Alice Faye Duncan is the author of the new children's picture book Just Like a Mama. Her other books include Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop. She is based in Memphis.
Q: What inspired your new book, Just Like a Mama?
A: I wrote the first draft for Just Like a Mama during my first year teaching school in 1993. I taught a 4th grade class with 40 students.
There was a child in my class who did not live with her mother. The child’s grandmother cared for her and sent her to school each day, dressed-up clean like a shiny new penny. Every braid was perfectly parted, oiled and decked in a silk bow that matched the child's starched ensemble.
The grandmother’s fastidious care was inspiring and sent a message to anyone with eyes. Here was a cherished child. Here was a child, greatly loved.
Beyond my first year teaching, the idea for Just Like a Mama rested on me so strongly because I had witnessed the love and healing balm of a kinship adoption. My mother adopted her sister when my grandmother died in 1966.
It was my mother who “mothered” her 10-year old sister, raised her up, and sent her to college. My mother's relationship with her little sister is a maternal one. They relate to each other like mother and daughter.
Surely I was thinking of this connection on some subconscious level during the writing process. I have written at least five interpretations of this story since 1993. Words and scenes have changed, but love's celebration remains a constant.
Q: What do you think Charnelle Pinkney Barlow's illustrations add to the story?
A: Charnelle Pinkney comes from a long line of artists. Her grandfather is Caldecott winner Jerry Pinkney. And her uncle is the award-winning illustrator Brian Pinkney. Drawing and painting is Charnelle's creative inheritance--her DNA.
She is also a joyful spirit and her enthusiasm for life lights upon each page. The energy and vibrancy of Charnelle's pictures make for a joyful read. The pictures bubble over into good feelings and make for bonding moments when children and adults read the book together.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I have great hopes for Just Like a Mama. I want it to affirm the young reader who lives in a loving home where biological parents are not present.
I want the book to inspire empathy and warm feelings in the hearts of children who reside with their biological parents.
Of course, affirmation and empathy are incidental. I wasn't thinking of lofty goals while writing. I wrote the story first to photograph, capture, and remember what it looks like and feels like to be completely loved.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I belong to a Southern Sisterhood of Black Creatives. We call ourselves "The Sowing Circle."
Presently, we have combined our efforts to promote our four new books for children. They all debut on January 14, 2020.
The Sowing Circle's mission is very specific. We are Black Creatives sowing words and images in the hearts of children to reap a generation that is inquisitive, empathetic and enlightened.
We believe this mission is achieved when adults purchase our books and share them with children in their families or donate our books to "helping institutions" like libraries, schools, and hospitals that serve children.
As our books are purchased and promoted, we encourage supporters to celebrate their pre-orders and book purchases on social media with two hashtags: #sowingcircle and #J14. Our website is www.sowing-circle.com.
Sowing Circle participants include:
Tameka Fryer Brown—Brown Baby Lullaby
Charlotte, North Carolina
Alice Faye Duncan—Just Like a Mama
Kelly Starling Lyons—Dream Builder
Raleigh, North Carolina
Vanessa Brantley-Newton—Just Like Me
Charlotte, North Carolina
In this New Year...sow a seed. Make books part of your charitable giving. Visit the Sowing Circle at www.sowing-circle.com.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Alice Faye Duncan.