I Am Every Good Thing: Derrick Barnes's 2021 BGHB Picture Book Honor Speech

In 2018, multinational clothing-retail company H&M released an ad that featured children of different ethnicities wearing shirts with messages in big block letters on the front. The shirts that really stood out were worn by two very handsome young gentlemen. One White. One Black. The White kid’s orange shirt read, “Mangrove Jungle Official Survival Expert Junior Tour Guide.” The Black boy’s green hoodie read, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.”

“Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”?!!?

That was the catalyst for my penning the poem that became the text for I Am Every Good Thing. My goal was to challenge those negative tropes and stereotypes that have been attached to Black people, Black boys in particular, for eons. I wanted to crush those racist and false ideas about children who look like my four sons and replace them with as many universally positive experiences and beliefs as I could squeeze into thirty-two pages.

[Read Horn Book reviews of the 2021 BGHB Picture Book winners.]

I want to thank the brilliant illustrator of this book, Gordon C. James (we did it again, brother!), for beautifully capturing Black boys of every shape, size, and hue, and from every socioeconomic background — we see you. Shout-out to my amazing literary agent, Ms. Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency (love you, Regina). Thanks to the legendary Nancy Paulsen and the entire crew at Nancy Paulsen Books for giving us a chance to address, without boundaries, an issue that was so close and personal to our hearts. And finally, a humongous shout-out and a limitless amount of gratitude to the judges for this unbelievable honor.

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read illustrator Gordon C. James's BGHB speech here. For more on the 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB21. Read more from The Horn Book by and about Derrick Barnes.

Derrick Barnes

Derrick Barnes is the Newbery and CSK honor–winning author of Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, illustrated by Gordon C. James, and he is the author of the 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Picture Book Honor book I Am Every Good Thing, also illustrated by Gordon C. James.

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