Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade redefine ‘shade’ with children’s book inspired by daughter

"We wanted to develop a children’s book that positioned Black girls as leaders and shade as their superpower"

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Just when you think they’ve done it all, actress Gabrielle Union and former NBA superstar Dwyane Wade have joined forced to pen a children’s book in honor of their daughter, Kaavia James.

As the youngest member of the Union-Wade pack, 3-year-old Kaavia has made her mark on the world, earning the nickname #ShadyBaby, due to her no-nonsense demeanor and unenthused, yet adorable, facial expressions. In a world where Black people are policed from a young age, it’s refreshing to see her parents allow her to be herself, always in all ways.

The power couple sat down with theGrio to discuss all things Kaavia, their secret behind modern-day parenting and the legacy they hope to leave behind for their family.

Read More: Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade talk raising kids to ‘be their true selves’

Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union and their daughter, Kaavia James Union-Wade.
Photo: Ayanna McKnight

theGrio: “Shady Baby” is not only the title of the book but it’s a lifestyle. What was the driving force behind creating this book at this time?

Gabrielle Union: We came up with the idea of the children’s book from Kaav. We’ve let who she becomes lead us. The more we were starting to see how folks were interacting with her and her page, we noticed how people believe she writes her own captions (lol) but that many people saw her and her “shade” as freedom. So we wanted to develop a children’s book that positioned black girls as leaders and shade as their superpower. When you think of shade and think of Kaav being “shady,” it’s because someone has not respected her boundaries or has done something she doesn’t like. 

Shady Baby and the main character is just being evident on good behavior, bad behavior, and a little Black girl leading the account with her friends. It’s sweet and accessible, but rooted in freedom to lead, freedom to be vulnerable, freedom to see accountability as a great thing.

G: You recruited Tara Nicole Whitaker for the illustrations of the book. Was it intentional to have a Black woman illustrator? What was that experience like?

Dwyane Wade: Yes, it was intentional. It was important for us to find someone who can understand the essence of Kaav–her joy, shade, everything. We went back and forth a lot because it was essential to us for Kaavia to be seen the way she is. Tara did an amazing job creating this character. She has a lot of great work and we’re honored she was able to capture what we wanted. Kaavia loved it immediately! She saw it and said, “baby Kaavia!” She nailed it.

Union: Also, if not us, then who? If we know we have the power to put people on, and make sure folks who look like us are working, we’re going to. Between Welcome to the Party and Shady Baby, we wanted to make sure we were using Black women illustrators. 

Shady Baby official book cover Photo: HarperCollins Books

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G: Although we get a glimpse of her life on Instagram, what is Kaavia really up to these days?

Wade: We try to allow Kaavia to be just Kaavia–we try not to put any restraints on her. We love to see her Black girl joy. We want her to be, unapologetically, Kaavia James Union-Wade, Whatever that means. She’s into everything and has a full schedule. We fill her day with educational things, some athletic things, social things. She’s starting soccer and languages next. In between all of that, she has so many playdates requests; it’s hard to keep up!

G: Gabrielle, your pen is hot right now! Your bestseller ‘We’re Going to Need More Wine’ gave us an up-close and personal look at your life. What can we expect from ‘You Got Anything Stronger?’

Union: Whew, as much as I thought I went there with Need More Wine, I don’t hold back at all with this one. In the original draft of Wine, I scrapped some stuff I wasn’t healed from to talk about effectively. Now, with more therapy and time to process, I have a different perspective. I leave it all on the table and it was very cathartic to channel all that energy during the pandemic.

G: D. Wade, you recently spoke out about the importance of budgeting and financial literacy. Entrepreneurship and investing have been huge for the Black community lately. Do you have any advice for young Black professionals on money management?

Wade: I got drafted at 21, and I didn’t know anything about how to manage my money. I only knew how to do a checkbook the right way. There are many things in our community we don’t speak on, mainly because our parents are just trying to provide and make sure we survive. So it’s important to become knowledgeable about business, income, and money. We’re making sure our kids know the value of a dollar and its value. I’m an advocate for re-educating our people on things we should’ve learned in elementary school and what it requires to stay there.

G: Both of you are rightful legends in your lanes, but as a united front, you’re crushing it! While raising these well-rounded, outspoken, free Black kids, what are the biggest lessons you instill in them? What’s the legacy you hope to leave behind through them?

Wade: That’s a great question. You hit it on the head, actually. Our goal is to raise free black kids as much as we possibly can. The world is hard enough; we see this every day. It’s our job for our children to understand and know that we see them, hear them, and understand them. It doesn’t mean everything they say and want will happen or is right, but we give them the freedom and ability to be their authentic selves. Our job is to understand the world as it evolves and not just tech-related but as people. We take our responsibility seriously, and it’s our duty to raise them to understand their power.

Union: A lot of it comes from getting it wrong and being honest. We’re both the first generation of parents who embrace apologizing to our kids. Then we start to find the answer together. When Zaire and Zaya were younger, it was fear-based parenting, just a response to all the fears of life. But when you do that, you instill the fears in them. It makes you wonder do they become who they become based on what’s in their heart and on their mind or in response to that fear-based mindset? So much of parenting is just reacting. It’s a challenge, but we did it the other way, and all that led to was years and years of therapy. So we might as well try it a different way, and that’s what we’re doing.

Shady Baby hits shelves on May 18.

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