One school year, I was excited because it was an adoption year for a new literature curriculum. I was hoping for some options that included more authors of color. To my surprise, there was an option. The English department had to vote, and the curriculum that had the most votes would be adopted. Only one other person voted for the curriculum I chose. I was the only black person or person of color in my department. All my other colleagues, who were white, voted for a different curriculum which was eventually adopted. Although they acknowledged the curriculum I chose did provide some options we did not have, the counter to why they could not choose the option I chose was, “That curriculum eliminated too many classic texts.” In other words, “Too many white authors were not included.”
I would hear statements like, “I couldn’t imagine students never being exposed to Mark Twain.” You could replace Twain with Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, etc. At the end of the day you are not teaching the novel, you are using the novel to teach literacy skills. That means you don’t have to use a classic text.
I have done enough complaining about this matter, so it was time to take action to help others. I know what it is like to spend hours outside of your contract hours to supplement the school curriculum with text from diverse authors to engage students. I wanted to help bring more diverse authors to children and teachers. That’s why my husband and I created Barnes Brothers Books.
In June 2019, our company released our first book called My Family’s Great Smoky Mountains Adventure written by my son Jeremiah J. Barnes. As a former English teacher, I know students need exposure to nonfiction text. I also remember using texts from the curriculum to meet this expectation that students didn’t like. Now, I have a text to suggest to teachers to use.
Our second book will be released October 2019. It is a fictional chapter book called Ghost Text written by my son James J. Barnes. My favorite part about Ghost Text is that the characters are black. It’s a mystery involving three black boys and a ghost. I wish I had books like that to read when I was a kid.
I’m also in the middle of writing two books, a Greek mythology book featuring a black protagonist, and a gardening recipe book.
What I’m most excited about is we have a writer (who is not related to us) contracted to release a book with us by the end of 2020, and we are looking for more writers who are willing to join our cause.
This quote from Toni Morrison really drives my work:
I am looking for diverse authors willing to fill the void of books that haven’t been written yet so children of color can see themselves in literature and in the curriculum inside their classrooms.
If you or someone you know has a complete children’s manuscript you would like to submit to Barnes Brothers Books, click here.