Words to Live By features exclusive interviews with authors, artists, and community members.
Amy Franks is Book Harvest’s associate director of school and family engagement, and while she has written many things over the years, her essay, A Mirror for Black Boys, was recently published in The Heartbeat of the Youth Development Field: Professional Journeys of Growth, Connection, and Transformation. Amy started working with Book Harvest nearly five years ago, and is a member of The National Afterschool Association, on the Advisory Board for The North Carolina Center for Afterschool Programs, a National Institute of Out-of-School Time (NIOST) Afterschool Matters Fellow, an EPFP Education Policy Fellowship Program fellow, and a member of the International Literacy Association.
February 1, 2023
Is there a book or genre that stands out in your memory from your youth?
I was enamored with two books that, for a little Black girl in rural North Carolina may have seemed strange–Tikki Tikki Tembo and The Five Chinese Brothers. I think it is because I had the experience of hearing them read aloud by my elementary school librarian, Gayle Keresey. I still remember the rhythm of the way she read and how she drew us into both stories. I remember checking those books out and reading them to my younger sisters, then competing with each other to see who could say Tikki’s entire name the fastest and laughing at the clever tricks the five brothers used to keep the oldest brother from facing an unwarranted and harsh punishment. I also think I felt a bit of a connection to the main characters because each book was centered around the oldest child in the family as I am in mine.
What kind of reader were you as a child?
I was a voracious reader as a child. I always had my nose in a book or a magazine or an encyclopedia, and I was the biggest nerd. The library was (and still is) my favorite place, and in elementary school, my favorite day of the week was when we came in to find the Weekly Reader laid out on our desks. I lived for those!
What are three children’s books you think should be on every child’s bookshelf?
There are so many great options! I think every child’s bookshelf should include Love You Forever so each child, even if they don’t experience it in their home, sees an example of what a loving parent-child relationship is, I Am Every Good Thing for it’s lesson in being confident and in being comfortable with and proud of who you are, and Winnie the Pooh because it is a timeless story of friendship, devotion, & unconditional love among a group of friends who are all very different from one another yet still manage to embrace and accept each other.
Book Harvest is proud to practice Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s theory of “Mirrors, Windows, Sliding Glass Doors,” which states that in order to become avid readers and reap the full benefits of lifelong literacy, children have to see both themselves and worlds beyond their own in the stories they read. Is there a book that you saw yourself reflected in as a child? Or one that opened new worlds for you?
Growing up, there weren’t many options available; however, I met Cassie Logan in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry when I was in fourth grade. We were around the same age and, while we grew up in quite different circumstances, she was the first Black girl protagonist I encountered. There were things in her home life with which I could relate, similarities between her family dynamic and mine, and some of the things she grappled with outside the safety of home, I had faced or was coming to understand in my own life. Having gone to an underfunded rural school in the Deep South, I could really relate to the incident at her Mississippi school when her class received hand-me-down, worn textbooks. I recall some of our books at my school being issued so many times, there weren’t anymore available lines to write in my name as the temporary owner. Reading this book, this story of family, independence, pride, strength, and courage in the face of adversity, I felt a kinship with Cassie that I’d never felt before, and I yearned for more, more of being able to see me and those closest to and most like me in the pages of the books I read.
What kind of books are on your bookshelf?
I read almost everything, and my book collection shows it. My taste swings from horror/thrillers from the likes of Dean Koontz and Robin Cook to the fantasies offered by Octavia Butler to the poetry of Rupi Kaur to classic anthologies of Shakespeare to the worlds brought to life by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Ntozake Shange to Harlem Renaissance writers like Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, and Zora Neale Hurston and includes YA titles like The Skin I’m In and The Hate You Give, lots of self help books, cookbooks, autobiographies, and because I like to collect what I refer to as useless facts, I have several books with titles like Who Knew? and The Hypochondriac’s Pocket Guide to Horrible Diseases You Probably Already Have.
What are you reading currently?
I usually like to keep three titles going at once—one for bedtime reading, one for leisure evening and weekend reading, and one to tuck in my person in case I get stuck waiting somewhere. Right now, I am reading Rest is Resistance by Tricia Hersey at bedtime, a YA title, Bloodmarked, which is the second book in the Legendborn series by Tracy Deonn for my leisure reading, and my purse book is Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
What is your favorite place to read?
When I was little, it was in the playhouse my great-grandfather built for me. These days, it is on my balcony—-but only when it is warm outside. When I am forced to read indoors, my favorite spot is my bathtub since I have a penchant for taking regular hours-long soaks.
Who is your favorite all-time character from a book?
Celie from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I have not encountered a character with so much stacked against her who managed not just to overcome but to thrive (eventually) despite her circumstances. The growth of her character from victim to conqueror, from someone who thought herself worthless to someone confident and proud, a woman able to forgive when forgiveness wasn’t warranted and who went from making herself small, hiding in the shadows to living life fully out loud makes her a superhero in my book. However, if we are talking children’s books, it is Ramona Quimby. She walked to the beat of her own drum, was wildly imaginative, and was true to herself.
Langston Hughes – 1936 photo by Carl Van Vechten
If you could have dinner with three authors from any period in time, who would you pick?
Only three?! Since I have to choose, I’d love to have Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin at the same dinner table. I am sure they’d all have such great stories to tell!
What are the children in your life currently reading?
My 11 year-old niece and my 10 year-old great nephew have really gotten into graphic novels while my nine year old niece goes for anything about dance, unicorns, rainbows, and princesses.
Do you have a favorite quote from literature? If so, what is it?
“Get busy living or get busy dying,” Stephen King from Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption
We are grateful to Amy for answering our questions! You can learn more about Amy and “The Heartbeat of the Youth Development Field: Professional Journeys of Growth, Connection, and Transformation” by listening to her read her essay here and by going to niost.org/ostbook.