As a little Brooklyn born home-schooled vegan I was enrolled up the wazoo in extracurricular activities, from Gardening at BBG to art classes at the Brooklyn Museum to the Reading is Fundamental Book Club at the Brooklyn Public Library. I was a born bookworm. I don’t know how old I was when I learned to read but I suspect it was quick and early. I started writing poetry when I was eight.
For me, getting a card at the Brooklyn Public Library was like gaining entry to the first club ever that I ever felt I completely belonged to. I remember them typing up all the info on it, my name address, phone number and then laminating it and telling me all the rules about due dates, borrowing limits and such. Oh, it was like getting the keys to the kingdom. And I read voraciously, particularly YA, and at an age when I was neither preteen nor young adult. LOL! But if you were like me, a young brown girl with a huge reading appetite, you noticed that there was a glaring absence of Black faces in the worlds of Francine Pascal, Judy Blume, Ellen Conford, Paula Danziger, Maud Hart Lovelace and the entire Sweet Dreams series. “Rainbow Jordan” by Alice Childress stands out a lot in my mind but I was deeply irked that it was like the only book I ever saw on the shelves with a Black face on it. It appeared and reappeared but nothing else with a Brown face on it ever did. And to be honest I did try to read and just wasn’t feeling it. But there was nothing else to compare it to!
So I kept reading more authors like the ones listed above and I was an avid fan of them all. I mean like many girls White and Black alike, I came of age with these characters and they will forever remain embedded in my literary DNA with a lot of warm deluded memories. But one day while I was in line at the RIF club looking through books to take out I saw the first ever Black face I had ever seen on a Sweet Dreams paperback and I flipped out! “The Truth about me and Bobby V.” by Janetta Johns.
Oh I was soooo excited!!!! I was elated! It was about a dysfunctionally shy gangly Black girl who lived in some inner city USA. She had just adjusted to being in a new, tougher High School with the help of her tougher more outspoken BFF Bobby V. when her parents announce they will be moving the whole family to a predominantly white suburb where she dreads having to start all over again.
I read that book more times than I can remember. I’ve read it as an adult. I own a copy that I ordered on Amazon for posterity. One single Sweet Dreams book about a Black girl, Copyright 1983. Sure, she was a light skinned girl of the variety that corporations targeted for sanitary napkin commercials in the 70s and if I had to break down the whole story, I realize it doesn’t take on race relations in any radical way. But still. She was one brown face in a sea of white girls. And that was extremely important for me as a reading junkie and as a Black female and it still is now.