A Jamaican woman’s journey to becoming a children’s book author

Jamaican children’s book author, Carylee Carrington.
Photo by Dawn Gardner

Carylee Carrington and her family are from the Eastern end of the island of Jamaica, specifically Middleton, St. Thomas. Carrington’s mother migrated to the US first. Carrington, her father, and her sisters, joined her mother later, in East New York, Brooklyn before moving to the Flatbush/Midwood area.

One thing that may surprise people about her is that she wanted to work in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but having a family was more important to her. She is a single mother of two boys who are 12 and 9. “They are my everyday inspiration, my bodyguards, and business partners,” she said.

Carrington and her boys currently live in Northern Virginia. She is the author of three children’s books, “Everyone, Just Like Me” (2018), “Pretty Hair” (2019) and “Maya Sings Country” (2022).

She is also an advocate for diversity in children’s literature. For her work, she has won several awards, and has seemingly taken on celebrity status, being known as the Tutu Queen. She also created the Read with Carylee Show.

She never thought she would be doing this as a career. In college, she majored in journalism before moving on to business administration with a concentration in marketing.

One of her greatest influences was her mother. “My mom, though, always saw me writing. I used to write poetry when I was younger and she encouraged me to publish. To appease her I had a few works of poetry published while I was still in high school,” added Carrington.

Her children were the other influences. “I became an author because I wanted to have my kids be able to see themselves in the books they read,” she added.

Carrington’s venture into writing children’s books was out of necessity. Her younger son, who was in kindergarten at the time, came home and said his classmate told him he should only be playing with other black kids. That was shocking to her.

“This wasn’t really an issue for me growing up in Brooklyn, even in Jamaica. But here I was now raising two Black boys in Northern Virginia, I didn’t know how to bring up the race topic to my 5 year old,” she continued.

She discussed it with her mom and she suggested finding a children’s book that would explain to him that this is not how we should think. Her search came up empty.

“My mom, who was a literacy coach and lifelong educator, encouraged me to write the book if I couldn’t find it. I woke up with the idea of the book ‘Everyone, Just Like Me,’ wrote it that night and emailed it to my mom. She knew right away that it would be a hit.”

She didn’t want to go through the traditional route of publishing, knowing it could take years.  The possibility of my book getting rejected or over-edited didn’t sit well with her, so her mother suggested that she try self-publishing.

“I did my research and landed with a credible self-publishing company. They took me through the process and helped me bring my vision to life. About six months after I got the idea of the book, I was a published author. It was such a joy to have my son read my book for his bedtime story the night I received the first copy,” she stated.

She grew up watching Reading Rainbow, the TV show hosted by Levar Burton on PBS from 1983 to 2006. It would teach kids reading skills, while also taking them on real-life journeys with celebrity guest readers and “Kid on the Street” book recommendations.

“As I got older, the internet and Google gave me the ability to explore. I realized that the books on Reading Rainbow were read by actors and not the authors. I started researching the authors who wrote the books I was reading. At that time John Grisham was my favorite author and I have read almost all of his books,” she continued.

This is one experience that shaped her career, leading to her developing the Read With Carylee Show, which was originally just supposed to be a stint she was trying out on YouTube.

“I would showcase authors in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Once the pandemic happened, it exploded and I then found myself interviewing authors as far as Australia. I have since showcased authors from 5 continents over the past 4 years. Now we are expanding our reach beyond YouTube and are now on the streaming platform MogulTV Global Network,” she stated.

In addition, she also wanted to do something that would not just create a legacy for her, but also my mother, who passed away from breast cancer at the beginning of the pandemic. Her writing, and now publishing, had always connected them and this was something that aligned their passions.

With book bans being more rampant and children having more issues with literacy, Carrington emphasized why it is so important to expose children to the world of books.

“As Levar Burton states, ‘Read the books they’re banning. That’s where the good stuff is!’ What is the sense in restricting knowledge? We do everyone a disservice with the banning of books. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance leads to the detriment of culture. If I can help to preserve culture and knowledge by promoting books, I count that an honor.”

She still sees that there is so much more work for her to do, but she would like to be known as someone who is not afraid to challenge the status quo.

She wants to be able to reach children all around the world, improving literacy for all. “Not everyone may look at a children’s author as someone who is making a difference in this world, but if one child would believe they are special and can achieve more than what their environment says, I did my job,” she added.

Her encouragement to kids that see me today: “never stop believing you can reach for the stars, no matter how low you may think or are told you are.”