Renee Alexander Craft wants to let children know it’s OK to not be OK.
Dealing with loss is the central point in Alexander Craft’s children’s book “I Will Love You Everywhere Always.”
The book’s illustrations, by Cosmo Whyte, are on display in the Carolina Union Gallery through November.
Alexander Craft, a UNC communications professor, said she wrote the book after her close friend died from breast cancer.
She said the primary purpose of the book was to help her friend’s children cope with the loss of their mother.
“I couldn’t be there the way friends like to be there all the time,” Alexander Craft said. “I wanted to do something, and this was something I could do.”
The book focuses on 4-year-old Hope, whose mother has breast cancer. Eventually, her mother dies from the disease.
“Part of Hope’s journey is taking it all in, but in a place of feeling lonely, isolated and overwhelmed with grief,” Alexander Craft said.
She said she wanted Hope’s story to remind children that grieving is natural.
“I thought there would be plenty of people telling the girls that their mother is in a better place — and that’s true — but I wanted this to give them a space to not be OK until they were OK.”
Alexander Craft said she first met Whyte in Portobelo Norte, Panama, through an African diaspora art collective.
“Cosmo was gracious about joining me in the project,” Alexander Craft said. “He knew this wasn’t a sad book — this was a book about hope and love and possibilities.”
Whyte created the artwork using charcoal and scans of different fabrics. He said he scanned the drawings into Photoshop and then added different scans of fabrics to create a collage.
Whyte said he chose each piece carefully.
“In the story, it talks about the little girl having a sash with a bow,” he said.
“I really wanted the bow to be the image of butterfly wings. It seemed appropriate to the story of hope in a tragic experience.”
Alexander Craft said her decision to depict Hope as an African-American was deliberate.
“This is a universal story that happens to be experienced by this African-American girl, but it’s relevant to everyone,” Alexander Craft said.
“I don’t see enough universal stories that are relevant to brown bodies.”
Alexander Craft said she has memories of coloring princesses’ skin brown to match her own.
“I didn’t do it to take anything away from the story,” she said. “Sometimes children are drawing and imagining themselves.”
Whyte said the artwork in the gallery is displayed in the same order as it is presented in the book.
“The exhibition is set up so that you can walk from the beginning of the book to the end,” he said.
“I’m hoping that as students walk through it, there’s a sense of hope and community expressed in it.”
Sheridan Howie, chairwoman for the Carolina Union Activities Board art committee, said she enjoyed the book.
“It’s especially touching for anyone that has lost a parent or someone close to them,” she said. “It makes you want to be close to family in a way.”
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