Episode 82: The We and the They with Author Kyra Ann Dawkins

Welcome to this dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm. Today's Library Laura Podcast guest is author Kyra Ann Dawkins. She's the author of The We and the They, as well as being a writer, an editor, a book reviewer, and an aspiring storyteller. Her book is guided by oral tradition and rooted in collective identity, which we'll talk about. We also talk about what makes good children's stories! Kyra is an avid reader and we swap some great book recommendations on everything from C.S. Lewis and Isabel Allende, to books with themes of autism and ones that incorporate folklore. 

Listen to the podcast here or on your favorite podcast player.

Get in touch with Kyra Ann Dawkins on her websiteInstagramFacebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Find The We and The They on Amazon or Bookshop.org wherever books are sold!

Books from today's episode are on the Library Laura storefront on bookshop.org

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Kyra Ann Dawkins, author of The We and the They

Kyra's grandfather was one of the first people to tell oral stories as she was growing up. Whether they were folk tales or family history, she heard many of these stories from him first.

Kyra had the unique experience of tackling the ideas of oral storytelling from two different angles, the personal and the academic. When it comes to the academic discipline of oral history, Kyra got to take several masters-level courses in Oral History at Columbia University as an undergrad. This is a fairly new discipline, only being robustly considered in the past 40 years or so. How we are shaped by oral storytelling traditions and the science and the sociology that surround that are fascinating academically. 

Personally, she's also fascinated by its impact on her own life. "They shape how I see the world. It's hard for me to not see the profound interwoven nature of relationships and how all of that seems to be anchored in a Story; one that I don't necessarily understand." She sees story as a guiding principle in multiple areas of her life...academic, spiritual and personal. 

Speaking about the pandemic we've all experienced the past two years, Kyra said, "In the midst of that isolation, it made me want to embrace and remember what it was like to be surrounded by other people or really understand myself within the context of different collectives. Also, unfortunately because of the pandemic, we saw all kinds of polarization. granted, that was reinforced by the physical isolation we had to experience for the sake of keeping people alive. I would say that The We and the They was sort of born out of this desire to create narrative proximity to others and to honor oral history in the midst of that." 

During our conversation, I also referenced episode 68 with MacKenzie Finklea and our discussion of modern art and our reactions to it. It turns out Kyra and Mackenzie are friends in real life! I love how small the book world is. 

Kyra tells a great story of remembering the first word she read, "creature," without having ever seen it before. She was about 4 years old. After that, she was hooked on the whole idea of unlocking or associating meaning with written words. She started to read more after that. 

Later, as a 7 or 8 year old, she went through a phase of reading the dictionary, with the goal of knowing and understanding as many words as possible, or to become the ultimate sesquipedalian, if you will. She was the kid who would use long words whenever possible, just because she could. 

We also gave a big shout out to Sesame Street and Between the Lions. Both awesome shows that contributed to our development as readers and lovers of story. 

Books from Episode 82 

(Links to books are affiliate links for Bookshop and Amazon and as an affiliate I may earn from purchases made through these links. Thanks!) 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Bookshop | Amazon) - Kyra loves everything she's ever read by this author. She appreciates how L'Engle emphasises that there shouldn't be too much of a divide between adult and children's literature. She thinks that there are all kinds of ways to present a range of concepts to readers of all ages, and basically not to treat any aspect or theme of life as inaccessible. Even in the Time Quintet, there are complex and heavy elements but it's interesting to young readers. Kyra felt like she was being taken seriously as a thinker and reader by the author for the first time, even though she was a young reader. Kyra also identified with Charles Wallace as a character. 

Kyra also recommends L'Engle's Meet the Austins series (Bookshop | Amazon), which has more teenage characters, but still has that lovely blend of accessibility and thought-provoking storytelling. 

The Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende is one of Kyra's other favorites. So beautiful and heartbreaking. It elicited a visceral response from her. There's physical pain as well as systemic pain and it's all shown in such a artful way. It shows how systems can be used to justify the dehumanization of people. The main character also figures out how to trick the system and use it against those dehumanizing her, which was very interesting. It opened Kyra's eyes to lots of important ideas. (Bookshop | Amazon

 Kyra also loves everything written by C.S. Lewis that she's read so far, especially the Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy. She definitely cried while reading The Last Battle. Her pet peeve is when people put the Magician's Nephew as book 1 of the box set instead of book 6 (publication order being what it is). There's a reason Lewis wrote them in the order he did, she maintains! Again, Lewis took his audience seriously while still writing books that children could enjoy as well as adults. He didn't dumb down the material for a younger audience. 

Kyra loves a lot of middle grade and YA fiction, but she doesn't like it when those books don't seem to take their readers seriously. When she encounters them, she just rolls her eyes. You don't have to pretend or sugar coat things. There's a way to approach topics in an age appropriate way without lying or talking down. Using language that acknowledges that you're talking to a human with a brain, even when writing to a younger audience, is critical. 

Granted, there are some things that we really want to be explained slowly and clearly (e.g. html coding on my website when I know nothing about it...or how to do something with technology), without assuming we know more than we do, which can also be frustrating in its own way! Too much jargon or making information unnecessarily unattainable is just as unhelpful. There's a balance and it's arguably hard to achieve. 

