Calera JV basketball coach writes children’s novel

Published 5:30 pm Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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CALERA – As a kid, Calera High School JV basketball coach Dantavius Washington never imagined that he would write a children’s book.

Washington grew up in Chelsea, surrounded by a large family that inspired him to pursue all of his passions from basketball to literature.  After playing ball at Chelsea High School and graduating from Huntingdon College with a degree in communications, Washington found himself turning over an idea in his head. What if he wrote a children’s book?

“The idea to write a children’s book really came from the idea of representation, as well as my family was really big on ethics and morals and teaching lessons as I grew up,” Washington said.

In his book, “What Should I Be When I Grow Up,” Washington explores themes of identity, self-esteem and family as the main character, a little girl named Legacy, asks her relatives what she should be when she grows up.

Throughout the story, Legacy approaches her family members with options. Should I be a doctor, a veterinarian or a teacher? Her family member listens to her ideas, shares that those are all great choices, but ultimately tells her that—above all—she should be a good person. She should be generous. She should be hard-working. She should be kind.

“The lesson of the story is that we are all going to go into different career options in life, but the idea is—wherever you go—to be a good person,” Washington said.

As a person of color, it was also very important to Washington for his children’s book to feature a family that looks like his.

“When I was growing up, there was not a lot of children’s books where people of color were represented,” Washington said. “I wanted to showcase a children’s book, where you can flip through the pages and see people of different colors with different hair textures, that look more like myself.”

To accomplish his idea for a children’s book, Washington reached out to a friend from college, Bianca Scott, who owns a publishing company called BusyB Writing. The company handled the logistics, from authorization to listing the book on Amazon.

During this process, Washington communicated with illustrators to ensure that his vision came to fruition. When asked what he wanted his main character, Legacy, to look like, Washington submitted a photo of a little girl with brown skin and afro-textured hair.

As for Legacy’s family members, Washington turned to a special place for inspiration: his own family.

“When (Legacy) speaks to her grandmother in the book, if you look at my grandmother in real life, there are a lot of similarities,” Washington said.

Washington submitted photos of his whole family: his four brothers, his sister, his mother, his father, his aunts and both sets of grandparents. The illustrators then used those photos to develop concept art and Washington selected which he liked the most.

As the book grew closer to being published, Washington confessed that he was nervous. He wanted people to like it and hoped that he had represented his family well.

“I was praying that it touched someone,” Washington said. “As long as I can help change one person’s life, if I can make one person feel included, then I have done my job.”

“What Should I Be When I Grow Up” was published on Dec. 19, 2022. When he announced his book on Facebook on Dec. 9, Washington shared that he received an overwhelming flood of support.

“I, immediately, got such a positive response from the community,” Washington said. “A lot of ‘congratulations, congratulations, I just ordered it, so proud of you.’ Even some of my old elementary school teachers that follow me on Facebook were just so proud. They actually have my book displayed in their classrooms.”

Since publishing, Washington has read his book to classrooms of children, some as far away as North Carolina, and given interviews on television. But out of all these appearances, Washington shared that one of his fondest memories was the very first time he ever read to a classroom.

On Jan. 27, 2023, Samantha Coats at Forest Oaks Elementary School invited Washington to read “What Should I Be When I Grow Up” to her kindergarten class. While reading the book, a little girl in the audience commented on Legacy’s appearance.

“One of the children in the class said, ‘Oh my god, she looks like me,’ and I said, ‘She does.’” Washington recalled. “That, literally, made it all worth it. Whether the book did or didn’t do well, that one comment from that one little girl that said that the character looked like her made my day.”

At the end of the day, Washington wants everyone who reads his book to walk away with the understanding that everyone is has the potential to make the world a better place just by being in it.

“I want people to know that whatever they do, whatever their vocation in life is—whether it’s to be a CEO or to be a member of janitorial staff or to work at the grocery store—that career is important and that they are important,” Washington said. “What is really important is that we are all good people and we all treat each other kindly.”