New York Times bestselling author Jewell Parker Rhodes returns this year with her new middle-grade novel Black Brother, Black Brother – the inspiring and eye-opening book that’s perfect for young readers. With such prestigious novels and awards under her belt, we wanted to know more about the woman behind all of the achievements. Get to know more about Jewell Parker Rhodes now in this exclusive She Reads interview.

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What inspired you to write Black Brother, Black Brother?

Researching Ghost Boys, I learned elementary through high school students of color are often unfairly suspended and arrested. Once arrested even for minor infractions, the odds that a student will be entrapped by the criminal justice system and not graduate, double. Black Brother, Black Brother addresses this bias in schools. 

My characters, Donte and Trey, are also inspired by my own experience raising two biracial kids (one, light-skinned; the other, darker). Skin color should not determine the ease with which one child is more fully embraced by society and the other is subject to racism. All children deserve equal treatment; one should not be privileged because of skin tone.

Why did you choose to write in the middle-grade genre? What kind of impact are you hoping this book has on young readers?

For decades, I wrote for adults trying to become good enough to write for the most important audience in the world – youth. I always try to affirm children’s resilience, strength, empathy and intelligence. 

Middle-grade is especially challenging as youth make the passage from childhood to young adulthood. My own middle years were difficult. (Sometimes I think I’m “rewriting” my own history through characters inspired by today’s amazing youth.)  Most importantly, I’m providing diverse mirrors and a “safe place” for students to discuss critical issues about identity, social injustice, family and friendship. Words are powerful; books open hearts and minds. 

What are your top five favorite books of all time?

My “favorite books” change as my life changes. Right now, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi are enlightening favorites. From my parenting years, Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and George Selden’s The Cricket in Times Square still deeply resonate.

Are there any books you’re looking forward to reading this year?

Toni Morrison’s The Source of Self-Regard and Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ graphic novel version of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. I’m also looking to discover books on maps, mazes and climate change – research for my new middle-grade novel.

Name three essentials you’ll be taking with you on book tour.

Almonds, Pique Tea Crystals for instant iced tea and moisturizer for my face and hair.

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