Children's book addresses African-American kids

May 24, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Sandy Lynne Holman of Davis is making a dream pay off. It's taken years of effort and thousands of dollars but people in Northern California will soon be able to buy copies of a beautiful picture book for children called "Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad?"

Holman is a graduate of UC Davis with a bachelor's degree in psychology and, from Sac State, a master's degree in school counseling.

She grew up in Sacramento. Her degrees reflect an interest in working with people and all of her jobs have been people-oriented. She currently works with Yolo County Alcohol and Drugs and Mental Health programs as a prevention coordinator. "I will be leaving that job in a few months to concentrate full-time on writing and diversity consulting," she said.

"My first love has always been writing," she added. Holman can still remember the first poem she ever wrote, a poem for her mother, when she was in third grade.

"I started writing as a hobby again when I was working in a Sacramento school district. Mostly I was coming home at night and writing poetry. I self-published two volumes of poetry," Holman added.

She began to combine a love of writing with issues that came from working with kids at Progress Ranch in Davis and at various Sacramento school districts. For instance, Holman recalls meeting a little girl who was horrified and upset when her teacher told the class about slavery.

"She didn't want to be black," said Holman. As a diversity consultant for the state, Holman tried to help by sharing with the little girl books and stories about the positive accomplishments made through the years by Africans and African-Americans. She was told these stories by her grandfather, Rufus X. Holman, who also was a poet.

"He left me over 100 poems that he wrote, which were absolutely beautiful and historic, written over a 50-year span," she said. "I had an incredibly close relationship with my grandfather and I saw him pretty regularly through my teen years. He was a talented and wise person. He only had a third grade education but he continued to read throughout his life and learn as much as he could. I was transfixed by him," she said.

"He taught me a lot about loving yourself and honoring your history and culture and heritage and so I grew up not having a lot of the self-esteem issues that a lot of my peers did," she said. Holman in turned shared these stories with her students.

Her book was a natural progression of her work and a way of honoring her grandfather.

"Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad?" ($18.95) describes the doubts a little boy has about his self-worth and his grandfather's help in showing him the way. She keeps close to her heart the memory of the little girl who asked her the question, "Is everything black bad?"

"Many of these children believe that everything black IS bad," she said. "They believe that dark-skinned kids are the most likely to get into trouble, they believe that nights are dark and frightening, they believe that bad guys wear black hats. These kids who were dark or black didn't want to be," said Holman. "They didn't know who they were or where they came from because so little is taught in schools. So I decided to write this story and dedicate it to my grandfather."

Reading it to children was a big test.

"I took it to the children and they, first-graders, astonished me with their understanding of it," she said. "It's appropriate for first- through sixth-graders but really for everyone."

And once she had the text written and decided to self-publish, Holman had to find an artist. She placed an ad in The Davis Enterprise for an illustrator and had more than 30 responses. The very last person she talked to was a woman from the former Soviet Union, Lela Kometiani, who was living in Davis while her husband was a student at UCD.

"I knew what I didn't want, but I wasn't certain what I did want," Holman said. Meeting Kometiani and seeing her rich and vibrant work made a big difference.

"Lela had illustrated over 10 books in Europe and Russia and knew what she was doing. She saved me a lot of money and I will forever be indebted to her," Holman added.

She decided to self-publish in order to keep control of her book. She didn't want any changes made that she didn't approve of.

"It was important for me to have the book be what I wanted it to be since I was honoring my grandfather,'' she said. "And I'm so happy that I did that."

She found a printer for the book shortly after her grandfather died late last year. He left her just enough money to finish the project.

"He never saw the finished product but I know he knows about it now because I believe in God and I believe he's looking over this whole process," said Holman.

It has cost Holman thousands of dollars to publish 5,000 full color hard cover copies of her book. Fortunately, more than 3,000 advance copies have already been sold. She begged, borrowed and bartered in order to raise the money she needed to make the project happen.

"If you believe in something and have passion for it you'll find a way to make it happen and God will send people your way to make it happen," she says.

Holman expects the book to be in local stores at the end of June. The direct number for ordering copies is (530) 792-1334.

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