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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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We’re the People, a collaboration of authors, bloggers, academics, and librarians who share a passion for children, literacy, and diversity, has released their 2016 Summer Reading List! The focus of the list are books that are written or illustrated by Native Americans or writers/illustrators of color that have withstood a critical review. You can find the full annotated 2016 list here.
Thank you, Edith Campbell, Sarah Park Dahlen, Sujei Lugo, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Nathalie Mvondo, Debbie Reese, and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas.
When author/illustrator Don Tate invited me to write a blogpost about Malaika’s Costume, I thought. Of course. Why not? Why don’t I take this opportunity to ask all of the questions, the sorts of questions I get asked all the time, the sorts of questions I wished I was asked about this book. Ladies and gentleman. I present to you, the selfie-interview. Here it goes.
Interviewer Nadia: Today, you launch your very first picture book Malaika’s Costume. Congratulations.
Nadia L. Hohn: Thank you.
IN: But I am trying to get the record straight. I heard a rumour that you launched to other books less than two weeks ago.
NLH: Yes, that’s right.
IN: Wow! And those were your first books?
NLH: Yes. Music and Media books in the Sankofa Series. They’re for the educational market.
IN: Well, it must be a very busy and exciting time for you. Why don’t you tell us more about Malaika’s Costume?
NLH: Malaika’s Costume is the story about a little girl who lives with her Grandmother in the Caribbean. Plus, it’s Carnival season, the first Carnival since Malaika’s mother has moved to Canada for work, to send money home to support the family. When the money doesn’t arrive in the mail to pay for Malaika’s kiddie Carnival costume, she has to figure out what to do.
IN: What inspired you to write the book?
NLH: I used to write stories and make books as a child. One of the few books I still have that I wrote and illustrated for a Grade 5 project is called “The Greatest Carnival”. So I always loved the idea of a book culminating with a Carnival. Years later in the winter of 2010, I took a writing course at George Brown College with author Ted Staunton. He gave us a picture book assignment and this is when I wrote Malaika’s Costume. I remember getting very excited as I worked on the details of the story. I have also played Mas’– which means I wore a costume and danced– in the Caribana parade a few times, Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival.
IN: We noticed that Malaika’s mother does not live with her, in fact, she lives in Canada. Why did you choose that location? How common is it for parents, especially mothers, to live in other countries than their children?
NLH: One parent immigrating, usually the mother, to work and send money home to support their loved ones is a very common experience, especially in the immigration of Caribbean peoples to the UK, US, and Canada in the 1950s to 1980s. They sometimes called them “barrel children”. Parents and relatives abroad would send money and fill the barrels with clothing, toys, and items and ship them back home for their families. Canada is my home so naturally I chose it although I have many relatives in the US. This is a common story of immigration within my family. It still happens today with Caribbean and other ethnic groups and communities.
IN: And suspense ensues. Exciting. Nadia, you’re from Toronto, Canada. I am sure many people have said to you, Wow. There are Black people in Canada? So I am not going to ask you that but how big is the Black community in Canada?
NLH: Other than Drake, there are around a million people.
IN: LOL. Really? Please educate our audience.
NLH: The African-Canadian or Black community in Canada lives mostly in big cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver but there are Black people living throughout the country in smaller communities. Black people have lived in Canada for hundreds of years and are the descendants of enslaved Africans, Black Loyalists, and escapees in the Underground Railroad. Today we are mostly Caribbean and African immigrants or “first gens” like myself.
IN: From where?
IN: Island in the sun… Well, your book has definitely got the Caribbean flavour. A lot of our readers are of Caribbean descent, on what island does Malaika’s Costume take place?
NLH: I leave it unnamed purposely. I want my Caribbean readers to see a little of their own island it. Yet, I wanted to honour the traditions and culture of the islands whose features I name so there is a glossary at the front.
IN: Malaika’s Costume was illustrated by Irene Luxbacher and published by Groundwood Books. I know this is a story close to your heart and it must have taken a lot of trust to work with your publisher.
NLH: This is true.
IN: What was it like working with Groundwood?
NLH: I think the experience has been a very positive one. I had a lot of input and at the same time learned to trust the professional judgements of the publisher and illustrator. I learned to share the telling of my story.
IN: The bond between Malaika and her grandmother is very strong. Were you close to your grandmother and what inspired you to make their relationship a central part of the story?
NLH: Intergenerational bonds are so important. My grandmothers each immigrated to and lived in New York City and Florida so I didn’t get to always see them. I did visit them from time to time and they both have passed away but I wish I got to know them more. I also have grandparents that I have never met, nor seen photos. Perhaps there is a bit of longing and liberty with those relationships in the book. I also show how grandparents often “step in” when a parent or parent(s) are away. This is so common in the Caribbean and in other okaces.
IN: And where is Malaika’s father?
NLH: I can’t giveaway all of my secrets but you may find out in another book.
IN: You write this book in a lyrical style… patois… Creole. We don’t see that very often in picture books. To have a book written in the spoken language… Caribbean-English or Ebonics… that’s rare. How have the reviewers and critics responded? How open was your publisher receptive, open to you writing in this way?
NLH: I wrote this book in what I call “patois lite”. I don’t use alternate spellings, the phonetic spellings you can often see on signs in the Caribbean. Instead, I use certain language that often happen in the English-speaking Caribbean and when I do read-aloud, I use my “Caribbean voice”. So far critics have called the way I write “colloquial” and one reviewer said she found it “jarring “ on the first read but by the second read, she liked it and found it the charm of the book.
IN: Who do you think will like this book?
NLH: I think children ages 3 to 7 will definitely like it. I tested it out on my own students and a New York City school I visited in February. I also think folks of Caribbean background and immigrants will identify with the story. Teachers and librarians will love it for the diverse content. And children’s book lovers will love that it is a “fresh” voice— a patois-speaking little girl— a story told from her perspective. It’s a window to another culture and way of being.
IN: What’s next for you?
NLH: Currently, I am promoting Malaika’s Costume. My launch is in Toronto this Saturday, March 5 however I am also planning a tour and hope to do signings and readings in a few cities both north and south of the border. The sequel of the picture book will be out in 2017. I am also working on a few other writing projects and still teaching full-time.
IN: Well, you definitely keep busy. Thank you for your interview.
NLH: It was a pleasure.
IN: We just had an interview with our guest, Nadia L. Hohn, who is the author of a picture book Malaika’s Costume which will be in stores and on sale March 1, 2016. For more information on Nadia Hohn and her books, please visit: http://www.nadialhohn.com
This year, we get a little extra. On Day 29, we are delighted to have the opportunity to welcome Edi Campbell, an academic librarian who blogs at Crazy Quilts. Edi “works to improve the literacy of teens of color and am a strong ally for all marginalized young people. As part of this effort, I also work to promote authors of color. Reading multiple varieties of text is the basis for all literacies and in becoming literate, we learn how to navigate the world around us.” Thank you, Edi, and again, welcome:
It is an honor to be part of the 28 Days celebration. As I’ve read about works of such outstanding authors and artists over the years, I never even imagined that I’d be part of it; still cannot believe it. I started blogging about marginalized teens almost ten years ago and when I began, I was pretty much on my own. I hadn’t discovered people like Hannah Gomez, Nathalie Mvondo, Ari, Karen Lemmons, KC Boyd or Vanessa Irvin who are as active online for our children as they are in person. And I certainly hadn’t read the fine, important works by Rudine Sims Bishop, Claudette McLinn, Violet Harris, Jonda McNair, Nancy Tolson, Virginia Hamilton and so many, many others. Ten years ago I knew there weren’t enough books published for the Black and Latinx students in the school where I worked and even though I’ve grown to understand the immensity of the issue, I still simply want to put one more book in one more child’s hand and turn one more child into a reader.
If you consider that the whitest industries in America continue to be information industries (publishing, technology, libraries and movies) you should begin to question why that’s so. I’m not into conspiracy theories, so I don’t believe it’s intentionally about mind control, but there does seem to be a very controlled, very white message being perpetrated upon our children. And all I want is one more brown book. One more Jerry Craft, Bil Wright, Brian Walker, L. Divine, Kelli London, NiNi Simone, Nnedi Okorafor, Dia Reeves and Zetta Elliott. One more mirror, one more door. One more Tim Tingle, Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo, Eric Gansworth, Y.S. Lee, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Juan Filipe Herrera, Alex Sanchez and Sheela Chari.
I feel like the next ten years will not look like the past ten years in children’s publishing. Libraries are embracing (even creating) self-published books. Twitter, Vine, Instagram and Tumblr are giving voice to the masses allowing us to voice concerns, to announce agendas and to connect directly with those who had been hidden from us. These platforms help us find debut authors and promote their books, to immediately questions portrayals of people and histories and they’ve created #WeNeedDiverseBooks.
What I’ve learned over the past 10 years is that I’m not alone, we’re not alone and it takes all of us to get that one more book.
Nicola Yoon is a hopeless romantic. She says so on her website. As a matter of fact, Nicola shares many things in her bio that are…well…I’m just going to give you the address and encourage you to read one of the best bios ever! http://www.nicolayoon.com/bio/
She grew up in Jamaica (the island) and Brooklyn (part of Long Island), and currently resides in Los Angeles, CA with her husband and daughter, both of whom she loves beyond all reason.
Nicola is a proud member of We Need Diverse Books, and we are just as proud to honor her during our 28 Days Later Program.
