Our Balanced Learning® curriculum includes many books that encourage children to feel a sense of belongingness and possibility. One of those books is “What Is Light?” by Markette Sheppard, a mom, entrepreneur and journalist. Sheppard is an Emmy Award-winning TV host who appeared on national network morning shows and co-anchored the CBS morning show in Washington, D.C. In 2019, she founded Glow Stream TV, a digital marketing platform that promotes small businesses and entrepreneurs. She’s also the author of the children’s books “My Rainy Day Rocket Ship” and “Ninja Nate” (set to publish in 2023). She is executive producer of the children’s television series “Alphabet In A Flash,” based on her popular multicultural flashcards for preschoolers. The series premieres this fall on KLCS, a PBS affiliate in Los Angeles.
We spoke to her about how being a working parent has enriched both her parenting and her career.
How did you start writing books?
I started writing children’s books when I became a mom. I’ve always worked in television and media, but when my son, Wesley, was born in 2013, I took almost a year off from work in television. I found myself for the first time not working outside the home but still wanting to write stories. Writers write, and the desire to tell stories didn’t go away. I started to write little stories in my notebook for my son. About a year later, I started sending my work to publishers, letting them know about me. [“What Is Light?” was published by a small independent publisher in 2018. The publisher was acquired by Simon & Schuster in 2019.]
Did your experiences as a Black woman and mother influence how you wrote for children?
I realized a lot of the baby books and board books weren’t diverse. There weren’t enough authentic stories of children of color living everyday life and just being regular kids. There were few picture books featuring children of different skin tones and cultures playing, which is what life is about. That’s the common thing we all have together: Kids grow up to play, and they grow up with wonder. I received a photo from a mother in the Middle East with her son falling asleep with “What Is Light?” in his hands. It’s just children exploring life, and that’s why it’s been a hit with so many people.
Your son is now 8 years old. Does he know you wrote a book for him?
As long as he can remember, Mommy’s been a children’s book author. He looks at the illustrations of the little boys in “What Is Light?” and my other books and says, “Oh, that’s me. That’s Wesley.” He sees himself in them. I’m so happy he does. Studies show that children who see themselves represented in media grow up with a lifelong self-esteem that’s higher than children who don’t see themselves in media. But I didn’t just write children’s books for him, I wrote them for all the children of the world. The thing I think is missing a lot of times from children’s media is children being able to see depictions that reflect the many different types of people who exist in the world.
“What Is Light?” is about finding light in many places, including within. What message are you trying to send to children?
This book really tells children to protect their light and look for their light in all situations. When a time comes that puts children at risk of dimming their light, I hope the message of this book gets to them first. The bullies will happen, the bad days will happen, but the point of the book is to let your light shine anyway, and to look for the light in every situation.
You’ve been a TV anchor, a marketing executive and an author. How do the different chapters of your career fit together?
I’m a content creator, and I like to come up with ideas. Sometimes these ideas turn into books, sometimes they turn into websites and other times they turn into TV series that I produce for myself or clients. I’ve always been a marketer, which is essentially a storyteller for a brand. When you’re a young journalist trying to get in at CBS, you have to market yourself. The people who put together the best, most compelling presentation of their personal brand get ahead in life. I want my son to know that how you present yourself matters. And also that everybody wears different hats in their lives and careers.
Why did you transition from a career as a TV personality to work on the business side of TV as a producer and entrepreneur?
I hit a glass ceiling as a TV host in Washington. Journalism is like any other industry; it’s male-dominated, and the higher you go, the more you realize there is a lack of cultural and gender diversity at the very top. And I wanted to learn the business and be a leader in front of the camera and behind the scenes. I wanted to be an executive. Glow Stream TV is my answer to that, and less than three years later, I am now executive producer, host and writer of a 26-part children’s TV series, “Alphabet In A Flash,” that will air on KLCS, a PBS affiliate that broadcasts to more than 15 million viewers in Southern California. I made a new opportunity for myself.
How does your work change your parenting?
My son knows that when Mommy gets up and goes to work, I have a sense of purpose and accomplishment. And then I’m a better, more fulfilled mother to my son. Work is a joy to me, and I believe happy people make happy parents. Happy parents raise better-adjusted children.
How do you think about children when you’re writing books for them?
Children are born whole and complete. They’re born innocent and welcoming. I saw with my own eyes, when I first began to take my son to the park and the library, that babies, from birth, are welcoming of everybody. They just want to play and have fun and be cared for. Something happens along the way that teaches them societal differences and limitations. What I want for all children is to keep their light, to keep that inner light that they’re born with, and know they have a light inside of them, and to let it shine.
Belongingness Discussion Questions
At Primrose, the books in our curriculum help teach children that everyone belongs and differences are to be celebrated. After you read “What Is Light?” with your child, ask them these questions to reinforce these important concepts.
- What is something that you have in common with your friends?
- How are you different from your friends?
- What’s something that makes someone you love different and special?
- For older children: How can you encourage others to be themselves?
For more on the Primrose Balanced Learning curriculum and how we support families, check out:
- Ken Wilson-Max on How Books Can Encourage Children to Dream
- A Complete Guide to Nurturing Your Young Author
- Helping Your Child Learn to Write
- Encouraging Reluctant Readers: Tips to Get Your Child Excited About Books
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