Ladies Who Launch, #8: Keisha Ehigie of Imagine Me Stories
Updated: May 15, 2020
YOU'VE GOT MAIL
Do you remember Scholastic Book Fair day in grade school?!
It was always so exciting to look through the mobile steel cases full of books and see what I could afford for the $5 bill my parents sent me to school with that day.
Maybe I'd grab a Ramona Quimby book, or see what Pippi Longstocking or Anne of Green Gables was up to, or pick up something by Judy Blume or Roald Dahl. I'd probably also sneak a peek at the racy lives of the teens in the Sweet Valley High series, which my mom wouldn't let me buy til I was older.
Was there a mini calendar or pack of Lisa Frank stickers I could grab at the checkout table? Hopefully.
One thing was certain: I'd always grab the cheap paper brochure/order form (aka, The Scholastic Arrow) and take it home to peruse it a million times and beg my parents to let me order something else and have it mailed to the house.
One day, I noticed this new book series called The Baby-Sitters Club. I had remembered hearing friends talk about it constantly. The flyer said you could sign up for a subscription, and every couple months you'd receive the next 3 books in the series.
A subscription?! This was going to seriously help me rack up my Book It! points... a free personal pan pizza was so in my future.
My parents said yes, and I was so excited to get my first shipment in the mail. It came with a welcome letter (signed by Ann M. Martin!!!), a mini poster, and a bookmark.
I loved that it was addressed to me, because 7-year-olds don't get much mail. I couldn't wait to get my next package in a few weeks.
I felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story:
"My decoder pin! Alright! 'Be it known to all, in summary, that Ralph Parker is hereby appointed a member of the Little Orphan Annie secret circle and is entitled to all the honors and benefits occurring thereto.' Signed, Little Orphan Annie. Countersigned, Pierre Andre! ... In ink! Honors and benefits. Already at the age of nine."
I felt so official!!!
I also saved my birthday money to join official fan clubs/subscriptions for Full House, New Kids on the Block, and The Mickey Mouse Club, among other things from the 80s/90s.
My Mickey Mouse Club fan kit came with a cast photo, stickers, and a super-cool neon green silicone watch which I wore to school the day I got it, and then it fell off my wrist and got run over by a car in the parking lot.
Back to The Baby-Sitters Club.
I devoured each book and was instantly hooked on the adventures of the young female entrepreneurs. I think this was what may have first piqued my first interest in what it was like to run a business! That, and peddling Girl Scout cookies, or selling gift wrap for school fundraising, or running a crappy lemonade stand on my dead-end street.
While reading, I found that I quickly identified with the quirky character named Claudia, who, like me, loved to be creative and make art, wore funky earrings and colorful clothes, and often had her hair in a side-pony. I was eager to read all of the BSC books, but especially Claudia's!
Even as a child, I recognized how cool it was to be able to relate to a book character I was reading about.
Meet: Keisha Ehigie.
Keisha is the founder of Imagine Me Stories, a monthly subscription box which features children's books with black characters, and fun and empowering black history activities to help black children see their realities reflected in books.
The company is based in the UK and officially launched in 2019.
As Keisha explains on her site:
As a little kid I was a voracious reader, my favourite books were The Famous Five, Alice in Wonderland, Matilda, and Malory Towers. I would fantasise about eating strawberries and having picnics by the seaside with my fluffy sheepdog, with my hair tied back in a slick ponytail which was a bit weird for a little girl in Nigeria!
It never occurred to me that there could be books which reflected my own reality. I remember one of the first black books I read, it was The Passport of Mallam Ilia by Cyprian Ekwensi. I was in my second year of secondary school and I remember being completely blown away by how amazing it was. We loved that book so much at school, we would compose songs about it and act it out after classes, much to the annoyance of our teachers.
Years later, now a mom to a little girl myself, I was a bit sad to see that things haven’t changed that much from when I was little. There are few children’s books that reflect black or African realities. Only 1% of childrens books published in the U.K. in 2017 featured a black or minority ethnic main character. Statistics are similar in the US. Things are starting to improve gradually but we’ve still got a long way to go. My dream is that every black child grows up seeing their realities reflected in books and that all children are able to read diverse stories about different experiences. Thanks to all our followers and supporters, we look forward to providing you with representative books.
I absolutely LOVE Keisha's idea. It is extremely important.
Last year, I had read this Hello Giggles interview with author Vashti Harrison, who wrote Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History.
