By Emma Kent
Brittany Rogers, “Goodnight Tupelo”
After visiting with a good friend in her hometown of Memphis, Brittany Rogers was inspired. Her friend, Grace Hammond Skertich, wrote “Goodnight Memphis,” a localized take on the classic children’s book “Goodnight Moon.”
“I thought it was a really cool idea,” Rogers said. So, she started to consider writing her own take on the book. Rogers may have grown up in Memphis, but she’s lived in Tupelo for 10 years. The All-America City is home now for Rogers, along with her husband and their 19-month-old son.
“I started brainstorming how many good places there would be in Tupelo that would be good for the book,” Rogers said. “There are so many big cities that have a book about them, so I thought we needed a sweet children’s book about Tupelo, too.”
Around a year later, “Goodnight Tupelo” was more than just an idea, and Rogers had become a published author. The book features Tupelo landmarks like Crosstown, Tupelo High School, Fairpark and Veterans Park, among others. Most of the initial work was listing places, narrowing that list down and then figuring out how to work all of them into the story and making them rhyme. Rogers said she often ran her ideas by her husband, who helped her refine her work along the way.
“A lot of his opinions made it in, so I can’t take all of the credit,” Rogers said.
When it came time to illustrate the book, it was important to Rogers to stay local. She ended up connecting with local artist Brent Farrar, who agreed to do the illustrations.
“I wanted someone from the area to capture it,” Rogers said.
Farrar spent several months working on the illustrations.
“He created the perfect pages,” Rogers said.
While there are classic Tupelo landmarks included in the book – Crosstown, the Elvis Presley Birthplace, the Lyric Theatre – Rogers’ favorite place in book is Fairpark. The downtown park has been a favorite spot for she and her husband since settling in Tupelo.
“I feel like it’s such a beautiful little staple in downtown Tupelo,” she said.
Rogers said she often gets photos and messages from parents whose children love the book, which is exactly what she hoped would happen. She wanted it to be something that parents could read to their children and that the kids would relate to because it’s where they live.
“My favorite thing is when children go on scavenger hunts to all of the places in the book,” Rogers said. “That’s a lot of fun.”
Rogers published the book through a self publishing company, so it can be bought online at www.goodnighttupelo.com and at several locations in Tupelo including Reed’s, Strangebrew Coffeehouse and Tupelo Hardware. She remembers being thrilled when she received the first shipment of books in the mail, and even more excited to hear from friends and family who loved the book.
“It was so exciting,” Rogers said. “I got a really positive response.”
Now, with one book under her belt, Rogers said she hopes to do more writing in the future. A lifelong writer, she said “Goodnight Tupelo” was just the beginning.
“I feel like this was kind of a good first step to take,” Rogers said.
Hailey Rush, “My Little Brown Boy”
Hailey Rush has always been a writer, but this past January, she became a published author when she self-published her first book, “My Little Brown Boy.”
Rush, a Tupelo native and former New Albany Schools teacher, now lives in the metro Atlanta area with her husband and two sons. When she became a mother, she began writing to her son. Those were the words would eventually become “My Little Brown Boy.” Rush said she would pick up the piece she had been writing from time to time, but it was more of a personal journal. She didn’t originally intend to publish it as a book, until inspiration struck after the birth of her second child.
“It started out as just a little ode to my baby on a Google Doc,” Rush said. “It was just something I was working on, but after I had Reed I had the inspiration to finish writing it.”
“My Little Brown Boy” is primarily inspired by Rush’s two sons, Finn, 5, and Reed, 3. The book’s two characters are named after them and were illustrated to look like them.
“First and foremost, the book is a gift to my boys,” Rush said. “They’re my walking, talking answered prayers.”
The book was illustrated by Darniece Floyd, who attended the University of Mississippi with Rush. Rush said Floyd brought her words to life, understanding her vision for the book perfectly with her illustrations.
“She was amazing to work with,” Rush said.
The book’s illustrations show Rush’s sons climbing trees, playing outside, playing sports, at the library and even as superheroes. Rush wanted the book to have a message that would resonate widely and that would speak to modern-day issues facing boys of color. She wanted her sons to see boys of color represented positively. She wanted her sons, and all young boys, to know their worth.
“I felt like they didn’t hear the praise they deserve,” Rush said.“I wanted this to be something that celebrated all of the things that are wonderful about little boys of color. The book is meant to encourage and uplift and empower.”
