Montclair’s Alliah L. Agostini is bringing the streets of East New York and the rhythms of Jamaica to youngsters with the release of her second children’s book, “Big Tune: Rise of the Dancehall Prince.”  

And she’ll be appearing in person to talk to local kids about her book at the Montclair Literary Festival on Saturday, May 6. 

“Big Tune” follows Shane, a shy boy growing up in the 1990s whose personality shines through on the dance floor. Shane saves up all year to buy a new pair of shoes, but is faced with a dilemma when the speaker used at the Big Tune Saturday party breaks. The book touches on determination, confidence to express who you are, selflessness and community gratitude. 

For Agostini, writing the character of Shane wasn’t a challenge due to the inspiration she had in her own life. She grew up in a Caribbean-American home, and so did her husband, who largely inspired the book.

“I think there's something interesting about being a first-gen kid because you kind of have your foot in American culture, where you're growing up, but then also you have another foot in the  culture that your parents grew up with, too,” she said. 

The idea of “straddling the two cultures and making a hybrid of your own,” as Agostini put it, is something that is exemplified in the book. The main character dreams of classic high-top sneakers and flaunts a high-top fade that was a popular haircut in the hip-hop scene in the 1990s while also indulging in smoked foods and reggae tunes. 

Agostini’s first book, “The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States,” about the Juneteenth holiday, was released last May. The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved people of the Emancipation Proclamation and their freedom — two months after the Civil War ended, and more than two years after President Lincoln issued the proclamation in 1863. Broadly, it serves as a celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S. 

Both books allowed Agostini to tap into her personal life in hopes of teaching the new generation of Black children to be proud of their history. 

“I've got these children that are heritage-wise, they're more Caribbean than American, but of course, they're very American babies. And I go back to me wanting to be the change that I want to see,” she said. 

Agostini partnered with illustrator Shamar Knight-Justice to provide imagery for lines such as “Brown skin shines with black light’s glow.” Throughout “Big Tune,” Knight-Justice employs vibrant colors to capture the feel of a bustling street in Brooklyn or the calm of the brownstone steps as Shane makes his way to the corner store. 

Being able to provide accurate illustrations for the book was not a task that Agostini took lightly. She spent weeks scrolling through social media websites to find the perfect person to put the feeling of her words on the page.

“I happened to come across the illustrations on Instagram, and he had really great illustrations of little Black boys, which I thought were important to me,” she said. “And I knew that he was in the beginning of his career, so I was like, if this book could be an opportunity for an up-and-coming illustrator, I would love that!” 

Agostini created inspiration boards and held conversations with Knight-Justice where they both collaborated to create the book. Not only was she focused on highlighting Caribbean culture through the visuals, but also on creating a specific rhythm that mimics the tune of a dance hall-esque song. 

She tirelessly went over the cadence of the book with other writers to make sure that readers, whether of Caribbean ancestry or not, can follow the beat. 

“People don't realize they’re like, ‘Oh, rhyming books are super-cute. I love that. It's like Dr. Seuss.’  I'm like, ‘You know what, they're not cute,’” she said. “They're actually very hard to do because you're trying to tell a story within a specific rhyme scheme and a specific rhythm scheme, so there's rhyme and rhythmic elements to it.” 

Agostini has already made appearances on behalf of her book. On April 1 she and Knight-Justice got together for a Q&A at the Montclair Public Library, where Montclair dance studio Beyond the Boogie performed a dance-hall routine to bring the Big Tune Saturday parts of the book to life. 

Her presentation at the Montclair Literary Festival on May 6 will be from 1 to 1:45 p.m. at the Montclair Public Library tent. The event, recommended for children ages 3 to 6, is free.