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The Brown Bookshelf team blogs about children's literature, interviews authors and librarians, new releases in children's literature and several other issues and topics in children's literature.
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I’m a dreamer. I grew up in a lower middle class environment where the stretch goal was simply
survival. Many of my neighbors had never ventured far from the city. Reading wasn’t a popular hobby. Dreams were for other people.
But my mother introduced me to every free or low cost cultural program she could find. I took art classes at the Museum of Art. Spent days sketching by a replica of The Thinker near the
reflecting pond. And my weekends existed living in the stacks of the Public Library and carrying home as many books as I was allowed at the end of the day. Whenever I needed to escape myenvironment, books were there to guide me. I immersed in Barbar and envisioned myself traveling with the king to a far distant land. I was Madeleine lined up in a row of similarlydressed girls.
All the while I doodled designs of futuristic cities while munching popcorn in front
of Lost In Space. I imagined being tutored by the magical Mary Poppins. But in those books and movies the characters were animals or they were white. Other than Star Trek, people of various backgrounds didn’t exist in the imagined futures for our world. I loved Uhura, Checkov and
Sulu. But I wanted them to be my Captain Kirks.
A few years ago, I spoke at a public library in Arkansas. Over the course of a week I talked
about writing to 25 busloads of elementary school children. At the end of the week a teacher
returned and said one of her students was perplexed that I had gone to MIT. The teacher,
confused by the girl’s question, pressed her. The young girl wanted to know if she could go to a
school like that, given that she was Hispanic. She wanted to know if it was allowed. And if so,
could she tag along with the teacher who, herself, was studying for her Masters degree at a
nearby college. In that child’s neighborhood, college wasn’t in the vocabulary. And in her
literature, girls like her didn’t exist at all.
I want you to think about that a minute.
Decades after the multicultural Star Trek series debuted, contemporary literature and the media
still play a large role in the perception that options for children of color are severely limited.
Popular fiction and blockbuster movies center around children who are not Hispanic, or Native
American or . . . (fill in the blanks). In the rare instance where they are, movie directors make a
course correction. For instance, in writing Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula LeGuin created a world in
which all of the communities were populated by people who were various shades of brown. No
specific ethnicity is delineated. The hero is brown, the villain is blonde and blue eyed. In
translating the book into a mini-series for the SyFy channel, Producer Robert Halmi of Hallmark
Entertainment cast all the characters using white actors and said he had “improved upon the
author’s vision.” Ursula LeGuin responded by saying he had wrecked her books.
In recreating the popular Avatar: The Last Airbender, director M. Knight Shamalayan cast all of
the Asian heroes with white actors. The villain who was white in the series, became Asian in the
movie. Children of color are tokens in the background of Harry Potter’s universe but not in his
inner circle. The olive-skinned girl in Hunger Games becomes Jennifer Lawrence. See the trend?
For children of color the message is clear: when it comes to being a hero in a fantastical
adventure . . .
But it also sends a more dangerous message to society. For people of a majority race it may
imbed a subconscious message of “only you,” or worse . . .
In watching the protests around the country starting with, but not limited to Ferguson Missouri, I
found myself wondering if someone like ex-officer Darren Wilson grew up surrounded by
images of people like him who were the heroes, the leaders, the enforcers and where people who
didn’t look like them were villains to be feared. Police officers who are later assigned to patrol
neighborhoods where gifted children are stunted because they were trained by society, and
sometimes their own communities, to stop dreaming beyond the end of the street.
In crafting The Lost Tribes I envisioned a world where those children were integral to the story
and allowed to take center stage. Children who were very smart, but not perfect. Children who
bickered and made mistakes while they worked out solutions and came together as a team out of
necessity but remained together out of mutual respect. I envisioned characters informed by their
cultural backgrounds but not constrained by them. I wanted to create an environment where the
characters faced frightening situations and had to work out the solutions without the use of magic
wands or other tricks that would substitute for logic and team work. In a sense – if your world is
falling apart what would an ordinary kid do with few skills and no training?
I had a vision, for instance, of who the character of Serise would be. She’s Navajo and I knew book
research wouldn’t substitute for spending time in her environment. So I spent two weeks in Rock
Point, Arizona. It is a small town onthe reservation where I met two teens who were Goth and quiet. I met another who was quite outspoken. I came armed with books, including a lot of age appropriate fiction. They leaped for the nonfiction, showed me how to log on to a password protected satellite dish so I could check emails, and talked about their lives and dreams with me. And so Serise was reborn as a computer hacker, far from the stereotypes people have about Native American girls.
My protagonist, Ben, thinks basketball is the ticket to success. He eschews his parent’s scientific interests as the stuff of nerds. In working with urban students I learned that many hide being smart. It’s easier to be athletic. It’s expected. It’s often emphasized. So it is fascinating that a friend and librarian forwarded an excerpt of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book in which he talks aboutfulfilling society’s expectations of aspiring to be a top athlete until he read a fascinating fact about the speed of light and black holes. He decided science was infinitely more interesting and
became an astrophysicist.
My characters, like my readers, crave adventure and as an engineer
writing science fiction I understood that Earth already held much
stranger backdrops than anything I could make up. For example the
Moai of Easter Island or the Terra Cotta Army.
I wrote Tribes to say “Yes. You belong in the wider context of the
universe.” “Yes. You can be the center of an adventure.” “Yes, children
from different backgrounds can and do work together for a common
purpose.” “Yes you can dream bigger than the landscape of your own
As we approach February, inevitably children across the
country will be introduced to the same ubiquitous fare that
adults provide every year. We’ll fill their reading lists with
realistic fiction, historical fiction and angst based nonfiction centered around race. But we won’t
tell them they can aspire to slay dragons, build castles or venture out into the great unknown.
They won’t travel to outer space or even abroad to a foreign land. When they are looking at the
stars, we’ll quiz them on books that go no farther than their own environments. And when some
children are dreaming of the future, we’ll be drilling into their heads only visions of a painful
During Black History Month we’ll ask, “What are you doing to fulfill Dr. King’s dreams?” and
therein lies the rub.
Because it’s the wrong question.
We should be asking, “What are you doing to fulfill YOUR dreams?” and then make it our
priority to point them toward a path that will get them there.
I’m still a dreamer. I found my path forward in books and used the clues to figure out how to
reach for the stars. Perhaps it is time for publishing to provide those clues forward without our
readers needing a universal translator to see themselves between the pages. Perhaps it is time for
a broader selection of children to be shown leading the way.
C. Taylor-Butler is the author of more than 70 books for children. A graduate of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology with dual degrees in Civil Engineering and Art and
Design, she serves as Chair of one of their regional Educational Councils. After traveling the
world and speaking to thousands of children with dreams of their own, she has decided children
of color shouldn’t have to settle for second place.
The Lost Tribes Series
“Well-written and well-paced: a promising start to what should be an exciting and unusual sci-fi
series. (Science fiction. 10-14)” Kirkus Reviews, Jan. 2015
To find more speculative fiction featuring children of color (sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, time
travel, alternate history, dystopia, horror, etc.), see the list compiled by Zetta Elliot’s at
Zetta Elliot’s list
Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks
Today, we are proud to announce the honorees for our eighth annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of emerging and established children’s book creators of color. Each day during February, we will showcase an outstanding author or illustrator. We invite you to come along on our journey and spread the news to your friends.
The submissions window for our campaign opened in September and closed on October 31. We are grateful for the wonderful suggestions from librarians, teachers, publishers and kidlit lovers that came in. Our team considered those names along with internal nominations and nominees from past years, keeping focused on our mission to raise awareness of the many African-American voices writing for young readers.
The campaign will begin on Sunday, February 1, 2015, and we will honor 28 children’s book creators in all – 23 authors and five illustrators. This year, we’re honoring an up-and-comer who has selflessly given to others as she pushes toward publication among the authors too.
The honorees and the day they will be featured are as follows:
Vanguard authors/illustrators in bold.
1. C.J. Farley
2. JaNay Brown-Wood
3. Connie Schofield-Morrison
4. R. Gregory Christie
5. Dhonielle Clayton
6. Stephanie Perry Moore
7. Langston Hughes
8. Katheryn Russell-Brown
9. Jan Spivey Gilchrist
10. Jackie Wellington
11. Jesmyn Ward
12. Betty K. Bynum
13. Patrik Henry Bass
14. Wynton Marsalis
15. Faith Ringgold
16. Tonya Cherie Hegamin
17. Fredrick McKissack, Jr.
18. Misty Copeland
19. Christine Taylor-Butler
20. Mildred Pitts Walter
22. Lucille Clifton
23. Jerry Craft
24. Justina Ireland
25. Georgia McBride
26. Brandy Colbert
27. John Steptoe
28. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Guest post by Irene Smalls
This Black History Month, let’s support reading achievement, fitness and health.
According to the CDC, during the years between 2007 and 2010, 51% of Black and 41% of Hispanic children were informed by doctors that they were overweight. The State of Obesity Report 9/14, shows that of children ages 6-11, 23.8% of Black kids were obese, while Whites were 13.1%. Obesity is higher for Black and Latino kids with rates increasing at earlier ages, and with higher severity. A Health Journal 9/14 review says obesity impedes a child’s achievement due to low self-esteem & poorer health. The National Association of Educational Progress’ 2014 report, shows Black students lag 26 points in reading by age 9. Research shows fit kids perform better in school. Exercise increases the formation of new brain cells and connections between brain cells.
Here are16 Black Children’s Books for Better Bodies and Better Brains
•Maya Loves to Dance, by Cheryl Willis Hudson
•Jonathan and His Mommy, by Irene Smalls
•Kevin and His Dad, by Irene Smalls
•I Told You I Can Play! by Brian Jordan
•JoJo’s Flying Sidekick, by Brian Pinkney
•Shoes Like Miss Alice’s, by Angela Johnson
•Happy Feet: The Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hoppers and Me, by Richard Michelson
•Jump Rope Magic, by Afi Scruggs
•Watch Me Dance, by Andrea and Brian Pinkney
•I Am a Jesse White Tumbler, by Diane Schmidt
•Jazz Baby, by Lisa Wheeler
•My Nana and Me, by Irene Smalls
•Catching the Moon; The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream, by Crystal Hubbard
•Rap A Tap Tap: Here’s Bojangles – Think of That, by Leo and Diane Dillon
•Dancing in the Wings, by Debbie Allen
•Firebird by Misty Copeland
Habari Gani? Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)! “To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.” We celebrate this Kwanzaa principle today with a post by Justin Scott Parr, author of the Sage Carrington middle-grade series.
Inspired by his little cousin’s curiosity about his travels to Africa and Latin America, Justin created his first novel, Sage Carrington: Eighth-Grade Science Sleuth which blends culture, history and mystery. The titular character is a 12-year-old African-American girl who loves science, baseball and fashion and treasures her friends. His second novel, Sage Carrington: Math Mystery in Mexico City, and the second companion journal, Book of Love: Math Edition, debuted earlier this month.
His engaging website, http://www.sagecarrington.com, transports you to Sage’s world through educational and fun activities like “Realizing Your Civic Power” and “Cultivate a Garden,” a peek inside Sage’s best-friends journal that she shares with BFF Isabel Flores and a profile of Sage, Isabel and their friend Benji. Learn more about Justin, a former web developer for Oracle, in this Black Enterprise feature.
Here, he shares his writing journey and mission to celebrate children of color:
I was born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina and am a lover of all things science, math, and technology related. An adventurer at heart, I impart my love of “the journey” into each Sage Carrington tale. My first international travel was to Africa…the Nile Valley of Egypt. That voyage changed my life by awakening a deep historical curiosity. Since then, I’ve accumulated wisdom from myriad travel experiences, and I want to help kids learn about the various cultures and vibrant locales that make our world such an incredible place. Sage Carrington is the vehicle that allows me to do this.
