FACT TO FICTIONWatching her children adjust to new settings each time her family moved inspired Jerelyn Sneed to pen her first children’s book.
By Emily Sparacino
Photos by Dawn Harrison
Nicarde Sneed knew the manuscript his wife Jerelyn had tucked away in a folder for 12 years was good enough to be published in book form someday. She wasn’t so sure. “I never did anything with it. I didn’t know if it was something that would be well-received,” she says.
But Nicarde saw the potential resting in that manila folder and gently pressed Jerelyn to consider self-publishing it. “I think what pushed me was my husband said one day, ‘You should really put this in a book. You need to invest in yourself,’” Jerelyn says. “He nudged me and encouraged me to put it out there.”
Her first book, a children’s book titled “Just Be Me,” published in May 2017, following a nearly seven-month editing process and––in simple terms––four decades of experiences in Jerelyn’s life.
Reading and writing have been integral parts of Jerelyn’s life since childhood. “Growing up, reading is what nurtured me in a way. I’ve always been an avid reader, and I’ve always had a journal. I don’t know a time I wasn’t writing something as an adult.”
Jerelyn, 47, grew up in Sacramento, California, and married Nicarde, her high school sweetheart, nearly 23 years ago. After the two graduated from Tuskegee University, Nicarde served in the U.S. Army, and Jerelyn stayed at home to raise the couple’s children: Lauren, Jordan, Nicarde II and Grant James. “I poured everything into them while they were growing up,” Jerelyn says of the children. “I was able to experience all they experienced.”
The geographical location of “home” changed multiple times for the family because of Nicarde’s job. They have lived in Georgia, Indiana and Florida. The Sunshine State is where Jerelyn’s writing started to reflect the effects moving had on the children, who were old enough to know what the process entails. With each move, the Sneeds felt like they were pressing a restart button with school routines and relationships.
“They started noticing that, ‘Hey, this is getting a little hard in a new place. I have to make friends,’” she says.
Eventually, they moved from Jacksonville, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia, and then to Hoover, where they’ve lived for the past six years. After settling in Hoover, Jerelyn started working as a banker and decided to go back to school to further her education––and for the enjoyment of learning. “I love to read, and I love to study,” Jerelyn says. She is studying African American history at Troy State University, and will finish in 2018.
“Just Be Me” follows a boy named James––a nod to Jerelyn’s youngest son, Grant James––as he copes with changing schools when his family moves for his father’s job. “Just Be Me” is available at Little Professor Book Center in Homewood and online at other big-name retailers. Jerelyn held her first book signing in Sacramento, near her family and childhood friends. (She was the ninth of nine children, so many Californians were supportive of her book.)
“Just Be Me” was illustrated by Chris DeLoach. Jerelyn found out about him at a book signing for one of her college friends and approached him about her book project. The two met every Saturday morning for seven months and reviewed every detail, page by page, until they were both satisfied with the finished product. “He was awesome in the process,” Jerelyn says.
Along with Jerelyn’s family, DeLoach was one of the people that comprised her support system throughout the self-publishing process. “It’s not just a one-stop shop. There are a lot of details in the process,” she says. “It’s a commitment to go through something like this.”
Her kids were excited to see what they view as their story in print, too. “I think they’re happy that someone heard them. That’s the feeling I get from them. They’re so excited.”
What does the future hold for this budding children’s author? Possibly a series for James, the main character in her first book.
“He’ll be a teenager. We’ll touch on some teenage scenarios,” she says. “Also, I’m working on a story of a little girl that went through some challenges on the playground and growing up as well. I’m very excited about where life is leading me right now.”