Four years ago, Keller’s daughter came home from first grade during Black History Month with an article on the mostly self-taught astronomer, scientist and mathematician Benjamin Banneker, a free African American born in Baltimore County, Md., in 1731.
“I actually majored in African-American history in college and really thought I knew all the key people throughout American history of African descent, and I’d never come across his name before,” Keller said.
Growing up in Texas, the only figures mentioned in her history classes were Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Keller pursued her interests at the University of Miami. Later, as a stay-at-home mom, she focused on writing whenever possible, even taking a screenwriting class from UCLA a few years ago.
Intrigued by the life and achievements of Banneker (who even wrote his own almanac), she spent eight months researching him. Her book covers his successful attempt to construct a striking clock from the template of the gears inside a pocket watch, which he completed at age 22.
Though he was never enslaved, Banneker attended school only briefly. He was later an abolitionist and corresponded with Thomas Jefferson about civil rights. In his later years, Banneker helped survey the terrain where the nation’s capital would be erected.
Keller chose the children’s-book format — the book features illustrations by David C. Gardner — because she feels that kids need constructive role models. “He still managed to educate himself — he still managed to succeed,” Keller said.
Keller has alerted all elementary schools using Banneker’s name about her book, and has sent free copies to some underfunded schools. “Those are the kids that need that positive image the most,” she said.
Keller has another children’s book under consideration with Tick Tock’s publisher, Sleeping Bear Press. She also has two more works she hopes to publish: another picture book for young ones and a middle-grade book.
On Dec. 10, Keller will be part of the Colfax Elementary School fundraiser and book-signing at the Homestead Barnes & Noble. On Jan. 14 and 15, Keller will participate in Story Time: Makeshop at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.