Gwendolyn Hooks is the author of eleven books and has six more scheduled for 2011. Her latest are the Pet Club series: The Best Trick, The Noisy Night, Find the Cat, and Pets at the Party. Gwendolyn lives in Oklahoma City.
Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.
I spent part of my childhood in Savannah, Georgia where life was segregated and part on military bases where life was not. One incident stands out in my memories. We were driving from Washington to Georgia and somewhere along the way we entered the south. I remember my father pointedly telling us which restroom to use. To a shy and introverted young girl, that was painful. It still is when I allow myself to dwell on it.
Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work as a writer?
In one way or another, all of our personal experiences affect our writing. Racism exists. I acknowledge it. One way I share my writing is by visiting schools and talking to students. I want kids to see my face and know here is someone like them that writes and publishes. At a recent visit, one boy stopped at my display table and asked, “Did you write all of those books?” My message is “Yes, I did and you can, too.”
In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?
One of my favorite genres is picture book biographies. Biographies are perfect for showcasing people and cultures. They can open the eyes, minds, and hearts of children to a world they never knew existed. They’re perfect for reeling in younger readers who are open to new adventures and still excited about living and learning.
Last spring, I spoke to a group of teachers whose students are mostly English language learners. I brought several tote bags full of books with multicultural themes. They were so excited to see books they weren’t familiar with so they can share them with their students. They realized books can be icebreakers and the perfect segue into discussions on race and other subjects.