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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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1. Day 28: Higgins Bond

HB_Photo_2014Higgins Bond is a trailblazer. She has been a freelance illustrator and fine artist for almost forty years. She has received many awards, including a medal of honor from Governor Bill Clinton, the Ashley Bryan Award for outstanding contributions to children’s literature. She has exhibited her work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, and the DuSable Museum of African-American Art in Chicago, Illinois. In addition, she is the illustrator of three Black Heritage stamps for the United States Postal Service and four stamps for the United Nations Postal Administration on endangered species. Many of her original images have been published by some of this country’s largest collectible plate companies.

Higgins Bond has illustrated 39 books for both children and adults. Her lists of accolades are long. Here is Higgins Bond in her own words:

Her Journey

Turtle Cover

A PLACE FOR TURTLES, written by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond, published by Peachtree Publishers

When I was young, I never knew anyone personally who actually made a living as an artist. So drawing and painting was just a hobby for me that I truly loved. My family and I believed it would always be just that. So inevitably, when I told my parents that I wanted to attend the Memphis College of Art, the only thing they wanted to know was “how will you really make a living?” As if a career in art was merely a fantasy. However, I grew to have faith in myself as an artist. It took a while before my family also believed.

After graduating with a BFA in Advertising Design, I was fortunate enough to get a job at a Park Avenue advertising agency in New York City. All through art school, I signed my work with my maiden name “Higgins”, because “Barbara” (my first name) was one of the most popular names at the time. Using last names was less confusing. But when I got married in my final year of college, I went back and added my new name to all my work. The professional name of “Higgins Bond” has stuck with me ever since. Hardly a year after graduation, my son was born. At this point I made the decision to become a freelance illustrator, so I could stay at home with him for a while. It was very slow and difficult at first. My son is now 39 years old and I have illustrated 39 books. That is about one for every year of his life. In between, I have worked for such clients as Anheuser-Busch, The Franklin Mint, Hennessy Cognac, The Bradford Exchange and NBC TV. I have even been a footnote in history, as the first African-American woman to illustrate a stamp for the United States Postal Service.

Akhenaton- Barbara Higgins-Bond

The Great Kings and Queens of Africa collection, Commissioned by Anheuser-Busch. Illustrated by Higgins Bond

At first my only concern was just to make a living and pay the bills. An illustrator’s job is to interpret what is written and paint or draw whatever the art director asks them to. But as I grow older, my priorities have changed and I need more urgently to express my own creative passions about nature and wildlife. However, as a widow now, the practical matter of just paying the bills doesn’t allow for much creativity like a fine artist. But this passion has given me the honor of working with many wonderful authors over the years such as: Joan Banks, Mary Batten, Melvin and Gilda Berger and most of all Melissa Stewart.

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Black Heritage stamps for the US Postal Service, Higgins Bond

For most of my career when asked, I would always say that my specialty was limited edition collector’s plates. I have illustrated many plate series about kittens, tropical fish, butterflies, dogs and children. Unfortunately, when the economy crashed and some people could not afford to put food on a regular plate, collector’s plates were a luxury. That market has all but dried up for the moment. Thankfully however, people will always read. A few years ago, I was honored to illustrate the 30th anniversary edition of Alex Haley’s Roots, The Saga of An American Family ©2010. It was a special collectible edition for Easton Press. This was particularly gratifying because, in addition to being passionate about wildlife, I am also passionate about African American history. Throughout my career my most successful work has involved the history and struggles of African Americans such as the three paintings I did for Anheuser-Busch’s Great Kings and Queens of Africa series and three Black Heritage stamps for the US Postal Service. It’s very important to me to continue to honor my heritage with more historical painting and drawings.

Roots_samples

I recently published my 39th book, A Place For Turtles, by Melissa Stewart. Artwork like this is considered commercial art, but when I began my career, that didn’t matter. I just didn’t want to become one of those starving artist you hear jokes about. At least I can still say that I make my living from my art. Something I did not believe was possible when I was young. Things are getting better and the economy is coming back. I’m older and more patient. I don’t seek just to document nature and wildlife like Audubon, but rather to illuminate God’s creations and my history in a way that crosses that difficult but arbitrary barrier between fine art and commercial art.

puzzleHer Process

I adopted a logo many years ago that I think is symbolic of my ideas about illustration. My logo is a self-portrait that is composed of black-and- white puzzle pieces with the focus on the eyes. Illustration is all about vision. I adopted this as a symbol on my cards and stationary because I began to see illustration as putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The average illustration that I do is composed of at least 10 different images. My style might be considered photo-realistic, but I’m not trying to compete with a photograph. If that were the case, the art director would just hire a photographer. An illustrator is often needed when something just can’t be photographed, or to show an idea that goes much farther than a photograph. That’s illustration. That also means that these works of art don’t always have to be painted or drawn traditionally. There are many illustrators that use only computer generated images. And that’s fine, whatever works. As long as you think of it this way: illustration is language. It’s the language an artist uses to communicate what the author has written in a book an ad or poster. A good illustrator tells a story with images.
But I still prefer the traditional way with pencils paint and brushes. All my black-and-white illustrations are done with pencil. And all my color illustrations are done with acrylic paint on illustration board or canvas. I like to use watercolor brushes because I can get more detail with them. Pencil is my favorite medium, but these days I seldom get to use it. I do all of my sketches in pencil however, and once the art director, editor, and the author approve them; I then proceed to paint the final art.
Non-fiction children’s books today require many hours of research to find all the “puzzle pieces” needed to put together an illustration. The books that I have done about animals had to be scientifically correct and accurate. You can’t just make things up. Some time ago I illustrated a book about the former slave and the Native American woman that traveled with the explorers Lewis and Clark. It was called I Am Sacajawea, I Am York. This one had to be historically accurate as well.

When I was a child, art was just a hobby for me along with stamp collecting and playing the piano. I stopped collecting stamps and playing the piano as a teen, but stamps continued to interest and fascinate me. One day I was reading the newspaper and I saw Thomas Blackshear’s beautiful black heritage stamp of John Baptist Du Sable. Blackshear was one of the most highly talented illustrators I have ever known. But his Du Sable stamp was stunning! I was already familiar with the beautiful stamps in the series that were done by Jerry Pinkney, such as the Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman stamps. I said to myself, “I would give anything to get to do one of those stamps”. Well it never hurts to dream. You see I had already met Pinkney and Blackshear because we are all part of the earliest groups of artist hired by Anheuser-Busch for their Great Kings and Queens’s series of posters. We also worked on the same jazz calendar for Smirnoff liquors and we were all members of the Society of Illustrators. I had met them both at various events and unveiling ceremonies. So I felt comfortable enough to write to Jerry, who for those of you who don’t know is the winner several time over of the Caldecott Award, most recently in 2010. The Caldecott is the highest honor there is for a children’s book illustrator. Anyway, I wrote to Jerry and asked him how do you go about getting a job like this? It turned out that Jerry was now the art director for the Black Heritage Series, and was no longer painting the stamps. Blackshear was now working on the next two stamps in the series. I told Jerry of my interest in the project, so he took samples of my work to Washington DC and showed them to the Stamp Advisory Committee (they make all the decisions about stamps). And as a result I was commissioned to do the Jan Matzeliger Stamp in 1991, the W.E.B. Du Bois stamp in 1992 and the Percy L. Julian stamp in 1993. I will be forever grateful to both Pinkney and Blackshear for the inspiration and Pinkney especially for opening this door for me.

Sac-York cover (1)

I Am Sacajawea, I Am York: Our Journey West With Lewis and Clark, written by Claire Rudolf Murphy and illustrated by Higgins Bond, Walker Childrens (October 1, 2005)

************************************

I don’t know about you, but I’m blown away by Higgins Bond — Don Tate


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2. Day 27: S.A.M. POSEY

shellie

Since writing can be compared to a recipe, clearly debut author S.A.M. Posey has something cooking.  She mixed three cups of teenage characters, one cup of terrorist, seasoned her pages perfectly with African American history, and added just enough trouble to bake us one of the best drama cakes ever, The Last Station Master.

Raised in Alabama, S.A.M. Posey has always loved reading.  Like most readers, books were a window for her that opened a view to the world.  She now resides in Florida with her family and pets.  For more information about S.A.M. Posey, (including her real name) visit her website at http://www.samposey.com.

On this the 27th day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to highlight young adult author:  

S.A.M. POSEY

The Journey: I never imagined ever writing a book, but I have always loved reading. I grew up in a small, isolated Alabama town, but thanks to books, I had a window on the world. I loved all the places books took me, and the fascinating characters I met along the way. I jokingly tell people I have read the library of every school I have ever attended. I LOVE TO READ. Consequently, I couldn’t imagine being the mother of a child who did not love reading. So, when my son was born, mission make-baby-a-reader was launched. Eventually I noticed that baby wasn’t taking naps because I was constantly reading to him. Sadly, reading had to be cut back to mainly bedtime hours. But even with the mission slightly curtailed, my wonderful boy grew into a happy reader. Then one day the happy reader read no more. The problem? Not enough books on the market that piqued his interest. My voracious reader discovered that boy-centric books were hard to find and books geared toward African-American boys were harder still.  Naturally, I did what moms do best.  Promised to fix things. I can remember my exact words. “I’ll write you a book, sweetie.” In that moment, S.A.M. Posey the storywriter was born. It would take another five years to get a publishing contract, and another two years for the book to be published, but that most definitely was the moment that sparked my writing adventure. Who knew writing could become addicting? Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

The Process

 I hear voices. You know, the imaginary kind. Characters come to me with these killer elevator pitches and they just won’t go away until I tell their stories. They are constantly whispering into my ear. Wait, did that sound crazy? Uh, then I mean, I do a great deal of academic research into a particular period in history and then try to outline the most effective means of turning this information into a modern-day, kid-friendly story. Yeah, that’s it. I plan, I outline, I do a rough draft and eventually the story blossoms into a full manuscript. There is, of course, no figment of my imagination shadowing my every move, intruding into my thoughts, pulling me from my slumber to write the next chapter and throwing tantrums if it feels ignored. Ahem, no, that’s just silly. So, let’s move on. 

The Inspiration  

I love many writers, but all of my favorites authors write for kids. I love Jacqueline Woodson. She had me with Locomotion, Miracle’s Boys, Feathers … I’m crying halfway through her books. I love the way she pulls the reader into a character’s world so that you care what happens to them. A couple of years ago, my publisher asked me to set up a Facebook page, which I did. I somehow saw Jacqueline Woodson’s name as someone I could friend so I sent her a friend request. I was thrilled beyond words that this social media allows me to stalk, I mean follow, such a talented lady.

I also love Angela Johnson. I believe First Part Last was the first book I read by her. Such a powerful story and so masterfully told. I became and instant fan and had to read more of her stuff. I loved Bird, and Haven. I just love her.

Lois Lowry may have been the first children’s writer I read as an adult. I read The Giver, then found Number the Stars and then made sure to read everything she wrote. The Giver remains my favorite book of all times.

 I can’t say that I write like any of these ladies, only that I have learned lessons about writing from them. Lesson one, a character doesn’t have to be likable to make a reader care about what will happen to them. The reader just has to be able to relate to the character. Characters who have flaws and doubts are interesting people; so write well-rounded characters, with all their flaws intact. Lesson two, there doesn’t have to be a dire emergency or immediate danger around every corner for the main character to have to deal with in order for a book to be interesting. The writing should be compelling enough to capture the reader’s curiosity and then hold that curiosity to the end.  

The Last Station Master

The Backstory 

The Last Station Master is my debut novel, but it is not the first book I wrote. The first book I wrote is unsalvageable. The second story I wrote is a sci-fi with so many plot twists that I’m still reworking it. The Last Station Master would be book number three in this writer’s arsenal of words. All of my stories involve me taking some unsuspecting kid just minding his own business and dropping him into an extraordinary situation. Pity the kid who doesn’t know enough history to work his way out of that situation. What can I say? I love history. All of my stories merge the present with the past, because really, least we forget, the past is always with us. 

The Buzz  

*A Royal Palm Literary Award Winner: “An intriguing story with an unusual twist.” 

*School Library Journal Reviewed on JUNE 1, 2013  |  Grades 5-upGr 6–9—In this fast-moving story, African American Nate Daniels expects to be bored when he’s sent to spend the summer with his grandparents in rural North Carolina, but he quickly learns his vacation will be anything but dull. In her debut novel, Posey successfully juggles multiple story lines while developing appealing characters. Posey vividly depicts the rural setting and conjures images of the Old South as Nate’s sleuthing solves his ancestors’ mystery. Information on influential African Americans of the era is provided in the author’s notes, which could encourage further exploration.—M. Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

The State of the Industry: 

The Industry is changing with the times, me thinks. It is so good to see that the publishing world is becoming more diverse and boy-oriented. I have two books on preorder. They’ll both be coming out later this year. Boys of Blur - N. D. Wilson and The Great Greene Heist - Varian Johnson. Both sound like a fascinating read. Can’t wait to get my hands on them!

Thank you, S.A.M. Posey, for your wonderful debut, and we look forward to reading more from you in the future.

 

 

 


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3. Day 26: Kadir Nelson

kadirnelsonphotoKadir Nelson is an award-winning American artist whose works have been exhibited in major national and international publications, institutions, art galleries, and museums. Born in Washington, D.C., Nelson earned a Bachelor’s degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Nelson illustrated several New York Times best-selling picture books and his authorial debut, WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball was winner of the Coretta Scott King and Robert F. Sibert Awards, as well as the 2008 CASEY Award for best baseball book.

Nelson is a two-time Caldecott Honor winner, and received an NAACP Image Award for the book JUST THE TWO OF US. His book NELSON MANDELA was a Coretta Scott King honor book in 2014.

Visit with Kadir Nelson at his website, and this video interview from Scholastic.

Sources: Wikipedia, Author’s web site.
Photo Source: Author site.


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4. Day 25:Celeste O. Norfleet

Celeste head shot

Best-selling author, Celeste O. Norfleet may write about teen girls who are “fish out of water”, but she is certainly not one when it comes to writing for teens. Her novels have earned numerous awards and nominations including YALSA Quick Pics for the Reluctant Reader. Celeste lives in Virginia with her husband and two teenagers.

The Brown Bookshelf is proud to honnor Celeste O. Norfleet February 25, 2014 on 28 Days Later.

My Journey

I consider myself a late bloomer to the writing and publishing world. In truth, I never saw myself as a writer or published author. My background is in illustration and graphic design and I worked as an art director in an advertising agency for many years. It wasn’t until I became a stay-at-home mom did I reconnect with my love of reading and writing. My journey to becoming a published author began when I wrote my first novel in 2000. It was a woman’s romance. I sent the manuscript into a publishing house and received a publishing contract six months later. That novel, Priceless Gift, was published in 2002.

Four years later, while still writing romance, my editor at Harlequin Kimani, Evette Porter, asked me if I was interested in writing a synopsis for the new imprint called Kimani TRU targeted to African American young adults. I was eager to try something new, so needless to say I was thrilled to have the opportunity. I always wanted to write for a young audience, so being asked to submit to Kimani TRU was an honor. Also, with two teenagers at home at the time, I absolutely loved the idea of writing something they could enjoy reading.

