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

Parental Intel 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.

 

The 7 Indisputable Rules of Little Kid Fashion

MMM Showcase, Parental Intel Friday, August 22, 2014

Good news! I’ve been asked to join Mom.me’s writers’ circle. This means I’ll be posting more regularly on that lovely site. I dipped my toes back in those waters last month when I wrote about my daily morning debate between motherhood and runner. Then I got into talking about my recent awkward encounters with other people’s kids (and the parents, too!). This time around, it’s all about the “rules” of dressing them kids! Have a read, and let me know what you think. And, if you feel so moved, please share the link in your circles. Thanks!

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Balance | Ms. Mary Mack

The days of dressing my 5-year-old son are over. Actually, they came to an end a few years ago, when speaking in full and clear sentences was no longer a mountain he needed to climb. He was there, at the summit, expressing how he really felt about the clothing choices I’d been making for him. No more cute, fly-guy fashions and themed outfits, like super-mini skater kid, tiny Harvard preppy, or the “Mad Men” Casual Beach thing I was getting away with for a stretch. Once this kid was able to express his likes and — as was often the case — staunch dislikes, the couture was cut down to a set of very basic rules. Rules that may not be bent or broken, for the retribution would be steep … and bloody annoying.

I learned the hard way and endured the battle of the morning get-dressed scene, and have come out on the other side. So, in the interest of each one teach one, I present to you the 7 Rules of Little Kid Fashion, as told to me by my son — who, for this exercise, we’ll call Maester ICanDoItMyself.

1. Band-Aids Take Priority. If there is ever a bandage covering a bump, scrape or cut [Parent edit: real or imagined ones], be sure that socks and sleeves do not cover this important plaster. Unless, of course, these things bring added protection to this most necessary tourniquet. In that case, pull the socks up all the way to the knee, making doubly sure they stay up, and drag those sleeves or pant legs carefully over the important bandage. Failure to comply will result in certain grumpiness and more than a few Band-Aids wasted in the “reapplication” process.

2. Tag, You’re Not It! No matter how much I claim to like a shirt, if the tag scrapes or tickles the back of my neck, even just a little, we will have a problem. I will not think twice to demand that the offending tag be completely removed. It’s lay flat or go home. (Home being the garbage bin here.) And, Parent, it’s probably a safer bet that you memorize the wash and care instructions of all my shirts, as I have a zero-tolerance policy about tags that don’t follow the clear rules.

Read all 7 rules here on Mom.me.

My Cringe-Filled Experiences Around Other People’s Kids

MMM Showcase, Parental Intel Thursday, August 14, 2014

Good news! I’ve been asked to join Mom.me’s writers’ circle. This means I’ll be posting more regularly on that lovely site. I dipped my toes back in those waters just last month when I wrote about my daily morning debate between motherhood and runner. This time around I’m talking about my recent awkward encounters with other people’s kids (and the parents, too!). Have a read, and let me know what you think. 

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From the minute they bustled through the doors, I started holding my breath. It was a small family — a set of older parents with a 3-year-old child — descending upon the already cramped airport lounge. There was a storm brewing on the East Coast, delaying a large batch of flights out. The benefit of being able to recline in comfy seats with a kind buffet of warm pasta, cold sandwiches and simple snacks, and free Wi-Fi was not lost on me. I was ever grateful, specifically because I had my 5-year-old son along with me on this trip.

Photo credit: Mom.me

Photo credit: Mom.me

We had just tucked into another bowl of cheddar fish when the trio — we’ll call them The Louds — stomped in. Kid Loud was high-octane, just whining and yelling and taking bratdom to the next level. Even my son said, “Mom, that kid is really whiny — way more whinier than any other person I’ve ever seen.” Word, li’l homey. Word.

The child’s parents looked completely exhausted and deflated: The dad proceeded to take out his laptop and fully ignore his kid, while the mother chased after and tried to corral the tiny human.

They picked the row of seats facing us. (Yay.) Kid Loud steamrolled over and started poking, talking, nudging, hugging, yelling, grabbing food and generally bugging my son. The two kids played, as best as they could. I must have heard Kid Loud’s name about 58 times in the span of 20 minutes, as the mother tried in vain to set her child straight. We still had another 90 minutes before our delayed flight was set to leave, yet I seriously considered fleeing the comforts of the lounge and heading to the sweatbox of the faraway, woefully neglected “satellite” terminal just to escape The Louds.

Instead I tried to focus on my newspaper, but ended up going over the same damn sentence on loop. At one point I was even reading out loud, in a stage whisper, to rise above the din of Kid Loud. Then I tried to zone out, get Zen, meditate. No luck. Listen, even Deepak Chopra would have given up and Namaste’d on out of there.

Read the full post here on Mom.me.

Make Lunches Daily? CUE ‘CATHY’ SWEAT!

Life As Mom, Parental Intel Tuesday, August 5, 2014

There are plenty of great things about my son’s preschool program. That they serve healthy, varied, delicious hot lunch (plus snacks) every day has got to be in the Top 3 Great Things list.

The school prints out a monthly menu and hands it out to parents, so we know what’s coming. This also means that all of our smart-pants tiny people know what’s coming too. For the past few months, The Youngster will ask me what the school will be serving for lunch tomorrow. (The paper is pinned to our activity board high above his eye line and pay grade.) If it’s something he doesn’t quite like (mashed potatoes, weird-combo meatloaf), he’ll ask if he may take home lunch to school instead.

Rock the Lunchbox | Ms. Mary Mack

Any given month, this switcheroo accounts for maybe five days. That’s decent, right? I’m packing lunch for this kiddo five times out of every month. I often see people posting pics of their kids’ lunches on social media. Many of the pics are fantastic and totally aspirational (hello, kale and pumpkin seed salad in a Bento box!). And then some of the photos are … a lot less fantastic and a little drab. But no shade … I know it takes mind energy to plot out what to pack, who likes this, who doesn’t like that, and what is going to actually get eaten at school, not making the return trip home.

Rock the Lunchbox 1 | Ms. Mary Mack

Our good friends at Honest Tea knows the lunchbox struggle is real. Keeping the lunch options fresh and fun and healthy ain’t easy. So they’ve once again joined up with Annie’s Homegrown, Applegate, Organic Valley, and Rudi’s Organic Bakery for the “Rock the Lunchbox” campaign.

Rock the Lunchbox Toolkit | Ms. Mary Mack

It’s essentially a web site dedicated to sharing lunch ideas, tips and downloadable coupons for parents on that daily lunchbox grind.

Here’s where you come in … Honest Tea is generously donating a special Rock the Lunchbox Toolkit to one lucky MMM reader.

What’s in the Toolkit?

  • 3 free lunchbox containers (a Laptop Lunches Bento, a set of Blue Avocado Rezip bags, and one U-Konserve stainless steel container)
  • 6 free product coupons (we’re talking freeness from Annie’s Homegrown, Organic Valley, Honest Kids and more)
  • 1 set of Crayola Crayons (your kids can draw what their ideal lunch looks like and share it on the RTL site)

My son was excited to see everything spill out of our Toolkit. You would have thought it was some new LEGO set. And as result, I’ve been packing lunch this week — by his request. Hoping this excitement becomes a longstanding trend as we move closer toward the first day of … KINDERGARTEN! ACK!

Cathy Comic

For the giveaway, tell us what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever packed for lunch. One lucky reader will win the Rock the Lunchbox Toolkit. Leave a comment below, and the winner will be announced next week!

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