You guys. I just… my heart is so full right now as I prepare to celebrate the release of my children’s picture book Early Sunday Morning, the first picture book on my new imprint, Denene Millner Books! Early Sunday Morning is out tomorrow, just in time for the latest “Good Night Baby,” going down tomorrow night at 7:30 sharp on the MyBrownBaby FaceBook Page. Come through and help me celebrate—POW!
Early Sunday Morning is a beautiful tribute to my childhood—specifically the love my nuclear family members shared for one another, my mother’s insistence that we be socialized within a strong black Baptist church culture, and the incredible bond I had (and still have!) with my father. I still remember the first time I sang a solo in church—the preparation that went into it and all the nerves I had to overcome to stand up in front of that microphone, in front of all those people and sing.
Now, I couldn’t sing a lick, but that didn’t stop the choir director from insisting each of us have a turn at the mic. It wasn’t about embarrassing us; it was about showing us how to “be” in front of a crowd—whether it was singing a song, giving a speech, leading a prayer or reciting Bible verses. Always, they cheered us on with, “Sang, baby!” even if we couldn’t hold the notes. It was important to them that we be supported and feel loved and know that they had our back—no matter what. I have no doubts that this kind of loving helped me be the person I am today. I wanted to capture that magic in a children’s book.
Each of the characters in the story is fashioned after very real people. For instance, the illustrator, the wonderful Vanessa Brantley-Newton, created the main character, June, from a series of pictures of my daughter, Lila. And my daughter, Mari, chose the name June for the main character, no doubt because it’s the month in which both she and her sister were born. Mr. Harvey the barber is actually fashioned after one of the deacons from my childhood church, and Ms. Ellis, the Sunday School teacher, is named for my childhood Sunday School teacher, who was beautiful and elegant and full of light.
It’s funny: Vanessa didn’t know what the real Mr. Harvey looked like; she created her illustration without my giving her any clues on how he should look. Imagine my surprise, then, when she sent me the illustration: it looks exactly like Mr. Harvey did back then: tall, slender, with a shock of gray hair. She channeled him! Same for Ms. Ellis, about whom Vanessa and I did talk. She was really special to me. She got sick when I was a teenager and had a hard time caring for her own babies; still, she always came to church with that smile and a huge amount of love in her heart, despite her circumstances. I wanted to honor her and the lesson she taught us about love in the pages of Early Sunday Morning.
Another fun fact: little Kelvin, the kid who prays the pastor doesn’t go on and on at Sunday service, is named for Kelvin Mercer, a third of the hip hop group De La Soul. We grew up together in St. John’s Baptist Church!
I pitched Early Sunday Morning to a few children’s book editors back in 2003, while working as an editor for Parenting magazine. None of them seemed to understand the concept—the idea that black families have a getting-ready-for-church ritual that starts on Saturday, or that Black Baptist church communities devote themselves to nurturing children in the ways of not only the Bible, but also the socialization, culture and fierceness that comes from being raised within that tightly connected group. Makes no never mind, though: Here we are 14 years later, and Early Sunday Morning is no longer sitting on my computer; it’s come to life in the most astounding way possible: by my own hand, on my own imprint, in partnership with a scrappy independent publisher, Agate Publishing. It was meant to go down this way.
I hope that Early Sunday Morning really reminds children to open their eyes to all of the incredible people surrounding them—the ones that love them, pray for them and teach them how to be. They are the heroes—the ones who should be remembered as we take our place in the sun.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.