I approached the YA synopsis like I do all of my projects, I did major research. I wanted to create a unique story with characters that would reflect the issues concerning African American teens. But instead of going to the library and researching romantic locations as I usual did, I talked to my son and daughter and their friends, I went to the local mall, I listened to music and began watching television geared to the youth market. Within a week I had an idea for a story of a young girl in a fish out of water scenario.

I love writing connected series novels, so I decided to create a friends series for my first young adult novel. I came up with the idea of a young materialistic teenager named Kenisha Lewis who had everything she could ever want. Then I slowly took everything away to show her what was really important in her life. I also surrounded her with great secondary characters including her love interest, Terrence Butler, and two incredible best friends, Jalisa Saunders and Diamond Riggs. Of course a novel wouldn’t be interesting without a few antagonists. For this I threw in the neighborhood thug, a frenemy and her father’s girlfriend. The idea of the Kenisha Lewis series grew from there.

I outlined the main plot and story idea with an emphasis on great characters and then I decided to write the story in first person from Kenisha’s point of view. I wanted the story to be intense, but with a touch of humor, centering on forgiveness, acceptance, and of course a lot of family love. The language is teen orientated with references to today’s pop culture. I submitted a proposal. It was immediately accepted and Pushing Pause, the first in the Kenisha Lewis series, was released in 2007.

After the release and success of Pushing Pause, I was asked if I’d was interested in writing another young adult novel, but this time with a co-writer, my daughter. I broached the idea with my then fourteen year old daughter and we decided it would be something we could do. Together we came up with the idea of a mother and daughter relationship novel called, She Said, She Said. I love writing and creating complex characters in relationships and She Said, She Said is a fascinating novel on how a mother and daughter rebuild a family bond with mutual respect, acceptance, humor and love. Writing this novel with my daughter was an incredible experience for both of us.

I have since written four more novels in the Kenisha Lewis series and look forward to continue writing for the young adult market.

Bk 2 Bk 1

The Back Story
My current young adult novel is entitled, Download Drama. In the novel I continue the family issues and day-to-day struggles of my teen protagonist, Kenisha Lewis. Kenisha finds herself in deep drama when money is tight and there’s a very real possibility of her grandmother losing the family home. She wants to help out, so she gets a job dancing in a music video. The glamour she expects is soon overshadowed by the reality of the business when she begins dancing for an abrasive, spoiled performer who quickly becomes jealous of her talent.

The main storyline of Download Drama is centered on the hip-hop music industry and the popularity of online social networks. The concept of this novel came about after seeing a number of young adults making it big via Internet success. With this in mind, I decided to incorporate a new element into the Kenisha Lewis series — fame. The idea of uploading a dance video and having that few minutes of fame change a life was intriguing and the current popularity of social networks fed into the storyline perfectly.

bk 3

bk 4

My Process

My writing process begins with a story idea and then I start plotting the main situations. I focus on drama, drama and more drama. Then I begin sketching out the characters. If I’m writing a series novel, I already know who my characters are, if not, I create character sketches. Afterwards I focus on scene locations. Using several map engines, I literally go ground level checking out streets, landmarks, points of interest and neighborhood locations. It’s a great way to research without leaving my office.

After that I write a very loose synopsis outlining the main situations, locations and characters in each chapter. I tighten up the synopsis focusing on details and character dialogue. Since I feel it’s essential to have the characters interacting realistically, I spend a lot of time researching current slang, pop culture and teen interests. I try my best to stay relevant and keep current. For instance, my first novel, Pushing Pause, mentioned MySpace, my current novels don’t. I also listen to a lot of hip hop, rap and go-go music to help keep the young elements fresh.

bk 5
The Buzz
“`Pushing Pause’ invites you into 15-year-old Kenisha Lewis’ world. … I loved the complexity of the friendships, relationships and the need to rebel just a tad.” ~ OOSA Online Book Club

“`Fast Forward’ and Kenisha Lewis are back. While she’s a little more seasoned, unfortunately, due to the death of her mom, the fact still remains, she’s hurting.. … I do hope that this isn’t the last that we’ve seen of this series.” ~ OOSA Online Book Club
“Celeste O. Norfleet produces award winning writing for her young adult series about Kenisha Lewis. Ms. Norfleet consistently provides fresh scenarios, relatable characters and a realistic storyline for this teen to face. … Getting Played is an unparalleled read for all ages. Be sure to pick it up or download it for you readers’; I promise you WILL NOT be disappointed.” ~ Black Butterfly Review

To learn who is the model for her male characters and more interesting facts, visit Celeste’s website Celeste Norfleet.

posted by Gwendolyn Hooks


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5. Day 24: Trish Cooke

Trish_Cooke_photoAward-winning author Trish Cooke’s charming picture books SO MUCH and FULL, FULL, FULL OF LOVE are the kind of stories that have you smiling all the way through. Parents love to share them. Kids plead to hear them over and over until they know every word. Cooke lives in Britain, but her books have touched people around the world. Their celebration of family, tradition and black culture resonate in delightful ways.

Though she may be known best in the U.S. for those tales, Cooke has written more than a dozen books for kids. Her latest, LOOK BACK! (Papillote Press, illustrated by Caroline Binch), draws on a magical piece of folklore from her Caribbean heritage and is already winning praise.

We’re proud to celebrate the wonderful work of Trish Cooke on Day 24:

The Journey:

I have enjoyed story making for as long as I can remember. Before I even knew how to write my stories down on paper I was acting out stories on my street, to neighbours and friends, with two of my sisters. I remember writing fun stories at primary school. I had a way of making the ordinary things that happened in my life into something quite extraordinary. One of the stories that comes to mind was written after spending the night at my newly married sister and brother in law’s flat. It was about a giant rat called Samson who came to stay. When I was about nine years old I started to keep a diary and I got into the habit of writing daily logs of what was going on in my life. I used to embellish on the happenings of the day and my life became more interesting on paper than it actually was in real life. From school I went on to do a Bachelor of Arts degree in Performing Arts and afterwards I began a career as an actress. I continued writing but for some time kept my writing private. In 1987 I decided to be brave and get some of my writing work ‘out there’. I wanted to test whether I was any good or not and the only way for me to do that was to get people to read my work and offer feedback. I had been making up stories for my nephews and nieces and experimenting with stage plays so I sent my stories off to competitions and publishers and I sent my plays off to theatre companies.

I had a couple of stories about a little girl with a vivid imagination who had come to England from the Commonwealth of Dominica. I didn’t have much luck with the publishers but a competition, led by Rymans Stationery shop, put my stories in their short list. I didn’t win the competition but one of the judges onpampam the panel, a woman called Elspeth Lindner who worked for Methuen at the time, sent me some lovely feedback and suggested that I get in touch with a literary agent called Gina Pollinger. She thought Gina might be able to place my work with a publisher. Knowing very little about the publishing world I was happy for the advice and contacted Gina immediately. I sent Gina samples of my work and she invited me to her office. Gina and her husband, Murray Pollinger, ran their own agency. Gina was fantastic and so enthusiastic about my work. She did warn me though that though she herself loved what I was doing, she knew that she would have a hard time convincing publishers to buy. Coming from a West Indian background, a lot of the characters I created spoke with the rhythms and the dialect of the Caribbean. Gina’s job was to convince publishers that there was a market out there for this type of work.

Gina brought my stories to Century Hutchinson publishers and they liked what I had done so far. They encouraged me to turn the stories I had done into chapters for my first book. In 1988 Century Hutchinson published MAMMY SUGAR FALLING DOWN. I had my first child in 1989 and I grandadstarted to create stories for him. Before long I had a collection of stories for 0 to 5 year olds. Gina managed to get two of the major publishers interested – Penguin and Walker Books. Penguin wanted to publish my work as a book of poems but I had always envisaged each of the stories I had written as single picture books. Walker Books had the same vision and I signed with Walker Books. They offered me a four book contract straight away and published MR PAM PAM AND THE HULLABAZOO; WHEN I GROW BIGGER; THE GRANDAD TREE and SO MUCH. Afterwards they published: WAITING FOR BABY and FULL,FULL,FULL OF LOVE. SO MUCH went on to win lots of prizes: The Smarties Book Prize; Kurt Maschler Award; The WH Smith and She Magazine Award and the book has also been translated into numerous languages and sold all over the world. SO MUCH was also included in the 2009 National Strategy good practice publication on raising achievement of Caribbean children at foundation stage.

fullofloveAs well as Walker Books and Century Hutchinson, over the years other publishers of my work have included: Scholastic – ‘CATCH’; Frances Lincoln – HEY CRAZY RIDDLE; Franklin Watts: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG WEST INDIAN IMMIGRANT; NO DINNER FOR ANANSI (Hopscotch Myths); HOORAH FOR MARY SEACOLE (Hopscotch Myths); Collins: ZOOM!; Collins Educational: MRS MOLLY’S SHOPPING TROLLEY; LOOKING FOR AUNTIE NATAL; Oxford University press: HOW ANANSI GOT HIS STORIES; Papillote Press: LOOK BACK! and stories in a number of anthologies.

The Back Story:

My latest book LOOK BACK! was published in May 2013 by Papillote Press.

Papillote Press is a small publishing house based in the Commonwealth of Dominica and in London. Polly Pattullo who runs Papillote Press approached me and asked me to retell a Dominican folktale. lookbackPolly knew my background and liked my work and we had wanted to work together on something for some time so this looked like a great opportunity. We discussed a few ideas and I wrote some drafts of some stories based on characters from Dominican folklore. In the end we decided on me writing about a strange mythical character my dad had told me about when I was a child called Ti Bolom. This mysterious creature is a little man /gnome type character that many Dominicans share numerous tales about and I was intrigued by him. I decided to tell the story through the words of a Dominican grandmother to her English born grandson as she remembered how she tried to hunt down the elusive Ti Bolom in her childhood. Polly was happy with the story but we still didn’t have an illustrator. We were very excited when Caroline Binch agreed to illustrate LOOK BACK! Her illustrations are amazing. Since publishing in May we have had interest from several publishers outside of the UK including Interlink Publishing who have bought the North American rights.

The Process:

I usually work from my office at home in Yorkshire. I have a nice view from my window – a lovely skyline and lots of greenery .It helps to look out of the window when I get stuck. My inspiration for my early picture book stories came from my children and my family. Often something I heard one of somuchmy children say would trigger off an idea and then I would use it as a starting point for a story and see where it led. Many of my stories start off with real life incidents but then by the time I have finished writing the story, the original trigger is no longer at the centre of the story it has turned into something else. With my most popular book, SO MUCH, the trigger was the birth of my baby. I was just totally besotted with my new born son. I sang songs to him all day long and made up little stories. My son Kieron was too little to understand much of what I was saying . The first draft of SO MUCH was more of a song than a book with lots of repetitive sounds and gestures to keep him entertained. In my original version I had short repetitive verses where family members hugged, kissed and played with the baby. All the characters in the book are real family members, I just changed their names. Eventually, after several drafts, a story emerged with Daddy’s secret surprise birthday party being the reason for the family get together.

Most times I like to let a picture book story come out spontaneously. I work on the drafts later to improve the structure but the gem of an idea has to grab the child’s attention in its first telling or it won’t work. When I told SO MUCH to baby Kieron first time round he was engrossed. I can still remember locking eyes with him as I sang out the story to him. It was magical.

Once I have worked on a couple of drafts of a story I like to try it out on an audience. I can usually see what works and what doesn’t work when I get the reactions from my target audience. I say audience rather than reader because for me a book is like a stage play and the pictures, the words and the reading of it all culminate to make a performance.

The Buzz on Look Back!:

“Listen to the story as a grandmother shares with her grandson stories of her Caribbean childhood. Is the mysterious Ti Bolom real or a figment of Grannie’s active imagination? The story interweaves the rainforest secrets with present-day curiosity and still the reader is left guessing. If you want to believe… Atmospheric illustrations by Caroline Binch capture both the rainforest with all its rich variety and the modern-day world. A thoughtful and very special story about the power of the imagination, with a loving family relationship at its heart.”

Parents in touch - 13th May 2013

“Look Back! by Trish Cooke and Caroline Binch (Papillote Press £6.99) even has the confidence to remind children (and parents) that fear is an inevitable part of life. This is a beautiful book with painstaking, lifelike illustrations that pull you into the story from the start. Cooke tells a West Indian grandmother’s tale about a predator no one has ever clapped eyes on – Ti Bolom. We meet the grandmother as a little girl with furrowed brow and braided hair, standing in a tropical wilderness and turning to look back at… nothing. Sometimes that is the nature of fear: the predator you never see but continue to believe exists. And I love the way the exploration collides here with a celebration of the rapport between a grandmother and her grandson: family, at its best, the ultimate tonic.”

Kate Kellaway, The Observer

“Atmospheric illustrations… A very special story about the power of the imagination.”

Parents in Touch

“You feel as though you were there. And you could be. Maybe.”

Bookwitch

“This small independent publisher has taken on a big book – one that is magical and one that celebrates other cultures, in this instance the Caribbean culture. In the story the reader is treated to a tale of magic adventure in the rainforest but is not quite sure whether the story is all in a grandmother’s imagination or a true adventure. Does it really matter? Probably not for the adventure takes us on a glorious journey through brightly coloured foresty jungle and into the heart of storytelling.”

Louise Ellis-Barrett, Armadillo Magazine

“I doubt there’s a single KS1 or Nursery class that has not enjoyed So Much [by Trish Cooke] so it is a great pleasure to recommend another title by the same award-winning author. I would hazard a guess that Look Back! will be just as popular with a slightly older readership at KS1 and early KS2…Let’s not forget the illustrations, which complement the telling perfectly – and we would expect nothing less from the same hand that brought us Amazing Grace.”

Angela Redfern, The School Librarian

“The relationship between Grannie and Christopher is beautifully portrayed by author and illustrator. It is a lovely book for sharing and reading aloud, with sound effects and repetition for teller and listener to enjoy.”

Sue Mansfield, The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY)

“It is good to see something by Trish Cooke and it is good to see something by Caroline Binch and doubly good to see them working together in this story drawn from a Dominican folk tale…The mystery and implied danger in Cooke’s story is nicely held in check by the realism of Binch’s richly detailed portraiture: and Binch’s affectionate rendering of the relationship between both Granny and Christopher and granny as a girl and the old woman, Ma Constance, to whom she takes food, implies a beneficent universe in which even the slightly scary Ti Bolom can be a friend.”

Clive Barnes, Books for Keeps

Find out more about Trish Cooke at http://www.trishcooke.co.uk/.


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6. Day 23: Stephanie Kuehn

SkuehnhighresBWThe Journey

When I was growing up, my father was an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and he worked with freelance writers from all over the Bay Area (and beyond). My whole life, we had diverse and creative people coming in and out of our home, and I was enthralled by their passion and the stories they wanted to tell.

