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A few years ago, bestselling author, recovering lawyer and entrepreneur Meena Harris was faced with an existential question.
It was an early Christmas morning, as a bleary-eyed Harris watched her eldest daughter, Amara, open gifts before hitting her with a simple question: “Mom, what was Mrs. Claus doing while Santa delivered presents all over the world?” A perfectly logical question for any yuletide believer and feminist-in-the-making.
“Of course, I’m already raising my daughters in sort of an aggressively feminist way, so they ask those questions: ‘Where are the women or what are they doing? Why are we only hearing about this white guy?’” Harris says with a laugh. “I responded in sort of a funny way at the moment. It's freaking 7 or 6 a.m. and these kids are opening presents.”
So Harris did what every parent has done since the dawn of parenting: She made something up on the spot. She explained to her daughter that Mrs. Claus was “an entrepreneur.” Yet despite that plausible, rapid-fire explanation, the question loomed over Harris like a sprig of mistletoe: What about Mrs. Claus? Sometime later the idea for her third children’s book came to fruition, and The Truth About Mrs. Claus has made it to bookstores just in time for the holiday season. Necessity really is the mother of invention.
The story is centered on protagonist Amalia, a young elf in Santa’s workshop, who comes from a teddy bear-making lineage. Despite being proud of her family’s craft-making legacy, Amalia discovers she has another passion: storytelling. So she sets off to speak with her boss, Mr. Kris Kringle himself. Instead, the young, brave elf ultimately finds herself in Mrs. Claus's office. “It's a story about finding your own way, even if it means reshaping other people's expectations,” explains Harris.
The coolest part? Santa’s wife is a Black woman — a detail that isn’t the written focus of the story. Instead, it’s normalized through the vivid and colorful illustrations of artist Keisha Morris. From there, the story unfolds into a sweet tale with themes that heavily mirror Harris’s own life.
There is a major gap when it comes to the racial and ethnic diversity of characters and storylines in children’s literature. In a 2016 study by the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison's Education School, only 22% of the children's books published that year featured people of color.
“There were more children's books that had animals as main characters than there were books that had main characters that were Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and Asian combined — meaning there are more books about animals than there were about people of color," Harris notes. She also points out most books are likely to center a white boy. That reality, along with being a mother of two Black girls, was a major reason that inspired Harris to pen children’s books. Harris’s first book, Kamala and Maya's Big Idea, inspired by her famous family, was published in 2020, while her second, Ambitious Girl, was published in 2021.
“This is my third children's book, and I'm proud of it. On the one hand, it's very different than my first two books,” Harris says. “But all of my books draw inspiration from my family and my own upbringing, lessons, and values that were passed down to me from my mom, my aunt [Vice President Kamala Harris] and in particular my grandmother.”
When it comes to Harris’s own kids and family traditions, she’s proud to admit that the family goes all out for Christmas.
“We do advent calendars, stockings and food is a big thing for us,” she says. “My mom always makes a huge pot of gumbo and now that I have my own kids and in-laws, my mother-in-law makes her famous cinnamon rolls and bread rolls. The holidays are a big family affair and it's just so much fun.”
As a kid, Harris herself recalls food, tight-knit family gatherings and a home full of Black Santas, a seemingly small but important detail for the CEO and founder of Phenomenal Media.
“As somebody who grew up in a Black household and had a Black Santa and that was very intentional, Black Santa was everywhere. That's special to me, but, like, nobody was talking Mrs. Claus,” she says.
Harris is gearing up for a busy 2023. This year her media and marketing company Phenomenal Media acquired the satirical online magazine Reductress. The company has also co-produced Tony Award-winning and Grammy-nominated musical A Strange Loop. This March she’ll also be releasing her fourth children’s book, A is For Ambitious.
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