Imagine penning an amazing book that highlights and encourages young children and finding out your book is now banned. Author Crystal Swain-Bates found out in August 2021 that the leaders from the Central York School District in Pennsylvania had sent an email to their staff with a list of books that they weren’t allowed to use in the classroom. All of the banned books were about diversity and many books by authors of color, including Crystal and her most popular Best-Selling title, Big Hair Don’t Care. You can see the list of books and hers listed on the second column under “4th Grade – 6th Grade” here.
What impact would banning books have on cultural equality?
Crystal: Book banning is not new, but recently banning has become more targeted and aimed specifically at children’s books written by Black authors, particularly those that explore issues of identity, diversity, and belonging. Banning books does a huge disservice to cultural equality because it means that the young reader who has never seen a character like them never will. In order to achieve a truly diverse, culturally equitable, and inclusive environment, school boards and libraries must serve the needs of ALL of their students, not just the white ones. Book banning ultimately maintains cultural inequality.
How do you view the current state of education in regards to racial inequalities?
Crystal: The state of education has historically disproportionately failed Black students, and the push against critical race theory is further exacerbating the racial inequalities in the school system. It is important for all students to see their history and culture represented in their school’s curriculum and books so that they feel a sense of belonging. Sadly, the current state of education does not address the concerns of a multicultural student body. We need educational reform to address the inequities that Black students face in an educational system that historically was not created for them and continues to fail them.
How did it feel when you first saw your book, Big Hair, Don’t Care, on the list of banned books for the Central York School District in Pennsylvania?
Crystal: It felt like a slap in the face to see my book, Big Hair, Don’t Care, on the list of banned books for the Central York School District in Pennsylvania. We are so far behind in children’s literature when it comes to cultural diversity and many authors like myself are working hard to make strides in the publishing industry so that Black children can see themselves represented in books. My rhyming picture book is about a little Black girl who celebrates her hair and acknowledges that it makes her look different from other kids. There is absolutely no content that’s the least bit incendiary or inappropriate and my book reviews from parents of all races are stellar. So I was shocked to see my book on the list and disappointed that it was allowed to be banned. My book was on that district’s list of excellent resources for teaching about diversity and the books on that list were banned. That tells me that there is an agenda to ensure that only one type of child is represented, celebrated and seen in the stories they read, while non-white kids are left feeling invisible.
How does it feel to change so many lives with your book?
Crystal: I love knowing that my work is impacting an entire generation of kids. As a child who loved reading, I remember how hard it was to find books with characters that looked like me. As an adult, I realized how much that hadn’t changed over the years, and writing books with illustrations that feature Black characters are part of my effort to combat that.
What advice would you give to someone who is unsure about publishing their book?
Crystal: My advice for aspiring authors is to stop Googling and start writing! Don’t spend so much time researching and working on the details of creating a book, that you miss your chance to actually write the story that’s in your heart. The world needs your voice, so focus on writing first, and the rest will come together.
What impact do you want to make with your mission to encourage diversity and inclusion of Black children in children’s literature and publishing?
Crystal: As an avid reader, I understand firsthand how powerful it is to see someone that looks like you in the pages of your favorite book. I believe all children deserve to be featured and reflected in the stories they read and my mission is to create a body of work that has a lasting impact on an entire generation of underrepresented children. I’m on a mission to impact the lives of one million Black children, one book at a time, through a focus on increasing early childhood literacy so that our next generation of children can become motivated, proficient readers, who never feel like they aren’t good enough to be written about and celebrated inside the pages of their favorite book.
What were your biggest challenges along the way?
Crystal: Throughout my publishing journey, I have faced challenges at every stage, from finding illustrators who could draw Black characters, to learning to navigate the publishing process, to learning how to market my books and get sales. Now I’m facing the challenge of ensuring that my books and other books like mine are accessible to all children and that they are not banned by school districts that fear diversity.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Crystal: I am always working on new books and I don’t plan to stop until I publish at least 100! In addition to writing my own books, I help other underrepresented authors break into the publishing industry because I can’t do this alone!
About Crystal Swain-Bates:
Fed up with the lack of Black children’s books on the market, Crystal Swain-Bates founded Goldest Karat Publishing in order to address the lack of diversity in children’s literature. Her most celebrated book, Big Hair, Don’t Care, is one of Amazon’s most highly reviewed Black children’s books on the market that has been listed by the Huffington Post as one of “21 Children’s Books Every Black Kid Should Read” and cited by numerous media outlets, including ESSENCE magazine, as a top book emphasizing natural hair and brown girl beauty.
Today, Crystal’s books have been seen on platforms including Forbes, ESSENCE, CNN and Huffington Post and have been used as props for hit television shows such as BET’s Being Mary Jane and The Game. As a diversity publishing professional, Crystal leads a community of almost 7.5K underrepresented and aspiring authors who she teaches and trains how to publish and sell their own books.
Recently, Crystal was featured on the new TNT docu-series The Game Plan with Shaquille O’Neal – a six-part documentary series that follows Atlanta-based entrepreneurs as they receive business advice from Shaq and his highly successful celebrity friends. As a result of her mentorship with the NBA Legend, she released a new girl empowerment children’s book, She Can Do It Too. A native of Atlanta, GA, Crystal holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs from Florida State University and is an avid world traveler. For more information on Crystal Swain-Bates, please visit www.CrystalSwainBates.com and follow on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.