Love, Literacy & Purpose
I’m so hype about our second feature with the dynamic duo that is Courtnae Smith and Robert Davis! CCIA’s movement is focused on positive cultural representation so you can imagine how delighted I was to discover an African-American couple who writes children’s books together. Representation matters and you can’t beat the powerful imagery of a couple in love with each other, their children and their culture, coming together to produce art that educates and inspires our most valuable resources; our children. You know I always have questions for dope people so check out their responses about their phenomenal books, their motivation as a couple and where you can find them and their books.
First of all, as a music lover, I have to know who you’re listening to.
Courtnae Smith: I like to listen to Lalah Hathaway, Bobby McFerrin, and the Afro-Cuban All Stars.
Robert Davis: Although I grew up on Sade, Anita Baker, Stephanie Mills, Frankie Beverly and Maze, and many, many others, I am truly interested in how our music has developed across the diaspora. As of late, I LOVE true instrumentation, haunting, and organic sounds that make me hear my ancestors, and I am just not finding that kind of music on our airwaves, so, I listen to a TON of Sara Tavares. I love anything by her. I also love the Afro-Cuban All Stars, Fatoumata Diawara, Sona Jaberteh, and Ibeyi.
How did your love for reading begin?
Courtnae Smith: My family was homeless when I was eight. My mom, myself, and my three little sisters lived in the Salvation Army for a while. They had an incredible library. I needed an escape and I used to read all of the “Baby Sitter’s Club” and “Goosebumps” books. It helped me deal with reality.
Robert Davis: My love for reading began when I was in middle school, I believe. I remember reading a story called, “This Strange New Feeling”, by Julius Lester. In other levels of my schooling, I gravitated towards books with tragic family experiences regarding the black experience: Toni Morrison’s, “The Bluest Eye”, and Earnest Gaines’, “A Lesson Before Dying”, stick out the most in regards to my earlier interest in reading. Ever since, I have been intrigued by any writing that is interested in the dissection of black people in America: our experiences…our triumphs… all of it has been something I have been drawn towards; although, I also liked books outside of our experience with similar elements of tragedy, particularly, around the family.
What was your favorite book as a child?
Courtnae Smith: “Addy American Girl”. It was a box series.
Robert Davis: As a child, I used to LOVE the Scary Story series. Looking back at my answers, perhaps I have more of a taste of the macabre than I thought.
What is your favorite book right now?
Courtnae Smith: “In My Own Words” by the Dalai Lama
Robert Davis: My favorite book that I have read as an adult, that has been the most eye-opening, in my opinion, is Michelle Alexander’s, “The New Jim Crow”. It’s a book that is very insightful, meaningful, impactful, and jarring. It makes one angry and it SHOULD make anyone who’s reading it, angry enough to do SOMETHING. Courtnae and I are on a journey of self-improvement, so that we can have a greater impact on helping our community. So, we’ve been trying to find inspiration, anywhere we can, from any source. Currently, we are reading Masami Sato’s, “Giving Business: Creating the Maximum Impact in a Meaning-Driven World”. We want to be able to help truly change the world to make it a better place for everyone, but we want equity for black people in America.
What made you decide to write and/or publish books catered to African-American children?
Courtnae Smith: There is a lack of positive representation for our children in books. I understand how big of an impact positive images have on their self-esteem.
Robert Davis: There are numerous reasons, but to name a few, we wanted to leave a legacy for our children. We wanted them to see themselves, literally, within books we have written. In addition to this, we desired to ensure other black children and black families saw themselves through our books, as well.
What age range do you focus on?
Courtnae Smith and Robert Davis: Our target age range is from when the child is born to at least eight years of age. We really desire to promote early childhood literacy. Many studies concerning childhood literacy shows that reading to a child, as early as possible, develops cognitive function and increases the potential for that child to have a broader vocabulary by the age of two, as opposed to children who do not have parents read to them. Due to the fact that our books have neat rhyming patterns, it promotes phonological awareness and auditory discrimination, so it’s also great for the early reader. We hear stories of parents with children who are as young as one to three years of age, who are reciting our book as the parents read our book to them.
What is your greatest challenge you face now?
Courtnae Smith: Online sales
Robert Davis: Currently, our greatest challenge is financing this endeavor. Not only are we interested in producing the rest of our children’s book series, but we also have the minds to create a comic book series, centered on black children (our children LOL), an animated series, and we wish to grow the book series from the child reader to the middle grade and young adult readers, in which our children will encounter more complex stories in regards to mysteries, investigations, etc. Think, “Scooby-Doo” or “The Hardy Boys”.
What has been your greatest reward?
Courtnae Smith: The amazing responses we’ve gotten from parents and children who have read our book.
