Baldwin Author Releases First Book | Herald Society Newspapers

First published by Baldwin author Kim Taylor, “A Flag for Juneteenth,” a children’s story about the holiday, is now available in bookstores.

Taylor, 59, superintendent of the speech department at Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, Brooklyn. She’s been making quilts and telling stories about Juneteenth, which became a national holiday in 2021, since she first learned of the event in 2014, and it inspired her to write a children’s novel using the historical date as a background.

Taylor worked with literary agency Serendipity, and Neal Porter Books published A Flag for Juneteenth in New York, available now in bookstores and on Amazon. It was named a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection by the Trade Book Club dedicated to juvenile literature.

The novel’s main character is a little girl who falls asleep on June 18, 1865, looking forward to her tenth birthday the next day, and is awakened by Union soldiers riding up to the ranch where she lives in Galveston, Texas, and announcing that she is dead. The slaves were freed.

Taylor said her story focuses on the bonds in the slave community, their love of that community and their celebration of their own emancipation.

“I wanted young children to understand this important event in history,” she said. “My main focus when writing this book was to get kids curious about it, so they could ask questions, so they could read it in their classrooms, they could talk more about the event with their teachers and families, and they could learn more about Juneteenth together.”

Taylor graduated from Brooklyn Tech High School in 1981 and then attended Brooklyn College, earning a master’s degree in speech-language pathology in 1986.

She worked at St. Francis School for the Deaf, in Brooklyn, as a speech teacher from 1986 until 1992, and was a speech therapist for the Nassau County Early Intervention Program until 2015 before moving to the Lexington School.

Taylor said she first learned about Juneteenth when she was invited to a church celebration of the event at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Central Nassau, in the Garden City, in 2014.

Slaves in Galveston received news that they had been freed nearly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Taylor said she was amazed to celebrate a holiday she’d never heard of, and remembered church vendors selling soul food, folk singers performing and reading poetry. She left the church that day wishing to know more about the event, and began searching for historical documents.

“I never learned about it in school,” she said. “My family didn’t celebrate that, and I didn’t know anyone who knew about the holiday.”

Newly inspired, Taylor began work on a quilt story depicting Juneteenth, which she said she was very proud of. I showed it at many festivals and in the Universal Unitarian Church, and I discovered that many of the people I spoke with didn’t know the story of Juneteenth either. So, in 2014, she decided to write a short story to accompany her quilt shows.

“I didn’t really think of doing anything with the short story, because it was just helping me complete the quilt when it came out,” Taylor said.

In 2020, finding herself enjoying free time amid the coronavirus pandemic, she began adjusting the story, creating characters she thought young readers might be able to relate to.

She finished writing what turned into a novel that year, and sent it to Serendipity and a couple of publishers that accept unwanted manuscripts. The agents at Serendipity asked her to illustrate the story with quilts—which she would make, and then photos of her creations would be scanned to use as illustrations. At first I refused.

“I felt like it wasn’t something I could really do,” Taylor said, “because illustration is hard enough when you draw or paint illustrations, but quilting would be a really big job.”

In November 2021, Nell Porter Books decided to run her story, but she also wanted Taylor to make a quilt to illustrate, which she finally agreed to. Over the course of 14 months, she completed 26 new quilts, each 15 inches square, and photos of her appear throughout the book—including the cover.

“I decided to try illustration, which took a year and two months,” Taylor said. “It was a really cool experience, even though I was terrified the whole process because I had never made so many quilts before,” she says.

Leave a Comment