Name a well known African American male lead character in books for youth 7 to 10 years of age. I'm sure most will struggle to answer this question. Considering there are a significant number of prominent African American male entertainers and athletes that most of us could name, it is disappointing that there is this huge challenge when it comes to children's books.
I worked as Target Stores Toy Buyer for 8 years (1994-2002) and a Disney Toy Salesperson for 8 years (2008-2016). During this time frame, I rarely saw any racially diverse lead characters in cartoons, movies or books for youth. Considering the youth minority population continues to grow year after year one would think racially diverse lead characters would become more prominent in children's entertainment. Maybe there is something that I should try to do in order help provide a solution!
Even though I did not expect this to happen, an opportunity surfaced for me to be part of the solution. August 2003, a cousin of mine, Lehman Riley, gave me a call and asked me to swing by his house so he could show me a children's book concept he had created. Lehman talked to me about a 3rd-grade reading level series book concept titled "The Adventures of Papa Lemon's Little Wanderers". Papa Lemon's Magical Train would transport 5 racially diverse friends back in time in order for them to learn about our nations diverse heritage. Also, in real-life Papa Lemon is our grandfather! What a great idea! We formed a publishing company and began our book venture in July 2004.
The Papa Lemon Book business has had plenty of highs and lows. We have published 8 books with subject matter ranging from Dr. Martin Luther King, a Navajo Wind Talker, Abe Lincoln's battle with depression and Bullying. Our ultimate goal is to make Papa Lemon a household name and have him be an educational icon for ALL children. An animated TV show would be amazing too! Imagine a positive African American grandpa as a lead character that well recognized.
It's beginning to feel like the timing is right for more African American lead characters to emerge in books for our youth. Racial issues are getting more media coverage across the country. Just imagine you are an 8-year-old African American child and you have access to more books featuring an African American male. Maybe Papa Lemon can help lead the way. If not, I know there are other books that feature an African American male. Consider making a concerted effort to support books featuring an African American male. We can ALL make a difference once book purchase at a time!
Paul Dixon, Papa Lemon Book Publisher