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11-Year-Old Publishes First Book, Joins Growing Market For Young Black Authors

Madelyn Modeste’s ‘Marielle Can’t Wait’ is helping fill void of books featuring Black authors and characters.

Shauntelle & Madelyn Modeste
Photo Credit: Ashley Moss

Madelyn Modeste breezed into a quiet Lewisville bakery on a recent afternoon with her mother, Shauntelle Modeste. Dressed in a lightweight sweat outfit with her hair braided back into long cornrows, the 11-year-old plopped down on a well-sanitized armchair. In her hands, she was clutching a brightly colored book as if it were a prized possession.

In fact, it is. The book, Mariella Can’t Wait, marks Madelyn’s first venture as an author and publisher.

“It’s about Mariella, the main character, who is waiting on a special package from her grandmother who lives out of state,” said Madelyn, who is African American.

Madelyn is among a flood of young authors who are writing and publishing their own texts and chronicling their unique Black experiences in children’s, teen, and young adult literature.

Shauntelle Modeste believes there is a ripe market for delivering more stories with African American characters.

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She may be correct: According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a research library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, representation in all literature is lackluster but, in children’s literature, it is especially dismal.

The Center looked at 3,717 children’s books published in the United States in 2019 and found that only 5% — or 675 titles — were by Black authors or about Black characters.

Shauntelle said the statistics underscore a need to fill this void.

“When it comes to reading and our community, we need books that spark our interest and attention, stories that speak to family, love and faith” said Modeste, who is a former instructional specialist for the Lewisville Independent School District. “With things like the language and the graphics, the books Madelyn reads should reflect her lived experiences.”

Marielle Can't Wait
“Marielle Can’t Wait” // Photo courtesy

The idea for Madelyn’s book came after her mother stumbled across a story about young social activist Marley Dias. While in elementary school, Dias created the hashtag #1000BlackGirlBooks in 2015 after becoming frustrated with a white protagonist in a book she had read. “Her story… inspired me to encourage Madelyn to try to write a book,” Modeste said.

To get the project done, Modeste found a publishing coach online and enrolled her only child in a month-long virtual course to help her with the writing process.

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“We homeschool and we have flexibility in our schedule,” Modeste said. “Madelyn logged on to the class every week for a month to work with the coach and at the end of the process, we decided to work towards having it physically published.”

Modeste also found an artist online to illustrate and help bring Madelyn’s book to life.

“We wanted to make sure everything, down to the graphics in the book, accurately reflected the Black experience and, at the end, we uploaded it to Amazon to self-publish,” she said.

The writing — the plot and the ending — however, are entirely Madelyn’s work.

For Madelyn, writing her book was a way to see herself in literature, but also to be an example for other girls of color.

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“Everything that happens in the book is all fact, [things] that actually happened in my life,” said Madelyn. “People can look at the book and see a girl who’s African American with curly hair, just like them.”

Mariella Can’t Wait is available in paperback on Amazon.

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