SHOUT MOUSE PRESS: TELLING UNTOLD STORIES
Mariah is blind. She runs a fruit stand – with a little help from her parrot, Blue.
She is the star of “Mariah Finds A Way,” a book from DC’s Shout Mouse Press.
“(Mariah) overcomes (her blindness) by using her other senses,” said one of the book’s authors, Darrin Gladman. “There was a Santa Claus dude who was stealing fruit and the bird went to the police.”
Shout Mouse Press is a “writing program and publishing house with a mission to make unheard voices heard.” Working with other nonprofits in DC and Haiti, executive director Kathy Crutcher and her colleagues coach minority children to write, publish and promote their own stories.
Darrin, 15, said writing children’s books has made him more creative.
“I discovered a sense of accomplishment and relief,” he said.
Many Shout Mouse Press authors are also tutors for another DC non-profit, Reach Incorporated. Reach pairs struggling teen readers with elementary-age children who are below grade level readers.
Several years ago, the older students went to Reach executive director Mark Hecker with a problem: Very few of the books portrayed people of color like themselves. “We can write books better than these,” they told him.
“I bet you can,” he responded.
Hecker approached his friend and fellow Duke University classmate, Crutcher. She had a decade of experience mentoring young writers, so she was prepared for the challenge.
“Can we make this happen?” Hecker asked.
And, thus, Shout Mouse Press was born.
YOUR STORY MATTERS
As young children learn to read they’re often drawn to stories about children much like themselves. Yet when non-white children crack open a book, most of the time, the stories they see are the stories of white kids.
In 2014, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education conducted a study of 3,500 newly published books and found that only 11 percent featured minority characters prominently. Contrast that with our present-day racial make up: almost 50 percent of children under the age of five are non-white.
How much harder must it be for kids to develop a love of reading if the stories they read are hard to relate to?
Is it any wonder that many minority children grow up feeling like their stories don’t matter to the larger world?
“We have made a commitment to always believe the kids can do more and they always prove us right,” Crutcher said.
Some people might think that below grade readers are unlikely authors. However, Crutcher said, because of the multitude of stresses in their schools, these kids are often victims of low expectations.
Shout Mouse has also worked with teen writers at Ballou High School to create memoir collections geared toward teen readers. Their stories share the challenges of growing up in tumultuous and sometimes frightening environments.
M.S. Holiday (a pen name) contributed to the first memoir, "How to Grow Up Like Me.” Her essay, “17 Lessons,” is about what she learned growing up in a physically abusive home. She often wished she could protect her mother from further abuse. Schoolwork, she said, was her refuge.
“People say to follow your heart,” she wrote, “but I don’t want any emotions wrapped up with what was already happening so I just had my knowledge.”
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
Ashley Cooper, 17, is one of the authors of “The Hoodie Hero,” a story about a young man modeled after Trayvon Martin. She said the discussions with other teen authors made her think about self-reliance.
“You’re going to have to make decisions on your own and think for yourself,” she said. “Mom and Dad are not always going to be there for you.”
Shout Mouse Press books are now available in every DC public school library. Copies have been ordered for all branches in the DC public library system.
Some of Shout Mouse’s partner organizations have global networks. Readers in more than a dozen countries enjoy Shout Mouse Press books, according to the organization’s Facebook page.
Imagine the joy of an underserved child, unaccustomed to reading stories about children like herself, learning that children in France are reading a book she wrote.
The ripple effect continues closer to home as Shout Mouse authors’ classmates learn of their comrades’ achievements. This changes how minority children see themselves, and what they believe they are capable of.
Ashley got a surprise taste of celebrity authorship while she was walking to school one day. She heard a young child who had read “The Hoodie Hero” call out to her friend:
“Hey that’s Ashley. She wrote the book.”
About the Author: Terri Carr is a Washington, DC yogi and writer. She blogs at Yoga Soulutions.