Like Cold Water in the Desert
A published children’s author explains the importance of representation, pursuing your passions outside of the classroom, and providing space for students’ big emotions.
February 23, 2022
We connected with Bri Reed (Eastern North Carolina '18) to discuss her published book, representation in literature, and her hopes for students. Here's what she shared:
What is your book about? What do you hope readers will take away from it?
Emani Takes a Deep Breath is about a young Black boy who experiences several different kinds of emotions that feel too big for him, and we get to follow him as he learns how to use a tool that helps with too-big feelings throughout the book. I hope that readers see that it is common and okay to have feelings, especially big ones, and that there are ways to deal with them, and people around us who can help as well.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a published author! What sparked your decision to write the book and what was the process like?
I’ve always loved to read and write but when I was younger, I didn’t see any books that had characters who looked like me. So, when I finally discovered Black authors, it was like coming across cold water in a desert; I couldn’t get enough, and I still can’t. When I became a teacher, I fell in love with my students and I wanted to make sure my classroom library reflected their experiences and identities. I noticed that a lot of children’s behaviors are responses to feelings that they may not even understand themselves. I worked at a school with a great social-emotional learning curriculum that taught students about different tools they could use to self-regulate, and the breathing tool was definitely useful for me as an adult struggling with anxiety (so much so, that I got a “breathe” tattoo!). One of my best friends, Emani’s namesake, has also had experiences with anxiety since childhood like myself, and through sharing our experiences with one another it became very important to me to try and give something I wish we had when we were younger to help us deal with what we were feeling.
How have you noticed representation in literature impacts your students?
I love getting to see my students make personal connections to a text. When they see and hear stories and experiences that are relevant to them, they get to see and learn about themselves and they get excited about it. When you see yourself represented, you see how important you are and that you are not alone.
“When I finally discovered Black authors, it was like coming across cold water in a desert; I couldn’t get enough, and I still can’t.”
Looking back on your experience writing your book, what advice would you give others interested in pursuing their passion while teaching?
Do it! I’m fortunate that I get to do what I’m passionate about as my job, but that my job also fuels my other passions as a writer. I think when teachers pursue their passions outside of the classroom, it fulfills us and feeds us so we can show up full and best serve our students.
What do you hope to be true for the students, teachers, and families who read your book?
I hope students see that a big part of growing up is learning what to do with what you feel and that it is okay to feel all the feelings that come with growing up. We often teach children that it’s not okay for them to feel anything negative, instead of helping them navigate how to manage what they feel in a safe and healthy way. I hope families see how important and possible it is to create a safe space for children to feel and learn to express what they are feeling, and that teachers see it as well.
Where can we buy your book?
It’s available on Amazon as a Kindle e-book and in paperback. It will soon be available for purchase on my bookstore website as well.
Bri grew up in South Florida and graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies as well as two undergraduate certificates in Global Black Studies and African Studies. She has served children in the classroom across multiple grades through three AmeriCorps programs and has been teaching for the last 4 years. Bri is an 8th grade ELA teacher at Winterville Charter Academy. She is currently completing her Master’s degree in English and African American Literature and owns an online bookstore called Sankofa Books (www.sankofa-books.com) that celebrates the written works of Black authors from across the African Diaspora.