When it comes to writing children's books as Tarel Naim Austin has, a special kind of magic appears. From working with children with special needs to creating a story that they can see themselves in, that magic is transformed into Naim's debut novel "The Special Kid". Along with his second novel "Never Grow Up" Tarel is making his up to the top in the literary world.
Who is Tarel Naim Austin- the entrepreneur, author, writer, entertainer, and content creator? Please share with readers your background.
I'm a man from very humble beginnings. I was born, raised, and still live in Newark, NJ. I’m the only person from my immediate family to graduate college. My family was living in the projects when I was born. I’m a middle child and an Aries. Aries is the forgotten about sign, and nobody cares for the middle child. Everybody adores the first born and the youngest, so the middle child is the odd ball out.
Did being the middle child put you on the path to where you are now?
I always root for the underdog because I’ve always felt like the underdog. I like to call myself the coolest geek because I was never the most popular, but I was a trendsetter. I was always inspiring to others. I was looked at as unique in a cool way. I’m not cool enough for the cool table, but I’m TOO cool for the geek table. Once again, I’m right in the middle and so, it paves the path for me to put my family and city in a better position than we’re in currently.
Some kids know what they want to be when they grow up. They form a craft or a talent at a young age and begin to grow that craft into something life-changing. For Naim, being a writer was practically written in the stars for him from a young age-ready to make an impact.
How did you know writing was your calling? You've written two best-selling children's books, and have ventured into movies, poetry, and short stories!
It was a God-given gift, and I knew at a young age that I was a superb writer. My imagination has always been one of one. I was fascinated with words and story-telling. While most wanted to play Monopoly or Uno, I was the kid that wanted to play Scrabble. I used to LOVE those mad-lib books! In school, I used to steal stacks of line paper to take home. I didn’t even know what I wanted to write on it. I just knew I wanted the fresh sheets of paper because I knew there was a world ready to be created on it.
How has writing become a part of you, to the supporters, and fans of your work?
My way of the world is with writing. Even in my younger days, I would write poems and raps to girls that I liked. I would personalize them, so a rap that I sent to Laquana, I couldn’t send it to Ty-quana. Then I stopped because I realized that the dudes they ended up falling for were dudes that definitely weren’t writing them poems. If they could write at all, but that’s a topic for another interview.
Inspiration comes in all forms and in various ways. When writing "The Special Kid", Austin's inspiration came from the children's book "The Lion and The Mouse". "The Special Kid," tells the tale of Shakir, an autistic boy who is being picked on by the school’s bully, Pound. The story then takes a turn as Shakir becomes the school’s hero with a lesson for kids to learn.
Best selling children's novel "The Special Kid" has touched hearts around the world-how did this special story come to be?
Well, It’s not best-selling yet! I’m still broke, trying to get there! But thanks for speaking that into existence for me. So I’ve worked as a public school educator since 2010. Since I love reading, I sometimes find myself reading the books in the school library and the books laying around the classrooms. One day at work, I read a children’s book called “The Lion and The Mouse”. I loved the story and the message in it. After reading it, I said to myself that I want to write a version of that story but in a Blackity Black way. I wanted to write a hip-hop, “around the way”, Newark version of it. Something more relatable to people that look and grew up like me.
What can children with special needs take away when reading your book? Especially to those who may be bullied for who they are?
I know that a lot of times they’re ostracized and looked down on as “lesser” by their peers and society as a whole. So I wanted to write a story showing that they can be a hero and that they matter. I’ve been bullied before myself. I know what it’s like to be the underdog. That’s who I wrote the book for. That’s who I do what I do for. The underdogs.
How did your students react to "The Special Kid"? How do you think your book encourages children and even adults to be who they are?
Some dropped their jaw because it came as a total surprise. The books were published and released during the pandemic while school buildings were shut down. By the time school buildings were back open, the books had already been out a year and a half. Who expects their teacher to just randomly pop up with their OWN book? It's not something you’re accustomed to seeing where I’m from.
A teacher having his own book is talk within itself, how did you feel about showing it where it's probably uncommon?
None of the teachers in any of my schools had their own book. Nobody in my family or any families I know had their own book. I remember an author visiting my school when I was a kid, but she looked like Sue Johanson, not Mary J. There are authors in the hood, you’re an anomaly if you are one. But my students liked the book. They laughed and loved the message. Some wanted a copy to take home. I gave some out for free randomly. I wish I could have given them all a free one.