Here's the C.S. Lewis quote I tried to reference during the episode regarding writing stories for children: “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”

If you make a book solely for one demographic or the other, you're eliminating the potential for intergeneral engagement over a shared story (or creating a collective!!) which is part of the beauty of reading aloud with children. 

Kyra is the oldest of four children. Her younger sister is Kendra is 15 months younger than Kyra, so they very much grew up together. Kendra is non-verbal, autistic, and epileptic. Kyra started talking at a very young age; words at 8 months and sentences at 11 months. "That was abnormal! My mom was concerned!" she explained. Conversely, her sister Kendra didn't talk much at all. As a child, this led Kyra to assume that it was her job to talk for both of them. She was very protective of her little sister. As she got older, she realized that while her intentions were good, her assumption was toxic because Kendra does still have ways of expressing herself and needs to be listened to an acknowledged too...not just spoken for. It really bothers Kyra when people talk about Kendra like she's a thing or like she can't hear or respond. 

Navigating her sister's communication differences has had a big impact on Kyra. It's changed how she views community, communication, and not overlooking anyone's voice, whether or not it's a voice we're used to understanding and acknowledging, or not. Everyone's voice matters. "My responsibility isn't to speak for my sister, but rather to support her as she speaks," she explains. "Stories have the ability to create a space where everyone has the opportunity to speak and feel seen."  

Because of Kyra's relationship with Kendra, I recommended Real by Carol Cujec and Peyton Goddard (Bookshop | Amazon). It's inspired by Peyton's own story of being in school as a nonverbal child with autism. They also wrote I Am Intelligent, which is the non-fiction account of Peyton's story. Real is a middle grade novel based on Peyton's story but is about a girl named Charity. I interviewed Carol on Episode 46 of the podcast. We talked about other books that involve autistic young people are Rules by Cynthia Lord (Bookshop | Amazon) and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (Bookshop | Amazon). I also mentioned Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (Bookshop | Amazon), which I believe has a nonverbal character with cerebral palsy who learns to communicate using a picture board. 

I also recommended Get A Grip, Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit (Bookshop | Amazon), which has a little girl with autism who just wants to play baseball so she can use and perfect her knuckleball pitch. She also writes letters with a black player in the MLB, which adds a fascinating twist to this epistolary novel. It's diverse and wholesome and very good. 

I wanted to make sure Kyra knew about the Tristan Strong series by Kwame Mbalia (Rick Riordan Presents) - This middle grade / YA adventure story has strong thread of oral storytelling, with Black and African American folktales woven throughout, such as Gum Baby, Brer Rabbit, and John Henry. Much like Riordan does with the Percy Jackson series! (Bookshop | Amazon)

Other books that I've also enjoyed in the Rick Riordan Presents collection are Aru Shah and the End of Time (Aru Shah Pandava series - Hindu mythology) and Paola Santiago and the River of Tears (Mexican folklore - this book features a super creepy La Llorona!! Yikes!). I love that we have authors from the cultures themselves telling these stories through the lens of their own cultural myths and folklore. It's so cool and I'm so glad these books exist. Kyra said she wishes these books were out when we were in elementary school...but we're so glad they are here now. (And she can make her little cousins read them!) 

Another book series that I wish had come out when I was a child was Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society. I love all the smart kids and their adventures. As Kyra puts it, "Genius orphans?! I'm here." Don't miss the Disney Plus series!! It's very good, too. (Bookshop | Amazon)

I recommended Rab Ferguson's Landfill Mountains (Rab was a guest on Episode 75) And his post-apocalyptic YA book on climate change incorporates oral storytelling and folklore in a really unique and well-done way, with folktale characters magically coming to life. (Bookshop | Amazon)

I also had to tell Kyra about A Compass for Deep Heaven, the book my sister is a co-author in that was just released this fall from Square Halo Press (Bookshop | Amazon). It's edited by Dr. Diana Glyer and has chapters from Rachel and her fellow students on different aspects ofThe Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis that are designed to orient and guide readers through reading this awesome, but sometimes confusing, body of work. Kyra compares what C.S. Lewis does with Merlin in the Space Trilogy to what Dante does with Virgil in the Divine Comedy, which I think is a brilliant insight. She's happy to hear that the Ransom Trilogy is being treated with academic rigor and can't wait to get her hands on this book! You can hear my interview with a few of the co-authors on Episode 69! 

Don't forget to find The We and The They on Amazon or Bookshop.org wherever books are sold!

Since this episode is coming out right before Thanksgiving, I'd love to hear something you're thankful for! Drop a comment on the blog, email me, or get in touch on social media and let me know. I, for one, am thankful for you and for lots of good books to keep me sane in this crazy world we live in. May you be blessed this Thanksgiving. 

With lots of literary love from my library to yours, 

~ Laura 


  1. I'm grateful for the chance to be on this podcast and for the connections we get to make in the book community!

    1. So glad you got to be part of the show, and I always love new bookish connections! Happy Thanksgiving :)


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Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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