Durham Tech faculty do great things as teachers…and as authors of really excellent children’s books about the many positive male role models in young children’s lives.
Kashama Leo-Henry is an Early Childhood Instructor here at Durham Tech and has recently published Daddies and Uncles and More, Oh My!
Click through to read more about her motivation and inspiration.
What inspired you to write Daddies and Uncles and More, Oh My!?
My mom was a single parent. She paved the way and for this I’m forever thankful for her!
At a very young age, she instilled in me a passion for reading! She constantly provided me with books. I had access to early literacy- which was a tremendous blessing at that time. Nevertheless- I was not blind [to the fact] that everyone in my surroundings did not have the same experience.
As I grew older, these early experiences had me seeking other educational opportunities that my mom could not afford. At the age of 16, I worked 2 jobs, bought an airline ticket [from Saint Lucia], and came to America to chase the “American Dream.” This journey has not been easy, but it has been worth it!
In 2016, while attending graduate school I wrote a thesis titled “An Examination of Father’s Involvement With Their Children” to look at the extent to which fathers are involved in the lives of their children, who is serving in the role of father, and if the involvement varied by socioeconomic and demographic variables. The study explored the impact of the parental involvement perceived by the fathers. I challenged myself to use its findings to produce a piece as an extension of my research.
Fast-forward to 2019, I was dealing with something personal where I felt isolated. During this time, I experienced a range of exhausting feelings. As an island girl, we are taught that we’re born overcomers, so I knew I couldn’t remain in that overwhelming space for much longer. Simultaneously, so much was happening in the world that was heart-wrenching, specifically, black men experiencing many challenges–implicit bias, racism, police brutality, unwarranted killings, and the many negative stereotypes. I got inspired to change the narrative and redirect my energy into something wonderful: to write a children’s book that portrays positive interactions of black fathers and role models as they play a major role in contributing to healthy child development. I really wanted to make a difference.
Have you published other books? Would you like to publish more in the future?
I have not published any other books, but I would like to publish more in the future. Many people have been inspired by my drive and have sought guidance on the process, so my bigger vision is creating and diversify opportunities for others.
Through my recently [founded] book publishing company Sand Castle Books, I look forward to supporting students as well as educators who have an unpublished manuscript that they would like to put on the market.
Lili [the protagonist of the book] is such a great character. Do you imagine you might write other books with her about different topics?
Yes for sure! I believe that it is important to increase children’s awareness and acceptance of diversity at an early age. Family structures today are varied, and it is important that children have access to stories that are relatable.
As a main character, Lili will continue to spread a message of awareness and acceptance of diversity no matter your racial background through my books, I want children to discover themselves and develop a true appreciation of the commonalities with others.
The illustrations in your book are really wonderful. How did you connect with illustrator Gerry O’Neill?
Thank you! Social media can be a blessing and a curse. Thankfully, this experience worked out for my good. I began shopping around for an actual professional children’s book illustrator by simply doing a google search on children’s illustrators in Durham, North Carolina. I did not want generic digital illustrations; instead, I wanted real depictions of my family. I sent Gerry an email, he loved the story line, and he agreed to collaborate immediately.
What is the collaboration process like to work with an illustrator?
Although the entire collaboration process occurred during the pandemic, I really enjoyed it. We both contributed towards a desired outcome. Initially, I envisioned what my final product will look like, and I knew the kind of illustrations I wanted. We were unable to meet physically, so we did lots of email and phone communication discussing ideas. We spoke regularly, to ensure that we both were on the same page. Frequent communication really helped us build a strong team. The process entailed discussing ideas, sketching real life characters in my family, playing with postures and expressions, sketching out settings, drawing, re-drawing, and re-drawing to get things just right.
What were your favorite picture books to read when you were growing up?
To my recollection, my favorite picture book when I was growing up was, Alice in Wonderland. Initially, there was no logical reason, but the fact that I was captivated by the title! My middle name is Alice. I really took pride in knowing that there was a story with my name in it.
The Little Red Hen is another favorite picture book, through which I learned a lesson of hard work.
What are your favorite books or authors to read to children now?
I enjoy reading books by Ezra Jack Keats as well as Eric Carle.
What tips and advice do you have for aspiring children’s book authors?
We live in a world of endless possibilities, and if we have faith as tiny as a mustard seed, all things are possible. Keep believing, keep applying pressure, and never give up. Write from a place of passion and everything else will align nicely.
What is your favorite thing about working with children?
I get to holistically impact children’s growth and learning. This brings me great joy, and it makes life experiences even more meaningful.
Since you are from the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, can you share what early childhood education is like there?
Early childhood education at home is very child-centered. Through play and lots of outdoor exploration, children learn at their own pace. Culture and heritage are embedded in the curriculum. Teachers are lacking resources and professional development opportunities. Therefore, it really “takes a village.” Neighbors, teachers, community, and church leaders work together to ensure children succeed.
How can we better promote literacy and the love of reading to young children?
To promote the love of reading for young children, we need to take a comprehensive approach. We should focus on the four interrelated areas in Language Arts: speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Since children discover the sound of language before they observe the printed words, we should first engage children in rich verbal communication, then read aloud meaningful and exciting stories at-least once a day. These experiences will help children develop speaking and listening skills as well as making connections to printed words. Also, exposing children to a variety of books, labeling objects, and reading the same book multiple times help promote literacy. When we take time to read with children regularly, they realize that reading is fundamental. Children will then develop a natural liking for reading.
Daddies and Uncles and More, Oh My! is available for checkout at the Main Campus Library.