By Deb Enright
During a recent Word Wagon READing Day at the Franklin Housing Authority, I met a children’s book author determined to embrace our differences to show how much we have in common.
Dorena Williamson’s first published book, ColorFULL is a must read for children and families this
summer. (Ah, Deb, excuse me, but there is a typo in the title of the book …). Yes, I admit, when I first
saw the book over I reacted the same way, but the title is strategic and based on Psalm 139:14.
I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are
wonderful I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14 The New International Version).
Lifting up who we in terms of our race goes against the grain of what many current conversations
concentrate on regarding race: becoming colorblind in our relationships with others. Williamson respectfully disagrees with that aim, especially with regard to children. She tells me how excited she was when variations in skin tones made it to Band Aids and to American Girls dolls.
“It is important that our children celebrate their color rather than push it aside,” she said. “Children
need to see themselves represented in our society because they have been filled with gifts given uniquely to them to live the most exciting life possible. I understand the “colorblind” hope for the community but as my book ColorFULL says, “… our eyes are full of all the colors God made, and our hearts are full of celebration for all that color. So that means we are ColorFULL.”
Her mission to breathe life into everyone’s uniqueness only starts with this inaugural book, ColorFULL, available through LifeWay Christian Resources. Two more books round out the series of celebrating who we are, how our unique gifts can serve others, and how when given so much in your life your responsibility is to freely give to others. The second book will be available this fall. The third in 2019.
Williamson’s second book, ThoughtFULL tells the story of a young Native American boy who models how to be full of find thoughts for others – ThoughtFULL – and just happens to have Down Syndrome.
“My nephew Joshua is the inspiration for this book,” she said. “He is a child who happens to have
Down Syndrome. All of us have unique talents. Each of us can use those talents to help others. Let me repeat, EVERYONE has unique talents. I want children to embrace their differences to see how they can help each other in different ways. We can all rise to give our unique gifts to help each other out.”
GraceFULL, the third and final book in the series still in the beginning of production, tells the story of a young girl helping a family in her church congregation that happen to be homeless. The story shows children learning together that not everyone lives in a home of abundance and what you have – or don’t have – doesn’t matter when you are friends. The characters learn to help each other without judgement, just with love.
Williamson knows that these are complicated themes for children, but her books make the learning fun, interesting, and personal. She has reading and book signings all over the area and has found that the children are very responsive to this first book, ColorFULL.
“I want my readers to see themselves in the books,” she said. “I’ve placed the stories in common
settings using illustrations that cross race and culture. For instance, all kids play with their friends. All kids live in a neighborhood of some kind. They share the experience of school in one form or another and worship. There’s a school bus in the ThoughtFULL story. The kids blow bubbles and eat ice cream in ColorFULL. And to provide an urban air to GraceFULL, the characters help to tend a rooftop garden in the community near the church.”
Williamson’s family has always served in their communities. She is the daughter of a pastor and sister to a Boston-based social welfare advocate and to our own extraordinary community leader, Allena Bell.
“I was never as social as my sisters. My nose was always in a book as a child. And that is why I think God nudged me to provide stories that could speak to every reader who opened the cover of my books and begin to experience the story.”
She graduated from Liberty University studying counseling and social work. There she met her husband who at the time was a member of the Christian rap group Transformation Crusade. They came to Nashville when the group landed a record contract.
“Those times were fun.’, she tells me, ‘In fact, one of our classmates and friends is fellow artist, Toby Mac.”
The group lost their record contract and that was a challenging time for Dorena and Chris Williamson who found themselves asking God what their purpose was. But when Chris joined Christ Community Church in their work to serve the low-income black community, the couple saw God connect people across racial and economic lines, and in 1995 said “Yes,” to planting a diverse church. The Strong Tower Bible Church on Granny White Pike in Nashville http://www.strongtowerbiblechurch.com/ is that church.
“This congregation of multicultural and diverse socioeconomic families gave me the courage to write my books. These stories are necessary for all children to celebrate themselves.”
I asked her how she got started in the whole process after she laid out the mission of her stories. For
others out there who want to have their stories published, what advice would she give them?
First, she spoke of receiving letters of rejection and toying with the idea of self-publishing for a while.
She decided to learn more about the industry of children’s books taking time to spend hours in the
children’s section at Barnes & Noble looking at the number of pages in the books, how many words per page, the type of illustrations, and the size of the books, she accessed writers’ conferences, webinars, and blogs to learn as much as she could before submitting her stories to publishers again.
“I thought about quitting, but God wouldn’t let me lay down this effort to serve,” she says. “In fact, the delay was beneficial. I grew as a writer making my message better and better.”
And today, all three books are represented B&H Publishing, an imprint of LifeWay Christian Resources.
ColorFULL is available on Amazon and in stores including, yes, Barnes & Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/colorfull.
ThoughtFULL comes out this fall and GraceFULL next year.
Williamson is happy to share all that she has learned with others. Her website hosts a variety of resources for budding writers. She believes that “If your aim is true and important, then your goal will be reached. Learn as much as you can to let your heart, imagination, and head work together and read, read, read.”
An author, a Mom, a community bridge builder, and a believer providing our children with a glimpse into life where uniqueness is celebrated, gifts can save the day, and helping without judgement matters, Dorena Williamson’s story of serving others reflects the message of the wonderful, engaging, and fun children’s books she now shares with the world. Perhaps when she writes her memoir about her wonderful journey, it will be titled HelpFULL.
Deb Enright continues to marvel at the talents our community members lend to help others.