Consequently, I wanted to be a writer from a very young age. My parents encouraged me and I was that kid who spent all my classes daydreaming and jotting down stories in notebooks. However, when I went to college, I became interested in linguistics and philosophy, and I stopped writing fiction. That’s disappointing to reflect back on, but if I’m being honest with myself, I think I was at a school with so many talented writers and artists that I was intimidated to take classes with them. The linguistics department was small and vibrant, and it suited my analytical temperament well.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I found writing again. I had young kids and I was going to graduate school (for psychology), and I needed a self-directed creative outlet. I found some of my old writing that I had saved from high school and it inspired me to try and write a full-length novel. I did that, and I kept writing. Writing for teens felt natural to me. I work with young people and find it meaningful to tell stories that they can relate to.

The Back Story
I suppose I got the book deal for Charm & Strange in a fairly traditional manner. I wrote the novel, revised it, and queried agents that I thought would be a good fit. I was fortunate enough to connect with a really wonderful agent who wanted to represent it. The manuscript went on submission to editors and found the perfect home at St. Martin’s. It was definitely not an overnight thing at all, which is what you always hear about. There was a lot of revising and rejection and waiting, waiting, waiting, and some days I thought nothing would happen. But it all worked out and I am very grateful for that.

The Inspiration
Inspiration is everywhere! My reading taste is somewhat eclectic, but I really dig Robert Cormier, Isabel Allende, Walter Mosley. Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Janne Teller, Nick Burd, John Barth, John Fowles, Flannery O’Connor, Blythe Woolston, Meg Rosoff, Toni Morrison, Josephine Miles, and I’ll stop there because I could go on and on. As far as music goes, I’m a huge jazz fan (I played bass for years) and some favorites are Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, Horace Silver, and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

The Process

I start with a concept. That’s what first piques my interest, although it’s usually a concept that’s abstract and difficult to explain. But that difficulty makes me want to write it even more, so that I can say what I mean and say it just right.

Then it usually takes me playing around with the concept and finding a character and voice to see if the idea takes. If it starts to become less abstract and turn into more of a story, and I’m excited to write it, I’ll go with it. If I can write a few chapters and then compose a rough synopsis of what I’m trying to do, I’m usually committed. What I’m finding is hard is learning how to set something aside and then come back to it. I’m getting better about it, but it can be frustrating because inspiration and motivation can feel so fickle.

I live in a small house with a husband and three kids, and there is no sacred office space. I have tiny desk in my bedroom, but I write anywhere I can find a free moment.Charm and Strange

The Buzz

Charm & Strange has been nominated for YALSA’s 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults list, the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal, and WON YALSA’s 2014 William C. Morris award! (ed. note: woot!)

Under The Radar

Brandy Colbert is a young adult author whose first novel, POINTE, will be published in April by Penguin. I’ve read POINTE and it is amazing. Beautiful and layered and complex, with a narrator who is very special and whose story unfolds in ways you wouldn’t expect. Sumayyah Daud is another young adult author whom I really admire, and her debut BEGIN AGAIN, is forthcoming from Dutton.

Thank you so much, Ms. Kuehn! It’s been a pleasure, and we’re looking forward to COMPLICIT this summer. Visit Stephanie Kuehn online for more!


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7. Day 22: Amar’e Stoudemire

stoudemireAmar’e Stoudemire. New York Knicks Power Forward. Six-time NBA All-Star. Author.

That’s right—in 2012, the NBA superstar Amar’e Stoudmire teamed with Scholastic Press to launch the STAT (Standing Tall and Talented), a chapter book series based on Stoudemire’s life. In STAT: Standing Tall and Talented #1: Home Court, we’re introduced to eleven-year-old Stoudemire as he and his friends band together to win back the neighborhood basketball court from a group of bullies. Kirkus notes that the book, “hits all the major points in encouraging boys to read: sports, peer relationships, the value of hard work and family support,” and helps to “address the dearth of chapter books featuring children of color positively engaged in the normal adventures of life.”

On his website, Stoudemire notes his commitment to turning kids, especially boys, into readers. He states, “I decided to write for stat5children because although I am an avid reader now, I wish I had read more as a child. I hope that together with Scholastic, we can creatively inspire a new generation to read.”

With five books in the series so far, he seems to be making good on his goal.

The latest novel in the series, STAT: Standing Tall and Talented #5: Most Valuable is in stores now.


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8. Day 21: Dr. Gwendolyn Battle Lavert

Professional_Development_Center

Dr. Gwendolyn Battle Lavert standing in front of the Professional Development Center at Qatar University in Doha, Qatar.

A veteran educator, Dr. Gwendolyn Battle Lavert has made a lasting impact as a children’s book author. Her lyrical picture books, full of warmth and strength, celebrate African American life and culture. From a father who learns to write his name with his son’s help in Papa’s Mark to a boy whose uncle teaches him to play harmonica in The Music in Derrick’s Heart, Lavert mines family and history to create moving, memorable tales. “I want students to know that reading opens up the world to them,” she is quoted as saying in Gale Biographies of Children’s Book Authors. “It’s a journey that will last them a lifetime.”

Please join us in celebrating Dr. Gwendolyn Battle Lavert on Day 21:

My Journey

Every family has a recorder.  I happen to be the one for my family. Hearing my Mama’s oral storytelling about her life strengthened me. Her real life stories gave me the self-esteem, pride, and love that has navigated me onto the path that I travel today.   My first experience with writing professionally came as a first grade teacher.  I felt compelled to write stories because the students in my class were having difficulty learning to read.  The stories and the pictures didn’t depict who they were culturally.  I wanted my students to own the stories.  After searching for months with very few options, I started writing stories for them.  barberWith the stories that I wrote, the students excitedly began to read. As a result, I had a collection of stories that I had written. Afterwards, I had a strong desire to really want to write professionally.  My first book, The Barber’s Cutting Edge (illustrated by Raymond Holbert), was published in 1994.

I have worked as a principal, assistant school principal, reading specialist, university professor, and now an International Consultant.  Growing up in Paris, I was always writing and drawing.  With this offtoschoolearly childhood experience, it is no surprise that I’ve found a career as a children’s book author. In books that include Off to School (illustrated by Gershom Griffith), The Shaking Bag (illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson), and Papa’s Mark (illustrated by Colin Bootman), I portrays young lives steeped in African-American culture and history. Off to School, for example, finds sharecropper’s daughter Wezielee so obsessing about the possibility of attending school that she over-seasons and overcooks the meals she prepares for her father and his crew at harvest time.  This book is about my Mama.  But, I used my grandmother’s name.  In reviewing the book, Booklist contributor Susan Dove Lempke praised my depiction of “a warm family atmosphere” and a “likeable African American main character” in young Wezielee. Similarly, in The Music in Derrick’s Heart (illustrated by Colin Bootman), musicinderrickBooklist reviewer Shelle Rosenfeld dubbed it as a “charming, uplifting” tale about a boy learning to play the harmonica with help from a favorite uncle. She also states that my “easy-flowing, rhythmic prose” reflects the story’s focus on “the extraordinary power of music as universal language,” Rosenfeld added.  When my mother told me about a man in the community who played the harmonica, her voice was so musical. It moved me to write in this rhythmic prose.

I love writing.  I have shared my writing with my teaching.  I have lived in Doha, Qatar for two years.  This International flair is moving my thinking and writing to another level.

The Back Story

Holiday House in New York had published two of my books before I submitted my last, Papa’s Mark.  So, as I was writing the story, I papasmarktalked with the editor of my last two books.  She was interested.  When I completed the story, I sent it to her.  It was accepted.  However, it took me several years to get to the position of calling an editor and discussing my new ideas.  This does not happen overnight.

The Process

Since my stories are expressive narratives, I like to start with a narrative graph organizer to help guide me in building the Beginning, Middle, and End. I’m a good listener.  So, I listen to other people talk. Many times they will say something in conversation that will lead to a story idea. For example, I was talking with a lady in the grocery store.  She told me how her Grandfather wanted to vote and be able to write his name on the ballot.  All of a sudden, I knew I had to write about this man. This one brief meeting gave me ideas for a story.  It was easy to write because I made connections to relatives that had the same challenges. So, I wrote Papa’s Mark.  The character Simms came to me.  That might sound crazy, but the character appears.  I give the character a name according to the period of the story.  Many of my stories take place before the  civil war.  I like that period of time.

Is there a technique or routine for drafting or revising that you find particularly helpful?

I learned from going to writing conferences that the first draft is never your final draft.  I do a lot of revising and revising.  Sometimes after I finish, I feel that I need to write it over again.

Do you have an office or other location that works best for you?

I do not have a particular place to write. I usually write on a notepad long hand just to put the ideas in my head.   I then move to my computer desk.  Sometimes I type in bed with my laptop.  So, the location depends on my feelings.

The State of the Industry

I think that it is more difficult to get books published.  However, I still believe that editors are looking for good stories.  Children are looking for good stories.  So, a writer must not give up.

The Buzz on Papa’s Mark

A Children’s Book of the Year 2004 from the Child Study Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College

Reading Rainbow Review Book 2004

Parents Choice Recommended Title 2000

The Booklist Starred Review 2000

 


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9. DAY 20: KIMBERLY REID

Kimberly Reid_author_photo

Dossier: a file containing detailed records on a particular person or subject. –Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Most blogs and individual websites contain a “bio” or an “about me” section.  On Kimberly Reid’s website, her personal information is listed under “Dossier.”  Let’s use that as our first clue of the kind of books Ms. Reid writes.

According to her dossier, Ms. Reid grew up in Atlanta, but now resides in Colorado.  Both places have provided beautiful scenery for her Langdon Prep Series. Also interesting are the similarities between Ms. Reid, and her main character, Chanti.  These similarities provide the next set of clues:

1.  They both attended a prep school where they did not fit in;

2.  Their moms were police detectives and both Kimberly and Chanti wanted to help solve crimes; and

3.  Both have lived most of their lives around law enforcement types.

Have you figured it out?  Yes!  Ms. Reid writes crime-solving mysteries!

Like many authors, Ms. Reid held several jobs prior to finding her dream work as a writer.  She enjoyed many of those jobs (and they provide great background for books) but she found her joy when she became a writer, the job she dreamed of doing since childhood.

On this the 20th day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to spotlight author, Kimberly Reid.

The Journey:

A decade passed between my first attempt at publication and my first sale. I knew nothing about the business and sent full manuscripts to publishing houses. After a handful of rejections, I gave up on seeing my book in print, though I continued to write. By 2005 when I gave it another go, I’d taken workshops, studied the publishing process, and learned that a handful of rejections meant I was just getting started.

I attended a writer’s conference and discussed my novel with agent Kristin Nelson during a pitch session. We’re both in the Denver area so I had met her at some local publishing events. She was the agent I wanted, but she didn’t seem excited by the story I was pitching. I switched gears and quickly pitched my work-in-progress about growing up during the Atlanta Missing Children investigation, on which my mother was a lead detective. That got Kristin’s attention. She asked me to send the manuscript when it was complete. Several months later, I sent it to her, she offered representation, and we sold No Place Safe to Kensington Books in 2006. It won the Colorado Book Award for Creative Nonfiction the following year.kim reid no place safe

The rights recently reverted to me and I just released the e-book, so now I’m a hybrid author, traditionally and self-published.

 The Back Story:

Memoir puts it all out there, which can be a little unnerving. I decided to make things up from that point on, but I wasn’t sure what to write. I studied my trunk novels to discover what they had in common: a crime and a teen protagonist even though I’d written them for adults. They also shared a failed attempt at being deep and earnest. I got over my dream of someday winning the Nobel and figured out YA crime fiction with a touch of humor is my thing. I stole from my life again, this time only for the basic premise of a story—a teen girl becomes an amateur detective thanks to skills learned from her cop mom. I really did learn a lot about detective work from my mother, but was never brave enough to put the knowledge to use. Now I can through my heroine, Chanti.

 Kristin pitched My Own Worst Frenemy to my memoir publisher. They liked the story but turned it down because they weren’t sure it was a good fit for their list. Every writer has likely received that particular rejection letter, but what happened a few months later is rare. The editor called my agent to see if the manuscript was still available.  Kensington was launching a new YA line called K-Teen and she was looking for stories for the multicultural imprint K-Teen/Dafina. You need to write a good book, but you also need a very big dose of luck and timing when it comes to being traditionally published.

Kimberly Reid MY_OWN_WORST_FRENEMY_final_cover_original

The Process: 

With my early manuscripts, I had a let-the-muse-guide me approach to writing, thinking it wasn’t very artistic to plan a book. Those manuscripts went unsold because they were a convoluted mess. In my day job as a project manager, I was all about the planning, so I applied those skills to writing. I found it especially useful to outline mysteries. You have to figure out where the red herrings go, keep track of who knows what and when—I found it was just too hard to wing it. There are mystery writers who do it well, but I’m not one of them. Now that I have a basic process, I usually tweak it with each new manuscript.

That’s the thing about The Process. Not only is it different for every writer; it’s different for every book.

Generally, I start by figuring out who the main character is and what she wants. That first step is huge because conflict drives story. My protagonist must want or need something she can’t have, but will try to get, anyway. I also have to know the end before I start. The original endings never stick, but it gives me something to work toward. All of that planning happens in my head for a couple of months before I begin writing, which goes fairly quickly because I know what has to happen to reach the end.

The writing starts with a one-sentence description of the action in each chapter. This helps with the pacing, gives me a high-level view of the story, and ensures something is happening in every chapter to move the story forward. Then I turn the one sentence into a one-page synopsis per chapter, which becomes the outline. kimberly reid sweet-16-to-lifeOnce I have the outline done, I power through the first draft because it’s my least favorite and the most difficult to write. I prefer revision to writing. The final book only vaguely resembles that original outline, but I have to trick myself into thinking I know exactly what will happen or I’d probably never start, much less finish.

The mental writing happens anywhere—grocery store lines, waiting at the doctor’s office, while riding the bus. The physical writing can only happen in my home office, on an ancient laptop with no internet connection. I’m too easily distracted (by pretty much anything) to write anywhere else.

The Buzz:

 My Own Worst Frenemy 

From Kirkus

Chanti is smart and funny, and this multicultural cast is a welcome addition to the world of teen mysteries. This clever mystery with a biting look at class and privilege is a breath of fresh air.

 Creeping With the Enemy 

From School Library Journal

Chanti is an engaging and well-developed character; she’s full of humor and spunk, and readers will definitely want to know if she gets her man—the bad one and the good one. All of her friends, foes, loves, and neighbors round out this intriguing and suspenseful mystery. A great choice for those who like a bit of romance and suspense in their mysteries and a lot of spirit in their detectives.

 Sweet 16 to Life

 From Kirkus

Reid continues the snappy dialogue and clever storytelling of the previous volumes, and readers will detect real growth in Chanti as she works her way through her difficulties. There are times when Chanti’s insight is laugh-out-loud humorous. A cliffhanger ending will have readers clamoring for more.

Find out more about Kimberly Reid on her website:  http://Kimberlyreid.com 

Thank you, Kimberly, for giving us a glimpse of you, your books, and your path to publication!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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10. Day 19: Diane Browne

portrait.promo.formal smiling

Diane Browne has written over 40 stories/books. She has been published by Ginn in the United Kingdom; Harcourt Brace and Friendship Press in the USA; Heinemann Caribbean, Carlong Publishers, Arawak Publications, and the Ministry of Education in Jamaica.

