A groundbreaking new book aims to create a space for queer black boys in children’s literature and help young kids of color see themselves reflected in the stories that they read.
Titled Large Fears, the kid’s book is written by Myles E. Johnson and illustrated by Kendrick Daye. It tells the story of Jeremiah Nebula ― a black boy who loves pink things.
In Large Fears, Jeremiah Nebula longs to travel to Mars where he thinks he will find people and things that accept him rather than shame or alienation for being different from other young black boys in his life. According to Johnson, this longing leads to a daydream that causes Nebula to confront several fears he would have about going to Mars. The story follows him as he lands on different stars that symbolize different fears he has along his journey.
Johnson told The Huffington Post that he wanted to explore the subject of children and fear through a character navigating multiple, intersecting identities. "Maybe the next time they see a black boy who wants to jump rope instead of play football, he won’t be strange or a sissy. He’ll be human, he’ll be himself, or he will be ‘just like Jeremiah Nebula,'" Johnson elaborated.
Check out an interview with Johnson below, as well as Daye's illustrations, and learn more about this revolutionary book in the world of children's literature.
The Huffington Post: What was your overarching concept or vision for this project?
Myles E. Johnson: The overarching concept and vision for the project is a philosophical one, I suppose. I played with the idea of what is fear. Where does fear come from? What makes fear intensify and what makes fear alleviate? With those questions in my mind, I began to study how the body reacts to fear. Physically, we feel less pain, our eyesight gets sharper, our hearing gets better, and in some cases we can even display almost superhuman strength. The concept of Large Fears is to introduce what I discovered about fear and how the body reacts to it for children, and adults that need the reminder, on a more emotional level. I wanted to suggest that when life gets scary, that is when you get stronger, and more times than not, that’s when you know that what is around the corner is something worthwhile.
Why is it important for children to have access to stories like these? What do you want children to take away from Large Fears?
I think stories of bravery and exploration, especially ones that center on someone we’re not constantly seeing saving the day, is extremely important for children to consume. For children that are less socially privileged and visible, they are given new possibilities for their future. They aren’t just handed a story, but a certain soulfulness is given to disenfranchised people when we are represented.
I wanted to suggest that when life gets scary, that is when you get stronger, and more times than not, that’s when you know that what is around the corner is something worthwhile.
For children that might be more privileged, it brings that same soulfulness they’ve always had in art and entertainment to groups of people that otherwise might be othered or never considered in their minds. So,maybe the next time they see a black boy who wants to jump rope instead of play football, he won’t be strange or a sissy. He’ll be human, he’ll be himself, or he will be ‘just like Jeremiah Nebula’.
How does Large Fears introduce the idea of intersectional identities to children?
I don’t think it is something I introduced as much as it is something that just is in the fabric of the story. We refer to his skin as the color hazelnut and I reference his love of dolls and pink things, but I think kids are smart. That was confirmed during the Large Fears workshop we held a couple of months ago.
Maybe the next time they see a black boy who wants to jump rope instead of play football, he won’t be strange or a sissy. He’ll be human, he’ll be himself, or he will be ‘just like Jeremiah Nebula’
I read this book to children and they knew, in a way that stunned me actually, that Jeremiah Nebula is the product of dealing with two different identities intersecting. There are little girls who love blue, black boys who love pink, Latino trans girls and boys that feel left out during recess that know Jeremiah Nebula’s politics well and their ages don’t even have double digits in it yet. So, in short, I am just honest and appropriate in my writing throughout the book and the children understand intersectional identities even if they don’t necessarily know the big academic words that are attached to the definition.
What are your hopes for the future of children’s literature and publishing?
For “diversity’ to not be a trend, but a standard. Writing for me, for any audience but especially children, is such a privilege because you get to introduce worlds and ideas to people. That can very possibly change a mind, and consequently change a world. Why do we keep producing work that perpetuates a bleak reality we already know? Why not write paradise to inspire someone to be kinder? Why not center disenfranchised people to give someone empowerment? Why not write new, good ideas and attempt to change a mind? Why not try to change the world? In short, I hope in children’s literature and publishing, and honestly in the entire world of entertainment and art, everyone tries to change the world instead of perpetuating a bleak reality where a cis, hetero white male saves the day.
Head here to learn more or to purchase Large Fears.
Also on HuffPost