The Dr. Suess of Color with Children’s Book Author Jesse Byrd Jr.


In this episode of the Building Us podcast, co-hosts Erik Garcia, CFP® and Dr. Matt Morris, LPC, LMFT interview Jesse Byrd, Award-Wining Story Developer, Editor, and Writer at Jesse B. Creative. Jesse talks about his career in the publishing industry and how the Jess B. Creative publishing house is writing children’s books that feature diverse characters and are created by diverse creators and why that is so important.

Episode Highlights:

  • What is one of Erik’s most memorable children’s books from his childhood? (00:58)
  • Matt introduces Jesse Byrd. (2:39)
  • Jesse shares his background and his career in the publishing industry. (2:54)
  • Jesse shares that the stories they created for their publishing house called Jesse B. Creative, focus on stories that not only feature diverse characters but are created by diverse creators. (2:58)
  • What were some of the conversations that Erik’s family has been having around, regarding some of Jesse’s work? (3:31)
  • Erik talks about reading Sunny Days last night, with his daughter. (4:21)
  • Jesse mentions that it’s vital to guarantee that everyone has a place, and everyone can see themselves reflected. (6:05)
  • Matt mentions that he had always thought that the idea of colorblindness is a real fallacy, and kids notice color all the time. (6:33)
  • Jesse talks about the practice that they’re doing called, vertical diversity. (7:02)
  • Jesse shares that what they focus on is not just diversity on the page, because 50% of books featuring black kids aren’t written by black creators. (8:14)
  • Jesse mentions that it’s quite disturbing when you peek behind the curtain and see how many stories from minorities aren’t written by people within that experience. (9:43)
  • Matt talks about when he grew up in New Mexico and he would read Native American children’s books. (10:11)
  • Jesse shares that today’s market is the most experiential publishing market that you will see in terms of, people taking risks. (11:26)
  • Jesse mentions that there are a lot of books that don’t go through the process of approval from traditional publishing. (12:32)
  • Erik shares a prologue from the book, King Penguin. (13:42)
  • Jesse mentions that the issues from his books are real issues that not only affect the world but also children that are growing up. (14:54)
  • In Jesse’s opinion, he doesn’t like to shy away from reality or sincerity. He wants to try and find a way that’s grade level appropriate to open a dialogue. (16:03)
  • How does Jesse handle the harder aspects of life, in ways that remain developmentally appropriate for the reader? (17:23)
  • Jesse thinks that one of the most significant ways of showing that people are capable of anything, by showing the diversity of what they’re doing and being anything on the page. (18:49)
  • Jesse mentions that it’s difficult to have compassion without having an awareness first. (19:35)
  • As a children’s book author, how does Jesse handle the different forces at play? (21:54)
  • Jesse shares the passage from a book entitled, Real Jungle Tales(24:55)
  • Jesse shares that every once in a while, he does a costume theme reading at elementary schools. (28:30)
  • What has Jesse’s journey been like? (29:34)
  • Jesse shares that because of his injury, he realized that he’s always been passionate about storytelling. (31:07)
  • Erik shares how he met Jesse. (31:46)
  • Jesse mentions that he adores business writing because it teaches you how to be efficient, how to be on voice and on-brand. (33:19)
  • Jesse explains his four principles of business writing. (34:36)
  • How does supporting black-owned businesses and learning more about economic forces that affect black-owned businesses show up in the publishing industry? (35:54)
  • Jesse mentions that he and his mother have been in the publishing industry for 31 years. (36:12)
  • Jesse mentions that they want to become “The Motown” of children’s book publishing. (39:17)
  • Jesse shares that he has met a ton of phenomenal authors, illustrators, and storytellers from every single community that is more than capable of selling their stores, given the right opportunities and the right support. (40:13)
  • Jesse shares that they are about to enter their fundraising round for publishing for their diverse publishing company. (43:22)
  • Jesse mentions that they want people to have access to opportunities and for equity. (44:03)
  • Erik asks five questions that were prepared by his daughter for Jesse to answer. (47:31)
  • Jesse mentions that scale is something that he finds amusing. (48:38)
  • Jesse shares that Sherry, from the book King Penguin, is inspired by a real-life human interaction and a relationship that he knows. (51:59)
  • Jesse shares that one of the first ways kids are introduced to the world is through the books and the cartoons that they read. (53:14)
  • Jesse mentions that they have 17 stories in the queue, five stories are currently being developed, and three stories will be up, before the end of this year. (54:04)

Key Quotes:

  • “Saving more space to make sure there’s authentic diversity throughout the pages and throughout the stories is something we cherish.”  Jesse Byrd
  • “It’s hard to notice these things in a vacuum, right? And that’s why it’s so important to not erase any colors from the rainbow but to add more colors to the rainbow, so we can appreciate all of the ROYGBIV on the spectrum.” – Jesse Byrd
  • “I think everybody, every culture, every group is capable of telling their own stories, and they have people within those experiences who are more than happy to tell about their walk of life.” – Jesse Byrd
  • “It actually does a disservice when we don’t find a way to talk about some of the real things that are happening, and some of the real things that children, unfortunately, younger than we hoped that they would, are enduring and are having to face.”  Jesse Byrd
  • “In a capitalistic economy, you largely vote with your dollars, and to put it that plainly is that if you want to see more diversity, you want to see more diversity by diverse people. The easiest way to do that is to financially support the work and the businesses of diverse people.” – Jesse Byrd

Resources Mentioned:

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