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Arts & Life

Kansas City Children’s Book Author And Illustrator Teams Up With Longtime Collaborator In New Book, 'My Friend!'

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Macmillan Publishers
"My Friend!," written by Taye Diggs and illustrated by Shane Evans, is a picture book about what it means to be a friend.

Through the decades, children’s book author and illustrator Shane Evans and stage, film and television actor Taye Diggs have stayed fast friends and collaborators.

Shane Evans and Taye Diggs first met in the 1980s when they were students at a performing arts high school in Rochester, New York. Evans had just moved from Buffalo, New York, and he was starting as a sophomore at a new school.

“What are you?” Evans recalled Diggs asking — an open question, possibly about his fashion, or what group he fit into. And Evans replied, “I’m just me.”

Diggs apparently liked that answer. Decades later, the two artists are still collaborating. Their latest book — their fourth — was published on Jan. 5.

They started working on different projects in high school, and their bond continued at Syracuse (New York) University, where they played together in a band.

At Syracuse, Evans put together a book about Blackness as a senior project. He asked 10 friends, all people of color, to contribute. In 1993, he relocated to Kansas City to work as a designer at Hallmark Cards, Inc. In the process, he unearthed his one remaining copy, which had been printed at a Kinko’s. It included a “chocolate mood poem” by Diggs, who was pursuing a career in stage and screen acting.

This sparked their first book, written by Diggs and illustrated by Evans, called Chocolate Me! It was published in 2011.

“I thought that the text resonated well with what was needed and what would be needed,” says Evans. “So that's kind of where that particular collaboration of us doing children's books together popped up.”

To date, they’ve collaborated on children’s books exploring issues of Blackness, growing up biracial, and dealing with separated parents.

Their latest book is called My Friend! It combines characters from two previous books, Chocolate Me! and Mixed Me!

My Friend! explores the friendship between two boys as they head to school, saving a seat for each other on the bus and sharing experiences throughout the day.

It includes a moment where one boy trips another boy, and his friend holds him accountable.

"That page actually was a challenge for me," Evans says. "There was a lot of text and I wanted to somehow optimize the experience more with the emotions of color and the body language, and then how to get through a resolution."

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Macmillan Publishers
A page from "My Friend!," the latest collaboration between Taye Diggs and Shane Evans.

Any parent watching a child interact with other children on a playground or encounter a challenge at school understands that there are times to step in, Evans says, and times to sit back.

"Sometimes we know it's going to be best for the children to work that out," he says. "And then you do see that, that these trips that happen in a certain kind of feeling like malice could turn into long-term friendships, you know, that that could trigger somebody to strengthen a relationship, actually."

He adds, "These books are used for tools to teach children. And certainly, they could be used to teach adults as well. So I think we've always looked at them that way too. Like, 'Hey adults, let's pick them up and get back to the basics again too.'"

A series of virtual book release parties are scheduled. One took place on Jan. 10, hosted by Belmont Books in Belmont, Massachusetts, in conjunction with Macmillan Publishers. Evans says he saw both new and familiar faces online, "people from high school, people from college, new people in the comments.”

Another bright spot: “People had shared visuals of them with the book in their home afterward, so there’s another form of communication that happens after the fact. So that’s amazing.”

Their next collaboration, which begins as a dialogue between father and son about the events of 2020, from the coronavirus pandemic to issues of racial justice, will be released later this year. Its title is Why?

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