So, on this, the 28th Day of February, The Brown Bookshelf presents: NICOLA YOON
I had a kind of a long and roundabout journey to publishing. I was a math nerd in high school and majored in Electrical Engineering in college. It wasn’t until my senior year when I took a Creative Writing elective course that I re-discovered my love of writing. After college, I worked for a couple of years and then went to graduate school for creative writing. After that I still needed to make a living, so I worked as a database programmer/analyst for financial firms. I wrote on and off on the side for 22 years before getting my first book deal for EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING.
I write from 4 – 6 AM and then again from 9 AM – 2 PM Monday – Friday. I hand write my first drafts into Moleskine notebooks. Every few days I type what I’ve written into my computer, revising as I go. I generally do a basic outline in a three-act structure, with bullet points for the important events in each act. For me, every book is different. Sometimes I hear the voice first. Other times I get the concept/plot first. The only thing I find useful for drafting is simply showing up at my desk everyday. Some days are wonderful. Other days are miserable, but eventually the first draft gets done and I have something to work with and shape. I work from my home office or a café in Los Angeles.
The State of the Industry
I’m an optimistic person, and I’m really encouraged by the strides made by organizations like We Need Diverse Books. They’ve definitely helped to move the conversation forward about the need for more diversity in kidlit. They’ve also implemented some practical programs ranging the gamut from internships to scholarships to help tackle this problem. I do think that there’s still lots more work to be done, especially in getting more diverse agents, editors, assistants, etc. into the publishing industry. If we can improve diversity there, then I think we’ll get many more diverse books on the shelves.
You can find out more about Nicola Yoon by visiting her website: http://www.nicolayoon.com/
Thank you, Nicola, for all of your hard work for children’s literacy!
Have you ever felt your spirit soar just watching someone on screen? Aaron Philip’s infectious laugh, can-do attitude, talent and faith radiate and lift everyone he touches. Check out this video of him speaking to the folks at Tumblr for a bit of his magic.
Fourteen-year-old Aaron has already won fans around the world with Aaronverse, his Tumblr blog, that chronicles his life creating art, coping and thriving with cerebral palsy and achieving his dreams.
Now, he will move and motivate even more with his inspiring memoir, This Kid Can Fly: It’s About Ability (NOT Disability) (Balzer+Bray), that debuted on February 16. Written with award-winner Tonya Bolden and featuring photos and Aaron’s illustrations, it takes you through his amazing life from his homeland of Antigua to New York City. An open and heartfelt look at his struggles and successes, this debut title is a winner that will empower kids and adults to take flight too.
We’re blessed to talk to both Tonya and Aaron about This Kid Can Fly. Here Tonya shares what it was like working with Aaron:
Collaborating with Aaron was a remarkable experience. I learned so much about what people with disabilities have to contend with—sometimes EVERY SINGLE DAY! It’s my hope that Aaron’s book will make us all more considerate and compassionate.
Why was his story one that needed to be told?
Aaron’s story needed to be told because, as far as I know, a story like his isn’t out there. How many black boys have an opportunity to give people a front-row seat into their lives. How many people hear stories about brave black boys. How many young people with disabilities have we heard from? We so need to hear from young people first-hand if we are going to implement sound policies that affect them.
Aaron’s story also needed to be told because his father, a black man, is his primary caregiver. There are millions of black men who go above and beyond for their families, but they are rarely written about. Mostly we get the stereotype of the Dad who cuts and runs when the going gets tough.
What would you like people to know about Aaron?
I would like people to know that Aaron is more than conqueror. We worked on the book while he was interviewing for high school. We worked on the book when he was getting over a cold. We worked on it before he received his new wheelchair and other equipment that helps reduce physical discomfort and pain. There were times we had to break from a session because he was exhausted, but he never complained, never once wimped out. I also want people to know that Aaron has a heart of gold and is the soul of patience.
Thank you, Tonya. We are proud to celebrate Aaron Phillip as our honoree for Day 27. Here he talks about his wonderful new book. You’re incredible, Aaron. We look forward to seeing many more:
You have a super new book out and a wonderful Tumblr blog called Aaronverse. What inspired you to write your memoir and your blog?
As you know, I have cerebral palsy, a physical disability that requires someone to help me with everyday things like bathing, getting dressed, going to the bathroom, and getting my books and computer out of my backpack when I’m in school. My book and Tumblr blog can help people understand more about what I go through and what families like mine go through. In my case, we’re immigrants who struggle greatly to make ends meet, and on top of that my family must manage my physical care 24/7. My parents must stay positive, focused and believe in me despite my physical challenges. My words share those triumphs and challenges with my readers.
Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book to help people understand that just because you have to use a wheelchair to get around or have a physical disability, it doesn’t mean you can’t dream like other kids. You still have talents and desires. This chair that I use to get around doesn’t define me or what I do in life.
Who are your heroes?
Malala Yousafzai is one of my heroes for sure. I get from her that if it looks like the cards are stacked up against you and still you rise, that’s something special, inspirational. She is one person who motivates me to be the best I can be and to keep on trying. I hope to meet her someday. Give her my number!
Fred Seibert is also one of my heroes. He really took genuine interest in me and built me up in the process. I’ve never met someone as disarming and kindhearted as he is. Fred Seibert is someone who really sees me for ME, not my disability. I remember him telling me what he told Tumblr creator and CEO David Karp (also one of my heroes due to the fact that he created my biggest creative outlet, not to mention that he is incredibly sweet himself) as I left Frederator’s NYC headquarters for the first time, “Aaron, you can come visit me as many times as you’d like, as often as you’d like, until you’re bored!” I’m bored a lot.
What are your challenges?
Obviously needing someone to help support me throughout the day. I can’t do many things by myself as my arms and hands don’t work very well. Also, pain management is hard. I don’t talk about my pain a lot. If you focus on the negative, nothing will get done. And for sure, combatting loneliness and isolation. Kids my age have tons of energy and run around. That’s not really my life, though I would love it to be.
I work hard to find meaning and purpose in my life and use my strengths to stay positive.
Finding a support system is key here. As the saying goes, “It takes a village.” All the things I wrote of in my book, the art classes at Children’s Museum of Arts where they have built a program around true inclusivity with the rights supports so that kids can socialize and learn how to make art and combat loneliness all at same time. Like going to an inclusive summer camp at Frost Valley. Like having opportltunities to speak at places like tumblr and Mercy College where I can share my story about what it’s like to be a kid with big dreams who also has major physical challenges that will be with me forever. Like sharing things about my life on my blog Aaronverse.
All these things give my life meaning and purpose.
What’s next for you? What’s your dream?
I recognize, as Malala does, that education is key. I work hard in school because my dream is to attend a great university, study whatever it is that interests me at that time, and hopefully get a great paying job as I will need to earn a solid salary if I am to maintain my independence and help my family remain out of poverty. I hope to keep writing and making art.
Please tell us about your creative process. What was the toughest part?
Revisiting painful and frightening moments in my life was hard. Going back mentally to the homeless shelter my dad and I had to stay in for a while. Revisiting my dad’s had his heart attack and my wondering who would take care of me physically and what would happen to me and my brother if Dad passed away. Those were hard times to remember and share.
What do you want kids to take away from your story?
That if people like me, kids like me, are given the right supports, we can be productive members of society. If we don’t get those just right supports, our talents will go to waste.
The Buzz About This Kid Can Fly:
“At once beautiful and heartbreaking, Aaron Philip found a way to make me laugh even as I choked up, found a way to bring on my empathy without ever allowing me to feel sorry for him. An eye-opening debut.”
—Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award winner and Newbery Honor author of Brown Girl Dreaming
“This inspiring glimpse into the life of a real kid goes beyond disability to celebrate his remarkable ability.”
“Philip’s simple, chatty account of both physical and societal challenges…will motivate readers with and without disabilities to support accessibility and inclusion.”
— Kirkus Reviews
In reading her website, Nnedi Okorafor is a novelist of African-based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism for both children and adults. Born in the United States to Nigerian immigrant parents, Nnedi is known for weaving African culture into creative evocative settings and memorable characters. In a profile of Nnedi’s work titled, “Weapons of Mass Creation”, the New York Times called Nnedi’s imagination “stunning”.
Nnedi Okorafor’s novels include Who Fears Death (winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and Le Prix Imaginales for Best Translated Novel), Akata Witch (an Amazon.com Best Book of the Year), Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature), and The Shadow Speaker (winner of the CBS Parallax Award). Her latest releases include her short story collection Kabu Kabu (A Publisher’s Weekly Best Book for Fall 2013) and science fiction novel Lagoon (finalist for Best Novel in the British Science Fiction Association award for Best Novel and a Red Tentacle Award for Best Novel). In addition, her novelette, “The Girl with the Magic Hands” was released through Amazon.com’s Worldreader program , where it became their most read young adult title (read by thousands in Africa).
Her adult novel The Book of Phoenix was released in 2015 and her young adult novel Akata Witch 2: Akata Warrior will be released in Fall 2016. In September 2015, Lantana Publishing released her children’s book Chicken in the Kitchen and Tor.com released her space opera novella Binti to much critical acclaim. Nnedi’s novels Who Fears Death and Akata Witch have both been optioned for films. A producer is also currently writing a screenplay for her novel Zahrah the Windseeker. In addition, Nnedi’s screenplay Wrapped in Magic was filmed and produced in Nigeria in 2011 by award-winning Nollywood film director, Tchidi Chikere.
Here, Nnedi talks about her work, and her life:
Nnedi Okorafor is currently working with Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu (Pumzi) on developing their feature film Camel Racer with Triggerfish Animation Studios (South Africa). Nnedi has had several short stories publishing in anthologies, magazine as journals. Several are available online.
