Zibby is joined by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and book club founder Amerie to discuss You Will Do Great Things, a magical picture book about a young boy’s imagination and the unexplored worlds it takes him to. Amerie talks about her lifelong love of books, from a childhood spent at the military base library, to stacking shelves at Georgetown, to reading Harry Potter on her tour bus. Then, she describes how she got into writing (and became obsessed with it), how her son inspired her to write this book, and why diverse representation is so important in children’s literature. Finally, she introduces us to Amerie’s Book Club. (By the way, her April pick is If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery, who has been on MDHTTRB!!)


Zibby Owens: Hi.

Amerie: I love your library.

Zibby: I love your library. Oh, my gosh. Where are you? That’s gorgeous.

Amerie: This is my library. It’s my house, but it’s my library in the house.

Zibby: Me too. It’s my library in my house. It goes all the way around.

Amerie: I love it. When you color-code your books like that, how — I’m sure you know where you put everything. Do I see Cloud Atlas? Maybe not. How do you know where everything is? Do you just remember even though the genres and the nonfiction is mixed up?

Zibby: Sorting at home by genre, I’ve never done that before. It’s only just been a mishmash of basically the order of which I read it. A couple years ago when I had COVID right in the beginning, I was alone for so many days. I just took every book off of all the shelves and put them all on the floor. Then I started putting them back. I was like, let me try a white shelf. Let me try a green shelf. What would that look like? Then I just kept going and going. Then I was like, I’ll just sit with it for a bit. That was three years ago.

Amerie: I actually love doing shelves. Rearranging the shelves, it’s so therapeutic for me. I’ll still do that. Every few nights, I’ll go and be like, do you want to move this here? This is the reading pile over there. Do you want to do that book? I do have it by genre. It’s classics, short stories, graphic novels, literary fiction, literary fiction that’s more slipstream, speculative, and straight-up SSF, YA, a children’s section, my favorite childhood favorites, coffee table books, maps and things like that, nonfiction. The nonfiction is, science, spirituality, world history, sociology-type stuff. It’s like a bookstore.

Zibby: I actually just opened a bookstore. I have a whole new system for my bookstore too. I have that all sorted by emotion and by the type of topic. Each shelf is, books that make you cry, books that make you tremble, coming-of-age, coming-of-middle-age, books for the foodie, books for the traveler, books for your sister. You can easily gift. You can easily find. Apparently, we could talk book categorization this whole time. That’s awesome for me.

Amerie: You were asking, how do I find something?

Zibby: What do you do if you get another five books and your shelf is full and the other shelves near it are full? Where do they go?

Amerie: I have other shelves in other places. There’s another bookshelf there. Usually, if I get ARCs, advanced reading copies, for the book club, those are back there. Books that are like, “I’ve had these for a long time. Are you going to read these or not? Do a few of those or not,” they are shelved in another shelf back there. Then I have a whole YA shelf there. There are spaces. What I’ll do is I try to make sure if there’s questionable books, those get filtered in and out. Also, let’s just say there’s a big, long series or, “I read this. Will not revisit it. Don’t necessarily need to look at it for any particular reason,” I start tucking them in the back. The back has a lot of books. You don’t want to lay a book down like this. I learned that the hard way because the spine will start pulling away. It has to be like that or like this, but never like that. It’s the glue. It can’t hold on for years. It can’t.

Zibby: Who knew? This is amazing.

Amerie: We could go on forever.

Zibby: We could. Outside this door — this whole room is now basically full, except shelves where I’m evaluating books, like here and over there. I have a library cart. All my ARCs are outside in this library cart situation.

Amerie: A library cart, that’s such a good —

Zibby: — You should get one.

Amerie: Yes. The ARCs on a library cart is such a great, fitting place for them to be.

Zibby: Yes. You should get one. Go on Amazon. Uline has them. I have one in LA in my store, too, that’s blue. It kind of matches the store aesthetic, which all blue and white and tan and stuff. The one here is a grayish, a real institutional-looking giant library cart.

