First-time author Kim Taylor, of Baldwin, has published “A Flag for Juneteenth,” a children’s story about the holiday, which is now available in bookstores.
Taylor, 59, a supervisor in the speech department at Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, is originally from Brooklyn. She has been making quilts and telling stories about Juneteenth, which became a national holiday in 2021, since she first learned about the event in 2014, and it inspired her to write a children’s novel using the historic date as the backdrop.
Taylor worked with the literary agency Serendipity, and “A Flag for Juneteenth” was published by Neal Porter Books, in New York, and is now available in bookstores and on Amazon. It was named a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection by the commercial book club that is devoted to juvenile literature.
The novel’s main character is a young girl who goes to bed on June 18, 1865, looking forward to her 10th birthday the following day, and is awakened by Union soldiers riding onto the plantation where she lives in Galveston, Texas, and announcing that all enslaved people have been freed.
Her story, Taylor said, focuses on the bonds in the community of slaves, their love of that community and their celebration of their emancipation.
“I wanted young children to understand this important event in history,” she said. “My main focus when writing this book was to make kids curious about it, so that they can ask questions, so that they can want to read it in their classrooms, they can talk more about the event with their teachers and their families, and they can learn more about Juneteenth together.”
Taylor graduated from Brooklyn Tech High School in 1981 and then went to Brooklyn College, earning a master’s in speech language pathology in 1986.
She worked for the St. Francis School for the Deaf, in Brooklyn, as a speech teacher from 1986 through 1992, and was a speech therapist for the Nassau County Early Intervention program until 2015 before moving on to the Lexington School.
Taylor said she first learned about Juneteenth when she was invited to a church celebration of the event at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau, in Garden City, in 2014.
Slaves in Galveston received news that they had been freed nearly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Taylor said she was amazed by the celebration of a holiday she had never heard of, and recalled vendors at the church selling soul food, folk singers performing and people reading poetry. She left the church that day wanting to learn more about the event, and began combing through historical documents.
“I was never taught about it in school,” she said. “My family didn’t celebrate it, and I didn’t know anybody who knew about the holiday.”
Newly inspired, Taylor began working on a story quilt depicting Juneteenth, which she said she was extremely proud of. She displayed it at several festivals and at the Unitarian Universalist church, and discovered that many of the people she talked with didn’t know the story of Juneteenth, either. So, in 2014, she decided to write a short story to accompany her quilt presentations.
“I didn’t really think of doing anything with the short story, because it was really just to help me supplement the quilt when showing it,” Taylor said.
In 2020, she found herself with free time amid the coronavirus pandemic, and she began to tweak the story, creating characters she thought young readers might be able to relate to.
She finished writing what turned into a novel that year, and sent it off to Serendipity and a couple of publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts. Agents at Serendipity asked her to illustrate the story with quilts — which she would make, and then images of her creations would be scanned for use as illustrations. At first she refused.
“I just felt like it wasn’t something that I could really do,” Taylor said, “because illustrating is difficult enough when you’re painting or drawing the illustrations, but quilting them was going to be a really big job.”
In November 2021, Neal Porter Books decided to publish her story, but also wanted Taylor to make quilts to illustrate it, which she finally agreed to do. Over the course of 14 months, she completed 26 new quilts, each of them 15 inches square, and images of them appear throughout the book — including on the cover.
“I decided to try the illustrating, which took a year and two months,” Taylor said. “It was a really wonderful experience, even though I was terrified throughout the process because I had never created so many quilts before,”