Who is Sage Carrington?
Nefertari Sage Carrington is a 12-year-old girl who lives in Washington, DC. She’s also a math and science lover who enjoys exploring the wonders of our natural world. Along with her best friend Isabel Flores, Sage is a confident, curious, intelligent girl who lives in a thriving community that enables and encourages her pursuit of happiness.
How is Sage Carrington different from other characters in children’s fiction?
Kids love unique characters who march to the beat of their own drums. And so I began with the idea of a dynamic, engaging girl who exists beyond stereotypes. Yes, she’s a black girl. And Sage Carrington is also a science geek, the star pitcher on her baseball team, and she has a funky, fresh personal style. For example, Sage sports countless natural hairstyles, and she shares a love of mismatched sneakers, jewelry, and clothes with Isabel.
The most impactful characters in children’s fiction are reflections of kids’ dreams, hopes, and desires—like a mirror—and when this occurs, the readers latch on…and they won’t let go.
What was the first book about?
Sage Carrington, Eighth-Grade Science Sleuth is an adventure-mystery in the style of Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, Cam Jansen, and Nancy Drew. In this first story, Sage and Isabel discover an antique treasure map near the Washington Monument. The story revolves around their quest throughout the nation’s capital using science and logic to decipher the map, outsmart a bully, and ultimately locate the treasure.
And the second book?
Novel #2, Math Mystery in Mexico City, sends Sage and Isabel on a journey with their parents across Mexico. The girls discover a peculiar numerical code painted inside a portrait by revered artist Frida Kahlo, and they must use their math skills to figure out what the code ultimately means. This second book has allowed me to fulfill a major goal for the series, which is to send Sage and Isabel on an international adventure, thoroughly immersing my readers in another culture.
Have you always wanted to write novels?
Although I’ve always loved to write, I never intended to become a children’s author. Originally, I just wanted to visit my local bookstore and purchase a story featuring positive, enriching characters who my 9-year-old cousin could identify with. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find an appropriate novel for middle school-aged kids featuring children of color. So, I decided to write the books that I wanted to buy that day in the store.
Why write in the amateur sleuth genre?
I was a reluctant reader as a child. In fact, if it weren’t for The Hardy Boys, Cam Jansen, and Encyclopedia Brown, then I wouldn’t have read much at all as a boy. Fortunately, I had access to gripping stories centered upon logic, math, science, and suspense to hold my attention.
But most people don’t realize that The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were first published in the 1920s, Encyclopedia Brown in the 1960s, and Cam Jansen in the early 80s. So I felt it was time for a new kid detective, a fresh face for this 21st century…a kid who’s super smart and super cool.
This book series includes novels and journals, correct?
Yes, each volume is actually a 2-book set: the first novel, Eighth‐Grade Science Sleuth, was published along with the full-color interactive journal Book of Love, Volume #1. The second novel, Math Mystery in Mexico City, was released with the journal Book of Love, Volume #2: Math Edition. I think it’s critical that we not only develop our children’s reading skills, but also their abilities to write. Reading and writing are two sides of the same literacy coin.
Why a story featuring girls instead of boys?
As mentioned previously, I wrote this book for my cousin, Destiny. It just so happens that my cousin was a girl. If my cousin were a boy, then I would have written a story featuring boys. I created Sage Carrington because I needed to find an appropriate character for her to connect with. I desperately wanted Destiny to see her skin complexion, hair texture, and sensibilities portrayed in a smart, balanced, positive character.
Why is it important for you to portray children of color?
All too often, books featuring black and brown characters revolve around stereotypes of dysfunction such as drug use, violence, domestic abuse, and sexual exploitation. Another common tendency is a narrow focus on historical and biographical topics. These books are important, but I think we should also tell contemporary stories in which our kids can immerse themselves in modern-day tales of adventure and mystery.
How were the first volumes of this Sage Carrington series produced?
In 2012, I self-funded novel #1 and journal #1, and in 2014, I self-funded novel #2 and journal #2. Costs are significant and include everything from book editing, interior layout, and proofreading to cover art, cover design, and over 100 original illustrations.
This is truly a labor of love, but I’m just following my dream to do something about the lack of children’s books featuring positive characters of color. Plus I figured there must be a market for these stories. The void is huge, so surely other buyers are just as frustrated as me.
So far my hunch has proven correct. Within 24 hours of the first book’s release, Eighth-Grade Science Sleuth reached the bestseller list. And novel #2, Math Mystery in Mexico City, is now also a bestseller.
What’s your opinion of the current landscape in children’s literature?
Children’s literature is booming. In fact, young-adult fiction is growing faster than the adult market. Books have never been more popular. Of course, the concept of a “book” is changing with digital readers and other electronic devices displacing paper. Nonetheless, a story well told is still in high demand, and parents, educators, and kids are all thirsting for quality books.
What’s your vision for Sage Carrington?
My vision is to grow the Sage Carrington platform. As we all know, children’s brands lend themselves very well to licensing and merchandising, so it’s easy to envision Sage Carrington notebooks, backpacks, and apparel. I also plan to adapt these stories into other formats, particularly live theater, episodic television/web series, and feature films.
Are you available for school visits and library readings?
I enjoy few things more than visiting schools to talk about reading, writing, and Sage Carrington. I’ve delivered presentations in classrooms and libraries across the country for students from kindergarten through 8th grade, and I’m available to visit schools, libraries, and community centers.
How can we learn more about Sage Carrington?
You can find illustrations, games, and learn more about her at www.SageCarrington.com. You can also connect with Sage on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Her handle across all of these sites is /SageCarrington.
I bet “a new bike” is on plenty of Dear Santa letters. Whether Santa agrees or not, every child should have a copy of New Red Bike. It’s a deceptively simple story of friendship—an even greater gift. Join James in his studio to understand how it evolved. Listen. Isn’t that Get the Funk blasting on his playlist?
In the beginning . . .
As a young child, I recall coloring with my stepsisters, spread out on the living room floor of an apartment building overlooking a park in Passaic, New Jersey. There, I envied their ability to create masterpieces with the crayons they chose. Their talents seemed so natural and effortless.
The Influence of comic books . . .
This, along with television cartoons, was my first exposure to art. Just a few years later, while living in a small home with my grandmother in Rich Square, North Carolina, my own artistic abilities began to blossom. It could have been the quiet, rural setting or maybe it was simply boredom that found me day after day, curled up on a couch with wads of paper, pencils and my favorite comic books. I used these comics as reference to copy again and again, while the television rambled in the background.
In my work as an illustrator creating books, I continue to use a simple technique. The only difference is that now I create in my studio in upstate New York. Instead of a television, I create to the strains of my favorite jazz station or Parliament Funkadelic music.
Dear Santa, please . . .
New Red Bike is in many ways a throwback to my youth. A simpler, uncomplicated time where summer days were spent outdoors, exploring and playing with friends in the woods behind my home. I feel that many of the books today are geared more toward adult tastes. And often there are few books with African American characters for very young readers. New Red Bike was my attempt to offer a fresh take on children’s classics featuring an African American character.
New Red Bike . . .
The first part of story focuses on spatial movement, when Tom, a young boy who receives a bike as gift from his parents, rides, up, down, back and forth, round and round. The second part of the story touches on the importance of sharing. I was striving to create text that could be easily deciphered by a younger child, and, to that end, I owe a good deal of credit to my editor, Mary Cash, who helped me shape this story into one that manages to keep it’s appeal to a younger audience.
Professor Ransome . . .
The act of illustrating and writing
are very separate processes that each require a specialized and individual approach. As a professor of illustration students, I often tell my students that at some point you need to go in a corner with your materials and figure things out. In writing, it is the same. You need the space to tell the story you want to tell in the way you want to tell it. When I complete the writing process, often between other illustration projects I am working on, I then turn my attention to the pictures, and just as if I were illustrating a book submitted by a writer, I comb very carefully through the manuscript to develop a unique way to tell the story with images.
Why James creates art . . .
Whether it is spread out on a living room floor, curled up on a couch, or at a drawing table in a studio, creating a
James Ransome’s Studio at Night
book has always provided me a sense of solace and a way to express myself artistically.
Check out James Ransome’s website to learn more about his amazing body of work. You can also find him on Facebook. The New Red Bike is published by Holiday House.
In the middle ages, Gutenberg invented the printing press not far from where the Frankfurt Book Fair opens every year to about 7,300 exhibitors from more than 100 countries, around 275,000 visitors, more than 3,700 events, 9,000 journalists and over 1,000 bloggers. In October, Irene Smalls was one of those exhibitors. Irene is a multi-publshed author and creater of Literacise.
Why the Frankfurt Book Fair
Think of a foreign country with 230 million children under the age of 16 most of who study English. That is China alone. The International book market is worth $108,000,000,000 and counting. For authors and illustrators interested in expanding their sales and market my advice is to Go Global! The first stop to expanding your book brand globally is The Frankfurt Book Fair located in Frankfurt, Germany. With so many countries represented, it is diversity at its best.
How US Authors and Illustrators Benefit
Frankfurt is the world’s largest and oldest book fair. Frankfurt is a rights fair. Publishers go to Frankfurt largely to buy and sell international translation rights to their titles. For authors and illustrators this is lucrative. With international translations, you can sell your book potentially 120 times and receive royalties from all of your deals. This can be separate and apart from any from US publishing contracts.
Her Personal Stake
Seeing this huge book market opportunity, I had asked my publisher many times if my books were being presented for international rights sales. Repeatedly, my editors at a major publishing house, told me that there was no interest in my books globally. I decided to find out for myself. Indeed, in Frankfurt, I found the major American Publishers do not bring diverse books. An editor from a large trade publisher in the US when asked about the lack of diverse books represented, responded in very huffy tones. “We never bring those books to Frankfurt.” When asked why, the editor said, “All they ever write about is slavery, civil rights or struggling. Nobody is interested in reading about that.” It is ironic at the most diverse book fair in the world American publishers showcase their lack of diversity.
In 2014, I formed 2GoGlobalMarketing. Its motto is “Take Your Message to the World.” With the assistance of two book professionals, publicity guru Ayanna Najuma and Art Director/illustrator Cathy Ann Johnson we showcased 35 books in our booth for five days. It was a whirlwind experience. We met thousands of people from all over the world. Ten countries expressed interest in our titles: Saudi Arabia, Brazil, South Africa, Italy, UK, Taiwan, Poland, Nigeria, Finland, and Sweden. I am in talks with a UK educational publisher about creating a UK school version of one of my books. I am also in talks with another publisher about creating songs based on my books. My work is not finished. I will follow up with two contacts. For the authors and illustrators we represented one author/illustrator had three publishers interested in her title, another author had a publisher interested in expanding her book and her creating a teacher’s editions for his Arabian country. Cathy Ann Johnson found a business partner in Italy. She is preparing the European launch of her Soul Amazing children’s books starting in Italy.
My Nana and Me
The Take Away
There were lessons learned. Frankfurt is an appointment driven fair. Frankfurt is different from others book fairs where buyers browse through booths. At those fairs, it is important to have a booth to display titles. A booth is not essential in Frankfurt. What is essential is having appointments. The first three days of the Frankfurt Book Fair is to the trade only. The last two days are open to the public. Frankfurt Book Fair appointments are set up starting in August for the October fair with the book scouts, agents and book buyers from all over the world.