Nnedi earned her BA in Rhetoric from the University of Illinois, C-U. Her MA in journalism from Michigan State University. And her MA and PhD in English at the University of Illinois , Chicago. She is also a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop (2001). She is a professor of creative writing and literature at the University of Buffalo. You can also find Nnedi on twitter (@Nnedi) and facebook.
Thank you, Nnedi, for your contributions to children’s literature!
Congressman John Lewis
Today our honoree is not only a children’s book author, he is a congressman representing Georgia’s 5th District. Along with writer Andrew Aydin and graphic artist Nate Powell, Mr. Lewis has written three books for young readers about his life in the Civil Rights movement: March Book One, March Book Two, and a third one, March Book Three to be released August 2016.
Mr. Lewis witnessed segregation first hand while growing up on an Alabama farm. As a college student, he decided to work in a nonviolent way so that African Americans could eat at lunch counters, book rooms in any hotel, and attend schools of their choice.
Why did he write about his life?
“I want young people to know that another generation of young people had the same type of zeal, the same type of ‘get up, let’s do it,’” Lewis told Fusion’s Alicia Menendez. “But they did it in an orderly, peaceful, nonviolent fashion.” Listen to the complete interview here John Lewis talks to Fusion.
In Move Book One, Lewis remembers his life as a four year old:pulling corn, picking cotton,and gathering peanuts on his family’s 110 acre farm. They raised hogs, cows, and chickens. He loved taking care of the chickens. He named like Big Belle and his favorite, Li’l Pullet. He goes on to tell about his first meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and why the non-violent movement was so instrumental in his life.
March Book One
Congressman Lewis continued his graphic novel memoir with a second book March Book Two. Here is an NPR review.
March Book Two
Young John Lewis with backpack
John Lewis prepares his backpack for Comic Con. Credit: Nate Powell @Nate_Powell_Art
He also spoke about his life and books at the San Diego Comic Con. At the urging of Nate Powell, his co-author, he dressed as he did when he was 25 years old marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama with 600 Civil Rights workers. He wore a trench coat and a backpack filled with two books, an apple, a toothbrush, and toothpaste.
After reading March Book One and March Book Two, I’m sure readers will line up for March Book Three!
March Book One
“A riveting and beautiful civil-rights story… Lewis’s gripping memoir should be stocked in every school and shelved at every library.” — The Washington Post
“A powerful tale of courage and principle igniting sweeping social change, told by a strong-minded, uniquely qualified eyewitness… the heroism of those who sat and marched… comes through with vivid, inspiring clarity.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
March Book Two
“This memoir puts a human face on a struggle that many students will primarily know from textbooks… Visually stunning, the black-and-white illustrations convey the emotions of this turbulent time… This insider’s view of the civil rights movement should be required reading for young and old; not to be missed.” — School Library Journal (starred review)
“Powell captures the danger and tension in stunning cinematic spreads, which dramatically complement Lewis’ powerful story… The story of the civil rights movement is a triumphant one, but Lewis’ account is full of nuance and personal struggle, both of which impart an empowering human element to an often mythologized period of history… this is a must-read.” — Booklist (starred review)
Keep up-to-date on the authors and artist on Twitter:
John Lewis @repjohnlewis
Andrew Aydin @andrewaydin
Nate Powell @Nate_Powell_Art
Danielle Paige is the New York Times bestselling author of Dorothy Must Die, its upcoming sequel The Wicked Will Rise, and the upcoming Stealing Snow series (Bloomsbury, 2016). In addition to writing young adult books, she works in the television industry, where she’s received a Writers Guild of America Award and was nominated for several Daytime Emmys. She is a graduate of Columbia University and currently lives in New York City. On this 24th day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to highlight the outstanding works of Danielle Paige.
I began my career in soap operas. I interned at Guiding Light while I was a junior at Columbia University. After I graduated, I worked my way up from production secretary to writers assistant to scriptwriter. I loved writing soap scripts, and I especially loved writing for teens. After that, I sold a teen soap to MTV that never made it to the screen, but it solidified my desire to write something else for that age group. I met one of my Dorothy editors at a Writers Guild East event, which is how I ended up on the Yellow Brick Road. Yellow Brick War is the upcoming third and final book in the Dorothy Must Die series, and as the series draws to a close, I get to start a new one. Stealing Snow is a dark and stormy retelling of The Snow Queen—think grown-up Frozen!
I really love the classics. Everything from Great Expectations to a modern classic like Beloved. But I feel like inspiration is everywhere. I love storytelling wherever I find it. And since I got my start with TV, I also have to say that I adore Shonda Rhimes! From Princess Diaries 2 to her mega empire today, I am so inspired by her journey and the doors that she has opened. I’m also inspired by JJ Abrahams, everything from Felicity to Star Wars. I really believe in challenging myself as a writer, and I absolutely love trekking into new territory. I began in soaps, now I am on my second retelling, and I don’t know what’s next but I really am enjoying the journey.
I am definitely an outliner. I think it’s my soap background, but I need a map. There is usually a character or scene that lets me know that I can write this book. For Dorothy, it was seeing Indigo, my little goth munchkin, on the Yellow Brick Road. For my next series, Stealing Snow, a Snow Queen retelling, it was seeing Snow trapped in a mental hospital and what if-ing. What if she didn’t know she was the Snow Queen? As for where I write, I write in my apartment in NY, but I like to print out pages everyday and edit in my favorite coffee shop
Under The Radar
Nicola Yoon, Everything Everything – I blurbed her book!
Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra, Tiny Pretty Things,
Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes
Adam Silvera, More Happy Than Not
Valerie Tejeda, Hollywood Witch Hunter
Melissa Grey, The Girl at Midnight
The State of the Industry
I think the We Need Diverse Books movement is having an impact on the YA sphere. I got to moderate the WNDB panel last year at the annual ALA conference. Seeing those books do so well since reflects the obvious hunger readers have for books that better reflect our society, and I think the industry as a whole is engaged in the conversation now. There is actual movement in the right direction. I know firsthand of editors and agents committed to expanding their lists to be more inclusive, and I am heartened by the creation of Cake Literary, a diverse book packager. There is still a very long way to go, but WNDB has become more than a trending hashtag. So I am hopeful.
Thank you, Danielle Paige, for your contributions to children’s literature!
Christopher S. Ledbetter was a reluctant reader as a child growing up in Durham. His understanding of what that’s like inspires the young adult novels he creates. On his website, he shares: “I continue to write because I see it as an avenue to inspire and uplift. And, because the stories refuse to stop springing into my mind and demanding to be written.”
A former high school teacher with a deep sense of purpose, tales of discovery and transformation call to him. Ledbetter is driven by a desire to empower his young audience and his characters. His contemporary stories mix in fantasy and mythology, his first love.
Drawn (Evernight Teen), his debut novel, won high praise from Kirkus: “Inventive, fast-paced fantasy with imaginative settings and engaging characters.” Inked, his sequel to Drawn, debuts on July 1. We are honored to feature Christopher S. Ledbetter on Day 23.
I began writing seriously in late 2006. Since then, a plethora of trees have been sacrificed along my journey. *Laughs* Once I decided that becoming a better writer was something I wanted to commit to, I joined American Authors Association and the Historical Novel Society. The most helpful organization I joined was SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I began attending local and international conferences. I attended workshops. I joined an awesome critique group. And even after all that, it took several more years to understand how to craft a saleable story.
I’ve written probably ten full manuscripts. One I self published, but truthfully it never should’ve been published without further revisions and editing. The second manuscript I ever wrote back in 2011 finally got picked up by a publisher last fall in 2015 after multiple, heavy rounds of revisions. But the first traditionally published book, Drawn , was my ninth full manuscript written.
The Back Story:
As I said above, Drawn was my ninth full manuscript written. I thought it was an incredibly unique concept about a boy who gets sucked into another world simply by drawing himself into a sketchbook. Add a splash of romance to that… shake it up, and voila… Drawn. I finished writing that story in June 2014 and after consulting BETA readers and revising based upon their suggestions, I queried agents widely. *Crickets* No agent wanted it. But I knew I had a hit so I submitted directly to a small publisher that a writer friend of mine had used and they picked it up. I am so grateful to Evernight Teen for taking a chance on me.
I am inspired by authors such as Laini Taylor, Suzanne Collins, JK Rowling, James Dashner, Kwame Alexander, Kristin Cashore, Jennifer Donnelley, Jason Reynolds from afar. Aside from them, I’ve worked with some truly amazing authors in my critique group, but I won’t list them here. There’s thirty or so of us.
In a grander sense, I am continually inspired by anyone who has the guts to produce art of any kind, and put that work out into the world to be judged. Sketch artists, painters, spoken-word poets, musicians… I have much love for all of them, equally.
Sometimes I begin with a character or set of characters. I recently sold a YA fantasy called The Sky Throne to Month9 Books. It’s due out spring 2017. With that story, I began with an ensemble of six characters. For Drawn, I began with the story concept first then dropped the characters into that madness.
I have a worksheet that I really love that I got from Martina Boone. It helps me think about the character from a lot of angles. When fleshing out a character, it’s important to give them quirks and flaws and really think about the small details that make them unique and the particular ways that the character would view their world.
I like to think of my new/ contemporary writing style as conversational. My historical writing style has been described as lyrical and sort of like it’s being told by an old sage telling stories around a campfire.
Typically once I get into a story, I will plot all the major narrative points out. Then I’ll write by the seat of my pants from one plot point to the next. Many times, twists and turns arise, and I just roll with them.
