Carylee Carrington is an author, entrepreneur, and literacy advocate. She resides in Northern Virginia with her two boys, where she enjoys an active lifestyle. Originally from the island of Jamaica, she grew up in New York City before making Northern Virginia her home. She is known to some as the “accidental author,” being a children’s author was not where she believed her life would lead. Though she loves writing, being a children’s author was the furthest thing from her mind.
Her approach to writing children’s books is influenced by the lives of children all around her. Her eldest son inspired the first published book, entitled Everyone, Just Like Me. One of her main goals as an author is to encourage children to embrace their differences to understand that everyone is unique in their own special way. In her newest book, Pretty Hair, she strives to teach young girls to find their own kind of beauty by showing them there is more than one type of hair that is pretty.
In addition to her authorship, she is also an enormous supporter and advocate for the arts. She has visited schools in Virginia and Georgia, encouraging the love of reading and the art of writing and self-publishing. She has expanded her love for sharing books to other media platforms such as YouTube. In 2019, she created the show, Read With Carylee, where she introduces the audience to children’s book authors, who share their books in their own voice. This helps her continue to bring positive, inspirational books to children, encouraging them to believe in their dreams and be the best version of themselves. She hopes to continue to promote these positive messages so that our children may grow to be strong individuals and lead the charge for a kinder and more loving future. Through Read with Carylee, she hopes to continue to support change in the children’s literature genre and push for the further diversification of children’s literature.
One of Carylee’s biggest motivators was her mother, the late Dr. Norma McPherson, who was a literacy coach and life-long educator. With her encouragement and guidance, she set out to bring the love of reading to as many children as she can. Along with her work as an author and literacy advocate, she has been a regular contributor on WJLAs, “Outside The Classroom,” and a board member with Reading Is Fundamental Northern Virginia. She also serves on the board of the Prince William County Arts Council. Her latest book Pretty Hair has been listed as one of the top 20 books to diversify children’s bookshelves by PopSugar in 2020, and her first release, Everyone, Just Like Me, has been a feature to assist in speaking to children about race.
Carylee has a great passion for young children, and she realizes the power of literacy in educating our future generations.
Get better acquainted with the author and literacy show host below.
Fancy: How would you describe your swagher? What makes Carylee, Carylee?
Carylee: My swagher has got to be rooted in love. And not even love from others but loving myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not full of myself or anything like that. The way I love myself gives me energy, that ME energy that no one can easily knock down. It’s that type of energy that keeps me moving, keeps me pushing forward, and gives me the ability to do what I do for others.
If I had to depend on the love of others to make me move, I would be stuck, sad, and helpless. It’s as Whitney Houston sang, “learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.” Loving and learning me, really took me through the difficulties of the past four years and really made me who I am today.
Fancy: What inspired Read With Carylee?
Carylee: After I wrote my first book, I started doing author visits at local schools and the kids would be mesmerized that they were in the presence of a real author. To these kids, I was a celebrity. I was even getting stopped at my local Target, when a child would recognize me, from me coming to their school and want their mom to meet me. I also had friends telling me of authors who lived in my area, and I started asking, well why don’t I know them. With that, I wanted to find out who these authors were and help the community find out about them as well. From that I got the inspiration to start Read With Carylee.
Fancy: Now did you write your first book before or after you started the show?
Carylee: Both of my books were actually written prior to the idea of the show. Everyone, Just Like Me was published in 2018 and Pretty Hair was published a month after the first episode of Read With Carylee aired.
Fancy: What age group would you say the show is for?
Carylee: Read With Carylee is for children from two to nine, though I’ve been told that some adults sit and watch it even without their kids.
Fancy: What do you enjoy most about your work?
Carylee: I love inspiring others. I’m not just inspiring children to read, but even inspiring some authors to continue writing. Many of the authors I’ve had on my show only had one book, and due to the lack of being promoted, they put that dream on the shelf. Some have come back to me and said, after doing the show, they were inspired to either write a sequel to their book or another children’s book.
Fancy: As a Black mom, why is it important for children to see diverse ethnicities in children’s books?
Carylee: When I was growing up, in a house full of all girls, I didn’t see the importance, but now having children of my own, and boys, it became an issue. Especially in the racially charged climate that we are still in, it was important to me that my children see positive images of themselves and especially in the books that they read.
When I started really researching diversity in children’s literature, it made me sick to my stomach that in 2020 there were only 12% of books that featured children of color. I would think that with all the strides we seemed to be making in society, the percentage would have been much higher. Then I thought about it, especially after writing my book Pretty Hair, no wonder we have this generational racial divide happening, it’s because of what we show our children.
Jennifer Roberts, an author who was on one of my first shows, wrote the book, Meet Kaliyah. This book was simple, it was about a family who had a dog and did normal things, but they were Black. That book stunned me! I had never seen a children’s picture book about a black family. It had such a profound impact on me. I wondered if a child that wasn’t Black would read a book like this, and see that Black children had normal families like them, and if that would change their perspective of who they were told Black people are.
Fancy: You’re originally from Jamaica. Have you ever seen any books with Jamaican characters?
Carylee: Yes. Having a mother who was a teacher helped with that, I know. Growing up there were books that were written by Jamaican authors in our home. I remember reading Jamaican Folklore about Anansi the spider. I actually have books by Louise Bennett, a Jamaican poet, which I grew up reading.
Fancy: What challenges have you faced producing your show?
Carylee: Sometimes the challenge comes from within. They say imitation is the best form of flattery, but when there are many imitators that are not aware of the care, time, and effort that I put into doing this show, it is sometimes disheartening. And I say that challenge comes from within because I know who I am, I know what I do and I know, no one can do what I do, the way that I do it, because they are not me. So when those thoughts knock me down, I just have to brush them off and reclaim my position. My heart, my passion, my drive, are all a part of what makes this show the success that it is. There may be some that say, “Well if she can do it, what’s so hard?” Well, that’s where they go wrong. I have gone through what I needed to go through to get me where I am and that cannot be duplicated.
Fancy: What’s one tip that you would share with authors struggling to promote their books?
Carylee: Contact me, come on my show. I say that with a laugh, but really, come on my show. I have been in their shoes. The most important piece of advice that I can give is, to know your why. Why did you write your book? Why is it important for children to read it? If you don’t know, you just killed your promotion of the book. A lot of people that have bought my books, have bought them because of my story. I can read your book, but I want to know why.
Fancy: Now that you have obtained your nonprofit status, what’s next?
Carylee: A huge part of my platform is getting diverse literature into the hands of all children. I am setting up programs to be able to do so. I am hoping to bring Read With Carylee to television or a streaming network, so we can promote indie authors even more. The sky is the limit! As the ideas come, I find a way to get them to work.
Fancy: Who are some of your favorite children’s authors?
Carylee: There are really too many to name and of course, since I am discovering so many new authors, it would be hard for me to choose. But if I had to, I would have to say, Norman Bridwell, the author of Clifford the Big Red Dog. I choose him because Clifford for me is one of the first books that I remember reading that expressed embracing differences. Clifford was a dog who had different dog friends and even though he was a giant dog, the other dogs learn to accept him and they were all friends.
Connect with Carylee and Read with Carylee below.