Donna Beasley is making history. For the first time in the publishing world, a digital-first book library has been launched to serve Black and Latino children. Her KaZoom Kids iStory Books released the first set in a series of eBooks by and for minorities on July 16. The authors range from ages 10 to 75 and Beasley, a children’s book author herself, used her experience from her years in marketing, advertising and publishing to pull it off.
“I happened to get into children’s books because some members of my family are educators, and they were often complaining about not having multicultural materials for their classroom,” the Chicago-based entrepreneur told Atlanta Black Star.
Her 6-year-old niece Moani was also an inspiration, which came during a birthday trip to the bookstore last year.
“She said innocently, ‘Are there any books about kids like me?’ and surprisingly there weren’t any,” she said. “Her birthday’s coming around again this year and I went to the store – four stores in downtown Chicago – and they have hundreds of children’s picture books. Not one of them featured a Black child or a Latino child. To me, that was just unacceptable.”
But it was also a problem that could be solved. Beasley calls KaZoom Digital Publishing – which first launched in 2014 – a company that is “by the community, for the community.” The founder tapped into her network of creatives during her time as a publicist to get the company off the ground. When it came to building the collection of iStory Books, Beasley focused on authors and illustrators who wanted to contribute to the cause.
“I got on the phone and called up my writer friends and people who told me over the years, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book’ ” she said. “I called them up and [said] let’s tackle this problem and create a greater diversity in children’s literature.”
“We believe that every child should see themselves and their community in a book,” Beasley added. “And that’s really the foundation on which we stand.”
KaZoom Publishing was not the founder’s first foray into start-ups, however. The self-described serial entrepreneur has previously worked as a blogger, author and magazine publisher before beginning her latest effort two years ago.
The Kids iStory Books – targeting children ages 3 to 8 – released stories based on African-American culture, with Latino-centric books to follow next year. There are three different types of books available: read-along, interactive and traditional. Digital books, which can be bought via subscriptions on the publishing site, are the primary focus. The subject matter of the stories center on topics unique to the Black community – stories for the Latino community are currently in development, but African-American books will be available in Spanish by the holiday season.
Among Black audiences, the publisher was asked to write a book on a deaf child. For both Black and Latino families, Beasley would like to explore books about faith. On stories currently up for purchase, one African-American book called Kason’s Kite deals with a young Black boy named Kason who is the son of a single father.
“One of the things we wanted to do is celebrate fatherhood because a lot of the time single dads don’t get uplifted, and they do a fantastic job,” she said of the story. “You hear so much negative news about Black men often, and sometimes we forget how wonderful many of them really are.”
Another book called Born to Dance will tackle history in a new way with the story of Black dancer Doris Humphries. Her daughter, Kathleen Humphries, wrote the poetic verses which will give young readers insight on the now 91-year-old’s life and career.
Since the launch earlier this month, Beasley has received great feedback. Her niece was particularly receptive to the digital stories, instantly grasping how to use the tablet through her schooling.
Concerning future initiatives, Beasley told ABS exclusively that the company is working on two games designed to stimulate children’s minds. One will focus on teaching children about technology. The other will be a word game. Initial subscribers will get those things for free in time for the holiday season.
Ultimately, Beasley hopes her legacy revolves around an increase in multicultural children’s narratives in bookstores nationwide.
“The main thing that I would like to see is these books being read and enjoyed in our community,” she remarked. “When I go into a downtown store in Chicago or Atlanta or Washington, D.C., I wanna walk in that store and find some Black children’s books for my niece. That’s what I would like to see.”