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Tuesday, December 1 Living

Inspired by her son, former CT resident writes ‘Phenomenal’ picture book

Francesca Andre was worried for her son.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, Gustavo Limye Torres was 7 months old, and Andre, a former Connecticut resident who now lives in Jersey City, N.J., watched the news with mounting anxiety.

First there were reports that children — who were thought to be less vulnerable to COVID than adults — were getting severely ill from the disease. Then came the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests. It all made Andre, 35, who is Black, feel frustrated and helpless.

“I need to get my power back, in a way,” says Andre, a graduate of Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University.

So Andre developed a regular routine of holding her son, and repeating various affirmations, such as “You are phenomenal. You are kind.”

It helped her feel like she was doing something, supporting her son and filling him with positive messages in a world that wasn’t offering many. “It helped set a tone for the entire day,” she says.

Andre spun those affirmations into a book just for her son, who is now 15 months old. Then she realized more boys could benefit from these messages about their own power in the world.

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The result is “I am a Phenomenal Black Boy,” a picture book written by Andre and illustrated by Audeva Joseph. The book, which Andre self-published, contains inspiring and uplifting messages about the potential inside all young men.

“I am a phenomenal black boy, who comes from kings and queens, and I honor my lineage,” reads one page.

Andre says she wanted the book to encourage boys to stand up and take pride in who they are. “It’s about having your own little space in society,” she says. “And knowing your stories are being told.”

She knows a bit about storytelling, as a filmmaker whose credits including the award-winning short film “Charcoal.” Andre is also a photographer and writer who lived in Connecticut for 20 years, including time spent in Trumbull and Derby, before recently moving to New Jersey. She recently became a member of Sacred Heart’s College of Arts and Science Board of Visitors.

In addition to positive messages, “I am a Phenomenal Black Boy” pays tribute to Black leaders and pioneers, including not just Martin Luther King Jr., but also less-heralded trailblazers, such as Ruby Nell Bridges Hall, the first Black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana in 1960.

Andre, who is Hatian, also included iconic figures from her own heritage, such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a leader of the Haitian Revolution and the first ruler of an independent Haiti in 1805.

“I wanted to include a lot of Black excellence, and I wanted to include some of my culture,” Andre explains.

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She also worked with the book’s illustrator to make sure they included images of Black boys being phenomenal in a variety of ways, including showing kindness to others and taking care of their bodies. (One image in the book depicts a child in a yoga pose.)

“That’s what really inspired me — the different ways one can be phenomenal,” Andre says. “Those images are what I want to see more boys, and more men, doing.”

Andre says, so far, the book has sold at least 200 copies on Amazon and the reception has been largely positive. “The response has been ‘Oh my God, we need more stories like that!’ ” she says.

Her plan is to write more books, including a follow-up, “I am a Phenomenal Black Girl.” In the meantime, Andre says she’s pleased with her current book and the impact it seems to be having.

“I like the book,” she says. “It’s got a little bit of everything.”

acuda@ctpost.com; Twitter: @AmandaCuda

Amanda Cuda|Health reporter

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