Two years ago, we interviewed the owners of EyeSeeMe in St. Louis(www.eyeseeme.com) which was and still is the country’s only African-American children’s bookstore. We’re returning today to celebrate the store’s unique mission and congratulate the owners on its success in its four short years.
Like many founders of independent bookstores, Pamela and Jeffrey Blair had little experience in the business when they started in 2015, just a passionate vision of what a bookstore could be. As the store’s name suggests, they wanted to provide a place where children could find stories about and by people who looked like them, stories they would feel part of and be eager to read.
But their vision was even larger. When Pamela was a girl, she treasured the wonderful stories her father told her about glorious cultural heroes of Africa. Yet her children were coming home from school saying that all they heard about in history was slavery and segregation and civil rights, with blacks mostly the passive victims. Pamela and Jeffrey wanted their children, and all children, to know the positive cultural heritage of African Americans. They knew it would not only make them eager to read, but inspire them growing up.
EyeSeeMe has a solid collection of books about slavery and civil rights of course, including those about the African-American heroes in that history. But here is a small sampling of the books you won’t find just everywhere.
How about Africa is Not a Country, by Margie Burns Knight which shows how contemporary kids live in various countries across the African continent? Or The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano, by Ann Cameron? African Folk Tales, by Hugh Vernon-Jackson is a good introduction to traditional stories.
For general African American History, try 100 African Americans Who Shaped American History, by Christine Beckner or A Kid’s Guide to African American History by Nancy I. Sanders.
EyeSeeMe carries countless compelling biographies, including Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, the Zora and Me books by T.R. Simon (based on the early life off Nore Zeale Hurston, and The Undefeated,
by Kwame Alexander.
Poetry books include One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, by Nikki Grimes and My Black Me: A Beginning Book of Black Poetry, edited by Arnold Adoff.
What Color is My World?: The Lost History of American Inventors, by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition, by Margot Lee Sheerly explore the little-recognized contributions to science African Americans have made.
Of course for middle-graders there have to be series! One in great demand at the shop is Miles Morales, The Ultimate Spiderman, by Brian Michal Bendis. The Robyn Hoodlum Adventure Series by Kekla Magoon cleverly reworks the Robin Hood Legend. Spy on History, by Enigma Albert is a lively historical chapter book series. .
The store has extended its outreach with book fairs in area schools. Don’t live in the St. Louis area? They also arrange on-line book fairs for groups and schools
EyeSeeMe has definitely inspired its readers. When Sydney Keys III’s mom took him to the store, he started picking up books he couldn’t put down, and he got an idea. Why not start a boys’ book club? So at age 11 he founded “Books and Bros,” meeting at the shop. The club started with seven members and grew into a large group of boys from the area. They now wear “Books and Bros” T-shirts and agree that reading rocks. In the process of leading “Books and Bros,” Sydney has overcome his tendency to stutter. He has also appeared on Steve Harvey’s Show, and earned on-air praise from Oprah Winfrey.
One of the things that has surprised and gratified the Blairs is the number of people who are not African American who come to the store. This includes parents who bring their preschoolers to story hours, wanting them to know these stories, too.
EyeSeeMe’s popularity has made it possible to move to a newer, larger space recently. Now they can hold more author events and classes. They are also expanding their collections to include more bilingual books and stories about Latino, Asian, and Muslim people.
So give your hope a boost. Visit EyeSeeMe at the shop or online in the very near future! It is a treasure for all who imagine an inclusive America where everyone can grow up proud of their own heritage and aware and respectful of the heritage of others.