Jazmyn Simon & Dulé Hill’s New Children’s Book Isn’t Just For Kids

Repeat After Me: Big Things To Say Every Day has a beautiful message for everyone.

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From the time Jazmyn Simon and Dulé Hill’s adult daughter Kennedy was 3 years old — back when Simon was raising her as a single mom, before Hill adopted Kennedy as a tween — mother and daughter would recite daily affirmations on the way to school. “I read many, many years ago that when you say affirmations in first person, that your brain rewires itself to believe exactly what you’re saying,” Simon tells Romper. “I wanted to start her day on a good foot.” This daily practice, which the couple continued with their 4-year-old, Levi, is part of what inspired their new children’s book, Repeat After Me: Big Things To Say Every Day. But the book came from a moment of tragedy, and a desire for entire communities, not just their children, to see the best in themselves.

Throughout our conversation, the Hills have a kind of cooperative energy, owing, perhaps, to the fact that they met at work, on the set of Ballers, and haven’t stopped working together since. And because their latest collaboration is a children’s book, I ask them their favorite books from childhood. For Simon, it’s The Chocolate Touch — a wacky and whimsical middle grade story. For Hill it’s The Little Engine That Could. “And that’s why we’re together,” Simon says with a laugh. “Because I’m talking about a book where a kid turns things into chocolate and he’s talking about a motivational book. And now you have a peek inside of our marriage. Welcome, everybody!”

Simon, Hill, and their children Levi, 4, and Kennedy, 18.Courtesy of the Hills

It’s easy to imagine this sense of thoughtfulness and levity helped buoy them (and was certainly tested) during the pandemic. The Hills weathered the early months of Covid with the same sense of bleakness and fear as many of us. And then, in June, George Floyd was murdered, reigniting heated conversation about policing and race that America has never satisfactorily addressed. That murder was played over and over on the news and online. It was traumatizing, and the couple wondered what was going through the minds of children, especially children of color, who were witnessing that. At the time, Kennedy was 15, and when they asked how she was feeling she replied brightly, “I’m fine.”

“Her dad was like, ‘I’m fine is not a feeling. That’s not how you feel,’” Simon recalls. Kennedy instantly burst into tears. Working through those emotions was “heartbreaking,” they say, but necessary. It also inspired the couple to sit down, with a sticky pad from the junk drawer (“Don’t judge: everyone has one,” jokes Simon.) and start to plan out what would ultimately become Repeat After Me. “We wanted to remind children that they are the best of themselves,” Simon explains. “Not what they see, not what they hear, but the absolute best of themselves.”

Shamar Knight-Justice illustrated this sweet book.Random House

Full of inspiring, rhyming affirmations and accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Shamar Knight-Justice, Repeat After Me lets readers know they are worthy, loved, deserving and enough. “Readers” is a specifically chosen word here, because the couple did not just write this down with children in mind. “It’s for the people who are reading the book to children and the children who are repeating the words,” Hill adds. “I truly believe that when people can really accept themselves and see themselves for all the wonderfulness that allows them to also see that in other people. Even if the steps are incremental, it can be a domino effect from family to community to world. I truly believe that the more that we can lean into that, the better society we would have as a whole.”

Repeat After Me is Simon’s second children’s book (her first, Most Perfect You, was released last year), and Hill’s first. I ask what that collaboration was like and Hill is quick to answer.

“It’s very easy to write a children’s book when you are married to a children’s book author,” he muses. “So the process for me was, ‘Yeah, that’s great, babe. Yeah, yeah. We should do this. Yeah, you know what? Add that period right there.’”

“He’s only half joking,” Simon laughs. “I had a lot of the ideas, because I had already done the affirmations with Kennedy for a long time, but he is a tap dancer and he’s really good at rhythm, so he had a great sense of rhyme.”

The pair also wanted to present a united front in the project to highlight the importance of fathers in the care of their children and “change the narrative” and societal stereotypes about fathers in general and Black fathers in particular.

Simon, Hill, and Levi share a cuddly moment.Courtesy of the Hills.

“I think oftentimes we don’t hear it enough about fathers leaning into the emotions, and the feelings, and the understandings that go on inside of our children,” says Hill. “Most of the time when you think about Black fathers, the word that’s out there is ‘absentee.’ And it’s not true. There’s millions of people out there just like me who love their children, who want to give their best to their children — uphold, strengthen, encourage, and protect their children. That light: we just don’t see that.”

“Why would that be on the news?” Simon deadpans.

So will there be more children’s book from the Hills?

“Here’s the thing,” Simon confides, “both of those books sprouted straight from deep inside my heart. I don’t want to just write books to write books. I will write another book the moment something sprouts from my heart, when it really moves me and I think that it can make a difference in someone's life. My children are my greatest inspiration. And since Levi is so young, I think there’s a lot of inspiration to come.”

Will her husband lend his rhythm and rhyme again?

“And I’ll be with her everywhere she goes.”

(Good answer.)

Repeat After Me: Big Things To Say Every Day is available now wherever books are sold.

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