Q&A: ‘Princess Cupcake Jones’ author on bringing diversity to children’s books

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We’re big readers in this house. One thing I’ve written about a lot when it comes to children’s books is the need for and importance of more diversity. And more diversity now.

Earlier this year someone reached out to MMM to see if I would be interested in checking out a new book by Ylleya Fields called Princess Cupcake Jones and the Missing Tutu. It sounded it cute (it is) and I really liked that the lead character of the story just so happened to be a little brown girl.

The Youngster totally enjoyed it, and often requested it as one of his three bedtime books. And so I’m pleased to have had a chance to chat with Fields about her work, her family, and where the two intersect.

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Photo by KSB Promotions

Photo by KSB Promotions

Q:  How did you become a children’s book author? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

Ylleya Fields: I actually became a writer due to what I saw as a lack of children’s picture books that featured an ethnic main character that my own children could relate to. I won’t say it happened overnight, but it wasn’t something I thought about until then.

Q: I know that Princess Cupcake is based on your children, but how did you come up with this story — that rhymes! — about the missing tutu? 

YF: The stories are based on things that my daughter’s have either done or loved! My oldest probably wore a tutu everyday of her early life. While my middle daughter absolutely hates to clean up! So that was a nice combination of both personalities (which I do a lot in this series). As for the rhyming, that was just the type of picture book that my children and I gravitate towards. So I decided that was the type that I wanted to write as well.

Q: Of course, one of the things that I thrilled me most about your book is seeing not just brown faces, but also that this family of color is royalty. How important is it for you to have that diversity and representation in children’s stories? 

YF: Extremely important, as it’s the whole reason I set out to create this series in the first place. I read somewhere that children of color seeing themselves in books is as important as children seeing a black president or a black doctor … it really drives home the point that you can be anything that you want to be.

 

Photo by KSB Promotions

Photo by KSB Promotions

Q: On the topic of this clear need for more children’s books starring kids of color, representing real life — not just talking bears and cars and pigeons — was it a challenge for you to try to tell Princess Cupcake Jones’ story? Did you experience a lot of pushback from publishers? 

YF: I didn’t I send [the book] to many publishers for a few reasons: 1) I don’t deal with rejection well. 2) I wanted complete control of this project, which you can’t really have when you just sell a story. But yes, from the few people I have sent it to, you basically hear the same things, which is that it’s a great concept, but there really isn’t a market for it, which absolutely isn’t the case.

Q: What can we mothers of color and mothers of mixed heritage families do to have our voices heard on this important subject of inclusion? 

YF: Wow, that’s a deep question. But I think the best answer would be to let our children know that they truly matter. No matter what they look like, or where they come from, or what social economic status they’re in.

Princess Cupcake Jones | Ms. Mary Mack

Q: What’s been the best part about seeing your story in hardcover, there for others to experience?

YF: The best part is exactly what you said: seeing it! Also, having my children show it to their peers and really be proud of it. There is no greater feeling that accomplishing a dream or goal and having others share in it.

Q: Do you have a lot of input on the illustrations, as in how the characters are depicted?

YF: Oh, absolutely! My illustrator is a genius because he brings what I want to life. But every page of every illustration is usually first ran by my fiancée (or, as I like to call him, my creative consultant) and me, and then we in turn tell Mike (the illustrator) what we want to see happen.

Q: What’s the process like for you, from the idea to the finished product in bookstores? How long does it take? And what’s the most challenging part of that process?

YF: Oh, boy! That depends on a lot of factors. The writing of the story itself has so many variables (for ex.,  if I’m in a writing mood, if I have the topic). But usually I pick a topic, write the story, have the story edited, rewrite, edit again, rewrite, send to the illustrator, come up with a concept for the cover, wait for the illustrator to send that back, fit the story into a 32-page format, go over what I want to see illustration-wise, wait for the pencils of the illustrations, tweak them, wait on the color illustrations to come back, edit one more time for punctuation, and viola! The book is done … But that is it in the most simplest of forms. That process can take a year or two to get done.

Q: If there’s a message you’d like parents and kids reading your books to have when the walk away from it, what would it be?

YF: Each book has its own message. The [first one] obviously is about cleaning up but others will have their own theme. As long as parents and children take something meaningful from each book, I’m happy.

Q: What’s the next book about? And when can we expect more adventures with Princess Cupcake Jones?

YF: The next book is Princess Cupcake Jones Won’t Go To School. It actually was just released, and it’s about dealing with the fear of the first day of school.

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Guess what time it is? Oh, yes. It’s Giveaway Time! One lucky MMM reader (US only — sorry) will win a copy of Princess Cupcake Jones Won’t Go To School. All you have to do is leave a comment about one of your favorite children’s books. Good luck! Winner will be announced next week.

 

10 Comments
  • 1
    Nicole says:

    Those illustrations are adorable! I love to see more diversity in children’s books. I live in Iowa and it’s crazy homogeneous, so I like to have a variety of children’s books to read to my preschooler.

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Yes, as I’ve said many times before: We need diversity in children’s books. And we need it now!

      Thanks for the comment, Nicole.

  • 2
    Erin H says:

    I wish this book was around when I was a kid! I think one of my favorite books as a child was Corduroy. I read it to my kids and it totally brings me back.

    • 2.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      It’s funny: I only got to know about Corduroy as a mother. Never once heard of that bear growing up in Canada. Wonder if it’s an American thing.

  • 3
    Michelle says:

    Oooh, I want this book for my friend (she’s getting ready to have her first little person). When I was a kid, my favorite book was probably The Monster at the End of This Book. The “story,” illustrations, and typeface totally mesmerized me.

    • 3.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      My younger sister is also having her first little person, and I’m getting another niece. My fifth! Can’t wait. I think both of these books below in that new library.

      Thanks for the comment, Michelle.

  • 4
    Gee says:

    One of my favorite children’s book is the Tawny Scrawny Lion. A favorite since becoming a parent is The Snowy Day and I’d like to get Peter’s Chair now that I have a second child.

    The illustrations for Princess Cupcake Jones look fantastic!

  • 5
    Skye says:

    Thanks for highlighting this! I just requested that our public library system buy both books.

  • 6
    Skye says:

    Just got a note back from our library, they’re buying these as soon as their funds come through for the next fiscal year. Yay!

    • 6.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Skye! This is fantastic. Thank you for going the extra mile to get diversity books in your local library. I’ll share this with the author.