African-American authors and illustrators are not taking advantage of the Frankfurt Book Fair opportunity. In 2014, I was the first African-American female to ever exhibit in the 66 years of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Go Global. The world is diverse whether American publishers like it or not. The diversity that is embraced is high quality story telling with fully rounded characters. Most countries of the world are not interested in American history. These countries are interested in their own history and their own historical figures that tell a universal story. Authors must tell a great story of love, hate, and passion filled laughter and the world will want to read your words.
You need to have foreign translations rights to your book at a minimum. But, it is best in negotiating your original contract to retain as many rights as possible such as audio rights, video rights, etc. Also, try to limit the time a publisher has control of those rights. For an example, I had no idea when I went to Frankfurt that I would meet a publisher who was interested in creating songs of my books. Since I control the audio rights, it was not a problem. In addition, if a publisher has not sold any of your rights within a few years it is highly unlikely they will ever sell those rights. By limiting the time a publisher controls your rights once those rights revert back you can sell them yourself.
What Happens Next
Our first time at the fair we do initial follow-up with the publishers expressing interest in one of the books we showcased. After that, it is up to the author to follow-up and seal the deal.
Not an Easy Sell
It is difficult to make appointments. Most are long standing relationships. Rights buyers set appointments with familiar people and companies. However, in the course of meeting people and chatting, 2GoGlobalMarketing was able to make appointments during the fair. I do not recommend this approach. It worked but we were not able to meet with the top buyers whose calendars were completely booked. The appointments are set up in 30-minute increments. If you miss your appointment, you have to wait until next year.
I do plan to return next year. We will start recruiting authors in March. I will not get a booth. This time I will focus just on getting appointments with key people.
Knowing Irene, her appointment book will be filled. She constantly pushes and champions other authors and illustrators. If you want your book represented in 2015, contact 2GoGlobal Marketing. Her schedule will fill fast.
Keep up with Irene on Facebook , follow her on Twitter @ismalls107, and email: info@2GoGlobalMarketing.com.
Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks
We Need Diverse Books™ (WNDB) is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. They are committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality. Being that WNDB shares many of the goals we’ve set here at the Brown Bookshelf, I want to encourage you to support the fundraising initiative, happening right now at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/we-need-diverse-books.
As of this date, WNDB is at 90% of their fundraising goals, with two weeks left to contribute. Many perks are being offered to contributors that include “query passes” that allow contributors to jump to the front of the line of an agent’s inbox for a MG or YA manuscript; portfolio reviews and phone calls with agents for illustrators and author-illustrators; and opportunities to co-sponsor a 2016 Walter Dean Myers Grant for an up-and-coming diverse author!
Obviously, as a founding member of the Brown Bookshelf, I’m supporter of diversity in children’s literature myself. Therefore I think it’s important to support this very important initiative with our dollars. I hope you will, too.
©2014 By Eleanora E. Tate
Photo Credit: Andy King
After Dial Press published my first book, Just an Overnight Guest, in 1980, I naively assumed that it would be in print forever. After all, Phoenix Films adapted it into a television film in 1983 and it aired on Nickelodeon and PBS’s Wonderworks all over the country. I don’t remember which year the hardcover went out of print, but it did, and without even going into paperback!
Since that time, eleven of my manuscripts have become published books, thanks to Dial, Bantam Books, Random House, Delacorte, Franklin Watts, Pleasant Company, Just Us Books, and others. Of the eleven, Just an Overnight Guest, A Blessing in Disguise, Front Porch Stories at the One-Room School, The Minstrel’s Melody, and Don’t Split the Pole: Tales of Down-Home Folk Wisdom went out of print. The books that went out of print quickest were A Blessing in Disguise and Don’t Split the Pole, though at least they made it into paperback before being kicked to the OOP curb.
Hundreds — probably thousands — of books go belly up every year. That’s part of “the writing life.” But when it happens to your baby, it’s a shock. I’ve heard that some writers take to their beds after suffering such catastrophes. I didn’t do that, but I’m sure that I sulked and fussed to myself for days.
Oh, Eleanora, “don’t you weep, don’t you moan”! Almost as quickly as my books went out of print, Just Us Books, the premiere publisher of books about children of color (but to be read by everybody), came to their rescue. It reprinted Just an Overnight Guest (1997), A Blessing in Disguise (1999), and Front Porch Stories at the One-Room School (2007).
Thank you, Just Us Book Publishers Cheryl and Wade Hudson!
The Minstrel’s Melody, published in 2001 by Pleasant Company in its American Girl History Mysteries series, was printed next by Windmill Press in its Mysteries Through Time series (2009), and is now also available through Open Road Integrated Media as a Mysteries Through History series e-book!
Don’t Split the Pole: Tales of Down-Home Folk Wisdom (Delacorte 1997) was brought back to life by iUniverse.com in May 2014 as part of the Authors Guild Backinprint.com edition. I’ve been a member of the Authors Guild since 2003 but wasn’t aware that this service was available to its members! Thanks, Liza Ketchum, Hamline University faculty chum, for telling me about it.
In this collection I wrapped stories around impactful sayings I’d heard over the years. The stories/sayings are: You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks; Slow and Steady Wins the Race; A Hard Head Makes a Soft Behind; Never Leave Your Pocketbook on the Floor; Don’t Split the Pole; Big Things Come in Small Packages; and What Goes around Comes Around. These sayings can probably be found anywhere in the world. I set all but one of my stories along the North Carolina coast.
Proverbs and sayings are also known as aphorisms, mottos, Biblical expressions, similes, even rich brief anecdotes. They explain a truth or a moral, offer opinions, summarize an action or thought, or are phrases or tidbits of songs, poems or books repeated so often that they enter the lexicon. Every culture throughout the world has them. A proverb or saying can be applied to many dissimilar events, depending on how different people interpret it.
I hope to target teachers who work with middle-school and high school readers; writers who seek short story writing techniques; and folklorists, storytellers, and, of course, readers of all ages.
Although many sayings go back to the beginnings of language, I place the ones I use in contemporary settings to show young readers that they still have meaning in today’s world. One of my new favorites is today’s very real “It is what it is.”
If you want to reprint one of your OOP books think about these Tate Tips:
- Make sure that you, the author, have a reversion of rights letter from the publisher who published it. In fact, when you find out that your book has gone out of print, immediately contact your publisher (or your agent) and request a reversion of rights letter from the publisher. This will speed things up when or if you decide to take that reprint step, especially if your original publisher was a “traditional” publisher like Random House, etc.
- After you find a publisher interested in reprinting your old book (good luck!), insist on getting a contract from that publisher spelling out all details, including royalty rates, any revisions that the publisher — or you — desire, publication schedules, etc. It’ll probably be a “boilerplate” contract, with the benefits leaning toward the publisher, but that’s not new.
- If you don’t recognize a word or phrase in the contract ask. Never sign anything that you don’t understand or don’t agree with. In light of today’s changing publishing world, words like all rights, now and forever, known and unknown, electronic rights, and digital rights may have meanings different from what you know. Here’s where an agent can be invaluable, but if you don’t have one, or he/she doesn’t want to be bothered, do your homework and educate yourself. Writers groups like the Authors Guild, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the North Carolina Writers Network, and others might be your saviors.
- Suppose you DO plan to pay a company to reprint your manuscript. That’s fine, as long as you understand what you’re paying for, and what your and the company’s responsibilities are, including marketing, publicity, distribution, and payments. I met a woman the other day who said she signed such a contract, but didn’t know how or if she’d get royalties, didn’t have someone to edit her manuscript, and didn’t have NO money to pay the company. Don’t be like that woman!
- Market your book aggressively. Send out news releases, have blog tours, visit bookstores, make book trailers, and so on, or be willing to pay to have a professional or the company do this for you. Except for the big-name writing stars, most writers these days are expected to do more marketing.
- Be aware that certain computer software programs that some publishers may require you to use to format your manuscript – from pdfs to “jumpshare” file sharing, digital signatures, and more complex stuff — might drive you up the wall if you don’t know how to implement them.
No matter how you choose to reprint your book, remember that good writing is still good writing. Rewrite any part that’s weak. Find the best editor (or professional friend) who’ll help you with spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, overall revision, chocolate cake, and wholehearted encouragement.
And now I can give a sigh of relief that all of my books are back in print. Or they were as of this morning. Happy Reading!
By Alice Faye Duncan
As summer came to a close, there was so much death and sadness around us. The sketchy details of Michael Brown’s murder plagued the news. Actress and activist, Ruby Dee died. Maya Angelou passed away at the top of the summer. And while writing this note, I just received word that J. California Cooper passed away today.
Like never before, we need a visitation of sunshine and good feelings to bolster us. And to this end, I reached out to teacher, poet, activist and lover of music, Arnold Adoff. Arnold is a noted anthologist. He edited the seminal collection of African American poetry, I AM THE DARKER BROTHER. For more than 30 years he was the devoted husband to award-winning children’s author, Virginia Hamilton.
I posed five questions to Arnold a week after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. His wise words offer writers and readers a way to find hope and joy, even in the face of trying times. Hear him with your heart.
virginia once said she wrote long and talked short…and i wrote short and talked long…..
your seemingly straightforward questions all require…. paragraphs and paragraphs of
perspectives and details….think of monet setting up several easels in his garden
and going from one to another to continue painting as the day progressed and the light changed…..
but i will try and be short and honest at the same time….so:
What part does music play in my everyday life?
1. my various simultaneous lives have always progressed with musical foreground and background accompaniments….from the eurocentric so-called classical music playing in my home all day….to my discovery at a young age of bird and prez and mingus and much of progressive jazz and blues…their african roots and the myriad aspects of african american cultures and classes and literatures….
i met virginia through my friendship with charles mingus and i play his compositions several times a day at least….many times to be followed by monk piano performances….
each sunday morning there will be a mahalia album on the turntable…sometimes late at night i will kick back and sip some red wine and go from willie nelson to waylon jennings to joni mitchel to leonard cohen to nina simone to the last poets to meshell ndegeocello…
however….unlike many other writers of several generations…it is an absolute longstanding rule of my process that there is n o music playing while i read and research and rewrite and write…
What are the top five songs that bring sunshine into your day?
2. mahalia’s didn’t it rain children….on a rainy day…of course stevie wonder’s you are the sunshine of my life….anything by ray charles….john lee hooker and lightnin hopkins and bessie smith…zep’s stairway to heaven…jeff buckley’s hallelujah….wade in the water….and on and on and on…depending on time of day and the placement of the easel…so to speak….the position of the sun in my life and the passion and yearning… and always the flash of love in some dark room…in some dark mood….
If Nina Simone were alive today, how would she respond or what would she say about the murder of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown?
3. of course she would speak out and rant in her own powerful voice as she would introduce a piece and she would compose…but perhaps in that mississippi goddamn approach and overview…..
i know there would be much weary deja vu edges around the words…
how many times…. bobby dylan wrote and sang….and in her time she was challenged and buffeted by countless racist unspeakables and the drumbeat of murders and injustice and genocide and…to borrow the title from ralph ginzburg’s seminal collection…100 years of lynchings….
If Langston Hughes was alive, what would he say about the rap music playing on the radio?
4. to read langston’s poetry out loud is to sing incipient rap and hiphop foundation rhythms and beats…concerns and struggles…i can only assume given his all-encompassing racial and world view…that he would embrace hiphop nation as he embraced each succeeding generation of african american poets and versifiers…perhaps he might chide now and then….but if you read one of his later collections…the panther and the lash….he was not left behind…inside his soul and within his political and literary times….
When you find yourself missing Virginia, how do you uplift your spirits?