Rush said she hopes the book will serve as a way to speak positivity into children’s lives – and not just children of color, but all children who need to hear it. That’s something Rush tries to do daily for her own sons. But when she’s frustrated and they’ve had a bad day, she knows they can read “My Little Brown Boy” and know how much she loves them.
“They’ll always have my words,” she said.
The book can be purchased at www.mylittlebrownboy.com or on Amazon.
Kabir and Arjun Gupta, “Children of the Sun”
What began as a school project for Kabir and Arjun Gupta soon became a labor of love as the brothers worked together to create their book, “The Children of the Sun.” The book follows a child as he travels through the solar system learning about the planets along the way.
“The Children of the Sun are the planets,” Kabir said.
Throughout the book, the child stops at all eight planets and Pluto, now considered a dwarf planet. Kabir said he decided to include Pluto because it’s his favorite. According to the 11-year-old, he didn’t have any intention of writing a book when he started on the project.
“It kind of came about spontaneously,” Kabir said. “I just had a plain old school assignment where I had to write a personification poem and I also had to write something about space, so I just combined both assignments.”
Once he started working on the project, though, Kabir said he just wanted to keep adding to it. That’s when his 7-year-old brother Arjun joined in, helping Kabir create illustrations for the book. Together they used a range of mediums – acrylic paint, watercolor, spin art and foil and shaving cream – to make colorful, abstract depictions of the solar system. All in all, it took around one year to complete the book.
Kabir wrote the poem in March 2017, and he and Arjun began illustrating shortly thereafter. Then, with the help of their parents, they worked to edit the poem and put the book together. Kabir even learned how to use Adobe Photoshop to layer the text and illustrations.
“That was one of my favorite parts of making the book,” Kabir said.
At the start of 2018, they began to explore options for printing and publishing the book. They ended up publishing the book through lulu.com. Both Kabir and Arjun said they were surprised at how many steps went into getting a book published. While the process was a lot of work, the boys are thrilled with the end result.
“I really like how all the pages have this gloss on them and how bright the colors are,” Arjun said of the final product.
The book can be purchased at lulu.com or at Strangebrew Coffeehouse or Simply Sweet by Margarete in Tupelo.
Sarah Frances Hardy, “Puzzled in Pink”
Much like the main character in her latest book, Oxford-based children’s book author Sarah Frances Hardy tried on a few careers before finding one that fit. Hardy is the author of three children’s books: “Puzzled By Pink,” “Dress Me!,” and “Paint Me!” The Jackson native studied art in college, even spending two summers at Parsons School of Design, before attending law school at the University of Mississippi.
“Art was always kind of my love,” Hardy said.
She graduated and practiced law briefly, but her love of painting never dwindled. So she took a leap of faith: She stopped practicing law and went full-time into painting. She even had a gallery in New York City for a while.
“The whole time I was practicing law I was painting and selling paintings and put a lot of energy into that,” Hardy said.
When she had children, she slowed down, although she didn’t stop painting altogether.
“I kept painting but I didn’t do as much traveling and showing work,” Hardy said.
By the time her third daughter was born, Hardy decided to regroup and decide what she wanted to do professionally. She had always wanted to write and illustrate children’s books, even writing some drafts as a college student.
“I had just never really dug in and done it,” Hardy said. “But I really didn’t want to be sitting in a nursing home one day wondering if I could have done it.”
She started going to children’s authors conferences, submitting her work to publishers and agencies and at first, she got a lot of rejection letters. Then in 2010, she got her first deal. Her first book, “Puzzled By Pink,” came out in 2012. The book, based on Hardy’s two oldest daughters, tells the story of two sisters who are very different but have to learn how to get along while still being themselves. Her second book, “Paint Me!,” explores color and creativity.
“It’s a fun story for younger kids,” Hardy said.
Hardy’s latest book, “Dress Me!,” was published in 2015. The book’s main character is a young girl thinking about her future as she plays dress up.
“The main character in it tries on different careers through outfits,” Hardy said. “ It’s not as fluffy. It’s got a little bit of a message about dressing to do something rather than to look a certain way.”
Since completing “Dress Me!,” Hardy has been hard at work on several new projects. Some are similar to her previous work, but she’s also begun working on a middle grades novel aimed at children in the upper elementary to middle school age range. She said she’s excited about the new possibilities writing a longer book brings.
“You do have this luxury of having other characters who have their own story lines, so it gives you a little more time to get in there and play with the characters,” Hardy said.
Hardy’s books can be purchased at local bookstores like Square Books, Jr. in Oxford and Reed’s GumTree Bookstore in Tupelo and online.