One August day I was invited to the main branch of the Little Rock Public Library to read Uncle Jed’s Barbershop to 7 & 8 year olds during Storytime. Since school was not in session parents brought their children. After reading the story, the question and answer period was dominated by parents, who were fascinated with the historical aspects of the story. They shared their childhood memories about going to the barbershop. Some animatedly talked about relatives who were barbers.
But there was not one word from any of the children.
I really wanted to hear what the children thought since Uncle Jed’s Barbershop is a book for children. No matter how long I waited, there was no comment from a child.
After all adults had exhausted their questions and shared their barber stories, I packed my bag to leave.
As I was going out the door, a little girl stopped me. She said, “I liked your story about Uncle Jed. I want to be a doctor when I grow up. But my grandmama keeps saying I’ll never be one. Now I know I can be a doctor.”
The emotions her comment generated in me are indescribable. I knew then I had achieved my goal in writing Uncle Jed’s Barbershop. I wanted to inspire children to dream big dreams for their lives and to believe that those dreams can come true.
But that day, this girl ended up inspiring me. As a result, I felt a bigger responsibility; to make sure as many students as possible heard the story of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop.
The Little Rock library visit was my very first appearance with Uncle Jed’s Barbershop. Since then I have travelled throughout the United States sharing Uncle Jed’s story. And countless children have read about Uncle Jed and his dream of owning a barbershop.
Year after year I receive letters from students telling me about their dreams and how hearing Uncle Jed’s story has convinced them that their dreams can come true. The letters come directly to me after school and event visits.
Letters and emails even arrive from students with which I have had no contact. They have found Uncle Jed’s Barbershop in their school library, their public library, or their teachers read it to them. An interesting aspect of the letters is that the students tell me their dreams, and they also share who tells them they cannot achieve those dreams. Oftentimes, it is a close family member.
I am delighted that Uncle Jed’s Barbershop has inspired and continues to inspire children to dream great dreams for their lives, no matter how unattainable others think those dreams may be!
For further information about Uncle Jed’s Barbershop
A book can be the entrance to a whole new world for children. Books can make otherwise complicated subjects easy to digest. If you are introducing your students to the history of jazz, a book can ease this entrance.
Jazz is a musical form characterized by improvisation and syncopation. It is a combination of African music (rhythmic intricacy) and European music (harmonic structure).
New Orleans is considered by many to be the birthplace of jazz. Other major cities associated with jazz are: Chicago, New York, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Musicians in each city have put their distinctive stamp on jazz.
Its history coincides with the urbanization of black Americans. Therefore, jazz has always been an urban music.
The type of jazz known as ‘Swing’ first appeared during the Great Depression. The optimistic feeling of the music lifted spirits. This gave rise to the ‘Swing Era’ when swing dancing was the national dance.
When Grandmama Sings pays homage to this era and to early jazz singers who got their beginnings touring the South.
When Grandmama Sings takes place in the 1940’s. Belle’s grandmother is a local singer in a small town in Mississippi. She gets an opportunity to go on a tour of the South and she takes Belle with her.
When Grandmama Sings shows what life was life for black entertainers who traveled from city to city to get their name known. Grandmama is protective of Belle but she doesn’t shelter her from the harsh realities of life.
They encounter separate hotels for black and whites. They can’t eat in a restaurant after a show because of the color of their skin. Grandmama meets with injustice in New Orleans when a club owner wants her to perform without pay. And when she performs in a big venue in Atlanta the audience is segregated. Whites sit on the main floor and black people have to sit in the balcony.
It is important for students to read books like When Grandmama Sings because arts programs in schools are diminishing and students are not being exposed to music. It is important that students learn to appreciate different types of music. They should know that certain types of music were born out of struggle. If students hear music and can read about the challenges the artists faced, they will have a better appreciation of what it takes to build a career.
Reading books like When Grandmama Sings opens the door to discussion about the different genres of music, such as classical, blues, country, hip hop, rap, etc. Students can discuss how the different styles of music affects emotions.
Music is the fabric of our society. Children’s books set in the music world can help build imagination and foster intellectual curiosity, while at the same time imparting nuggets of history.
Read more about When Grandmama Sings
I am participating in the Brown Bookshelf Roundtable this month, along with Kekla Magoon, Wade Hudson, and Johnny Ray Moore. Read our thoughts on Where Do We Go From Here regarding the children’s book industry. Below is an excerpt:
Here at the Brown Bookshelf, we’ve spoken often and long on the issues and ideas expressed in the Open Declaration. We do this work to lift up our young readers and show them how they can survive, thrive, and soar in this world. For many of us, the way forward might be clear, for others, not so much. We may sign on to petitions and open declarations, forward emails, RT, and “like”, and these can all be good and powerful things. But we believe that it’s important to reflect on how we will hold ourselves accountable, how we will act, and reflect; how we will “live out commitment to using our talents and varied forms of artistic expression to help eliminate the fear that takes root in the human heart amid lack of familiarity and understanding of others; the type of fear that feeds stereotypes, bitterness, racism and hatred; the type of fear that so often leads to tragic violence and senseless death.” We’ll present a series of those posts here; signatories asking, wondering, and doing an essential question: Where do we go from here?
Below, in the second of these posts, are some thoughts from award-winning authors, artists, and creators, including Kekla Magoon-KM (Shadows of Sherwood, X: A Novel, How It Went Down), Wade Hudson-WH, author (Jamal’s Busy Day, In Praise of Our Mothers and Fathers, Book of Black Heroes) and publisher of the storied Just Us Books, Margaree King Mitchell-MKM (When Grandmama Sings, Uncle Jed’s Barbershop), and Johnny Ray Moore-JRM, (Meet Martin Luther King, Jr., Howie Has A Stomachache).
Read the complete conversation at: The Brown Bookshelf