5. i live in this house in yellow springs we built together in 1969 where we raised our two superb children…and i am surrounded by photos and medals and awards and rooms of floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled to overflowing with copies of her books…of files and speeches and her spirit and sense of pride and her striving for excellence and her unremitting honesty….
the w o r k is all around me and our values and dreams…realized and unrealized as well….
our intertwined histories…our lives together of course….
it is too simplistic to say i miss only h e r…what i miss is being able to walk into her office and sit down and talk about something…some aspect of a book project…some opinion on a family or personal matter…or listen to her read me the latest chapter from her latest book….
and all of that and much more has been internalized…all of our lives together and my life since her passing….i need silence to think and work and poet…(really….one of the many things she taught me is how to take from life experiences of all kinds and use that as food as fuel to make some kind of art)….and within that silence is her voice and her face….
….the struggle continues….
arnold adoff yellow springs, ohio
25 august 2014
ALICE FAYE DUNCAN is a school librarian who writes books for children and adults. Her newest book, Hello Sunshine—5 Habits to UNCLOUD Your Day is a happy pill for readers who want to keep themselves motivated and moving as they tackle the challenges of work, family, entrepreneurship and artistic ambitions. Website: www.uncloudyday.com Email: HelloAliceFaye@aol.com Twitter: @HelloAliceFaye
I first heard Rita Lorraine Hubbard’s name several years ago, when she produced her documentary. How impressive! I followed her remarkable career as she wrote book after book and finally asked her to share her writing success with our readers. Here, in her own words is how she has accomplished so much.
When I was asked to talk about my writing career, I had no clue where to begin. If you’ve been writing since the time you could hold a pencil, telling other people about your journey can be overwhelming.
I’m a southern girl, born and bred in Chattanooga, Tennessee; the product of a public education and fiercely proud of that fact. My degrees are in education and school psychology, but my passion is in writing across genres, depending upon which voice (elementary, middle grade or young adult) is speaking to me loudest at the time.
I have been writing all my life, and since I’ve been on the earth for several decades (I won’t say how many, if you don’t mind), and since my works are only just starting to be recognized, this means it has been a long road to where I am now.
Where am I? Well, I have a nonfiction educational reference book called
African Americans of Chattanooga: A History of Unsung Heroes that has been included
in the Tennessee State Library and Archives and recognized by the State’s Historical Society.
I have a historical fiction picture book that will debut in 2015, Lee and Low Books. It’s tentatively titled Uncle Billy’s Family Reunion. I have three books published by Rosen Publishing (Getting a Job in the Food Industry; Getting the Most Out of MOOC–Massive Open Online Courses; The Right Degree for Me in Health Care).
And I just received the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 2014 Letter of Merit for an unpublished young adult novel called The Man Who Saw Everything.
None of these achievements happened overnight. They came about over the process of time. But whether your road is as long as mine or happens at the speed of light, I firmly believe there are things you can do and opportunities you can take advantage of while you’re waiting for your writing career to manifest itself.
So here is my list of five ways to take advantage of opportunities while you’re waiting to become a published author.
1. Keep Writing! Write what’s in your head and heart. Write for the love of writing, even if you don’t have anyone to share your work with at the time. I’ve written 42 books so far (told you I’ve been on the earth a long time!) but only the two are out there. Two more will debut this fall, and one will debut in 2015. Yet I continue to add to my long list because you never know when a storyline you’re working with will suddenly be all the rave. Diversity is in now; take advantage of it by writing something from your own wonderfully unique perspective.
2. Join Something. Hone your craft by joining groups where peers share your interests. Consider…
• ACAIC (Association of Children’s Authors and Illustrators of Color), which will be launching soon
• Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
• Critique group with members who write what you write.
• Funds for Writers (www.FundsForWriters.com), which alerts writers to various competitions and opportunities).
I’m even a member of Stage 32, a free social network filled with writers, screenwriters, actors, directors, etc.
3. Be a daredevil. Find out what’s out there and dare to put yourself in the mix. For example…• Don’t limit yourself to books or articles. You can even try out film! In 2009, I stumbled across a nonprofit looking for original short films that focused on ways to combat poverty. So I wrote and co-produced An Entrepreneur’s Heart It was the first time I’d ever written a script or tried my hand at filmmaking, and the film became a finalist in the global competition.
• Take on small writing opportunities, even if there’s no prize money. My article, “How to Get Going on a Grant Application” was a first place winner in a For Dummies Online™ competition. There was no prize money but I did get a by-line with a well-known brand.
• Become a writer-for-hire. In 2010, I heard that an educational publisher was looking for writers, and after a year of trying, I finally got an assignment. I now have three titles with Rosen Publications.
• Keep your ears open for state or regional all-calls. A few years ago, two women from the Tennessee American Association of University Women (AAUW) needed volunteers to write about early women who helped shape Tennessee. I jumped on board ensure African American women were represented. My biography on Dr. Emma Rochelle Wheeler made the cut. Every high school in Tennessee now has a copy of the book, and to this day, I’m called upon to speak about Dr. Wheeler and make appearances at book signings.
• Submit to writing competitions. I wrote The Man Who Saw Everything, in 2004, and I’m proud to say it just received the 2014 Letter of Merit in SCBWI’s Work In Progress competition. See what I mean when I say “keep writing?”
4. Share. When you stumble upon something good, don’t hoard. Share writing competitions, fellowships, and all-call’s via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. People are busy and it’s easy to overlook things. Your colleagues will appreciate your generosity and you’ll soon find them sharing their treasures with you.
5. Pay it Forward. The writing community has always been generous and we should do what we can to keep it that way. I started the Picture Book Depot review website to help get the word out about book debuts, and to breathe life into books that have been all but forgotten.
By the way, I also review for The New York Journal of Books. It’s extra work but I see it as a writing opportunity. FYI, I just reviewed a delightful little book called Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by our talented colleague, Katheryn Russell-Brown. Be sure to check it out at this link New York Journal of Books – Little Melba and Her Big Trombone.
Click on Rita Lorraine Hubbard for more information about this creative and enterprising author.
Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks.
Justice On The Lesson Plan
By Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
In addition to the excitement and apprehension about tests, read alouds, and recess, there was tension as the school year got underway in many cities and educators wondered if and how to address the police killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the civil unrest that followed. Do we have one conversation and then “move on”? Schedule a town meeting and then get on with the business of learning? As a parent and children’s author who regularly visits with children in a variety of school communities, I firmly believe that schools should take on the responsibility of engaging students around this story, and do so on an ongoing basis; it’s necessary, it’s relevant, it’s learning.
Some might disagree, with understandable concerns about escalating conflict, and fanning flames of prejudice and fear. It was reported that middle and high school educators in Missouri’s Edwardsville school district were initially advised to “change the subject and refocus the students” if Ferguson was brought up. The Superintendent later clarified his position via a letter to parents, as reported by the Edwardsville Intelligencer, writing “It was not our intent to ignore the educational relevance of these events. However, we felt it was important to take the time to calm a potential situation at the high school and to prepare administrators and teachers to approach this critical issue in an objective, fact-based manner.”
Please, let’s take the time to engage our children in ongoing conversations about race, justice, and power. The reality of the 24-hour news cycle and the ubiquity of social media most likely mean that children and teens know something of these stories. And what we know, we can unpack and discuss. Even if they are not aware of the specific events in Ferguson, what are we educating children for, if not to engage productively with the world they live in? And when that world goes horribly wrong, how do we help them move toward making things right?
Teachers can play a positive role by helping students gain a better understanding of troubling events, creating a safe environment where students can think critically about difficult issues, engage in respectful conversation, and think about what they can do to address the problems they see in the world,” write Laura McClure and Tom Roderick of the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, via email. The Ferguson story offers “…an opportunity for them to learn history, better understand current political realities, consider multiple points of view, think about possible ways to address problems and injustices, and perhaps become more aware of their own biases. It’s a chance for students to develop the ability to express their views and listen respectfully and open-heartedly while others share theirs. It’s part of educating young people for participating in a democratic society.”
In a blog post, Dr Shaun Harper wrote “Most school-age children in Ferguson are Black. They and Black youth across the U.S. need supportive spaces in which to process what happened. Likewise, youth from other racial groups (including Whites) deserve opportunities to talk about Ferguson, particularly what the implications of this tragedy are for their lives and our nation. Young people need to know the truth: Ferguson wasn’t an isolated incident, but instead is connected to a longstanding, more systemic set of structural problems and judicial errors.”
Of course we want teachers doing their best to ensure that all students are educated in a welcoming and safe environment. I’d suggest that that includes demonstrating to students that they, and their ideas and opinions matter. “To keep conversations productive, we encourage teachers to work with students to develop some ‘community agreements,’ starting at the very beginning of the year,” add Roderick and McClure. “This can set the stage for a more caring classroom where it is safe to discuss difficult issues, and safe to disagree.” These agreements include a ‘one mic’ policy (speak one at a time), agreeing to disagree, speaking from one’s own experience, and avoiding sweeping generalizations.
“You may not live in Ferguson, but we all must live with what has happened in Ferguson. Let’s find ways to talk about this,” wrote Dr. Marcia Chatelain in an August 20 Twitter post. Dr. Chatelain, a writer, historian and assistant professor of history at Georgetown University created the #FergusonSyllabus hashtag and initiative, and saw immediately that these conversations can happen in all kinds of communities. “It’s never too early or too late to help a student grapple with the issues that also trouble us…At all ages, students will have questions about why people are so tense and why they are so upset,” she points out in an email. “The best way to respond is to be honest that some people are upset, hurt and frustrated and engage them on how they can prevent making others feel this way through being honest and fair to others. You don’t have to get mired in the murky details of the killing of Michael Brown if you don’t believe you can handle it. Rather, you can talk about the range of emotions, the societal challenges, and the questions this moment elicits.” #FergusonSyllabus has become a compendium of resources across disciplines for early childhood to college classrooms, with contributions from educators, artists, activists, librarians, parents, writers and more.
And then there are books. Literature one of the richest, most productive ways of all to frame these conversations. By helping our children understand that Black Youth Matter and we need diverse books, we teach and learn in critical and transformative ways. Books like
Rita Williams-Garcia’s ONE CRAZY SUMMER and P.S. BE ELEVEN,
Kekla Magoon’s THE ROCK AND THE RIVER and HOW IT WENT DOWN,
Sharon Dennis Wyeth’s SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL,
Jaqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING,
Zetta Elliott’s BIRD, and A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT
MARCH: Book One by John Robert Lewis and Andrew Aydin with artist Nate Powell,
Julius Lester’s LET’S TALK ABOUT RACE,
Shane Evans’ WE MARCH,
and our own Crystal Hubbard’s THE LAURA LINE and Don Tate’s IT JES’ HAPPENED share the stories of struggle, triumph, creativity, beauty, and more that make up our past, present, and future. In my own 8th GRADE SUPERZERO, essentially a contemporary’school story’, characters are challenged by the questions of who and what they stand for in large and very small ways. Resources like Notable Books for A Global Society, RIF, Sarah Park’s Social Justice in Children’s/YA Reading List, Mitali Perkins, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Just Us Books, The Pirate Tree, and of course The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days Later campaigns offer a wealth of ideas and titles to add to classrooms and libraries.
Clearly, these conversations won’t be easy and will likely be, at the very least, uncomfortable. But we don’t educate simply for comfort. Discomfort can mean that there is authentic teaching and learning going on. As students examine not only the events but also the narratives that are presented to them, they can learn to think and act responsibly in many areas of their lives. “One lesson is to beware of misinformation coming through social media about upsetting world events, especially as those events are unfolding,” write Roderick and McClure. “Students need to learn how to evaluate the information they are getting and avoid jumping to conclusions.”