Amerie: I am so happy. I have tears. I’m like, what? Memories. I used to work at the library, too, so I could shelve books. They were like, “You’re not very good at this.” I’m like, “I just keep reading them. I’m sorry it took me so long.” I did not know that. I never would’ve thought about that. Thank you for that tip. I’m getting one.

Zibby: No problem. When did you work at a library? We’ll get to your children’s book, which I’m so excited about. When in your life did you work in a library? When did you develop this passion for books?

Amerie: I worked at the library at Georgetown. This was one of those student jobs that I had. I loved it. I would also go to the library to record music. My friend and I, we figured out a way to use the audio-visual room to record really, really early demo-type stuff. Then I ended up getting a job at the library. I’m just sorting. I could never get through my carts because you’re not only looking at books that you’re interested in, but mostly books that you never think to come across. You just explore. I would pick up so many. It was impossible. They were probably like, what’s really going on? Why is she so slow? They asked me once, “Are you having a hard time navigating?” I’m like, “Oh, no, no, no.”

Zibby: They’re like, we thought you couldn’t alphabetize. You’re like, I’ve read all the PhD books over here. What are you talking about?

Amerie: It was so wonderful. I’ve been a reader all my life. When I was little and they were like, “What’s your hobby?” mine was always reading and writing. I started writing when I was seven. I would staple them together and write the back synopsis on the back flap and all of that. I was very into it.

Zibby: That is awesome. Do you feel like you had someone — this is my new theory, that people who become writers in some way always have at least one person early on who says, “You have talent,” or an English teacher who says, “You know what? That’s a really amazing story. You should think about doing this more.” There has to be some — there doesn’t have to be. There is often some person who was a huge advocate early on. Did you have that person?

Amerie: My parents were big readers. They’ve always been big readers. Of course, they nurtured that and would take me to the library. When I was writing, it was just because that’s what I wanted to do. I just would do that, writing stories when I was a kid. I would check out everything from the school library. It wasn’t actually the school library. That too, but the military base library. I would go there. I was in second grade. I’ve got a huge stack. I would always ask, “What’s the maximum that we can — how many books can we check out?” There were a lot, ten or fifteen. They could let you take ten or fifteen at a time. It would be Amelia Bedelia, Mary Poppins, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Nostradamus, witches, Wiccan whatever in the same pile. My parents would just let me read what I wanted to. It would be a lot of children’s books, but a lot of adult books, but not the adult books that are fiction. It would be literally Nostradamus’s prophecies of the apocalypse and esoteric stuff, like how to levitate and out-of-body experiences. I’m like, looked at what I was reading. I would sit there with a volleyball trying to move it with my ESP. Then I’d read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

Zibby: Meanwhile, I was reading my mom’s hardcover family saga dramas with all these random sex scenes and stuff. They were totally inappropriate, but I had read all the books for people my age.

Amerie: There’s so many interesting things out there. I remember when my dad said, “You can read all this, but you can’t read that.” That was It by Stephen King. Of course, I see Shōgun. I see all these other books. I’m like, what’s that? There’s this claw on the cover. It looks scary. I got it, went under the covers with a flashlight. I traumatized myself. I was so traumatized. Clowns scared me until I was in high school because of those few pages, the yellow slicker. He’s asking Billy — is it? — to come down the drain. I was scared of drains.

Zibby: My son, who’s eight, saw a little clip of It something with the clown on YouTube at one point. He has basically slept in my bed for the last three years. He still, when he’s in the bathroom, flushes really quickly and then runs out.

Amerie: Listen, I stopped jumping in the bed maybe five years ago. Up until five years ago, I always would come to the bed and hop in because I was traumatized from when I was a kid watching Poltergeist. The clown with all the arms, remember that part? I noticed I stopped doing that. I lost some of that fear. I’m telling you, since I was a kid until five years ago, I would hop in the bed. I would make sure my hair wasn’t hanging over the bed. Also, if I washed my face, it was really fast because I would think about Candyman or Bloody Mary and all that stuff. I was very scared.