"The Special Kid" is a model of representation especially by having two black boys on the cover-what is the message you want it to represent? How do you gain inspiration from your young students and put it towards the content that you create?
I don’t think teaching has made me a better writer per say, but it does spark tons of ideas and inspirations. For instance, believe it or not, one of the most challenging parts of writing a book or story is what to name the characters. Character names are one of the most important things in movies or a book. Names have to follow a person through the whole journey, all through the series, all through the season. Readers can relate to names. Names can create spin-offs, quotes, or jokes. It's going to be on memorabilia. So names are very important. I have most definitely used some of my students' names for characters when I couldn’t think of the right name. Also, the kids are always hip to the newest slang and sayings. So sometimes I’ll incorporate the newest slang words and quotes in the book, so it is more relatable to the kids. Right now “bussing, bussing” is the new slang word for the food is good, so I definitely used that in my upcoming book.
Summer 2020 is definitely a time that we'll remember. Corona hit the streets and everyone has to prepare for life to change. "Never Grow Up" takes a twist on the pandemic where all you want to do is experience life as a kid, be filled with positive messages, witty hip-hop and pop culture references, and praise upon places and personalities from the town of Newark, NJ. When Naim wrote this book, he wanted to express how kids always wish to be an adult-at least until life takes a tumble and comes at you fast.
What is the inspiration and message behind your 2020 spring/summer coronavirus pandemic-inspired novel "Never Grow Up"?
Well, I was inspired to write this book by real-life coming at me fast! Paying rent and only having $177 to my name until I get paid again in two weeks is what made me come with up this book idea. Students of mine that want to be grown so fast and bad sparked the idea as well. They’ll tell you I can’t wait till I’m an adult so I can do this, go here, drink that, get this tat, don’t have to do homework, etc. That’s all fine and dandy. We all wished for that when we were thirteen. But guess what? At thirteen, I ate dinner for free. I didn’t have to pay for my sneakers. The first of the month was just a Bone Thugs N Harmony song to me, not the rent due date. So I say that to say, these kids and teens only want the fun and relaxation part of adulthood. “Never Grow Up” is to show them that all that fun and relaxation comes with responsibilities, bad backs, and less naps.
What made you focus particularly on that year? Does the novel correlate to events that occurred in your life during the rise of the pandemic?
I thought it would be dope to make the setting in real-time during the coronavirus pandemic because it’s very rare to see a fictional book based on the actual time that the book is released. Not only that, but 20 years from now it could be a teachable moment for a 16-year-old to teach his or her kids what the pandemic was like first-hand as they pass the book down to their kids.
Tarel Naim Austin has accomplished many things in his career from teaching to children's novels. Supporters and readers alike can look forward to new projects and hopefully a new book series is in the works! Only time will tell..or instead, Tarel will!
Where do you see your writing and career going in a few years?
In the next 10 years, I should have a ton of more books. But by then I would hope to have moved on to writing for a major movie or TV company. I would love to be a writer or producer for Nickelodeon or HBO. Nickelodeon helped raise me and I feel that the kids of today need to get a feel of all the dope programming that we ’80s and ’90s babies grew up on with Nickelodeon.
How do you plan to evolve more in your craft beyond what you've already done?
I’ll evolve by continuing to sharpen my skills by writing, writing, and more writing. Inactivity can cause a little rust. So you have to keep working on your craft. Also, one of my mottos is “This ain’t been done yet. So do it!”
You aspire to venture into TV and Radio, how have you gotten started on these goals?
Well, I like to consider myself an entertainer. I can’t just call myself a writer because I once had a short but great interviewing career, where I was interviewing people just like you. I'm a content creator and media personality as well.
After all that you've done, what can you say you brought to the entertainment industry?
I think I was just born for the camera and the spotlight. For instance, when I was in college while most were scared and hesitant to present their papers in front of the class. I was eager to! I’d volunteer to go first. Let me set it off, have the class going crazy and let everybody presenting after me look average.
Any new projects coming soon for late 2022?
My new book The “Lil Duffle Bag Boy” is dropping later in 2022... Stay ready!
Follow Tarel Naim Austin via:
Amazon: "The Special Kid" and "Never Grow Up"
Facebook: Naim Austin