Kirstie Myvett interviews Tameka Fryer Brown about her latest book, TWELVE DINGING DOORBELLS!
KM: Hi Tameka, I’m super excited to talk with you about Twelve Dinging Doorbells! I have a soft spot for holiday books and stories that feature intergenerational families and TDD has it all.
TFB: Thanks, Kirstie! Family, food, humor, and bright colors. That's everything you need for a joyful picture book, right?
KM: This book is obviously inspired by the popular Twelve Days of Christmas song, but please tell us the details of how this story came about? Also, did you set out to write a counting book, a holiday book, or both?
TFB: Believe it or not, the book was actually inspired by #ThanksgivingwithBlackfamiles. I search out that hashtag every year as the holiday season approaches, just to laugh and feel in community with Black folks throughout the country about all the various things our families and family gatherings have in common. I wrote the first draft of Twelve Dinging Doorbells in December of 2017, just a few days before Christmas. So when I think about it, the story itself may have been inspired by the Thanksgiving hashtag, but the framework I used to tell it was inspired by the time of year that I started drafting it.
For me, it was never about writing a counting book, per se, though I did realize that would be an added feature of the structure. Nor was I ever focused on any particular holiday. My intention was always to honor Black family gatherings in general.
KM: You mentioned that Twelve Dinging Doorbells is filled with humor, family, food, and all the things that make holidays so special. How much of your own family traditions and experiences did you weave within this story?
TFB: A lot. When I was growing up, my granny’s house was the place to be for all major family gatherings—holidays, monthly birthday celebrations (if you know, you know), and even Sunday dinners. Extended family members would often swing by on Sundays for a plate—usually one to eat and one to take. Looking back, I am amazed at how many of us would be squeezed into that small house of hers. Whenever my family got together, the vibe was always loudness, laughter, and love. It was accompanied by the most delicious food, including my granny’s sweet potato pie. Granny was not capable of cooking anything not-delicious, but her potato pies were my absolute favorite.
KM: The illustrations by Ebony Glenn are beautiful. What were your thoughts upon seeing Ebony’s final depictions?
TFB: knew when Ebony signed on to be part of the project that the book would be gorgeous. She’s Ebony Glenn, after all. And of course, she didn’t disappoint. Even in the sketch phase, the joy, love, and silliness in her drawings had me smiling at my computer screen. The energy is palpable and the diversity of personalities shine through in every scene. Add the rich, vibrant colors on top of all that--using cut paper collage (!!)—and there’s no doubt that Ebony has created a masterpiece.
KM: I think this book is sure to become a classic Black family holiday book. But I also think children and families in different cultures will enjoy and relate to it because the themes of family, food, and love are all universal and transcend race. What do you hope children will take away from this book?
TFB: I wholeheartedly agree with you, Kirstie. I hope children will glean from it whatever it is they need from it: laughter; pride; a sense of being seen, celebrated, and valued; insight; connection; entertainment and education; and joy. Infectious joy. I also hope they’ll read and enjoy it the whole year through.
KM: What is your advice to authors interested in writing a holiday picture book?
TFB: Come at it from a place of impactful memory, I suppose. Reflect on the holiday memories that are most emotional for you and start crafting from there. Which is really the advice I’d give on writing about any subject. Identify the emotional impact you want to have and create based on that.
KM: How do you plan on celebrating your launch?
TFB: My official book launch was at Park Road Books on October 22nd. On November 15th, we plan on doing a virtual gathering where myself, Ebony Glenn, viewers, and a few special guests will come together to share a virtual meal (or a favorite dish), laughter, memories, and the importance of connection. Keep an eye on my social media for more details on our virtual gathering in the coming weeks.
KM: What’s up next for you?
TFB: I have two more picture books coming out very soon: Not Done Yet: Shirley Chisholm’s Fight for Change (illustrated by Nina Crews; published by Millbrook Press, November 1, 2022) and That Flag (illustrated by Nikkolas Smith; published by HarperCollins, January 31, 2023). In the fall of 2024, I will have another picture book coming out with FSG called You Are (Ode to a Big Kid), and that will be illustrated by Alleanna Harris.
Tameka Fryer Brown is a picture book author whose titles include the Charlotte Zolotow Honor-winning My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood and Brown Baby Lullaby, winner of the 2021 Anna Dewdney Read Together Award. Her work is also featured in the widely-acclaimed anthology, We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices.
Brown’s forthcoming picture books include Not Done Yet: Shirley Chisholm's Fight for Change; and That Flag, a story about best friends divided over the meaning and significance of the Confederate flag.
You can learn more about Tameka at tamekafryerbrown.com.
Images from Twelve Dinging Doorbells, published by Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC Text copyright © 2022 by Tameka Fryer Brown, Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Ebony GlennImages from Twelve Dinging Doorbells, published by Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC