New York Times best-selling author Nancy Redd is a former Miss Virginia, on-air host, and The New York Times beauty, health, and grooming product expert. She hosted the daily entertainment, lifestyle, parenting, and celebrity segments at HuffPost Live, The Huffington Post’s daily digital show, where her team earned three consecutive Webby awards. In her newest children’s book The Real Santa, the Howard University alumna uses being a mother to August, 10, Little Nancy, 7 and wife to actor Rupak Ginn. As an inspiration to tell a Christmas story through the lens of the Black family experience.
Nancy spoke with For(bes) The Culture on her experience as a mother, author, and the importance of representation in children’s books. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
For(bes) The Culture: Why children’s books? What need did you see that needed to be filled in this genre?
Nancy Redd: I originally started my career as an author with non-fiction self-help books. I was really into the niche of women’s empowerment and body image. I like writing books that help people feel better about themselves. Growing up, I used to have problems with these issues, and with growing up in the eighties, there weren’t many people telling you that you are enough. It was either conform to what was going on around you and if you didn’t-good luck. When I had my children, I looked at the holes in their lives that started to build some of those deep-seated worries and insecurities. As soon as I began to notice those, I wanted to squash them. With my daughter, she started having insecurity about her hair and wearing a bonnet. That incident inspired my first book, Bedtime Bonnet. I wanted her to have positive feelings for her hair and the rituals of taking care of her hair. In addition, I saw the lack of representation with young Black girls and the relationship they have with their hair. After the success of Bedtime Bonnet, my publisher asked me what I would like to write about next, and I said two words. Black Santa. When I had children, I would always have to call malls and inquire if they had a Black Santa and when would he be available. Ultimately, no books were covering these two topics for Black children and families, and I wanted to be that solution.
For(bes) The Culture: What are some things having children taught you?
Nancy Redd: Having children has humbled me. It has taught me not to look at the world through my view and that we’re all experiencing the world differently. My husband and I are both the babies of our families, so having children different from me was new and a challenge. I’m a better businesswoman because of it as well. If you want to be a great parent and raise solid quality children, you have to let your ego go because you’re not always going to be right. There was a period of time when my oldest child needed me, and I had to put my life and career on hold. Those were the most magical and terrifying years of my life. We all came out so much better because of it. Being a mother has taught me to be selfless.
For(bes) The Culture: What was your writing process with The Real Santa?
Nancy Redd: I start with the hook and how I want readers to feel after finishing the book. I find retrofitting with a goal in mind is better. With The Real Santa, I started to feel all of these deep-seated frustrations. I was thinking, why do I have to stand in a segregated line for Black Santa? Why do I have to wait longer because I want a Black Santa? I want the kids reading The Real Santa to feel peaceful, loved and fulfilled at the end. I realized that it’s not the answer of who Santa is, but the validation that the child reader’s hopes and dreams could come true.
For(bes) The Culture: What advice would you give to parents who want to diversify the type of literature they expose to their children?
Nancy Redd: Kids are already exposed to an array of diverse cultures and experiences daily without context. So my advice to parents would be to fill in those gaps, so they don’t get filled with negative stereotypes and narratives. It’s very beneficial to have thoughtful, nuanced conversations with your children, and there is no better way to start than with a picture book. For a child, a picture book is bite-sized, easy to understand and it’s easy for a child to see themselves through the characters.
For(bes) The Culture: Hair is sacred to Black women. We spend a lot of time on the care and appearance of our hair. What is the relationship that you and your daughter have around your hair? What apprehensions has she gone through as a Black girl as it relates to her hair?
Nancy Redd: Bedtime Bonnet came about when my daughter was six. I was on a business trip, and my husband didn’t know how to do her hair. He made the mistake of not putting a shower cap on her hair. We all know how that goes for black women when our hair gets wet in the shower. So, when I came home, her hair was all tangled, and I tried to fix it, but it wasn’t easy. I then took my daughter back to Virginia to my mom’s house and she got her old school comb, sat my daughter in between her legs and fixed it. Having this experience and trying to find resources to show my daughter the importance of wearing her bonnet to bed inspired me to create Bedtime Bonnet as the resource that wasn’t available to me then.
For(bes) The Culture: Is there anything you would like to say to parents who will buy The Real Santa for their children?
Nancy Redd: I think everybody has a story and it’s theirs alone. One thing I do with my kids to check in to where their head is at is once we finish a book, I ask them if they were to write a book what it would be about. You would be surprised about their answer, and it subtly reminds them that they are the narrator of their own story. I want kids to know that their story is their own, and they get to choose it. When we teach our children to center themselves in the story and remind them that they have fascinating facets of themselves, it creates a more balanced mindset and healthier mind for the child.
The Real Santa is available for purchase on Amazon, Target and Bookshop.