Zuri Lioness was skeptical about writing as a profession. But her sophomore-year English teacher encouraged her to follow her passion because of her rich imagination. That class was where Lioness’ future as a children’s book author was born.
“I don’t know, we’ll see where life takes me,” thought Lioness’ 10th-grade self.
Fast forward 10 years, Lioness is now the author of her first children’s book “Accomplish!” which she published in spring 2023. The book follows a young girl named Makenna, an avid explorer determined to let nothing get in her way of doing what she wants to do.
As a woman of color, Lioness drew inspiration for her book from her own childhood and what she used to read. Lioness wanted to write something which inspired children to understand their limitless potential, rather than be restricted by certain ideas.
“Makenna does all sorts of things: skiing, scuba diving, climbing. I want to show all kids there are many things you can do and countless places to go along the way. Growing up, I didn’t have many books like that,” Lioness said.
Lioness started writing “Accomplish!” when she was pregnant with her now two-year-old son. She wanted her son to be part of a generation that could be more considerate of everyone’s different upbringings and backgrounds.
Nicole Sullivan, owner of The Bookies Bookstore in Glendale, Colorado, has noticed an increase in diverse children’s books in recent years. Throughout her store, there are sections catering to different languages, cultures, and younger children’s books to meet the various desires of customers.
“We have absolutely seen an uptick in books with diverse characters and authors, and we hope to see more in the future,” Sullivan stated.
According to a report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, data from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center has determined a rise in diverse children’s books in recent years. The report states that 46% of the books the center documented in 2022 had “significant” BIPOC content, and 39% had at least one primary character who is BIPOC.
Lioness encourages her fellow parents and caregivers of young children to think about this when they are getting books for their kids.
“I think every day when you go outside, you see someone who either looks like you or doesn’t,” Lioness explained. “It’s important to understand other people’s backgrounds because you want to be able to communicate with them in a good way. I want my son to have things to read which could help him if he encounters a scenario like this in his life.”
Lioness used the simple analogy of how people may call the sport of soccer “football” in other parts of the world to help describe the scenarios she referenced. She says there are a lot of commonalities among all groups of people, yet everyone expresses things in various ways. The author believes the more information people gather from each other, the better it will be for society.
“We should be able to learn about each other and different places because there is only one life that we know of, so why not explore and learn things about other people to be better connected together,” Lioness stated.
An adherent of her own advice, Lioness worked with Russian illustrator Natalia Vazhdaeva for the vibrant artwork throughout the book. Even though she does not speak English, Vazhdaeva developed illustrations that fit what Lioness had envisioned for the book all along.
“It’s incredible to have that connection with someone across the world with an obstacle like a language barrier, but still being able to match the vision,” Lioness said.
Going forward, Lioness plans to write more children’s books. She said one benefit of books is they last a lifetime, and she hopes children can have words to hold on to as they move into the future.
Lioness also stays inspired by the sentiments of her late father, Gerald, who passed away in 2020.
“My father always told me that it is important for everyone to know that their life has a purpose and he would always want me to make that the forefront of my writing,” Lioness said.