Jil Ross became frustrated when she searched for chapter books for her kids, Julian and Jace, featuring African-American children. "I couldn’t find very much. I found picture books, history books. I kept looking at these books (and thinking) we need to get out of the Civil War era, we need to get out of the slavery era and make this current day."
So the mother of two, who lives in Chicago’s Beverly community, wrote her own. The five books in The Shenanigans Series show African-American kids in humorous, everyday situations. A sixth book is in the works.
Tell me about the books. "… (The kids) just did so many precocious things. Whatever paper I had, bubble gum wrapping or just a piece of envelope, I would just write it down. Julian would always say ‘mommy what are you always writing down?’ I’d say one day I’m going to write stories about you and your sister because you all are so bad." She saved years of pieces of paper and when it came time to move to a new house, the papers moved too. She remembers Julian saying, ‘Mommy you’ve been saying that a long time, you are never going to write a book. You can throw all that garbage away.’ It really hurt me. It was my call to action."
She submitted her first story, Marie Plays Homeless, to publishers and got rejected over and over so published the series herself.
You say the books have moral lessons. "Jonathan (her husband) said with all the stories that you write it would be a good idea to show a moral to them, with bad decisions, they can be turned around and some good can come out of it. That’s been a constant to all the stories."
Can you give an example? One story, The Real Nitty Gritty, is based on a real fire in her home as a child caused by her dad’s careless cigarette smoking. In the book, after a fire in the house all the kids give their outlandish spin on how it started, but it turns out their aunt was careless with a cigarette. The book includes a step-by-step list of things kids can do to protect themselves and their families in case of fire.
For information on the books, targeted to kids ages 7-11, visit www.shenaniganseries.com.