It may be true that certain things get better for every generation. Right after I graduated from high school, the school got interactive white boards. Then, once I finished at UC Berkeley, the University broke ground on a new athletic facility. And now, kids (not to date myself) are fully equipped with laptops, iPhones and iPads. The recent increase in access to digital mediums is revolutionizing the way children learn.
Which brings me to, Arynetta Floyzelle Northcutt and her company, Girl Team Mobile. A Graduate of Hampton University, she pursued many interests after college, but truly fell in love with writing. In 2008, Northcutt came up with the idea for Big Hair, a children’s story that would explore one girl, Effie’s, journey with her hair and self acceptance. Northcutt quickly partnered up with Illustrator Shawnte Hicks and together, they developed the pictures for her story. Faced with the expensive costs of self-publishing and eager to make the material easily accessible, Big Hair was subsequently published for iOS platforms. The story gives children the option to read alone or be read to. As a by-product of this, she founded Girl Team Mobile with the intention of creating empowering educational tools for girls. Northcutt is still a proponent of actually getting your hands on a cold, hard book, but sees the benefits of reaching the younger generation through digital means!
Thankfully, I got the chance to ask her a few questions…
Let me first say, this is incredible! How did your journey with Effie begin?
Thank you! I was actually at Barnes and Noble Cafe at the Grove treating myself to a latte and perusing books when I saw a beautiful little girl with what appeared to be her mother. The little girl appeared to be multi-cultural. In a flash a poem came to me about a little girl who is not comfortable with her hair because it’s different from her friends. I pulled out a little yellow notepad and started writing, and in an hour I had the girl’s entire journey to loving that which makes her different. That’s how my main character, ‘Effie’, and the Big Hair story was born.
Definitely. I wanted to encourage African-American and multi-cultural girls to love their hair and start a movement of kids embracing that which makes them different. I have no doubt that girls will relate to Effie; she’s such a fun, fabulous and inquisitive protagonist. It is my goal that Big Hair entertains and uplifts as it educates.
In writing Big Hair I remembered so many things about my own hair that used to frustrate me growing up. I guess in many ways Big Hair pays homage to my younger self. The funny thing is that at the same time I wrote Big Hair, I was transitioning away from getting relaxers (the creamy crack… it took me awhile to break it! But that’s another blog post…) so many of the frustrations that Effie was going through in the book, I was experiencing again in re-learning the natural texture of my hair! Relaxed or natural, the hair journey is certainly a personal one… in this sense I hope adult woman relate to the story of Effie, and that Big Hair encourages them to embrace their own individual fabulousness as well.
How did your partnership with illustrator, Shawnte Hicks begin and who in the group had immediate knowledge of the digital world?
I met Shawnte at Melrose Trading Post. She was displaying some of her incredible art work, and it pulled me in. We struck up a conversation and I got her card. She ended up donating a few pieces of art to some fundraisers I was involved with. A year later, after I knew I wanted to turn my poem into a children’s book, Shawnte was the first artist that came to mind to bring Effie to life. I was researching publishers to submit Big Hair to, and had learned that publishing houses preferred writers submit only text when wanting to contribute to picture books. Though I wanted to be published, I so believed in Shawnte’s art, that I followed my gut and hired her to illustrate Big Hair.
Because Shawnte is an artist and graphic designer, she had more knowledge of the digital world than I originally had, but we were both virgins when it came to iOS (Apple’s Mobile Operating System).
Thankfully, I found fabulous programmers. The team at Tien Wah Press, based out of Singapore, held my hand through the entire process.
The biggest obstacle to starting a new business is often capital. Was this ever an issue for you and what was your game plan from the start?
Big Hair happened very organically, when one thing didn’t work, staying open-minded led to something that worked better. When I learned publishers preferred to match authors with their own illustrators, immediately I thought, ‘well, let’s try self-publishing and get Big Hair out that way’. When self-publishing was proving to be expensive, and I learned the printing house I was using had an e-book publishing department (responsible for iOS, Android, Nook, iBook, etc.) I said, ‘alright, let’s see about this’.
That being said, one thing I did allow myself was time. Big Hair was an entirely cash flow operation, and I let everyone I was working with know upfront that I preferred a payment plan option. Things took their time… the poem was written in 2008, illustrations began in 2009, iOS programming started spring of 2011, and the Big Hair App was released November 16th. So, it was a three year plus journey… but step by step the Big Hair App was born.
The most crucial part to starting a new business is developing a mission statement, how did this evolve once you and Shawnte partnered?
With Big Hair I had the simple mission statement of ‘encouraging multi-cultural and African-American girls to love their hair, and to embolden all children to embrace diversity.’
Shawnte was on board and things took off from there!
What’s awesome about the Digital Platform is that it is world-wide. That distribution has taken my mission global. Big Hair has sold in Singapore, Russia, the U.K and I’m excited for it to continue to sell internationally. Kids all over the world are experiencing and learning from Effie, which is a dream come true for me.
I imagine that BIG HAIR is only the beginning. What other stories do you have in the pipeline?
The idea of writing stories which entertain kids while they learn about diversity so motivated me, that I started Girl Team Mobile, an App Development Studio and Independent Publishing House whose goal is to educate while encouraging positive values, exploring diversity and inspiring confidence.
In 2012 Big Hair will be available in hardcopy form. Also, in 2012 Girl Team Mobile will release two new children’s e-book apps.
What would you say to parents who are wary about introducing their children to the digital space?
Digital technology is so amazing and inspiring. Introducing the interactive element into the storytelling process allows kids to participate in the learning experience which is awesome.
That being said, I love hardcopy books, and don’t feel that they are going anywhere. I think there is a place for both, but the Digital Space is the future.
What’s one piece of advice for those interested in being published?
Write, write, and write some more. When you are happy with what you’ve written, go for it. With mobile devices like Nook, iBooks, Kindle and Sony, the writer doesn’t have to wait for a publishing house to say ‘okay’ to get their stories out there. Just make sure that it is your best, and something you would be proud for anybody to see. Once you self-publish in the digital realm, it’s out there for every and anyone in the world to rate and review!
What are you thankful for?
I’m thankful for the opportunities to work toward and realize dreams. Life is just so precious and can change at any moment, and to be with and share with those we love and support each other in living full, creative lives is an extraordinary blessing.
Arynetta could have said, it’s too expensive to get published, or given in to the fact that she didn’t know about the iOS platform, but all of these potential obstacles were little more than speed bumps for her. Very cool!
If you or anyone you know has small children that may be interested in reading BIG HAIR…
You may purchase: HERE in the iTunes App Store!
Thank you Arynetta!
I hope that everyone runs into something or someone inspiring today!