see other authors posting letters and notes from children, I cross my fingers and my toes hoping to hear those voices.
I’m celebrating with friends and family at a local bookstore, Charis, in my hometown, which will be nice. Then I turn 30 a couple of days after the book birthday so I’ll spend the evening before my birthday playing Galaga at my aunt’s house and then I’ll get brunch, my favorite, and find somewhere to drink peach tea and read the day away. No working on anything, no emails, no texts, no group messaging. Just me bringing in another year with a little peace from one sunset to the other.
Hands Up! conveys a very profound message in a very simple way. How did you know that this is what you wanted to say in your first book?
Honestly, I didn’t know this was going to be my first book. I didn’t know if there was ever going to be a first book, haha! But when I sat down to write this book I knew I wanted to chronicle the everyday extraordinary in our kids’ lives. It’s about celebrating how they matter in the big and small of everything they do. I know I forget to do that sometimes. And other people may even say they don’t need that celebration in the first place. They’re wrong but they’ll say it. With Hands Up! I’m talking to my nieces and nephews and cousins and this is my way of saying to them I got your back. You can’t have someone’s back, though, if you don’t see them and their everyday, so that’s why the book exists the way it does, especially with all of the scenes of intergenerational solidarity going on. Viv definitely has a ton of spunk by herself but she also needs everyone in her community in order to grow. The rest of what I have to say is in the author’s note 🙂
How do you keep your hands up in your everyday?
I love you, Edi. What a superb question! OK, so when I wake up, because I twist my hair up most nights, I take out my twists, slowly rubbing apart the big twists, then separating the smaller twists in the shower, letting the steam work it’s magic. Hands up! Last week I had to run for the shuttle and I was waving my arms trying to get the driver’s attention, thank goodness she stopped! Hands up! But also, I just wave a lot now that I’m back in Atlanta. Always someone to see and speak to. So, hands up! Let’s see, I pick up my nephew and swing him around so that he’ll giggle. Hands up! I call my mom and since I talk with my hands even when people can’t see me, I’m usually throwing them up and around while we talk. Hands up!
Yay!! What are some of your everyday hands up, Edi?
You really remind me to pay better attention to the everyday hands up things I do for myself and others. Let’s see… my hands are up in the morning when I’m doing my t’ai chi stretches and they’re up when I greet friends I haven’t seen in a while with a hug. They’re up when I get to reach out to hold my grandbaby! My hands are up when I’m gardening, cooking, quilting — when I’m creating. Hands up!
When you’re writing are you snacking, listening to music, or surrounded by art? Details please!
I’m definitely listening to music. When I’m free writing, which is how I start writing most of the time, I need music without words so I tend to go with jazz. A little Kamasi Washington is my favorite right now.
Then if I need to write for a certain mood I’ll listen to specific songs:
- spunky = “It Don’t Mean a Thing” – Ella Fitzgerald’s interpretation
- love = “Complicated Melody”- India.Arie/ “You and I” – Stevie Wonder
- determined = “The Waiting”- Jamie Grace
Finally, the motion picture cast recording of The Wiz gets me through every deadline I’ve ever had because it keeps me moving as I act out the songs, especially “Be A Lion” and “Everybody Rejoice” which, fun fact, was written by Luther. Doesn’t matter if it’s 2:47 am or 4 pm, it keeps me going.
Which of your teachers would you like to visit to give a copy of your book, and what would you say to them?
I’d love to give a copy of my book to Dr. Rudolph Byrd and I’d ask him to read it aloud so that I can hear his voice again, steady and full. I’m positive he’d get every nuance in the book right from the beginning.
Is there a recording of you reading it aloud? I’d love to hear that!
There is! I’ll send it to you! I gave it my very best LeVar Burton voice, I hope you like it!
Thanks you so much, Breanna. It’s always so uplifting to talk with you!
Oh Edi, same here! I cannot wait to connect again!
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Breanna J. McDaniel is a PhD researcher and a writer from Atlanta, GA. Her debut picture book Hands Up! comes out from Dial Book for Young Readers this January.
Edith Campbell is an Associate Education Librarian in the Cunningham Memorial Library at Indiana State University. Edith is a founding member of the We Are Kidlit Collective and of See What We See. She currently serves is on the Advisory Board for YALS (The Young Adult Library Services Association Journal) and for the Research on Diversity in Youth Literature journal. Edith is a member of the 2019 Robert F. Sibert Informational Award Committee. She blogs to promote literacy and social justice in young adult literature at CrazyQuiltsEdi.