She has been a visiting author for the Students’ Encounter Programme at the Miami Book Fair, and has presented papers on children’s literature at the National Association of Teacher’s of English, UK; the International Association of School Librarianship, the International Reading Association and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. She has frequently participated as trainer/consultant in writing workshops for both writers of children’s fiction and textbooks, in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

    THE JOURNEY

My journey began when I was quite young; I loved books. I read the usual books, Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys as well as listened to Anancy stories. But I knew that I wanted someone
to write books about us, people who looked like us and lived like us. I longed for this. And then when my two girls were little, I realized that this person could be me. There was nothing for them to read that represented them. There was a particular Enid Blyton book ( a British children’s author) in which there was a golliwog, which was a doll depicting black people, a caricature really, and he was always the one giving trouble or getting into trouble. A subtle but significant message. My older daughter, was then only about eight, and she remembers feeling uncomfortable about this. Our story book heroes were still the golden haired girls and princesses. I had to write children’s stories so my children, all our children would have books reflecting positive images of themselves.

However, my journey is not only a story of my writing for children. It became a journey as a children’s writer with a passion for raising the consciousness, here and in the Caribbean region, of the importance of our own children’s stories to validate our children and their lives. Children must see themselves in books.

My actual writing journey began on a project for the Ministry of Education. The project was to write supplementary readers, the Dr. Bird Readers, for our government-run primary schools (elementary schools), which the majority of the children in the island attend. This was in the late 1970s early 1980s, and it was revolutionary. Story books which featured snow, ice skating, sledding and firesides and chimneys were presented as the norm for children, who lived in a country which was hot all year round, where beaches and palm trees and towering green mountains and tropical vegetation were what they saw. When our writing team went into schools to meet our target audience, we discovered that the children thought that all writers were either foreigners or were dead. The Dr. Bird books changed this. They are still in schools, and even now, I run into adults, a policeman, a nurse, who remember favourite books from that series. My most recent experience was last year with a team interviewing at risk youth, ages 15 – 20, all male. When asked what books they could remember reading, we got the not unexpected looks of astonishment. How could anybody expect them to remember a book? And then they began to recall books they had read in school and call out their names – books I had written.

I grinned with pleasure, as it dawned on them: “Is she write it?” (Amazement!) “Yes, is she write it!”

(Discovery): And I replied, “Yes, is me write it.” Creole is often used to express surprise, a familiarity one with the other. Grins and laughter all round. We were one in this delight of writing and reading our own stories. These were their story books. These are what they remember.

One of my picture story books produced by Heinemman Caribbean at this time was Cordelia Finds Fame
and Fortune. This was also published in the USA in a library series called Passports by Harcourt Brace and Company. Although I had only used Creole structures in the dialogue, and very modified ones, the American edition totally changed those so that a folk song in the book, the first line of which read , ‘Oh Cordelia Brown, whe mek you head so red?’, became ‘Oh Cordelia Brown, what makes your hair so red?’ Nonetheless, I was thrilled that there had been an American edition; at the recognition. And I was fortunate to be part of a Student’s Encounter Programme for the Miami Book Fair where we were able to sing the original version of that folksong.

Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune, is about a little girl who is teased because she has red hair with dark skin, an anomaly. That was connected to my younger daughter’s experience, although I did not realize that that was my inspiration then. Our passions inform our writing journey even when we aren’t looking.

My journey has taken me from picture story books to ‘tween’ books, two Time Travel novels in which the protagonists go to historical events in our past,( because we can do time travel too just like people in big countries); and to my most recent book, a novel in the YA genre, Island Princess in Brooklyn, published by Carlong Publishers, Jamaica, 2011. Island-Princess-front.final

    THE BACK STORY

ISLAND PRINCESS IN BROOKLYN is a coming of age story of a 13 year-old protagonist, who reluctantly leaves her Granny with whom she has grown, to join her mother in Brooklyn. Princess has to adjust not only to a mother she barely knows, but also to a stepfather she never knew existed, a new country and a new school.

My connections with New York go way back. Most of my father’s family migrated in the 1930s and eventually lived in Jamaica, Long Island (which we always said, to differentiate it from our own Jamaica.)

Did this back story begin with my 15 year-old self who went to visit them, and had such a magical time discovering more family, and Radio City Music Hall, and the United Nations (where she planned to work when she grew up) that she fell in love with New York?

Did that girl reach out across the years to Princess? Or was the genesis of the back story more in the present? Some few years ago when my older daughter was in New York as her husband was doing a fellowship at a hospital in Brooklyn, I went up for the birth of my two grandchildren. And I fell in love again! Big time – with Brooklyn; the Brooklyn of migrant peoples and old-time houses turned into apartments buildings, laundromats where people who did not speak English helped you anyway, dollar stores, grandmas watching children in small front yards, old men sitting on steps in the sun. Different ethnic groups, all there working for the American dream; I saw their lives, our lives.

I was dizzy with joy! I would have written an ode to Brooklyn. Instead Princess McQueen turned up and said, ‘Tell my story’. I wrote in the first person, so it is Princess’ voice we hear. By the end of the story, Princess grows to discover that it may be possible after all to love both Jamaica and New York, that family, may not be perfect – but they are family.

This theme of migration is a part of the fabric of our lives. Everybody has family or knows of someone who has migrated to the USA, the UK or Canada. And therefore there is the social construct of the absent parent who has left children to make a better life overseas before sending for them. These
children left behind here are often called ‘barrel children’ because of the barrels of goodies sent home by the parent, ‘evidence’ of their love and success.

Many have told me how much they love this book; women from cultures as different as Puerto Rico and Uganda said it speaks to them of their lives, the dynamics of their families. They recognise the various levels in the story, including that of the women in a family. In this novel there are three pivotal female figures circling around one another, Princess, her Mum and Granny. As Princess’ Mum says about the relationship to Granny: She was my mother before I was your mother, she was my mother before she was your grandmother.

We all belong to each other. Nothing can change that.

However, the character who has the greatest impact on Princess’s coming to terms with her new life is an African American boy. I didn’t plan that; he just stepped forward and played that role.

In a way Island Princess in Brooklyn celebrates my father’s family and their journey. Interestingly
enough, Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune celebrated the fact that fame and fortune can be found here
at home (no need to migrate). However, Princess is forced to migrate and forced to make a new life
or return home. Is this back story then part of the journey, a journey in which I am now able to look outwards from our island to our people overseas? This circle of family, of story, fills me with wonder.

    THE BUZZ

“This delightful well-wrought novel . . . All the challenges of the young protagonist, who tells her story in the first person, are handled with emotional impact and veracity of experience. We are treated to the world as seen by the new migrant. It is a fresh and appealing point of view that makes for fast-paced reading that often melds the two countries . . . Browne builds a solid map of Jamaican culture and mores that her youthful migrant can use to comfort herself in the strange new situations she encounters without being obtrusive or in any way false or forced. This is one of the attractive features of the narrative, for the young protagonist becomes more and more appealing as she faces each challenge that comes her way.” Mary Hanna: Bookends, The Sunday Observer: Jamaica

“a delightful read” — Geoffrey Philp

Diane Browne has won awards for her children’s stories/books in Jamaica, including a prestigious Musgrave Medal for her contribution to the field of children’s literature from the Institute of Jamaica.

She also won the special prize for a children’s story in the Commonwealth, (a worldwide association of countries) from the Commonwealth Foundation, 2011.

    MY INSPIRATION

I was inspired by the West Indian writers of adult fiction like Sir V. S. Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, Edgar Mittelholzer, John Hearne. They were telling our stories, stories I understood about people whom I recognised. This was the understanding and recognition in literature that I wanted to bring to our children. In contemporary children’s literature I was inspired by the American Judy Blume, especially her book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, as she presents us with the multi-faceted characters of real young people; Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce and Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time led me to a fascination with time travel, made me want to create time travel for my people. I suppose everything I read and liked, urged me onwards to create our own stories.

    THE STATE OF THE INDUSTRY

In the Caribbean we need more opportunities for publishing of children’s books, and more people buying books, but too often disposable income is limited. Moreover, foreign children’s books undersell local books because of their economies of scale. Nonetheless, I do not think that indigenous literature gets the support of our education institutions which our children and our countries deserve. I’m delighted that there are more and more African American children’s books. That these books, as well as Black British books are also available to us, is a good thing. They provide our children with images of children like themselves, even if there are cultural differences. What I would love to see is Americans being interested in children’s material from the Caribbean. The Brown Bookshelf by affording me the opportunity of writing this blog, has highlighted us, and I thank you.

    THE PROCESS

I write as the spirit moves me, as the characters appear, as a story set in a place or time calls out to me.

I have no set pattern and often I’m thinking when next I’ll get the time to write while I’m doing other things. I usually write an entire story and then rewrite, edit, etc. over a period of time. If it’s a novel, the first draft is always done before I return to any specific thing within the story. Then I grow my story in layers.

Thank you so much, Ms. Browne! I love thinking of growing a story in layers. (*And* it makes me think of cake, which I also happen to love.) Readers, visit Diane Browne’s blog for more about her extensive work, and a wealth of resources on Caribbean children’s literature! You can also read an excerpt from ISLAND PRINCESS IN BROOKLYN over at Anansesem Magazine.


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11. Day 18: Christopher Myers

myers_christopher_lgChristopher Myers is an award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books. In 1998, Myers won a Caldecott Honor for his illustrations in Harlem, written by Walter Dean Myers. The following year, he wrote and illustrated Black Cat, a book that received a Coretta Scott King Award (2000). In addition to writing and illustrating his own stories, Myers often illustrates books written by his father, award-winning author Walter Dean Myers. Christopher’s books also include lies and other tall tales.

H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination (EgmontUSA), written and illustrated by Myers, won a Coretta Scott King Honor award in 2013.

Source: Wikipedia


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12. Day 10: Eric-Shabazz Larkin

Eric_Larkin-AFarmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, is Eric-Shabazz Larkin’s stunning debut into the world of children’s literature. The book is written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and published by Readers to Eaters Books in 2013. It has received critical acclaim.

Eric-Shabazz Larkin a founder of the Creative School of Thought, a group of artists that  produce content for public art and social change.  A native of Virginia,  he lives in New York City.

Eric-Shabazz in his own words:

His Journey – Reclaiming a lost romance.

My first romance in the world was with illustration. I used to curl up with a pen and a pad and just go for hours on in. In the house. At the park. On the table. Under the table. Somewhere along the line, someone told me that artists don’t make money and I should choose another thing to love. I hate that I listened – but I did.Cover_Final_4-30-13

So, what does an artist with a financial complex do when they grow up? Advertising. I’ve worked in advertising for many years. I grew a deeper love for the craft of creativity. But it wasn’t long before my original love started calling my phone. Literally.

I got a call from a publishing company, Readers to Eaters. They had seen my illustrations online and asked me to do a book for them. I told them I was too busy. Somewhere inside, a little boy that used to be me, was disapproving of me. So when they were persistent about it, I caved. I’m a sucker for anything that sounds like a fun creative project.

I’m already working on a second book, with the same publishing company. It’s called, “A Moose Boosh,” a collection of poems to be read at supper to make dinner time special again.

Will Allen; photo from Wikipedia

Will Allen; photo from Wikipedia

The Inspiration – Will Allen

Will Allen and The Growing Table is a wonderful book about a man that deserves a hundred books. Will Allen is a real farmer that claimed his green thumb as a child, but went on to play pro basketball, moved to Belgium only to move back to Milwaukee and re-invent the way we do farming in urban cities.

Will Allen is known for his method of farming called, “vertical stacking,” which essentially means, his farms acres that are typical led spread out over miles are stacked on top of each other because to the limitations of space in cities.

I was really excited to find that he was a black man. It’s not ordinary for black men to be heroes in children’s books that have nothing to do with politics, slavery or civil rights. For that reason, I felt this project could truly be unique.

Will-Allen-4-5

The Inspiration – The Farm

It was fun to see how a story is told over and over and over with every illustration decision I make. So, when illustrating this book I wanted to be sure to capture the textures and the colors of the farm. In particular, Will Allen’s farm called, Growing Power. Even though people come to visit his farm from all over the world, there is nothing really fancy to see. He uses, shipping pallets, old crates, worms, dirt and buckets.

So instead of using the same white paper texture, every page of the book was illustrated on a different texture you might find at the farm: wood, crumpled trash bags, old paper, burlap and more.

We also used color to help tell the story of Will Allen’s development throughout the story. He starts the book as a young boy that hates farming and grows to be a man that draws whole communities out to farm with him. The colors of the book reflect that, moving from these sad deep browns and greys to a very lush, vibrant, colorful book.

Will-Allen-20-21

Will-Allen-4-5


The Buzz

Here is a little video trailer I made for the book:

https://vimeo.com/70377470

See Readers to Eaters website for a complete list of awards and honors

2014 ALA Notable Children’s Book

“Best Book 2013 Nonfiction,” School Library Journal

“100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2013,” New York Public Library

“Top 10 Sustainability Title,” Booklist

“Top 10 Crafts & Gardening Title for Youth,” Booklist

“15 Books for Future Foodies,” Food Tank: The Food Think Tank

“The idea of farming as a community builder…comes across clearly in the book.”

“Starred” review, Booklist

“Best Book 2013 Nonfiction,” School Library Journal

“Starred” review, School Library Journal

—“Recommended Book of the Week,” Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Will-Allen-28-29

Under The Radar

There are two artists that I love and inspire me

The first is Kehinde Wile

The first time I saw one of his paintings, it made me completely rethink about the way I see myself, my race and my identity. His paintings brought me to tears. It was the first time that I realized that there was a place in the world for black art and place in the art world for black people. He made me want to be one of those people.

The second is Toyin Odutola

I watched a video of her talking about her work and she said that there is a lot of paintings that explore what it looks like to be black, but she wanted to paint what it felt like. There is something magical about her expression of blackness that makes me see my people differently.

Ultimately, artist like these inspired me to do a series of paintings called The Beautyfro Collection – http://www.beautyfro.com

Follow Eric-Shabazz Larkin on twitter – @EricShabazz

His Portfolio – studioshabazz.com

His Company – creativeschoolofthought.com

Eric_Larkin-D


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13. Day 9: Pamela Tuck

pamelatuckauthorPamela M. Tuck was born in Greenville, NC telling stories. As a child, Pamela entertained her family by recording her own voice and telling “made up silly stories.” She won her first poetry contest in elementary school and continued to write short stories and plays. Her picture book, AS FAST AS WORDS COULD FLY, was the Lee & Low Books New Voices Award winner in 2007. We at The Brown Bookshelf are proud to have her join us here for 28 Days Later. Welcome, Pamela!

