In an imaginary world, Keira, a wide-eyed nine-year-old girl, enjoys her wonderful life traveling around the globe singing in the Sally Court Band with her best friends, who are endangered species animals.
When they are not performing, the clan is in the classroom, where Keira’s Auntie Marsay teaches them spelling and about homonyms and homophones. The story unfolds in the children’s book, “Keira & Me: Homonyms and Homophones” penned by veteran educator Marsay Wells-Strozier.
In case you forgot your grammar lessons, a homonym is a word that is spelled the same way but has a different meaning. For example, “The tree bark is brown” or “Why does that dog bark at me?” And homophones are words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings such as “We ate pizza for lunch” or “Eight is the way to spell the number 8.”
Wells-Strozier, a Flint native, says she developed the book, also available in Spanish, because the children’s market lacks books teaching language arts for children of color. Others don’t portray children in flattering ways, she says, or they make them look older, sexualize them and fail to uplift them.
The author, who initially published the book in October 2015 and has recently released its second edition, says she’s encouraged to see how happy girls are about the Keira character and the posters promoting the book.
As a result, she said children want to take photos by the Keira poster and they are writing book reports about Keira for school assignments. They also are grasping grammar concepts many adults forgot about, never learned or understood in school, in a comprehensive way.
“It empowers them,” Marsay says. “A lot of girls are drawn to it. Most people like to see things or identify with things that look like them. Keira is not overly dressed. She doesn’t wear makeup. She looks like an average little Black girl.”
Wells-Strozier, who is experienced in teaching K-12, adults in basic education programs and immigrants who are learning English as a second language, plans to create a series of educational books with her Keira character.
Each will be offered in English, Spanish and Arabic. To promote her first book, she’s held readings during story time in schools, educational centers and even at Walmart. “Keira & Me” is available for sale on Amazon.
The author is ambitious in the ground she covers with the children’s book. Besides grammar, readers also get a geography lesson about other countries around the world and some of the animals originating from those nations.
For example, Yum Yum, a really cute CottonTopped Tamarin with pink bows in her “hair,” is from Columbia. San, a grey Red-Bellied Monkey who wears a green baseball cap, was born in Nigeria. Ook is a Black Elephant from South Africa who likes to wear a yellow tam. Keira’s other endangered species animal friends are from other countries including China, Brazil, Russia and Mexico.
The author loves animals, and she says she made them apart of the story from her desire for readers to become aware of other countries, dream about global travel and teach readers to respect our world and what it offers.
“We need to express the importance that we are not the only animals on this earth,” she says. “We need to respect life here. Other animals are endangered because of our lifestyle on our planet.”
Wells-Strozier says she worked for years to find the right illustrator to create a little girl that looks like a normal, happy, 9-year-old Black girl for second to sixth graders. Some illustrators had a proclivity to exaggerate the character’s nose, lips and ears, making it more like a caricature. After finding an illustrator who understood what she wanted, and seeing the finished image for the first time, Wells-Strozier says she wept.
“While I was growing up, I never had anything that looked like me,” she says. “We had brown-color dolls on the white body. I’m a woman of color who wrote a book to inspire and motive young girls that are doing positive things. I want to teach them they are beautiful just the way they are without makeup. They are powerful and they have gifts and talents God has given them. I want them to know they can do positive things and be very happy about it.”
Photos by Paul Engstrom