The Book That Made Me: Feel Seen & Wander
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
My earliest reading memory is my great aunt coming down from New York during the summer (possibly summer of ’96 or ’97) with plastic buckets filled with books. She brought them for me. I was very fortunate to have a family who – almost annoyingly – encouraged me to read.
The first book I remember reading over and over again was The Chalk Doll by Charlotte Pomerantz with pictures by Frané Lessac. It’s about a little girl named Rose who is sick with a cold. When her mother tucks her in for a nap, she tells Rose stories about growing up in Jamaica. One story she tells is about a rag doll, which starts Rose on a journey.
This story was the first one I remember with all Black characters. I couldn't have explained it then, but the reason why it resonated with me so much was because seeing myself in Rose made me feel like I could go on a trip to Jamaica too. I could visit with the village people, and go to places I'd never been, and there was no danger. I was not being told to be cautious of strangers. I was not being told that I should be back before the streetlights came on - no, here I could wander forever, just for the sake of wandering.
I want other Black people to feel how I felt at the age of four or five. We deserve to see ourselves as adventurous and layered.
The Chalk Doll has moved bookcases (and states) numerous times. I cleaned the griminess off the front and back cover for this blog post. I read it again, for the first time in at least twenty years. It's still nice to see Rose, her mother, and that little Jamaican village.