“a child + a book = soulful, positive change”
To hear Jewell Parker Rhodes talk about her books is like being wrapped in a gigantic warm hug. She inspires compassion and caring for all, speaking from her heart to help middle grade youth be the change that will unify the world.
Jewell teaches writing at Arizona State University, and is the Piper Endowed Chair and Founding Artistic Director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Jewell derives great joy in visiting schools and talking to students about her award-winning books.
Her latest book for the middle grade audience released this past March, Black Brother, Black Brother, is an absorbing, thought-provoking literary read. Her flair for eloquent storytelling is informed by years of sitting on the porch with her grandmother in a poor, segregated community of Pittsburgh, listening to wonderful stories from their heritage.
Black Brother, Black Brother is self-described as her most personal book to date. The 14 year-old fraternal twins Dante and Trey were created in her imagination, but resemble her own bi-racial family (her oldest child Kelly presents as white and son Evan presents as brown). Dante is judged differently in school than his fair-skinned brother Trey and is unfairly punished. Fencing becomes a healing mechanism to channel Dante’s anger and helplessness, to give him the confidence and self-power that shows the world who he is and what he has to offer.
The way in which the story evolves is a reflection of Jewell’s optimism, hope and faith in bringing people together. Another writer could have had Dante’s character express jealousy, spite and antagonism towards his brother because of the bias he experienced. Racism can be a catalyst that breaks families apart, but Jewell reflects the power of her own family in the Black Brother, Black Brother family – tightly connected despite living in a society that wants to keep you feeling small.
Jewell appreciates that she was allowed to bring this story into the world with its themes of colorism, representation, and the school-to-prison pipeline; that she can write what she cares about and what she sees. When students read illuminating books like Black Brother, Black Brother they are cultivating empathy and gaining understanding that, as her grandmother always told her, “There’s nobody in the world better than you and you’re not better than anyone else, we’re all a mixed blood stew.”
Ultimately, this story transcends the motif of color. It is for anyone who feels invisible or that others don’t have respect for their holistic beauty. It inspires kids to “Be you and be confident, even if others can’t see you…Do everything. Try everything. There’s so many ways to be in this world. You need education, you need to find mentors and go out into the world.”
Children’s Books by Jewell Parker Rhodes
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n.a. (2020, July 22). A #ProjectLit conversation with Jewell Parker Rhodes. Little Brown Books for Young Readers [Crowdcast event for professional development with authors and illustrators]
McBroom, Kathleen. (2019, April, first publication). The Inside Story: Jewell Parker Rhodes. Booklist. [online professional journal]
Stapleton, Victoria [narrator]. (2020, July). Jewell Parker Rhodes on Black Brother, Black Brother. Little Brown School Library [Soundcloud webcast]