The author of two children’s books, Boston began writing because he wanted to see girls of color (like his own daughters) represented in children’s fiction.
Three things you need to know about Charlottesville-based children’s author Marc Boston: his upbeat attitude is undeniably infectious, he has a fantastic smile, and when he wants something, he gets it done.
One of Boston’s favorite quotes is from fellow author Toni Morrison: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must write it.” When Boston realized that there were not many children’s books featuring girls of color, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
His most important ingredient: inspiration from his own daughters.
Originally from Baltimore, and raised in Kansas City, Boston and his family decided to move to Charlottesville for a few reasons. The schools are excellent, the landscape is beautiful, and the shorter trip to visit his family in Baltimore made the city an easy sell.
“Once you have kids, it becomes kind of a hassle going back and forth from Kansas City to Baltimore,” said Boston. “We literally googled ‘family friendly cities on the east coast,’ and Charlottesville came up. We weren’t that familiar with Charlottesville other than the University of Virginia [being] here, but we fell in love with it.”
The Bostons put their houses on the market two hours later, as soon as they realized how centralized they would be to both family and a little beach time to get away from it all — as Virginians do. They were excited to start a new adventure.
Boston started writing while still in Kansas City, after he was laid off from his job in corporate America. He soon realized that the layoff had been a blessing in disguise, as he never felt that world was for him to begin with. Once he and his wife had their third child and he settled into his newfound role as storyteller to his children, a light came on.
What Boston thought of initially as a new hobby soon grew into much more.
“I started reading stories to my girls, and I fell in love with these books and pictures, more so even than when I was a kid,” said Boston. “One evening one of my kids said — and I’m paraphrasing — ‘Dad, why aren’t there any brown people in the books that we read?’ I noticed that, of course, but for you to notice this at your age, something needs to be done.”
While Boston was not a writer at the time, he quickly realized that the most important act in becoming a writer is just sitting down and putting pen to paper.
His daughters, of course, serve as inspiration for the majority of what he writes. His first book, The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff, was modeled after his middle daughter, who also carried one too many things wherever she went — teddy bears, books, you name it.
“Do you have to have the blanket? It is July,’” said Boston. “And she said ‘Yes, I have to have it!’ I started journaling what she was doing, and realized later that it was a good story. I’m glad, because people seem to resonate with that story.”
At its core, The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff is ultimately about materialism. It’s about letting go to find happiness, and realizing that material things are not the key to making your life better.
“It kind of fulfills a void in children’s books, where marginalized communities don’t always get to see themselves in books that they read,” said Boston. “So I’m addressing that as well.”
Boston’s books feel important due to his willingness to touch on deeper issues. Children’s media tends to stick with lighter, easier topics — making friends, or being proud of yourself. While those are topics that should be covered in children’s media, children also need to learn about issues that will affect them all their lives, like consumerism and materialism. Too often, such subjects are left out of children’s literature. How can writers help fill that void? Boston has an idea.
“It’s up to us as writers to go within each of us and go, ‘I’m going to be brave enough to tell a story that is going to make a difference in someone else’s life,’” said Boston. “It’s up to us writers, on the ground level, to decide to make a difference, and make a change. When we have individuals who do that, society can’t do nothing but catch on.”
Representation in media definitely has an impact on us as adults. However, it feels very different at 30 to realize you’re not represented in media than it does for children. For children, who are still just figuring out the world around them, knowing that you are not only seen but valued, that you’re just as important as the classmate sitting beside you, has an indescribable impact.
“A child’s self-esteem is entirely predicated on being able to see themselves in stories that they read,” said Boston. “It goes back to images of beauty. That blonde-haired blue-eyed character does not represent [my daughters]. Where are they supposed to get their self esteem from? How are they supposed to feel empowered when none of the superheroes look like them? They feel less beautiful, less powerful.”
Boston sees this in his own life experience. He doesn’t recall any writers of color coming to his school when he was a kid, and therefore, he never saw being a writer as a valid path for his life. It wasn’t until he took that leap and put pen to paper that he realized the power to be a writer was in his hands. And with that in mind, he has some advice for the would-be writers out there.
“Writers write. That’s what makes you a writer,” said Boston. “Not a book published. If you’re a writer, you have to write. You have to get your pen and paper, or your computer, and write as often and as much as possible. You have to be courageous.”
Marc Boston’s books, The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff and What About Me?, can be purchased from his website, marcboston.com.