Interview with Aisha Karefa-Smart about Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood by James Baldwin

How does it feel to know Little Man, Little Man is being brought to a new audience of young readers? 

It’s a wonderful feeling. A feeling of great accomplishment. It took over a decade to bring it about. Both my brother Tejan (“TJ” whom the book was written for) and I are truly delighted to see this rare gem of a book be republished after almost four decades. Thanks to the perseverance, commitment and dedication of Professor Nicholas Boggs.

The book vividly describes the life of an urban child and the people in his neighborhood. Does this mesh with your memories of growing up in Manhattan’s Upper West Side? 

Absolutely! The Upper West Side of the 70’s was very different than what it has morphed into today. It was a neighborhood with a myriad of intersections in terms of race, culture and socio-economic backgrounds. So although it was just 6 blocks North of Lincoln Center and 2 blocks away from the famed Dakota Building and ABC Studios; you could experience a plethora of images. A person picking someone’s pocket, a drug sale or an incident involving the police. This to me—is typical of many New York City neighborhoods.

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Writing the Book I Would Have Loved as a Kid

By Mae Respicio

In middle school I was mesmerized by the world of Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield in SWEET VALLEY TWINS. I studied every cover and daydreamed about what it would be like to live as popular blonde girls with bright smiles in a suburban utopia.

Like the Wakefield twins I was a California girl, but the world created in the beloved series seemed so different from mine growing up Filipina American and straddling two cultures. The twins never had to be embarrassed about inviting their non-Filipino friends over for fear of their grandmother offering dried fish and rice as an afterschool snack.

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Whenever I fumbled through an awkward tween moment I would wish for a Sweet Valley existence. I wrote in my diary that if I only had blonde hair like Elizabeth (my favorite of the two—she wanted to be a writer after all!), my seventh grade life would be perfect.

Childhood books are transformative. They inform our identities and can end up shaping us as adults. In my twenties I started to explore the Filipino American diaspora and for the first time I realized how much I longed to read about characters like me—that if I’d had such books as a kid it would have been life-changing.

But middle grade novels with a Filipina American protagonist didn’t exist in my era as a kid-reader and even well past that. In college my favorite genre was (admittedly!) chick lit, though there were no breezy beach reads with a Filipina American protagonist. When I became a parent, I thought that maybe children’s literature had changed so I set out on a mission: to fill my shelves with books that my future readers could see themselves in. I scoured every bookstore but still… nothing.

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