New York Times best-selling author Lavelle Lavette has made a name for herself via book collaborations with actress Viola Davis, National Urban League CEO Marc Morial and Houston Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta, just to name a few. But her real passion is making sure Black children know their history.
Lavette’s “Jayyen, future engineer” series exposes children zero-to-six to the STEM fields and more. But Lavette has numerous other children’s books already published, like the one celebrating the late Harry Belafonte; and even more in the works for the near future.
The Defender spoke with Lavette about her drive to tell stories about Black people from the US and across the diaspora to our children.
DEFENDER: When so many books by Black authors about our history, etc. are being banned, from my perspective, your Jayylen series is coming out at the perfect time.
LAVETTE: Yeah, I’m looking at it that way. In launching this series with Penguin Random House and the imprint, Little Golden Book, my goal here is to produce fiction and non-fiction books that are African American or African-centric. Books to tell our stories. I publish with various publishers. So, my intention in moving forward, wherever I’m publishing or wherever I’m writing, will be biographies, which will be in the non-fiction setting. There are hundreds of biographies for young kids that I’m going to publish. I’m not gonna write’em all. I’m gonna publish; very intentional about that. And then in fiction, this is the first of a couple of fiction ideas I have that are African American-centric, with a character.
DEFENDER: Is there a consistent theme throughout these books?
LAVETTE: All of those are going to disseminate information, particularly with our biographies. And my theme is “We must not forget. We must remember.” From our culture (African American and African), we have a number of heroes. We know those we can speak their names. We are told about them from age zero to the ends of time; the Martin Luther Kings, the Malcolm X’s, the Rosa Parks. But there are so many others we are not exposed to that I’m just sort of getting exposed to at this stage in my life. So, I don’t want that to be the case for our young kids. I’m trying to open up the diaspora. I’m publishing books about African American heroes from science technology, from entertainment, people who we don’t know about that we should know about.
DEFENDER: Will the books focus solely on individual personalities?
LAVETTE: I’m gonna be publishing books about people, places and things that we should know about, and all of that is framed in our culture. I’m framing these books within our culture. So, people from our culture that we should know about, things that disseminate from us that we should know about and places that we created or that we had an impact on, things that we created, we had an impact on, and the people that did it. Those are what my focus in the non-fiction area is. And I’m also reaching across to the continent. There are so many heroes from Angola, Liberia, and Mozambique. I can go on and on and just name all of the countries on the continent. So, I’m starting to tell those stories, as well.