Image courtesy: Joy James. Animated by We Rep STEM.

We’ve said it time and again: Representation matters. That’s especially true for children, whose perceptions of the world are based, in part, on the things they see.

When Joy James set out to write her book, 101 Brilliant Black Inventors and their Inventions, she wanted to create something that would inspire her young children.

The end result – an in-depth celebration of the achievements of Black innovators, followed up with another publication, Brilliant Black Inventors, a beautifully-illustrated children’s book released this month in celebration of Black History Month in the UK.

Joy was kind enough to take the time to share some thoughts on her book and her creative process.

Here’s more, in her own words.

Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

I live in London in the UK with my family, after returning from a lifestyle move to Antigua in the Caribbean during my children’s formative and school years. I work in professional services as an academic quality and standards officer at the University of West London, my alma mater from where I received my degree in business studies. 

I recently started writing non-fiction children’s books and have just released the second book in my Black Inventors series, this one aimed at older age groups.

This was initially going to be just one book but I have since written the next two books in the series, which I hope to publish next year, and have started a further two books for the year after.

What was the inspiration behind the Black Inventors books?

When my children were younger, I wanted a book about Black role models to help inspire them. I knew this information was out there somewhere, but I couldn’t find anything in an organized format or the form of a children’s book. I focused on inventors as I admire resourcefulness and am intrigued by people who create useful things. Brilliant Black Inventors is aimed at ages 0-5.

Have you always wanted to be an author? 

I have always been an avid reader and I suppose it’s been there at the back of my mind, probably like a lot of people. This book was an idea long before I started writing it, when I was looking for suitable reading material for my own children when they were small. 

A few years ago, and now that my children are in higher education and working, I started researching Black inventors and things went from there. My book 101 Black Inventors and their Inventions is aimed at the upper primary/lower secondary school ages (9-12) and was published earlier this year.

American inventor Alice Parker, famous for her patented system of central heating using natural gas (courtesy: Joy James)

What can kids (and parents) learn from the books?

I believe that learning never stops and being inspired helps you to learn! I hope my books inspire and encourage inquisitive and curious minds. I am fascinated by the inventions and the people behind them and I hope that people young and old will enjoy reading about, and be heartened by, the many Black inventors in our world and their wonderful contributions that help to improve our lives!

Can you talk a bit about some of the feedback you’ve received from readers?

It’s early days yet, but I have had positive feedback from impressed family and friends, some of whom had no idea that I was writing or about the content of my books. October is Black History Month in the UK and I am getting a lot of interest on social media around the books from teachers, librarians, and parents who are looking for resources. I have been very encouraged by the feedback so far!

What message do you have for kids who are interested in becoming an inventor?

Whatever subject you’re interested in, whether STEM or otherwise, think of ways to create or improve something that you would want or find useful. It could be a toy or a tool. My next book features a couple of inventors who were only 16 years old when they patented their inventions, and many of the inventors were pulling apart things to see how they worked or making things from very young ages, such as Lisa Ascolese and her glue-tipped shoelaces at the age of 9 to stop them from becoming undone, and Earl Bell who also at the age of 9 was inspired by a spider’s web, which led to his Spidertecture idea that later formed the basis for his design of a tower made of pods.

Just amazing stuff!

American engineer Henry Sampson (courtesy: Joy James)

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Although not all of the inventors I have researched had been lucky enough to receive schooling, especially in the older days, many of them taught themselves and never gave up trying to achieve what they wanted to achieve. I think that’s a great mantra for all of us to try to live by!