By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–It’s pretty common for the IU Southeast Library to buy books by faculty members.
It’s definitely less common for it to buy books by current students.
Then again, The Magic ABC House, by Jolisha Hines, a communications major at IU Southeast, is an uncommon book.
It’s a children’s alphabet book with a strong personal connection and social purpose.
The house in the title is the Louisville, Ky. home of Hines’ late grandmother and aunt, a place of fond memories and family connection for the author.
The ABC in the title is the plot, if you will, which unfolds in both conventional “A is for astronaut”-type cues and the American Sign Language (ALS) alphabet.
The magic in the title is what happens when children realize they can be anything they want, regardless of the color of their skin.
That message is personal for Hines, who conceived and wrote the book as a gift to her now three-year-old son, who happens to be speech delayed.
As friends and family learned of the book, they urged Hines to take it out into the world. So, undaunted by the unknown, she dove into the world of publishing. She searched for, hired and worked with a graphic designer, chose paper stock and publishing service, and produced the book. She has promoted it at book fairs and used it as the basis for a presentation in her public speaking course at IU Southeast.
In playful images featuring her son acting out 26 different careers, the reader moves through the alphabet. There is space for the reader to add her or his own dream occupation linked to the first letter.
For Hines, the portrayal of her son in high-flying careers are part of a larger personal and social vision.
In large part, she wanted to pay tribute to her aunt, a nurse, who had modeled qualities of pride, confidence and self-reliance that Hines has taken to heart.
“She was a hard worker, and I always looked up to her,” Hines said. “After she passed, I wanted to do something that I knew she’d be proud of.”
In the same way, the book speaks directly to her son and to all youth of color, encouraging them to visualize a positive and powerful future for themselves.
“I wanted him to see the illustrations and, from a very early age, to be motivated and inspired,” Hines said. “That’s the goal: to inspire anyone of color, but especially black boys who feel like they need more inspiration to know what they can be.”
That vision fuels Hines in other endeavors for positive change. She volunteers for Play Cousins Collective, an innovative nonprofit organization that works with disadvantaged families of color in Louisville to build community, combat disenfranchisement and spread awareness of resources and services that are available to them.
The book also reflects another area of passion for Hines. She learned sign language to communicate more effectively with her son, and has taught classes at his school using the book.
Hines is already thinking of her next book.
“I want to tell my story, using the poetry of my sorrow, my happy moments, my struggles as a black woman in America.” Hines said. “I want to be the change, so my son can continue to be the change, and together we can change the world we live in.”