When Briantria Smocks moved to California last summer to support her two-year-old son’s acting career, she was met with some professional challenges. Her teaching credentials were taking some time to transfer, which prevented her from landing an administration role in her adopted state.
That was when Smocks’ mother, Nakia Montgomery, suggested an idea that would lead the mother-daughter duo to create an educational book series named Levi & Toonk.
“I was speaking to my mother about the struggles of finding a job in a new state, and she mentioned about writing a story about my son’s life because we had moved to California,” Smocks says. “We didn’t know what it would look like. But I thought about my passion for education, and if I can transfer that passion and skillset to another industry, I figured, why not go for it?”
Launching in late 2019, the book series follows Smocks’ son, Levi, as he explores life alongside his imaginary friend, Toonk. Blending Smocks’ background in education and Montgomery’s love for storytelling, Levi & Toonk features higher-level academic vocabulary with rich themes of family and identity.
As a family-owned business, it can be difficult separating the boundaries between home and work, but the founders have discovered a way to collaborate together, each focusing on two different sides of the company; Montgomery focuses on the writing side of the business, whereas Smocks manages the editing, marketing, and financials.
Establishing these clear roles has helped the mother and daughter find balance as family members and co-founders. “I had to wear two hats: mother and business partner. I had to understand that there is a mother side and a partner side, and you have to understand that you can walk very closely knitted to them. You have to respect both sides of them,” Montgomery says.
As an educational resource for gifted children of color, the founders recognize their role in filling the gap in the children’s book publishing world, where the New Majority is significantly underrepresented.
“We are committed to giving back to underserved children, but also all children who want to expand their vocabulary and be exposed to the life of a child that may be different than their own, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement happening right now,” says Smocks. “We feel that we are speaking to representation in the literature industry.”
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