The newest homebuyers guide isn’t a how-to book with boring jargon or a flimsy manual of platitudes. Instead, it’s “Princess Mackie Buys a House,” a new children’s book from first-time author and long-time local real estate agent Twala Lockett-Jones.
Released June 2 with thousands of copies already being distributed to children in Detroit, it follows the young pre-teen Mackie as she dreams of a castle she can paint however she wants and dance inside without disturbing the downstairs neighbors. Along the way Lockett-Jones, a broker and owner of her own firm, imparts lessons on setting goals and saving money which can lead anyone to owning their own castle.
Her idea started coming together in her mind five years ago when she was helping a young woman buy her first house.
“When we were looking at this house, she turned to me and she said, ‘I’m breaking generational curses in my family by purchasing this home,'” says Lockett-Jones.
Part picture book, part children’s story, and part guide to accomplishing goals, the Kalamazoo native has put her personal and professional life’s lessons in the pages. A homeowner herself at 19, she has spent more than two decades helping homebuyers’ dreams come true in the area. In 2019, she opened Lockett-Jones Realty Group – after working 23 years for Willie Mae Pearson, the first African American Realtor in Kalamazoo.
Lockett-Jones had casual conversations with family and friends about how best to educate others on the benefits of homeownership – informed by the racial disparity of home ownership in the United States, and inspired by her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, who instilled in her and 10 siblings the generational wealth-building value of owning over renting – and came up with the concept to reach people at a crucial age.
“I’ve always been into educating other people, and I’m passionate about real estate,” Lockett-Jones says. “Originally my idea was a children’s picture book, and it was going to be for kids in preschool, kindergarten, first grade age. Then the more I was writing, I was like there’s no way to condense this down to a picture book, and so I was targeting third to fifth grade [readers].”
In a community meeting, Mark Jones, CEO of Portage-based AmeriFirst Home Mortgage, asked what they could do to support her community efforts to increase the rate of Black home ownership. Lockett-Jones told the group about her work in progress. The more she talked, the more people asked about “Princess Mackie Buys a House.”
Lockett-Jones worked with Sonya Bernard-Hollins, CEO of Kalamazoo-based Season Press Publishing, for self-publishing support, and connected her with illustrator Melissa Bailey.
The craft of finding the right illustrations for her first book, though, was different than selling homes, which she has plenty of experience doing. Lockett-Jones had a vision for her main character, and “it wasn’t love at first sight” when Bailey sent her options for the characters.
“I asked her to change some stuff on the character,” Lockett-Jones says, laughing. “Finally, she sent me this other image, and she said, ‘That’s the first thing I sent.'”
Lockett-Jones credited Bailey’s illustrating and writing experience with helping her flesh out the story. Bailey guided Lockett-Jones through narrative structures like the importance of time and passing seasons, things key to illustrating a character’s clothing, but she also helped Lockett-Jones discover the story between Mackie and her dad.
“I wanted Mackie’s mom in my story to be a single mom because that’s the demographic that feels like they can never own a home,” Lockett-Jones says. “I just wanted to mention she had a dad, he passed away, but Melissa said, ‘No, people want to know the story of Mackie and her dad.'”
With Bailey’s help, Lockett-Jones established key aspects of Mackie’s character and her reasoning behind wanting a home of her own.
After receiving a grant from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, Lockett-Jones was able to pay Bailey and have her book printed. “It’s kind of a pricey process, even with self-publishing,” she says.
What started as a picture book ended up as a 112-page chapter book for young readers. AmeriFirst Home Mortgage sponsored the book, and bought 4,000 copies distributed to 76 elementary schools in the Detroit area.
Lockett-Jones says she isn’t done yet.
“At the end of the story, Mackie gets a puppy, and so in the next book it’s going to be “Princess Mackie Builds a House” and she’s going to build a dog house for Max in the backyard. I want to introduce the trades to kids.”
Lockett-Jones will be at the Epic Center in downtown Kalamazoo for the July 8 Art Hop where she will be signing copies of “Princess Mackie Buys a House” alongside Mackie’s namesake, Lockett-Jones’ niece. The book is available for purchase locally at Michigan News Agency, 308 W. Michigan Ave., and for sale on Amazon.
“This is just more than a book about buying a house,” Lockett-Jones says. “It’s a book about legacy and generational wealth building and goal setting and budgeting and saving.”
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