Louisville children’s author Deedee Cummings’ family has a longstanding tradition of collecting Christmas books.
“We intentionally collect Christmas stories with Black characters, and one Christmas, there were no no more books to get with Black characters,” she said. “We went to stores. We went to libraries. We searched Amazon… And I thought, wow, the supply of Christmas books is endless, except for when it comes to Christmas books featuring Black characters.”
Her son, Nick, was 10 at the time. He had also asked her why he didn’t see more books, in general, with Black characters.
So Cummings was moved to write and publish her own.
It’s called “In the Nick of Time.”
“Black people love Christmas too,” she said. “And it’s very important for children to see themselves in these stories because it validates their experience.”
The protagonist in her book is Nick Saint, a young Black boy who gets a letter intended for Saint Nick.
The letter writer asks Santa for a job for his mom because his family has nowhere to live. Young Nick is stunned to see another kid asking for something like that.
Thus unfolds a story about compassion and gratitude, and what Christmas is really about, with illustrations by Charlene Mosley.
Cummings said her son has many privileges, and she wanted him to be aware that not everyone has the luxury to ask Santa for something like an Xbox.
“I do have a Black character as the lead character, but I can’t emphasize enough how books that highlight Black characters are still written for all of us,” she said. “Black children have been reading stories with white characters forever. It’s important that we all see each other as humane and as heroes. Black kids have as much of a right to have that story told, and that message be conveyed.”
According to data compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education, out of more than 3,700 American children’s books surveyed from 2019, just over 6% of those books were published by Black authors and a little more than 12% were about Black characters.
Cummings said it’s important for young people to see themselves on the page, and that’s across the board in terms of diversity, race, gender, representations of children with disabilities, etc.
“I always say that reading books doesn’t just make me a better reader. It makes me a better human being,” Cummings said.
The book came out in 2019, but feels more relevant then ever, she said, because the world could use more empathy during the pandemic.
“I’ve seen misery in this pandemic… it’s a really rough time. Rough isn’t even the right word,” Cummings said. “This is why we teach our children to look outside of themselves.”
What are the real Nick’s thoughts on “In the Nick of Time”?
Cummings said he loves it.
She included a comment from him in the front of the book: “I love this book because it makes me feel like Christmas and I like feeling like Christmas.”
And, spoiler alert, Nick Saint lives up to his name.
Cummings continues to be inspired by her children. In the new year, she expects to release a new book series starting in the spring. The forthcoming series is inspired by her daughter, Kayla Pecchioni, a musical theater artist.
“It’s about a young Broadway star who doesn’t let anything stand in the way of her dreams… the trials that she’s come across, not only as a performer in Broadway and being an artist, how difficult that can be, but also as a Black performer,” Cummings said. “That comes with its own set of unique challenges.”