I cannot express how excited and proud I feel to be writing this blog. And of course, it’s all because of a small African girl who strived to touch the moon—and succeeded. Little Imani: the girl with the big dreams.
It’s such an interesting thing when you set out to write a story, and it takes on a life of its own. Imani started off male, Elijah first then Ayubu. All either boy did was jump and jump and jump and succeed. Not much of a story arc, right? But I knew there was something more to this story. As I dug deeper and fine-tuned the story, the voice that called resoundingly from the page was not a boy’s, but was that of a girl, a small girl, with a big story to share. I think this is something I am most proud of regarding how Imani came to be. Hearing her voice and realizing how her story is one so many can relate to, a story of setting “impossible” goals and working hard to reach them in the face of opposition. Most of us have been in situations like that, when something seemed insurmountable, but we persevered anyway.
Can I be honest? That has actually been my experience in this world called publishing. Pushing, pushing, pushing, and never giving up.
The more I polished Imani and incorporated aspects of the regal Maasai people, the more I saw the parallel between Imani and my own goal of becoming a children’s book author. I actually had the ambition of becoming a writer ever since I was in grade school. I loved getting lost in the stories of my mind. Writing and storytelling were authentic parts of me. So much so that my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Welch, predicted that I’d become a published author (best-selling, to be precise) when I grew up, based on the stories and poetry I’d write in her class. That want was ingrained in me from a very early age.
Once I finished college, I decided to give it a try. Write, perfect, publish. One, two, three. Simple, just like that. Of course, any author who has attempted to publish can probably tell you how it actually happens. Well, yes, there is writing. And of course, there’s “perfecting” as best you can. But the publish part was often replaced by rejection instead. The form letters or no response at all, time and time and time again, kind of like the teasing children or naysaying animals of Imani’s story. “You’ll never make it!” “That’s impossible!” “Give up! Give up!”
Sometimes I ask myself, what if I had just given up? What if I had let those “Nos” define me and place me in a box that would be locked, and remain locked, indefinitely? What if I had let them ground me by accepting the thought I would never touch the moon?
This is where the belief part comes in. The word “imani” actually means “faith” in Swahili. That was the last piece of Imani’s journey to a finished manuscript. Her name. Imani. Faith.
And that’s what I had to do: believe in my craft, my abilities, my story. Believe in Imani.
I remember when I received the email from the National Association of Elementary School Principal’s Children’s Book of the Year committee member, telling me I had won the contest and that Imani’s Moon would be published. I cried. Big happy tears falling down a smiling face. (And then I called my mother and we screamed together in sheer, concentrated excitement).
So now, each time I see Hazel Mitchell’s beautiful illustration of little Imani in her orange robe, reaching her arms out in triumph, I see myself. But not just myself, I see all the women who had big dreams, and all the little girls who have big dreams, who may have been told or may be told that they can’t do it, but who shut out the negativity and aim for the moon.
And I am so grateful. Grateful that I made it to my metaphorical moon. I’m also so grateful to NAESP and Charlesbridge and to my editor Julie Bliven and my fantastic critique group family (especially Rosi Hollinbeck and Elizabeth Varadan who’ve been there from the start) for helping bring my story to where it is today. My heart is as full as the moon shining behind Imani on the cover.
Believe, and you will get there!
JaNay Brown-Wood is the author of Imani's Moon, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell.
$17.95 Ages 6-9