The 7th Annual African American Children’s Book Fair takes place Saturday, May 11th, at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. It’s a fun-filled day focused on kids’ literature about African Americans and people of other ethnicities. Families can enjoy author readings, illustration workshops, live performances, an amazing book village, and art activities… all for FREE!
But it’s not just about the books. The day is full of interactive activities that help kids connect literature to the “real world.” Families can participate in a juicing demo, yoga/meditation, bicycle spin art and more. Local favorite Culture Queen will be performing and kids can mingle with animals in a petting zoo created by the Baltimore Police Mounted Unit. Living history performances will bring several Maryland historical figures to life as well. The museum will have 35+ authors and illustrators participating in the fair as well as community organizations that support literacy and reading readiness.
One of the authors who will be on site that day? Doreen Spicer-Dannelly, an American Writer/Producer/Director known for Disney Channel’s critically acclaimed animated series The Proud Family. Doreen also happened to write the 2018 middle grade novel, Love Double Dutch!
We chatted with Doreen to talk about the kind of stories that inspire her and how she writes — in various genres — to empower kids.
Chatting with Doreen Spicer-Dannelly
What kinds of stories inspire you?
I love stories that illuminate an area of the mind where we haven’t traveled yet– especially for kids. The moment in stories where the light bulb goes on for young people that helps to illuminate a new perspective and a new way to view things. It’s always so inspiring.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
I was a big fan of TV as a child, and even in my adult life, I love entertainment. One of the actresses from the show “Good Times” lived in the same building as I did as a child. Her family was really into the arts, and my family got into the theater with them. It spawned this career for me, and sparked some interest in the theater. I was inspired as a young girl into the arts, and followed that trail into my career. I was about 6 or 7 when that spark caught.
You’ve written the book “Love Double Dutch” and have also written for television on shows such as Disney Channel’s “The Proud Family” and “Jump In!” Tell us a little bit about what made you want to become a writer, and how your career switched from writing for TV to writing books for young audiences.
I became a writer because I didn’t see myself on TV. I watched shows like the Brady Bunch and Charlies Angels, when I was young and had a hard time relating to the characters on many different levels.
In the 70s and 80s I saw shows like “The Facts of Life” and “Different Strokes.” I started seeing characters that I could relate to. Being Puerto Rican and African American, I have a different look, and there weren’t enough images on TV to make me feel like my presence was validated.
As a child, something struck me as odd, and I felt like I was invisible. I didn’t fit the stereotypical molds, so I followed the behind the scenes journey. I wanted to produce things that showed girls that were a different array of colors, where everyone is included– different shades and different cultures.
Each of your projects is centered around empowering children and teens- of all different backgrounds, and especially for children of color. Can you tell us a little bit about the importance of writing about children of diverse backgrounds?
Writing about children from diverse backgrounds is so important now a days so that kids can relate to one another on so many different levels. It makes life so much more interesting and colorful, and culture brings something new to the table. Your traditions, your family, your background, your heritage, they’re all about you. We all want love, we all want acceptance and friendship. We want our families to validate and love us, and when we share those qualities in a story, kids feel more included, engaged, interested and respected for their cultures. Even if the representations aren’t their experience, they can understand that these people aren’t necessarily not the norm. They still like to have fun or eat pizza and enjoy life- just like everyone else. My goal is to be all inclusive.
You can learn more about Doreen Spicer-Dannelly by following her on Twitter. Better yet, meet her in person at the 7th Annual African American Children’s Book Festival at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum! The annual children’s event takes place on Saturday May 11th.