Young entrepreneur and Philly native writes diverse children’s books –

Chris Coleman sat in Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse Inc. on Frankford Avenue, in a black T-shirt reading “#SlayTheDay.”

“By day, I edit videos,” he said, “and by night, I edit children’s books.”

Kind of like Superman, but for writing.

The 25-year-old entrepreneur and Philly native is the founder of  video production company Black Fox Labs and branding company Magic Moment Media. He’s also about to release the first book in a new series, Adventures with Jade: The Microphone of Friendship. A Los Angeles resident now, he’s back in town to do readings, schedule preorders, and reconnect with educators.

Jade follows a 6-year-old who transports herself to the kingdom of imagination with her stuffed panda, Rhythm, who comes to life. Jade then uses her musical training to save the day and find the microphone of friendship.

For this young, male author, the motivation behind a children’s book with a female lead is threefold. It’s a response to a big need, it’s Disney-inspired, and it’s a nod to his Philly roots in education.

Coleman was prompted to write the book after watching Disney’s Moana. “I started  researching how many characters are diverse and female in superhero stories, especially for children,” he said, “and that number is very slim.” He cited a 2011 Florida State University study showing that from 1900 to 2000, only 31 percent of children’s books featured a female character as the protagonist or central character.

In 2015, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reviewed 3,200 children’s books published in the United States. Only 14 percent had a lead character of color.

Numbers like those are the motivation behind 12-year-old  Marley Dias’ #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign, which she said she started because she grew tired of reading about only “white boys and their dogs.” A similar frustration fueled the creation of the We Need Diverse Books organization, founded by author and former attorney Ellen Oh.

But the cross between representation and education is in Coleman’s blood. It’s a Philly thing. He grew up in West Oak Lane. “It’s easier to come back here and be able to network, reconnect with some of the teachers I had before,” said Coleman. In 1967, his grandparents Bill and Liller Green founded the  Ivy Leaf School, geared toward African Americans. They were motivated, Coleman said, because many weren’t receiving quality education. What began as a nursery school expanded into a K-8 private school.

“It’s really cool to see their impact in the city,” said Coleman. The school, which closed in 2008, held a reunion last month at which former students gathered and thanked his grandmother, who is now 88.

Among the things his grandparents emphasized, he said, was reading. In fact, 90 percent of their students read above their grade levels on standard achievement tests. Their children and grandchildren (who were also students at Ivy Leaf) were no different.

Growing up, Coleman was a big fan of Japanese comics, particularly manga. When the popular and long-running manga “Naruto” ended, he had a dream about four kids creating their own manga.

He thought, “Why not write my own stories about diverse characters and bring it into this next generation of storytelling?” he said.

The result was Beta Crew: Saving Kodon, published last year, which follows four kids from Philadelphia who are transported to another galaxy where superheroes come to life.

The crew consists of  Jason King, who is African American; Courtney Garcia, who is Mexican American; Klaus Smith, who is mixed-race; and Nike Chung, who is  Asian American. In the story, they must use newfound powers to make their way back home.

Fellow author Julia Bates read  Beta Crew: Saving Kodon and an advance copy of Adventures with Jade and loved the books because, she said, they “are truly intersectional and represent kids that children’s books often don’t have.”

Bates, a graduate student in communications at Arizona State University, is researching representation and messaging in children’s books. She said she’s found that “children who see themselves as superheroes are more engaged in learning and are more excited about it.”

“He’s relatable in his writing,” she said of Coleman. “He’s learned how to break down themes in a way that children understand, and it really reaches them.”

And not only children. Auburn Hernandez,  25,  read an advance copy of Jade to her friend’s 6-year-old son and found herself connecting with the story. “It actually took me back to a time in my life when I was in fourth grade and was bullied,” said Hernandez.  “I walked up to her and said, ‘I know you’re being a bully  because there are things going on in your life,’ and now she’s one of my  best friends.”

Coleman’s work will also be multiplatform, combining technology and traditional storytelling. Jade comes with a mobile app, a recording of a song, a digital coloring book, and a hero’s certificate.

“Books are an experience and aren’t just meant to be read,” he said. “At least for this generation and how kids use technology. They’re born with it, so if you’re just giving them a book to read, they’re going to get bored.”

For a self-published author, getting out books can become costly. Coleman funded the illustration of the book, paid an editor for revision, and paid a singer-songwriter to write a sound track. Last week, he launched a  Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $40,000 to print the first 1,000 signed copies and to finish the app.

But though Coleman is a new-school entrepreneur, his ambitions are still old-school.

“Honestly, I want to be like Disney, because, even though he’s dead, when you say, ‘Disney,’ you don’t think of the person but the company who created these beautiful projects,” he said. “I want my work to be timeless.”

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