Seeing Ourselves: Our Stories Could Fly: The Future of Books for Black Children

I own a well-read copy of Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales. It’s a classic in many households, as it should be. It’s not just the stories that I return to over and over again; it’s the magical illustrations by the dynamic duo Leo and Diane Dillon. I included this book in the research for my most recent (and next) projects. The title serves as a refrain for my creative life. When I’m writing about Black people, and Black children in particular, I have to always remember that in our stories, we could fly. This is the magic of storytelling, and this is the possibility that books for children can capture — that in spite of everything and because of everything, we can transcend it all and fly.

Hamilton pulled from the oral tradition in her many novels, and I try to do the same not only when writing but also while reading. I gravitate toward books by and about people of color whose words and stories encapsulate a certain mix of musicality and ancestral memory. When our stories become classics, they are not just timely and timeless. They encapsulate time itself. Our stories document our presence. They say that we are here, we were here, and we will always be here. This infinite presence is where historical narratives, social justice books, fantasy and science fiction, and even Afrofuturistic stories converge.

Our books document humanity. Diverse books for children are a collective testimony to the human experience. My hope for the future of books about Black people, and especially children, is that we continue to champion both nonfiction stories that tell indisputable truths and speculative fiction stories that highlight our mythology and cultural heritage, where we are both grounded in the reality of our lives and can shape shift, wield magic, and take flight in order to rise above it all. With every story and with every book, our children are reminded time and time again that, indeed, we people could fly.

From the May/June 2023 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Diverse Books: Past, Present, and Future. Find more in the "Seeing Ourselves" series here.

Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the co-author, with Yusef Salaam of the 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Honor book Punching the Air (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins), illustrated by Omar T. Pasha. She received a 2023 Walter Honor in the younger readers category for Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler (Dutton). Her latest book is Nigeria Jones (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins).

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