I’ll be speaking on an Afrofuturism panel at Brooklyn College next week, and I hope I’ll have the chance to talk about After Earth. Most critics panned the film but for Black youth (boys in particular), that film is groundbreaking—something white reviewers just don’t get. Sometimes I think it’s not worthwhile to send my books out for review because many reviewers fail to situate the book within Black storytelling traditions and within the context of the publishing industry (what’s already available—or not). So I’m especially grateful to Charlotte over at Charlotte’s Library for her thoughtful review of The Phoenix on Barkley Street and her provocative, appropriate introduction:
Quick–think of a fantasy book written for early elementary aged kids of 8 or so, where the fantasy stars a group of minority kids and takes place in an urban neighborhood where gangs and abandoned properties are big problems, just like they are in many place[s] in real life, and where the fantasy part itself is something truly beautiful and magical and hopeful….
I can think of one, because I just read it– The Phoenix on Barkley Street, by Zetta Elliott (self published, August 2014, ages 7-9), and tomorrow I will take it to a Little Free Library that is in just such a neighborhood, and hope that it falls into the hands of young readers who haven’t yet been told that magic can happen to kids just like them.
So glad the book will find its way into kids’ hands! Charlotte concludes her review with a working list of first chapter books/young elementary school books that are fantasies with kids of color—and only 3 titles made the list, including another one of mine, The Magic Mirror. Does that mean a reviewer has to declare my book a masterpiece? No. But I think it’s important to see this book not just as a story, but an intervention:
So it’s a good story, and the writing is just right for a third or fourth grade reader getting their reading legs under them, as it were, and yay! for diversity and urban fantasy targeted at this age group. And yay! for kids of color in fantasy books for elementary school readers–I think it’s awfully important to have lots of these, so that ever[y] kid can be given a place at the table of the imagination, and there really aren’t many at all. Once you know that you can be in a fantasy story, you can allow yourself to dream whatever you want…..
I’m making progress on The Return and am thoroughly enjoying reviewing the chapters I wrote while I was in Dakar last July. I think Book 3 in the “freaks & geeks” trilogy will be shorter than Book 2, but fast-paced. Today I’m hoping to write the chapter that features a djeli (historian/storyteller) who looks a lot like Lupita Nyong’o…