If we claim to be preparing our children for that real world “out there,” let’s recognize that ‘out there’ is our homes, our classrooms, our lives. And these conversations need to continue, need to grow and evolve along with our students during the school year — this is not a “one and done” situation. Let’s give students room to reflect on and navigate many stories in it. Just as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” wove a fascinating narrative of the links between slavery, Jim Crow, and public policies of the past and present, we can use our classrooms to examine how and why Michael Brown is part of the same larger, complex story of race, power, and privilege in America. We can work with our students to look at what we’ve done, and work toward doing better. It’s a matter of life and death.
“How To Talk To Students About Ferguson” by Dr. Marcia Chatelain
“What Happened in Ferguson and Why” from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility
“Challenging Stereotypes: Michael Brown and If They Gunned Me Down”, from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility
Ferguson: Response and Resources compiled by Philip Nel
I am writing to you because I believe you are unstoppable. And that this is a quality you try to instill in the young people you work with or influence.
On September 30, 2014, my new novel, Unstoppable Octobia May, will hit bookstores nationwide. On that day I would love you and/or the young people you influence to join me in shouting out to the world that they too are unstoppable by holding up the following sign, words, image:
I AM UNSTOPPABLE
If you and the young people you influence feel as if you’d like to show the world what skills make you/them unstoppable–while also holding up the sign–great! All this year I will be doing one thing or another as I try to get young people to express what makes them unstoppable.
In my novel Unstoppable Octobia May, a young girl is doggedly chasing down secrets as well as the truth regarding a boarder in her aunt’s boarding home. She is unstoppable and so are you and the young people you impact.
If you would like to join me in this effort, do let me know. On September 30th post your signs, etc. on Twitter and Facebook, create vines, have fun, all while making sure to include the following:
I Am Unstoppable
It is time we all let the world know just what we think of young people and what they think of themselves. Unstoppable! Determined! Powerful! That’s who they are. That’s who we want them to be.
Thanks. And do let me know if you plan to participate. And do pass this along!
You can reach Sharon through her website: http://www.sharongflake.com/.
Guest post for the Brown Bookshelf
by syndicated cartoonist, author and illustrator,
I published my first book back in 1997. Since then I have written and / or illustrated more than a dozen others. I think the reason why I’ve dedicated my life to get kids to read is because I went through most of my life not enjoying reading whatsoever. In fact, whoever coined the term “reluctant reader” must have known me as a kid. And as a teen. And even as a young adult. To be honest, I was a grown man before I ever read a book on my own for enjoyment. It’s not that I couldn’t read, I was an “A” student who made Honor Roll every semester. It was that reading was never anything that was fun. Actually, it was a chore, like mowing the lawn. (Even though there were no lawns in the Washington Heights section of NYC, where I grew up.) And for a kid with a very active imagination, I needed something to grab my attention. I know my parents read to me as a kid, but once the Dr. Seuss stage passed, I was on my own.Sure, I’d see them read newspapers and magazines, but have few memories of them with books.
The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, written by Patrick Henry Bass, illustrated by Jerry Craft
In school, reading was always something I HAD to do, there was no getting around it. And believe me, I tried. Books being boring. For one thing, even though I attended schools that were 99% African American, I don’t ever remember having to read a book that featured characters that looked like any of us. Unless you count runaway slaves. So if it wasn’t for Marvel Comics, my reading enjoyment would have been close to zero! As a kid I was a huge comic book fan. Each week, I’d anxiously run to the corner candy store in order to buy the latest issues of Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four. But even then, if the plots had too many non-fighting pages, I’d kind of gloss over all that boring dialogue in order to get to the good stuff. Ka-Blam! But even though I, and many of my classmates, were reading, having a teacher catch you with a comic book was only slightly better than being caught with some kind of illegal contraband. Apparently, they didn’t want any of those “foul things” rotting our fragile little brains. It wasn’t until I reached the 7th grade that I had my first, and probably only, teacher who was a comic book fan. That was refreshing.
And then … as if books didn’t have enough competition with things like stickball, and touch football (way back when kids used to go outside to play) they invented the Atari 2600! That was one of the very first video game systems, for those of you who may not know. And reading for enjoyment went the way of the dinosaur.
In high school, there were a bunch of us who read comics, but unfortunately as I got older, the books that we were supposed to read for got bigger. And more boring. And even less reflective of my life. The memory of having to read William Faulkner’s, “As I Lay Dying,” still haunts me to this day!
The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! By Jerry Craft, with Jayden Craft & Aren Craft (his sons)
Fast forward to college where I attended The School of Visual Arts. Most people who know that I went there, think that I was a cartooning major. But the cartooning classes were so popular that I was never able to actually sign up for one. Instead I majored in advertising copywriting where I wrote headlines for newspaper ads, radio commercials and TV commercials. This was right up my alley. What I wrote could be funny, it could be serious, but whatever it was, it had to be short.
Fast forward about 10 years, when I left the struggling advertising world to get a job at King Features Syndicate and later at Sports Illustrated for Kids. It was during this time that I had created my Mama’s Boyz comic strip. Again, the writing was funny and short! This was way back when personal computers just started taking off. And for the first time in my life, I found something that I actually ENJOYED reading other than comic books. Software manuals! Really! I could actually sit down for hours and read a book on how to use Photoshop or Flash. The books were not only huge, nor were they the least bit exciting. But for some reason, I LOVED them!!!
Then one day I got an email from a fan of my Mama’s Boyz comic strip. I used to have a page on my website where I showed how slang had changed from my father’s era, to mine, to the current group of teens. After exchanging a few emails, he told me that he was an author and wanted to know if I wanted to swap books with him. Why not? I sent him a copy of Mama’s Boyz: As American as Sweet Potato Pie! (which I had published myself), and a few days later I got a package in the mail with not only one book, but two! And they were long. “Aw crap, I remember thinking, now I HAVE to read both of these books, ‘cause he’s gonna want to know what I think of them.” And so I started the task. By now, I was married and living in Connecticut, so I had a few hours commuting on MetroNorth each day that I could devote to reading them. And you know what, I liked them. In fact, I LOVED them!!! When I was done, I was proud to write my new author friend, Mr. Eric Jerome Dickey and tell him what I thought of Sister, Sister and Friends and Lovers. From that point on, I felt like a superhero who had gotten super powers as a result of some freak accident. I LIKED TO READ! Now it was a matter of catching up on books that I had always heard about, but had never actually read. Classics like The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Invisible Man.
A few years later I had kids. Not wanting them to be reluctant readers like their dad, I literally read to them every single night for the first six years of their lives. Maybe longer. And then they’d read to me. Or we’d do it together. Short books. Long books. Everything we could get our hands on. I even did voices for the characters. Plus I made sure that they saw characters who looked like them. Their bookshelves were filled with names like Eric Velazquez, Bryan Collier, Shadra Strickland, Don Tate, E.B. Lewis, R. Gregory Christie, and anyone whose last name is Pinkney.
Then when I decided to write chapter books, there was no better sounding board than the two of them. They were my own private focus group. A few years ago, I was reading them a story that I was working on about 5 middle school bullies who get superpowers. And this time, instead of just sitting back and listening, they (now teenagers) were critical. Very critical. “Dad, no kid would say that,” I remember one of them saying. “Well what would he say?” And they told me. And it was good. After a few sessions of them setting me straight, I decided to make them co-writers. Luckily they accepted. And after about a year of writing, we were overjoyed to see, “The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention!” published.
I had not only come full circle, from reluctant reader, to reader. Then to father of readers. Now that they had actually helped to write a book, they had broken through the circle. And that’s something that even a little boy from Washington Heights with an active imagination would have NEVER imagined possible.
Jerry Craft has illustrated and / or written more than two dozen children’s books, comic books and board games. Most recent is a middle grade novel co-written with his two teenage sons, Jaylen and Aren called: “The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention!” — an adventure story that teaches kids about the effects of bullying. He is the creator of Mama’s Boyz, a comic strip that won four African American Literary Awards and was distributed by King Features from 1995 – 2013. He also illustrated “The Zero Degree Zombie Zone,” for Scholastic. For more info email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.jerrycraft.net
It’s not often that a debut picture book earns three starred reviews. But that’s just what Katheryn Russell-Brown won for her brand new release, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone (Lee & Low, 2014). A law professor by trade, Katheryn was called to write for kids after she became a mom. Here’s her inspiring story of bringing her first children’s book to life. We look forward to many more.
The Road to Little Melba and Her Big Trombone
It’s a testament to the power and love of children’s books that so many people want to write them. My yearning to write children’s books only grew after my twins were born. I wanted to do my small part to create a world of reading for them that was different from mine.
When I was little, my mom searched low and high to find books with main characters who were brown like me. I remember being excited to read books by Ezra Jack Keats, including The Snowy Day, Peter’s Chair, and Whistle for Willie. The pages were filled with people who looked like they could be members of my family. I also remember “Color Me Brown,” a coloring book that combined history lessons, art and, race pride. My mother was intent on showing me an alternate, inclusive literary world. It was the late 1960s and change was in the air.
Mom wanted me to read and dream a world more colorful than the one portrayed in the books assigned by P.S. 192, where I attended first grade. It seems the entire year was filled with the activities of Dick, Jane, and Spot.
It was around the time when my twins were the same age—first grade—that I started to seriously consider writing children’s books. I have been a sporadic collector of children’s books for years, with a soft spot for purchasing stories that feature heroines and heroes of color, particularly ones who are African American. My “brown book” mission went into overdrive after I had kids. I was determined that they were going to have realistic and interesting images of themselves reflected in our home library.
This brings me to Little Melba. One afternoon, in 2006, I was listening to the radio and heard a program narrated by Nancy Wilson. She, along with the people being interviewed, were raving about a woman named Melba Liston. Who? They were talking about how Melba had been playing the trombone since she was a girl of seven, that she had a special talent for arranging lush and complex songs, that she had worked with jazz legends, including Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Quincy Jones, and Randy Weston.
Right then and there I decided to write a children’s picture book on Melba Doretta Liston. I immediately started looking for any information I could find on Melba. I came across her name in a few newspaper articles, blogs, journal articles, and magazines. I also found some links to her music and was able to locate video clips of some performances.
I was in my element. I’m a law professor by day and I’m used to doing research and had already published non-fiction books.
The more I read about Melba, the more convinced I became that the world should hear about her musical sojourn. After several weeks, I had what I thought was a solid draft of a picture book, about 900 words. At this point, I figured I was done with the heavy lifting—the research and the writing.
Little did I know that I was still near the beginning of my children’s book publishing journey. Over the next couple of months, I read my story to my local writers’ group (SCBWI). The feedback was encouraging and I made numerous revisions.
Based on the advice I received at conferences and from members of my book group, I did two things. I started sending out query letters to literary agents and I started sending query letters, unsolicited, to publishers. I was hoping to increase my odds by doing both at the same time. I was constantly on the lookout for publishers and agents who expressed an interest in books on African Americans, women, or musicians. For months, I didn’t get any real bites worth pursuing.
I did finally hear from someone who seemed to be a good match for me. She later became my agent. By this time, almost a year had passed since I’d written my first draft. I knew that by snagging an agent I had cleared another major hurdle. I also knew that there was still a lot more work to do. The good news, though, was now I was part of a team. Team Melba.
Almost another year passed before we found the publisher we wanted to work with. Lee & Low Publishers was the perfect match. My agent had worked with them previously and it was clear, based on Lee & Low’s mission and publication track record that they shared our feeling that Melba Liston’s story was an important one to tell.
Team Melba still needed a homerun hitter—a superb illustrator. The amazing Frank Morrison was more than up to the task. He’s done such a wonderful job not only of bringing Melba to life but also showcasing the geography of her life. Just beautiful.
On the road to Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, two of the things I have most relied upon have been confidence in my story and patience. It’s been 4.5 years since Little Melba was a twinkle in my eyes. She’s finally here, sounding and looking good!
