This past weekend I had the honor of meeting the author Eloise Greenfield. Many people might not know her work and her name may not be considered mainstream, but in my opinion her work and contributions to children and society as a whole are right up there with Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, and Toni Morrison.
Eloise was at Sankofa Café in Washington, DC for the Eloise Greenfield Tribute they are hosting all month. On Sunday afternoons, Sankofa has reading sessions for children where student volunteers read to kids and have them participate in activities to make the stories come alive.
Before the rest of the children arrived, Eloise, her daughter, a mother of one of the kids, the student volunteer, and myself chatted for a little while. She is soft-spoken and somewhat shy, but carries a lot of wisdom. We asked her how and when she started writing. She said she was in her late 20s when she started and the only time she wrote before then was when her teacher told her to. She continued to explain that while she was working at a Patent Office typing the same words over and over, she picked up a book about how to write. She then started writing little rhymes and enjoyed moving words around. She commented on how difficult it was for her and other parents to find books for their children. So, she then decided to make it her mission to provide books and poems that depicted African-American children and families in a positive and loving light. As the conversation progressed, we shifted to talking about how difficult it is to find good quality books, films, and music that don’t depict the negative stereotypes of African-Americans. Eloise commented that the reason why there is little quality being produced is not because no one is doing anything. Funding and support are the main reasons. She said that if she had not learned about rejection when she started writing, she probably would not be here now with all these books.
This particular Sunday, the children read For the love of the game: Michael Jordan and Me and The Friendly Four – both by Greenfield. She and her daughter watched and applauded after each skit. It was amusing to watch them because they both looked so cute. They could pass for twins if their hair and age were the same. After the session was over, the children, their mothers, and the volunteer student took pictures with Eloise and gave her a big hug.
My mother read a lot of Eloise’s books to me when I was younger. My two favorites were My Doll Keshia and My Daddy and I. I enjoyed them as books then and I appreciate them even more now. I don’t think the impact she has made on children and their love for reading has been fully recognized. Her books and poems have given African-American children of all “neighborhoods” the opportunity to experience stories with words and illustrations they can relate to and aspire to. If you have kids or younger siblings, you definitely need to read Eloise Greenfield’s books to them.