Looking for a new book this winter break? Read along with us! We’re reading Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It by New York Times bestselling author Andrea Davis Pinkney. Get lost in the captivating story of the Little family. Pinkney masterfully weaves together the voices of three Little family members—‘Retta, Rolly, and Aggie B—telling their stories of struggle and joy from the 1930s through the 1960s. We chatted with Pinkney to learn a bit about her research and writing, and the behind-the-scenes process of working with her husband, award-winning illustrator Brian Pinkney. Join us online on Sunday, January 9, at 2 pm ET to view related historical sources, ask the Pinkney your questions, and chat with other family readers about the book.

Accessed December 23, 2021 via www.penguinrandomhouse.com

In the book, you draw from both personal family history, as well as major events in American history. What was your research process like for this project? Were there any primary sources that were particularly useful or important for you? 

As a child, it was through this oral tradition that I first learned about being brave and walking through dark times with your head held high. Each of my novels is stitched with threads from family stories. The Red Pencil, Bird in a Box, and With the Might of Angels began with relatives sharing pieces of themselves. Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It is inspired by my family’s life and times. Some sweet. Others bitter. All of them meaningful. The novel is a work of fiction inspired by the collective voices of many. In addition to rendering the experiences of my family, these first-person narratives are crafted from interviews, oral histories, written accounts, broadcasts, and live performances that provide the voices for the stories. In crafting the narratives, I also conducted research through the University of Southern Mississippi and with the help of cultural and social justice historians.   

Photo of author’s paternal family, the Davises. Image courtesy of the author

In Loretta Little Looks Back, you use a variety of writing styles—first-person narratives, spoken-word poems, and storytelling, among others—how and why did you choose each of these styles for the book? 

By creating a tapestry of narrative styles, readers can go beyond the book to truly feel what the characters are experiencing—kids can “get behind the eyes” of the characters—to understand their power and grit. I’ve used a dramatic form I’ve come to call “a monologue novel.” The stories paint what I hope is a gripping portrait of America’s struggle for civil rights, as seen through the eyes of the kids who lived it. The book can be read aloud, alone, or with friends.  Some kids have been enjoying these “go-tell-its” in their classrooms and with friends. The novel is more than just one story—it’s three tales, woven with the strands of the kinfolk who helped raise me. 

You often collaborate with your husband, illustrator Brian Pinkney. How do you and your husband decide on the illustrations for a book? Does your process change from book to book? 

Brian and I have published nearly 70 books in our work together. As an artist, Brian has so many wonderful ideas. He’s the one who decides which illustrations he’d like to create to punctuate the words I write. For Loretta Little Looks Back, Brian was inspired by the works of the noted Black artists Norman Lewis and Aaron Douglas. When Brian showed me the luminous cover painting depicting Loretta, I hugged him and said, “She’s a knowing soul.” What my husband has achieved is extraordinary. Loretta’s probing gaze draws strength from the resilience of those who came before her, while at the same time looks ahead into the eyes of hope.

Without spoiling anything for readers, do you have a favorite part of the book? If so, what is it and why? 

One of my favorite moments in the story is when Aggie B. and her Aunt ‘Retta visit the local voting registration office and are met with resistance. Aggie and her aunt make an important decision. They take a bold stand that changes the course of their lives forever—and also has an important impact on the future of voting rights in America, which we’re still talking about today!

Do you have any suggestions or advice for young people who may have an interest in writing?

Write every single day. Read every single day. And have fun!