In my previous review of Crown Shepherd’s book Black Boy Black Boy, the issue was raised about how African American boys fell behind in their reading skills. When asked the reason they didn’t like reading in school, the reply was simple: there were no characters or images who looked like them in books. Today, I have the honor and privilege of reviewing a book that was written by 10-year-old African American male Zephaniah Martin: Jaheem’s First Kwanzaa.
The main character, Jaheem, is a boy who at first doesn’t want to celebrate Kwanzaa, given all the other holidays throughout the year and his desire to play the video games he received for Christmas. With patience and understanding, his parents explain to him the importance of Kwanzaa and its connection to his African ancestors and history, including his late beloved grandfather.
Beautifully illustrated by Bilal Karaca, Jaheem’s First Kwanzaa brings relevance to Kwanzaa from a child’s point of view, and connecting this special holiday to someone he loved. For his literary achievements, Zephaniah Martin was the 2021 winner of the Youth Writing Competition sponsored by Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute.
There is something special when an author reads his/her/their work. On his YouTube video, Jaheem’s First Kwanzaa, Zephaniah reads his book and shares the illustrations, and it was beautiful to behold. In these days and times, it is even more imperative to encourage these gifts in our children, so like and subscribe to his video, and let’s support him as an author. Perhaps one day, he’ll sign my copy of his book—or yours.
Representation matters, no matter how old or how young. If we don’t share our stories, who will?