Sunday, August 11, 2019

Denene Millner - Love Letters for Black Children: The Importance of Diverse Books

Denene Millner is the Editor of her eponymous imprint, which has published the award-winning Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut. She is the author/co-author of thirty-one books, including six NY Times bestsellers. Her background is of an award-winning journalist, magazine editor, and parenting columnist. 

To open her session, Denene shared a montage of videos where Toni Morrison addresses the false construct of race, racism and whiteness centering itself at the expense of those around them. Denene said that Toni's Song of Solomon was the first book she read by a Black woman and she was in college.

Denene Millner
When Denene's daughter was an infant in 1999, finding books featuring Black children by Black authors were not plentiful. She found books by the Pinckney family of creators, Eloise Greenfield, and Just Us Books. It prompted her to begin writing stories that reflected Black children's lives and starting her My Brown Baby website to help people know her books and those of others existed.

Denene left the audience with several takeaways. Here are a few:

  • Trust Black storytellers. She illustrated this point by sharing an upcoming title, Just Like A Mama, a picture book written by Alice Faye Duncan and illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. The picture book centers fictive kinship, A common reality in the Black community where story focuses on a Black child cared for a Black woman who is not her blood relative and has not legally adopted her.
  • Culturally Competent Editors Matter. Don't be afraid to reference Black culture. She shared the story of a white editor who wondered why an angel in Crown needed to be Black when "angels are angels." The audience nodded in agreement when she relayed this exchange and how she shared with the editor that most angels depicted in books and sold as statues are white not Black. But Black angels exist and need to represented.
  • Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut won
    2018 Newbery Honor,
    Caldecott Honor, and
    Coretta Scott King Honors
  • It's Bigger Than a Hashtag. Black lives matter every day. Books need to reflect that. 

Denene's imprint only publishes books created by Black authors and illustrators because fewer opportunities exist for Black creators to tell their stories for children. She has dedicated her work to improve that. She is open to submissions.

Find out more about Denene and the launch of her imprint, follow her on Twitter.

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