Renee Brown is a published author, wife, mother, grandmother and former truck driver with a passion for telling stories that educate families and elevate communities. Born and raised by her grandparents in Georgetown, S.C., Renee never set out to be a writer. She got the idea to author a series of family books a few years ago after plans to start a nonprofit serving single mothers and children fell through. That’s when God led her to write the first installment of “The Big Rig Kids,” a story about five children who, alongside Grandma Polly and their dog Newton, travel around the community in a talking truck, teaching lessons about homelessness, bullying, counseling, post-traumatic stress disorder and even illnesses like sickle cell anemia.
As much as she loved the idea, she didn’t immediately jump into action: “I literally battled with God about this,” she said. “I told Him, ‘I can’t do it, won’t do it.’” But after three years of wrestling, Renee relented and partnered with her niece and illustrator, JaRabia Taylor, to create a diverse set of characters that would bring the books to life.
In creating her characters, Renee intentionally chose to use children from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. She did her research and gave them names that were common to their cultures. She added other attributes she hoped would help dispel stereotypes. For instance, her character Maria is Latina, but also has sickle cell, which many people associate with Black people. Two characters were modeled after real people. Grandma Polly, who drives the children around from place to place in the truck, was inspired by her grandmother Pauline. Renee also made the truck a humanlike woman (another nod at debunking stereotypes about only men driving trucks) and named her Sapphire, which was a nickname bestowed by her grandfather.
She finished her first book in 2016 and followed with two more in 2018 and 2019, respectively. She’s currently working on her fourth installment. That book will explore racism as a learned behavior through the lens of a boy forced to move after his family’s business is destroyed during racial justice riots sparked by the slaying of George Floyd in 2020.
Because of the nature of her books, Renee has started branding them as “family books” that spur conversation between children and their parents, guardians and other relatives. Each book starts with a situation or problem and ends with a solution. Those solutions oftentimes encourage readers to get involved with their community, but don’t come without the author’s own buy-in. After writing her first book, which details Maria’s battle with sickle cell, Renee organized several community blood drives in partnership with the Community Blood Center of the Carolinas. In connection with her second book, she led talks on bullying and homelessness at many civic organizations and public and private schools. She’s extolled the benefits of therapy, too. Her third book focuses on Black twins Sasha and Kayden welcoming their father home from war. Trouble ensues, though, when they realize his personality and moods have changed. In the end, the family goes to counseling together — Renee’s attempt at picking apart the stigma in Black communities that counseling is taboo.
“God gave this to me,” she said. “If anyone had told me earlier in my life that I’d be doing something like this, I’d tell them they were crazy.”