The Buzz on Little Melba:
“Russell-Brown’s debut text has an innate musicality, mixing judicious use of onomatopoeia with often sonorous prose.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“An excellent match of breezy text and dynamic illustrations tells an exhilarating story.”
—School Library Journal, starred review
“Staccato rhythms pepper the fluid prose…‘Blues, Jazz, and gospel danced in her head—the plink of a guitar, the hummmmm of a bass, the thrum-thrum of the drum.’”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
Find out more about Katheryn at www.krbrown.net.
Happy Labor Day!
As today is the day our nation has set aside for celebrating the myriad social and economic contributions of our American labor force (which all too often tends to go unlauded the rest of the year), it is more than fitting that we’ve chosen today to open up nominations for 28 Days Later-2015!
28 Days Later is The Brown Bookshelf’s flagship initiative, a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Early Readers, Chapter Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans. Each day in February, we will profile a different children’s/young adult author or illustrator, hard-working African American artists who we’ve identified as creators of quality literature for young people!
The nominations we seek should be for authors, illustrators, or books that meet the following criteria:
*New Children’s or Young Adult book releases
*Children’s or Young Adult books that have “flown under the radar”
*African-American authors or illustrators
*Titles published by a traditional publisher for the trade market.
Nominations will be accepted beginning today, September 1, through October 31, 2014. To nominate an author or illustrator, simply post a comment here, or email us at email@example.com. Feel free to nominate as many individuals (or books) as you like!
Note: To avoid nominating individuals who have already been honored, please check out our previous honorees at the following links:
28 DAYS LATER – 2014
28 DAYS LATER – 2013
28 DAYS LATER – 2012
28 DAYS LATER – 2010
28 DAYS LATER – 2009
Thanks in advance for your participation in this year’s campaign. We can’t wait to see who you nominate!
Fortunately, we receive books! The following are upcoming or recently published books written by African American authors, or authors of any background, but feature diverse main characters.
If Kids Ran the World
by Leo & Diane Dillon
Scholastic, Blue Sky Press, 2014
From the publisher:
Two-time Caldecott Medalists Leo and Diane Dillon show children playfully creating a more generous, peaceful world where everyone shares with others.
All roads lead to kindness in this powerful final collaboration between Leo and Diane Dillon. In a colorful tree house, a rainbow of children determine the most important needs in our complex world, and following spreads present boys and girls happily helping others. Kids bring abundant food to the hungry; medicine and cheer to the sick; safe housing, education, and religious tolerance to all; and our planet is treated with care. Forgiveness and generosity are seen as essential, because kids know how to share, and they understand the power of love.
The book closes with examples of fun ways to help others–along with FDR’s “Four Freedoms” and “The Second Bill of Rights,” which illuminate these concepts.
A tribute to peace and a celebration of diverse cultures, this last collaboration by the Dillons captures the wondrous joy of all people, and the unique beauty within each one of us shines forth. If kids ran the world, it would be a better place–for grown-ups, too.
Review: Publisher’s Weekly *Starred review*
Little Melba and her Big Trombone
by Katheryn Russell-Brown
illustrated by Frank Morrison
Lee & Low Books, 2014
From the publisher:
Melba Doretta Liston loved the sounds of music from as far back as she could remember. As a child, she daydreamed about beats and lyrics, and hummed along with the music from her family’s Majestic radio.
At age seven, Melba fell in love with a big, shiny trombone, and soon taught herself to play the instrument. By the time she was a teenager, Melba’s extraordinary gift for music led her to the world of jazz. She joined a band led by trumpet player Gerald Wilson and toured the country. Overcoming obstacles of race and gender, Melba went on to become a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century: Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few.
Brimming with ebullience and the joy of making music,Little Melba and Her Big Trombone is a fitting tribute to a trailblazing musician and a great unsung hero of jazz.
The Zero Degree Zombie Zone
by Patrik Henry Bass, illustrated by Jerry Craft
Scholastic Press, 2014
From the publisher:
In the spirit of Tony Abbott’s UNDERWORLD books, comes the new kid on the block – Barkari Katari Johnson!
Shy fourth-grader Bakari Katari Johnson is having a bad day. He’s always coming up against Tariq Thomas, the most popular kid in their class, and today is no different. On top of that, Bakari has found a strange ring that appears to have magical powers–and the people from the ring’s fantastical other world want it back! Can Bakari and his best friend Wardell stave off the intruders’ attempts, keep the ring safe, and stand up to Tariq and his pal Keisha, all before the school bell rings? Media celebrity and Essence Magazine entertainment producer, Patrik Henry Bass delivers adventure, fun, fantasy and friendship in this illustrated action-packed adventure starring an African American boy hero and his classmates.
Unstoppable Octobia May
by Sharon Flake
Scholastic Press, 2014
From the publisher:
Bestselling and award-winning author, Sharon G. Flake, delivers a mystery set in the 1950s that eerily blends history, race, culture, and family.
Octobia May is girl filled with questions. Her heart condition makes her special – and, some folks would argue, gives this ten-year-old powers that make her a “wise soul.” Thank goodness for Auntie, who convinces Octobia’s parents to let her live in her boarding house that is filled with old folks. That’s when trouble, and excitement, and wonder begin. Auntie is non-traditional. She’s unmarried and has plans to purchase other boarding homes and hotels. At a time when children, and especially girls, are “seen, not heard,” Auntie allows Octobia May the freedom and expression of an adult. When Octobia starts to question the folks in her world, an adventure and a mystery unfold that beg some troubling questions: Who is black and who is “passing” for white? What happens when a vibrant African American community must face its own racism?
And, perhaps most important: Do vampires really exist? In her most and probing novel yet, Sharon G. Flake takes us on a heart-pumping journey.
Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina
by Rodman Philbrick
Scholastic, Blue Sky Press, 2014
From the publisher:
Newbery Honor author Rodman Philbrick presents a gripping yet poignant novel about a 12-year-old boy and his dog who become trapped in New Orleans during the horrors of Hurricane Katrina.
Zane Dupree is a charismatic 12-year-old boy of mixed race visiting a relative in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hits. Unexpectedly separated from all family, Zane and his dog experience the terror of Katrina’s wind, rain, and horrific flooding. Facing death, they are rescued from an attic air vent by a kind, elderly musician and a scrappy young girl–both African American. The chaos that ensues as storm water drowns the city, shelter and food vanish, and police contribute to a dangerous, frightening atmosphere, creates a page-turning tale that completely engrosses the reader. Based on the facts of the worst hurricane disaster in U.S. history, Philbrick includes the lawlessness and lack of government support during the disaster as well as the generosity and courage of those who risked their lives and safety to help others. Here is an unforgettable novel of heroism in the face of truly challenging circumstances.
Review: Publisher’s Weekly *starred review*
The Madman of Piney Woods
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic Press, 2014
From the publisher:
Bestselling Newbery Medalist Christopher Paul Curtis delivers a powerful companion to his multiple award-winning ELIJAH OF BUXTON.
Benji and Red couldn’t be more different. They aren’t friends. They don’t even live in the same town. But their fates are entwined. A chance meeting leads the boys to discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. Both of them have encountered a strange presence in the forest, watching them, tracking them. Could the Madman of Piney Woods be real?
In a tale brimming with intrigue and adventure, Christopher Paul Curtis returns to the vibrant world he brought to life in Elijah of Buxton. Here is another novel that will break your heart — and expand it, too.
Review: Publisher’s Weekly
This year, two beautiful picture books about black ballerinas hope to dance their way into children’s hearts and hands. The latest is a gorgeous forthcoming debut by American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland titled Firebird, the name of the classic role she was the first black woman to star in.
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons and illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Christopher Myers, Copeland’s work is a love letter to a brown girl who dreams of being a dazzling dancer too. To lift the child, who sees a “longer than forever” distance between herself and her idol, Copeland reveals her journey from ballet dream to determined realization. In a stirring marriage of lyrical text and poignant images that affirm and encourage, Copeland and Myers create an evocative landscape in which a new generation of young dreamers and dancers can take flight. The book is available for pre-order now and releases on September 4.
The Buzz on Firebird:
“The language soars into dizzying heights of lyrical fancy… Myers’ artwork… pulsate[s] with kinetic synergy… A starscape filled with visual drama and brilliance.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“An inspirational picture book for children daunted by the gap between their dream and their reality.”—Booklist
In January of this year, another moving ballet story began weaving its magic. A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream (Philomel), written by Kristy Dempsey and illustrated by award-winner Floyd Cooper, tells the story of a 1950s Harlem girl inspired by first black prima ballerina Janet Collins.
Like Firebird, the text and illustrations are lyrical and full of heart and movement. But in this historical fiction tale, a girl whose mother works as a seamstress for a ballet school is immersed in the world of dance and dreams of being a prima ballerina. And seeing groundbreaker Collins perform at the Metropolitan Opera turns her dream into something more – a vision of who she can be.
Available in stores now.
The Buzz on A Dance Like Starlight:
“A warm, inspirational collaboration that will resonate in the hearts of all who dream.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
” . . . Though the narrator is imagined, the inspirational message is real. Cooper’s art incorporates his signature subtractive process and mixed media in tones of brown and pink to achieve illustrations as beautiful and transporting as the text.” —School Library Journal
Janet Collins Animated Film: Karyn Parsons (Hilary on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air) launched a campaign to raise funds for an animated short film called The Janet Collins Story that would be produced by Parsons’ company, Sweet Blackberry. Check out the campaign here. Great news: It was fully funded. Now, we can look forward to a wonderful film for children about Collins.
Wouldn’t it be cool to share Firebird, A Dance Like Starlight and The Janet Collins Story with kids you know?
We are honoured to welcome DuEwa Frazier to the Brown Bookshelf today. Poet, founder of Lit Noire Publishing, author of DEANNE IN THE MIDDLE, and much, much more — DuEwa is a true wonder woman. Grab your notebook and a glass of iced tea, lemonade, or just some cool, clear water…and prepare to be inspired.
If I could describe myself in one word, it would be determined. When I graduated from Hampton University as an English major, a few of my classmates asked me what I planned to do after graduation. I told them, “I’m going to be a writer and children’s author.” I didn’t know how I was going to do it but that was my goal and I was determined. Upon graduation I was chosen to be an editorial intern at a teen publication in Massachusetts, my family did not think it was a good idea for me to move to Massachusetts by myself, being so young and right out of college. So I moved back to the Midwest and became an elementary school teacher, I also started graduate school in Secondary English.
Through the 90’s and into the early 2000’s I wrote poetry and children’s stories. In 1999, I moved to my birthplace of Brooklyn. The internet wasn’t quite as booming as it is now, so when I submitted my work for publishing, I made phone calls to agents and publishers and sent my submissions via mail. I even submitted my children’s stories to Nickelodeon hoping to write for the hit show “Little Bill.” I started hand making children’s picture books, putting pencil sketched illustrations to words, in order to create visuals for the stories I wanted to share with young readers. During this time, I received rejection after rejection. Agents and publishers communicated to me that they couldn’t accept my work because I didn’t have a solid track record in publishing. I met an editor at an event who was seeking to publish poets. My first poem “Son of My Sun” was published in Essence Magazine’s December 1999 issue featuring Samuel Jackson and his wife on the cover. It was my first publishing experience and I was actually paid for it!
