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Award-winning children’s author Rita Williams-Garcia captivated an audience of about 90 children and adults on July 14 at an event sponsored by the Dajae Coleman Foundation and Evanston Public Library.
Children were invited to sit in the front of the Community Meeting Room of the Library, where the author discussed her life as a writer, answered audience questions, and got everyone on their feet to do the “Cool Jerk” and other dance moves she enjoyed while growing up in the 1960s.
Ms. Williams-Garcia, whose book, “Gone Crazy in Alabama,” won this year’s Coretta Scott King Award, also wrote “P.S. Be Eleven,” “Jumped,” and “One Crazy Summer.” In her presentation, Ms. Williams-Garcia focused on the importance of telling stories from a child’s point of view. Quoting fellow children’s author Chris Miles, she said, “We’re creating the framework for children to process what they’re going through.”
As a second-grader living in Rockaway, N.Y., she wrote one of her first stories, after flood waters forced her family out of their home. She showed the audience her original story, written on lined paper and titled “The Flood.” Her writing career was underway at age 14, when she sold a story to Highlights Magazine.
Ms. Williams-Garcia encouraged the children in attendance to keep a journal. “Your thoughts do matter. You’ll see how far you’ll grow just by writing down your own thoughts,” she said. She went on to say, “As a writer, sometimes you have to go a little further from your own thoughts into someone else’s thinking.”
The author, who is black, noted that only 10% of children’s books are about people of color; and that many children rarely see people who look like themselves in the books they read.
When the time came for questions, the children in the audience were well prepared, many having read “Jumped” or “One Crazy Summer” after receiving the books through the Dajae Coleman Foundation’s DaeDae Reads summer reading Initiative. The author told the children about how her own childhood experiences have contributed to the stories she has written as an adult. She closed by saying, “I want to encourage you all to live a great story and then tell it.”
Jarrett Dapier, Director of Summer Reading Initiative for the Dajae Coleman Foundation, said the foundation distributed 300 free copies of the Williams-Garcia books to youth throughout Evanston.
“Each year we choose a title or two by one author whose work we believe will appeal to local youth, especially youth of color. We want books that can act as a mirror for the lives of the young in our community, so that they see themselves in the books they read and feel validated,” Mr. Dapier said. Each year, the summer reading initiative culminates in a final event, which is usually a visit from the author. Related programming takes place in partnership with local organizations, including the McGaw YMCA and Y.O.U. (Youth & Opportunity United).
The Dajae Coleman Foundation (DC3F) was founded in 2013 by Tiffany Rice in memory of her son, who lost his life to gun violence at the age of 14. “Reading was an important part of Dajae’s life. DC3F promotes literacy in the Evanston community as an essential step towards empowering our youth in their efforts to succeed in school and life,” said Ms. Rice.