Media editors and best friends, Ayana Byrd and Shani Saxon-Parrish, team up to pen their first children’s book, Yani and Shani’s Rainy Day.
Yani and Shani are best friends who want to play in the backyard, but it’s raining outside. How can they have fun if they’re stuck in the house with nothing to do? That’s when the girls discover their special powers and go on a magical journey. One Yani plus one Shani equals a never bored two! Illustrated by Meegan Barnes, the vivid, lush water color paintings follow Yani and Shani along a magical journey as they battle their rainy day blues.
Yani and Shani are not only full of imagination, but they are hip, chic and loveable too. It’s a book your kids will absolutely love, but we also thought moms would love to hear about the process these two women went through to write the book and possibly be inspired to collaborate with your bestie on a project.
Read on as the real life Yani (short for Ayana) and Shani take us into the world of these little girls and more.
Mommynoire: The book is named after the two of you, so obviously this was inspired by your lives, but what made you decide to do a book rather than any other project?
Ayana: We met 21-years-ago at Vibe magazine and we became work friends. And then two years after we met, we spent a summer in London together and became best friends. It was a summer of total adventure, and having no money but just having this really great time. I think that sort of planted the seed for what ended up becoming the book. After the London adventure–in which we spent three months in Europe that summer–we started taking other trips and just doing all the other things that women and best friends do either around New York or around the world. We’re also both from Philly even though we lived and met in New York so we were also able to spend time there visiting family.
About 10 years ago we were back working together at Vibe. At that point, Shani had two children (she has three children now), and I had a nephew and now I have more than that, so there were small children in both of our lives. We were both thinking about doing story about little girls who were best friends. Part of it was inspired by the fact that we had names that rhymed, but also we had 10 years of friendship together. At any age you can have these adventures together and you’re there for each other and inspire each other. We wanted to capture that and all the way that friendship can lead to imagination and fun and just magic and specifically with little girls. The girls in this book are actually cooler than we are (laughs).
Shani: I think because at that time we had small children in our lives, and we hadn’t been thinking about kids previously, it was obvious to us that there aren’t enough books to buy the children in our lives. It was shocking how few children of color were in children’s books. There’s a lot of value in books that teach Black children to love themselves and that reflect how they look, but there wasn’t much outside of that type of book. We just felt it was important to add to that mix with something imaginary and playful.
Ayana: We had that realization a decade ago and things haven’t changed that much, right? You’d think in 10 years that oh, it would be a completely different publishing landscape now but, as you know, it’s not. So one of the reasons we decided to do the book is because there’s such a lack in the industry and it hasn’t righted itself yet, but I think it’s getting better.
Mommynoire: My daughter is 10 and I’ve found the same thing. She’s always looking for someone looking like her and it doesn’t have to be a story about slavery or abolitionists–though there’s a place for that. She’s like. ‘Where’s the chapter books with Yani & Shani…’
Shani: You know how they let Dora The Explorer grow up? We want Yani & Shani to get older as well, for sure.
KW: Did you discover anything new by working together again?
Shani: That’s a good question, but my first instinct is to say I don’t know what else I could learn about Yani.
Yani: That’s what I was gonna say!
Shani: I think, similar to our friendship, it was pretty easy… we just talked it back and forth and added to the story and it grew very effortlessly. It confirmed that we can and should be working together.
Mommynoire: As writers, we know that book writing is not as easy as it seems. You have to make sure you’re speaking to the kids but not speaking down to them, among other things. Tell me about your writing process for this book…
Yani: We did take 10 years…
Shani: There’s that (laughs).
Yani: But we weren’t writing it for 10 years. It wasn’t like we brought it up 10 years ago and then brought it up again nine years later. We were always talking about it. So I think when we really sat down, and when we had an outline, it turns out that the book that everyone is reading doesn’t stray that far from what original outline. By the time we sat down to write this book, we could not have been clearer about what we wanted to deliver.
I think that really helped–and not that you really want to take 10 years between every book–that we really felt like we knew the girls by the time we sat down to write. We also had the benefit of working with such a great illustrator.
Mommynoire: Yes, talk about the images, which are so important on so many levels, but especially for our kids and little girls. You knew Meegan previously, correct?
Yani: Meegan Barnes was someone who we worked with at Vibe in the late ‘90s and we were friends outside of work. She also watched us for years separately, so she really knows us. She captured so much of what we wanted the girls to look like and that also really helped us with the writing process, just seeing the characters come alive. And Shani has three kids so she’s really immersed in the world of children and literature in her personal life.
Shani: Having a little girl, they’re so much about seeing characters that look like them. It’s great to see how she relates to the characters in Yani & Shani, as well as what appeals to her otherwise like Princess Tiana from Disney, so we brought that to the process as well.
Mommynoire: What do the kids, nieces and nephews think of the book?
Shani: Funny enough, my daughter relates much more to the Yani character than the Shani character (me).
Mommynoire: Why was it important to go with Kifani as your publisher?
Shani: I think that they really got it from the beginning. One of the founders is an educator and she saw the possibility that the book would work well in schools. The Kifani women had the right approach for us.
Mommynoire: What are you each doing individually when not writing about Yani & Shani?
Yani: I am in Lisbon for the season and writing a novel.
Shani: I am consulting for various websites because I’m a content creator and I continue to be an extremely busy mother of three plus a bonus.
Yani: And then we’re also working together on what’s next for Yani & Shani.
Mommynoire: So what’s can you share with us about Yani & Shani?
Shani: We want people to look forward to bigger and more exciting Yani & Shani adventures. The characters are growing and the story is evolving. We’re taking the story to a whole new stratosphere.
Yani: We really want to look at how the girls each influence and support each other, and how they are happier because they have each other.