It was my pleasure to sit down with Deedee Cummings, Founder and CEO of Make A Way Media to discuss her journey as an author so far.
By Becky Flansburg
Q: Along with being an accomplished author of fifteen pictures, poetry, and activity books for children, you have a very impressive career path. Could you share with us what started it all?
A: I was planning to be a lawyer, which I still am, but truthfully by the time I finished Law School I wanted nothing to do with Family Court. It was my goal to practice as an attorney there. I decided I hated that high level of conflict so I looked for another way to do the same work and became a therapist too. I love working with children more than anything and I love helping children tell their stories- especially through writing. When I saw how therapeutic this was for them, I had to try it myself, and from that journey my first book was born. They were just seventy-something simple words that were floating in my head that I wanted to tell the world. I made it simple so I would not be afraid to do it and that really turned out to be one of my best books. I have gone all the way from that to my latest series which was just released in 2021, Kayla: A Modern-Day Princess. I am so very proud of this series and not just because it is inspired by the life of my daughter and Broadway actress, Kayla Pecchioni.
Q: It seems that all, if not most authors have an “ah-ha” moment that coincides with the inspiration for a book. What was the “ah-ha” with your first diverse picture book, Love Is…?
A: This is the book that only has, I think it is seventy-three words. I love this book so much. My ah-ha moment was seeing what writing was doing to help the children I worked with. I just knew I had to make a story to. I knew I had messages I wanted to leave to the world. For many many years I wanted to write, but there was always some excuse- which was really just fear. I had this beautiful, simple, and needed poem bouncing around in my head. I knew it would be even more beautiful with the right illustrations. I knew the world needed more, not less of this message so I just put it out there and it did well! This reaffirmed for me I was doing what I should be. If something seems too big or too overwhelming for you, take it in smaller chunks, but by all means make it happen. Don’t stop.
Q: If you could let teachers and parents know ONE THING about Love Is…, what would that one thing be?
A: Love seems like a simple concept, but it is not. It is lacking today. We have no love for others outside our circle, let alone tolerance. This book has a simple message, but it bears repeating. Love is precious, and we must take care of it. I love this book for all how love is demonstrated in the world. We tell children we love them, but do we teach them that love lives all around us?
It is easy to get mad and find signs of the opposite: hate, frustration, bitterness, conflict. Those things are just always louder and easier to spot. Teach children about the power of love and that we can feel love just as profoundly, in fact, more deeply than we can hate. Just ask a mother who has forgiven the person responsible for their child’s death. Love is the more profound, genuine, and necessary emotion, but it is not always as easy to run to as hate. Teach that.
Q: Your picture book, I Want to be a Bennett Belle, is a unique picture book. Please share with us what inspired you to create this book for kids.
A: This book is a tribute to the HBCU (Historically Black College) that my mother, Andrea, my Aunt Penny, my sister Amanda, and I all attended. They all graduated from Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, and they each credit the school with changing their lives for the better. I feel the same way.
Bennett College is unique for many reasons and is often referred to as “The Mecca of Black Girl Magic.”
Bennett College is one of only two HBCU’s for Black women in the country. The other is Spelman College. Many HBCU’s have closed and are in danger of closing which is a travesty. Bennett and Spelman are responsible for over half of all Black women in the country who earn doctorates in scientific fields: more than produced by all seven of the sister Ivy League schools combined.
Bennett College changed my life in more ways than I cannot even identify. At a time in my life when I felt lost with no place in the world, Bennett welcomed me and polished me into a bright sparkly diamond. I graduated from Bennett sharp, focused, and ready to change the world.
It is very fulfilling to see how the grandmother in this story is so excited to talk about something she loves. Adults often get excited when kids want to hear about their life or some journey they have been on. This time between the grandmother and granddaughter is extraordinary. I love all the endearing names that the grandmother calls her granddaughter throughout the entire story. The little girl in the book represents my granddaughter (if I’m lucky enough to have one). It is the story I plan to tell her.
Q: On your DeedeeCummings.com site, you talk about your career as a therapist. What is one of the most common techniques you use to help children in therapy and is this reflected in your books?
A: Think of it Like This! is about one of the most common problems we address in therapy: perspective and how to reframe that perspective.
There are so many times in life that we feel defeated because something did not go the way we expected it to. Sometimes we can even make things worse instead of just letting life play out the way it is meant to be. All of the kiddos in this book represent real kids with real problems. I think it helps to kind of get inside their head a little bit to hear their thoughts, why they believe their situation is the end of the world, and then how it all comes together in the future when they calmly and rationally put their problem in perspective. I have had so many kids read this book and say that one of these stories is about them!
Q: Your most recent children’s book, This is the Earth, is described as a Diverse Picture Book about Love, Respect, and Inclusion; tell more about this book.
A: This is the Earth is a book about peace, love, respect, compassion, and inclusion. This message bears repeating: peace is meant for all of us. Kids and adults will love the lyrical message and thoughtful artwork about this planet as our home and every human being as our neighbor and family.
I watch many news shows. Many people in my life have told me to give it up to walk away from it, but I have not been able to do so because I want to hear what is going on and gather facts for myself.
One day I turned the TV off, and I was sitting at the end of my bed staring out a window. I watched trees blow in the wind, and these words came to me like a prayer. My prayer was something along the lines of, ‘Please show us how to live on the Earth as the family we were meant to be on this beautiful home we were given.’
It wasn’t long after that when the inspiration for This is the Earth flowed directly from my heart. My mission with this diverse picture book is to share this powerful message; that the Earth belongs to all of us as one big home. We all belong here and we all need to take care of each other and our home.
Q: Let’s end with celebrating that all fifteen of your picture books have received rave reviews, and recently four titles were honored with Purple Dragonfly Awards and many other accolades. Will you talk about that a little more?
A: Yes! I feel blessed to have four of my books win awards via the prestigious Purple Dragonfly Awards from Story Monsters Ink. Multicultural Children’s Book Day as well as many other partners in promoting diverse books and #OWNVOICES stories have also recognized my work which has been featured in national journals like USA Today and Essence. I am always honored. This never gets old. I cannot stress how much I mean this: If you have a story on your heart it is there for a reason. Make sure you share it with the world. It is the reason you are here.