Not everyone immediately thought about children’s books upon hearing the news that Senator Kamala Harris is Joe Biden’s pick for vice president on the Democratic ticket for 2020. But that’s where my mind always goes. And it’s also fitting to have kids books on the mind this time, because Harris is one of the main characters in her niece’s book, Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea. In fact, you can kind of look at the book as the origin story of Harris’ political career — and get a little inspo for raising kids like her.
“Kamala and Maya had an idea. It was a very good idea. And a very big idea. They were going to need help,” reads the book by Meena Harris, a lawyer and activist, and the daughter of public policy advocate Maya Harris, Kamala Harris’ sister.
The big idea is to build a playground in the courtyard of their apartment building. The sisters take their idea to the landlord, who very quickly says no. But they’re not quite willing to give up. Instead, they start spreading the idea to the other kids in the building. Kamala writes a persuasive letter. Then she starts organizing volunteers. The girls are resourceful and persistent, and they learn that “maybe” can be turned into “yes,” when people see there’s a way forward.
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My book comes out in exactly a week, ahhhhh! I've been working so hard on it, and I can't wait to share it with you. Here's the photo of my mom and aunt that inspired the book cover, which I've always cherished. It was framed on a bookshelf in the entryway of my grandma's house for as long as I can remember, and growing up I loved hearing stories about and seeing old pictures of them as young girls in the 1970s. My mom is the one in the bandana, my aunt in the bell bottom jeans, and they’re staring at the camera with fierce determination. They look like they’ve just conquered the world, and that’s exactly how I perceived them when I was younger. A specific story from their childhood always stuck with me, and by the time I had two daughters myself, I knew I had to write a book inspired by that story. I wanted to memorialize it, not only for my girls but for children across the world. I'm so excited for you to read it soon! Swipe for our (failed) attempt to recreate the cover to see why I'm crying right now. And we still have a pre-order campaign to provide vital support to indie bookstores across the country — your support means the world to us!
This is an inspiring tale all on its own, and the illustrations by Ana Ramirez Gonzalez are engaging for younger readers. Is it wrong that we’re now also looking at this children’s story for its political context? Meena Harris has said this is inspired by the true story, but it’s not clear how much of it really happened. What we do know is that the sisters’ single mother, Shyamala Gopala Harris, raised them with that kind of determination and community spirit.
“If you saw something or you experienced something that you objected to, her response to us was not just to be mad about it or to complain about it, but to do something about it,” Maya Harris said in a Glamour interview with her daughter and sister. “We were always taught to stand up for ourselves, to stand up for others, to speak up.”
And to that, the maybe possible first Black and Indian female vice president of the United States added: “We were raised in a community where the children of the community were the children of the community; there was a great sense of collective responsibility. I think one of the things that Meena does so well in the book is that she emphasizes the importance of participating in community, showing that each one, pull one. Each one has a part. It’s about the community.”
Continue your children’s education on standing up for others with Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea and maybe some of these other children’s books by Black authors and illustrators.
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