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Taye Diggs and Shane Evans Discuss Their Children’s Books at Santa Clara University

“Love love love,” chanted audience members at the auditorium of the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University on April 9 at the beginning of “An Evening with Taye and Shane.” The speakers were Taye Diggs, the university’s Frank Sinatra Artist-in-Residence, children’s book author and award-winning actor; and Shane Evans (www.shaneevans.com), award-winning illustrator.  The event took on what Diggs described as a “free flowing approach” as these two childhood best friends talked about creating children’s books, their artistic inspirations and the history of their friendship.

With musical accompaniment from Evans, Diggs read aloud two of his picture books from publisher Feiwel & Friends — “Mixed Me!” and “Chocolate Me!” Diggs explained that he thought about his interracial son and the experiences of other people with “mixed” heritage when he wrote “Mixed Me!” This book is about an interracial child who receives stares when he goes out with his family because his parents look different from each other.

“My mom and dad say I’m a blend of dark and light,” Diggs read from “Mixed Me!” “We mixed you perfectly and got you just right.”

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Diggs’ mother inspired “Chocolate Me!” Diggs recalled the way she comforted him as a child when his peers taunted him about his African American features.

“You have skin like velvet fudge frosting mixed in a bowl,” Diggs read aloud from “Chocolate Me!” as the mother in the book comforted her child. “You can lick the spoon. Cotton candy hair soft to the touch of my fingertips or braided like rows of corn with a twist…”

Diggs revealed that he wrote a draft for “Chocolate Me!” in college and Evans had kept the poem. Later on, Evans suggested to Diggs that the poem could be made into a good children’s book.

“Years later, I was acting and Shane was making moves as a children’s book illustrator,” Diggs said. “I’d forgotten I’d even written a poem. Shane had the foresight that led to this amazing idea. Our friendship is built in a way where I didn’t even second guess it…And we took it to a couple of publishers that Shane had relationships with already. It got made. That was the beginning.”

Evans shared how he got started on a book he wrote and illustrated called “Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom,” published by Roaring Book Press.

“It won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2012,” Evans said of his book. “As artists, anyone in this room can relate to the so-called struggle of being an artist like you. Some of the things that we strive to achieve are those markers and I’ve been striving for that thing for so long. When it came, I was like, alright, cool, great, and I had to keep moving. At the moment with the first drawing, I was in, of all places, Japan, traveling on a train when those two images came to my mind and heart. I had just to sit down and honor them.”

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