There's a new hero for our time, whose adventures rival those of Harry Potter and who uses his imagination and intelligence to solve problems such as how to bring a school bully back from the Triassic period after he tampers with our hero's time machine. He's Emery Jones, the curious science genius of Moms Mabley Elementary School.
Emery is the creation of National Book Award-winning Seattle author and professor, Dr. Charles Johnson, and his daughter, artist and writer Elisheba Johnson. The pair has recently published "Bending Time" (Booktrope), the first book in their planned series, "The Adventures of Emery Jones: Boy Science Wonder."
"Bending Time" has been praised for its humor, sense of adventure, integration of science and history and portrayal of Emery, a brilliant African-American boy. Award-winning young adult writer Tonya Bolden called the book “a riveting, exhilarating, and enriching read.”
Dr. Johnson, who created the illustrations for the book, has published thousands of drawings, including two collections, and hosted the 1970 PBS drawing program “Charlie’s Pad.” A novelist, essayist, literary critic, short-story writer, philosopher, screenwriter and professor emeritus at the University of Washington, Johnson is a MacArthur fellow, a recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature and a National Book Award winner for his slave trade epic novel "Middle Passage."
Elisheba Johnson currently serves as Executive and Commissions Liaison for the Office of Arts and Culture in Seattle. She writes “Curating a Life,” a parenting blog, creates mixed media art and is the former owner and curator of Seattle’s Faire Gallery Café.
Dr. Johnson, Elisheba and Emery Jones’s 20-month-old namesake, Emery Charles Spearman, sat down with me recently at a coffee house in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood.
Robin Lindley: How did you decide to write a children’s book?
Charles Johnson: Last year, Elisheba came into my study and asked, “Why don’t you want to do a children’s book with me?”
I said, “I’ve always wanted to do a children’s book with you, but we have to have a story. We need a subject.” And Elisheba said she’d like to [focus on] bullying. I could relate to that, and a lot of other people can relate to it, [since] about 50 percent of kids report that they’ve been bullied. That’s how we settled on that part of the book.
For about 30 years, I have wanted to write about a black child prodigy. They’re out there in greater numbers than people realize, like white and Asian prodigies, but they don’t appear in mainstream media.
I wanted to have a little black boy with an IQ of 188 who finds himself in adventures that are funny and involve some aspect of science. Our goal is to feature some aspect of science, technology, engineering and math – STEM education – in every book in the series. Educators and even President Obama have been promoting this education for the future.
How would you describe this new hero, the young scientist Emery Jones, to someone unfamiliar with the character?
Charles Johnson: He’s named after this little guy (pointing to his grandson). His birth [helped motivate us] to do this book because it’s a gift for him.
Elisheba Johnson: I wanted to create a character who was empowering for kids, someone they could look up to. Part of it for me is being the mother of a black son and seeing in the media all of these negative images and representations [of black males]. I talk with a couple of other black mothers on a regular basis about how we want to raise our sons to be self-actualized and proud and strong. This book is for those young boys to see a positive representation of themselves and feel empowered.
The book also crosses race and gender. Gabby [Emery's best friend] is very much myself. It's especially for black male kids, but all kids can relate to it.
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