A new children’s picture book called Summer Housing Boy explores growing up in New York City public housing through the eyes of a young boy named Tyreek. Former NYCHA resident Shaniqua Lewis wrote and self-published the book as a love letter to her community and to the children currently living at NYCHA developments.
Ms. Lewis lived at Mariners Harbor in Staten Island with her family for eight years. She wrote the book based on her childhood because she wants young NYCHA residents to feel proud of their homes and communities.
“If one place is highlighted for the negative things that happen, then it’s going to seem like a negative place when it’s not,” Ms. Lewis said. “The good things that happen at NYCHA are not necessarily heard, so my character Tyreek gives children in public housing a voice for what’s happening in their communities.”
Ms. Lewis is currently a graduate student at La Salle University in Philadelphia, where she studies industrial-organizational psychology. She also interns for an agricultural science company in the diversity and inclusion department. She graduated from Virginia Union University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2015.
In Summer Housing Boy, Tyreek takes readers on a tour of his neighborhood, introducing friends as well as the adults he likes to call his friends, including the man who owns the local corner store. He shows readers what his day is like, taking the bus to go grocery shopping, dinner with family, and staying up at night to draw (he dreams of becoming an architect).
Ms. Lewis used real moments from her childhood as inspiration: Tyreek visits the local community center so that his mom can take a dance class just like she and her mother did.
The book features illustrations by artist Ninakupenda Gaillard. Ms. Lewis worked with her to ensure that Tyreek was depicted the way she imagined him in her head: a boy with dark brown skin, naturally curly hair, and clothes that allow him to move since he’s adventurous and energetic.
Ms. Lewis said it was important for her that Tyreek was a dark-skinned boy, because “they don’t get enough encouragement, enough positive enlightenment for their achievements. We need to have a diversity of skin tones in children’s literature, and my book has a variety of skin tones.”
After Ms. Lewis self-published the book, she began attending community fairs to get the word out. At one of the events, she noticed young African-American boys coming up to her table, pointing to the book, and saying, “He looks like me!”
Summer Housing Boy can be purchased on Ms. Lewis’ website (www.shaniqualewis.com) or on Amazon; she offers a discount for books purchased for the community or local schools.