The Journey
I grew up as an only child. So, books were more than just a source of entertainment, they became my companions. Before learning to read, I would climb into a loved one’s lap while they read to me and I’d become part of the story. I often requested to hear the story over and over again, until I could recite it back page by page. That was my version of “reading” a book. (Reading the pictures is what my family called it.). Some of my favorite books as a child were the Little Golden Books and books by Richard Scarry. As I became older, I read almost anything I could get my hands on. I just loved a good story. Fortunately for me, my grandfather was the master storyteller in our family. For years, I thought Bruh Rabbit, Bruh Bear, and Bruh Fox were his characters. Although I found out otherwise, I’m persuaded to believe the stories he told about them were original. As my cousins and I sat around his feet, my grandfather exploded into eye-popping, jaw-dropping stories. He turned storytelling into a performance. I often tried to imitate his technique by recording myself telling made-up, silly stories and using different voices for my characters. When I played those recordings back for my family, I was thrilled to see my grandfather and father bent over with laughter. That was confirmation that I too would be added to the list of family storytellers.dad with royal typewriter

pamelatuckfamily picture

My writing journey actually began with a poetry contest in elementary school. I submitted a poem about my grandmother and won first place. I was convinced from that point that I was a poet. That experience taught me that I could win contests for my writing. So, poetry coupled with storytelling predetermined my life as a writer. Throughout my school years, I ventured into writing short stories and plays that received recognition from my teachers, friends and local newspapers. The encouragement from my family and community were the biggest influences on my writing.

As an adult, I found serenity in pouring my feelings out on paper. I often used poetry or inspirational compositions as encouragement for myself or gifts for close friends and family members. Once I became a mother, I enjoyed watching my children’s faces as they sat around my dad’s feet and listened to his eye-popping, jaw-dropping stories. It was a night of storytelling that prompted my interest in writing for children.

The Back Story
My husband, Joel, has always been a positive force in supporting my writing. Together, we read many books on writing and publishing books for children. During our research, we found out about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). We attended our first SCBWI conference in June 2007, and that’s when I learned the “rules” of writing for the mainstream market.

I was excited about all the valuable information I received from the authors, agents and editors, but I left the conference feeling discouraged. I felt that my lifestyle as a wife and mother of 8 children (at that time), did not fit the writing regimen of other authors. My husband served as the kindling to my inner writing fire. He assured me that I was a writer and I didn’t have to follow someone else’s schedule. He found out about the New Voices Award offered by Lee & Low Books, and urged me to write my dad’s story of desegregating the public school system in the 1960s. I was reluctant at first, but I decided to read several of Lee & Low’s titles to get a feel of what they were looking for. I eventually took my husband’s advice and submitted my manuscript in September 2007. In December 2007, I received a call from one of the editors telling me I had won the award!
pamelatuckcover

I’m thankful to have my dad’s story honored with the Lee & Low Books New Voices Award, and the fabulous illustrations of award-winning illustrator, Eric Velasquez, which vividly capture the “spirit” of my family’s pride and determination. The publication of As Fast As Words Could Fly does more than serve as a long-overdue recognition of my dad’s accomplishments, it includes his story where it belongs: in African American history.

The Inspiration

I admire the work of several authors, but I think the one who inspired me the most at the start of my children’s book writing journey, is Mildred D. Taylor. I remember when I first discovered Ms. Taylor’s work. I had visited my local library to get books for my children and I noticed a poster of Newbery Award titles. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry seemed to have beckoned me to come closer. I checked out the book and was immediately drawn to the Logan family. Ms. Taylor’s family reminded me so much of my own. I was captivated by her dynamic writing style and her boldness in laying bare the realities of the time period she wrote about.

Ms. Taylor’s books inspired me to draw from my family’s stories of pride, oppositions, and triumph, as civil rights activists. Many of my friends and I learned about African American history in school, and we were exposed to the famous civil rights icons, but very few of us realized how many local unsung heroes walked those integrated hallways before us. That was all the more reason to write about my dad’s courage to take a stand against injustice by using his typing talent to help break racial barriers.

The Process:

I get a lot of my story ideas from life experiences, so in most cases, the story is already there. I just have to piece it together with “creative” glue. I try to find a plot point to work around and focus on developing it. I don’t formally outline my stories, but I create a mental or brief written outline that I use as a guide. If possible, I conduct interviews to find out the emotions surrounding the event, along with the dialogue for the time period. I do research to make sure I’m historically correct and accurate with my details, dialect and setting. By the time I’m finished with my interviewing, asking “what if” questions, and researching, I’m ready to write if I feel as if I can “walk” in my characters’ shoes.

My ideas flow more freely when I’m typing rather than writing them down on paper, and I require complete silence. That’s a lot to ask of a family of 13, so I generally isolate myself in my bedroom, send my children to a different part of the house, and give my husband the warning not to talk to me until I’m done (unless we’re writing together). Once everyone complies with my rules, I commence unto typing my first draft on my computer. When I’m done, I read out loud to test the flow of my sentences and how natural my dialogue sounds. I edit questionable spots and then I “sound the trumpet” for my audience. I enjoy bouncing ideas off my family, friends and fellow writers for their helpful critiques. I like to let my manuscript rest for a while before I work on it again so I can read it with “fresh eyes”. My next round of edits includes concentrating on more questionable spots, word economy, grammar, and checking the flow of events and details.

I’m grateful to my family for understanding my writing antics, and giving me the space and silence I need; in addition to being there as cheerleaders, making a lot of noise, for my writing successes.

The Buzz

    2013 Book Lists:

As Fast As Words Could Fly was selected as one of the Diverse and Impressive Picture Books for 2013 by IRA Reading Today Online.

Conversations Book Club also selected As Fast As Words Could Fly as one of the Top 10 Literary Finds with Young Readers in Mind for 2013.

    Reviews:

School Library Journal:: “This well-crafted tale would be an excellent complement to overviews of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Booklist: “Told from a personal viewpoint and appended with a powerful author’s note, this is a story to share across generations.”

Publisher’s Weekly “Tuck lays bare the challenges that faced Mason and black students like him, but she also tempers the story’s cold realities with moments of hope, echoed by the pride and determination visible in scenes of Mason and his family.”

Kirkus: “A warm…title about the struggle for equality.”

Thank you, Pamela!

Find out more about Pamela M. Tuck at at her home on the Web.


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14. DAY 8: LAMAR GILES

LRGiles_Fake_ID_Headshot_Color_med

Lamar Giles grew up in a small, riverfront city in Virginia called Hopewell.  It is a diverse community known for its busy ports.  Like most towns in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Hopewell is highly decorated with American history.  Mr. Giles later moved to Chesapeake, Virginia, another city rich with history and natural wonders, where he currently resides with his wife.  

A love for comic book heroes and sci-fi novels started Mr. Giles on his path to publication.  Although his debut, FAKE ID (Harper Collins) is the first book he published through traditional methods, this is not his first novel.  From the blurbs sited on his website, he also has a flair for writing dark fantasy thrillers!

 On this 8th day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to highlight young adult author, Lamar Giles.

 The Journey  

My journey to publication began with a radioactive spider bite. I was drawn to comic books as a child (Spider-man in particular) and would beg my mom to buy them off the convenience store rack even before I fully grasped the English language. As I became a more competent reader, and learned to care about the captions and speech bubbles as much as the four-color action panels, it occurred to me that someone had to decide what happened in the stories each month. To a 6 year old, that seemed like power on par with the Hulk and Superman. Not that I craved power, but I was curious. Could I make up a character? Could I put him in danger and pull him out again? I got my chance a few years later when my elementary school held a Young Author’s Contest.  

I wrote a story called “Giant Dinosaur Inside” about a boy who roots through his breakfast cereal box for the toy at the bottom only to unleash a Godzilla-like reptile on the city. The story took 1st place and my questions were answered. I could make up a character. I could control the danger. I had a superpower. With great power comes great…well, you know. From that point, I felt compelled to tell stories.  

Though comics were my first love, I began to gravitate towards long-form prose when I discovered Stephen King at the wise old age of 11. Specifically, the novel IT, which, if you squint, COULD be considered 50% MG/YA. I started my first novel when I was 14, finished it when I was 17, then decided it was best for me and the world to never show it to anyone. I stand by that decision.  

I spent more than a decade after that writing stories and novels, mostly dark fantasy and horror. There were small successes, many rejections, and an infinite well of doubt. But I never gave up. Spider-man would be proud.

FakeID_final

 The Back Story  

I started FAKE ID in early 2009. Before then, I’d been writing stories for adults, and my intent was that FAKE ID would be an adult book, too. However, the story just wasn’t coming together. Around that time, I was reading some really great YA books and I thought about ways to shake up my stalling novel. I decided to change the age and gender of my protagonist, and I ended up with 15 year old Nick Pearson. The change offered fresh perspective and challenges that were really fun. I swear, the book just about wrote itself. I had a clean draft by the end of that year, but a number of setbacks followed. 

Even though seven out of ten agents queried requested my entire manuscript, I ended up with no offers for representation. Back to the drawing board. One agent offered a critical piece of feedback along with her rejection. I altered a major plot point based on her feedback, and queried a small number of agents in Summer 2010. Within two weeks I had an awesome agent, and we were out on submission by Fall of that year. Though FAKE ID received near universal praise from each house and imprint we submitted to, many editors seemed reluctant to take a chance on a “boy book.” One editor’s note even said, “YA thrillers aimed primarily at boys are often dead in the water.”  

After four months of similar reactions from the major publishing houses, I got fed up and decided to experiment with self-publishing, putting some of my adult horror and dark fantasy work out in the world. I had some modest success and, frankly, forgot about FAKE ID. My self-pubbed work got the attention of the GoOnGirl! Book Club, a huge national organization that was holding their annual conference in Washington, D.C. in May 2011. They invited me to come hang out and speak about my work. It was on the train ride to that conference that I received a call from my agent about an incredible offer for FAKE ID from HarperCollins Children’s books. Nine months after going on submission, one of America’s biggest publishers wanted my high school murder mystery. It was exciting and I tell the story that way to make a point. I truly believe part of that offer coming when it did was because I’d decided not to leave my hopes and dreams in the hands of strangers. If no one wanted to publish FAKE ID, I was laying the foundation to publish it myself. I think the universe rewards preparation. 

Not only that, I feel like all those previous rejections were for the best. After all, I didn’t want to be with an editor/publisher who had lukewarm feelings about my work. I’m with a publisher who GETS me. HarperCollins has shown great faith and we’ll be doing at least two more books together. I never thought my work was “dead in the water” and I’m happy to be with a publisher who feels the same.  

The Inspiration 

Well, as I mentioned, there was Stephen King. IT, followed shortly after by THE STAND and THE SHINING. Once that fuse was lit, well, let’s just say I learned to hide my paperbacks in my backpack because I was reading at a level that seemed to frighten my 6th and 7th grade teachers. King wasn’t all I read at that time, though. I had an appreciation for the Charlie books (Chocolate Factory/Great Glass Elevator) by Roald Dahl, probably because I read them like horror stories. There were others, but it was discovering the work of Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes in my late teens that really put me on the path of pursuing a publishing career. Those writers were like me, and wrote the kinds of stories I liked to write. They’ve published two YA zombie novels recently, DEVIL’S WAKE and DOMINO FALLS that really appealed to my sensibilities. Some people find it strange that I now write YA Thrillers when I have such strong ties to darker work, but I don’t see a huge difference. In my thrillers, my heroes still face off against monsters, they’re just human monsters.

 The Buzz 

FAKE ID has received some lovely reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist. And, it’s been selected as a spring pick by the Junior Library Guild. Here’s what folks are saying:

 

Kirkus: “Fast action, judicious plot twists, and sufficiently evil teens and adults should keep thrill-seeking readers awake long into the night. ”

 

PW: “This engrossing thriller blends gritty crime storytelling with solid, realistic family drama.”

 

Booklist: “Conspiracy theorists and thriller fans alike will be guessing right up to the end of this exciting debut.”

  

For more information on Lamar Giles, his blog, and his books, please visit his website at http://www.lamargiles.com

 

Thank you, Mr. Giles, for your contributions to the world of YA novels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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15. Day 7: Zetta Elliott

IMG_1198When we first spotlighted Zetta Elliott during our 2009 28 Days Later Campaign, we were celebrating the release Bird (Lee and Low, 2008), her picture book with illustrator Shadra Strickland. A critical darling, Bird received a number of accolades, including winning a Lee and Low New Voices Honor Award, receiving a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustrations, and being placed on the ALA Notable Children’s Book List. Please welcome Zetta Elliott back to The Brown Bookshelf as she discusses her journey, her inspiration, and her latest works, including The Deep, just released in November 2013.

The Journey: I’ve been writing seriously since I was a teenager, though it took me a long time to publicly claim the title of writer. I finished my first adult novel in 1999 but couldn’t find a publisher so I started writing for kids. In 2005 I won the New Voices Honor Award from Lee & Low and my first picture book Bird was published in 2008. When I couldn’t sell any of my other manuscripts, I started my own press and self-published A Wish After Midnight in 2008; it was acquired by Amazon’s new publishing company the following year and rereleased in 2010. My second fantasy novel, Ship of Souls, was also published by them in 2012.

deep_comp_layout.inddThe Back Story: My first two novels were published by AmazonEncore and I was happy with that team; they didn’t offer an advance but had an “author first” policy that I loved and a quick turnaround time. When Amazon started its new YA imprint Skyscape, my titles were transferred to a new team that operates more like a traditional press. They continue to promote my novels here in the US and in the UK and Germany. But they wanted to release The Deep in 2015 and I wasn’t willing to wait that long so I opted instead to self-publish. I have so much unpublished material that I could easily publish a book a year for the next decade—but only if I do it myself. The Deep is part of my “freaks & geeks” trilogy, so I want to make sure readers aren’t left hanging. The third book, The Return, should be out by August 2014.

The Inspiration: Octavia Butler was the first Black speculative fiction writer I encountered; her prose is quite plain but her stories are always riveting. I’ve tried over the past ten years to focus more on developing my storytelling skills and less on “technical virtuosity” (I love when readers say, “That book was a real page turner!”). Writing plays for several years taught me to create compelling dialogue and since I’m trying to reach reluctant readers, pacing and length matter a lot. I want to write books that excite kids without being intimidating.

I often listen to Emeli Sandé and I once heard her say in an interview that she felt the people attending her concerts were outsiders; she was happy that her music served as a vehicle for creating community among people who often felt alone. I identify with that idea—I love that more and more Black people are openly identifying as geeks and nerds (or “blerds”). The Afropunk community creates space for so many different kinds of Black folks, and that didn’t seem possible when I was growing up. If you weren’t into hip hop, you weren’t Black—end of conversation. I’m drawn to artists who support the idea of Black multiplicity. We aren’t monolithic; here in the US and across the African diaspora we’re an incredibly diverse group and that’s a strength, not a weakness. I think young adult literature needs to reflect that reality.

Under The Radar: Haitian-American writer Ibi Zoboi recently joined me in discussing race in The Hunger Games. She’s finishing up her MFA at VCFA and I’m looking forward to seeing her fantasy novels on shelves soon.

The State of the Industry: After Nelson Mandela passed away last year, I took some time to reflect on his impact on my life and my understanding of Blackness and social justice. I had just self-published The Deep and my beloved aunt had passed away the week before; it was a really difficult time and I wondered if I should have waited to release the book once my semester was over. In my writing on race and publishing I often quote poet/activist June Jordan who asserted that our “urgencies” would never be truly understood by those outside our community. I’ve spent several years advocating for greater equity in children’s publishing and then last year I called it quits. I’m tired of all the people who pay lip service to diversity but take no further action to transform the industry; even established writers of color seem satisfied with the status quo. I thought about Mandela and the ANC, and the global response to South Africa’s apartheid regime. Mandela sat in that prison cell for decades before folks in the West sat up and took notice—and then took action. And one of the strategies to win his release and end apartheid was DIVESTMENT. Right now that word defines my relationship to the US children’s publishing industry.