- HEA-USAToday Must-Read Romance 2015
- Evernight Publishing readers’ Choice: Best YA Book 2015
- Library of Clean Reads: Best Read of 2015
1st place- YA & MG Art Fiction -Goodreads Listopia
1st place – Beach Books – Goodreads Listopia
3rd place – Interracial young adult novels – Goodreads Listopia
4th place – Where the Boys Are: YA & Paranormal/Urban Fantasy from Male Authors – Goodreads Listopia
“Ledbetter successfully makes his fantastic premise very believable… Inventive, fast-paced fantasy with imaginative settings and engaging characters.” ~ Kirkus Reviews
“Stunning! Each word was vividly woven together, creating a brilliant read… YA lovers, look no further for your next read!” ~BTS Book Review
Under The Radar
Angela Brown, author of Beacon. GL Tomas, author of The Mark of Noba. Nnedi Okorafor, author of Akata Witch.
The State of the Industry
I love the We Need Diverse Books movement. I would love for the kidlit industry to reflect the demographics of our world. I want to see more POC main characters and to also have them reflected on the covers. This is important for youth growing up… to be able to see themselves on book covers. And they don’t all have to be “issue books.” Romance and romantic comedy books featuring characters of color in a widely distributed fashion should be the norm, not the exception.
Find out more about Christopher S. Ledbetter here.
In MAMA’S NIGHTINGALE, award-winning author Edwidge Danticat, who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and grew up in New York, tells a timely and finely wrought tale in English and Kreyol of a daughter who is empowered to become an advocate on her mother’s behalf. From the publisher: “After Saya’s mother is sent to an immigration detention center, Saya finds comfort in listening to her mother’s warm greeting on their answering machine. To ease the distance between them while she’s in jail, Mama begins sending Saya bedtime stories inspired by Haitian folklore on cassette tape. Moved by her mother’s tales and her father’s attempts to reunite their family, Saya writes a story of her own—one that just might bring her mother home for good.”
School Library Journal, in a starred review, notes that “Danticat, who was born in Haiti, was separated from her parents until she was 12 years old and beautifully conveys a story about loss and grief and hope and joy.” Kirkus, in naming it a Best Book of 2015, called MAMA’s NIGHTINGALE a “must-read”, writes that “this picture book sheds light on an important reality rarely portrayed in children’s books.”
The International Literacy Association shares ideas for classroom use, and Teaching Latin America Through Literacy offers an extensive analysis of the text and imagery as well as a wealth of resources for lessons and more.
Shannon Gibney was adopted as an infant in 1975, and grew up in a multiracial family. From her bio: “When she was 15, her father gave her James Baldwin’s Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, a book that changed her life and made her see the possibilities of the written word. The novel took a long, difficult look at relations between Blacks and Whites, the poor and the rich, gay and straight people, and fused searing honesty with metaphorical beauty. After this experience, Shannon knew that she needed to read everything Baldwin had ever written, and also that she wanted to emulate his strategy of telling the most dangerous, and therefore liberating kind of truth, through writing.” Gibney’s debut YA novel, SEE NO COLOR, was called “an exceptionally accomplished debut” by Kirkus, and School Library Journal points out that “without lecturing readers, Gibney clearly elucidates many issues particular to transracial adoption and biracial identity while also making this a universal story about the need for acceptance.” We are proud to welcome Shannon Gibney to The Brown Bookshelf today.
The Journey/The Back Story
As long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer. I think this is because I have also been an avid reader as long as I can remember. The imagination – mine and that of other writers – has consistently been a refuge and a beacon for me throughout my life, providing a space for me to engage people and questions that would otherwise be absent: How do you protect your children under the tyranny of slavery (Toni Morrison’s Beloved)? What does it mean to survive a civil war (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun)? And who do you turn to if, as a teenager, you are sent to a country you have not lived in since you were a child (the conundrum the protagonist in my new YA novel must confront)?
I started “writing books” when I was in the second grade – pieces of construction paper or cardboard with lined paper inside, in which sibling sleuths solved crimes, or went camping, or visited other worlds. Though the books with my name on them today may look a little different than these early, rather crude objects, their essence remains the same: They are a series of questions I am asking about whatever might be most important to me at the time, and asking the reader to co-create meaning in this endeavor, and perhaps to even attempt to answer them.
My journey to publication was circuitous at best. I tried not to get frustrated by not focusing so much on the publication of a book per se, and more on keeping up my writing habit and developing my craft. I write across genre, and also have multiple projects going at once, so that was where I tried to put my energy when an agent dropped me, a small publishing house folded, or I received yet another rejection. You go back to the reason why you started writing in the first place, and if you are honest, it is not because you were trying to get published.
But a few years ago, Betty Tisel and Swati Avasthi introduced me to Andrew Karre, an exceptional editor who was at that time heading up Lerner’s Carolrhoda Lab imprint (he has since moved to Penguin). He was actively looking for strong manuscripts from writers of color, so I sent him my draft, he loved it, and I signed on. It was so magical to work with someone who gets what you’re trying to do, and at the same time has a real affinity for your work. I felt like my YA novel See No Color got so much stronger: tighter and more layered. Since it has been out in the world, it has been wonderful to engage with folks around it. The book is about a mixed black transracial adoptee searching out her identity, so a lot of adoptees have really responded to seeing themselves represented on the page in a complex, nuanced way. Not to mention family members, friends, and community who can see the power in representation. So that has been particularly moving for me.
As a person who exists at the intersection of identities, I find myself drawn to those who occupy similar spaces. So, a lot of my work explores the journeys of folks whose lives involve constant negotiation: racially, culturally, or otherwise. In this way, my own experiences are reflected in my work, but the experiences of those I’m close to also find their way in.
Of course, writing from the African diaspora, and the African American canon in particular have been a constant source of inspiration for me. It’s hard to pick just one, but James Baldwin has been my favorite writer since I was 16, with Toni Morrison coming in a close second. Other folks who remain important to me include Paule Marshall, Edouard Glissant, Aime Cesaire, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Claudia Rankine, Sadiya Hartman, Richard Wright, Octavia Butler, Ralph Ellison, Walter Mosley, and many, many others. It’s so gratifying to know that you are just another link in a long, long chain – however small, however nondescript, however strong. That is the Black literary tradition.
The Brown Bookshelf is honored to present Cheryl Willis Hudson to our readers. Not only is she an author, she is also a executive in a publishing company she built with her husband. You will be inspired and uplifted by her amazing story of dedication and passion for African American children’s literature.
My path in publishing has been one that emerged from my adventures as a grade school doodler and teacher’s helper to that of professional children’s book publisher. As a child, I loved doing book reports where I could embellish book summaries by adding my own drawings, speech balloons and illustrated book jackets. I also helped my mom, who was a teacher, create bulletin boards and posters and correct her students’ homework. I loved making my own greeting cards for friends, cutting and pasting photographs in scrapbooks, reading poetry and nonfiction and doing things with my hands, so finding a career in publishing—specifically children’s book publishing, was a natural progression for me.
I’m basically self-taught. My first job was art-editor trainee at a textbook company. The discipline and structure I experienced through that job actually helped me find my own creative voice and express my own vision of what books for children should be. I had a lot of help along the way in terms of personal mentors and some formal classes in typography, graphic design, printmaking and life drawing, and I advanced in my career via a series of jobs in textbook publishing, encyclopedia publishing, trade book packaging and an extended stint as a freelance designer. Years of working in the industry equipped me with the skills to recognize talents in others and to merge them through creative editorial and design direction. Doodling and storyboarding via thumbnails helped to visualize concepts and stories in picture book form for young readers.
A powerful awareness of what was missing in books was the impetus for Just Us Books, the publishing company my husband Wade and I started together. When we were unsuccessful and frustrated by not getting our African-American centered stories accepted by major commercial publishers, we had an epiphany. Why not publish the work ourselves? We had voice, a vision, skills and a little bit of savings. I had done dozens of line drawings of African-American kids spelling out their names by bending their bodies in the shapes of letters. We had already made t-shirts and posters featuring these drawings and sold hundreds of them to parents and daycare centers. So in 1987, we took a leap of faith, and self-published my doodle-inspired AFRO-BETS ABC Book. This was followed by AFRO-BETS 123 Book and Book of Black Heroes from A to Z. The rest is history!
Wade and I came of age during the volatile and fertile period of the 60s and 70s. Many of our friends were writers and artists and musicians. During our college years in the late 60s, the Black Arts movement informed our perspective of literature. I met Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal and was inspired by their work as writers and critics. I listened to the poetry of Sonia Sanchez and Haki Madhubuti and was inspired by his cultural work and collaborative publishing via Third World Press with Pulitzer-prize winning poet, Gwendolyn Brooks. Wade had worked in SCLC and SNCC with southern voter registration drives and had written plays performed by Black theaters. He had worked as a sports writer during his college years. During the late 60s activist-scholar Barbara Smith and I forged a decades-long friendship through our love of books. When she co-founded Kitchen Table Press, it was a validation that we could do it too.
During the summer of 1970, I connected with a few other Black women via the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Program. That fall, in my first job as a novice art editor, in Boston I met Jerry Pinkney, whose incredible illustrations absolutely floored me. Soon after, Wade and I met in Cambridge, we began to collaborate on children’s story ideas where I designed graphics for poems and stories that Wade wrote. In New York, I took a class with Bank Street educator, Beryl Banfield, a member of the Council on Interracial Books for Children who was looking critically at the lack of diversity in textbooks and actively seeking Black writers to author authentic stories for and about Black children.
