It’s the end of the school year and while most teachers are cleaning out their classrooms and packing their books safely away, I am excited about ordering new books to bolster the diversity and equity of my classroom library. (Here’s some tips on why that’s important.) I had one particular book in mind, Anna’s Test, written by my colleague, good friend, and frequent co-presenter, Dr. Whitney Q. Hollins, Ph.D.
Here is a blurb about the book:
Anna’s Test was created by directly impacted individuals for directly impacted individuals and their allies. The mission is to add to a growing body of literature featuring children of incarcerated parents. With a focus on the positive, Anna’s Test seeks to lessen the stigma surrounding incarceration by providing caregivers, educators and others with a tool to spark conscious conversations. This story is dedicated to all directly impacted people, who often have so much to share and so few places to do so.
I sat with Whitney last week on June 10th, 2019, the day her book dropped, to talk with her about what Anna’s Test is all about and why she found it necessary to write it. Here’s what she had to say:
Vivett: I read your new book and I absolutely love it. Why did you write Anna’s Test?
Whitney: Thank you! Anna’s Test was written for a class project at CUNY Graduate Center in 2014. I was inspired to write it because when searching for children’s books about parental incarceration, I found there were limited options. My classmates enthusiastically told me I should publish the book, but I didn’t really know how to go about doing that. One of my friends had a contact at a publishing company who was willing to look it over and tell me his thoughts. His response was more lackluster than my classmates. While they praised how nuanced it was, he called it “anticlimactic.”
Vivett: Ouch! What did that critique do for you?
Whitney: I sat for a while — discouraged. I started to think how silly I was to think that my grad school project could really become a published children’s book. Then a realization came to me: He wasn’t looking for more drama, he was looking for more trauma! Parental incarceration was supposed to be full of trauma and Anna, the main character, wasn’t traumatized. I decided then and there that I wouldn’t attempt to have it published by an established company. I wouldn’t give someone else control over the story that I want to share. There were many starts and stops (it took five years, lol), but it’s here and it’s perfect.
Vivett: One of my favorite components of the book are the illustrations. Can you tell me more about the illustrator, Kiki Kitty?
Whitney: Kiki Kitty absolutely took my plans for illustrations to the next level. As a directly impacted individual, she poured her heart and soul into this because she understood that it was more than a story.
Vivett: Well-said and thank you for your time. As we prepare to close out this interview, what parting sentiments would you like to read with the readers?
Whitney: Our community is so strong and I am just always so grateful to contribute to it. Fun Fact: Anna was modeled after my niece, Ari — one of the cutest kids who ever existed! Special shout out to Ebony Underwood of the organization We Got Us Now and you and your husband, John Dukes, Vivett, from www.SpeakYaTruth.org for your unwavering support of children of incarcerated parents and all those directly impacted by mass incarceration in America. May you, like Anna, persevere and pass the test.