Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Luisa Uribe

Hello, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. I’m grateful you stopped by to celebrate Your Name Is a Song. What ran through your head (or your heart) the first time you saw Luisa Uribe’s cover illustration for Your Name Is a Song?

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow: Joy. I felt absolute joy. Luisa captured the magical and musical elements of the story in both bold and subtle ways. I love the use of color—the big splashes and little touches that make it so vibrant. And I love that the characters are radiant. It’s always special to me when my people are depicted in beautiful ways on children’s books. It brings me even more joy that these depictions are from a book I helped create.

Scenario: A local bookseller wants to feature Your Name Is a Song on a back-to-school display. He asks you to write a shelf talker. The shelf talker has enough room for no more than 250 characters. 

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow: What would you do if no one could pronounce your name on the first day of school? Read this story—a musical celebration of diverse names—to find out how a young girl teaches others at her school to say (and sing) her name correctly. 

Please finish the following sentence starters:

Your name is a doorway to your identity. In a way, it can be your theme song. It shares things about your background. It can express things about you—true and stereotypical. Things you embrace about yourself or things you don’t. And it contains the sounds of your culture—the melodies or the sharp sounds of its language—while holding meaning and traditions that send a message about what that same culture values. Your name is also one of the first gifts you receive from your parents. It’s given from love and, because of all of that, your name is worthy of respect. Whether your name is powerful or simple, unique or common, it is worthy of respect.

I hope Your Name Is a Song does a lot! I’m very ambitious about it. I hope it sparks conversations for children and people who work with youth (and even some adults who don’t) about how we think about names. For people who say things like “I’m not good with names” to excuse away not attempting to say names they’re unused to, I hope that this book makes them pause and reevaluate that practice. More importantly, I hope that kids who often get their names mispronounced hear their own songs in it, literally and figuratively. And I hope that the hearing of these names is empowering. I celebrated so many names in this book and would have added more if a longer book would have worked because I wanted children of color to hear their names and names like theirs and know that those names are beautiful. I especially hope that this book makes Black children who may have heard their names derided because they are “made-up” or so-called “ghetto” names, take pride in their names. It’s funny how all names are essentially made up by different cultures, but Black people are the only ones who are shamed for making up names to fit our own culture. So, I spent an extra-long time in the book celebrating those names in particular.

Picture books are… I’m not sure I want to define them. Not too much. It feels limiting. I think the beauty of picture books is that they continue to change, and we can appreciate those changes while still appreciating works of the past. And I think they are a kind of bellwether for society. A lot of people see picture books as these simple stories with simple pictures for simple little kids. And yet, anyone who has studied picture books know that they can be very complex just as children are. And every year, you can look into picture books to see how society is changing and how it is staying the same. Every culture communicates its values to young children through story. Picture books are just a form we use to do that work. I think it’s important to look at picture books—the text and art—to understand our values and understand how they are shifting or staying the same.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about how I chose the names, especially the main character’s name. In the story, the little girl goes unnamed for almost the entire book. Without revealing a spoiler, I thought choosing that name was especially important. I chose a name that reflected the Mandingo griot tradition that my mother comes from and also the Black American tradition on my father’s side of adapting names from African cultures. The name is defined in the name glossary of the book. In fact, all the names in the book are defined in the name glossary. I think the meaning and origins of the names add another interesting layer to the book.

Look for Your Name Is a Song on July 7, 2020.

Frustrated by a day full of teachers and classmates mispronouncing her beautiful name, a little girl tells her mother she never wants to come back to school. In response, the girl's mother teaches her about the musicality of African, Asian, Black-American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern names on their lyrical walk home through the city. Empowered by this newfound understanding, the young girl is ready to return the next day to share her knowledge with her class. Your Name is a Song is a celebration to remind all of us about the beauty, history, and magic behind names.


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