"I went viral for Michelle Obama, so she inspired me to write this book, which is on top of your computer," Parker Curry, co-author of Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment (Simon & Schuster), tells Romper, pointing to Romper's laptop. One of the great challenges book publicists face is having the author stay on message. You don't want them going on a rant about, say, the Kardashians when they should be promoting their book. This is a problem the publicist for 4-year-old author Parker doesn't have.
She is, indeed, the author of a book about herself. In 2018, a photo went viral of little Parker stopped in her tracks by the Amy Sherald portrait of Michelle Obama in the National Portrait Gallery. The image was so simple: a young black girl captivated by the beauty of a modern-day icon. Parker went "viral" again when she posed in a homemade version of Obama's dress. Virality being what it is, Parker and her mother Jessica (the co-author) are currently doing a book tour for the resulting children's book, with younger sister Ava, baby brother Cash, and dad in tow.
"This is the book for the library," Parker says, indicating that a copy of Parker Looks Up should be placed in one of the book stacks at the Bustle Digital Group offices for future reference. It has been decreed (by Parker) that her book should immediately join the literary canon, and I must agree. In short order, two Bustle staffers run over with bottles of apple juice, like handlers tending to a rockstar. "I know how to open it by myself!" says Parker as her mom attempts to help.
Traditionally, authors at least pretend to have acquired a distance from their own works, but when I ask Parker what her favorite book is, other than her own, she thinks for a moment, then replies: "Parker Looks Up."
"OK. Your second favorite book. What's your second favorite book?" prompts Jessica.
Parker likes The Snowy Day. A classic.
But Parker is most proud of her own masterpiece. "Let me show you my favorite page," she says flipping through the pages. "She's gonna be hype," she says in an aside to her mother. Parker turns the book to show me a spread of Michelle Obama, rendered by the book's illustrator Brittany Jackson. "Are you hype?"
Romper is hype.
Next she wants to sign a copy. "Would you like a copy? OK let me sign it to you. I'm also going to make a heart. You will love my writing. I'll show you."
Parker signs three copies with her name and a heart before the publicist's satchel runs dry. ""Anyone need a copy?" Parker asks. "Want me to sign it?"
Earlier that day, Parker and Jessica had met TV host and fellow children's author Hoda Kotb. Parker signed a copy for Hoda, too.
When pressed on what Parker's next book might be, Parker thinks for a moment, then answers: "Ava Looks Up!"
A natural-born marketing genius.
"Parker maybe your next book will be about all the possibilities," says Jessica.
On the far side of the viral moment in the portrait gallery, the pair have met Obama multiple times, and Jessica is not immune to the charisma of the former first lady.
"As a mom looking at her," she says, "I'm always struggling to juggle, struggling to find balance, and I remember at her Becoming book tour, she talked about everything's not going to always be perfect, you're always going to be trying to find balance, and obviously that resonated with me because most days are a circus."
The lovely thing about Amy Sherald's portrait in the first place was that it blew off the pedestrian sense of what a presidential portrait could be and gave us a true piece of art. It also confounded biases around blackness and beauty. "Applied to Michelle Obama, the lack of brown in the skin feels first like a loss, and then like a real gain," wrote The New Yorker's Doreen St. Felix after the unveiling. And in Parker Looks Up, another artist, Jackson, similarly transforms our tiny hero into art.
Parker listened to the spelling of my daughter's name, and dutifully inscribed a copy to S-c-O-U-t. Reading it that night, my daughter turned to a page of Parker dancing and gasped, "she's beautiful."