Howell-Baptiste talks exclusively to Ebony about the barriers she overcame to write these stunning picture books.
If you don’t know Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s name yet, you definitely know her face. The British actress has graced the small and silver screens in everything from Killing Eve to Disney’s Cruella and the upcoming, much-anticipated Netflix series “The Sandman”. Howell-Baptiste isn’t just skilled at breathing life into characters on television shows and in movies (or being a scene stealer in every single role), though, she also has a penchant for writing characters on the page as well. “I love writing in all forms,” says Howell-Baptiste. “I find it very cathartic to take a moment of inspiration, or experience, or imagination and convert it into a piece of art that others can enjoy and relate to.”
Her latest manifestation: publishing two children’s books—both launching this November—in collaboration with actor Larry C. Fields III (“Into The Dark,” “I Love That For You”), and illustrated by Paul Davey. These empowering picture books, Little Black Girl and Little Black Boy, celebrate the joys of being a child and encourage Black boys and girls to follow their wildest dreams. In each book, both children learn the importance of self-love and the belief that their potential is limitless. Little Black Girl tells the story of a girl who is determined to have her robot ready in time for the school fair. In Little Black Boy, Howell-Baptiste teams up with Fields to share the story of a boy who turns his passion for marine life into a hobby for caring for his environment.
Here, Howell-Baptiste talks exclusively to EBONY about the barriers she overcame to write these stunning picture books, the importance of embracing and celebrating the innocence of childhood and what she has next on her to-do list.
What made you want to write these specific books at this specific time?
Though Little Black Girl and Little Black Boy are kid’s books, the hope is that they transcend that space and are also offered as graduation gifts, to young people moving out for the first time, and to people who just need a reminder that they are limitless!
Your books are a love letter to Black girls and boys. In a climate where critical race theory dominates headlines and threatens to change the way we educate children, was there any push back?
I wrote Little Black Girl years ago and at the time had some pushback, not because of the content but because of me, the author. I was told that there wasn’t the appetite for the book. The message was clear: I should stick to acting. But that is exactly why I knew I needed to make these books. I believe there is huge power in knowing, in the deepest part of yourself, that despite the resistance, the naysayers and the outright saboteurs, the only thing that can limit you is yourself.
Little Black Girl and Little Black Boy are both centered around STEM. Was this a conscious decision? Do you think children of color need more exposure to STEM careers?
I knew the words but didn’t know how they would come alive. The focus on STEM came later. Centering STEM heightens the message of these books by showing young Black children that they have a place, and in fact, are very much needed, in careers/fields that we have been historically erased from or locked out of.
The world can be a tough place for children of color. Why do you feel celebrating the joys of being a child is something that we should advocate more often?
In the poem Intimations of Immortality, Wordsworth wrote “Shades of the prison-house begin to grow…” in reference to the loss of the innocence of childhood. I read this years ago at school and it always stuck with me. We are kids for such a short period time and for some, particularly Black girls, that time is cut even shorter because we are forced to grow up so quickly. I want to celebrate childhood and encourage kids to be kids: to immerse themselves in play, to be goofy, vulnerable, unaware of their differences, and to keep loving who they are.
You have established yourself as an actress and now can add author to your resume—what’s next for Kirby Howell-Baptiste?
I will continue to act and write. Both allow me to express myself through different characters. I also plan to direct. For me, it’s an opportunity to interpret a piece of art and publish it in the way you imagine.