Zibby: Terrible. You grow up. You become an artist. By the way, my whole team and I were just listening to “1 Thing” downstairs. We were all dancing. Everybody was dancing on the table. Just so you know. Even my son, who’s a teenager. He’s like, “Awesome.” Anyway, tell me about the development of that and how books kept being a through line to your life and then the culmination in the book club and, of course, the children’s book.

Amerie: Reading and writing was something that I always loved to do, but it was not something that I was thinking, oh, I will do this professionally. Even when I was about to go to college, I was thinking, I don’t know, what do people do? Be a professor, maybe. Maybe I’ll be a lawyer. My mom was always talking about being a professor or a lawyer. I was like, okay, yeah. That kind of thing. Oh, computer science. My dad was like, “Computers are the future.” He was like, “Get a job in computer science.” I’m like, “I love using this chat room stuff, Daddy. I don’t know if I really want to be a programmer” I knew a kid, a friend of mine, her little brother, who, at a very young age, was into programming. I’m talking about when the screen when spinach green. I was like, that’s more his thing, but I’ll do it because jobs. Right before I went to college, though, I was like, actually, I think I want to pursue being a recording artist. That’s what I want to do. I’ll still finish what I began, my academics. I will go to university. In the meantime, I’ll get my degree. I will go somewhere culturally rich, close to New York, but a great school, and so I can do everything that I wanted to do regarding academics but also start working on that demo, start making connections. That’s why I chose Georgetown. It was in DC, culturally very rich. There’s so many things there. Great school. Close to New York.

While I was there, I was kind of not very present because I was just always in my head thinking about one day when I become a singer. I would work in the library. That was the only time that the spell was broken. When I was at the library, I was reading the books that we were shelving. Any other time, working any other jobs, I was listening to my headphones. If this was my video, it’d be like this. What if this was my song? How would I do the video? It’d be like that. People just always knew me as doing that. It’s funny because Rachel Yoder, who was an Amerie’s Book Club selection, I didn’t realize we went to Georgetown at the same time. She was like, “I think we had sociology together. You were always singing all the time.” See? That’s what I was doing all the time. It wasn’t until after I became a professional recording artist, professional singer-songwriter, that I felt like something was missing. It took many years for me to come back to writing. During college, you’re just reading everything you’re supposed to be reading. I’m focused on other things. I didn’t really read as much. It was the first time in my life that I really stopped reading. Then after that, I got into a lot of nonfiction. I was just reading nonfiction for seven or something years straight.

I was going on a tour. Someone from the record company gifted me some candles and was like, “It’s your first tour. You’re going to need some self-care and all that. Here are some candles. Here are two books called Harry Potter.” I’m like, okay. Kids’ books, all right, cool. I don’t know about this, but okay. I read it. I was like, wow, I remember this feeling. It’s been so long. I had them on the tour bus. I zipped through those books. I remembered what it was like to read when I was a kid and loving story and being immersed in the world. I remembered. Then that opened the floodgates again. I started reading again. Still reading a lot of nonfiction, but it became mostly fiction. I just devoured everything. Then after a while, I would have a book with me everywhere we went. Radio stations, I’m waiting, a book. Interviews, waiting, a book. I remember telling my husband, “I feel like something’s missing.” He was like, “What?” I was like, “I don’t know, so I’m going to just throw some things out and do some word associations. What I’m feeling is sitting down or just something insular. Paper. Stacks of paper. I miss paper. The feel of it.” I loved paper. All writers love paper. Bookish people love paper. “Pencils.” He was like, “I don’t know what you’re describing. Is it an office job?” I’m like, “No. Writing. I think it’s writing. I miss books. I miss pages and pages of paper and notes. I miss that stuff.” Then I just started to write. I was like, you know what? I’m going to just write something.