By 1976, Caldecott illustrator Tom Feelings, Coretta Scott King Award Illustrator George Ford, Golden Books editor Bernette Goldsen Ford and others were great influences through their organization, Black Creators for Children. When I joined them, they had established and printed issues of WATOTO, a newsletter for children and had established guidelines/criteria for art and articles by African-American book creators who were just starting to be published by a few commercial presses. At the same time, through another professional organization, Black Women in Publishing, I connected with other peers who were attempting similar goals.
Several of my poems, stories and doodles were published by EBONY JR! Magazine and Wee Wisdom Magazine during the late 70s and this kind of encouragement fueled my desire to have more of my work published in trade book form for a larger audience.
As a new parent, I loved the work of Virginia Hamilton (Zeely was profound), Eloise Greenfield (Honey I Love), Lucille Clifton (Everett Anderson), Tom Feelings (Jambo Means Hello and Mojo Means One), Walter Dean Myers (Fast Clyde, Cool Sam and Stuff), Leo and Diane Dillon (Ashanti to Zulu), John Steptoe (Stevie) and of course, Langston Hughes (The Big Sea). There just wasn’t enough of it! There needed to be much, much more!
Moving from “Inspiration” to “Mission”
The birth of our children, Katura and Stephan fueled our desire to create and produce more books with positive Black children at their core. We wanted vibrant, stories for them that we had never had when we were children. Wade and I realized that in our work we had embraced the philosophy of Black newspaper editors John Russworm and Samuel Cornish who in the inaugural 1827 issue of Freedom’s Journal stated:
“We wish to plead our own cause…Too long have others spoken for us, too long has the publick been deceived by misrepresentations, in the things that concern us dearly….”
When we established Just Us Books in 1988, we made it our policy to hire Black authors and illustrators and editors and designers. We did this to establish a solid, unified, authentic voice and vision. The philosophy of our personal work extended into a corporate mission similar to the creators of The Brownies Book, which was published during the Harlem Renaissance, over 60 years before.
Early conceptual graphic for a counting book.
While we published a number of other individual authors and illustrators, Wade and I collaborated on a few titles as editors, including Kids Book of Wisdom and an anthology, In Praise of Our Fathers and Our Mothers, a tribute to the many Black authors and illustrators whose work we respected and admired. This volume was truly a labor of love and it fulfilled a continuing mission of showcasing wonderful work of African-American book creators all in one volume.
Being a Black Creator for Children
Although I’ve written over two dozen books for children that have been published over the past 30 years, some of my personal creative work has necessarily taken second place to the business of publishing other authors’ works via Just Us Books and later Marimba Books, our multicultural, sister imprint. Dual roles as “Author” and “Creative Director/Publisher” sometimes do battle and fight for attention with one another. As “Author” most of my stories are simply slices of Black life—realistic depictions of children simply going about their daily activities, at school, during play time, or just day dreaming. Some stories have been published by Just Us Books and Marimba Books, which we founded with our children Katura and Stephan, but Wade and I have also partnered with larger publishing companies such as Scholastic and Zondervan/HarperCollins to package other projects.
Perhaps my most popular book is Bright Eyes, Brown Skin, a collaboration between myself, Bernette G. Ford and her husband, George Ford, who illustrated the text. This book was published in 1991, but it has become a favorite read aloud book and one of Just Us Books’ best sellers.
Hands Can, published by Candlewick Press and illustrated with photos by John-Francis Bourke, is also very popular with pre-schoolers. My most recent book, Songs I Love to Sing, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is the fourth title in the “I Love to…” series, which Wade and I created and via a joint venture with our children Katura and Stephan via Marimba Books. My Friend Maya Loves to Dance, published in 2010 by Abrams and illustrated by Eric Velasquez, continues to gain larger and larger audiences of readers who love seeing expressions of that art form.
One of my personal favorites is the text I wrote for Construction Zone, because it is nonfiction—a departure from my normal work. It involved quite a bit of research (which I loved) and required a tremendous focus to create a storyline from hundreds and hundreds of images taken by award-winning photographer, Richard Sobol. Distilling simple and informational text from a complex subject into picture book form was a real challenge!
As “Creative Director/Publisher” my role is to nurture talent and guide that talent through the publication process, ultimately helping to inspire, engage and empower young readers through final published books.
So going full circle, my “doodler” self continues to inform and have conversations with my “director” self and vice versa. I continue to enjoy the process of putting words and pictures together and seeing the creative process emerge in a final concrete product. During recent years, I have been making art and telling stories via my new passion, quilt-making. In the future, I would love to create a book for children using quilts as the illustrations. So I have started translating some of my doodles into larger fabric based story quilts.
The State of the Industry
Although there has been some good progress during the 45 plus years I’ve worked in publishing and the almost 30 years of Just Us Books’ existence, there is still so much work to do. (See statistics on diversity in publishing from CCBC in Madison, WI) Just Us Books is one of the few Black-owned and operated publishing companies publishing for children. We need more independent presses like Just Us Books, Lee and Low and Cinco Puntos Press — that prioritize diversity and inclusion. Larger commercial houses can do a much better job acquiring and publishing works by people of color. They can do a much better job hiring diverse staff on the editorial and creative sides, but also in marketing and sales and in all areas of the business including distribution. Reviewers, journals, bloggers, scholars, schools, libraries, literacy organizations, book fairs and educators also need to be more inclusive and expansive.
I am encouraged by the recent attention “We Need Diverse Books” has focused on the important work that we all need to do. Authors like Zetta Elliott have added greatly to the canon and conversation concerning equity. Book fair organizers such as Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati and her African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia have successfully demonstrated and addressed the need and hunger parents and children have for books that are not readily available in many bookstores. Librarian-educators like Debbie Reese have been diligent in lifting up authentic American Indian stories and dispelling “historical” lies and stereotypes about Native American history. “Reading While White” bloggers have engaged audiences in a paradigm shift. Individual authors and illustrators consistently present their work to audiences of children and young adults who are affirmed by seeing themselves reflected in the literature. Just Us Books, in cooperation with other authors, educators and librarians have created lists of outstanding multicultural books that often are missed on the radar of traditional “best books lists.” (see Multicultural Gems of 2015 and Multicultural Books to Make Your Season Bright) and Wade and I always advocate for inclusion and diversity whenever we speak at schools, libraries and literary conferences. And of course, The Brown Bookshelf has brought tremendous awareness to readers and the industry about the wealth of talented contemporary Black book creators working today.
All children have a right to see themselves positively reflected in children’s literature—in all their diversity—free from harmful stereotypes and marginalization. This is not a new concept but one that needs to be recognized and actualized.
My hope is that authors, illustrators, book creators and members of the children’s book community will find more collaborative ways of supporting each other and create alternate avenues for publishing diverse stories and voices that need to be heard.
Contact information for Cheryl Willis Hudson
Just Us Books
Just Us Books Facebook
Cheryl Willis Hudson’s website
Photo Credit: Robin Cooper
On March 7, 1965, hundreds gathered at Selma’s Brown Chapel A.M.E. to push for voting rights and protest the state trooper killing of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson. They united for a days-long march to Montgomery, Alabama. But at the end of Selma’s Edmund Pettus bridge, they faced terror and violence. A wall of troopers, deputies and others rained blows on the peaceful marchers and flooded them with tear gas. That horrific day was called Bloody Sunday. Lynda Blackmon Lowery was the youngest person there. Her memoir, Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March (Dial, 2015), is her testimony.
The oldest of four children, Lowery grew up in a loving, close-knit black community where everyone helped and looked out for each other. But though she felt safe at George Washington Carver Homes, the ugliness of racism was all around her hometown of Selma. “When my mother died,” she recounts in the book, “I heard the older people say, ‘If she wasn’t colored, she could have been saved.’ But the hospital was for whites only. My mother died as a result of her skin color. I just believe that.” Lowery was just seven years old.
Raised by her father and grandmother, she heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak at church. His impassioned speech for voting rights called Lowery to devote herself to fighting nonviolently for the cause. Before her indelible 15th birthday, Lowery had been jailed nine times.
Her powerful story, as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley and illustrated by PJ Loughran, shows how young people stood up for what they believed, faced brutality and daily injustices and made a difference by putting their lives on the line. It presents living history on the page. Winning starred reviews, numerous best book accolades and the 2016 Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book Award, Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom gives an incredible window into a pivotal historical event and shows kids that they can be heroes too. We are proud to feature Lynda Blackmon Lowery as our honoree for Day 19.
The Buzz About Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom:
“Vivid details and the immediacy of Lowery’s voice make this a valuable primary document as well as a pleasure to read.” —Kirkus, starred review
“One of those rare books that is genuinely accessible to a brad audience.” —BCCB, starred review
“This inspiring personal story illuminates pivotal events in America’s history.”—Booklist, starred review
As a child, Tom Feelings’ aunt, a soldier of the 1960s Black Arts Movement, supplied him with a steady stream of books written by Black authors that featured characters that looked like him. The hope was that these books would end her nephew’s fixation with Christopher Robin (of Winnie The Pooh), and other white characters in all of the books he loved. She wanted Feelings to see positive images of Black people. She wanted him to love himself. In studying Feeling’s work as an adult, it quickly becomes apparent that his aunt’s plan worked.
Feelings was born in Brooklyn, NY, and studied at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York and later at the School of Visual Arts. While there, he noticed that all of the artists being studied in school, the so-called great masters, were white. Feelings asked his professor why. He was told that African art was seen as “primitive.” Feelings refused to accept this notion and set out to create wonderful art that celebrated and revered the African experience.