The Buzz:

Check out the trailer for The Deep:

Lyn Miller-Lachmann review at The Pirate Tree: Social Justice & Children’s Literature blog: “The Deep does lead readers on “fabulous adventures,” and Elliott deserves applause and support for making this extraordinary story available now to fans of Ship of Souls and other readers at the middle and high school level looking for tales of ordinary kids who find themselves superheroes.”


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16. Day 6: Michele Wood

Michele_Wood_photoMichele Wood is an award-winning artist, educator, and visual historian. She has been honored with the prestigious American Book Award for her first book, Going Back Home (Children’s Book Press), and is a 1999 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award recipient for her beautifully illustrated book I See The Rhythm (Zonderkidz).

Michele’s most recent book, I Lay My Stitches Down (Eerdmans), has received many awards, including a Parents’ Choice Honor Award; a Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year, and the list goes on.

 Michele Wood in her words:

Her Journeyi-lay-my-stitches-down

In April 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected to presidency while I was in Nigeria. I was stranded in Oshodi for two weeks. It was a poor section of town in Lagos, Nigeria. While there in Oshodi, I made friends and they played a great song titled “Sacrifice” by Elton John in a tin shack while we discussed South Africa’s election and Nigeria’s freedom. I was to be on a pilgrimage at the University of Ife for one year and to work with my mentor master sculptor Lamidi Olanade Fakeye. Lamidi had once given me objectivity by saying,” You have the ability to paint but not the subject matter”. My stay was cut short due to the fuel shortage that was in Nigeria and under the leadership of former President General Sani Abacha.

After being back, I received great news. First, my work had been selected for the cover of American Vision magazine. My gallery representative at the time had submitted my painting prior to my surprise. On the cover was the work that my mentor had finally commented that I found my subject matter. Days later and living in Jonesboro, Georgia, I got a call from a woman with a beautiful low voice inquiring about more paintings. She had seen my work on the cover of American Vision magazine. After talking, I discovered she was the award-winning publisher of multicultural books Harriet Rohmer. Wow! I scrambled and said sure I have more works of art. They were from a series of paintings I had begun in the 1991-1994 about my family and my journey through the south. Well, those paintings became my first book titled Going Back Home: an artist return to the south. It won the American Book Award.

Her Back Story

I Lay My stitches Down is the 2013 Gold Nautilus award winning book. I was contacted by my agent in regard to the manuscript. The art director at Eerdman Publishing remembered me from my first book and thought my style would be a great match with the first time author Cynthia Grady. After reviewing the manuscript she was right, I fell in love with her writing and it was a great match. ilaymystitchesdown_20-211

Her Process

I work in two ways. It depends upon whether the initial concept for the book is mine, or if I receive a manuscript written by someone else. When it is my concept for the book and the illustrations come first, I get visions for the idea and start to do drawings from that vision. GOING BACK HOME BOOK 001Then I proceed to do research to incorporate patterns and detail for that subject. I try not to work to close to the outline. I do not go in order. I jump around a lot. I have to be ready to attack a page. Books where the concept came from the artist and paintings came first is Going Back Home, I see the Rhythm, I see the rhythm of Gospel.

The second way is to receive a manuscript. I try to capture the essence first and then I do research on the subject, time period, clothing, colors, buildings and settings of that time period. I mainly work in my head more than paper. I don’t do a lot of sketches over and over again unless I am stuck or requested by the art director.

I work from my home/ office. I usually lay out my sketches so that I may see them in order. I do not do a detailed sketch because is locks me into that sketch. I like it flow more and let the unexpected happen when I paint.

I See the Rhythm 001

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The Buzz (I Lay My Stitches Down)

PEN/Steven Kroll Award for Picture Book Writing, Shortlist (2013)

Parents’ Choice Award: Poetry category, Silver Honor (2013)

New York Public Library, Children’s Books 2012: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing

Bank Street College, Best Children’s Books of the Year, Starred for outstanding merit (2013)

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Big Picture Review (2012)

Capitol Choices, Noteworthy Titles for Children and Teens (2013)

Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), Choices (2013)

International Reading Association (IRA) & Children’s Book Council (CBC), Children’s Choices (2013)

IRA Childrens Literature and Reading Special Interest Group, Notable Books for a Global Society list (2013)

The State of the Industry

Under the Radar: Cynthia Grady is an author and rising star. Her work is brilliant and distinctive due to her multi-layered use of language. She weaves patterns in her writings that is detailed and has hidden meaning. I had the pleasure of working with this amazing talent. I admire her work of art…(her poetry)


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17. Day 5: Linda Trice

LindaphotoNot many people can say they learned from a literary star. But children’s book author Linda Trice received that honor twice. Sterling Brown, considered the Dean of Black poetry, and John Oliver Killens, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated novelist, were both her mentors. Their lessons about celebrating the beauty of black people and writing with love shines through in her acclaimed work. From middle-grade Charles Drew: Pioneer of Blood Plasma to her beautiful picture books, Kenya’s Word and Kenya’s Song, Linda shares stories that affirm, delight and empower.

Please join us in saluting Linda Trice on Day 5:

The Journey

I always wanted to be a writer but I didn’t know how to do it. If there were any books or classes about how to write I sure didn’t know about them when I was growing up in my Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. It’s where Great-grandfather Trice landed when he escaped from slavery in the South. I was lucky enough to be picked to be in a class for musically talented children when I was in junior high school. Some of us formed a literary magazine in our afterschool center and that’s where my first short story was published, along with an interview of Leonard Bernstein, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

THE SAG HARBOR EXPRESS: My mother’s friend Mrs. Fraser learned about my interest in writing, read my published work and offered me her job for the summer. She was the society editor for our Black community in Sag Harbor, NY. The Sag Harbor Express is the oldest continuously published weekly newspaper in the United States. I got paid two cents a line and wrote about the teen parties I was attending and the parties that my parents went to. HOWEVER there was no byline and no photo of me. Mrs. Fraser wanted it this way for both of us. She hoped white people in town would read the column and realize that the people we were writing about were not much different from them.  That was one way we could fight against negative stereotypes of our people.

HOWARD UNIVERSITY AND STERLING BROWN: I went to Howard University and worked on the campus newspaper, The Hilltop. Years later I learned that my mother had worked on The Hilltop when she was a student at Howard. The only creative writing class at Howard was for seniors who majored in English. I majored in history so I had to find a way to learn how to become a writer.

Sterling Brown was a famous poet of the Harlem Renaissance era and a mentor to Stokely Carmichael and other leaders of SNCC. I often sat in his office on the top floor of Howard’s Founders Hall Library and talked with him. He taught me to find beauty and greatness in our people. He taught me to think for myself and not to easily accept negative portrayals of our people that others wrote.  Now I wanted not only to be a writer but an author of books that elevated our people.

Years later I learned that Sterling Brown had been named the Poet Laureate of the District of Columbia and was often called the Dean of Black Poetry. I am so appreciative that he took an interest in me and was willing to take time to mentor me.

NYU: As I approached graduation I looked for a job, anywhere, doing anything that would help me become a better writer. I got a job as a writer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the public agency that built the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers) and took a creative writing class at New York University at night.

lindaandwalter

Linda Trice and Walter Dean Myers at the African American Children’s Book Fair.

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY AND JOHN KILLENS: My mother saw a notice in the Amsterdam News, New York City’s Black newspaper. The famous Black author John O. Killens was accepting students into his workshop. Killens knew and influenced just about every major Black writer of the last half of the twentieth century. He read my submission and admitted me into the program. I still hadn’t published a book. One of our classmates had, Walter Dean Myers, but it was a children’s picture book. We all wanted to write literary works for adults. At least half of us became published book authors- Wesley Brown, Delores Williams, Quincy Troupe and others. Brenda Wilkinson and the poet Nikki Giovanni eventually wrote books for children.

I graduated from Columbia University’s two year Master of Fine Arts writing program, moved to Connecticut and worked on the women’s page of The Hartford Courant, the oldest continuously published daily newspaper in the United States. I first applied to The Hartford Times but they openly told me that they paid male writers more than female writers. I also worked as a free-lance reporter for several weekly papers in the area.

Moving back to New York I ran magazines for Richard Clarke, the Black man who created the first employment agency for Black college graduates. There was great resistance by corporate America in those days against hiring us.

I also did free-lance work writing children’s stories and curriculum for the United Presbyterian Church and the United Methodist church. I had columns about children’s books in small newspapers, got short pieces about famous Black heroines published in small magazines and newspapers and continued to send articles, short stories and poetry to magazines. Some of them published me. Most rejected me. In those days you had to have clips- samples of your writing that had been published in order for a book publisher to consider your manuscript. I was working hard to get those clips.

GETTING AN AGENT: A television soap opera scriptwriter I met at a little girl’s birthday party told me about her agent, Sally Wecksler. Sally accepted me after reading some of my published material (those clips!) She got me a contract with McGraw-Hill and Bank Street Publishing Group. They wanted a docudrama, CHARLES DREW: PIONEER OF BLOOD PLASMA for ages 9-12. When it was published it was the only book for children about the founder of the first blood banks that had been written by a Black person.  It was a success and quickly sold out every copy. I’d finally had a book published!

My agent Sally Wecksler sadly died while I was trying to get a second book published. I wrote the new book Kenya’s Word without an agent and without a publisher. I sent it to every publisher in Writers Market and they all rejected me. One of my friends, Amy Elder from the National League of American Pen Women reminded me that I hadn’t sent Kenya’s Word to Charlesbridge Publishing.

I’d won the Eve Bunting Fellowship to attend a weeklong workshop given by the Highlights Foundation and heard Yolanda Scott, executive editor of Charlesbridge speak. I sent Kenya’s Word to her and reminded her that I’d attended the Highlights workshop.

While I waited to hear back from Charlesbridge I taught adults how to write for children at the Institute of Children’s Literature. I also wrote essays about writing and short stories for adults and children. Many of them were published then one day Charlesbridge phoned me. Yolanda said she loved Kenya’s Word and offered me a contract!

Charlesbridge assigned an editor to me, Elena Wright and we worked together, rewriting the book and polishing it. I remembered that Killens had taught me that a book should have a rhythm. This is especially true with something written for ages 4-7. Books don’t have to rhyme but they should sound lyrical when adults read them aloud to little children.

The illustrator George Ford, taught me at the Highlights workshop that a manuscript should make the illustrator shine. I realized that when people walk into a bookstore the first thing they notice about a book is the cover. Ford taught me how to create a great dummy, one that lets the illustrator create something wonderful on each spread.

Sue Sherman, Charlesbridge’s Art Director found Pamela Johnson, an illustrator who had done more than one hundred picture books. Pamela worked on Kenya’s Word for a year and finally it was done. It was shipped to the printer, then to the warehouse and finally the book came out to glowing reviews and awards.

Every copy of Kenya’s Word quickly sold. I was offered a three book contact to write more books about my confident character, Kenya and the loving, supportive people in her life.

KENYA’S SONG: Emily Mitchell edited my second Charlesbridge book. My previous editor had left to work at Harvard University. Working with Emily was wonderful. She easily understood what I was trying to accomplish with Kenya’s Song.  It was published in 2013 and people loved it.

kenyassongIn Kenya’s Song children whose grandparents are from the Caribbean are celebrated. I wanted to remind adults of the diversity of languages, music, foods and dance in some of the Caribbean nations. When I was doing my research I talked to seniors who lived in the Bronx and were from different Caribbean nations. Each person I talked to told me about their culture but always said, “Remember, it all goes back to Africa- the drum, the dance, the food.”

Since Kenya’s Song is read to little children between the ages of 3-8 I was happy that so many adults asked me to speak to their organizations. Just before I gave my first adult talk, The New York Times published an article about studies that showed that children who knew about their family history have great confidence in themselves and learn better.

Using that article as a springboard my audience and I discussed the best way to tell family history to children. We talked about using funny stories about parents and grandparents and relating incidents that showed the strength and bravery of an ancestor. Teachers suggested that they could talk about the traditions of their school and of their community. For instance some communities have a parade on July Fourth while others have picnics in the town park. Sunday school teachers wanted to tell children stories about the people who founded their congregations.

LindaandkidsI have since done school presentations to children in kindergarten and first grade. They loved talking about the culture and traditions of their family and their community. Their teachers and I learn a lot from listening to them.

I’m now working on the third book about Kenya, her family and Mrs. Garcia’s class. Kenya’s Art is scheduled to be released Spring 2016.

Process

I write books, stories and articles about issues that I am passionate about and keep in mind the lessons I’ve been taught. From John Killens I learned to write with love about our people. From Sterling Brown I learned to focus on the beauty and greatness of our people. I try to think for myself and to question negative portrayals of our people that others have written.

For instance, my picture book for ages 4-7, Kenya’s Word is about a child who taught her classmates and her teacher Mrs. Garcia to think of all the beautiful things in the world that are the color black such as black patent leather shoes, the night sky and Mommy’s velvet party dress. When I give school presentations I ask my students to also suggest beautiful things that are the color brown.

Kenya’s Song shows the diversity of people of color in the New World and the ways we are similar. It also shows confident children who are eager to learn and create new things and are supported by the adults in their life.

The Buzz

Kenya’s Song for grades K-3 is a heart-warming story that celebrates the diverse music found in different cultures.”

-          International Reading Association (IRA)

“Kenya is having trouble with her homework assignment–choosing her favorite song. Her daddy, who plays jazz piano, takes her to the Caribbean Cultural Center. ‘There is music that you’ve never heard before,’ he tells her. What Kenya comes up with will surprise her classmates and the reader. Kenya’s Song shows a loving family living in a multicultural neighborhood full of children who are proud of their heritage. Kenya’s appreciation for the music around her and her loving relationship with her father makes this an appealing story for most libraries.”

-          School Library Journal

“Linda Trice’s Kenya‘s Song is written for children ages 4-8. Themes include: cultural awareness, music appreciation, creativity and father/daughter relationships.”

-          Jen & Kelly Read Amazing Picture Books

Linda Trice has written an enchanting children’s book for kids 4 to 7 years of age. Anyone who loves the variety of music available to everyone will appreciate the choice of Kenya’s favorite song.” 

-          Spirituality and Practice

The New York Public Library included KENYA’S SONG in their list of New Children’s Picture Books

Booklist recommended Kenya’s Song for Black History Month.

Kirkus included Kenya’s Song in its review of picture books with Caribbean themes.

Reading Rocket suggested Kenya’s Song for Women’s History Month.

Find out more about Linda Trice at www.lindatrice.com/.


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18. Day 4: Jason Reynolds

photo courtesy of the author and http://authors.simonandschuster.com/

photo courtesy of the author and Simon and Schuster

Jason Reynolds is the author of two critically acclaimed novels. My Name Is Jason. Mine Too: Our Story. Our Way. (HarperCollins, 2009), written with his friend and artist, Jason Douglas Griffin, was published in 2009 and received two starred reviews. His latest novel, When I Was The Greatest, was published in early 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. The novel has already been lauded by critics, receiving starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal. Kirkus also praised the novel, noting that Reynolds is “an author worth watching” and calling the novel “a moving and thought-provoking study of the connectivity among a family and friends that plays upon and defies readers’ expectations.” Please welcome Jason Reynolds to The Brown Bookshelf as he discusses his journey.

