Well, it’s 2020 and at the time of filing this story, the world was still spinning, that “dude” was still in the White House spreading lies and showing his consistent lack of knowledge, wisdom, and basic common sense. So, what to do? We are now less than four months away from one of the most important presidential elections of our lives.
I shudder to think what our foremothers and forefathers in the struggle of justice and equality would think of what we have all allowed to step in and push back many of their hard-won accomplishments.
Imagine what they are collectively thinking? Have this generation learned nothing? What can we do differently with the new generations to help ensure this colossal mistake (or worse) doesn’t happen again?
As human beings, are we capable of lasting and positive change? How can we help our children and their children’s’ children understand the need to vote and make sure that our vote counts?
Maybe this generation needs a refresher course on what it took for African Americans to get the right to vote in the first place?
Enter award-winning husband and wife team, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, whose new children book, “Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It” (on sale September 29, 2020, published under Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), delivers a front-row seat to the dramatic events that led to African Americans earning the right to vote.
Loretta, Roly, and Aggie B., members of the Little family, each present the vivid story of their young lives, spanning three generations. Their separate stories – beginning in a cotton field in 1927 and ending at the presidential election of 1968 – come together to create one unforgettable journey.
Right here, I’m sharing the honest-to-goodness.” – Loretta
“I’m gon’ reach back, and tell how it all went. I’m gon’ speak on it. My way.” – Roly
“I got more nerve than a bad tooth. But there’s nothing bad about being bold.” – Aggie B.
Through an evocative mix of fictional first-person narratives, spoken-word poems, folk myths, gospel rhythms and blues influences, Loretta Little Looks Back weaves an immersive tapestry that illuminates the dignity of sharecroppers in the rural South. Inspired by storytelling’s oral tradition, stirring vignettes are presented in a series of theatrical monologues that paint a gripping, multidimensional portrait of America’s struggle for civil rights as seen through the eyes of the children who lived it. The novel’s unique format invites us to walk in their shoes.
Each encounters an unexpected mystical gift, passed down from one family member to the next, that ignites their experience—what it means to reach for freedom.
The Pinkney’s are a New York Times bestselling and award-winning couple who have made outstanding contributions to the field of children’s literature, both as individuals and as an author-artist team. Between them, they have published nearly 60 children’s books, a rich treasury of words and images reflecting a wide range of interests for children — experiences that are both specific and universal.
The couple has been named among the “25 Most Influential People in Our Children’s Lives” by Children’s Health magazine. They are the recipient of the Regina Medal for their outstanding contributions to children’s literature. The Pinkney’s books have been awarded multiple Caldecott Honor Medals, Coretta Scott King Awards, and Boston Globe/Horn Book Honors. They are five-time nominees for the NAACP Image Awards and have received many Jane Addams Children’s Literature Honor citations, as well as multiple parenting publications gold medals.
Their notable books include “Martin Rising: Requiem for a King,” “Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra,” “Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America,” “Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation,” “Martin & Mahalia,” “Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride,” and “Ella Fitzgerald.”
Additionally, Brian and Andrea speak in schools and at educational conferences nationwide about their work as children’s book creators. Each year they inspire more than 10,000 school children and educators with their presentations and workshops. The Pinkney’s call Brooklyn, New York, home where they live with their two children.
Here is what award-winning husband and wife team Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, whose new children book “Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It” (on sale September 29, 2020, published under Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) had to share about why they decided to write their most recent book:
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL: How did this story and these characters first come into your minds?
ANDREA and BRIAN PINKNEY: ‘Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It’ is a book that’s been in the works for five years. It’s a story that stems from the roots of our respective family trees. As a husband and wife team, we spend a lot of time talking about ideas that resonate with both us.