Years ago I heard the phrase, “What you put your attention on – grows.” This became true for me in my creative life. My poems were published in Essence several more times, as well as in literary journals, online and anthologies. I also published editorials and interviews online. Still, receiving a “publishing deal” through a book publisher was not something that was offered to me, and after a while I didn’t seek it. I kept writing, networking at author signings, attending conferences, reading, doing research, performing my poetry and saving money. Eventually, I taught myself how to self-publish. There was no one there to hold my hand through the entire process but I did receive support. I took writing workshops with the late, great poet, Louis Reyes Rivera and was mentored by Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets. I attended many of the Center for Black Literature’s National Black Writers Conference’s early panels and workshops. I later took children’s writing and non-fiction workshops at other centers in the city. I became a part of a community of writers who had academics and cultural consciousness in their backgrounds.
When I published my first book, Shedding Light From My Journeys in 2002, publishing became an act of community service for me and an added connection to my being an educator. My company, Lit Noire Publishing was founded in 2002. I became an author, publisher, cultural organizer and consultant all under one umbrella. I hired graphic designers and printers. I shared my book and the books of other authors with my middle school students in Brooklyn. Louis Reyes Rivera helped me edit my first collection. He gave me advice about selecting poems that relate to each other in theme. I had been performing on the poetry circuit in various cafes, arts venues and colleges. I was no different from many other writers and poets who wanted their work heard and read, but I made a conscious decision to publish my books because long after we are all gone, the books will still stand.
I am the author or editor of six books to date: Shedding Light From My Journeys (2002), Stardust Tracks on a Road (2005), Check the Rhyme: Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees (2006), Ten Marbles and Bag to Put Them in: Poems for Children (2010), Goddess Under the Bridge: Poems (2013) and Deanne in the Middle (2014). The anthology I edited, Check the Rhyme features 50 women poets from across the globe and was nominated for three awards: NAACP Image Award in Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry, African American Literary Awards Show – Poetry and Writer’s Digest Publishing Awards – Poetry. If your intent is to produce quality literature and share with a community of readers, your work will land where it is supposed to.
I have many writing projects that are “waiting” to be further worked on or picked up, including a few I am currently editing. Creation never stops when you have a passion for writing, but I am not interested in releasing a book every few months. I think each project should have its own space and time. A possible challenge in self-publishing is that you have to motivate yourself to use both traditional and alternative or creative methods of marketing and promoting your work. I have an entrepreneurial, pull myself “up by the bootstraps” spirit, so self-publishing and managing my work doesn’t frazzle me. But every writer may not be suited for it, because you do not have a publicist, manager and editor at your disposal 24/7 creating plans, representing your ideas and doing your bookings.
When you’re self-published, you become DIY all around and you have to be okay with that, including being okay with spending your money to fuel your ideas. However, I do support writers who have good experiences with traditional houses and I find value in it. It’s all about communities of readers and however you are able to share you work is what is most important.
To date, what I enjoy about publishing my work is that I have a certain amount of creative control and as long as I am here, my books will not go out of print. I have talked with writers who have had experiences with publishers who allow their works to go out of print. I do not know why that happened, but I thought it was unfortunate because we’re living in an age where our children need access to books in print to become literate. And one of our legacies is printed books. As an author, I love participating in programs with my books and interacting with readers – both youth and adults. There is nothing like discussing books and hearing about the interests of readers. I have been fortunate to participate in numerous literacy programs for youth, literary conferences and author signings where it has not mattered that I represent myself as an indie author. I have been a writer for fifteen years and I think I have shown my commitment to the work. But I have humility in knowing I still have much to learn and work to do. As a new children’s author, I believe there is great value in continuing to produce books in print, not just in digital format. When I teach workshops for youth, I bring my books with me as references and students enjoy paging through the books and reading from them. There is relationship that a reader has with a book, which digital reading cannot replace. You can curl up with a book and dog ear your favorite pages. You can make notes and symbols in books on the pages. And there’s nothing like the smell of a book – whether new or worn. I am also a big library geek, and I promote our young people to always have a library card and access books through the local library.
My new book Deanne in the Middle chronicles the experiences of 14-year old Deanne Summers who is starting her first year of high school.
Not unlike many youth, Deanne faces bullying, peer pressure and issues in conflict resolution during her first semester. I wrote the story to have a dialogue with young readers about conflict and having friendships with those who are different from you. So many students are bullied and harassed for being different.
I felt Deanne in the Middle was a worthwhile story to tell. This is a story I began writing in 2007 and I submitted it to agents in the past. I was told there was “no market” for my story. And when I workshopped the story I was told that my characters didn’t “sound black enough.” Well as an educated person who has worked with youth of diverse backgrounds, and whose family is also diverse, I really didn’t know what “black enough” was. How many “yo shortys” and “what ups” can you put in a young adult novel to make it believable? For me, not many. If I were a teen, I would become bored with a book written with lingo just to target me and I would feel that the author is patronizing and stereotyping me. And these are among my reasons for publishing my novel Deanne in the Middle, and not waiting another five years or so for someone else to find the “market” in my work. There is value in my story because I know the youth who I serve and young readers deserve to have a myriad of stories to choose from when selecting books to read.
I suggest to aspiring authors and writers for children to: (1) write often (2) have your work workshopped and critiqued and (3) attend literary events and conferences to network. There are times when I could not devote 100% of my time to publishing due to working and attending graduate school (I earned three Master’s degrees from 2006 to 2013 and have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from The New School) but I realize that it’s all about the journey. The journey is filled with learning experiences – how I learn from other authors and what I have to teach. I made a market for my work and have felt privileged to share my writing with young readers and connect with like minded authors.
Thank you for this opportunity to tell my publishing story!
For more from DuEwa Frazier, visit her online at duewaworld.com.
What are you waiting on? Go!
Facebook can be what you make it. Want to reconnect with family and friends? Got you covered. Want to use it as a way to unite with other kidlit folks? Got your back there too. That latter reason brought writer Jackie Wellington and publisher Leila Monaghan together. Rallying around the cause of pushing for more diverse books, they found each other. They’ve come up with inventive ideas including a Read Same Read Different campaign and an initiative to promote wonderful middle-grade novels like The Laura Line by our own Crystal Allen. Here’s an inspiring conversation between these two FB friends and advocates dedicated to helping writers of color and multicultural children’s books succeed:
Reaching the World through Facebook
By Jackie Wellington and Leila Monaghan
Jackie: I write books for 4 -12 year olds. For years, I struggled to find books for my students. I taught in four different states and worked with students with disabilities. When the states adopted alternative assessments for these students, I was forced to create reading materials. My students had one request, “Miss, make sure that it is not boring. And make sure they (the characters) look like us.” So I started writing stories and assigning my students’ names to the characters based on their personalities. It was then that I developed a love for writing. Especially since my students would say, “Miss, you should write books.” So now I am on a writing journey.
I read the Walter Dean Myers article in the New York Times and smiled. “Finally,” I thought. “Someone is seeing what I am seeing and they are talking about it.”
So when I was finished reading the article, I left a comment. A few days later, Leila Monaghan contacted me via Facebook. We chatted about the need to see all children represented in books. I joined Kids of Color Children Books. And since then we have been brainstorming different ways to get the word out about our mission. And that is to promote books written by people of color. To advocate for more books with children of color. And equal marketing strategies for authors of color.
Leila: Just like Jackie, I was very excited to see Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Meyers talking about the lack of books for children of color. I used to teach second grade in West Philadelphia and there were no middle grade books I could find that reflected my students’ experiences. I was excited that a lot of them read Harry Potter but really frustrated that there was nothing like the Potter books set in West Philly or a similar urban neighborhood. It led me to write stories set in West Philly under the name of Lee Mullins. As I am a PhD in linguistic anthropology, I left grade school teaching to go back to college teaching but the importance of diverse children’s literature stuck with me. Since then, I have also started a small publishing company, Elm Books.
The articles by Myers and Myers and comments like Jackie’s inspired me start a children’s division and to reach out to others who also cared deeply about diverse children’s books. I feel it is a civil rights issue. Children need books with which to identify so they may develop a love of reading, which will eventually lead to strong literacy skills. Without solid skills in reading and writing, so much of the world is closed off to young people, particularly in today’s high tech age. But the social media of today also allows people who share a vision to get together in ways that just weren’t possible before.
Jackie: At this time, we are still brainstorming networking strategies. However, we cannot deny that we are blessed to be in an era where social media speaks volumes. Facebook, Tumbler, Twitter, and blogs have the potential to reach thousands even millions. Within the next few months, we will be using these medium to get our message out. One campaign we will be promoting is “Read Same Read Different” (#ReadSameReadDifferent). The idea is to get all children to read books that reflect their experiences (Read Same) and those quite different from their experiences (Read Different). Michelle Obama recently spoke about the resegregation of America and we all need to reach across lines including the lines of the publishing industry. For example, even if libraries have diverse books on their shelves, people are not necessarily taking them out so they get taken off shelves. Our goal is to reach out to the publishing industry, libraries, schools, music industry and Hollywood. I know it seem like a stretch, but we can do it. It is about reaching the right people at the right time and making sure diverse books get a fair chance at being read.
Leila: For me, this is a time for experimenting in networking, for trying to build bridges that support diverse children’s books. We are still trying to understand how it works ourselves. Some of the ways that we have been working on this have been launching the #ReadSameReadDifferent campaign, building the Kids of Color Children’s Books group on Facebook, and promoting specific diverse children’s books such as Crystal Allen’s lovely The Laura Line. We now have almost 400 members in the KoCCB group and 400 likes for the Facebook page we set up for The Laura Line. This is just a small first step but at least it is a step in the right direction.
Some ways we came up with to support diversity in children’s books:
–Write diverse children’s books
–Read diverse children’s books
–Get everyone you know to read and buy diverse children’s books
–Support the diverse books you love like The Laura Line on social media including Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.
–Go to Facebook, like the author’s page, and encourage friends and families to do the same.
–Write reviews and give stars to books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other sites.
–Tweet about what you are reading. Take a picture of it and tweet why you like it.
–Blog about diverse books and review the books you read.
–Start a book club and emphasize diverse books.
–Make connections in the media or at conferences and workshops with other people who care about diversity.
A Few Media Starting Places:
Kids of Color Children’s Books https://www.facebook.com/groups/598139093596498/
The Laura Line on Facebook
The Laura Line on Goodreads
Read Same Read Different Blog
Earlier this year at a reading conference, I signed my picture book, The Cart That Carried Martin, written by Eve Bunting. The book was published by Charlesbridge Publishing. Before my signing, I nervously wandered around the Charlesbridge booth. Signings can be a scary thing, especially as a book creator of color, in an exhibit hall filled with people who don’t look like you. Would anyone come to my signing? Would anyone want my book featuring mostly people who look like me? To pass time, I flipped through the Charlesbridge catalog. I was put at ease with what I saw—many brown faces looking back at me. I saw the names of authors and illustrators who I knew to be people of color, or whose names suggested they might be. Charlesbridge—not really marketed as a multicultural publisher—has a nicely diverse list. I felt proud. And my signing went great!
I asked the marketing department at Charlesbridge to contribute to our discussion on marketing titles by and about people of color.
Donna Spurlock, Director of Marketing, Charlesbridge Publishing
Recently there was an online campaign called #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Everyone—publishers, authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, readers, etc.—were joining in with pictures of themselves with their favorite books or with signs that said “We need diverse books because. . . .” People filled in the blank with responses, such as “. . . because people are not the same;” “. . . so that someday all good “multicultural” stories can just be called good stories;” “. . . because I want to be the hero, too;” and so many more.
As a marketer, I love these opportunities to join the conversation. I think this would be my number one piece of advice to any author or illustrator just starting out in the industry: Join the conversation!
At Charlesbridge we publish a very diverse list of books. Our trade book publishing program started twenty-five years ago with five nature books by Jerry Pallotta and we have continued introducing the natural world to young readers ever since, including books about a strange little species known as Human. What those critters get up to is strange, hilarious, inspiring, sometimes shocking, and always interesting.
