SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — An Atlanta mother and author is releasing a groundbreaking children’s book celebrating African-American English in honor of Juneteenth.
Sandy Springs resident, Markita Staples wrote and illustrated her self-published title "Nah, I Ain’t Sleepy" - an adaptation of her original book "I Am Not Sleepy" - to allow African American English to be brought to the forefront of the conversation around representation.
“What resources do they have? What place do they have to go to let them know to validate this is how you speak and it's an OK and great language, and here's a book where you can actually see yourself,” Staples said.
In 2020, she was inspired to create the Curly Crew Books to allow her daughter to see herself reflected in the stories she read. Her very first title, "What Should I Do Today?" followed the Curly Crew toddlers as they figured out what to do when they were bored. Today, the series now holds a collection of children’s books and sticker sheets that feature various children of color, and Staples has amassed over 24,000 followers on TikTok.
But she did not stop there.
On Sunday, June 19 she will release her new title Nah, I Ain’t Sleepy in honor of Juneteenth. Staples wrote this book in AAE to expand the idea of representation and talk about a piece of Black and African American culture that was, and still is, not fully accepted within society.
African American English is derived from multiple dialects including African slaves, Creole and West African according to the Linguistic Society of America.
The LSA outlines that in 1973 Black scholars coined this language as Ebonics however, that term did not catch on among linguists until 1996 when California's Oakland School Board came under fire for attempting to use the language as a way to teach Black and African American students standard English in school.
Today, most linguists refer to the language as African-American English in place of Ebonics as it specifically refers to the historical roots of African American speech. And although still a distinct part of Black and African American culture, the language continues to have mainstream influence with terms like “sis” (female friends) “woke” (politically aware) and “trippin'’” (acting foolish) regularly showing up in mainstream media.
Staples recognizes this influence, however, she also realizes that, outside of the mainstream, there is a negative connotation when it comes to the Black community speaking this language.
“I am from a predominantly Black community and I spoke African American English growing up, didn't recognize it as that, just this is how we spoke,” she said “It was later in life where I learned that the way that I spoke could potentially hold me back. So honestly, for years, I carried a lot of shame for the way that I spoke, and it made me very insecure.”
Historically, society has coined “blaccents” as being “unprofessional,” “ghetto,” or "uneducated" - Staples wants to change that.
She hopes that "Nah, I Ain’t Sleepy" will allow children of color to not only see themselves represented in a story but hear themselves too - removing a stigma that is not only brought on by society but sometimes also by the Black community.
“I really have been wanting personally for myself to change the way that I am perceiving African American English and perceiving my history with speaking this way, and a book like this is a way to do that,” Staples said.
The book has not come without controversy, however. Staples told 11Alive that she has gotten mixed reviews concerning its release.
“There are a lot of people who, and I understand it, African American English is rooted in a lot of the same painful things that have existed in the past, and it's either too soon or it's just not the right way for them to have this conversation and to show this side.”
This does not deter her though, she plans to continue the AAE adaptations with all of her Curly Crew books because she believes in what they can bring to the table.
“It's one of those things that I think if nothing else, even if we don't all agree on whether it should be talked about, it's still happening. We're still using this language, so let's at least have the conversation," she said.
She plans to write more books for the Curly Crew series and hopes to expand into Curly Crew coloring and activity books and even children’s games, because for her, the sky's the limit.
“I really want to be a destination for parents and kids to find things that are enriching and will also keep them busy and entertained,” she said. “Providing more outlets and more ways for kids to see themselves.”
Staples will be selling Curly Crew Books including "Nah, I Ain't Sleepy" at Atlanta's Juneteenth Festival this weekend.