Even many of those with a direct connection to the publishing industry were not aware of author Jackie Carter’s important pioneering role in the promotion and publishing of children’s books, particularly those with an emphasis on racial diversity.
A native New Yorker, Carter, who took it as a personal challenge when she discovered a paucity of children’s books reflecting African-American culture, died April 13 in Manhattan. She was 62.
Carter was 48 when she was diagnosed with lymphoma and, rather than hide her fight against the disease, she made it public through photographs chronicling her treatment as she underwent chemotherapy.
Jacquelyn Lynette Carter was born in Port Chester, N.Y. on June 28, 1953. She was the child of very successful parents—her father, William was an educator and the first Black principal in the Middletown public schools, and a professional golfer. Her mother, the former Earnestine LeGrande, taught math and was one of the only African-American teachers in the school district. Carter was endowed with a passion for education, and her parents taught her that it was a civil right.
When Carter was in the first grade, she encountered books that exclusively featured white children and parents. “I was confused,” she often related when asked about her background and the inspiration for her books. “I couldn’t figure out why there weren’t any children in the books who looked like me.”
Later, when Carter was 7 years old, her family was met with a petition when they sought to move into an all-white neighborhood in Middletown. More menacing than not having a Black image in the school book was the night a cross was burned on their lawn.
Carter graduated from Hampton University with a degree in early childhood education and later earned a master’s degree in science from NYU. In 1975, she began teaching first grade classes in Middletown. Things had not changed; there were still no Black images in the school books. Unwilling to endure this neglect, she quit her teaching post and decided to do something about the absence of Black images in children’s textbooks and in other publications.
Her first job in the publishing industry began with Sesame Street Magazine. In 1985, she became editorial director of the Early Childhood Division at Scholastic, where she played a key role in revising the company’s entire outlook on diversity. Under her leadership, Scholastic launched Early Childhood Today, and it became an indispensable publication for early childhood teachers.
In 1995, she was named editorial director of Weston Woods/Scholastic New Media, a leading producer of audiovisual adaptations of picture books. In this capacity she was responsible for supervising the acquisition of new books as well as the creative and editorial direction of productions. She joined Marvel Comics as a vice president of Marvel Kids in 1997. For two years, she was editorial director of Disney Global Children’s Books. Her ingenuity with the company was vital in developing Disney characters and teaching young people around the world how to read.
Carter’s involvement in publishing the “Winnie-the-Pooh Nature Encyclopedia” was an international achievement. She was at Disney as editorial director of Jump at the Sun and garnered a plethora of awards. Even wider exposure came when she published Whoopi Goldberg’s “Sugar Plum Ballerina” series and Valerie Wilson Wesley’s “Willimena” series. Goldberg’s series is for 2- to 4-year-old children, and it takes place in Harlem, where the protagonist’s mother aspires to be a costume designer.
By 2004, Carter was back at Scholastic as vice president and publisher, and subsequently created a series of books for middle school students in a language they could understand, along with images that reflected the world they lived in. It was her concern and oversight that influenced the diversity at Children’s Press and Franklin Watts. During her career at Scholastic, she published the “Mythlopedia” series, a guide to the gods, and “Science Behind the Scenes.”
To build the self-esteem of young people, Carter teamed with acclaimed scholar Dr. Alfred. W. Tatum, and together they created the program “ID: Voice, Vision and Identity.” It was during this phase of her work in the industry that she visited South Africa, with a special interest in observing the conditions of Blacks in the townships. The experience was enriching and expanded her desire to improve the standards of diversity globally.
Besides her commitment to publishing children’s books, Carter also found time to publisher her own, including “Knock, Knock,” “One Night,” “Mosquito!” and others. “One Night,” published in 1994 and illustrated by James Young, is typical of her books, earmarked for beginning readers with lots of photos. In this one she depicts the story of a family’s attempt to calm a disturbed child in the middle of the night. The narrative is composed of rhymes, which was done to make the story easier for young readers to comprehend. What she did in her own books was often what she did in the books she published by other authors.
She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2002 and to help other women with cancer she created the “The It Girl’s Guide to Chemo,” a photo exhibit that captured her battle with the illness. Her dream was to convert the exhibit into a book. She endured all of the treatment and pain without complaint. She expressed a similar courage and resolve after a stem cell procedure in 2014.
There was also precious time spent with her husband, Barry Herbold, and her stepchildren.
Carter’s mantra was to “create books that kids want to read, not have to read.” She accomplished this objective with wit and acclaim.