Angela Shanté Johnson – When My Cousins Come to Town
Educator and author Angela Shanté Johnson shares her thoughts about joy in black culture and the sacredness of cousins in her new picture book, When My Cousins Come to Town.
Will you please introduce yourself to the CBC community?
My name is Angela Shanté Johnson. I am the award-winning author of The Noisy Classroom, teacher, educational activist/consultant, and poet.
Who did you write this book for? Why is it important?
I write for children, mostly. I think educating/exposing/teaching the next generation is the KEY to making REAL change in the world. My mom always says, “education is key” and I wholeheartedly believe that.
What do your family and friends think of your writing?
They are happy! They are happy to see books with Black Joy at the center. They are happy to see how I highlight Black culture (and sometimes their names/personalities) to larger audiences.
Who are some of your favorite children’s book authors?
Ooooh, that’s a hard question because growing up I didn’t have that many to choose from. I LOVED (and still have lit-crushes on Faith Ringgold, Jackie Woodson, and Nikki Grimms). But, NOW, we are flush with Black authors doing amazing things in Kid Lit. Some of my favorites are Markette Sheppard, Derrick Barnes, Kelly Starling Lyons, Kwame Alexander… I can go on and on, and that’s just the picture book/early reader folks.
Your previous, award-winning picture book recounted your experience as a teacher. Is your new book, When My Cousins Come to Town, also true to life?
Absolutely! Cousins are so sacred in Black culture. When My Cousins Come to Town is about Cousins Culture and identity. The littlest cousin (which is me) is the smallest of all the cousins (which I was) and she has a hard time figuring out what is uniquely special to her. I pulled from my family and my experience as THEE little cousins. Quick spoiler, my nickname growing up is the ACTUAL name the little girl gets in the book.
What drew you to the wonderful illustrator for When My Cousins Come to Town, Keisha Morris?
I owe most of this to my amazing publisher (West Margin Press). I only had ONE request; she/he needs to be Black or identify as a person of color. They pulled together a huge list for me and I went with Keisha because her style was dope, and I liked the way she used a collage effect in her illustrations.
One theme running through the novel is the legacy people leave behind. Whether that’s within a family, or in a community hurt by systematic racism. What would you like the legacy of your writing to be?
We are too early in our careers to focus on legacies! We hope our readers, young or young at heart, now or in the distant future, are happy to see themselves represented in our stories and understand that they matter.