By Yolanda Marshall
Valene Campbell is a mother who facilitates early antiracism intervention through diverse literature and the author of The Amazing Zoe series. Her collection of children’s books empathizes the importance of inclusion and representation for our little ones. Her books portray an intelligent little girl who “Defeats the Germie Germlins,” learns about conflict resolutions. In “A Queen Like Me”, Zoe formulates a way to aid her granny, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, in “Grandma’s Memory Box.” Valene achieved her Masters of Physical Therapy degree from Howard University and is also the Founder and Managing Director of a Toronto based home health care agency. Here is more insight into the importance of her literature journey.
How old were you when you discovered the powers of storytelling?
Valene Campbell: Storytelling is a part of my being and has been a part of my existence for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall life without it and I give the credit to my rich Caribbean heritage, having both parents hailing from Jamaica. The Caribbean culture thrives in various art forms such as music, art, poetry, dance and storytelling; there is no exception in my family. My extended family on both sides are numerous and our social gatherings always consisted (and still do) of the exchange of jokes or reminiscing of our younger years. Afterwards, you are sure to hear the cackles and belly laughs that feel as though the walls tremor. At an early age, I recognized a good story will grip an audience, they will educate, uplift listeners, present values and beyond being ‘fun’, they can also be transformational.
You currently have three best-selling children’s books. What inspired you to write those stories?
V.C: The inspiration behind each story spawned from happenings in my life or the world around us. When I wrote book 1, I was a new, first-time mom and became that much more aware of how my daughter may interpret or be viewed by the world. Many of her first books were about animals or characters that lacked representation. We were in the early stages of the pandemic and thought it would be a great way to help children cope with what the world was navigating.
Book 2 was inspired by the untimely and abhorrent murder of George Floyd, which consequently created a movement for change. I questioned what it would take for the oppressors of the Black community to humanize our bodies. I realized it was about retelling the stories of the origination of mankind, namely the Black diaspora having lived as Kings and Queens in great civilizations. Book 3 tackles Alzheimer’s Disease and was inspired by the relationship between my daughter and my mom who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 5 years ago.
As a mother who did not see herself in children’s literature as a child, how does it feel to write/read books with representation for the younger generation, especially your daughter?
V.C: I am thrilled to witness the impact of diverse literature, including The Amazing Zoe books among children of various backgrounds. I’m overwhelmed with joy when children express their relatability or are pictured with a diverse character. When my daughter and I read diverse picture books together, she often identifies herself or family members in the book. My daughter and other children smile with pride and it reminds me every day that representation absolutely matters.
Please visit Valene Campbell’s website https://valenecampbell.com
This week’s recommendation for young readers, by Caribbean authors: –
Hot Cross Buns for Everyone
Written by Yolanda T. Marshall – an award winning author, columnist (that’s me)
Illustrated by Daria Lavrova
“Jackson’s friends and their families bake assorted hot cross buns for his Easter party. Liam’s foster parents use his most memorable Scottish ingredient, and Dimitri’s dad adds Greek mahlepi spice. Some have rainbow colours for all to see and a sweet Jamaican bun and cheese recipe! One by one, the children arrive with hot cross buns for everyone.” – Published by Chalkboard Publishing Ltd. April 2022
Exceptionally You: A Children’s Book About Self Esteem, Courage And Acceptance
Written by Miss Natasha – educator
Illustrated by Calvin Clyke
“Miss. Natasha’s Exceptionally You is an extraordinary reminder that bravely being yourself is very, very, very important. The only thing you can do is be YOU and no one else!” This beautifully illustrated addresses ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, hearing loss, partial blindness and multiple sclerosis.
Published in May 2021
Please Visit A Different Booklist, Knowledge Bookstore and other major bookstore to support your Caribbean authors.