This story – centered around a series of first-person narratives that plunge readers into the lives and times of a Mississippi sharecropping family – is inspired by the experiences of our own southern relatives. Between the two of us, there’s an abundant tapestry of family stories about enduring racism, pushing past bigotry, and forging the way to new freedoms. We wanted to share these through words and illustrations. Loretta Little Looks Back began to take shape through notes scribbled on napkins and sketches jotted in notebooks. We’ve collaborated on numerous books, but this one has taken on special meaning because it spans generations — beginning in a cotton field in 1927 and ending at the presidential election of 1968, when African Americans claimed the right to vote. The fight for election equality during the 1960s happened when we were born, and is the result of the hard work and determination of our grandparents and parents. We grew up hearing stories about that struggle. We wanted to honor that. With this in mind, the book’s core began to take shape. It’s always been important to us to keep those stories alive for the next generation who are carrying on the civil rights torch. That’s what we hope this book will do – inspire action and ignite the minds and hearts of young people.
LAS: What’s it like working as a husband and wife team?
ABP: As a married couple, we share everything from the same tube of toothpaste, to the carton of almond milk in our family fridge. We’ve been collaborating for thirty years and have published nearly sixty books together. Working with the one you love can be a beautiful experience or a total disaster! Thankfully, we’ve developed some great strategies for making books while staying happily married. It’s been a learning experience. Like every couple who lives under the same roof and juggles careers and family life, we’ve hit some snags. These have turned out to be gifts that have helped us find ways to work together while keeping our love alive.
There are three iron-clad ‘rules’ that have worked for decades of bookmaking as an author-artist team. 1) Carve out designated times for discussing work.
To do this, we have a weekly ‘meeting’ each Saturday at our dining room table to review our projects and to sit down together to talk about them. Before and after the meeting, we don’t discuss work at all. We came up with this plan when we realized that we were chattering on and on about work 24/7 and that we need to establish some healthy boundaries around work-life balance.
Once, during a family car trip, our son was in the backseat re-enacting a dialogue between the two of us. My daughter was cracking up because the impersonation was of us talking all about work. The kids kept making jokes about it, but we didn’t think it was funny. We immediately realized that our book projects were encroaching on our precious family time – and our kids were noticing it. That’s when our weekly dining room table sit-downs took on even greater importance. These meetings happen when the kids are out of the house, so we are no longer the brunt of their backseat re-enactments! 2) Have separate workspaces in separate locations. Our respective writing and art studios are not in our home. We each have designated places to work that are in separate neighborhoods in New York City, where we live. 3) Abide by ‘the three C’s’ – Courtesy, Communication, Commitment. These three words have been key to our happy coupledom!
LAS: How important is this November 2020 election, and why is it important that your story, which centers around the power of voting, be told?
ABP: Every election is important. What’s most vital about the democratic process is that we empower ourselves by registering to vote – and by voting. One of our favorite scenes in Loretta Little Looks Back happens in 1964, when young Aggie accompanies her Aunt ‘Retta to a local SNCC meeting seeking volunteers to register to vote. It’s the Jim Crow South, so people are reluctant. They ask for a show of hands. No one is brave enough – except Aggie. She says ‘My hand a mind of its own. It raised itself so far, I thought my palm and fingers would fly off the top of my wrist! I knew that being only twelve-years-old, I was too young to register to vote. But my hand didn’t care about the age a person needed to be to help make things better.’ This scene is punctuated by a painting of Aggie with an exaggerated hand that reaches its way off the page to bring visual power affirming that the future in the hands of our kids. By going to the polls, we show children they have a voice.
LAS: People keep telling me that ‘no one reads anymore’ and they provide me with updated data. Got it. Got it. As a children author myself – I know (I don’t think, I know) that creative people must step up, write, and get published. Your thoughts?
ABP: From our perspective, kids and families are reading more than ever. One of the gifts of being quarantined is that reading has taken on even greater importance. Also, in light of recent events surround the Black Lives Matter, doors are opening for more Black writers. We have a long way to go, but change is happening.
“Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It” on sale September 29, 2020. Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.