By Mariama J. Lockington, author of For Black Girls Like Me
When you grow up in a musical family, the act and art of listening is an everyday practice. As the daughter of two classical musicians, I came up attending weekend concerts and learning to identify the sounds of different instruments as they blared from the orchestra. Music and stories followed me everywhere, but especially on road trips. As my parents advanced in their own careers, they moved me and my three siblings all over the country. My earliest memory of listening to an audiotape was falling in love with the Classical Kids series. We were moving from Colorado to New York, or perhaps it was the move from Colorado to Baltimore, in any case it was the early nineties, and to keep us entertained on a long cross-country drive my mom popped in the audiotape of Vivaldiâ€™s Ring of Mystery. Suddenly the landscape around us burst into life, as we were transported from our wood-paneled, sky-blue Dodge minivan and into a gondola on the dark-lit, glowing canals of Venice. The story of Vivaldiâ€™s life combined with his music, and made it possible for my nomadic family to survive that long drive. For me, memories of road trips will always be peppered with these audio stories/symphonies, as we went on to listen to Mr. Bach Comes to Call, Mozartâ€™s Magnificent Voyage, and the rest in the series. As we grew older, and yes continued to move, our cross-country road trips were filled with the sounds of the Sherlock Holmes audiobooks, the Redwall series, and more.
Perhaps it is fitting then that my debut novel, For Black Girls Like Me, begins on the road. My main character, Makeda, is not unlike me. Sheâ€™s a black girl adopted into a white family, and when her family moves across the country one spring, everything in her life changes. Makeda leaves behind a best friend, is thrust into a new landscape, is dealing with a sister who is too cool to hang out with her anymore, a mom who is sad all the time, and a dad who works nonstop. Makeda begins to wonder and dream about her biological family, all the while using music and writing to ground herself in the ever-changing world.
When I first heard the clip of the talented Imani Parks reading the beginning chapter of For Black Girls Like Me, I was stunned with nostalgia. I was reminded again how audiobooks have the power to transport you so swiftly into a story, into movement. Even though I wrote this book, and often during the drafting process read scenes out loud to myself, hearing Makedaâ€™s voice articulated by a voice actor added a whole new layer. I was reminded of how books in general,Â but how audiobooks especially,Â provided a sense of connection and belonging on those long trips with my family. No matter how different I was from my white parents, or how anxious I was about moving to a new place, audiobooks and stories kept us grounded as we sped on to a new adventure.
In For Black Girls Like Me, Makeda has a hard time connecting with her mother, but one way they find space is when her mother reads aloud to her at night. Makeda says, â€śMama and I get along so much better when we are lost in a book.â€ť And maybe thatâ€™s just it: The act and art of listening to a book, alone or with your family, on the road, or in your house while cooking, allows you and whoever else is there to share something special. It allows you to forget the ways you may be struggling to communicate, and spend a delightful hour or six hours engrossed in a world of your choosing. Still, as an adult, when I embark on a road trip I download the books I want to spend time with. As I hit the highway, I delight in speeding through new country, listening and learning from the music of words on tape.
Listen to a clip of For Black Girls Like Me and learn more about the audiobook:
â€ś[An] outstanding middle-grade debut.â€ť—Publishers Weekly, starred review
Makeda June Kirkland is eleven-years-old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, can’t seem to make new friends, and her sister is now too cool to hang out with her. Through it all, Makeda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me?