Growing up in Roxbury, Patricia Elam Walker always knew reading was important. Her mother was a children’s librarian, often found in her favorite reading chair. “For her, children’s books could solve the world’s problems,” Walker said. “She taught me to love reading and to love books.” Her mother searched for books featuring various characters, knowing how important it was for her children to “know where we came from, that our heritage was rich and that we should be proud”.
When Walker had her own children, she made sure they read too and that their upbringing honored their black heritage. It was in their school focused on Africa that she first discovered the Adinkra symbols of West Africa. When Walker came up with the idea for his first children’s book, “Nana Akua Goes to School,” the symbols came back to him. In the book, a young girl worries that other children will not understand the tribal facial markings of her Ghanaian grandmother, until Nana Akua comes up with an idea that thrills and includes all children.
Walker collaborated with artist April Harrison (“she breathed life into characters that were in my head”) and read the book aloud to herself, her now adult children, as well as her publisher and agent. “It takes a village to write a children’s book! she said.
“I hope this is a book for all children. Right now, it’s especially important for white children too to see black children in all kinds of situations, not just struggling or overcoming a struggle, ”Walker said. “I hope it’s a universal story about loving someone who is different, culturally, ethnically, and learning to appreciate that difference. You can also celebrate it.
Patricia Elam Walker will read “Nana Akua Goes to School” at a 3pm virtual event on Wednesday July 1, hosted by Brookline Booksmith. www.brooklinebooksmith.com
Kate Tuttle, writer and freelance critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.