Taraji P. Henson Shares Inspiration For New Children’s Book

taraji p. henson
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 11:Taraji P. Henson takes part in SiriusXM’s Town Hall With The Cast Of ‘The Color Purple’ Hosted By Gayle King at SiriusXM Studios on December 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Taraji P. Henson drew from her personal life for her debut children’s book. Her book, “You Can Be a Good Friend (No Matter What!),” illustrated by Paul Kellam, releases on June 18 through Zonderkidz. The story follows Lil TJ, a young girl teased at school for being different, who follows her grandmother’s advice to make new friends.

Taraji P. Henson’s Family and Personal Inspirations

Henson, 53, was inspired by her family, especially her grandmother. The book starts with a dedication to her grandmother: “You catch more flies with honey.” This sentiment guides TJ throughout the book. “I was always told that as a child from my grandmother [and] my mother,” Henson tells PEOPLE. “Especially with these kids and social media and the knee-jerk reaction, like ‘You hit me, I’m going to hit you back.’ At some point, somebody has to rise above.”

Henson emphasizes the importance of choosing love and being a good friend despite challenges. “Just trying to teach the children at a very young age that it’s a choice and you can choose to be a good friend no matter what, and usually the other person will come around,” she said.

Mental Health Advocacy

Henson’s work in mental health inspired her book. “I work in mental health. I’m an advocate for mental wellness, and so it’s always about meeting people where they are and trying to help as much as I can make this journey called life a little easier for all of us,” Henson says.

In 2018, she started the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation to reduce stigma, support mental health initiatives, and improve mental health care access in Black communities. Her background in education also influenced her decision to write a children’s book. “I was a substitute teacher before my career took off, so I have a love for children,” she shares.

Motherhood and Personal Reflections

Henson reflects on her own parenting experiences in the book. She shares a story about her son, Marcell Johnson, now 30, and his imaginative adventures in pajama costumes. “In his mind, he was Batman or Spiderman in the grocery store, saving the day,” Henson recalls. “I was a very creative child when I was young, and so I just allowed him to be free and dream because I was allowed to be free and dream, hence why I’m an actress.”

The book’s main message is about choosing joy, even in difficult situations. “You have to choose joy,” Henson said. “Even in a situation where you feel like you’re being bullied, there’s a choice. You can choose to be the victim. Always speak up.”

“You Can Be a Good Friend (No Matter What!)” by Taraji P. Henson will be available on June 18, wherever books are sold.