New Children’s Book Encouraging Young Minds To Find Their Voice And Follow Their Dreams

Musician and author Valerie June. Image by Jacob Blickenstaff

February is Black History Month and one of the things we love to do is highlight strong Black female voices who are making history today and sharing their creativity and talent to better the world. With that in mind, we’re excited to celebrate Grammy-nominated musician and author Valerie June. When she’s not on tour opening for Dave Matthews, or appearing on Late Night with Seth Meyers she splits her time between New York and Tennessee.

Valerie has been featured in New York Times, The Guardian, Pitchfork, and Rolling Stones. Her new picture book, illustrated by Marcela Avelar, ‘SOMEBODY TO LOVE: The Story of Valerie June’s Sweet Little Baby Banjolele‘ is published by Third Man Books. With rollicking rhymes and vibrant illustrations, a young musician and her baby banjolele learn to face their doubts and find their voices. 

The story is inspired by how June wrote the song “Somebody to Love” from her album Pushin’ Against a Stone. A portion of proceeds from the limited edition book will be donated to an organization supporting children’s literacy. It’s the perfect read for children, and reminder for adults, looking to embrace their inner dreams and let their hearts sing. 

We had the chance to speak with Valerie about her music career struggles and success, her advocacy for children’s literacy, and how following your dreams can be an act of community care.

How did the idea for ‘Somebody To Love’ begin? 

Though I had always thought the story of my banjolele would be a great children’s book, until Michelle Obama’s Turnaround Arts Program invited me to be a part of their program, the idea had not come to life. The program is now a part of The Kennedy Center’s outreach to students nationwide. Sharing my songs with the students gave this idea the steam it needed to become a reality. They are so inspiring.

Can you tell us about writing the song ‘Somebody to Love’ and the inspiration behind it?

After receiving my banjolele, it was a toy to me. I didn’t learn to play it for many years. Then, finally, one day I decided to learn a few chords. It’s as if the song had been in the instrument’s heart all along. It was just waiting for me to write it. Inspiration can come from so many places. I love it when an instrument is the source of my inspiration. Instruments are like friends. Once you get to know them, they come bearing so many gifts.

You have given a powerful TEDx Talk about celebrating Black Joy.  Can you share more about why this is important to you? 

I think joy is a human superpower. Joy allows us to transcend the struggles and challenges that could otherwise weigh on our hearts so heavily that they break. Joy is directly connected to our spirit. If we lean on it, though the world may be complex or challenging, our spirit will never be broken. That alone is enough to leave the world better than you found it. It is enough to even change the world–one heart at a time. Joy is essential for all races, but I love uplifting my lineage through the magic of joy because I am black.  

We live in bleak times between politics, pandemic, white supremacy and more.  How can we all find joy amidst such uncertainty, and how do we instill this into our children’s lives? 

Wow. What a question. It is crucial to keep the doors open. We must keep asking each other the tough questions that cause us to grow closer. Continuing to educate ourselves through mindfulness practice and anti-racist work is a way to shift the energy in our everyday interactions. I don’t mean that we’re all best friends with no enemies; I mean respecting one another’s differences and allowing each other to be imperfect, but growing, learning, changing, and working toward a more egalitarian society. 

Setting a goal as a society that creates more unity is the only way even to begin to come close to achieving that as a dream for humanity. Collective goals for a more harmonious planet might be challenging, but with determination, we can alchemically shift the scales in our favor. It’s important to remind people of dreams for this reason. That’s why I enjoy sharing this book with young dreamers and reminding old dreamers to keep believing!  

You talk about how following your dreams is an act of self-care as well as community care.  Can you share more on this? 

Everything we see or experience that is man-made was once somebody’s dream. It was a seed or a wish. Knowing that brings that power of dreams front and center in the quest for a better world. If we can continue to dream of something beautiful, then we are one step closer to seeing that as a reality. Dreams are bigger than the individual. 

They say to be careful what you wish for; you might get it. I say, be careful what you dream of, it might just come true! There’s individual dreaming and collective dreaming. When we dream collectively, we live the change, and it becomes real. It writes a new story. A story where anything is possible! And I am very interested in the possibilities of positivity on a planetary level. What’s possible?! We have yet to begin to explore the beautiful dreams we could create.  

Music has been a huge part of your life and you’ve seen a lot of success!  How has music become your voice of activism and change in the world? 

A good song will always open hearts and bring people together. Making music is one of the most joyful forms of activism.  

The music industry is hard to crack, and fickle at best. What are some of the struggles you’ve encountered along the way, and how have you navigated your way through them? 

My biggest struggles in the music business have been with myself. Yes, the music industry is hard to crack, but since I’m going to make music regardless of the industry, money, or fame, I always have to ask myself if I’m nurturing my soul and growing by following this path. As long as I’m doing that, I’ll have the heart to continue facing the challenges that come with being in the industry.  

Can you share why creativity, self-expression, self-belief, and finding your voice are important attributes for everyone to nurture? 

Because every living being has a gift of something sweet that could be potentially shared with the rest of the world, I believe life is about constantly unraveling the wrapping paper surrounding your gift. Creativity, self-expression, self-belief, and finding your voice are all forms of shedding those layers and letting our light shine to uplift others. We can either water the negative seeds or the positive ones.  It’s a choice. What would it look like for us to spend more time watering the positive ones? Even the slightest tip in the positive direction renders astonishing results. It doesn’t take much to create a spark of light in a room.  

What do you hope parents and children will receive when they read ‘Somebody to Love’? 

I hope they will receive messages of courage, bravery, perseverance, strength, community, and self-belief. I hope they will be inspired to DREAM BIG!  

You can get a copy of ‘Somebody To Love’ by clicking HERE. Learn more about Valerie’s work via her website, listen to her music on Spotify and Apple Music, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Comments are closed.