“Mama, why does the Cheshire cat grin?”

This is the question that led Elisabeth Jackson to become a published author at just 7 years old.

Her mom, Gyquetta, had noticed Elisabeth’s bright smile one morning. “I told her she was grinning like a Cheshire cat,” she said. “But at age 6, she didn’t know what a Cheshire cat was, and she asked: ‘Mama, why does the Cheshire cat grin?’”

Just like any other homeschooling mama, Gyquetta thought this was a great learning opportunity, so she flipped the question back to Elisabeth, and asked her why she thought the Cheshire cat grinned.

“She’s thankful—that’s why she’s happy,” Elisabeth answered. “She’s thankful for all her blessings, like food to eat, and toys to play with.”

Elisabeth’s answer inspired her 2nd-grade language arts project, which then led to a picture book she wrote and illustrated, called Why Does the Cheshire Cat Grin? The book follows the story of Chesshie the cat, who knows that the secret to happiness is an attitude of gratitude. It draws inspiration from Christian values and includes Bible verses about giving thanks. 

Becoming a published author

Elisabeth showed her book to her grandparents and family friends. They all thought it was a book “worthy of a space in their favorite bookstore,” Gyquetta said.

So, Gyquetta did some research and decided to launch a publishing agency to print the book. She also hired a graphic designer to teach Elisabeth how to format each page to give her book a more polished appearance. It was important for her and her husband that Elisabeth be involved in every step of the publishing process, since it was also part of her education.  

Throughout the process, the family joined a couple of writers’ groups that connected them with additional resources and offered support and guidance along the way. 

One particular group invited Elisabeth to join other Christian authors and share a vendor booth at one of the largest annual homeschool events in the country—The Southeast Homeschool Expo in Atlanta. Elisabeth had a great time meeting customers, smiling for pictures at the booth, and signing and selling copies of her book.

Elisabeth at a bookstore signaling her own book.

Elisabeth has also accepted invitations to be the special guest author for story time at popular bookstores, coffee shops, libraries, kid entrepreneur fairs, and a community pop-up market. She usually brings along a stuffed replica of her book’s main character, Chesshie the Cat, that she made during her sewing class last year, and she wears her matching dress and necklace that she also created and stitched herself.  

During her reading, she invites her audience to sing along with her and Chesshie, as she plays the song Jesus Loves Me! on the violin.  

You can find Elisabeth’s book at booksellers worldwide and at her own website ChesshieTheCat.com.

When asked about her thoughts on writing and publishing her book, Elisabeth said, “At first, I didn’t really think I could do it, but then my mama told me I could do it, so I did it.”

“It’s important to be thankful,” she added. Just like Chessie, she feels thankful for the many blessings in her life.  

Gyquetta and her husband knew they wanted to homeschool their daughter, before she was born. They wanted to be her most influential teachers and educate her in their Christian faith. After four years of homeschooling, they’ve also come to love the freedom and flexibility that it provides.

“We love being able to tailor Elisabeth’s curriculum and activities while showing her that every challenge is an opportunity for growth,” Gyquetta said. 

Unique Dishes, Environmental Posters, and Road Trips

Gyquetta and her husband noticed Elisabeth’s specific interests and passions early in her life: science, art, and music. And they used the flexibility afforded by homeschooling to tailor her curriculum to nurture those gifts.

For example, Elisabeth likes gardening and cooking. So, in the 2nd grade, Gyquetta assigned her a project: create a unique dish using eggs and produce from the family’s own garden. She came up with the idea thanks to Kids Gardening, an organization that provides educational resources to get more kids learning through gardening. The whole family helped Elisabeth embark on the challenge. 

Elisabeth preparing the zucchini boats.

“She gathered zucchini, strawberries, rose petals, and cherry tomatoes from our garden,” Gyquetta said. “And we helped her produce boiled eggs, grilled zucchini boats topped with parmesan, walnut brownies from a zucchini batter, and chocolate cake.”

“We used the petals and strawberries for the filling of the chocolate cake!” Elisabeth said.

Elisabeth also participated in a national contest hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where participants had to create a poster that encouraged people to care for the earth by planting more trees, reducing the use of plastics, and using worms to help decompose plastics.

The poster was titled “Elisabeth and the Green Guardians.” The Green Guardians—Poly Plastics, Orie Organics, Percy Pollution, Rita Recycle, and Trina Trees—encouraged people to take care of the earth in different ways. The poster earned her a first-place certificate in her age range.

The flexibility that homeschooling provides has also permitted Gyquetta’s family to travel throughout the US and explore different places, while cultivating an appreciation for various peoples and their respective cultures. 

The Jackson family on their recent trip to Hawaii.

When asked where she'd like to go next, Elisabeth said she'd love to go to Mexico, Australia, and Greece, among other countries.

Love of learning

Besides writing and illustrating, Elisabeth also enjoys science experiments, making slime, dissecting stuff, creating her own jewelry collection, and designing and sewing the fanciest dresses that she can dream up for her Barbie dolls, herself, and even Chesshie.

“My husband and I feel incredibly blessed that we get to see Elisabeth go through the paths of life and watch her love of learning blossom before our very eyes,” Gyquetta said.

Discovering a nurturing community

Gyquetta and Elisabeth are happy to have found a nurturing community at DeKalb Christian Home Educators (DCHE), a homeschool support group in Georgia that was founded in 1989, and that offers all sorts of classes, activities, and field trips for homeschooled kids.

According to Gyquetta, being involved with DCHE has been “exceptionally enriching” since it has offered their family memorable field trips and extracurricular activities—from martial arts and piano instruction to Bible quizzing. This past school year, Elisabeth won first place for her age group in DCHE’s spelling bee contest.

Above all, “Elisabeth has found a place of friendship amongst a group of peers who are also growing in like precious faith,” Gyquetta said.

“It’s fun!” Elisabeth said, referring to her time spent at the group.

Each year, DCHE co-hosts the conference Flourish: Homeschool Conference alongside Georgia Black Home Educators Network (GBHEN). This conference aims to connect homeschooling families with resources and training so they can successfully homeschool their children and prepare them for their careers.

DCHE and GBHEN last hosted the Flourish conference in January 2024, and it was especially encouraging for Gyquetta, her husband, and Elisabeth.

“Elisabeth was invited to give a book presentation to a group of the youngest attendees,” Gyquetta said. “My husband was encouraged by a panel of experienced homeschooling husbands and fathers, and I was encouraged to meet many highly experienced wives and mothers who shared their wisdom generously.”

Gyquetta was especially impressed with the wealth of knowledge shared by three of HSLDA’s representatives: LaNissir James, Black outreach coordinator, Natalie Mack, military community outreach coordinator, and Rochelle Matthews-Somerville, special needs educational specialist. Gyquetta has been an HSLDA member for four years and was grateful for them showing their commitment to the homeschooling community at Flourish.

“They encouraged us to hang in there and persevere. And they reminded us that it’s worth the sacrifices,” she said.

Gyquetta and her husband have great hope for Elisabeth’s bright future in homeschooling and beyond. And they feel blessed to not feel alone in their homeschooling journey. As for Elisabeth, she’s already working on writing her second book—a story that she started more than three years ago starring original characters inspired by their family.