In 1961, Feelings traveled to the south, where he drew pictures of the people of Black rural communities. Then in 1964, he traveled abroad, to Ghana, where he taught illustration and studied the people and culture there. Inspired and exalted, he returned to the states with a new life mission: He would create books with positive images for Black children.
As an author and illustrator, Feelings was best known for his book ”The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo,” which, using no words pictures only, told the story of the long and horrific journey that bought Africans to the Americas and enslaved them. The book published to high praise winning a Coretta Scott King Award and special commendation at the 1996 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award ceremony.
A short sampling of his awards include a Newbery Honor, 1969, for To Be a Slave. It was also an ALA Notable Book, the School Library Journal‘s Best Book of the Year, and the Smithsonian Best Book of the Year. It was given a 1970 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.
In 1972, Feelings was the recipient of a Caldecott Honor for Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book; and in 1974 he received a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for his picture book Jambo Means Hello: A Swahili Alphabet Book, also a 1975 Caldecott Medal Honor recipient.
In a 1985 interview with Horn Book Magazine, Tom Feelings (1933-2003), described his work by saying: “I bring to my work a quality which is rooted in the culture of Africa and expanded by the experience of being black in America.” Feelings was a trailblazing artist, cartoonist, children’s book illustrator, author, teacher, and activist, whose work epitomized the “black is beautiful” cultural movement.
(Illustrator) Bola and the Oba’s Drummers, McGraw , 1967.
(Illustrator) To Be A Slave, Dial, 1968.
(Illustrator) Zamani Goes to Market, Seabury, 1970.
(Illustrator) Jam bo Means Hello, Dial, 1971.
Black Pilgrimage, Lothrop, 1972.
(Illustrator) Moja Means One: A Swahili Counting Book, Dial, 1974.
(Illustrator) Something on My Mind, Dial, 1978.
(Illustrator) Daydreamers, Dial, 1981.
(Illustrator) Now Sheba Sings the Song, Dial, 1987.
Tommy Traveler in the World of Negro History, Black Butterfly Books, 1991.
Soul Looks Back in Wonder , Dial, 1993.
The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo, Dial , 1995.
Feelings in his own words:
“When I am asked what kind of work I do, my answer is that I am a storyteller, in picture form, who tries to reflect and interpret the lives and experiences of the people that gave me life. When I am asked who I am, I say, I am an African who was born in America. Both answers connect me specifically with my past and present … therefore I bring to my art a quality which is rooted in the culture of Africa … and expanded by the experience of being in America. I use the vehicle of ‘fine art’ and ‘illustration’ as a viable expression of form, yet striving always to do this from an African perspective, an African world view, and above all to tell the African story … this is my content. The struggle to create artwork as well as to live creatively under any conditions and survive (like my ancestors), embodies my particular heritage in America.”
“I feel blessed to work on something that I love doing, that is central to my life, but that serves a collective purpose. I can’t think of anything more important than that…. That you can reach other people with it, connect with it? That just turns me on!”
In 2012, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson won a Coretta Scott King Author Honor award for No Crystal Stair (Carolrhoda, 2012), a young adult “documentary novel” based on the life and work of her great-uncle and Harlem bookseller, Lewis Michaux. In The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore (Carolrhoda, 2015), Nelson introduces a younger audience to the owner of the African National Memorial Bookstore. The story is told from the perspective of his son, Lewis Michaux, Jr., and emphasizes his role as a literacy pioneer in the civil rights movement–having established a refuge and creative think-space for other activists, scholars, and anyone interested in literature by or about people of the African diaspora. Michaux’s bookstore held over 200,000 such titles, making it the largest “black bookstore” in the country at the time.
The Book Itch is a 2016 CSK Illustrator Honor book. A description from the publisher reads:
“In the 1930s, Lewis’s dad, Lewis Michaux Sr., had an itch he needed to scratch a book itch. How to scratch it? He started a bookstore in Harlem and named it the National Memorial African Bookstore.
And as far as Lewis Michaux Jr. could tell, his father’s bookstore was one of a kind. People from all over came to visit the store, even famous people Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, to name a few. In his father’s bookstore people bought and read books, and they also learned from each other. People swapped and traded ideas and talked about how things could change. They came together here all because of his father’s book itch. Read the story of how Lewis Michaux Sr. and his bookstore fostered new ideas and helped people stand up for what they believed in.”
Buzz on The Book Itch:
“A man with a mission leaves a memorable mark in Harlem.
The National Memorial African Bookstore and its owner, Lewis Michaux, were vibrant Harlem fixtures for many years. Nelson, who told her great-uncle’s story for teen readers in the award-winning No Crystal Stair, also illustrated by Christie (2012), now turns to the voice of Michaux’s son as narrator in this version for a younger audience. The son is an enthusiastic and proud witness to history as he talks about visits to the bookstore by Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Michaux’s commitments to reading, knowledge, and African-American history shine brightly through the liberal use of boldface and large type for his pithy and wise sayings, as in “Knowledge is power. You need it every hour. READ A BOOK!” Christie’s richly textured and complex paintings, created with broad strokes of color, showcase full bookcases and avid readers. His use of a billboard motif to frame both scenes and text evokes a troubled but strong neighborhood. Faces in browns and grays are set against yellow and orange backgrounds and depict intense emotions in both famous and ordinary folk. The Michaux family’s deeply felt sorrow at the assassination of Malcolm X will resonate with all readers.
From the author’s heart to America’s readers: a tribute to a man who believed in and lived black pride.” — Kirkus, Starred Review
“Taking an imaginative leap into the past, Nelson describes the role of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem, which opened in the 1930s and became a place where all kinds of people came to read, talk, and buy books about African American history. Told from the point of view of Lewis Michaux Jr.—the bookstore owner’s son and the author’s relative—this title clearly explains what made this bookstore unique. Lewis Michaux Sr. had a passion for sharing books with others, which was reflected in his words “Knowledge is power./You need it every hour./READ A BOOK!” He welcomed his customers and allowed them to stay as long as they wanted to and made a platform available outside the store so that people could speak their minds; among the speakers were Malcolm X and Michaux himself. Christie’s bold, colorful paintings help readers envision this landmark bookstore and the surrounding neighborhood. Back matter includes additional information about Lewis Michaux Sr. and an author’s note in which Nelson describes her interest in the subject, the sources she used for her research, and her use of perspective. Nelson and Christie’s Coretta Scott King Honor No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller (Carolrhoda, 2012) is aimed at older readers; this picture book explores Michaux for a slightly younger audience. VERDICT A strong endorsement of the power of books and reading, an excellent choice for history and biography collections, and a strong choice for educators emphasizing the importance of community.” — School Library Journal
Nelson’s three other CSK Award-winning books are: Almost to Freedom, Bad News for Outlaws, and No Crystal Stair. We are pleased to spotlight Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and her latest award-winner, The Book Itch, on day 17 of 28 Days Later.
From football to fun books, our spotlight shines on an author who retired from one action-packed job, and took on another! The Brown Bookshelf is honored to present to you on this 16th Day of February:
In 1997, Trevor Pryce was selected by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the NFL Draft. He made his presence known through his NFL career with numerous tackles and sacks, and ultimately, was on back-to-back winning Super Bowl teams.
After retiring, Trevor Pryce decided to tackle a different opportunity. In his interview with Purpose to Play, he states that after retirement, he tried to write movie scores, but ended up creating a trilogy of children’s books, the first being An Army of Frogs, an adventure where frogs and turtles defend their homeland against spiders and scorpions set in the Australia.
Since An Army of the Frogs released in 2014, Trevor Pryce has penned two more books in the series: Amphibian’s End, and The Rainbow Serpent, both debuting last year in October.
There’s a fun, animated website connected to his trilogy. http://www.jointhekulipari.com/
Thank you, Trevor Pryce, for your contribution to children’s literature!
Here at The Brown Bookshelf, it’s a special treat to share the work of those who make their mark in both the traditional and independent publishing worlds. This year we’re delighted to shine a light on Sharee Miller’s work. Her vibrant, colorful style is immediately eye-catching, and the joyfulness in her work is contagious. Welcome to The Brown Bookshelf, Sharee! We’re glad to have you.
I began drawing and writing in elementary school. I had so many stories I wanted to share, so much to the point that before I could even write I would give my mom a pen and paper and dictate my stories to her. I took every art class available to a young girl in St. Thomas and though I got older I always loved illustrated stories. This took the form of comic books I created while in Jr. High, but in High school I was drawn back to my first love, picture books.
When it came time to decide what I would study in college illustration was an easy fit. Then when I found out Pratt Institute had picture book courses; they seemed like an easy fit as well. I studied with published illustrators and I learned so much about the publishing industry. From there I joined SCBWI and began going to conferences and panels to learn as much as I could about the picture book world.
After college I began designing kids t-shirt graphics, but my passion was still telling stories. To fuel my creativity outside of work I created a blog where I created natural hair illustrations geared toward young girls. I also wrote, illustrated and self published two books: Nighttime Routine and Princess Hair. These books as well as the blog were made to inspire black girls to love and care for their natural hair. I feel that representation is very important based on my own experiences and created most of my illustrations with this in mind.
I aim to show the world with the diversity it actually has, filling the void of inspiring black characters that I longed for as a child.
Through my agent I was able to get the attention of Quvenzhané Wallis (a very talented young woman) and I am currently illustrating her chapter book trilogy which will be published by Simon and Schuster, the first of which is scheduled to come out in Spring 2017. The main character is a talented young black girl who I feel many young girls will relate to, and I hope my work in this series helps girls see themselves in the protagonist. It continues to be an exciting journey and I look forward to new opportunities to get my work out there for all eyes to see.
