The Book That Changed My Life: Aliens Don’t Discriminate

The Book That Changed My LifeAs a former librarian and teacher, I have seen the power of books and their ability to change lives—and save lives. A book is a place to fall in love with words, the first seeds to grow into a garden of imagination. The book that changed my life was Virginia Hamilton’s Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed. It follows a little girl named Willie Bea Mills and her large, extended family in late-1930s rural Ohio. Although it’s set during the Great Depression, instead of being a tale about overcoming economic hardship it’s about Orson Welles’s infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast and a little girl who thinks aliens have landed on her family’s homestead.

I won’t here answer the question of whether aliens did or did not visit Willie Bea, but that question in itself kicked open my childhood worldview. Aliens didn’t just visit white folks like in the movie E.T. There was a possibility that a puffy-haired black girl in the DC suburbs could also, potentially, receive a visit from them. That they didn’t discriminate. All kids could get into mischief and encounter something extraterrestrial.

This book later opened up possibilities for me as a writer. It reminded me that anything was possible for little black kids in the pages of books. It didn’t just have to be slavery, the Middle Passage, and civil rights. It could be all those important things and magic and make-believe and adventure. Hamilton planted a seed in my reader heart, one that blossomed in my writer life. Returning to this book reminds me that all kids are looking for a good story and a little magic to make sense of the big, messy, and complicated world around them. Or maybe, an alien to visit them, like my child self.

From the May/June 2018 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference. For more in this series click the tag Book That Changed My Life.
Dhonielle Clayton
Dhonielle Clayton
Dhonielle Clayton is COO of We Need Diverse Books and the author of The Belles (Freeform/Disney).

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