Local children’s book author aims to inspire through reading

“Breaking ankles on the court, making A’s is my sport.” are the words written by a PTO board member, mother of two who has never spat a rhyme a day in her life. She’s not the one “breaking the ankles,” but it’s a line she wrote in her first published children’s book, “What Will A-Tal Play Today?”.

A native of Ellisville and a graduate of Mississippi State, Mekael Black spends most of her time doing what she loves: being a wife and mother. She is approaching her fifth year on the PTO board where her children are educated.

Mekeal Black’s stories are inspired by the lives of her children. (Photo courtesy of Black)

Black never thought she would be the author of two children’s books, let alone possess the ability to write a “rap” for any occasion.

We’ve all had those nighttime interruptions that left us in bed wondering when sleep would find us. In Black’s case, his interrupted night’s sleep led to one children’s book after another.

“Son says hello,” Black heard as she tried to fall asleep. Amazed, she wondered, “What? Where does this come from?”.

On an all-nighter in October 2020, these interruptions led Black to write three stories on his smartphone.

Never imagining herself to be a writer, she immediately shared the news with her family who were in disbelief at the claim until her son Asa heard one of the raps from a story.

“Mom, I know God had to give you this because you can’t rap,” Asa said.

As Asa stated, Black credits her faith and relationship with God with inspiring all of her stories, giving her the “desires of her heart”: a desire to help children read and have fun. while doing it.

Black’s books contain realistic characters, are culturally and ethnically diverse, age-appropriate, and show realistic and practical solutions to problems.

A-Tal’s origin story is a representation of the realism of the stories.

Asa is the poster child of sports and athletics so much that his classmates “knighted” him with the nickname “A-Tal”. “A” is for Asa and “Tal” is short for talented.

“A-Tal is my name, because I have a game,” Black wrote in “What Will A-Tal Play Today?”.

‘What will A-Tal Play Today’, is the story of a six-year-old boy whose real name is Asa. A-Tal loves to play and if he could he would play all day. The story follows A-Tal throughout his day, as he “raps” the clue to his next adventure.

“The Fearless Princess” was written from the inspiration of her daughter Aixa, a Supergirl’s journey to overcome fear. The fearless princess tells you how she overcame obstacles, challenged herself to try things she had never tried before, and conquered fear.

“Through faith in God, words and the help of family, Aixa in real life overcame many challenges,” Black said.

Black poses for a family photo with her husband, Dorian, son, Asa, and daughter, Aixa. (Photo courtesy of Black)

We all feel anxiety and fear when considering undertaking new feats, which Black admitted during the book writing process.

“It was scary and I almost talked myself out of it,” Black said.

Through prayer, phoning a friend, and Google, she was able to fulfill her dream of “changing the world one child and one book at a time.”

Black aspires to make an impact through his books. As she began to learn more about children’s literacy, she was surprised by the “alarming statistics” among African-American students, especially boys.

In an effort to contribute to a solution, Black says the first step is to provide access to the books.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education nationwide and disproportionately in Mississippi.

A statewide assessment released by the Mississippi Department of Education in 2021 showed English proficiency scores decreased by 7%, according to Keisha Rowe of the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger.

Black understands that lack of access to books leads to an underdeveloped vocabulary and lack of understanding, among other shortcomings.

Through the Reaching and Educating for Community Hope (RECH) Foundation, Black provides books to children who would otherwise not have access to them. She accepts new and lightly used books from the community and organizations and donates them to children.

Black donates her books to students at a local elementary school. (Photo courtesy of Black)

It’s the reward of seeing children’s joy in reading that fuels Black’s passion.

“You can’t buy the smile these kids have when you hand them a book,” Black said.

Black smiles as he speaks to children at a local school. (Photo courtesy of Black)

‘What Will A-Tal Play’ and ‘The Fearless Princess’ both provide representation and exposure to diversity.

In both books, a child can connect with the identity of the character and in turn is motivated and inspired to read.

Children can see that other children who are not like them share the same ideas, thoughts and even like the same sports.

And ‘The Fearless Princess’ teaches a valuable lesson for everyone to live a little more fearless.

Black hopes her books will encourage children, as well as adults everywhere, to enjoy their youthful years and grow fearless, confident and courageous.

Learn more about Black’s books at https://www.mekaelblack.com/. You can learn more about the RECH Foundation and donate at https://www.rechfoundationms.org/.

Grover Z. Barnes