Melanin Brown is a very wise seventh-grader who witnesses a new student being bullied because of his beliefs. This situation makes her feel very uncomfortable, and she knows that the actions of those students are wrong. With the guidance of her parents and her experiences with teachers and friends, paired with her own desire to treat people the way she wants to be treated, Melanin learns to confront difficult situations and social constructs while simultaneously navigating her own sense of truth and justice.
We chatted with Candice about how current events influenced her book’s themes, the illustration process and bringing her visions to life, and more!
What inspired you to write Melanin Brown Discovers America?
As an educator, I saw how external factors impacted the educational environment for children and I wanted to write a story to help address some of these social issues in an age-appropriate way. My goal is to start and redress the meaningful and impactful conversations around these issues.
Why did you choose the title and what does it mean to you?
I wanted to choose a title that would be thought-provoking and a conversational starter. In my eyes, Melanin Brown Discovers America represents the sometimes forgotten or dismissed ideal of what being American is supposed to be, as well as, a nod to the diverse figures who played a significant role in building America. The name Melanin Brown came to me one night after I had been pondering how I could combine my two passions of education and entertainment to help make a difference with the youth.
As a middle school Special Education Teacher and with an M.Ed. in Educational Psychology, how did your background, experience, and perspective impact your storytelling?
My background in the field of education played a huge role in my storytelling. I took a graduate class called “Multicultural Education” and it provided me with an eye-opening experience in regards to the deeply rooted inequities that exist in the schooling system in America, as well as why they exist and how to start to make change happen. The first step is identifying and addressing these issues through communication and conversation. I was able to reflect on personal experiences and situations that I have witnessed with students to guide me in creating this story.
Could you tell me a bit about the illustration process? What was it like finding an illustrator and bringing your visions to life? Why did you choose the book cover?
It was very important for me to find an illustrator who could connect to my story and the issues discussed, and bring the characters and story to life. I used Instagram to search for illustrators who had experience in drawing characters of color and ran across Bennie’s page. I was drawn to her illustrations immediately and knew I wanted to collaborate with her. I reached out to her, gave some information about my book and what I was looking for, and then everything came together from that. I’m so fortunate she came on board— I described to her what I wanted in each scene and she’d get a sample back to me sometimes the very next day! I was impressed with her artistic skills every step of the way.
In Melanin Brown Discovers America, a middle schooler is bullied for not standing up during the Pledge of Allegiance, bringing up important and timely themes of bullying, race, prejudice, and patriotism. How did current events influence these parts of your book and why do you believe children should be exposed to these issues early?
The purpose of Melanin Brown’s character is to hopefully create a safe place and a starting point for discussions with children about the social issues that are taking place in the world. Children are exposed to these issues at a very young age, which has a lasting psychological impact on them — i.e. the doll test, which shapes mindsets and behaviors. I felt like it was important to create another pipeline to help streamline these conversations.
Our youth is the next generation who will be able to create change. The earlier they are exposed to insightful information, the better equipped they will be to continue to move forward in that regard.
What message do you hope early readers will take away from your book?
Melanin Brown Discovers America is a story that offers representation and a voice for African American girls. It’s also just one look at the various experience of being black in America. The goal is to help enlighten people of all ages and families of all backgrounds to start meaningful conversations with their kids around sensitive social issues.
I hope early readers will take away the idea that we should treat people the way we want to be treated and more-so, be inspired to find their voice to address unfair situations. I want them to have the knowledge and confidence to advocate for themselves and others when they see injustice.
Overall, I want to empower young readers to find their voice in an oppressed society, and for all my readers, regardless of background, to feel more comfortable, inclined, and inspired to address these issues.