I love picture books so I own a lot but I do have a few favorites. Sophie Blackall is one I have followed since we went to visit her once for a class trip to the Pencil Factory, a shared art space in Brooklyn. Sophie has illustrated and written many wonderful books. Another favorite is Scott Campbell writer and illustrator of Zombie in Love which is one of my favorites. I also love Scott’s lost showdown series. And my favorite duo is Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri. I love the creative and fresh stories they tell together.
The Back Story
I began with self publishing through Amazon which is a great and easy tool for anyone to use. There is no need to deal with storing books because they are print to order and they have easy to follow templates.
Through an SCBWI agents’ panel I was able to sign with Shannon Associates who got me my first traditional publishing job with Simon and Schuster.
Princess Hair has been featured on Little black books giveaway and my books were also reviewed by YouTuber Jenell B Stewart:
The State of the Industry
I like that there is a focus on diversity in the industry right now. I hope this is a good sign of things to come. Representation has been lacking for a long time and children of color have been waiting for too long to see themselves in everyday stories. We don’t only exist in fables. We have experiences that should be represented.
Check out Sharee Miller and her work online.
Also at Coily and Cute.
Thank you so much, Sharee — and congratulations! We can’t wait to hear and see what’s next.
Photo by Cindy Reiman
Renowned artist and storyteller, Dr. Lorenzo Pace created a series of poignant picture books – the African American Quartet – that pay homage to black history and the power of the human spirit. Pace’s debut, Jalani and the Lock (Rosen), was inspired by the lock that bound his enslaved great-great grandfather and was handed down to him. The three others – Marching With Martin, Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilts and Frederick Douglass and the North Star – explore the lives of these pivotal historic figures. Dr. Pace, whose monument Triumph of the Human Spirit in New York City’s Foley Square honors the enslaved Africans originally buried there, uses words and mixed media artwork in his children’s books to bring to life stories from the past.
We are proud to celebrate Dr. Lorenzo Pace on Day 14.
Journey to Publishing
It began with a lock. A cold, hard, more than 150-year-old iron lock. A legacy of man’s inhumanity to man. When my father passed away in Birmingham, Alabama in 1991, I left New York and went South to bury him. My Uncle Julius shocked me and the rest of my family by giving me a lock that had shackled my great-great grandfather Steve Pace in chains. Steve Pace had passed down the lock to other Pace men. I accepted the lock but really didn’t want it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I put it in my closet in Brooklyn.
Not long after that, my daughter, who was about 8, came home and said, “Daddy, kids are making fun of me because of my hair, my nose, and my lips.” I asked why. She said they told her it was because she was from slaves. I said, “Wow, baby. You don’t have to be ashamed of your looks.” I told her she came from beautiful people, strong, creative, and resourceful people.
Our conversation inspired me to explore the lock. The lock was calling out, “Hey, come deal with me.” So I explored the lock and my great-great-grandfather’s story. Turns out, after emancipation, Steve Pace purchased more than 500 acres of land and shared it with his family. His third eldest son was in the first class at the Tuskegee Institute. He was a minster and the church he founded still exists and will soon be on the National Register of Historic Places. Soon, I found myself writing Jalani and the Lock, to explain to my daughter and other children our history and the triumphs that are the essence of it.
I finished writing and illustrating and shopped for a publisher for five long years. One day a buddy in Chicago referred me to Rosen Publishing. I met with the publisher. He loved the content. He loved the illustrations. He agreed to publish it. It came out in 2000.
I’ve traveled the world with Jalani and the Lock and the book has been translated into Spanish, French, and Dutch. Last year, Jalani and the Lock was re-printed as part of a series I wrote and illustrated called the African American Quartet. The Quartet includes: Marching with Martin, Frederick Douglass and the North Star, and Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilts. The Quartet came about after the publisher and I began talking about ways to build on Jalani’s story and bring it into the 21st century.
Art from Marching with Martin
All of the books relate to my personal experiences. I marched with Dr. King in Chicago when I was a teenager. I grew up seeing Frederick Douglass on my grade school walls. I grew up hearing about Harriet Tubman from my grandmother. She and my mom were quilters. I learned that quilts sometimes had anti-slavery sayings woven into them, and there is a legend that the enslaved put Underground Railroad symbols and routes in their quilts. There’s also an Underground Railroad station in my Brooklyn, NY neighborhood. For all these reasons, I wove photos of my family’s quilts into the book’s illustrations.
The inspiration for my books has come first from my personal history. It occurred to me that if these stories are in my family, they’re probably in most African American families. I’m inspired by John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. I listen to them as I write and create. They are such innovators, constantly bringing out new ways of thinking in their music. They make we want to go to a higher plane as an artist. Alex Haley inspires me because of his groundbreaking research on our history. He made me want to dig deeper and deeper. The artist and author Faith Ringgold also inspires me. I love Maya Angelou’s books, period. Her gift for playing with language is second-to-none. There are so many great writers, but those who tell our stories –new stories, uplifting stories –inspire me most. I’ve also gotten motivated by the books of Caroline Brewer. She’s been under the radar because of her focus on literacy, but is about to come into greater recognition. She has some very intense and motivational books on the African American experience, like a fun but educational picture book on President Obama’s 2008 election, Barack Obama: A Hip Hop Tale of King’s Dream Come True. And the next book, a middle grade novel, is intense, fun, and motivational, too.
I just go. If I have a character or concept, I just begin to feel the energy that goes into how to tell a
Art from Marching with Martin
complete a story and how to illustrate it. I go out and get all kinds of materials that I think can help. I go to the art store. I look for materials in the street, in my environment, and just go.
I’ve illustrated my Quartet books using mixed media and collage. I will use an old dress from a thrift store with a particular pattern or color, beads, paper sacks, kente cloth, animal print, newspaper print. I also use acrylic paint, watercolors, colored pencils, markers, glitter, whatever makes a page pop. I let everything around me speak to me and then I put the pieces together.
The most important thing that I do as I work is have fun. I also know I can get kids on color. They love color and so do I. I approach my art in the same way I approach living: be sure to have some fun and add lots of color.
Publisher’s Weekly called the first edition of Jalani and the Lock “a stunning debut.” NBC News cited Harriet Tubman as one of the top 14 books to read in February 2015. The School Library Journal met me at my Brooklyn studio last year to do a piece on the art I created for the books. Booklist offered these words below about the new quartet.
“Perhaps the most personal entry in celebrated sculptor Pace’s ambitious African
American Quartet is this first-person remembrance of what Martin Luther King Jr. meant to Pace while growing up in Alabama and Chicago. The design of the book, and indeed the entire quartet, features two-page spreads of wild, almost Basquiat-like art incorporating paint, jewelry, paper, plastics, and anything else that captures Pace’s fancy. On the left-hand page goes the prose, which, though simple, is packed with restrained emotion: “Many years ago, in 1949, to be exact, when I was a little boy in Alabama, I saw signs that I did not understand.”
State of the Industry
Walter Dean Myers and Chris Myers said it best in their New York Times pieces a couple of years ago. The publishing industry is not doing enough to reflect the rich and deep and vibrant diversity of this country. There are so many children who need to see themselves in books. Books are game-changers. And yet, authors of color can’t depend on the industry to do it all. The efforts of sites like thebrownbookshelf.com are critical to helping put the spotlight on authors and illustrators of color. Whatever we can do to support one another makes us more powerful.
Find out more about Dr. Lorenzo Pace here.
Photo credit: Clennon L. King
Before making her debut as a children’s book illustrator, Ekua Holmes was already an accomplished and award-winning fine artist. She was the first African American woman to be appointed a commissioner on the Boston Arts Commission. She was the recipient of a 2013 Brother Thomas Fellowship from The Boston Foundation for her contributions to the Boston arts community. In addition, she was the creator of a 2015 Google Doodle
honoring the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday!
Last year, Holmes took the children’s book world by storm with her illustrations in Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. The book went on to receive numerous awards, including a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrator’s Original Art exhibition, four starred reviews, a Sibert and Caldecott Honor, and a Coretta Scott King New Voices Award.
Holmes is a painter and collage artist who uses news clippings, photographs, vibrant color and skillful composition to infuse her work with energy.
Presenting Ekua Holmes:
Tell us about your path to publishing. How did you get that first trade contract?
My path to publishing seemed to appear out of the blue. One day I got a call from a woman who had seen my work at an Open Studios event in my hometown of Roxbury, a neighborhood of Boston, MA. They asked would I be interested in working in Children’s literature. Would I ??? YES! I have always loved Children’s books and in the back of my mind held it as a possible path for my work. At exhibitions of my work people would say, “Have you ever thought about doing Children’s books.” I believe children’s books introduced me to art through the illustrations. Long before I went to museums and galleries, I went to the library. At the time of the call, I didn’t know if anything would come of it but I was pleased that there was interest.
Tell us about your most recent book, “Voice of Freedom.”
Months later the same woman called to say that her company, Candlewick Press, had a manuscript for me to consider—a manuscript about Fannie Lou Hamer. I knew about her role in the Freedom Summer, and her signature statement, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I admired her and was honored to be asked to illustrate her story. I said YES! What a blessing.
Talk about the research process for the book.
