We’ve all heard stories about the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth. But there are others about African-American history. Writer Sonya Hollins and her husband Sean Hollins, a graphic designer, have created a series of children’s books about African-Americans in Michigan who aren’t necessarily famous but whose stories are inspiring. The first is Benjamin Losford and His Handy Dandy Clippers. They published the book through their own company, Season Press, LLC, in January 2016. It's illustrated by Kenjji Jumanne-Marshall.
One of the reasons the couple decided to publish the series is because they feel the books fill a gap in traditional history books.
“A lot of kids learn history about people like Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman - a lot of people that are traditional in history,” says Sean Hollins. “But this book is bringing out a story about people who are right in our own community. We can touch the things they built. This brings history a lot closer.”
Benjamin Losford, the main character in the book, was rescued from a Kentucky slave plantation by his fugitive father, who had escaped earlier. The family moved to the town of Edmore in Michigan, where the father made a living as a barber for the white men in the community.
While Benjamin was not initially impressed with barbering as a career, he learned the trade and eventually became one of three generations in the Losford family who gained respect for their work, and as the first African- Americans in their community. Their barber shop became the longest-running business in Edmore, now a small town but once a booming lumber center.
“We want children who read this book to be inspired to find their own gifts to excel in life,” says Sonya Hollins.
Sonya Hollins, a Western Michigan University graduate, is also the editor of Community Voices, an online and print magazine. She's the author of several previous history books, a playwright, and is involved in many area organizations. She and her husband live in Kalamazoo with their four children who serve as the first readers and editors of their children’s books.
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