I Sang You Down From The Stars is a love letter from a mother to her child.
The language is simple yet poetic and radiates with love and care. It expresses the mother’s desire for her child, her imagining the child as it grows within, her welcoming it as it is born, and her intention to teach and love it.
It is a story of an expectant mother who, in the tradition of the indigenous people of Canada, gathers gifts her child would need throughout life, such as traditional medicine and a special blanket, to give her baby when it is born.
Written by Tasha Spillett-Sumner and illustrated by award-winning Michaela Goade, the picture book was released on April 6 and by the next week it was number three on the New York Times bestseller list.
Spillett-Sumner, 32, told Newsday it felt “strange and amazing” to learn she was on the list.
“I never even thought of it as a possibility. When my editor called to tell me I was a bit stunned and actually thought maybe she had got it wrong. I was so surprised.”
Based in Manitoba, Canada with her husband, Leonard Sumner, and daughter Isabella, she is a daughter to a Cree mother and Trinidadian father.
She said the story idea came to her just before she became pregnant and she wrote the book while pregnant with Isabella, who was born in early March 2020.
She wanted to share her cultural traditions around pregnancy and birth with which she was raised as well as to talk about her own experiences with motherhood.
Her mother raised her and her older sister with Cree cultural traditions. Her husband is also of the indigenous people of Canada, a member of the Little Saskatchewan First Nation.
With colonialism, the “assault on our cultural knowledge", and so much to distract from culture, she believes it important to find ways to ensure teachings and understandings are passed down to younger generations.
“I think it’s important for black and brown children to be able to reach for children’s books that reflect their own cultural upbringing in a really affirming and dignified way.
“As an author and a new mother it’s especially important for me to create books that my daughter feels connected to. I want my child and other children to have access to culturally authentic books told from the perspective of black and brown people, from our own voices.”
Another tradition, which she upheld, was a rite of passage ceremony. When Isabella was born, she and Sumner kept the placenta and buried it on the land of the Little Saskatchewan First Nation in Manitoba so Isabella could always have a strong connection to the land of her father.
She added that the book is making a community for people who are separated because of the pandemic but who are joined in the experience of having become parents during the pandemic.
“What’s being told to me is, even though people can’t be there for new parents in the way they might want to – helping with the baby, dropping off food, helping the mom get a nap once in a while – because of the covid19 restrictions, they are able to share this book with new parents.”
Spillett-Sumner was a teacher for several years, is an education PhD candidate and a consultant, and now plans to write more picture books as well as enter the world of young adult novels.
I Sang You Down From The Stars is her third publication, the previous two being young adult graphic novels titled Surviving the City.
“This has been my widest received book and it’s an affirmation for me as an author that I can make this a real career for myself.
“I have another picture book coming out for mixed race children because, of course, myself and my daughter have multiple heritages and it’s important to celebrate all that we are.”
With that in mind, she intends to visit TT with her family in the future to learn more about and experience the culture of the other side of her heritage.