Fearless Activist Discusses Her Latest Foray Into Children’s Books

I first became acquainted with Michelle E. Brown over a decade ago when I interviewed her to discuss her work. Since then, Michelle has been honored twice with our Esteem Award for Outstanding Service Female – National in 2012 and Outstanding Blog Radio show “Can We Talk For Real” in 2014. 

The Detroit native has worked tirelessly to advocate for African Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, and women’s rights. Her writings have appeared in publications such as Between the Lines Newspaper, GBM News, the Detroit News, Michigan Citizen, and Cherry Grrl. Recently, she was elected to the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Change board of directors. She will be charged with bringing awareness and helping develop BIPOC programs and promoting the center and its services. 

Brown’s internet radio show “Collections by Michelle Brown – Blog Radio” airs every Thursday at 7 p.m. Collections celebrate the lives of those standing “boldly in the crosshairs of their intersectionality and creating change as they move through life.” 

In this interview, Michelle talks about her children’s book series JACK WITH THE CURLY TAIL, the inspirations, and lessons we all can learn from them.

PrideIndex (PI): Hello, Miss Brown, how are you, my sister from another mother?

Michelle Brown (MB): I am doing well. It is good to talk to you.

PI: I have been following your Collections by Michelle Brown – Blog Radio” on Sound Cloud. Sometimes I listen to them right away, while I binge-listen to others when I have more time. It’s all about making time for what is essential.

MB: Well, I’m going on my fifth year, and it’s been great. I’ve been happy to talk to some of the past Esteem Award winners, so it’s been good.

PI: I’ve reached out to talk to you because a little birdie (your Facebook post) put a bug in my ear that you’ve written another book. 

MB: Laughs.

PI: Tell me about your book. This is a children’s book. How did it become come about?

MB: I am very passionate about social justice, equality, and LGBTQ rights. I have some friends who had a daughter named Rafi, who always asked why. I found that sometimes you have a surrogate; mine is a dog. The dog’s name is Jack, and he is afraid of fire. And Rafi asks, “Why is she’s scared of fires.” So the story telling began. I’ve got this book. It’s a two-parter. The first one is called JACK WITH THE CURLY TAIL: A HOME FOR JACK, which talks about homelessness; it touches on bullying and being who you are. It flows into the follow-up with JACK WITH THE CURLY TAIL: HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS, which continues Jack’s journey home. The home that he finds has two mommies, the best moms in the world. The book offers a way to open doors in schools with parents or families to talk about what our families are about and things like bullying, what happens when someone new moves into your neighborhood, and how you make friends. I have differently abled people because I’ve met enough people to know that they aren’t disabled. They are differently abled. This book breaks that down so that a parent could read to a child and make them understand that you might be differently abled; that doesn’t mean that you’re any less than others; you just do things a little different way. 

PI: Are you on book number two or three?

MB: It’s been two books. The first book, JACK WITH THE CURLY TAIL: A HOME FOR JACK, I had written a few years was the hardest. When I wrote JACK WITH THE CURLY TAIL: HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS, we found out that you’re okay as you are, and everybody has their own talents. It talks about bullying, but I felt like it was not complete. Particularly with some of the things we were seeing, I thought I really needed to go to this. In finding an illustrator, I recognized that I needed to refresh the original book to match the drawings and do new ones. The first book is like an intro; each novel could be stand-alone or be read in tandem. There are new characters in the second one, and there’s a richer story where you think in the end, Amen. I get it now. (Laughs.)

PI: These are children’s books, but to me, as I listened to your descriptions, there are lessons that adults can learn too.

MB: That’s true. I’ve had several adults say, “wow, this book made me think.” Think about the whole issue of homelessness, they try to keep kids in the school where they belong, but you have homeless children. I read my book to school kids, and there was a child who asked a lot of great questions. The child asked if things would get better. The teacher later read the book and then said it helped her think about the child’s questions. It dawned on her there had been changes in that child’s behavior that she had been oblivious to. She figured everybody in her school district was good people, so of course, there couldn’t be a child who was homeless. Her perception of what homeless people looked like was rocked. She recognized that it could happen to a family in this school district. This child kept a pretense of everything being okay when it really wasn’t. And that was why she had noticed the changes in the child’s behavior. It made her, as an adult, look around her community differently.

PI: That is outstanding to hear that someone has taken your work to heart, thought about the world from a different perspective, and did something to help someone else. 

MB: Exactly. As a creative person, you want to tell the story, but there’s something deeper that you want to get. This story is a stretch for me because this is my first foray into the world of children’s books. I write poetry and essays, which I think can be clever stuff. I wanted to think about how a child would feel with these books. It would open up that conversation between parent and child or teacher and child. It was important to me to think and open my heart to how a child would see it. I used a different type of communication to express this and where people could relate to it, get it, and see it in their lives. I didn’t want it to just be words. I wanted people to finish the whole series.

In JACK WITH THE CURLY TAIL: HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS, the question comes up, how could a family have two mommies? It’s about love. They love their child. How come you can’t do that? I want to see not just change for today, not just for someone to buy the book. I want to see a change in the future. I want to run into someone 10-15 years from now, and that person tells me that they read the book with their mom. That person questioned their mom and made them look at people differently. It’s about planting that seed for people to grow.

PI: Will there be a third, fourth, fifth, or sixth book in this series?

MB: Well, kinda/sorta. (Laughs) COVID-19 just brought a whole new reality to us. I see certain things from within that I want to address, using many of the characters from the Jack series. One of them is that I don’t think any generation, particularly kids, has had to deal with the loss of a loved one. How do we find a way to explain to them? It means memories that aren’t lost; remember the good times and keep that connection. I recall seeing pictures of the puppy going over the rainbow bridge. And that image stuck in my mind. I get soft whenever I talk about it. It is still there when you see people talking about losing their pets. But they’ve gone on to a better place. In this period of COVID, you have kids that have never met grandma, or they suddenly couldn’t see grandma for a year, and then she’s gone. It’s not easily understood why. I thought I could use Jack and his cast of friends to visualize the pet going over the rainbow. The characters could help children who cannot verbally express the trauma they have gone through with this pandemic of seeing a family member or friend pass without anyone to help them deal with it and have that conversation with family members, teachers, whoever, about what they’ve done because it is a trauma. And we know it is traumatic. It’s affected our whole community. And it’s not just about getting vaccines and getting better. It’s about also understanding what happened, honoring those who are lost, and keeping that connection to them. I’ve got my notebook and started making notes and thinking about bringing in a cast of new characters. 

PI: What advice would you offer to someone who wants to be a writer or artist who wants to step out of their comfort zone and write a children’s book?

MB: Go talk to some kids who are in different places. I spoke to a child I knew was the only one at school with two mommies. I also visited a homeless shelter that had just started providing housing for women and their children. And you sort of hear what they’re talking about. You’ve got to get out of your head and remember their words, language, and how they do it, then you start to write it down. And sometimes, you might write it and recognize that you’re using grown-up words. Use it and break it down to their level. I have had test audiences of kids who will call me on stuff. (Laughs) That’s not how we talk. That’s not how we do. I have some 100 kids. They would tell you that’s not how a dog cries, what they do is, and they tell me, and I would incorporate that. Kids are your audience. This is who you’re going to look to and listen to. And when you look for an artist, find an artist who hears your spirit, who hears your soul. It might be easier to draw, women with straight hair. But if I want a child who looks like a black child, the artist needs to get it right. And if you don’t get it, move on.

To purchase JACK WITH THE CURLY TAIL click here.