Unconventional Conversations with a Black Author: Emmanuel Acho Discusses His Young Reader’s Edition
The path from viral video hit series to book deal to children’s book deal is unique. I’ve seen viral videos spawn children’s books and I’ve seen them spawn adult titles, but you need to reach a second level, in a way, to then take that adult hit and write it with a younger audience in mind. Since I purchase the adult materials for my public library, I was already aware of Emmanuel Acho’s late 2020 bestseller Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man. The son of Nigerian immigrants who went on to become a player in the NFL, Acho’s book garnered huge praise when it was released. As Kirkus said of him, “Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts.”
Now, just this past May, the Young Readers’ Edition of his book came out. Macmillan describes it in this way:
“While the format is the same as the adult version—Acho answers a series of FAQs about race—this book offers all new messages and anecdotes that address the racial divide specifically for younger generations, answering questions about race that white and non-Black children are seldom brave enough to ask.
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy is a tool that young people can use to take that crucial first step, educating themselves and opening up discussions with their peers, parents, teachers, and more on systemic racism, historic oppression, allyship, violence, ignorance, and more.”
I had a chance to have just a quickie Q&A with Mr. Acho about the adaptation.
Betsy Bird: Mr. Acho, thank you so much for joining us here today. In interviews, you’ve mentioned that kids today are a lot smarter than any of us were when we were younger. So I have to assume that you had young people contacting you about your adult book when it was released back in November, or maybe even because of your video series. If you did, what were they saying to you?
photo credit: Ali Rasoul
Emmanuel Acho: It wasn’t so much kids who were reaching out as parents who were reaching out saying hey can you make this in a more adaptable version for my children. I love these concepts, but I don’t know how to water down these concepts so that my kids can receive them. So, it was really the parents speaking on behalf of their kids who wanted me to make the young adults book — who wanted me to make the book for kids because they understood that they needed to speak to their children, but weren’t exactly sure how.
BB: I love that photo of young Emmanuel on the back of the book. Why’d you pick that particular image?
EA: I wanted people to realize before the custom suits, the facial hair and the aligned teeth due to braces that there was an awkward, super-skinny, bucktoothed, gap-toothed Black boy who was trying to navigate society. I wanted to be approachable. Sometimes people who are incredibly well put together aren’t that approachable, but every young adult who is picking up my book and you look at the back and see that awkward boy, you understand like wait a second you might be like me. And then when you open up the book and you see the picture of me as a man you can understand where and who this young boy turned into and who you as a young boy or girl can turn into.
BB: I know the book was only just released on May 5th, but have you received any feedback from kids yet?
EA: I think all the feedback that I’ve seen has honestly by the grace of God been positive. I see kids reading it with their parents. I’ve seen parents reading it with their kids. I’ve seen parents just excited that their kids now have a manual and a manuscript that they can use to educate themselves. So, the feedback has just been incredible from the young adults and the parents have been very grateful.
BB: Finally, now that you’ve written for kids, have you gotten a taste for it at all? Would you ever be tempted to write other stuff for them? Or are you comfortable remaining in the adult sphere?
EA: I would definitely consider writing more stuff for children and young adults. I think that young adults are the future. I remember when I was a kid going to my library at my private school in the 5th grade and there were so many overwhelming books, but I fell in love with a few. I love the idea of being able to impact children, youth and adolescence and allow them to fall in love with a book that may educate them and may find a way to change their life.
And in case you are curious about his web series, here’s the first video:
Thanks to Morgan Rath and Mr. Acho for this Q&A.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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