We interviewed author Tami Charles to chat about her recent picture book “We Are Here,” illustrated by Bryan Collier, as part of a series honoring Black History Month. “We Are Here” presents the inspirational figures and stories of Black women and men throughout history that are meant to inspire readers to imagine a bright future ahead.
What inspired you to write “We Are Here”?
During the pandemic, my son Christopher had questions about the injustice of people of color shown in the media. These conversations reminded me of those early talks about Dr. King, which inspired All Because You Matter. But it also reminded me of the child I lost years ago and what I would have said to her, had she come to me with those same concerns and questions. I wrote WE ARE HERE to celebrate the achievements of Black and Brown communities across the globe, so that children will have a source of pride to point to in times of doubt.
What was your thought process when selecting which Black historical figures and contributions to focus on for this book?
I wanted to include both well-known figures like Dr. King and Marian Anderson, but also those lesser-known icons in Black history, like Constantin Henriquez, the first Black Olympic gold medalist. Children can be inspired by their stories.
“We Are Here” marks the second time you’ve worked with illustrator Bryan Collier, whose artistic work elevates the beauty and excellence of the Black community in the book. What was it like working with Bryan again? Was it any different from when you worked with him on “All Because You Matter”?
For All Because You Matter, my son and I had the benefit of meeting up with Bryan at the library to do a photo shoot. He used those images to inspire the art. For We Are Here, I wrote it at the beginning of the pandemic, so sadly, we couldn’t meet up. Instead, Bryan requested childhood pictures of myself to inspire his process, in addition to using his own daughter, Ava, as a model for the book. It’s been amazing seeing his genius unfold.
You briefly include a few Spanish and French phrases in the storyline, showing the presence of multicultural communities. How do you think this speaks to the diversity of today’s society?
I love showing the fullness of us on the page. We are multidialectal. Our influences can be found in every corner of the globe. Including various languages is my way of honoring the diversity within our diversity.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I love challenging myself to make the words sing! Poetry has always been my thing (see what I did there?).
What do you hope young readers will take with them from “We Are Here”?
I hope readers are inspired by the art, the text, and the evidence of achievement, to make way for their own future successes.