 

The Back Story

When_I_Was_The_Greatest-2The back story behind the publishing of When I Was the Greatest is…well…an interesting one. I’ll try to shorten it, as to not spiral out of control (which happens often when telling this story.) Through a strange turn of events, I found myself without a place to live in New York, and was forced to move back home to my mother’s house. I was almost twenty-five years old, and there aren’t too many instances more demoralizing than returning home to your childhood bedroom — music posters still on the wall and everything — after trying to chase your dream. At least, that’s what I thought. Turns out, there was actually more demoralization  just around the corner. I couldn’t find work. I mean, the recession was in full swing, my resume was all over the place, and I had never held any real job, so I ended up working in the stockroom of Lord & Taylor. It was my responsibility to unpack boxes and put sensors on every garment. EVERY garment. My shift was from three in the morning to noon, for a whopping $150 a week.

Meanwhile, I was working on my first novel, BOOM. I still had an agent in New York, and after BOOM was complete, I sent it to him. It took him about five months to tell me that it sucked (it was TERRIBLE.)

Shortly after my first rejection, I started a new job as a case worker servicing mentally ill people. There were twenty-seven people on my caseload, ranging from Schizophrenics, to drug addicts, and my job was to help them get back on their feet and assimilate back into society. I was also working on another novel — a dystopian tale about the island of Bermuda, a place that I had visited many times and had grown to love. My agent and I had parted ways by this point, and I decided to pitch it directly to a publishing house (had an insider) to see if anything would happen. This time, it took six months to tell me it sucked, but by then I was already on my way back to New York. My experiences as a case worker traumatized me to the point that I had to quit and was willing to take anything to get the weight of it and the stories of the people (the most amazing people I’ve ever met, by the way) off my shoulders. So I took a job, back in New York, selling jeans.

I had decided that I was going to quit writing. Maybe I’d push denim the rest of my life, or teach, or get one of those lucky New York City jobs that pay well to have fun. But there were other things in the cards. Christopher Myers, son of Walter Dean Myers, had become a close friend of mine when I lived in New York the first time (before the stockroom and caseworker stuff.) He and I were hanging out one day, and he asked me how the writing was going. I told him that I was done. No more writing. What he said next changed my life. He asked me, “When my father is done, who’s going to carry that banner, that tradition?” I suggested he do it. He suggested I do it. He told me to take one more swing, after all that I had been through, all that I had seen, all the people that I had interacted with and the stories that I had heard, and see what would come of it. What came was, When I Was the Greatest.

My Inspiration

WalterDeanMyersPhotoWalter Dean Myers has been a major inspiration for me. There’s something brilliant in the looseness of his language, though it actually isn’t loose at all. But it seems that way. He’s been able to write tight stories that still come across as eye-level, and human. And that’s my goal, to write slice-of-life, human stories about the communities that have made me who I am. And, of course, to make my mama proud.

My Process:

I always begin with a theme or a particular story I want to tell. There are so many stories, and perspectives, and angles, and I spend a lot of time thinking of which ones I could do justice. Then I think of characters, and usually I pull right from my pot of friends and family, which, let me tell you, are a colorful bunch. It means a lot to me to make sure that every character is real. That these stories read like memoirs, each character, breathing. I typically start with the protagonist. I flesh him/her out pretty thoroughly, that way as he/she begins to live, he/she will tell me what happens in the story, who joins in on this journey, what twists and turns occur, etc. I do just as much observing of the characters I create, as I do writing them. To me, that’s the fun in it all, the adventure of conceiving a character, and then having it lead you through the story it wants to tell.

Others under the Radar:

So many. But if I had to name one, Sheri Booker. She’s the author of Nine Years Under, which is about her time working in a funeral home for nine years in Baltimore City. But recently, she mentioned that she was thinking about writing a YA novel. PLEASE SHERI! I think she’d be a serious asset, especially when it comes to a fresh take on YA for girls of color.


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19. YA Discovery Contest

Have an idea for a YA novel? Have a finished manuscript, but you’re not sure how to craft a pitch? Here’s a chance to get it seen.

In honor of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), Serendipity Literary Agency and Sourcebooks Inc. have teamed up to host their 5th annual Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest. All you have to do is submit your first 250 words. Top prizes for winning entries range from a 10-week writing course, collection of teas and opportunity to submit to agent Regina Brooks to a pitch session with Brooks and feedback from editors.

The deadline is November 30.

Details here.


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20. 28 Days Later Day X: Pamela Tuck

* The Journey
I grew up as an only child. So, books were more than just a source of entertainment, they became my companions. Before learning to read, I would climb into a loved one’s lap while they read to me and I’d become part of the story. I often requested to hear the story over and over again, until I could recite it back page by page. That was my version of “reading” a book. (Reading the pictures is what my family called it.). Some of my favorite books as a child were the Little Golden Books and books by Richard Scarry. As I became older, I read almost anything I could get my hands on. I just loved a good story. Fortunately for me, my grandfather was the master storyteller in our family. For years, I thought Bruh Rabbit, Bruh Bear, and Bruh Fox were his characters. Although I found out otherwise, I’m persuaded to believe the stories he told about them were original. As my cousins and I sat around his feet, my grandfather exploded into eye-popping, jaw-dropping stories. He turned storytelling into a performance. I often tried to imitate his technique by recording myself telling made-up, silly stories and using different voices for my characters. When I played those recordings back for my family, I was thrilled to see my grandfather and father bent over with laughter. That was confirmation that I too would be added to the list of family storytellers.

My writing journey actually began with a poetry contest in elementary school. I submitted a poem about my grandmother and won first place. I was convinced from that point that I was a poet. That experience taught me that I could win contests for my writing. So, poetry coupled with storytelling predetermined my life as a writer. Throughout my school years, I ventured into writing short stories and plays that received recognition from my teachers, friends and local newspapers. The encouragement from my family and community were the biggest influences on my writing.

As an adult, I found serenity in pouring my feelings out on paper. I often used poetry or inspirational compositions as encouragement for myself or gifts for close friends and family members. Once I became a mother, I enjoyed watching my children’s faces as they sat around my dad’s feet and listened to his eye-popping, jaw-dropping stories. It was a night of storytelling that prompted my interest in writing for children.

* The Back Story
My husband, Joel, has always been a positive force in supporting my writing. Together, we read many books on writing and publishing books for children. During our research, we found out about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). We attended our first SCBWI conference in June 2007, and that’s when I learned the “rules” of writing for the mainstream market.

I was excited about all the valuable information I received from the authors, agents and editors, but I left the conference feeling discouraged. I felt that my lifestyle as a wife and mother of 8 children (at that time), did not fit the writing regimen of other authors. My husband served as the kindling to my inner writing fire. He assured me that I was a writer and I didn’t have to follow someone else’s schedule. He found out about the New Voices Award offered by Lee & Low Books, and urged me to write my dad’s story of desegregating the public school system in the 1960s. I was reluctant at first, but I decided to read several of Lee & Low’s titles to get a feel of what they were looking for. I eventually took my husband’s advice and submitted my manuscript in September 2007. In December 2007, I received a call from one of the editors telling me I had won the award!

I’m thankful to have my dad’s story honored with the Lee & Low Books New Voices Award, and the fabulous illustrations of award-winning illustrator, Eric Velasquez, which vividly capture the “spirit” of my family’s pride and determination. The publication of As Fast As Words Could Fly does more than serve as a long-overdue recognition of my dad’s accomplishments, it includes his story where it belongs: in African American history.

* The Inspiration

I admire the work of several authors, but I think the one who inspired me the most at the start of my children’s book writing journey, is Mildred D. Taylor. I remember when I first discovered Ms. Taylor’s work. I had visited my local library to get books for my children and I noticed a poster of Newbery Award titles. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry seemed to have beckoned me to come closer. I checked out the book and was immediately drawn to the Logan family. Ms. Taylor’s family reminded me so much of my own. I was captivated by her dynamic writing style and her boldness in laying bare the realities of the time period she wrote about.

Ms. Taylor’s books inspired me to draw from my family’s stories of pride, oppositions, and triumph, as civil rights activists. Many of my friends and I learned about African American history in school, and we were exposed to the famous civil rights icons, but very few of us realized how many local unsung heroes walked those integrated hallways before us. That was all the more reason to write about my dad’s courage to take a stand against injustice by using his typing talent to help break racial barriers.

* The Process:

I get a lot of my story ideas from life experiences, so in most cases, the story is already there. I just have to piece it together with “creative” glue. I try to find a plot point to work around and focus on developing it. I don’t formally outline my stories, but I create a mental or brief written outline that I use as a guide. If possible, I conduct interviews to find out the emotions surrounding the event, along with the dialogue for the time period. I do research to make sure I’m historically correct and accurate with my details, dialect and setting. By the time I’m finished with my interviewing, asking “what if” questions, and researching, I’m ready to write if I feel as if I can “walk” in my characters’ shoes.

My ideas flow more freely when I’m typing rather than writing them down on paper, and I require complete silence. That’s a lot to ask of a family of 13, so I generally isolate myself in my bedroom, send my children to a different part of the house, and give my husband the warning not to talk to me until I’m done (unless we’re writing together). Once everyone complies with my rules, I commence unto typing my first draft on my computer. When I’m done, I read out loud to test the flow of my sentences and how natural my dialogue sounds. I edit questionable spots and then I “sound the trumpet” for my audience. I enjoy bouncing ideas off my family, friends and fellow writers for their helpful critiques. I like to let my manuscript rest for a while before I work on it again so I can read it with “fresh eyes”. My next round of edits includes concentrating on more questionable spots, word economy, grammar, and checking the flow of events and details.

I’m grateful to my family for understanding my writing antics, and giving me the space and silence I need; in addition to being there as cheerleaders, making a lot of noise, for my writing successes.

* The Buzz

2013 Book Lists:
As Fast As Words Could Fly was selected as one of the Diverse and Impressive Picture Books for 2013 by IRA Reading Today Online.

Conversations Book Club also selected As Fast As Words Could Fly as one of the Top 10 Literary Finds with Young Readers in Mind for 2013.

Reviews:

- School Library Journal

“This well-crafted tale would be an excellent complement to overviews of the Civil Rights Movement.”

- Booklist

“Told from a personal viewpoint and appended with a powerful author’s note, this is a story to share across generations.”

- Publisher’s Weekly

“Tuck lays bare the challenges that faced Mason and black students like him, but she also tempers the story’s cold realities with moments of hope, echoed by the pride and determination visible in scenes of Mason and his family.”

- Kirkus

“A warm. . . title about the struggle for equality.”

Find out more about Pamela M. Tuck at http://www.pamelamtuck.com


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21.

2014_AACBP_POSTER_enlg_logos_fnl3On Saturday, February 1, literary consultant and multicultural children’s literature advocate Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati will host the 22nd African American Children’s Book Fair at the Community College of Philadelphia. It’s a stand-out event that attracts thousands of readers who want to celebrate black children’s book creators and purchase books for their schools, libraries and homes. We are honored that four on our Brown Bookshelf team will be there – Don Tate, Crystal Allen, Tameka Fryer Brown and Kelly Starling Lyons. Big thanks to Vanesse for including us in this amazing celebration.

Here, Vanesse, founder of the African American Children’s Book Project, talks about the fair’s beginnings, its successes and challenges and what to expect this year.

Please talk about how the book fair has grown. What challenges did you face in the beginning? What obstacles do you face now?

The African American Children’s Book Project, which serves to promote and preserve children’s books, hosts the largest and oldest single day literary event for African American children in the world. The event is held the first Saturday in February in Philadelphia, PA.  We’d like to think it kicks off the cultural national Black history calendar.

Our first event was held in a reception room at a local department store.  The public relations representative reached out to me for an activity that would drive traffic into the store during Black History Month.

I’m a literary consultant and have extensive experience in doing book-driven events.  My company, The Literary Media and Publishing Consultants, has produced events all around the country under the banner of The Literary Café (we own the trade mark) for adult authors.  I looked around the community and saw wonderful book-driven events for adults, but nothing for our children.  I asked around town and kept hearing that Black people don’t buy books for their children.  I was horrified because I knew that in my circle, people bought books for their kids.  This simply wasn’t true. I was on a mission . . .

So on a cold, frosty morning we produced the first event and they came – I counted them – 250 strong. Marie Brown, a literary agent, helped me put together my line-up of authors and illustrators. Most came from her client list. People brought books, not one but numerous copies.  On the way out, they kept asking me when the next event was.  So here we are twenty-two years later and still going strong.  On average over 3,500 people pass through our doors at Community College of Philadelphia.

Today many of those same people attend the event with their grandchildren. Children who developed a love of reading at our event are now adults bringing their own children.

We quickly outgrew our original space and thanks to Lynette Brown Sow, Vice President of Marketing and Government Relations, opened the doors of our program into Community College of Philadelphia.  Her team led by Erica Harrison takes away some of the stress of finding a location to host the event. We also now partner with the school’s Early Childhood Education Department who are training the next generation of educators.

From the start of this journey, we found an eager audience who loved books and demonstrated that love by buying.  Our mantra is: “Preserve A Legacy, And Buy A Book.”

However, my biggest challenge from the beginning and even today is making publishers understand that there is an audience who will buy books.  The number of African-American children’s books is shrinking. In 1985, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education at the University of Wisconsin – Madison began to document the number of books published in the United States for children which were written and/or illustrated by African Americans. In 1992, the year our organization was founded, out of 4500 books published, only 94 were African American.  The center’s most recent published study indicated that while they received 3,600 children’s books in 2012 only 119 “had significant African or African American” content.  Of that number, only 68 were written or illustrated by African Americans.  (Keep in mind that these numbers do not factor in self-published or smaller publishers which has had a mega boom in the African American community).

But there is a need.  Anyone who has attended the African American Children’s Book Fair is surprised at the audience who comes with the purpose of spending money on books.  Not music, but books.

Funding is always taxing.  We make this event happen on a wing and prayer. Even though we have demonstrated a successful track record, we have not been able to attract the major funders.  I’d like to get a MacArthur grant to plant these literary seeds around the country.  I am the unofficial Literary Ambassador traveling around the world CELEBRATING READING.

Why does the book fair continue to be important?

Children need to see images of themselves in books – positive images.  They need to see our stories, our history in books.  I attended the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, which is a publishing trade show in Italy, last year.  More than 1,200 exhibitors from 75 countries participated with 25,000 attendees.  Children’s books from every continent were represented.  But I didn’t see any African-American books from the United States. Granted there were not a lot of US publishers participating in the event, but there is a global curiosity to know more about African Americans.

I also travel to a lot of international book events and the question that always comes up is what do we read – what type of books do we like.  Many are trying to get their books into our community.  Let’s reciprocate.  The more we know about each other, the better we co-exist. This goes for all us.  Make sure your child’s library is multicultural.

Another issue is this myth that African Americans don’t read and won’t buy books for their children – especially hard cover. This is totally absurd.   Access is the issue.  Publishers and booksellers have to think out of the box.  Go to the people – church bookstores, social and civic organizations. Here you will find a willing audience – willing to invest in their children.

