Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Building Bridges: Reflections of a Children's Book Author

It’s been eight days since I returned from the Bridge to Literacy Summit and my brain is still on overload. 

I was honored—and, admittedly, a little surprised—when I first received the invitation to participate. Whether by luck, fate, or divine intervention, it has been one of the most serendipitous events of my writing career. As a result, I now view librarians differently. I view literacy differently. Most importantly, I view my responsibility as an author differently.

LIBRARIANS:  Respect and admiration...that's what I’ve always held for librarians. They are, after all, guardians of those intellectual treasure vessels known as books. What I don’t think I fully appreciated until this summit, however, was the fervor and personal dedication these professionals have to develop the comprehensive literacy of their students and library patrons. This comprehensive literacy includes not only reading, but writing, technology, and a host of cognitive applications. While I was able to interact with amazing individuals of various backgrounds over the course of two and a half days, I couldn’t help thinking on more than one occasion, “Wow. These librarians are no joke!”  I offer a sincere thank you to all library professionals, both school and public, for the under-appreciated work you do. LIBRARIANS ROCK!

LITERACY:  Before the summit, I pondered the theme, Building a Bridge to Literacy for African American Male Youth, largely in terms of measurable performance standards relative to reading and writing. Thanks to the information and ideas shared at the summit, however, my gut-level intuition was confirmed: The real challenge is to foster the love of reading in our children, and the earlier the better. While I plan to share more in-depth thoughts on this topic in a future blog post, my basic thoughts are these:  
  • The things people like to do, they do.
  • The things people get something valuable out of, they participate in.
  • The things that make people feel understood, inspired, and empowered are things they will make sure they remain engaged in.
For African American male youth to relate reading/writing to these personal rewards, we must make available (as Dr. Alfred Tatum would say) all manner of enabling texts, be they mirror or window books; classic or contemporary literature; stories with main characters whose looks and varied lives reflect those of today’s African American males, or stories with characters who look and live very differently, yet share the same struggles of heart and mind. ALL the texts in the library belong to every patron, including African American male youth!  From parent, to publisher, to librarian—we must all play a role in proving to our kids the power of reading, writing, and critical thinking...and we must prove that power is available to ANYONE who chooses to grasp it. Once our nation embraces this educational philosophy, we’ll no longer need to “teach to the test.” Literacy scores will automatically rise.

RESPONSIBILITY:  Which leads to me. As an author, what will I do differently to encourage a higher level of literacy in our boys and young men? To be honest, I’m still processing that one. The concept of “enabling” texts has penetrated me deeply, though. I think it’s always been a subconscious goal of mine to create these types of books, and I believe my current titles do meet this standard. But now that I have brought this goal to my conscious mind, I can only imagine the depth and breadth of stories I’ll be able to craft! The prospect of writing original, non-didactic, inspiring tales has my creative wheels spinning. For most authors, the primary goal is to entertain the reader, and that's certainly my goal as well. But if I can write a book that becomes a part of someone’s textual lineage—a tale that becomes engraved on the foundation of his or her personal identity—then my true purpose for writing children’s books will have been realized.

New colleagues, an enhanced literacy vocabulary, and a re-vision of my purpose as an author...not a bad haul for two and a half days’ work. Thank you so much to Dr. Sandra Hughes-Hassell (School of Information & Library Science, University of North Carolina) and Dr. Irene Owens (Dean, School of Library and Information Science, North Carolina Central University) for your leadership in this ground-breaking effort.  Thanks also to the many speakers and summit members who educated and welcomed me. I look forward to building bridges with all of you.

--Tameka Fryer Brown


  1. What a great post! This is a huge undertaking, but I know it is not impossible for authors, librarians, teachers, and parents to help foster a love of literacy for young black boys!

  2. Not impossible at all, especially if everybody makes a commitment to "bloom where they are planted" and make a difference in their own backyard.

  3. Tameka, thanks for sharing this great post. I enjoyed reflecting on the conference through your eyes, and -as a librarian- and pleased to hear you have become a librarian evangelist! I love how you said, "The things that make people feel understood, inspired, and empowered are things they will make sure they remain engaged in". I find this applies to so many things in education.