Melonie Sexton and Her Students Take Charge to Represent Students of Color in Children’s Books

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Message from Falecia Williams, President, West and Downtown Campuses

After reading a statistic showing that fewer than 25% of children’s books printed in 2018 featured a main character of color, Melonie Sexton, professor,  psychology, was shocked to learn of such a huge diversity gap in children’s literature (to put it in perspective, animals were featured in 27% of books published).

At first, it was unsettling to know so many publications without adequate representation were being shared with thousands of kids. But thinking back to Melonie’s childhood and the books that were assigned in her own school, it wasn’t all that hard to believe.

Rather than remain complacent, Melonie decided to share this data in her General Psychology class during one of their discussions on social cognitive learning theory. The numbers equally appalled the students in the audience.

Two students, Merary Reyes and Amanda Branch, decided to act by making a change in their community. That semester, the two young women went to a private school and worked with first graders to create a book based on what the young students liked seeing on TV and in the movies. The two students presented their work as a final project in Melonie’s class, and from there it took off.

During the spring semester, 21 students in Developmental Psychology worked with the Academic Center for Excellence (ACE), an elementary school located in Parramore, which is part of the Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) system, to create personalized books for 20 kindergarteners. The idea behind the project was to write and illustrate a book where each student saw himself or herself as the main character of the story (usually with some sort of super ability).

Melonie collaborated with kindergarten teacher Randi Forbes to arrange in-class visits with her students. Twice in the semester, Downtown Campus students walked down Livingston Street to the elementary school. They would then spend an hour interviewing and recording the conversations they had with the 5- and 6-year-olds.

Thanks to a generous donation from the College’s Service Learning office, Melonie acquired physical books with hard covers. To help make the project even more special, Rose Casterline, professor, art, and Tara Gibbs-Tokarski, part-time faculty, art; along with Catrina Semakula, staff assistant II, worked to take the children’s hand-drawn pictures and embed them in actual printed books. The project has even created an opportunity for budding art students (two Edgewater High School students and a Valencia International student) to gain volunteer hours for their contribution.

The end goal of this project was to present every kindergartener with their own book and have another joint session where the college students would read the superhero books to the kids. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, both schools were closed mid-March and the final presentations did not take place.

Nonetheless, that didn’t stop this Downtown Campus team from finishing what it started. ACE will mail the completed publications to each child in Ms. Forbes’ class. Even with a global pandemic, Valencia is still ensuring these kids get their happy ending.


  • Rachel Allen said:

    Amazing! What an incredible and collaborative project! Congratulations to all!

    PMThu, 14 May 2020 21:31:13 +0000Thu, 14 May 2020 21:31:13 +0000pm20,9:31 pm

  • Regina Seguin said:

    This is wonderful!

    AMFri, 15 May 2020 08:16:22 +0000Fri, 15 May 2020 08:16:22 +0000am20,8:16 am

  • Julie Montione said:

    What a wonderful project!!! Congrats to all involved.

    AMFri, 15 May 2020 08:56:52 +0000Fri, 15 May 2020 08:56:52 +0000am20,8:56 am

  • Roberta said:

    Way to go Mel and Rose, Catrina, Tara and others that helped out. This is awesome work!!! Love the collab with the ACE school. Amazing!

    AMFri, 15 May 2020 11:58:45 +0000Fri, 15 May 2020 11:58:45 +0000am20,11:58 am

  • Melonie said:

    Thanks everyone!

    AMSat, 16 May 2020 01:22:56 +0000Sat, 16 May 2020 01:22:56 +0000am20,1:22 am

  • Vishma said:

    Congrats on this successful and inspiring DT collaboration! 😀

    PMSun, 17 May 2020 15:00:30 +0000Sun, 17 May 2020 15:00:30 +0000pm20,3:00 pm

  • April Montallana said:

    I absolutely loved this! Thank you for turning your passion into action. This is very important work and can be pivotal in a child's view of themselves and the world.

    AMMon, 18 May 2020 10:59:41 +0000Mon, 18 May 2020 10:59:41 +0000am20,10:59 am

  • Tyrone Reese said:

    Keep the good work going, God's blessing to you

    PMThu, 21 May 2020 16:16:03 +0000Thu, 21 May 2020 16:16:03 +0000pm20,4:16 pm

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