African American consumers also need to be pro-active.  When you walk into your local bookstore, if you don’t see African-American children’s titles on the shelves ask for some recommendations.  Publishing is a business.  Get your family and friends to buy at the location.  If the bookstore knows they have an audience for African-American children’s books, you’ll see the difference.  Don’t know where to start – The Brown Bookshelf is a great starting point or the African American Children’s book Project website – http://theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org/.  The authors and illustrators on these sites are the cream of the crop.  And of course you can reach out to me.

What are the constants you’ve kept over the years? What are some new features you’ve added?

The event is FREE – did I mention the event is FREE. Also the authors and illustrators are a very important part of the success of the event.  They are the hallmark of this event. For some children, this is the first time they will meet an author or illustrator.  This encounter opens the door to a life-long love of reading.  Attendees get the opportunity to interact.

Three years ago, we added workshops.   Syndicated cartoonist Jerry Craft is hosting a cartoon workshop sponsored by PECO in the Literary Salon.  The PECO LITERARY SALON is a new feature at the event. NBC10, a local television affiliate, continues to support the event by purchasing books of our guest authors and illustrators to give to children who attend the event. They also host our reading circle.  The authors/illustrators know that they’ve pre-sold books and we get these great books into the hands of the attendees.

Another highlight of the event is our Educator Book-Give Away program.  Earlier on, I recognized that many of our educators didn’t have the funding to buy new books to use in their classrooms.  So I reached out to sponsors again to buy books of our authors/illustrators to give-away.  McDonald’s is a long-time sponsor of this initiative.  HealthPartners Foundation, Health Partners Plans and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson sponsor our Parents Book-Give Away program. The Literary Media and Publishing Consultants pull all of the elements together.

Of course the book fair.  First time attendees are surprised at people standing in lines to buy books.  Waiting patiently to buy books. These consumers understand the importance that books have on their children’s overall upbringing. We sell more books in three hours than any other African-American retailer in the country.

Please talk about the line-up. What should people expect when they attend the book fair? How can they get the most out of it?

More than 21 nationally known bestselling authors/illustrators will participate. Many have won the American Library Association Coretta Scott King award. These authors/illustrators have produced some of the best books of our generation.

The afternoon is packed with activities that promote the power and joy of reading. Authors and illustrators will make presentations from their books. The Literary Row distributes book-related promotional materials free of charge. Our Educator Book-Giveaway distributes brand new books to teachers and librarians to use in their classrooms. This event reinforces our slogan ‘A BOOK OPEN A WORLD OF OPPORTUNITIES.”

Featured authors and illustrators:

CRYSTAL ALLEN

TAMEKA FRYER BROWN

FLOYD COOPER

AREN CRAFT

JAYLEN CRAFT

JERRY CRAFT

COURTNEY DAVIS

NANCY DEVARD

CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY

MARION LANE

E. B. LEWIS

LONDON LADD

KELLY STARLING LYONS

IIYASAH SHABAZZ

PAULA YOUNG SHELTON

DON TATE

PAMELA TUCK

ERIC VELASQUEZ

KATHLEEN WAINWRIGHT

BIL WRIGHT

22nd Annual African American Children’s Book Fair:

Saturday, February 1, 2012, 1-3 p.m.

Community College of Philadelphia (Gymnasium)

17th Spring Garden Street

Free and open to the public

Find out more about the African American Children’s Book Fair at http://theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org/.

 


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22. Shining the Spotlight: 28 Days Later 2014 Honorees

28dayslogoToday, we are proud to announce the honorees for our seventh annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of emerging and established children’s book creators of color. As is tradition, a stand-out author or illustrator will be saluted each day during February. 

The month-long submissions window for our campaign opened in October. Wonderful suggestions from librarians, teachers, publishers and kidlit lovers flowed in. We considered those names along with internal nominations and nominees from past years, keeping focused on our mission to “push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers.”

The campaign will begin on February 1, 2014, and we will honor 28 children’s book creators in all – 22 authors and six illustrators.

The authors and the day they will be featured are as follows:

Vanguard authors/illustrators in bold.

1. Ilyasah Shabazz

2. Colin Bootman 

3. Octavia Spencer

4. Jason Reynolds

5. Linda Trice

6. Michele Wood

7. Diane Patrick

8. Lamar Giles

9. Pamela Tuck

10. Eric Shabazz Larkin

11. Camille Yarbrough

12. Dream Jordan

13. Daniel Beaty

14. Theodore Taylor

15. Tiki Barber and Ronde Barber

16. Kelli London

17, Nikki Shannon Smith

 18. Christopher Myers

19. Diane Browne

20. Kimberly Reid

 21. Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert 

22. Amar’e Stoudemire

23. Stephanie Kuehn

24. Trish Cooke

25. Celeste O. Norfleet

26. Kadir Nelson

27. S.A.M. Posey

28. Higgins Bond

Congratulations to the honorees!


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23. DAY 1: Ilyasah Shabazz

ilyasah_headsho updo close

“Experiencing my parents’ transitions has afforded me understanding of human mortality and purpose. I recognize and appreciate that each of our lives will end, and that the meaningful accomplishments during our lifetimes do not include acquiring power, land, or gold.  But rather, the only achievements that will survive eternity and will honor our memories are humble and dedicated service to God, which are the good deeds that uplift the human family.”

These are the words of Ilyasah Al-Shabazz, daughter of human rights activists, the late Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz. Ilyasah wears many service-oriented hats: she is an activist, a community organizer, and a motivational speaker. Her formal education includes a MS degree in Education and Human Resource Development. Her website states:

Ilyasah promotes higher education, interfaith dialogue, and building bridges between cultures for young leaders of the world. She produces The WAKE-UP Tour™, an exclusive youth empowerment program, and participates on international humanitarian delegations. She is the founder of Malcolm X Enterprises and is a Trustee for The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. Ilyasah serves on the Board of the Harlem Symphony Orchestra, is a member of the Arts Committee for the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center, and a Project Advisor for the PBS award-winning documentary, Prince Among Slaves.”

Whew. Those are a lot of hats.

Ilyasah is also an author. In addition to Growing Up X (Random House), she has written a children’s book, Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X, illustrated by A.G. Ford (Atheneum, January 2014).  Reviews of the book include the following: 

“Writing with the fervor and intensity of a motivational speaker, Shabazz recounts her father’s early years, which LITTLE BOY MALCOLM X Coverwere filled with the loving support and teachings of his parents as well as the hate and destruction of the Ku Klux Klan…. With the passion of a preacher, she celebrates love, respect, tolerance and education without restraint…. Ford’s oil paintings, framed on the page, are lush and filled with detail…. A daughter’s proud…tribute to her father and his parents.”  (Kirkus, November 2013)
  
“Shabazz (Growing Up X) pays affectionate tribute to her father, Malcolm X, and his parents in this account of the activist’s childhood…. Shabazz relays…Malcolm’s resolve to succeed and remain true to his parents’ values after he loses his father ‘to the brute force of racism and the narrow-mindedness of the Ku Klux Klan,’ and his mother is deemed ‘no longer fit to care for her children.’ Ford’s (My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) oil paintings render joyous and desolate moments with equal skill.” (Publishers Weekly, October 2013)

“The author of this handsome, inspirational offering is Malcolm X’s daughter–an educator, activist, and motivational speaker. . . . Ford’s oil paintings are accomplished and historically accurate.” (School Library Journal, January 2014)

Ilyasah currently resides in Westchester County of New York. On this, the first day of 28 Days Later, we celebrate this very meaningful contribution to children’s literature by Ilyasah Shabazz.

*Author photo from beenetworknews.com/Chloe Feigen PR


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24. Day 2: Colin Bootman

urlHis Journey

When I graduated college in 1990, I thought I wanted to paint book covers and record jackets. I also thought that I might even create editorials. In truth, I was confused and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. What I did know was that I wanted to create art and make a living from my work.

To further complicate my young adult years, I was a Marine Corps reservist and the United States was at war in the Middle East. They called this war Operation Desert Storm. I openly protested on moral and ethical grounds, by declaring conscientious objector status. I was denied! However, I was granted a jail sentence. Between the time that I spent battling the Uniform Code of Military Justice and waiting in prison, a year had gone by. However, my experience as a conscientious objector helped me to develop a better sense of tolerance and perseverance. With support from  Amnesty International and the American public’s disapproval for the war, all conscientious objectors were granted clemency. When finally leaving military service, my status was honorable. 

My next step was to work on my portfolio and show my work to other Young-Frederick-Douglass-Girard-Linda-9780807594636artists for feedback.  Brian Pinkney, a renowned illustrator, liked what I shared with him and directed me to an art agency, Kirchoff/Wohlberg. They also liked my art and we decided to work together. During my first year with  Kirchoff/Wohlberg, I illustrated lots of textbooks. By the second year I landed my first picture book deal, “Young Frederick Douglass.” Even at this point, it didn’t quite register that I was actually living my dream. I finally understood this dream after my third book, “Oh No Toto.”

It took me a long time to feel comfortable saying to others, ” I am an artist and illustrator”. However, the more I have embraced this concept, the more expansive my creativity has become. I have now broadened my palette to include writing books for children. I figured after  illustrating so many books and being exposed to so many stories, the next and natural step would be to write. My first written and illustrated book, “Fish for the Grand510GBHYQR4L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ Lady“, debuted in the Fall of 2006. I am now working on my third written and illustrated book. I am also involved in gallery work, portraiture, and teaching. I now firmly believe myself to be an artist.

His Inspiration

I was born in Trinidad where I spent the first seven years of my life. During this time, I was inspired by the island’s rich and diverse culture. The lively rhythms and vibrant  palette of Trinidad left an indelible mark on my creative expression. Soon after moving to the United States, I embraced art as a measure of escape from the pressures of adjusting to a new environment at an early age. Finding a Spiderman comic book was the life-changing experience that marked the beginning of my career as an artist.

My father’s watercolors were another source of inspiration. I admired and studied them as a young child. He was not fortunate enough to receive formal training in art or become a professional artist. However, the restoration work he did on classic cars was art. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to help him with some of those restorations.

ILLUSTRATOR_FORD-George

Inspired by trailblazers like illustrator George Ford. Source: Just Us Books.

At La Guardia High School for the Arts I was introduced to the works of artist like Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Romare Bearden, Toulouse-Lautrec, Edward Hopper, Henry Ossawa Tanner and others. These artists influence my art.  My work is also influenced by the impressionistic period. Further more, I draw tremendous inspiration from contemporaries, such as; George Ford, Pat Cummings, Eric Velasquez, E.B. Lewis, Glenn Roopchand, Ashley Bryan, Kadir Nelson, Brian Pinkney, Gregory Christie and others. I am moved not only by the quality of their work, but also from the motivation that drives their work. This motivation is to reflect various aspects of the lives of peoples living throughout the African diaspora.

His Process

Bootman PicI typically work in my studio at home. My daily routine involves either painting, sketching, researching, promoting, writing, networking, conceptualizing or sometimes a combination of any of these.

When developing a new book for illustration, my process would involve the following:

First I read and reread the manuscript in search of angles or motifs. Secondly, I begin developing thumbnail sketches, keeping in mind my angles and/or motifs. If the story is biographical or a period piece I also do research on the subject so as to be accurate. Thirdly, I begin research on visual reference and/or set up photo shoots. The next step is to do more detailed sketches and send them off to the publishers for feedback. Finally, when the editor, art director, marketing and myself are in agreement with the sketches, I move forward with the finishes. This can either be in oil, watercolor, graphite or mixed media.

COVER

The Back Story

When growing up, I associated the Charleston dance with the 1920s and the aristocracy of America. I had no idea that this dance was invented by orphaned African American children in the streets of Charleston South Carolina.

When, Andrew Karr, an editor at Lerner Publishing, contacted me to illustrate a new project, he shared how impressed he was with my book “The Steel Pan Man of Harlem.” Mr. Karr said that he particularly liked the musical theme and vibrant dance scenes in the book. He asked if I would take a look at a manuscript he felt was a good match for me. This manuscript was for my most recent book, “Hey, Charleston.”

When I read this gem of a story by, Ann Rockwell, I was excited!  Further, I did a little research onYoutube about the Charleston. I came upon video footage from 1938, in which two guys are dancing the Charleston to a modern beat. I was hooked. It was as if seeing, for the first time, the dance properly executed. Honestly, I saw very little difference in the way these guys danced the Charleston and some of the hip-hop dances performed today.SAMPLE 1

The music and dance theme alone were enough for me to say yes to this project. However, there was something else about this story that I found even more compelling. The primary character, Reverend Jenkins, was born a slave. Yet, as an African American man at the turn of the last century, was able to make amazing contributions to his community. I know it has been an immense honor extended me to be a part of this project. I hope that this book will shed light on another American story that needs to be told.

SAMPLE 2

The Buzz

Kirkus says:

“Rockwell relates her tale in a fast-paced narrative that will hopefully encourage readers to turn into listeners. Bootman’s emotive, full-bleed artwork provides a lively accompaniment.”

Examiner.com says:

“Rockwell’s writing is strong, clear the pacing at a clip. Bootman’s illustrations are lush, expansive and beautifully capture a long gone era, that still feels fresh. This is one of my favorite books from this year’s crop of picture books so far.”

SAMPLE 4

School Library Journal says:

Rockwell’s informative text is lively and accessible, and Bootman’s realistic, full-spread paintings capture the era and energy of the musicians and onlookers dancing and clapping to the beat. Use this inspiring tale for jazz units or African American History Month.

SAMPLE 8

SAMPLE 7

Under The Radar (other authors/illustrators recommendation)

Glenda Armand

Nicole Tadgell

John Holyfield

George Ford

Elbrite Brown

Colin Bootman loves to visit schools. For more information about his author/illustrator visits, be sure to check out his website.

UFT SCHOOL VISIT PIC


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25. Day 3: Octavia Spencer

Octavia SpencerThanks to Minny, the bold and loveable character played by Octavia Spencer in The Help, I’m now suspicious of all homemade chocolate pies! Many of us know Ms. Spencer as an amazing actress in movies stemming from A Time to Kill, to her unforgettable role in The Help.  But many of you may not be familiar with her accomplishments as a children’s book author. 

On this 3rd day of February, The Brown Bookshelf proudly highlights the beautiful actress, and now debut author, Octavia Spencer

According to her biography on Biography.Com, Ms. Spencer was born and raised in Alabama, and is the second youngest of seven children.  She graduated from Auburn University where she studied English and Theater Arts.  Ms. Spencer has always loved reading.  She emphasizes her love for literacy, and the inspiration behind her debut novel, NINJA DETECTIVES, in this YouTube clip:

 

 

Reviews have been extremely favorable for NINJA DETECTIVES:Ninja detectives

 

Kirkus review

A quick read about a girl sleuth whose fiery determination will leave readers wanting Book 2.

Publisher’s Weekly

Academy Award–winning actor Spencer debuts with an assured, entertaining whodunit that launches the Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective series.

Thank you, Ms. Spencer, for your contribution to the world of children’s books.

Photo of Ms. Spencer courtesy of Blog.Chron.com


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