Author Interview with Janine Macbeth

Janine Macbeth has just released her debut picture book Oh, Oh, Baby Boy!. Macbeth is the writer, illustrator, *and* the publisher. Blood Orange Press, “a literary home for diverse readers,” is her newly-founded independent press.
The result is gasp-worthy. Truly; I saw this reaction to my review copy from several readers.

Oh, Oh, Baby Boy! follows the life of a boy through the eyes of his loving father, from infancy to adulthood. At first, the baby is swaddled and cupped in his father’s hands- oh oh Baby Boy– then in the bath and cooking with the father nearby- smells of spice Baby Boy. 

The boy grows and we feel the father’s presence even when he is absent from the frame. It seems as if we are seeing  the boy splash, play superhero, and laugh with friends up close through the father’s own eyes. The boy becomes a distant profile in the mountains- explore and grow Baby Boy– then nearby again, gently helping a man with a cane off a crowded city bus- strong and kind Baby Boy. 
Soon the young man is preparing to become a father himself. He welcomes a new baby boy into the world– a very unique and beautiful picture book spread that actually depicts childbirth. (You have to get the book to see it for yourself.)
The story winds down with the three generations together, closing with the new father kissing his little son- oh, oh, Baby Boy.

Oh, Oh Baby Boy! is strong visual storytelling. Macbeth’s art pops with bright brush strokes and requires only seventy rhythmic words. An illustrator friend pointed out something about these paintings that is so seamless I didn’t see it at first: brown paper grocery bags are the medium, providing the warm skin color of the characters and crease lines that add extra depth. (Macbeth disclosed they are Berkeley Bowl bags.)

The book has other lovely physical qualities as well, including foil-stamped shiny stars on the end pages and the detail of a nameplate with the words This book celebrates.

The book is wonderful, not only for the sweet and loving story it shares– it should become a baby shower gift favorite – but for the other stories it brings to life as well. 

For one, Macbeth painted her own path to publication. The book was funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign supported by an impressive 260 people.

Macbeth also established her own independent publishing company, Blood Orange Press, with the vision that: children and adults of all ages should have access to stories that recognize and lift up their individual power, dignity, and beauty.

Blood Orange Press is committed to the value of first voice: We support the creation and sharing of stories based on one’s own heritage, experience, and community of origin. We speak for no one but ourselves, knowing that self-representation is an act of power.

What bold and important statements for children’s publishing today.

Oh, Oh, Baby Boy! also includes an author’s note about engaged fatherhood: We’re evolving into new terrains where fatherhood isn’t solely an economic role that occasionally ‘helps’ mothers. Fatherhood is increasingly becoming an equal parenting partnership, whether or not parents are romantically connected.

I recently spoke with Macbeth to learn more about the backstories. Here is her bio from the Blood Orange Press site:

Janine Macbeth’s dream to create children’s books first took root in second grade. Since then, she has contributed to a dozen picture books while at publishing companies and as a freelance artist. She has also worked for over a decade at social justice nonprofit organizations. Blood Orange Press is the alchemy of Janine’s passion for books, art, and racial equity. She identifies as a multiracial artist and woman of color with Asian American, African American, white, and Native American heritage. Janine is also mom of two mancubs, and wife and life partner of their awesome, engaged, and loving father.

Author Interview: Janine Macbeth

How did this story come about?

When I was pregnant with our second son, it struck me how vulnerable a time parenting can be for moms. There is a lot we can do, but we need support too. If my husband can take care of the baby, or do the laundry, or wash the dishes, or cook while I get more rest, then I am able to do so much more.

I was totally inspired noticing the active involvement of some dads. And I saw the beauty of watching my own husband engage with my boys with so much love and compassion. I wanted to lift that up and celebrate that this is possible.

My mom didn’t have that kind of support when I was little. All moms deserve a viable parenting partner if they want it, even if they are co-parenting or in another kind of relationship with the father.

How did you first get involved in children’s publishing? At what point did you decide to create your own publishing company? 

I’ve always loved books. In second grade my classmates said that I would write and illustrate children’s books. But since I couldn’t find authors with my skin tone and characters with my heritage I didn’t think this was a realistic goal.

In college, I studied racial justice and saw this gap in children’s books as something I wanted to fill. Why shouldn’t I make books?

I attended a summer publishing program at NYU. After working at ColorLines Magazine I landed at Children’s Book Press (CBP).  CBP was a multicultural publisher based in San Francisco that was founded in the 1970s and focused on publishing first voice stories. They’ve since become an imprint of Lee & Low Books in New York. CBP was my dream publisher and I volunteered there with the goal of learning how to start a children’s publishing company. I worked there until my first son was born.

Around this time, I shopped a children’s book I had written to publishers but the process left me feeling demoralized and disempowered. For Oh, Oh, Baby Boy!. I decided to take the plunge and self-publish.

What are your hopes for Blood Orange Press? What are some of the other stories you want to draw attention to?

I have a list of books I would like to work on. One of my next steps is to map out a pipeline for the next few years.

Even with the Kickstarter campaign, I am still in debt. Ultimately I would like to sign other authors and illustrators; it’s important to me that I can pay them.

I want everything to be based in a strong critique of what stories are missing and put out positive responses that don’t sugarcoat issues but can help people feel good and create change from a place of vision and love instead of a place of anger. I want to incorporate magic, beauty, and dignity.

Can you tell me about the childbirth image? It is fairly unusual to show childbirth in a picture book. 

I am glad you asked about this one since it is one of my favorites. It was one of the fasted, most effortless and passioned illustrations to create. It came fluidly. The hands catching the baby are the dad’s. Both our sons were born at home, and this spread underscores the importance of a partner’s role ensuring that moms feel safe.

You include a booklist on your website of “Recommended books for People and Children of Color, White Allies, and Progressive Families.” What are some of your favorites?

I love books by Leo and Diane Dillon and Kadir Nelson. Ellington Was Not A Street by Ntozake Shange is one of my all-time favorites.

But one of my sadnesses is that children’s books about people of color often get pigeonholed. In my opinion, too many children’s books depict slavery and poverty at the expense of other historically rooted and realistic narratives. Many of the books that spark curiosity and imagination don’t feature kids of color as protagonists. I look forward to the day when children’s books represent a full range of possibility and emotion.

Where can people buy Oh, Oh, Baby Boy!?

On the Blood Orange Press Website, through AK Press (my distributor), and Amazon. The books is also available to educational and library markets through Ingram and Baker & Taylor. Ask for it at your local bookstores; they should be able to order it as well.

Thanks Janine!