I’ve always been into postapocalyptic stuff. I’m always trying to put it in my music videos. People are like, I didn’t notice that. I’m like, you didn’t notice the two moons? Did you see that environment? It was a hit. . They’re like, oh, now I get it that you mention it. I was like, I have to be able to put it out in a more full way. That’s when I decided to just start. When I started, it was kind of hilarious. It was this really long prologue. It started out with where I left off with a lot of things with writing. It was like, “In a land where something, something where smoke and the eyes of .” It was a long, epic fantasy prologue. I was like, what? Long story short, that wasn’t the book that I ended up querying my agent with. I wrote other things. I have to boot camp myself. For that first year and a half, I didn’t do any music. I was just like, I’m going to write all day, every day because I feel behind. I came back to this very late. I did that for literally sixteen to twenty hours a day.

Zibby: What?

Amerie: Writing. I was obsessed.

Zibby: You must have written twenty books. How many books did you write?

Amerie: I wrote so many, but I was revising. I probably wrote two. I was writing all the time. They were really big books. It was a science fiction/fantasy, first book of series, and then another one that took place on earth. I was writing, writing, writing, doing a lot of reading and a lot of revising. I wrote all the time, all the time. It was great, but it wasn’t healthy. It was a good year. It would’ve been impossible to do as a parent. I wasn’t a parent yet. I’d taken a year off from doing any music. That’s what I did. That’s what I did all day. Not like it was a job. It was an obsession. I do have a compulsion when it comes to writing and creating in general. Then I did that.

Zibby: Then what happened?

Amerie: Then after I wrote, then I found my agent. I queried her. I looked up how to find agents. What do they represent? I internet-stalked her, essentially, because I wanted to see everything about her as far as, what is she into? Oh, she used to work here. Then she did this. That’s pretty good. She is one of the smartest people that I know. I wasn’t even surprised when she started her own agency because I could see that in just how she was coming up. She was amazing. Now fast-forward, I have the children’s book coming out. I guess I should say I have something in the works. That basically means I’ve been writing adult books as well. I just haven’t talked about it yet. Something’s coming down the line soon. More picture books as well. I’m creating all the time. And new music. I want to put together a tour. The one thing I have to do all the time, though, is write. I do have to write. My husband knows that if I don’t write, I get grouchy. We’ll literally be in a hotel lobby, whatever’s going on, we do sound check, they’re like, “Does she want to do this?” “She wants to get back to the room and write. If she doesn’t, she’s going to be cranky.” That’s something that I’m never not doing.

Zibby: That’s amazing. That is so cool. You had eight zillion ideas. You could have had your first children’s book be anything. Why this? Tell listeners about the book and everything else.

Amerie: You Will Do Great Things ended up being the first book because it ended up being the first thing that I really, really wanted to say. I felt compelled to say it. That’s because we’ve been reading to my son since he was in the womb. He has always been surrounded by books. We’ve always read to him. We always start with the title. We say who the author is, illustrated by. That’s very important that we do that just so he knows that this is something that was created. This is who created the work. When he got here, there was some things that I really wanted to tell him about life. Everything that I wanted to say in that moment is all there, about life being this amazing journey and that there will be, of course, ups and downs. I also wanted to tell him, too, that there were certain things about himself that were going to be just so amazing and wonderful characteristics, but sometimes, whether it’s something that he thought or whether it’s the manner in which he carried himself, there would be things that people wouldn’t understand. It’s very important to me to let him know that those are things that he should keep and to be strong in yourself, to be an individual, also to know that whatever happens in life — you may feel very excited about something, but then you get a little lost along the way. It was very important to me to let him know that if you just be still and listen to your inner voice, you’ll know what to do.

I’m a big believer in, when we come to this life, everyone is pretty much equipped with what they need to get through. We come equipped. We can learn new things, of course, but the essential things that we need, we do have. Even as adults, when we ask people for advice, friends, family, oftentimes, we’re just looking for permission to do the thing that we kind of feel like we already know that we need to do anyway. We just need someone to say it. We need the permission. I wanted him to know that you don’t need that. Guidance is great, but if you feel lost and you feel alone, fundamentally, you have what you need. That was an important message. It was also important to me that he see in those pages, himself reflected. I think it’s important for all kids to see themselves, but also see the array, the diversity that we have so we understand what the world looks like. Our libraries should reflect that, especially as children because it is so easy to be othered. I didn’t realize that I had othered myself or been othered, but I had internalized that, even though I was a military brat, even though I was growing up around kids who came from all parts of the world and were mixed with all kinds of things that you don’t normally see in your average town. People think, oh, Korean and Black. That’s actually quite common. You have Samoan and Mexican, Guamanian and Panamanian. You have an array of people. It was never a big deal.

