On Thursday, April 14, children’s book author Zetta Elliot will hold a book release party at Weeksville Heritage Center for her latest historical fantasy novel for young adults, The Door at the Crossroads, the sequel to, A Wish After Midnight.
The book series is special, not only because of the magical elements it weaves seamlessly into contemporary urban life, but also because of the unique love story: two Brooklyn teens who get a crash course in African-American history when they are suddenly transported to 1863 antebellum America.
Together and then apart, the book’s characters discover an inner strength, love and an old-world brand of wisdom they didn’t know they possessed, as they attempt to rebuild their past-to-present lives and find their way back home.
Elliott said she was inspired to begin writing the story 12 years ago after discovering the rich and diverse cultural backgrounds of the families in Brooklyn and realizing how few of us actually knew of the borough’s own rich history.
At the time, Elliott lived in a building directly across from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. There were a bunch of kids in her building—mostly tween and teen girls— who would play in the hallway, which made it difficult for her to write. She was surprised to see how the kids believed themselves to be confined to a hallway for play, even though they had a beautiful garden right outside their door.
So she went outside to the hallway one day and asked the group of kids if they wanted to start a book club, said Elliot. She began taking the girls over to the Osborne Garden near the fountain where, together, they would read and then discuss their own dreams and wishes.
“When I first met the girls, I thought they were all African-American. But once I got to know them, I found out they were Panamanian and Nigerian and West Indian, and they had all these different histories,” said Elliott. “And I thought, I read them wrong, and I’m here working with them. So I know other people look at those girls and read them wrong.”
In the historical fantasy book, A Wish After Midnight, Elliott wanted a way to showcase the depth, individuality and rich cultural backgrounds of Brooklyn’s children and so she loosely based her characters Genna Colon, who is 15 and African-American and Panamanian, and Judah, who is 16 and Rastafarian, after the the kids from her book club.
The journey through history begins in A Wish After Midnight, when Genna has an argument with her mother about Judah. Following the argument, Genna slips into a garden to make a wish when suddenly she begins to see ghosts coming out of the bushes and gathering around the fountain. They’re all telling her “Run! Run faster, don’t look back!” A gunshot rings out. When she wakes up, it’s snowing and Genna thinks she’s dreaming, but she’s actually gone back in time. Genna lands in Weeksville, a community of free blacks in Brooklyn; she’s lucky. But Judah gets sold into slavery down South.
Elliott’s newly released The Door at the Crossroads, is the sequel to A Wish After Midnight— the telling of Judah’s story, as he makes his way from South Carolina, to Georgia, all the way back to Brooklyn.
“In the first book, you don’t find out what [Genna has] wished for or how the time travel mechanism works,” said Elliott. “But in the second book, it is explained.”
“For me as a scholar, I’m interested in portals and the ‘Door of no Return.’ I chose Weeksville as the place where Genna lands, because Weeksville is such an important historical place– a refuge for free blacks founded right here in Brooklyn, yet so few people know about it. So any opportunity I get to talk about it, I do.”
The book launch party for The Door at the Crossroads is on Thursday, April 14, from 6:00pm – 8:00pm, at Weeksville Heritage Center, located at 158 Buffalo Avenue in Crown Heights. Zetta Elliot will provide a reading from both books, and there will be books available for purchase and signing.