Featured KidLit: KEYANA LOVES HER FAMILY by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow

Join us for a KidLit TV EXCLUSIVE interview with Natasha Tarpley!


Photo by Phil Struggle

Your picture book I Love My Hair! was a hit and continues to receive reader and media attention. What do you think made this book so timeless and important?

Natasha: The theme of hair is, for better and for worse, one that African Americans continue to grapple with. Our hair is so deeply interwoven with so many aspects of our identity and how we see ourselves as individuals, as well as with the history of discrimination against and dehumanization of African Americans in the United States. There was even a need very recently to pass an anti-discrimination law, The Crown Act, specifically to protect the rights of African Americans to wear their natural hair in the workplace, schools, etc. So, we’re still dealing with this history. Kids receive those negative messages and images of people who look like them, and too often absorb them as part of their own stories and sense of self.

In this sense, I wrote I Love My Hair! to celebrate Black hair, natural beauty, and Black children and families explicitly and unapologetically. But I also had a bigger mission for this book. I wanted to create a story that was infused with a sense of whimsy and joy, that sought to speak to the inner-emotions and thoughts of kids. In all of my work, my goal is to invite kids to connect with and explore the many facets of who they are, and to harness that powerful knowledge of self as they navigate through the external world. I think that the resonance of the book on this emotional level, and the way that it invites children to see themselves in new ways, or maybe even confirms the way they already see themselves-as imaginative, curious, and creative beings (which is too often in conflict with societal images of Black children), has contributed greatly to its longevity. I Love My Har! is a love letter to Black children and families, and I think the readers of the book pick up on that energy and are very responsive to it. 

What made you want to create a picture book series featuring the protagonist from I Love My Hair?

Natasha: In I Love My Hair!, we get to see some glimpses of Keyana’s personality, especially her creativity as she creates these imaginative images of her hair. We also get to see some aspects of her family. I was always very interested in being able to get to know Keyana and her world a bit more, so the series idea was a way to really bring her character front and center, and to introduce her to new generations of readers. I am so excited to be able to have these adventures with Keyana, and also to feature a really loving, warm and supportive extended Black family, who are a big part of Keyana’s life. Though the character and set up may look a little different from I Love My Hair!, I think that readers will immediately connect with Keyana’s exuberant personality and relate to the experiences that she has throughout the series.

What makes Keyana a good role model for young children?

Natasha: As an author, one of the things I’m passionate about is creating spaces where kids feel comfortable expressing themselves and exploring their ideas—no matter how “crazy” they may seem at first. I also want kids to get comfortable with the creative process, which can be messy, imperfect, and take many tries before getting to the wonderful, beautiful parts where things finally click and manifest. In the Keyana Loves…series, Keyana has a lot of big ideas. I absolutely love this aspect of her character. She invests such passion and energy in developing and executing these wonderful plans. Sometimes, however, Keyana’s ideas don’t work out exactly as she hoped. This can be frustrating and disappointing, but rather than give up, Keyana, often with the encouragement of her family members, comes up with new solutions that are often more exciting than what she originally envisioned. Keyana’s character encourages kids to believe in their ideas, and models ways for them to deal with frustration or failure, as well as how to cultivate a sense of perseverance, a willingness to keep trying.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Natasha: I hope that kids will first and foremost take away the knowledge that their ideas are important and worthy of being manifested in the world. I hope they also take away a sense of trust in themselves and their abilities. Lastly, as I mentioned above, I hope that kids will develop a sense of curiosity, freedom, and excitement about the creative process itself, as well as a willingness to persevere in their efforts, even if they don’t immediately “succeed.”

About the Book

Natasha Anastasia Tarpley returns with a breakout new picture book series all about Keyana, the protagonist of her bestselling title I Love My Hair!, and the people and places she adores.

Keyana’s always full of big ideas. Her latest and greatest plan is to host a perfect family movie night. From aunts to uncles to her five favorite cousins, everyone is invited! She knows the best way to impress her guests is with a fabulous soiree, and there’s a lot on her to-do list. But when the night doesn’t go as planned, she’ll have to rely on a little help from the people she loves most.

With warm illustrations by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow, this character-centric new picture book series from Natasha Anastasia Tarpley will give Keyana a fresh, commercial update that’s perfect for today’s young readers.

Check out Natasha’s Little Brown Podcast interview on SoundCloud!
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