Fatima Shaik: Writing Melitte

In my young adult novel Melitte, I did not let readers know that she was a slave until the third chapter. I wanted them first to identify with the soft-spoken, intelligent narrator.

Readers first learn that Melitte is running away with her sister, that the Chaouachas men are hiding them from the Louisiana Frenchmen, that the girls are at a crossroad and that they must separate.

Only when the narrator realizes that her skin color portends her status are readers introduced to the concept of slavery. Then, they enter a world that adults created where one child can be sold and the other protected.

I expect young adult readers to feel just as Melitte and her white, half-sister Marie did. When the Chaouachas aid Melitte’s escape, but return her sister to their white father, readers feel sad.

So the book is a loss of innocence story with race at its center. Read more


Cheryl Willis Hudson: Bright Eyes, Brown Skin: Talking Openly to Children About Racial Differences

Bright eyes, brown skin
A heart shaped face
A dimpled chin
Bright eyes, cheeks that glow
Chubby fingers, ticklish toes
A playful grin
A perfect nose
Very special hair and clothes
Bright eyes, ears to listen
Lips that kiss you
Teeth that glisten
Bright eyes, brown skin
Warm as toast
And all tucked in.

I wrote about one half of the words of that poem shortly after our son Stephan was born. He was a big baby-weighing in at 8 pounds 6 oz. And he was 21 inches long. He had a nice round head, freckles (that quickly faded after a few weeks) light brown skin and an infectious lopsided smile.

Stephan’s eyes were bright and hopeful and he jetted into the world. I immediately felt I knew who Stephan was and to the amazement of my obstetrician and the midwife on duty, I laughed heartily out loud on the delivery table when he took in his first breath. They washed him up, put him on my chest and I remember thinking, “He’s exactly what I expected, a beautiful black baby boy.” But I also said a silent, wordless prayer shortly afterward-a prayer I believe most African American mothers say knowing the challenges their male offspring face on their journey from birth to manhood. Read more.