Lift Every Voice: Side B

When I was eight years old — you might say octave age — in 1971, I was a DJ playing a record, a single 45, in my bedroom. The song on vinyl I would play was side B of Michael Jackson’s “Got to Be There” — “Maria (You Were the Only One).” One day, after I put down the arm of the machine onto the record, it broke. That infuriated me and I swore I would never buy another one of the singer’s records ever again. Shortly after, I began to draw Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Minnie, my favorite, became special. Back in the day, I watched The Mickey Mouse Club daily. It was popular and on regular TV. We didn’t have cable TV. There was no YouTube.

Already at that tender age I had turned inward because of child molestation by a relative by marriage. It impacted my soul, which buried the pain down low, and I began to tuck away emotion, tears, and shame. I turned to drawing for quiet introspection and for it to become my friend. Playmates were few; I was a latchkey child. My journey to school and back home was a long day, and it was intersected with abuse at that time in my life.

Whimsical drawings helped me bury my hurt and pain. My awareness about design was not overt, but my sense of color theory was strong. Out of the pain grew Beauty. Side B broke and symbolically represented the present. How does beauty sprout from abuse? I don’t know; except that through my art, my Lord revealed His passion for my life. “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above” (James 1:17).

Back then, I held my Art close to my heart. The lyrics of “Maria” talked about love. I did not know the love the singer’s young voice sang about, but I could feel his joy in his singing. Joy, oh how great is His joy, the Father is side B. I could hear him singing this poetic love song.

For His Love is beautiful to me.

Many roads have led me, but now only one leads me. Illustrator, I became by the blessings of the Lord. On the side B road to becoming an illustrator, I stopped at a diner. In this diner, I sat at the table prepared only for me. The bread that came in the form of my book idea was His bread broken: I was asked by Children’s Book Press founder Harriet Rohmer what I could do and do fast. I said music. I painted music images first and gave descriptions to the writer Toyomi Igus, and she added poems. Oh how sweet is He, the bread I am only referring to. It is subtle and light. Not like sweet bread but better. He honored me by bestowing yet another gift. That gift was the 1999 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Oh, I strive for another Victory in the Lord.

Because of side B examples that were in my life to inspire me, I paint to represent my faith. I went back to school, graduated in 2018, and received my Master of Divinity degree. Through this new profound learning, I am more equipped to write my own books with greater understanding. Thank you, Lord!


From the May/June 2019 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: CSK Book Awards at 50. Find more information about ordering copies of the special issue.

Michele Wood

Michele Wood won the 1999 CSK Illustrator Award for I See the Rhythm. She recently contributed to I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage (Lee & Low).

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