Publishers' Preview: Debut Authors: Five Questions for Lynnette Mawhinney

This interview originally appeared in the July/August 2020 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Debut Authors, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Being a member of a biracial family can mean being asked, with annoying frequency, “What are you?” But Lulu the One and Only comes up with a good answer.

1. When do children tend to start asking about race?

It depends on the context (neighborhood, school), how open parents/guardians are, and how children see themselves. A white child in an all-white neighborhood has the privilege to not talk about race. But if parents engage in critical discussions, children might ask questions early. I grew up with a white mother in an all-white neighborhood. As a biracial child (who identifies as a Black person), I asked about race early, since the neighborhood would treat me differently — or direct racial slurs toward me — from a very young age.

2. What do you say when asked, “What are you?”

In my twenties it was, “I’m fabulous! Thanks for asking.” Now, I engage people: “Why are you asking? Let’s talk about this more.” It opens a doorway to discuss how classifying someone racially can be problematic, and to talk through it together.

3. What did you learn in writing scholarly books that served you well in writing a picture book?

It’s a totally different process. But I find a core concept for both types of writing: think about your audience to connect with them and get a message across.

4. What did you have to unlearn?

Every day I have to unlearn and unpack my position and privilege in the world. As a Black woman, I am marginalized in the U.S., but I hold privileges with my PhD degree and American citizenship. This is why I’ve chosen to live in multiple countries (Bahrain, England, Kenya) and traveled extensively, to see the world from other vantage points.

5. You’re in Chicago, my favorite city! Where’s the first place you want to go when we are more free to walk about?

I love walking the path on Lake Shore Drive. I find Lake Michigan mesmerizingly beautiful.

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Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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