If you’re familiar with Black children’s book publishing, then you might know why Just Us Books was founded. Parents Wade and Cheryl Hudson were tired of searching for books that featured little brown boys and girls, and coming up with the same handful of titles. So they combined their experience in writing, marketing and art direction and launched Just Us Books in 1988 to publish children’s books that celebrate the diversity of Black history, culture and experiences, according to the company’s website.Raising their two children in Northern NJ, Wade and Cheryl found it difficult to find quality Black-interest books for children outside of Black History month. The couple decided to fill the void themselves, and went to work developing their own children’s books. But publisher after publisher turned the couple down, some outwardly doubting the viability of the Black children’s book market. After founding their own publishing company, with their signature brand AFRO-BETSR, the company’s success quickly proved doubters wrong. This year Just Us Books celebrates its 25th anniversary.
From the start the company was dedicated to ensuring that these books would be available throughout the year—not just during Black History Month; to providing a creative venue for talented Black writers, illustrators, designers and other professionals; and most importantly to inspiring, encouraging and educating young people through reading by offering books with characters, stories and themes that reflected their lives as young Black people.
In addition to their roles as publishers, both Wade and Cheryl have cultivated dual careers as children’s book authors. Wade’s books include Jamal’s Busy Day; Book of Black Heroes from A to Z; and Powerful Words. Cheryl’s titles include Bright Eyes, Brown Skin; Hands Can and My Friend Maya Loves to Dance.
The Hudsons are also partners, with their children Katura and Stephan, in Hudson Publishing LLC, which recently founded Marimba Books, a new multicultural children’s book imprint.
Over two decades ago Wade and Cheryl Hudson were parents on a desperate search for children’s books that reflected the diversity of Black history, heritage and experiences. Disappointed by the limited number and their unreliable availability, the couple embarked upon a mission: to produce the kind of positive, vibrant Black-interest books that they wanted for their own two children. Combining their professional experience in marketing and graphic design, Wade and Cheryl developed a number of manuscripts including the AFRO-BETSR ABC Book, which taught the alphabet using Afrocentric themes and images. They began presenting their ideas to various publishing houses. Although most editors liked the concepts, the Hudsons received rejection after rejection. “There’s no market for Black children’s books,” one editor said.
So in 1987 the Hudsons published the AFRO-BETSR A B C Book themselves. Thanks to targeted marketing and grassroots outreach, orders poured in from parents, teachers and Black bookstores before the book was even printed. In less than three months, 5,000 copies of the title had been sold.
“The response was phenomenal,” recalls Wade. “We received so many letters from parents and teachers who said that the book was exactly what they were looking for.” Some of the most touching feedback came from children.We always knew that there was a tremendous need for books that Black children could relate to,” says Cheryl. “But when we received letters written in crayon from 3 and 4-year old children who couldn’t wait to show us that they could write the alphabet, or share drawings they did of their favorite AFRO-BETS R character, that really validated our belief and inspired us even more.”
The Hudsons were so inspired, in fact, that when they published their second title, the AFRO-BETSR 123 Book a year later, they launched along with it their own publishing company. The couple had no prior experience running a company, but they stepped out on faith, believing that God was with them, withdrew all the money from their personal savings and set up shop in their home to start Just Us Books.