Black History Month is underway! And I have the pleasure of interviewing Adrea Theodore, whose debut picture book A History of Me is perfect for the occasion (or for any occasion!).
A History of Me (illustrated by Erin K. Robinson) is a powerful and inspiring story of a young brown-skinned girl who looks back in history and sees her female ancestors gaining more and more control over their own lives and destinies as each generation experiences more freedom than the one before.
Hi Adrea, welcome to my blog! What inspired you to write A History of Me?
The primary inspiration for the story developed from a situation with my own daughter. When she attended elementary school, there were some lessons in that January-to-February season about Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights and slavery, including aspects of why we celebrate the MLK Jr. holiday and Black History Month. The lessons were not incredibly detailed for first graders but detailed enough that my daughter understood that having brown skin made her different from her non-brown-skinned classmates. She recognized that if she had lived in an earlier time, that she would not have been able to attend school or do many of the same activities as the other (non-brown) children in her class. From those lessons, she got this message: it was better to be white, especially in our American society. I remembered having similar feelings when I was a child. This is the “why I wrote the story.”
It wasn’t exactly clear to me how to bring that story to life. Luckily for me, the framework of the story came later, inspired by an author talk that I attended at a writers’ conference, long before COVID. That story idea was basically exploring the link between someone like myself, now a doctor, and their ancestors, who were likely enslaved in this country. I wanted to explore the journey of the individual but also the journey of the family, up and away from slavery. I liked the idea of going back to different time periods within the narrative because it was an analogy for how the past and present are linked; but also how the history of this family is truly woven into the history of America that the child is learning. Somehow it all came together!
Your daughter must be so proud of you! You’re an amazing role model to her and to so many children who will have the chance to read your book. What are you hoping readers will take away from it?
The book ends with the protagonist’s daughter looking in the mirror at her reflection. As depicted in the illustration, the hope is that she will not only see herself, but also see herself as a descendant of a long line of women, from whom she has inherited great attributes: courage, intelligence, creativity and strength, to name a few. In contrast to her ancestors who first arrived in this country, she should see herself as free – to be anything she wants to be. This is my hope for anyone who sees themselves reflected in the story.
There is also something to be said for looking in the mirror and asking yourself, what do I see when I look at me? Whether you have ancestors who were enslaved in this country or not, you will have to answer that question for yourself. Hopefully you will see yourself as a reflection of the good attributes of those who came before you.
What a wonderful message! How have you been celebrating and promoting the book?
With cupcakes! I’ve been celebrating mostly by enjoying this moment and treating myself and my family to cupcakes from local bakeries. It’s been busy and COVID still restricts what we’re able to do, so that will suffice for now. (Besides, what’s better than cupcakes?!)
I’ve been promoting the book in several ways: telling family, friends, colleagues, and former classmates, posting on social media, writing guest blogs, doing school visits, and having book talks with my illustrator through local independent bookstores. I’ve also worked with a debut group of picture book authors over the last year; we’ve helped each other with support and promotion efforts too (on Twitter: @21forthebooks; website oneforthebooks.wixsite.com/2021). It’s been busy and fun!
There really is nothing better that cupcakes! And it sounds like you’ve done plenty to promote A History of Me despite Covid restrictions. Can you tell us about anything you’re working on at the moment, or any new books scheduled for release?
Hopefully I’ll be able to make an announcement soon about my next book, but not yet! I’m excited to say that there will be animals in it (lots of animals)! In the meantime, I am working on revisions; I have an older manuscript that I’m polishing up to get it ready for submission.
I can’t wait to find out more! A book full of animals sounds like lots of fun. Where can you be found online?
I love engaging on Twitter: @adrea_theodore. I also have a website which has more information about me and any news or events related to the book! www.adreatheodore.com
Thank you so much for taking the time to appear on my blog and answer these questions!
Thank you for inviting me!
Adrea Theodore is a mom, a pediatrician and a children’s book author from North Carolina. Her debut picture book, A History of Me (Neal Porter Books/Holiday House)is available now! When not writing, Dr. Theodore works in a local child advocacy center (CAC) with children being evaluated for abuse or neglect. Every child she sees there also has a story to tell. Follow her on Twitter: @adrea_theodore or check her website for upcoming event info: adreatheodore.com.