Even having that very strong environment in which I didn’t actually even think about race until I was twelve, until we moved to Texas, actually, although that was not something on my radar, I had internalized the idea that I wasn’t in stories, that someone who looked like me weren’t in books. You internalize a lot of things as a kid you don’t realize. I would write newsletters that were these fake newspapers. I’m eight years old creating this newsletter program on the computer. All the news was these horrific things. A bus explodes and crashes. Everyone dies. It was all this negative stuff. I was looking at it. I was like, no one told me, this is what it should be. As a child, my observations on the world was that when things are on the news, they’re really bad, and people die. Kids internalize everything. My internalization regarding books and my identity, which I didn’t even think about — I did not grow up thinking, I’m Korean and Black, and this is interesting. It’s just, oh, there’s Korean food, kimchi, . Everyone’s mixed up. Everyone’s something. It’s not even a big deal. Still, when it comes to books, though, oh, no, you’re not in there. They’re all usually white and blond. That was something that I actually dealt with for a long time even after high school. I didn’t put myself in anything because it’s not what I saw in my mind. I think it’s very important for kids to see themselves.

I think that one of the biggest lessons we can learn — people think kids need to have this lesson. You don’t have to give kids lessons. Whatever you show them, they are actually learning by just being and witnessing. When you have a library in which you have kids seeing themselves and seeing all kinds of different kids, different situations, families, you have disabilities, whatever the case may be, what they internalize is, the world is very mixed up. Everyone’s different, but we’re mostly the same. How we look doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to give them a lesson for that. You don’t have to try to tell them, this is what the world is telling you, but you look like this. This is what you should do to be strong. You don’t have to tell them any of that because they’re going to make their own assumptions about life and their observations just by showing them. I think that’s actually one of the best ways we can foster — not even acceptance because if a kid just sees that, what are they really accepting? They don’t accept that the sky is blue. They don’t accept that the grass is green. It just is. Different people, different cultures, people just are. That’s a no-brainer. That was important to me.

Zibby: It is important. Literature should reflect reality. I live in New York City. You can’t walk two feet without finding different languages and different everything. Of course, we should have everybody feel reflected. That’s wonderful. How old is your son now?

Amerie: He is four. He’s four years old. When he saw the copies of You Will Do Great Things on the desk, he was like, “Was You Will Do Great Things released?” I was like, “Not yet. Almost.” Kids have such a great memory. It’s like what our brains were before all this other stuff happened to it. They remember everything. I was so excited just to see him see the book. He knows it’s inspired by him. He knows it’s for him. The child is wearing one of the outfits that he’d be wearing sometimes. To sit it on his bookshelf — reading is such a big part of one of the things that we do, our night. The bedtime routine is long. Our bedtime routine’s forty-five minutes because it’s less of a routine and more of bedtime. That’s where we chat. That’s where we’re reading these books. We’re going through different things. To see it there meant a lot to me.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I had a children’s book come out last year. I felt the same way. I’ve read eight thousand books, at least. So many books. It’s all we’ve done. My older kids are almost sixteen now. I have four kids. Then I was like, finally, for the youngest kid, I have a book that’s age appropriate.

Amerie: That’s so amazing. Congratulations.

Zibby: Thanks. Thank you.

Amerie: What’s the name of the book?

Zibby: It’s called Princess Charming. It’s about a girl who, she’s not particularly great at anything, but she just never gives up. She realizes that’s her superpower.

Amerie: I love that.

