afro-caribbean, author spotlight, culture, social-emotional

Author Spotlight: Tami Charles

Like many of you, Tami Charles was once a public school teacher. It was a natural fit, as he grew up with a mother who was a teacher, vice-principal, and even principal. So it’s also no surprise that Charles is an excellent writer with parents who encouraged learning and set the bar high. In her younger days, show business seemed possible as she was part of an all-girls singing group that even performed on BET. But ultimately, teaching kids won out, and she spent many years as a teacher, honing her craft and listening to the children she taught. As a woman of Afro-Caribbean descent, that cultural background has also profoundly affected her work. She debuted with a middle-grade book and still writes those texts, but here I will focus on her picture book work. Charles currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and son and loves Caribbean food, as seen in one of the books below.

All Because You Matter (Orchard Books)
Written by Tami Charles
Illustrated by Bryan Collier

For ages: 4-8
Charles speaks to “you, dear child.” She speaks as a mother, a teacher, and a caregiver. This beautifully illustrated poem begins by talking about how the child’s ancestors dreamed of them for generations; the arrival of this child was an event like no other. Every challenge they overcame and every slight they suffered was to get to where this fantastic child was born. The narrator acknowledges the sad reality of things, invoking the names Trayvon/Tamir/Philando. Despite the protestations of ill-intended “parent groups,” Black children know these names, and no amount of book banning can silence the truth. The book does not focus on the tragedies, but Charles knows it would be dishonest to pretend they didn’t happen. This is a text about finding value in yourself and your community and not allowing the toxic elements of society to drag you down.

Freedom Soup (Candlewick)
Written by Tami Charles
Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

For ages 5-9
Freedom Soup is a beautiful combination of the process of making food and the connection it provides us with culture. Belle is helping her grandmother prepare Freedom Soup, a traditional Haitian New Year’s dish. We follow the duo through the recipe, and as they wait for the soup to develop on the stove, the history of its creation is revealed. Through grandmother’s words, we learn about slavery in Haiti and the eventual revolution that led to her people finally getting to feast on the fruits of their labor. Jacqueline Alcántara presents some lovely mixed media artwork that gives the feel of being in a grandparent’s home around the holidays, the swirl of excitement in preparing and greeting your guests.

My Day With The Panye (Candlewick)
Written by Tami Charles
Illustrated by Sara Palacios

For ages: 5-9
Little Fallon is a proud Haitian girl who is excited to take part in carrying the panye. The panye is a woven basket used by Haitian women to bring food back and forth from the market to the family. Manman takes her little one through a lush landscape overflowing with vibrant green vegetation as Fallon looks on with joy & anticipation. Kreyòl dialogue is used and not always translated, but that can certainly be used to spark curiosity in your readers around vocabulary. Beyond the wonderful artwork by Sara Palacios is a beautiful message about how we provide for each other. Fallon comprehends that the labor her mother does is something the family would die without. Yet, this simple woven basket contains blessings each day. Books like these assure me that Tami Charles’ work will become some of the classics of this era of children’s literature.

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