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.

 

Who’s in Charge of Serving More Days Like This?

Life As Mom Monday, September 8, 2014

He could barely contain his excitement, and started talking to me from the top step of the school bus. It’s The Youngster’s third day riding the school bus like this. And by this I mean happy. He wanted to tell me about his new school library book about sharks and that it was “nonfiction book with real photographs.” As we walked home from the corner bus stop, he was smiling. So was I.

“Today was the best,” he said, a grin stretched across his sweet face. “Mondays are the best days.”

Uh, I was thisclose to busting out one of these right there on my neighbor’s lawn:

Then toss in a bit of this:

And strong finish with this:

All of the posing and dancing is because of last week. As you may have read, last week was the opposite of happy, for everyone in our little family. Our little guy went from enjoying the short bus ride to his new school to absolutely dreading it, and was having a tough time with the transition from Pre-K to Real K Life. Thankfully, his principal and her staff are fantastic. Together we came up with a plan to help the young’un smooth out the edges around all this. The new strategy involves stickers and a chart posted on a wall in his room.

The new system is working.  The change in attitude and stress levels was instant, and we’re all proud of how well he’s doing now — especially him. You can just tell. I mean, the kid is practically skipping down the street after school. And he’s always bringing home some fun little observations about the day.

More of this, please! We are open and we are ready for more of this. We’re even willing to spearhead the new and revolutionary movement: Mondays Are the Best Days. Who’s with me? …

Anyone? …

Bueller?

No, Ice Cube. Today Was NOT a Good Day

Life As Mom Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Maaaaan. Today was a real jerk. It wasn’t supposed to be. It’s anniversary, after all. Cue up that TonyToniToné!. Eight years of this wedded bliss business. That’s no small thing.

B + B Wedding Day | Ms. Mary Mack

I knew it was going to be tricky, slotting in any fun and excitement for the anni since it fell on a Tuesday. But I woke up ready to meet the day like it’s golden anyway. That’s until I opened the bedroom blinds to find that our roadside mailbox had been completely uprooted and lying flat on its side in the damp grass.

Who the hell did that?? My suspicious mind kicked in and I had a handful of theories — none of the comforting — before we got downstairs for breakfast. Tried to shirk it off and move forward with the morning. The Youngster was in a good mood — tired, but pleasant. He even got in on the anniversary gift-giving by presenting me with a small, sweetly wrapped box of truffles.

“Mom, instead of nibbling on me, here’s something better!” he said, smiling, and I just about melted.

We continued that way, calm and good-humored, for a little while longer. Then out of no where, the winds shifted our sails and this child of mine decided it was time to turn this mutha out. It started when it was time to get dressed and head toward the door. Everything was a complaint — a loud, whining one. He didn’t want to do this or that or anything. We got him outside anyway and started walking to the bus stop. This guy was literally kicking rocks as he grumbled about the “buffy bus and baby bumble school.” (These — buffy, baby bumble — are his curse words, you should know.) And by the time the bus pulled up, he burst out in this wailing forced-out cry. My husband and I froze.

Soured | Ms. Mary Mack

Do we push this howling child on the bus and walk (quickly) back home? Do we hold up the bus schedule by walking him on and trying to convince him to sit in the seat and he’ll be fine?

The bus driver’s facial expression was the visual equivalent of a shrug and lady, I don’t know — don’t look at me. I totally wanted to say, “Don’t look at me either! Is there a phone-a-friend option available up in here?” Instead, I apologized to the driver and told her that we would drive him in this time.

My husband went with us. I figured it would be easier (HA!) if he walked our son to the class line-up on the front lawn while I hung back. Yeah, no.

From my perch in the parking lot, I saw this normally assured, delightful kid flame owwwwt. He was shoving and tossing his backpack all over the lawn, flailing his hands, kicking his dad’s shins, and crying out to the heavens. This was the meltdown to end all meltdowns.

I rushed in to help out my husband. (HAAA!) I tried to reason with the child, calm him. But he was not about that life. He was not just upset, that guy was vexed. The whole school was outside on the front lawn lining up getting ready to enter the building. Parents were there. Teachers and support staff were there. And we were there, trying to contain this volcano of kid anxiety. It was shocking and embarrassing and the definition of out of control. I had never seen anything like it, not from this kid. All my compassionate parenting tools were hiding under a blanket trembling. And to top it off so perfectly, it was like 85 degrees (Celsius conversion: HOT AS HELL) and not yet 8:30 a.m.

Today, Ice Cube, was sho’ nuff NOT a good day.

His teacher called a few hours later to say that our guy was fine, and that he had settled down shortly after entering the class. I was still rattled though, and tried to figure out what I might do to help my kid find his center again. I know he sometimes bristles at transitions, and this one — from Pre-K to real K — is pretty significant. But we can’t have more days (or weeks) like this. We’d all be flattened pancakes by the weekend.

The best we can do is the best we can do, and for now that means taking each day as it comes. And DASSIT! I’m confident that this turbulence will settle and The Youngster will be cruising again soon. But right now? Right this very minute, someone needs to send all the tiny bottles and the entire drink cart back here to row 22F because it’s been earned. Plus, the seat back doesn’t recline.

Been Around the World and I-I-I …

Life As Mom, MMM Showcase Friday, August 29, 2014

OK, so it’s not quite the world. More like the world wide web, but let’s not quibble, friends. Anyway, with the  holiday weekend here (already?? I know!) I figured I should use the “quieter” time to promote a few of the more popular posts I’ve written around the web lately. A Long Weekend Reader of sorts.

Sunflower | Ms. Mary Mack

So, I was over on Cool Mom Tech, pitching in on the grand Back to School Tech Guide 2014 with:

Also on CMT, I offered up 6 smart tips to help teach kids about photography. Maybe you can help the young’uns get in a few snaps before we blink and it’s time to for winter holiday displays. Speaking of youngsters, there was also this roundup of the 10 best apps for new moms and parents.

Then hop over to Mom.me for this piece about My Cringe-Filled Experiences Around Other People’s Kids and this fun one that spells out the 7 Hardened Rules of Little Kid Fashion.

Plus, there are lots of good bits on MMM itself. So, poke around, read up on some posts from earlier in August, like this guest post by my elementary school friend Donna, who went from honor student to teen mom to a restored, shame-free woman and a badass nurse.

All right! That’s enough plugging for now. Enjoy the last bits of summer, good people, and we’ll seeee youuuuu in Septemberrrr.

 

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