Read This: The Light She Feels Inside

by Lillie Forteau /
Lillie Forteau's picture
Jun 04, 2024 / 0 comments

I was so excited to have this new and diverse children’s book to review: The Light She Feels Inside by Gwendolyn Wallace.  

Read This: The Light She Feels Inside

I hadn’t grown up seeing myself in books—and I always felt that absence so deeply, it hurt sometimes. I have never found something that resonated with my inner child so much as this book. 

Beautifully written, wonderfully illustrated, and perfectly done to show kids it’s ok to be themselves, and sometimes life is hard...but we have so many good people around us, and so much to look up to. 

I deeply wish I had this book when I was a child, I just know it would’ve come with me everywhere I went. 

Highly, highly recommended!

We were lucky enough to chat with author Gwendolyn Wallace, and ask about the book, inspiration, how to best teach kids through reading this, and more. Here's what she had to say...

Author Gwendolyn Wallace. From Read This: The Light She Feels Inside

Please tell us about your new book, The Light She Feels Inside.
The Light She Feels Inside follows a young Black girl, Maya, who is struggling to hold all her feelings about the world. Maya seeks out a kind librarian who shows her how Black women throughout history have used their feelings to create change in their communities. It touches on a lot of themes that are important to me like mental health, Black history, social change, and the beauty of public libraries.  

What led you/inspired you to write this?
I wrote this book in 2020 while I, like many of us, was watching protests against racist police violence on TV during lockdown. During that time, I saw more conversations online about police and prison abolition than I had ever seen before. People were sharing horrible stories about the criminal-legal system and the healthcare system, but I also saw beautiful art and writing about the world we could build outside of capitalism, imperialism, etc. I was really struck by this idea that to build a new world you need to tear down what is harmful, and also imagine systems that support us all. And many amazing people have already done so much of that analysis and imagining work! I was reading the writing of Black women like Audre Lorde and June Jordan and Toni Cade Bambara and felt so held even though I couldn’t be around people. I wanted to write a children's book about all of these feelings and highlight some Black women that aren’t often taught in the history that elementary schoolers learn.

What should parents/educators/caregivers know about your book, and how to best teach kids through reading them?
There are a number of lessons in the book: that children are capable of shaping their communities, that we can learn from the lives of people (in this case Black women) who came before us, that anger and sadness aren’t bad emotions. Most of all, I hope that kids reading understand that they are not alone in having big, complicated feelings about the world, and that those aren’t something to shy away from or keep to themselves. I was intentional about not specifying that Maya lived in a particular city. I envision teachers pairing the book with activities that allow their students to discover some of the changemakers in their own community, and maybe some of the people in the past who inspire each of those changemakers. 

For adults reading or teaching the book, I hope that it can positively change the way they see children. I believe that, in order to work towards a world that is truly just, we have to begin treating children as collaborators and our collective responsibility rather than property to be tolerated. I am intentional about approaching my interactions with children with the mindset that they have just as much to teach me as I have to teach them. I often hear the line “kids are sponges" — and they are— but they also create and form their own worlds alongside understandings of the world around them. In The Light She Feels Inside, Maya and her friends ask each other hard questions about being in community with others and then create a way to contribute something to the people around them. As adults, we can all do more to create opportunities for children to step into this power, because it’s not only their responsibility. 

I know I always need lofi music and a cup of tea when writing, what are the essentials that help you write or inspire you?
I always need a cup of chai and a lively environment. I can’t write in silence or in my own home, so I usually seek out coffee shops and other public settings.  

I love the illustrations! Can you please tell us more about your illustrator, and how you worked together?
I feel so grateful to Olivia Duchess for the amazing work she did. We spent a lot of time deciding how the glow would look, if it would be transparent or opaque, the shape it would take, and how it would radiate. It took a long time to settle on the appearance of the glow. Another thing we worked on really intentionally was creating a diverse community and friend group for Maya. I wanted to make sure that people of all different races, sizes, abilities, and gender expressions were represented. 

What was the most important part to convey through the art and words? 
The most important thing I wanted to convey through the art and words was that history lives with us. The boundaries between the past, present, and future are thinner than we may believe, and we need to think about all three to change the world. Rather than say “Maya read about Nina Simone,” or any of the other women I highlighted, I had her in the scenes doing activities with them as if they were present. All these women come back at the end to surround Maya and her friends. In order to understand our present and work towards justice, we have to engage intimately with the past. I don’t think I understood that when I was a child learning history. 

Even as an adult, I feel like I learned so much from this, and made me see my own glow. What inspired you to describe this brightness as GLOWING?
I was actually inspired by a young child whose classroom I worked in. She would always say that she was glowing when she was happy. I wanted to use an adjective that could describe both anger and love, and the warmth that that creates in a person’s body. There’s an Audre Lorde quote that I find myself returning to often: “The only answer to death is the heat and confusion of living; the only dependable warmth is the warmth of the blood. I can feel my own beating even now.” The heat and warmth of living is what I wanted to capture, and glowing felt perfect. 

What's up next for you?
I typically don’t write much in the winter because my (creative) energy is low, but I read a ton. As the weather warms, I’m slowly transitioning back into writing a bit. Right now I’m working on a couple of essays for adults and looking over the illustrations for my third picture book, DANCING WITH WATER, done by the amazing Tonya Engel. It’s coming out next year! 

How can people find your work? 
The best way to find out more about me and my work is through my website ( Instagram account @g.m.wallace! I’ll actually be posting some exciting news there soon, so stay tuned! 


You can purchase The Light She Feels Inside via!

Read This: The Light She Feels Inside



Author photo: Vyonne Mirara