It seems like Tamara McNeil is on an impossible mission whenever she searches for books about black characters for her son, MJ, who recently turned one.
Visiting various bookstores and libraries to find books with main characters resembling her son became frustrating, McNeil told The Huffington Post. That’s when she realized if she was having this problem in Atlanta with a mostly black population, then others probably were, too.
McNeil decided to create a solution to this problem. Using her own money and resources, she bought roughly 1000 books and created Just Like Me!, a monthly subscription book box, which launched on Monday.
“I just found a void in the market and I know that I’m not the only parent that feels this way and who’d like for their children to have a diverse library, and that’s really important to me,” she told HuffPost. “My goal is essentially for children to be able to see themselves in literature. It really makes a world of difference and it’s really disturbing to me that our books and our stories are so hard to find.”
In the Just Like Me! box, customers get two to three age-appropriate children’s books for $25 each month. Every box features books that tell the stories of black characters, supplemental learning tools and an additional gift for parents like bookmarks and backpacks.
Many of the books are authored by black people, whom McNeil said don’t get enough spotlight in the publishing world. McNeil admitted that finding these authors was difficult at first.
Upon further research, McNeil found out why. Of the 3,400 books received by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center last year, only three percent were authored by black writers and eight percent were about black characters. Overall, there were less than 15 percent of kids’ books published by major companies in the country last year.
“It is essential that we introduce our children to a diverse style of books [and] diverse characters, because it’s really important that our kids understand the world that we live in,” McNeil said. “We’re not all just black, we’re not all just white, my child reads Dr. Suess, he reads all sorts of books, but I especially want him to see powerful images of himself.”
McNeil said if children are reading stories that reflect their experiences, it can empower them to dream big, all while helping to close the literacy gap.
“Once our kids see that we can be superheroes in our own right, we can be Barack Obama, we can be anything that we want to be. I think that starts with books.”