Local author aims to increase literacy among children in Detroit

Hernz Laguerre, Jr.
The Detroit News

Naomi V. Dunsen-White is on a mission to give away children's books for free, so she has partnered with Charles Collectibles and Books to host a summer giveaway and reading contest during the entire month of July.

Dunsen-White, of Novi will give away her latest books, "Why Am I Here" and "Johari The Great." So far, with the help of donors, she has already distributed about 800 copies of her books.

Her aim is to focus on diversity, self-discovery and self-determination through captivating stories and engaging images. The images by Detroit-born illustrator Megan Rizzo in Dunsen-White's books features a diverse group of children and is saturated with vibrant colors and images. 

The Mom's Choice Awards' Gold Award Recipient said it's important to get books in the hands of children who are struggling with literacy.

"My mission is to get books into the hands of children who need them — in particular children of color," she said. "When kids start reading, we are always encouraging them to read but many times they aren't given material to read with characters that look like them."

The Children's Cooperative Book Center of the University of Wisconsin began collecting data on children's book since the 1970s. Their research has shown that there is a diversity gap that exists in children's books. 

Dunsen-White said she believes this gap leads to some children of color being uninterested in reading and therefore hinders their growth as a learner. 

Naomi V. Dunsen White holds up her two books Why Am I Here and Johari The Great on Thursday April 28th 2022 at the Center for Success in Detroit Michigan.

The CCBC has stated, "The more books there are, especially books created by BIPOC authors and illustrators, the more opportunities librarians, teachers, parents, and other adults have of finding outstanding books for young readers and listeners that reflect dimensions of their lives, and give a broader understanding of who we are as a nation."

When Dunsen-White was a young reader, she was shown these dimensions of her own life when she picked up a book by Don Freeman called "Corduroy."

 "It was about a bear that had a missing button on his corduroy overalls," she said. "... 1967 — the little Black girl who was the main character throughout the book, she couldn't be on the cover. She was on the inside of the book though... when I opened up the book and saw a little girl named Lisa, I couldn't believe it. Because she looked a lot like me." 

This representation inspired the former educator and foster care specialist to write  "Why Am I Here" and "Johari The Great." The latter book was initially a book just for her grandson until her husband convinced her to publish it during the pandemic.

She wrote "Johari The Great" to inspire young boys to develop strong academic skills.

"The theme of this book is that Johari discovers he is a great writer..., so it's an educational book and it's very engaging," she said.

Her books also feature a vocabulary and comprehension guide in the back to help increase children's academic potential. 

Through her literary work, Dunsen-White wants kids to know that they matter.

"Children matter... and they need to know that the things that are in a book are not just for other people," she sad. "They are for them." 

To enter the reading contest and/or get a free book, visit www.naomibooks.com.