From Teaching to Writing
TeachingBooks asks each author or illustrator to reflect on their journey from teaching to writing. Enjoy the following from Alice Faye Duncan.
I am a child of divorce. Both of my parents taught school. My mother was the disciplinarian. My father was the fun guy—a star in my sky. He left our home during my 5th grade year. His absence made me sad.
As an only child, Mama gave me maternal assurance. But mostly, she worked organizing life for our survival. She didn’t have time to grieve with me. I needed books to help me process and understand…Every love does not last. I needed blues poems to pacify my broken heart.
Time rocked on…my family healed. I grew-up to be an educator just like my parents. During my (30) year career as a teaching librarian, I met countless kids surviving bouts of loss. From the library desk, I offered an empathetic ear as students despaired the reality of divorce, broken friendships, and unrequited puppy love. When they visited the library in search of poems to clear the clouds, I offered them blues poets like Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Lucille Clifton. A wise word at the right time is like a Balm in Gilead.
I started teaching school and writing picture books in the same year. That was 1992. Do you remember my first book—Willie Jerome (1995)? What about the friendship book—Miss Viola & Uncle Ed Lee (1999)? My philosophy for teaching and writing has remained unchanged across three decades. I strive to be the educator and literary voice that I needed during my childhood. As a teacher and librarian, I promote books from Black authors (because they are ignored in the curriculum). As a writer for young learners, I compose books about Black History, music, and the healing properties of empathy and understanding.
Yellow Dog Blues is my recent collaboration with two-time Caldecott winner, Chris Raschka. Our “pièce de resistance,” is a variety of many things. First, it is a child’s interactive travel guide along the toe-tapping “Blues Trail” in the Mississippi Delta. While Yellow Dog Blues highlights landmarks that gave America its inspiring musical heritage, the book is also a fun blues fable about love, loss, and learning to let go, even when it hurts.
Thinking of my parents, their breakup, and little Alice Faye from 5th grade, I was intentional to compose Yellow Dog Blues as a blues lyric of sorts. The main character, Bo Willie, wakes up to find his favorite pet missing. Yellow Dog has tramped up Highway 61 on a meandering excursion through the Mississippi Delta. The dog’s quick-stops along the way, include legendary and mythical landmarks where great blues musicians like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and B.B. King learned to play blues guitar. Ultimately, these Black blues kings and their mesmerizing sounds inspired the music we call, “rock and roll.”
At the conclusion of the book, Bo Willie discovers that his hound dog has no intention of returning home. Blues music lays claim to the pet’s adventurous spirit. Yellow Dog turns his sights to the city lights. He hops a Greyhound Bus and makes a brand-new life on Beale—
that famous blues street in Memphis, Tennessee.
There are no adequate words to describe Chris Raschka’s heart-tugging illustrations. He embroiders each image on linen fabric that resembles burlap.Delta Blues vibrations are palpable. There is joy. There is pain. The words and illustrations are inextricable.Together, we accomplish a book that is fine art, literary, and emotionally necessary in these trying times.
Yellow Dog Blues educates, entertains, and serves a meditative metaphor. What is the message? Every love will not last. Certain friendships come and go. Change is how life works.
Books and Resources
TeachingBooks personalizes connections to books and authors. Enjoy the following on Alice Faye Duncan and the books she’s created.
- Enjoy this Activity Kit for Yellow Dog Blues
- Discover Alice Faye Duncan’s page and books on TeachingBooks
- Visit Alice Faye Duncan on her website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, GoodReads, and LinkedIn.
Special thanks to Alice Faye Duncan and Eerdmans for their support of this post. All text and images are courtesy of Alice Faye Duncan and Eerdmans, and may not be used without expressed written consent.