Janna and the Kings

By Patricia Smith
Illustrations by Aaron Boyd

Patricia Smith 

"My father was a storyteller," says writer Patricia Smith, "a real Delta sage who interpreted everyday events with humor, drama, pathos, and a simple lyricism that captured my imagination." Smith’s first picture book for children, Janna and the Kings, was released fall 2003.

Smith’s father provided the foundation for her writing career when she was just six years old. "He taught me that there was so much more to language than I was learning in school," says the author. "For instance, he’d read newspaper stories aloud and then ask questions like ‘Where do you think the woman was going when she got robbed?, What was in the bag she was carrying? Was there anyone waiting at home for her?’ So early in my life, I learned to think beyond the visible." It was then that Smith knew she wanted to be a writer. "Writing was the key to all magic," says Smith. "It was all the colors on the canvas, every note ever sung, every word ever spoken or written in any language. And it was all free, just waiting to be crafted, taught, to be celebrated. I never considered living my life any other way."

In October 2000, Smith was granted permanent legal custody of her granddaughter, Mikaila. She says Mikaila helped reintroduce her to the world of children’s books. "But even more than that," Smith says, "enjoy instant stories—tales that find life during the telling. We take turns—she creates a story for me one night, I conjure one for her the next." Inspired by LEE & LOW's  New Voices Award contest, Smith decided to put some of these ideas on paper. She wrote and submitted Janna and the Kings, to the contest and the story was chosen as the winner in 2001.

Janna and the Kings was inspired by Smith's memories of spending time with her father and his friends in a barbershop on the west side of Chicago, where she grew up. "I remember walking into the barbershop holding my father’s hand," says Smith, "and being mesmerized by the animated layers of conversation, the clutter, the sugary smells, and the magical transformations that took place in the barber’s chair. It was my first prolonged glimpse into the adult world."

About This Title

Guided Reading:




Interest Level:

Grades 1 - 4

Reading Level:

Grades 3 - 3


Overcoming Obstacles, Mentors, Grandparents, Friendship, Families, Coping with Death, African/African American Interest, Optimism/Enthusiasm, Childhood Experiences and Memories, Realistic Fiction


Fluent English, Fluent Dual Language , New Voices Award Winners & Honors Collection, Death & Grief, Father's Day Collection, Appendix B Diverse Collection Grades 3-6, African American English Collection Grades 3-6, Grandparents Collection, African American English Collection Grades PreK-2, Realistic Fiction Collection Grades PreK-2, Realistic Fiction Grades 3-5, African American Collection English 6PK, English Guided Reading Level O, Trauma-Informed Collection, Juneteenth Webinar Collection

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