Oh happy day for Just Like a Mama, the debut book on my all-new Denene Millner Books imprint with Simon & Schuster! Today is Just Like a Mama’s book birthday and I’m so proud to present to the world this glorious children’s picture book, penned by the equally glorious Alice Faye Duncan, the genius behind the NAACP Award-nominated board book, Honey Baby Sugar Child, the heartfelt Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop and the gorgeous A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks. Artist Charnelle Pinkney Barlow makes her debut as the book’s illustrator, following in the footsteps of her illustrious grandfather Jerry Pinkney, uncle Brian Pinkney and aunt Andrea Pinkney, all stalwarts in the children’s book industry.
Why am I in love with Alice Faye’s book? Well, the description for Just Like a Mama makes it plain:
Carol Olivia Clementine lives with Mama Rose. Mama Rose is everything—tender and sweet. She is also stern and demanding, as any good parent should be. In the midst of their happy home, Carol misses her mother and father. She longs to be with them. But until that time comes around, she learns to surrender to the love that is present. Mama Rose becomes her “home.” And Carol Olivia Clementine concludes that she loves Mama Rose, “just like a mama.”
This sweet read-aloud is, on the surface, all about the everyday home life a caregiver, Mama Rose, creates for a young child: she teachers Clementine Olivia Clementine how to ride a bike, clean her room, tell time. A deeper look reveals the patience, intention, and care little ones receives in the arms of a mother whose blood is not her blood, but whose bond is so deep—and so unconditional—that it creates the most perfect condition for a child to feel safe, successful, and deeply loved.
Now y’all know I know about this kind of love. As a child of adoption, I’ve written quite a bit about the home my parents made for me—how they made a point of disciplining me, teaching me, embracing me. Loving me. They opened their arms wide and folded me right into them. I am their daughter. They are my parents. We are a family. Forever.
So, it only made sense that the manuscript for Just Like a Mama pulled at every last one of my heart strings. But beyond my personal experience with #foreverfamilies, Just Like a Mama pulls double duty honoring a long-held tradition in our community, in which grandparents, aunties, godparents and the like share a love and bond with children whom they care for and offer kindness to when those babies’ parents cannot.
See, stories about foster care and adoption will have you thinking that only white people adopt brown babies—that Black people don’t look after our own when a Black child needs a home. But we know better—know for sure that, as Alice Faye writes in her author’s note, that Black people taking care of each other’s non-blood-related children is a long-held tradition that, in this country, stretches back to the days of slavery, when “fictive kin,” i.e., made up or invented relations, were created to counter the actions of slave owners who callously, hatefully broke up Black families for profit and punishment.
“The process of choosing relatives and making families who are not related by blood or marriage remains a strategy of survival and wellbeing to this day,” writes Alice Faye. “In these trying times, children are separated from parents for a myriad of reasons. The nation’s social woes are too many to name. However, nurturing caregivers—whether compensated or unpaid, whether blood relatives, family friends, church members or kind-hearted strangers—are stepping up to be a safe haven for children in need of loving homes.”
As a school librarian, Alice Faye says she knows “countless grandmothers, aunts and big sisters who did not retreat—who valiantly cared for children not their own, until those children walked across a stage under shining lights to receive high school diplomas.” She adds that she wrote Just Like a Mama to “acknowledge the efficacy of these relationships,” including that which was created when her own mother raised her baby sister as her own child when their mother died.
This right here is how we do. And I’m so proud to use my imprint to not only help shine a light on this proud tradition—one that deserves an airing—but also to celebrate the many families created with a surrogate’s commitment to step up and love children who are not theirs by birth.
You have children like this in your life. We all do. And they deserve to see themselves and their families celebrated in the pages of a book. Do me this solid: go to your fav bookstore or wherever you buy books and cop a couple copies—one for your own bookshelves, of course, but also copies for the families in your life who will see themselves in Alice Faye’s beautiful words. Cop it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or in a local independent bookstore.
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.