Robert Davis: The greatest reward I have ever received in regards to this journey, has been my relationship with Courtnae and the three children we help raise, together. Aaaaaaaw
What is unique about your books?
Courtnae Smith: Our book has multiple purposes. It’s designed with bright colors, simple sentence structure and a rhyming pattern to cognitively stimulate an infant/toddler. It’s a good foundation read for early readers. It features a healthy happy black family. Each book has inspirational quotes from parents to parents in the back.
Robert Davis: I think what is unique about our book is that it is designed for children, as well as parents. Our books aid in creating that feeling of nostalgia a parent has when thinking about the day their child was first placed in their arms, when their child first crawled, when they first walked, etc. We take parents through the entire first year with our entire book series, but we start with the first day their child was born, after the delivery, when all of the love and heart-warming feelings are flowing in the delivery room. We even have a “From Parents to Parents” section at the end of each book, encouraging parents by letting them know: They are enough.
Which of your books is your favorite and why?
Courtnae Smith: We only have one out, but I think this one may be my favorite from the series though. It’s such a loving story. It’s our story and we get to connect with other parents as they start an incredible journey of parenthood.
Robert Davis: I love our first book; however, I am looking forward to seeing the future books so that we may incorporate all of our babies.
Do you have any thoughts on how we can improve literacy among African-American children?
Courtnae Smith: Make books featuring African American children. Create fun literary experiences, and allow space for them to use their imagination.
Robert Davis: Yes! I think that there needs to be a push within our community for the parents to read to their children as SOON AS that child is born. If for some reason the parents cannot read to their child due to dysphagia, dysarthria, or illiteracy, we should be encouraging following along with audiobooks AS WELL AS creating an environments and resources in which a parent (s) feel comfortable enough to reach out for help with education and/or counseling or medical treatment, if needed.
How do you incorporate reading into your children’s lives?
Courtnae Smith and Robert Davis: We’ve been reading to Seven since he was in the womb. We read multiple times a day. We get singing books. We allow him to read to us! LOL! We read to our children, daily and throughout the day. Our children are stair steppers at 2, 3, and 4 years of age.
Is there anything you would like to say to parents?
Courtnae Smith: Live in the moment. Get messy with your children. Listen more. Be creative. Relax.
Robert Davis: I would like to say, to the parents who have received and loved their books, “THANK YOU!” You are truly amazing in this journey! I would also like to say to all parents that they are going to have terrible days and brighter days with their children, but through it all, lead with love, always.
Is there anything you would like to say to our youth?
Courtnae Smith: Life is an adventure. It’s also tough sometimes. Trust yourself. It’s ok to be different. Find something positive that makes you happy. The sky is not the limit. You can go beyond!
Robert Davis: I would say something similar: You are going to have rough days, and you are going to have some amazing days, but value your relationships, particularly, the relationships with your parents and grandparents, respect yourselves and your elders, be strong during times of adversity, understand and appreciate the power of both “Yes” and “No”, and think of ways to be a better you, day by day.
What do you hope children get from reading your books?
Courtnae Smith: I hope they get a sense of self-worth and happiness to see black faces in a book, a love and hunger for reading. Inspiration to right stories on their own.
Robert Davis: I would hope black children are able to see themselves, their mothers, and their fathers, in a positive light. Courtnae and I have a blended family, as 2 of our children are from my prior relationship. In future books, we hope to highlight that blended families that keep the focus of what’s best for the children, can work, abundantly. For children from varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, we hope to plant the seed of diversity that they may one day grow to respect all others, despite their differences.
Where can we find you and your literary gifts?
Courtnae Smith and Robert Davis: Amazon.com and WeBuyBlack.com; however, we are in a few bookstores across the nation including St Louis, Oakland, California, Chicago, Illinois, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Atlanta, Georgia.
In addition to purchasing your books, what other ways people can support your movement?
Courtnae Smith and Robert Davis: Invite us to do a story time or book signing in your area. Allow us to be a part of literary initiatives, and tell others about our book! We would like to expand and promote the image of a positive black family. Therefore, we needed a little assistance, getting there. If anyone out there would like to help and even learn a little bit more about us, they can visit our Patreon page at: https://www.patreon.com/Milestonebabies?utm_campaign=creatorshare&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook
Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
Courtnae Smith and Robert Davis: Our new book “Month One” will be out around Christmas and we would like to extend an invitation to follow us on Facebook: Milestone Babies Series LLC Twitter: Twitter.com/Milestonebabies and Instagram: milestone_babies_series
I hope you enjoyed the insight and sincerity from this interview with Courtnae and Robert. The best way to show love to them is to purchase. Their books will make great Christmas, Kwanzaa, birthday and just-because gifts for the children in your life. Oh, and be sure to share!