Sundee T. Frazier stopped by OOM today to talk about her newest book from Scholastic, Cleo Edison Oliver in Persuasion Power. Check out the Q&A below to learn more about Sundee and Cleo, the smart and driven fifth-grader on track to being a “kidpreneur.”
Cleo Edison Oliver is only in fifth grade, but she’s already an entrepreneur! Did you start a business or have cool ideas for earning money when you were little?
I had lots of ideas as a kid, but I was never a business tycoon like Cleo, and I wasn’t great at execution. I wanted to do things like host a carnival in my alley to raise money for children with a debilitating disease; or gather up all the left-on-the-lot Christmas trees and deliver them to senior citizens’ homes on Christmas Eve; or start a sign-language club at my elementary school. So, I guess you could say I was destined for nonprofit work, which I did for about fourteen years before turning my attention to writing and parenting full-time (i.e., more nonprofit work).
Cleo’s character was actually inspired by a young friend of mine who, like Cleo, made her first sale at the age of two and has developed many money-making schemes over her sixteen years of life, including selling tangerines from her front yard trees (like Cleo’s avocados) and various crafty projects (like Caylee’s barrettes).
Cleo is such a positive, persistent, persuasive young woman – but the things that make her so wonderful can also get her in trouble sometimes. What do you think young readers could learn from Cleo’s stories?
I hope Cleo inspires young readers to feel good about their strengths and to use their strengths to create opportunities and make good things happen. In pursuing their own dreams and ambitions, however, I hope they also see how important it is to respect others’ needs, wants, and personhood. We all need to know the downsides of our strengths, which, let’s be honest, is something many of us adults are still working on!
In the first book (Cleo Edison Oliver, Playground Millionaire) a mean girl makes fun of Cleo for being adopted. In Cleo Edison Oliver in Persuasion Power, readers get to learn more about Cleo’s birth parents. What kind of research did you do about adoption to write this book? What did you learn?
Some of my dearest friends have adopted children and I have learned from observing their experiences and being around them in our everyday lives, including being at the court when adoptions were made legal to celebrating special occasions like “coming home” days. I’ve also watched my friends work to keep their kids connected to their birth cultures and to their birth parents (or struggle with the question of whether to find birth parents).
I also read books and adoptive family resources—memoirs, psychology books, blogs, and magazines such as Adoptive Families. Among the most helpful were Nancy Newton Verrier’s The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child and Coming Home to Self; Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston’s The Declassified Adoptee: Essays of an Adoption Activist; and Angela Tucker’s work. Angela is giving voice to adult and kid adoptees through her blog, The Adopted Life. The film Closure, about Angela’s search for and reunion with her birth family, is amazingly poignant and insightful.
I have learned that in recent years adoptees have been speaking out—wanting to have their voices heard after feeling like the silent member of the adoption triad (adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees). Adoptees want their experiences to be heard which is so important for understanding how the system of adoption is working and where it can be improved.
We know it was important to you that Cleo has natural African-American hair, both on the covers and in your writing. Could you talk about why you made that decision?
There is so much pressure on African-American girls and women to compare themselves to a European-based beauty standard and I want all of us—of all ethnic backgrounds—to be free from that because it destroys self-esteem and keeps us from being the true beauties that we are! Embracing our hair type and texture may seem superficial to some, but for African-American women it is a huge step toward self-acceptance and not giving in to the ubiquitous lie that straight, shiny hair is somehow better than other types.
The businesswoman Cleo looks up to, Fortune A. Davies, has a list of ten principles for success, and Cleo often turns to them when she’s facing a problem. What is your favorite of the principles and why?
My favorite principle is Number 3: Doubt is more deadly than failure. I relate a lot to Caylee, Cleo’s best friend, to whom Cleo quotes this principle. I struggle with self-doubt and fear of failure. Cleo’s tenacity, optimism, and boldness, along with this principle she loves to quote, remind me not to give in to my doubts or fears but continue to take risks because that’s how amazing things happen and how we keep growing—and to grow is to be truly alive!