At 1 p.m. today in Room 1A10, “Mixed Me: A Discussion with Taye Diggs and Shane Evans” will address more than just a new picture book. Rather, it will be “a handbook to joy and what it is to be mixed,” says Evans. Together with moderator Maria Russo, children’s book editor at the New York Times, they will talk about how their own experiences made it so important for them to create Max, their mixed protagonist.
Mixed Me, due out this October, marks the second collaboration between author Diggs—best known for his acting in theater, film, and television, including the Broadway musical Rent; the movie How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and numerous television roles—and Evans, an award-winning artist and illustrator for children’s books, the television show Kevin Hill, and much more. The two have been friends since their college days and both are children of multiracial families. Their previous book, Chocolate Me, introduced Max, an African-American boy learning to love himself and his skin color with the help of his mother. “Don’t worry about what color I am, don’t worry about those things that don’t mean anything about who I truly am. Put it in a simple way: I am Love,” Evans says. “And that’s what this child is about.” In Mixed Me, Max exuberantly leaps from one exciting moment to the next. For Diggs, Max is a vital character for children to see today. “I was an avid reader as a child,” he says, “but I most distinctly recall the books that had characters that looked like me.”
Max’s race may not define him, but Diggs and Evans don’t gloss over it, either. He encounters confusion along the way about why his parents “don’t match,” but his enthusiasm and his parents’ love for him supersede all else. “I’d like for anyone who has ever been excluded in any arena of life to feel reminded by Mixed Me that they are indeed individually important, special, and delightfully unique,” Diggs says.
Mixed Me depicts Max during a typical school day in which he encounters great joy but also confusion about who he is because of his race. As Evans sees it, this speaks to the ordinariness of mixed children facing these kinds of questions. “It’s just one day,” he says, but “in one day you can get hit with questions like ‘Why is that your mother? Why is that your father?’ And you don’t have any clue how to answer that.”
For Diggs and Evans the answer is love. Mixed Me treats Max’s family’s love as intrinsic to his character, something already known to be true rather than to be discovered. Evans sees in that a representation of what he calls “truth in its most charismatic way.” He adds, “I want people to appreciate their own family relationships,” , stressing how important it is to engrain that idea from a young age.
Through their collaboration, Diggs and Evans hope to pass on their lessons proudly and inspire another generation to carry what they learn with them. “Storytelling has many varying and positive effects on young people,” Diggs says. “The most paramount thing for me: exercising the minds’ imagination. Stories make children think.”
This article appeared in the May 30, 2015 edition of PW BookCon Daily.