All children deserve to see themselves and their lives represented in books written by people like them. To help make that happen, Strive Publishing and Free Spirit Publishing have partnered to create the Black Voices in Children’s Literature Writing Contest, now in its third year. After limiting the contest to only Minnesota writers in its first two years, this year, we expanded to include writers from the entire Midwest!
Today, we’re pleased to announce the winners of our third annual contest! Entries consisted of original fiction or nonfiction for children ages birth to eight featuring contemporary Black characters and culture and focusing on character development, self-esteem, diversity, getting along with others, engaging with family and community, or other topics related to positive childhood development.
First Place: Carmena Fleury, The Birthday Party with No Birthday Cake
It’s Carson’s seventh birthday party, and the whole family is gathering at her house to celebrate. For every family birthday, Grandma special orders the cake from her favorite bakery. Carson is so excited for her princess cake—but Grandma, who is in the early stages of dementia, forgets to bring it. In this sensitive story about family love in the face of illness, Mom brings everyone together to find an alternative to the birthday cake so the party can go on, and Carson begins to learn how to support Grandma through her new struggles.
The story is inspired by the author’s own experiences with family dementia, and she hopes it will help other parents talk to their children about that illness or any other that is affecting their family.
Carmena Fleury is the writer/director for Bellevue Baptist Drama Ministry, writing skits and plays for youth and adults. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago, won the Ebony Magazine Gertrude Johnson Literary Contest for her short story, “The Leavin’” in 1995, and has self-published three books, Devotions for Desperate Women, Seven Words of the Nativity, and Essential Prayers. She has been writing short stories, plays, and essays since she was eight years old. Carmena lives in Chicago.
Second Place: Sherrie Fernandez-Williams, Tiara and Kiara Movin’ and Groovin’
“Are you ready, Kiara? Are you ready to move?” Yes, I’m ready, Tiara! Let’s get in the groove!”
In this joyful story-in-verse, Tiara and Kiara celebrate as they finish the Saturday chores their mother assigned them. The girls play hand-clap games while singing rhymes; they laugh and dance and bounce around their newly clean room. They enjoy the good feeling of a job well done and the knowledge that they have the rest of the day to do as they choose. The sisters’ close bond is evident throughout this story, as they take turns leading and play off each other’s ideas.
With jazz in their hands and swing in their spring, Tiara and Kiara were just doing their thing.
Sherrie Fernandez-Williams earned her MFA in Writing from Hamline University. Currently, she is a 2021–2023 Jerome Hill Artist Fellow. Author of Soft: A Memoir, Fernandez-Williams has published poems in New Limestone Review, Aquifer: The Florida Review, and the minnesota review, among others. Essays can be found in We Are Meant to Rise: Voices for Justice from Minneapolis to the World, How Dare We! Write: A Multicultural Creative Writing Discourse, and The Poverty and Education Reader: A Call for Equity in Many Voices. She co-curates the Queer Voices Reading Series with Lisa Marie Brimmer in collaboration with Quatrefoil Library and Hennepin County Library and lives with her wife, Buffy Smith, in West Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Third Place: Elizabeth Davis, Hair Story
Eight-year-old Treana is an African-American girl with a white adoptive mother who loves her but who struggles to deal with Treana’s hair. After Treana has some issues at school because of her unkempt hair, her mother takes her to a salon where a Black stylist with beautiful natural hair takes over, giving Treana a new look that helps her feel bold and confident.
Elizabeth Davis has worked as an early childhood educator for 11 years. Her passion for working with children has stemmed into writing and wanting to create more quality children’s books that can be a mirror for young African American students in the classroom. Elizabeth lives in Evanston, Illinois.
The Black Voices in Children’s Literature Writing Contest continues next year! Keep an eye out for 2022 contest details.
In case you missed it, the winner of the 2019 contest was Mélina Mangal, whose book Jayden’s Impossible Garden was released in March. Timeless and vibrant, this story highlights the beauty of intergenerational relationships and the power of imagination and perseverance in bringing the vision of a community garden to life.
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