Pelion Middle School Principal Kailanya Brailey fully subscribes to the belief that books should be “mirrors and windows” for readers — meaning that readers should see their own culture mirrored in stories and books should be a window that allows a reader to view someone else’s experience.
But growing up in the small town of Livingston, South Carolina, Brailey did not often see herself or her life reflected in the books she read. Almost three decades later, Brailey is now taking the opportunity to change that narrative by paying homage to her community, family and teachers through a collection of children’s books loosely based on her own life.
In April, Brailey published Mia Finds Her Voice, the second book in “The SOAR Collection of The Mia Series.” The collection, which begins with Brailey’s first book Mia Learns to Soar, focuses on a 6-year-old African American girl who dreams of becoming a fashion designer.
“In the second book, we continue to follow Mia’s journey of self-discovery and development,” Brailey says. “With unwavering support from her village, Mia learns what it means to find her own voice and is empowered to pursue the best version of herself.”
Throughout both books, Mia receives advice and encouragement from her parents and her favorite teacher which shapes her understanding of the world and herself.
“Like myself, Mia learns that her surroundings don’t determine who she can become,” says Brailey. “That’s a lesson that remains relevant to children today.”
Brailey hopes her students at PMS realize their life experiences are tools they should use to empower themselves to reach their goals.
“I want them to use the lessons they’ve learned from family, teachers and others as a vehicle to take them where they want to be,” says Brailey. “All my students, and all of us, have every right to use that to become whoever we want to be.”
Though her books are meant for younger children, she believes her students — and many readers — can relate to universal themes such as following your dreams, overcoming adversity and appreciating the people who help you along the way. More specifically, readers who experience Mia as a “mirror” are able to feel a sense of pride in who they are and know that they can live, thrive, achieve greatness and experience joy.
“Every person who reads my book, whether they are small or tall, should know that their story is their empowerment,” says Brailey.
Brailey wanted to be an educator and a writer — both dreams that she’s made a reality. Her first book sold more than 1,000 copies. She says it’s not about writing a bestseller, but rather celebrating the people who encouraged and empowered her, and hopefully being the same positive force in the lives of others.
“Being an author and principal challenges me to ensure my everyday actions are always reflective of the messages I share — messages about what I care about and what I believe is important to the world.”
Brailey says she plans to continue writing about Mia, with at least one more book to come in The SOAR Collection.