At Charlesbridge we are privileged and proud to publish books by authors and illustrators of all stripes—established authors and illustrators, new voices, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. Many of the people we work with are people of color including the awesome Don Tate, the wonderful Grace Lin, the incomparable Mitali Perkins, and so many more. One of the best reasons to work in publishing is to bring stories to people—ALL people. And all people are different. Stories aren’t about a race or a gender or a religion. And while stories may be born in a particular culture, aren’t they all really about being human and living in the world?
When I read The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Don Tate, I didn’t feel that this was an African American story that I couldn’t relate to. Nor was it a piece of history that I’ll need to know about for an upcoming test. This was a story about a man, about the people his life touched, and also about the world we live in today. I didn’t need to approach this book differently than I do any other book as a marketer. I had a beautiful book on my hands with a story that still touches everyone’s lives. All I had to do was join the conversation.
In this day and age we have so many opportunities to talk to people about books: via a slew of social networks, at conferences and trade shows, through the media, and one-on-one with our friends and neighbors. The main purpose of marketing is to gain word of mouth for your book. How do you do that? By telling people, not so much about the book, but about the story. And by listening to their stories and telling someone else about the story you just heard. It’s like that old shampoo commercial: You tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and so on and so on. When you join the conversation in a campaign like #WeNeedDiverseBooks you are telling thousands of people that you hear them and you are interested in what they have to tell you. And they are telling you the same thing.
Don Tate asked me to contribute to this blog as a marketer to speak about how I approach marketing books by and about people of color. I don’t think I do anything differently than I do for a book about life under the sea or man’s journey to the Moon. I find my audience and I tell them about the story I have to share. Authors and illustrators can do this with a minimal of effort: have a Twitter account and follow the authors and illustrators who interest and inspire you, have a Facebook page and like booksellers and libraries, visit schools and share the passion you have for your subject with students who have the potential to be passionate about everything, or whatever else you can think to do. Do what you can conceivably keep up with. Many authors and illustrators have a hard time putting themselves out in the world as a marketer, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to be a salesperson. Just be yourself, tell your story, share your passion and people will join your conversation.
The Making Our Own Market series has been about empowering children’s book creators of color with new ways to tell our stories and get them into children’s hands. Luckily, we don’t have to do that last part alone. Wonderful organizations like Reading is Fundamental (RIF), First Book, Teaching for Change and others support our work in important and enduring ways. We’re blessed to wrap up this series by hearing from RIF which sends, with the support of Macy’s, thousands of copies of its annual multicultural collection of children’s books to schools and libraries around the country. A big thank you to Carol Rasco, Judy Blankenship Cheatham and the RIF team for their support of The Brown Bookshelf and books that celebrate the beautiful diversity of our world.
Here’s the message from RIF:
Greetings friends of The Brown Bookshelf! Reading Is Fundamental is honored to connect with you. RIF is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the Unites States. We’ve been in this critical business for a long time. Forty-seven years working to inspire a love of reading and provide ownership of books among children least likely to have access to this essential resource and providing families and educators with the knowledge and materials to support children in their journey towards literacy.
But we realized that we had to do more. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has shown us our nation’s African American, Latino, and American Indian children lag far behind those of white children. This disparity, known as the achievement gap, is the core reason we introduced our Multicultural Literacy Campaign in 2007, a multi-year effort in partnership with Macy’s to promote and support early childhood literacy in African American, Hispanic, and American Indian communities. The centerpiece of the campaign is the release of our annual Multicultural Book Collection for grade K-5. Each year, our team of literacy experts selects books with engaging stories and enriching themes for children, that also offer them windows into the lives of people unlike themselves and mirrors in which they’ll see their own experiences reflected. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote over two decades ago, “When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what make us all human.” The sentiment is no less true than it was when it was written, and the charge to bring that full spectrum of stories to all children no less important.
Selecting good multicultural children’s books begins with the same criteria as that for selecting any good children’s books – the literary elements of plot, characterization, setting, style, theme and point of view must be interwoven to provide an interesting story. In addition, good multicultural children’s books will challenge stereotypes and promote an accurate, realistic glimpse into the lives of diverse groups of people.
Here are some guidelines for choosing multicultural books:
· Look for stories that include a variety of cultures and different family compositions – for example, single parents, families that involve grandparents, and extended families
· Look for accuracy in modern-day stories, historical fiction, and all non-fiction
· Choose books with minority characters who are good role models, independent thinkers, and problem solvers
· Illustrations should suitably convey skin color and facial details, rather than using stereotypical caricatures
· Books should have photographs that accurately portray present-day events, and any and all captions should be specific and correct (e.g. “Harare, Zimbabwe,” rather than the general “Africa”).
You can check out our full library of Multicultural Book Collections online. In the spirit it of “it takes a village”, we have also developed free, downloaded activity sheets for each book in the collection to help parents, educators, and volunteers deepen children’s understanding of the multicultural themes.
Surely, we all agree that every child is a precious resource. With an educated mind and without ignorance and prejudices inhibiting them, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. Let’s continue this dialogue until everyone gets this message. Book People Unite.
Walter Dean Myers, in his own words and what he hoped his legacy would be.
“I hope that my legacy is that I was useful for young people…”
“…I want to make people of color human beings, and I want to make poor people human beings. I want to include them in my books so that they can look at my books and say that could be me, and this guy understands who I am as a poor person.”
I’m so grateful I had the chance to meet Walter Dean Myers, a giant in so many ways. Before seeing him face to face, I met the award-winning author through his words - Brown Angels, Blues Journey, Looking Like Me. His writing embraced me, affirmed me, gave me that I-am-you-you-are-me nod that brothers and sisters exchange around the world. “Why do I love children?” he wrote in Brown Angels. “I think it is because the child in each of us is our most precious part.”
I saw his magic with kids first-hand at the African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia. Children flocked to greet the legend and get their books signed. Brother Walter wore his National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature medal around his neck, not to show them who he was, but to show them who they could be. As each young person talked to him, Brother Walter seemed to see no one else. The child in front of him was who mattered. And each one knew it. Faces shone with grins. They leaned in to hear every word and left clutching their signed book, a treasure.
Brother Walter was a giant, a tall man with a super-sized heart. A man with huge talent who through his words, through his caring, through his commitment, made people of all ages feel like they could soar.
Today, we celebrate the incredible life and contributions of Walter Dean Myers, a literary giant who blessed the world with more than 100 books for children and young adults. Check out his complete bibliography here. We’re honored to feature essays from two of Walter’s friends, author and publisher, Wade Hudson and author Linda Trice. Their posts immediately follow this one. Let’s keep Brother Walter’s family in our prayers and honor his legacy by sharing his beautiful books, some of which were illustrated by his son Christopher.
Please post your memories and reflections about Walter Dean Myers in the comments. Thank you.
Walter Dean Myers, Cheryl Willis Hudson and Wade Hudson sign books at a Toys R Us in NYC. Photo courtesy of Just Us Books.
By Wade Hudson
I was stunned when I heard that Walter Dean Myers had made his transition. During the 25 plus years that my wife Cheryl and I have been involved in publishing, it seemed that Walter was always “there.” We started Just Us Books, Inc. in 1988 to publish more books for children that focused on black experiences. Writers and artists such as Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff, Eloise Greenfield, Patricia and Fred McKissack, Tom Feelings, George Ford, Leo and Diane Dillon, and of course Walter Dean Myers, had already blazed a trail as book creators that we would follow. We were novices, in a way, learning the business of publishing on the fly.
Cheryl and I were somewhat brash, bent on making a difference, determined to correct the injustices we saw in publishing. One would think that Myers and the other trailblazers who had been at the forefront of the struggle to change publishing to be more reflective of who we are as a nation, would have been taken aback by the two new kids on the block. But they were not. They embraced us and welcomed us. When Cheryl and I did a radio interview with Tom Feelings in 1990, Just Us Books had only published three titles. Tom was already an established artist, a celebrity really. But he treated us as equals, applauded our efforts and encouraged us on the airways. We received support and encouragement from the other trailblazers, too.
Tom is gone. Virginia Hamilton is gone. Leo Dillon and Fred McKissack are gone, too. And now we have lost Walter Dean Myers.
I will miss seeing Walter at Book Expo America, ALA, NCTE and the many other conferences where he often held court, sharing, urging, encouraging, directing, advocating…always trying to make things better. When Walter’s article, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” appeared in the March 15, 2014 issue of the New York Times, many welcomed it as timely and much needed. But Walter had written an article that appeared in the New York Times in 1986, addressing the same concerns. He was always at the forefront, involved in many initiatives, some that he organized himself. He was determined to increase diversity in our body of literature for children. He also advocated for the inclusion of people of color in the offices of publishing houses.
In 1991, Walter, Cheryl and I worked together as jurors for a scholarship competition organized to identify talented writers and artists of color and introduce them to the publishing community. The fellowship competition was a part of Multi-colored Mirror: Cultural Substance in Literature for Children and Young Adults, a conference sponsored by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Walter also supported literacy programs offered by the Children’s Defense Fund, sometimes donating his own money. I watched as he connected effortlessly with the young people who attended the summer sessions there. Whenever a speaking engagement was set up for him, Walter made sure that juvenile detention centers, prisons and other programs for youth were included.
“I know what falling off the cliff means,” he once said. “I know from being considered a very bright kid to being considered like a moron and dropping out of school.”
Yes, Walter Dean Myers was a prolific, multi award-winning writer. As stated on his web site he“touched so many with his eloquent and unflinching portrayal of young African-American lives.” Walter visualized a better world. In the tradition of Frederick Douglass, he used words to encourage, empower, challenge, advocate and agitate for the change that would bring that world about. In that regard, for me, at least, he was a freedom fighter, too.
Reprinted with permission of Just Us Books.
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By Linda Trice
Linda Trice and Walter Dean Myers at the annual African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia.
Tributes have been posted mourning the passing of Walter Dean Myers’s unexpected death on July 1, 2014. Many heartfelt ones are from readers who believed that Walter’s work spoke directly to them, reflected their life, understood their pain and guided them towards a hopeful future. People ask what they can do in remembrance of him. Knowing Walter and having read his books, or heard him speak many know the answer–inspire kids to read. We must remind young people and the adults who guide them of the importance of reading.
Walter Dean Myers was the first African American chosen by the Library of Congress as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a two year appointment. He was also only the third person to receive this honor. His motto as ambassador for adults and kids was “Reading is not an option.” He told School Library Journal:
“As a young man, I saw families prosper without reading, because there were always sufficient opportunities for willing workers who could follow simple instructions. This is no longer the case. Children who don’t read are, in the main, destined for lesser lives. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to change this.” Publishers Weekly wrote that Walter believed that reading saved his life.
Walter was raised by two good Harlem people, Florence and Herbert Dean. Walter gave them copies of his books and sadly learned that his beloved dad hadn’t read them. He later discovered why. His father, like many Black men of his generation had never learned how to read.
Walter visited men and children in prisons while doing research for his award winning novel MONSTER. He realized that a huge percentage of them couldn’t read past an elementary school level. Some of them could barely read at all. He wondered how they could get a job when they were released. This knowledge resulted in prison literacy becoming one of his passions. Seeing the limitations of his father and those of kids in prisons helped shape Walter’s belief that the ability to read gives us power.
We should praise Walter and enjoy his books. Hopefully though many of us will reflect on Walter’s message and tell others: “Reading is not an option.” It is how we get power and a better future because in life reading is truly not optional.
Linda Trice is the author of Kenya’s Song (Charlesbridge Publishing). Visit her at www.LindaTrice.com.