Zibby: It’s based on my daughter. Not that she’s not good at anything, but it’s based on her persistence and all of that. It was dedicated to her. She also was like, “Oh, my gosh!” Quickly, tell me more about the book club. That’s so exciting. I was going through all of your picks, several of which have been authors who have been on my podcast also. How do you pick? How long ago did you start it? What does it mean to be a member? How can people join?

Amerie: The joining part is really just showing up. Amerie’s Book Club, you follow along with the selections. You can go to For the most part, it lives on IG, so you can also go to Instagram. We have the @ameriesbookclub handle, but the conversations are on my own personal account. Eventually, we’ll probably be moving it over. For now, we just do it that way. It works really well. Essentially, I choose a selection at the beginning of every month. Then we amplify that book. Of course, I want to really just get the book into as many hands as possible. We amplify the book throughout the month. We also have an author check-in video that’s from the author in the middle of a month where they either tell us three things that we need to know about the book or why they wrote this book, some kind of tidbit to pitch it to readers again in case they haven’t joined us yet. At the end of the month, we have an Instagram Live conversation, which has been a lot of fun. It was actually Jonathan Franzen’s first time using Instagram. We had technical difficulties and everything, but it was really amazing. He was great.

I really love to talk books. Amerie’s Book Club is all about amplifying unique perspectives, diverse voices. When I say diverse voices, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be any white straight guys on there. I mean diverse meaning we’re going to run the gamut. You’re going to have everyone that I want to share with you. They will come from different viewpoints, different people, different identities. I just like to keep it very diverse, basically, which is why Jonathan Franzen was there. Some people were like, Jonathan Franzen? I’m like, look, we need to — I don’t use it meaning, this is a diverse book. I never like it when people use that term, when they’re saying, this is a diverse read. It’s like, books can have diversity in them, but it is not a diverse — you’re adjective-ing it wrong. You’re turning it into this other thing. We haven’t had anyone that’s a — actually, we have. Our most recent book choice was The Hard Road Out: One Woman’s Escape from North Korea. Jihyun Park actually is North Korean. She lives in the UK now. She actually is a member of the Conservative Party. We do have those voices. I think it’s really important to hear different accounts from different people, different perspectives because it’s very easy, especially these days, to become siloed in our own bubbles. We’re only reinforcing what we think. What we have to get back to, I think, is that whole — remember when it was all tolerance? Then tolerance became the bad word. It became acceptance. I think we need to go back to tolerance, guys. I think we need to go back to tolerance.

Acceptance, you can’t make someone accept anything, your viewpoint, anything. What we can do is tolerate differences and accept those things that we want to. It’s still important to hear and listen to different experiences. That was an interesting one because I did see some people say, whoa, she’s escaped from North Korea. She’s a refugee. Then she became a member of the Conservative Party. I don’t really understand. I was like, if you actually put yourself in her shoes, get out of your perspective and think about the things that she had to deal with, which was government, too much control, very bad, trying to get the government to tell you, we should do this — at that point, she was on the extreme end of things, experiencing the extreme end of things. I’m like, I don’t know, guys. I can see how you might really want none of that involvement. The idea of anything that even whiffs of not even communism, but perhaps socialism and some things that we would say, actually, but that could be good, it’s like, nope. Actually, nope. We have to understand that people come to different things, they come to different conclusions for their own reasons. Everyone has valid reasons for why they feel the way they feel, whether you disagree or not, or you agree. It’s valid for them.

Zibby: I feel like I could sit and talk to you for three more hours about books. I’m sad this is ending. I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface. I have so many more questions about the club and books and all of that. Hopefully, to be continued in some way, shape, or form at some point. It’s nice to meet a kindred book-obsessed person out there in the world.

Amerie: You’re definitely obsessed too. I love that. I love the book cart tip.

Zibby: I am totally obsessed. You’re going to go buy the library cart. Post a picture of it. Send it to me or something. I want to see it. I’ll send you mine. I’ll send a picture of it.

Amerie: Do you know how much space that is?

Zibby: I know. I’m telling you. It’s double-sided. Congratulations on your children’s book. So exciting.

Amerie: Thank you so much for having me. Thank you. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.



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