Ebony Zayzay is the author of the new picture book, The Adventures of Keva: The Power of the Trees. I read and loved this story about caring for the environment and the myriad ways the environment looks after us. Ebony Zayzay has also recently started a publishing company called Zayzay Literary Co. We talk about writing a picture book, getting into publishing, being inspired by African culture, and writing about Black joy and Black kids loving the outdoors.
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Hi Ebony! It’s lovely to chat with you about your debut picture book, The Adventures of Keva: The Power of the Trees. The cover is adorable. Did you have any input at all with the design/illustration?
I’m happy you like the cover. I wanted to showcase the magic of the story. As a new author, you’re learning as you go, so I researched similar stories to examine trends in cover designs. In addition, I collaborated very closely with my illustrator, leaning in on her creativity and experience. Lastly, I recruited a few individuals from my network to provide feedback. This step was extremely important as it got me out of my initial nervousness about sharing my story.
Why did you choose to write about trees, and what about trees did you want to highlight in this story?
I’m a country girl that grew up surrounded by trees! I find peace in them, which has helped me through some tough times. Through my story, I hoped to highlight the magic of trees through literal examples (used for healing) as well as playful twists (the whispers).
I hate to say it, but there are such few books about Black kids exploring or really just having fun (aka Black joy). Was that something you were conscious of highlighting with your picture book?
I’m happy that you mention this, as it was very intentional in the writing of the story. In searching for books for my son, I found it difficult to find stories of Black children exploring the outdoors. Eventually, I realized that those that were in the market were not written by black authors.
I grew up playing outdoors, riding four-wheelers, and getting dirty. However, there’s not a lot of representation of this in books.
I want there to be stories of the Black community that portray all the dimensions of our lives and go beyond the typical storyline. And I want more of these stories to be written by us.
There’s so much nature highlighted in this book — from ants to goats — not just trees! Are you a nature enthusiast like Keva?
I have an appreciation and respect for nature. You may not find me mountain climbing or camping, but you will find me sitting barefoot in the grass and/or walking a nature trail.
I’m Nigerian, so I noticed some Nigerian language connections in this book. For example, Keva’s favorite tree is called “Iya” which means “mother” in Yoruba. Am I right? I’d love to learn more about why you chose these connections to African culture.
Yes, you’re right! I wanted to connect across the African diaspora, introducing aspects from across our culture. This is important to me personally as my husband’s ancestry is in West Africa. I want the stories my children read to reflect both cultures, and for them to see them as interconnected.
You’ve recently founded a small publishing company called Zayzay Literary Co. Would you like to tell us how you found your way to publishing and why you decided to start a publishing company?
I’ve always had a passion for literature and education. I remember spending afternoons at my local library as a child, escaping my small town through the pages of a book. I still get a sense of joy entering a library and smile every time I see a child getting their first library card.
By founding a company focused on releasing new stories into the market and growing literacy, I hope to be a part of building a passion for literature in others. Also, I look forward to building a legacy of great stories.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about writing a picture book?
It’s not easy. You would think this to be the case as there are fewer words in your typical picture book; however, you have to be very intentional with those few words.
You are one busy woman! What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I enjoy getting outside, spending time with my family, and discovering a new tv show or book.
What can readers expect from Zayzay Literary Co., and from you? Any new projects in the works?
I expect to release more stories across genres, with a focus on the multifaceted lives of the BIPOC communities. There are so many stories that have yet to be told, and I can’t wait to help them get out into the world.
Also, as the organization grows, I’m looking forward to becoming more involved in local organizations focused on bringing stories to developing communities. As a start-up with limited bandwidth, it may take a little time, but I’m confident that we’ll get there.
Thank you so much, Ebony!
Buy The Adventures of Keva: The Power of The Trees
Meet Ebony Zayzay
Ebony Zayzay is a wife, mother, marketer, and entrepreneur. Born and raised in rural North Carolina, Ebony Zayzay went on to earn a Bachelors in Business from Winston-Salem State University, a historically black college and proceeded to achieve an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. After working in the marketing industry for 8 years, she decided to pursue her passions for education, literature, and diversity – founding the Zayzay Literary Co. As an author, she seeks to write stories that expand mindsets on the BIPOC experience. To connect with Ebony and learn more about her books, visit her website, Instagram and LinkedIn.