Crystal Senter-Brown is working to transform the way Black children and families are portrayed through her books. The writer has been self-publishing stories for 11 years with works that include six books: two novels, two books of poetry and two children’s books.
It’s the latter genre that is the subject of her interview with Atlanta Black Star. “Gabby Saturday” released about 7 years ago, is the first book in a series that focuses on a young Black girl. It follows Gabby who enjoys going on adventures during her first trip to a local science museum with her mother.
In January 2016, the 42-year-old self-published the sequel “Gabby Gives Back,” a coloring and activity book that follows Gabby as she goes with her dad to volunteer at a soup kitchen. While there, Gabby is inspired to go home and collect clothing and food for people who need them at the shelter.
Although the protagonist is a girl, Senter-Brown said the “Gabby” series is something all Black children can relate to.
A Positively Black Children’s Series
Although Senter-Brown has been writing books for more than a decade, her professional endeavors include poetry reading and an adjunct professor position at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. There, she teaches a leadership class where adult women are required to create an idea that will aid their communities.
“It’s all about giving back,” she told Atlanta Black Star, adding that is what influenced “Gabby Gives Back.”
“I think that, you know, if you go to a bookstore, you don’t see a lot of books for children of color in general. So I knew that I wanted to write books — I actually have a niece that’s 8 years old — and it’s important to me for her to see books with children that look like her. You know, not just her just any kid in general but I think that there are not enough books for us on shelves.”
A Mother-Daughter Collaboration
“My mom and I came up with the idea,” Senter-Brown said. However, her mother, Janice Treece-Center, lives in Tennessee, so the follow-up to “Gabby Saturday” was halted by several years.
“Our process of writing books takes a little bit longer than probably a lot of people because she doesn’t really use computers,” Senter-Brown said of her mother. “She does everything by hand and so every time we’ve talked about doing a second book, either I got too busy or she got too busy.”
Once the duo finally settled on the content in “Gabby Gives Back,” it took a year for Senter-Brown to approve all of the artwork.
Treece-Senter is usually the one her daughter uses for all her art needs, but she said the “Gabby” series contribution was different.
“This was a character we came up with on our own, so [my mom] decided to … be really old school,” Senter-Brown said, describing Gabby’s purse and white patent-leather shoes. “It kind of reminded me of me as a little girl, actually. It was important for Gabby to look like a lot of little girls. Sometimes, you’ll see a cartoon and it doesn’t really look like anybody that you know… [but Gabby] looks really common.”
After “Gabby Gives Back” was published in February 2016, Senter-Brown said she immediately began making public appearances to promote it in local schools.
“I would actually do a presentation and read the book and kinda teach the kids about giving to local shelters, giving to local soup kitchens and just giving in general and just being kind to others,” the writer said. “It’s not that parents don’t teach their kids to be kind, they do. But I think if it’s in a story, I think it’s helpful.”
What Makes It Different
One aspect that separates her books from other children’s stories is the fact that Gabby’s parents are actively involved in the story. Even though each work focuses on one-on-one time with each of the child’s parents, Senter-Brown wanted to showcase a strong Black family unit, which isn’t usually portrayed in media.
“It was important for me that Gabby’s parents be together still, for them to do things together,” she said. “I wanted it to be to where the mom has days with Gabby and the dad spends time with Gabby. That was really important, for them to have family time. You don’t see that a lot either, [on] TV or in books.
She added her own experience influenced the books’ family structure, since her parents’ divorce during her childhood did not mean her father was absent from her life.
“It’s important for us now more than ever to show Black families as a whole unit and not just as a mother or as a father. Those families exist, but I think showing us in a positive light every single time we have that option to do that is important.”
Readers Are Applauding the Positive Tales
The writer said she’s received positive feedback on the “Gabby Gives Back” book, which has sold well on Amazon.
“People like the idea of her going into a shelter,” Senter-Brown said. “Lots of schools will use them to teach kids about spelling and poetry because it’s actually written in rhyme and it’s really cheap, too,” the writer added, noting the importance of accessibility. She is currently working on getting the book available in small bookstores along the East coast.
Going forward, Senter-Brown is developing another story likely due in the spring called “A.J. and the Magic Kite.” It will follow a young Black boy who goes on a magical trip with a friend who shows him what the world would have been like without Black-made inventions. Like, “Gabby Gives Back,” it also will be an activity and coloring book.
In the next year, Senter-Brown is looking to create a doll to accompany her “Gabby” book series, something she said many have asked for. The author also is thinking of a cartoon series for the character that she said will “always have an adventure going on.”