An excerpt from that Hello Giggles article by Hannah Nwoko:
Filling in a gap that exists in the children’s book market, Harrison’s debut book, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, showcases and honors 40 influential Black women who have helped shape history. Inside the book, young readers will find media mogul Oprah Winfrey, jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, and many more “hidden figures,” who are just as awe-inspiring but lesser known. The book is delightfully illustrated for a younger audience and helps Black girls put their future and capabilities into perspective. Realizing that there are incredible girls who look like them provides an opportunity to see the world as their oyster.
I was so pleased to see that Vashti Harrison is one of many POC authors whose titles can be found in subscription boxes curated by Imagine Me Stories.
(You can also check out Vashti Harrison being interviewed by Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, below.)
I'm so excited to publish Keisha's Ladies Who Launch story this week so you can learn more about this creative entrepreneur!
(ICYMI, this is a blog series where I chat with badass bossladies around the world who have taken the leap of faith into entrepreneurial life.)
BTW - If you know a bosslady who would be perfect for a future feature in this blog series, send her this link.
Let's talk with Keisha about her experience starting her business, and the inspiration for how Imagine Me Stories came to be!
Q: What made you decide to launch your business? Author's note: Responses may be slightly edited/condensed:
I launched Imagine Me Stories to help black children see their realities reflected in books. It is a monthly subscription box which supplies black children's books and activities, and includes 2-3 specially selected titles and empowering activities which teach about black history and culture. I first noticed the lack of representation in children's books when my daughter turned two and started asking questions about her hair and skin colour. She's always loved books and we already had a large collection of very interesting stories. I noticed she was observing physical differences between her and her friends and decided to get her some books which had characters that looked like her, however I soon realised that it was a struggle to find such books in traditional bookshops and retailers. I started to do some research and discovered that children's books are far more likely to feature an animal character than a person of colour. Representation is vital to ensure that children see positive views of themselves and what they can achieve in society and every child should be able to see themselves reflected in the books they read. I realised other black parents were also struggling with finding representation in children's books and I decided to set up a subscription service to take out the hassle of searching for books. The Imagine Me Stories subscription, split into 3 age categories from 0-12, is designed to empower black children and build their self-esteem while helping them to learn about inspirational icons and trailblazers in the black community. I have been working with a number of UK publishers to source representative books and hope that the demand created by the subscription box will help lead to more diverse children's books being published. While there are efforts to draw attention to the achievements of the black community once a year through Black History Month, Imagine Me Stories helps to ensure that the learning doesn't end there. A 2017 study funded by Arts Council England shows that of all the children's books published, only 1% featured a BAME main character.
Keisha was recently featured on the BBC, talking about her new company:
Q: Two-part question: 1) What does your staff/team look like if you have one, and 2) Who is/are your personal support system?
1) Only me! 2) My husband and daughter are my support system :)
Q: What is something you wish you knew before starting your own business (the stuff nobody tells you about)?
You’ll often work much harder and longer than you would at a normal 9-5.
Q: What is something you're REALLY bad at?
I’m really bad at relinquishing control, I’m going to have to improve on that!
Take a moment to read all about this special moment with Parker Curry on People.com!
Q: How do you de-compress -- such as binge tv, activities, food, hobbies, pop culture guilty
Reading a good book, watching favourite tv shows like The Affair and Power!
Q: Most-played track on Spotify?
Most played Spotify track is a gospel song called "Chinedum" by Mercy Chinwo.
Q: Favorite liquid refreshment?
I only drink water (boring I know!)
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is another author whose books can be found at Imagine Me Stories:
Q: Could you tell me about a woman who inspires you, or who you look up to?
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti - she was an early feminist in Nigeria and was pretty amazing.
Q: Favorite inspirational quote?
Some inspirational quotes from Imagine Me Stories on Instagram:
Q: What's your best business tip?
Make some ‘me time’ and protect it.
Q: What are your Top 5 tools of the trade that you couldn't live without?
1. MacBook/iPhone 2. Facebook 3. Instagram 4. Canva 5. My husband!
Q: Last question: what about this job & lifestyle brings you the most joy and fulfillment?
Being able to make a real difference in the lives of children and their parents, being able to spend quality time at home with family. The fulfillment that comes with being independent.
Thanks to Keisha for sharing your story with me, and bringing us all into your world of storytelling, empowerment, and representation!
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Are you (or someone you know) perfect for a future feature in this series? Click here!
Read our previous interview: Tamara Sabatino of Fierce Females NJ
Read our next interview: Robin Sokoloff of Town Stages
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed within these interview answers are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Alycia Yerves Creative. Any content provided by our interviewees are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.