Claudie Wells lives in the popular and exciting time period of the 1920s. Her stories, written by New York Times best-selling author and childhood American Girl fan Brit Bennett, show readers how life during the Harlem Renaissance was rich with creativity. Claudie’s story takes place in 1922, a time when Black people from all over America and the world came together in Harlem to celebrate their rich and varied cultures, and to discover new opportunities and possibilities.
Claudie longs to find her own talent while surrounded by creative and skilled people displaying their brilliance through the arts. Her mother is a journalist, her father is a baker, and everyone in their boardinghouse is creative in some way. Girls today will love Claudie’s journey to discover her own creativity as well as how her heritage and life—and the stories of those around her—guide her into expressing that creativity. But Claudie’s story goes beyond creativity and will teach readers a variety of lessons.
What Claudie will teach girls about:
Where you come from affects who you are
As Claudie speaks to her parents and neighbors about their talents, she discovers that many of them aren’t originally from Harlem. Instead, they were part of the Great Migration, which brought many Black people from the South and all over the world to northern cities like Harlem where they found better opportunities. Claudie’s mother is motivated to write about the racial realities of the times and pressing civil rights issues because of her past in the South, and Claudie’s father becomes a baker who makes beautiful cakes to help cope with his past as a soldier in World War I. Claudie asks to join her mother on a trip to her hometown in the South so that she can learn more about her family’s story—and her own. Claudie’s interest in and connection to her family and cultural roots will teach girls about the value of personal history.
Don’t give up on finding your talents
Initially, Claudie is frustrated because she doesn’t believe she has a talent like all the artists she sees around her. She tries singing, dancing, painting, and baking to see if she can discover her talent but is disappointed in the results. She speaks with her parents and neighbors as a way to find her own talent, but instead discovers that the creative people she knows draw from their own experiences—experiences she doesn’t share. She becomes determined to understand her own story better as a stepping stone to unlocking her own creativity. Claudie doesn’t give up on searching for what she wants to create, and she teaches girls that they shouldn’t either.
Community is important
Claudie’s community is a big part of her story, as well as a huge inspiration for her. She lives with her family in a boardinghouse, where other people live as well, and she loves how full the house feels all the time. When she learns that her family and all the boarders may be evicted from the boardinghouse, she comes up with an idea for how they can all pull together to try to save it.
Beyond her immediate community in her home, she also loves her community in Harlem and the heroes she’s grown up admiring near and far—from her father, a veteran, to the Black heroes covered in the magazine The Brownies’ Book, published by W.E.B. Du Bois. Claudie’s happy life in Harlem is in part due to the community there and the support they give one another. Ultimately, her community also helps her find her voice and creative outlet.
Spotlight on Claudie’s team:
Author Brit Bennett
Brit Bennett grew up in Southern California and as a child was a fan of the American Girl character Addy. She earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan. Her debut novel The Mothers was a New York Times best seller, and her second novel The Vanishing Half was an instant number one New York Times best seller. Her essays have been featured in The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.
Illustrator Laura Freeman
Laura Freeman has earned an NAACP Image Award and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators and featured on the New York Times Best Seller List.
Advisory board members:
Keisha N. Blain
Dr. Keisha N. Blain is professor of Africana studies and history at Brown University and writes for MSNBC. “I am passionate about history because it helps me make sense of the present and offers clues for what the future might hold,” she says. Keisha is the author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom and Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America.
Dr. Marcia Chatelain is professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University. “When I was a girl, I used to read books about girls and boys who solved mysteries,” she says. “Writing history is like solving a case. You have to use historical evidence to figure out the answers to questions about people’s lives in the past.” Marcia is the author of South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration and the Pulitzer Prize–winning Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America.
Spencer R. Crew
Dr. Spencer R. Crew is the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History at George Mason University. “I first became excited about history when my parents took me to visit historic sites and I tried to imagine what life was like for the people who lived in those places,” Spencer says. He is the emeritus director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History.
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Evelyn recently served as the national president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama at the White House in 2015 for “illuminating the African American journey.” As a child, Evelyn recalls watching her father put together The Negro History Bulletin for teachers and students. “History came alive for me as I read about great Black men and women of the past and present.”
Shannon King is associate professor of history at Fairfield University. “I first became interested in history as a child. We went on a school trip to the library and the librarian introduced us to the card catalog system,” he recalls. “The process of sifting through the cards to find articles and books felt like a magical journey.” Shannon is the author of Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway? Community Politics and Grassroots Activism during the New Negro Era.
Listen to the Meet Claudie audiobook together, Narrated by Shayna Small!
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