JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. — A new children's book is teaching the importance of diversity in the classroom.
Young author and Jefferson County native Autumn Dodson wrote her first book, "My Teacher Looks Like Me," during quarantine and is preparing to release it in mid-May.
Dodson, who is currently a second grade teacher in Atlanta, said she hopes every page encourages kids to embrace their differences.
“I'm passionate about teaching, I'm passionate about diversity," Dodson said. "I know that when I was growing up, this would have been a book that I would have loved to read, and just knowing everything, given the current events that we're going through, I felt like there was not a better time for me to write this book to help African American students.”
The 25-year-old educator is the first African American teacher at her elementary school in Atlanta, Georgia. She explained her inspiration to write the book came from a personal experience with a student.
“It was last year, during parent teacher conferences, that one parent came up to me and just said, 'I don't think you realize the impact that you've made on my daughter,' and you know, I'm like, 'Oh, you know, everybody says that,' and she's like, 'No, you really have made the biggest impact. She listens to you before she listens to me.' In that moment, that is when I realized what I'm doing teaching is making an impact that I'm not even aware of," Dodson said.
The little girl left such an impression on Dodson, she decided to name the main character in the book, Naomi, after her.
The 36-page book is told through the eyes of Naomi. Dodson gave a sneak peek of the storyline, saying Naomi is an African American second grader who is nervous to go to school, until she notices her teacher looks like her.
"It just kind of talks about the impact it made," Dodson said. "A quote from the book is, 'I just wanted to impress the teacher, whether that's getting out my pencil first, or lining up first for lunch, I just want her to be as impressed with me as I was with her.'”
Dodson said it's so important to have People of Color as role models everywhere: in classrooms, places of power and in everyday life.
Dodson is also researching for her doctorate degree, and is focusing on the impact of African American teachers instructing African American students in the classroom. That research and history became a springboard for the now-published book.
“I think it's important to embrace your identity, but also respect others for their differences, you know, diversity is so big right now and I think with all the current events happening, it's super important to highlight these different things,” Dodson explained.
Dodson reinforced the book highlights race and diversity in a very kid-friendly way.
“Kids need to realize that it's okay to be different," Dodson said. "It's actually really cool to be different and if you are different, learn how to respect others for their differences."
It took Dodson about a year from start to finish to get the book written, published, illustrated and available for purchase. She said a family friend, Stacie Edwards, had always encouraged her to write a book.
She said growing up in Jefferson County, where the population is not as diverse, and then going to college in Atlanta, at Brenau, helped her to embrace her identity.
She remembers teachers who taught her along the away, and thinks often of the heart they had for her and other students to encourage a healthy learning environment.
Dodson said she had one African American teacher growing up, her fourth grade teacher Ms. Johnson.
"I think, regardless of color, I think it's more so about your heart," Dodson said.
She specifically mentioned her high school teachers, Tanya Turner and Brandy Arnold, as being being big influences in her life.
Dodson said she can't wait to read the book to her own classroom full of kids.
The book is available for preorder, and the release date is mid-May. You can purchase your copy at autumndodson.com. Upon its release, it will be available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Target.