Well first things first—reading the manuscript— again and again! Then images began to come into my mind – colors, patterns, shapes, faces. After that, I started doing online searches. One search led to another and I was able to find images of Ms. Hamer from the 60s. The manuscript is so rich! It chronicles her life from the age of six to her 70s. Of course there were no early photos. Her family was too poor for that. So for the early years, I had to imagine her as a child. What did she look like? How did she wear her hair? What was her demeanor? Where did she live? I read books and articles about her. I read comments written by people who had worked with her in the movement. I listened to tapes of her speaking and singing. I looked at photos of her hometown. I immersed myself in her world. Another smart thing I did was engage a college student to help me collect the books and information from various sources. She was so helpful (thank you Chianta).
Google Doodle by Ekua Holmes
Talk about the medium you use in your work
I primarily use collage techniques with acrylic paint. Collaging is basically glueing things onto a surface – photos, newspapers, lace- whatever helps to tell the story. My work is made of cut and torn paper and paint. I am also a proud and committed thrifter. I am always at the flea markets and thrift stores picking up things that speak to me. Just as I was about to work on the image of the doll Fannie Lou Hamer’s mother bought for her, I ran across these two old handmade dolls at a thrift store in Salem, MA. They seemed to be just the kind of dolls that Fannie Lou Hamer would have received from her Mother. They were so authentic! It was as if the universe had provided just what I needed.
Was there anything especially interesting that you learned about the subject while researching the book?
Fannie Lou Hamer was 45 years old when she started her Voting Rights work. Because of her upbringing, experiences and intellect, she was ready when it was her time to step onto the world stage. She was a devoted mother and daughter, committed wife and staunch believer in the word of God. She knew the battle was bigger than her, bigger than any human being. It was a righteous struggle and right had to win. She never said, I’m too old, too tired, too poor- I’m inspired by that.
If you could spend one day in a studio, working with any artist — past or present — who would that be, and why?
What I would really enjoy is going thrifting with them, so artists like Whitfield Lovell, Radcliffe Bailey, Rene Stout or Bettye and Alison Saar. Oh and Nick Cave! They have the same affinity for the power of found objects. WE could spend the entire day (or days) driving through the South (or new England) visiting garages and barns, finding just the right items to inspire our work.
What would be your dream manuscript?
I like to think it’s on its way to me right now. Stay tuned.
Your dream author to work with?
Its funny, there is not as much communication between author and illustrator as you might think. Generally the publisher selects the illustrator (but does get the writer’s approval, I think). So I feel very fortunate to have worked on this book by Carole Boston Weatherford, who has written over 30 books and won many awards. Now I’m working on a book of poetry created by Kwame Alexander – another powerhouse writer/poet and winner of the 2015 Newberry Award. I couldn’t be happier.
Can you talk a bit about your process of illustrating a book?
This was my first time illustrating a book but I think it’s much like working on my personal collages. Research is crucial. I saturate myself in the author’s words (or subject) and allow images to rise to the surface. I sketch and revise, sketch and revise. Each time hoping to get closer to what I feel is the right composition. There is a lot of looking, thinking and moving things around.
Who are your cheerleaders, those who encourage you?
My partner and I are both artists (he’s a filmmaker). We give each other a lot of high fives. He is very proud of me right now. Also my 8-year old granddaughter introduces me by saying “…and this is Nana, my artist.” Once she patted me on the head while saying this. I couldn’t have been more amused or flattered. If I can work on books that she and her generation will cherish, I will have everything I need in this world as an artist.
What’s on the horizon, what can your fans expect to see from you?
Winning a Caldecott Honor, a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award and a Robert F. Sibert Award for “Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement” is a hearty and magical welcome into the world of Children’s literature. I look forward to illustrating many more books. Folks can expect me to do my absolute best on each story, striving for creative excellence so that the illustrations I make will complement, illuminate and enhance the texts —it’s a collaboration. And after all—my granddaughter is watching.
Adapting a book by Walter Dean Myers – award-winning children’s book creator and former national ambassador for young people’s literature – is a tough job. Monster, his acclaimed novel, won the first ever Michael L. Printz Award and countless other honors. But Guy A. Sims is used to challenges. In 1990, he, his brother Dawud Anyabwile and Brian McGee debuted Brotherman, a ground-breaking comic that helped fill a void in the industry.
With Emmy Award-winning Anyabwile as illustrator, Sims plunged into writing. His hard work paid off. Monster: A Graphic Novel (HarperCollins, 2015), a stirring black-and-white adaptation, has already won accolades and a starred review. We are proud to celebrate Guy’s great work on Day 8:
Writing has always been a natural extension of myself. From my early years in elementary school through today, writing (and my other loves; theater, forensics, film, songwriting, etc.) has provided the outlet for how I see myself, my place in the world, and perspectives for what could be. I discovered early the power that comes from the written word and the realization that the power could be mine. My father cautioned me to take care in what I write, to fully own what I write because others will take your words to heart and apply them to their lives. A powerful lesson for a powerful medium.
When I was in eighth grade, I had my first short story published in my elementary school newspaper. I cannot recall what the story was about, but I do know the feeling of excitement and anxiety when I heard other kids reading my words. That experience probably solidified my passion for writing. In 1984, I wrote the first children’s book on African American cultural celebration Kwanzaa. The book, The Kwanzaa Kids Learn the Seven Principles, was a collaborative effort with my brother Dawud Anyabwile as the illustrator.
Many people are familiar with street artists and performers, but I don’t know if there is a category called a street writer. During my high school days, I would write on the bus, the subway, different places downtown, at my local playground, wherever. I would engage all kinds of people into my writing process, asking them questions about what they thought were going on, what they were doing, and eventually, to take a look at what I wrote to see if I captured the essence of the environment. I always found my city, Philadelphia, to be a rich tapestry of tales from which to draw. In fact, the majority of my fiction takes place in and around Philly.
The Back Story:
My brother Dawud had worked with Walter Dean Myers before, illustrating the book Smiffy Blue. When the folks at HarperCollins decided to adapt his award-winning young adult novel Monster into a graphic novel, Dawud was tapped to illustrate. In seeking out a writer, my brother suggested me, sharing that I understood the process for writing in the comic book style, thanks in part to our creation, Brotherman Comics, which we started back in 1990.
When asked if I would work on the project, I jumped in head first, unfamiliar with the source material or about Walter Dean Myers. In the end, I am glad that I didn’t because after learning about him as an author, I surely would have been intimidated. In fact, I didn’t get my first taste of his “artistic celebrity” until I visited several of my family members who lived in the NY/NJ area. When I told them, I was working on the Monster book they were more than excited and began sharing with me his importance to the literary world. At that point, I knew I had to do my very best on the project.
During the book development process, I didn’t communicate with Mr. Myers directly, but I would receive positive responses after pages were submitted. Unfortunately, just before the final press, Walter Dean Myers passed away without seeing the final product, although he did see it completed. I understand he was very pleased with how we translated his work. I look forward to similar opportunities to translate popular works into graphic novels.
I owe a great deal of credit to really wanting to be a writer to my father who set me on the path. One day he shared with me a recording of Richard Wright’s Black Boy, narrated by Brock Peters. I was mesmerized both by Wright’s words and Peters’ presentation. When I finished listening to the record, I picked up the book from the library and read it. This is who I want to write like is what I told myself. There are numerous writers, theater actors, and pieces of music that have influenced my writing and writing style, but the ignitor was Richard Wright.
Writing projects come to me in various ways. Often it is a concept or even a draft of a title that sets the wheels in motion. I begin with the key player or protagonist and let the story build itself from there. Although I have a desktop and laptop, I still draft out my writing in longhand. I tried carrying my laptop around but found I had to concern myself with finding power, the sun glare, etc. The old pen and paper never fail. I save the editing until the end so that I don’t bog myself down with the rules of writing. I write on my lunch hour and for about an hour during the week and use the weekend to transfer what I wrote from paper to the computer. I also usually have two to three projects going on at the same time which requires a high level of time management on my part. When at home, I write in my small office but I still have interruptions thanks to my children, which is okay with me.
Under The Radar
My favorite author currently is Yvvette Edwards, author of A Cupboard Full of Coats and the forthcoming, The Mother. She has a wicked way of keeping her characters in close proximity to each other, maintaining tension, and creates resolutions that take you by surprise. She’s from London, so her UK expressions are also a joy to experience.
The State of the Industry
I have two sons who they are strong readers, whipping through the Harry Potters and Hunger Games with ease. We often talk about the absence of characters that would appear to look like them or come from similar backgrounds. My advice to them is the same my father gave me. If they don’t exist, you must create them.
Guy A. Sims is also the author of the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim detective series, and the novel, Living Just a Little.
The Buzz About Monster: A Graphic Novel
“The superbly rewarding format serves to powerfully emphasize Myers’s themes of perspective and the quest to see one’s self clearly. A must-have for public and school libraries, and a standout graphic novel.”
— Booklist (starred review)
“It’s not easy for an adaptation to please both old and new readers, but this respectful one pulls off that trick.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“This graphic novel adaptation will introduce this story to a new generation of fans.”
— School Library Journal
On Day 9, we welcome back Marguerite Abouet, whose revolutionary YA graphic series AYA was a global hit in 2007; she’s returned with a delightful series for younger readers, featuring the adventures of the mischievous and resourceful Akissi. In the first book, Akissi: Feline Invasion
,released in the U.S. in 2013, Abouet “dishes out bursts of simultaneous hilarity and horror in African vignettes aimed at a younger audience,” according to Kirkus
, where it received a starred review.
“It isn’t often when I see something in a children’s book that shocks me, but the final story was a glorious jaw dropper.”
School Library Journal review of Akissi.
The adventures and shenanigans of Akissi, her brother Fofana, and friends’ “are both universal and absolutely particular to her milieu,” continues Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing. “It’s the perfect combination of gross-out humour, authority clashes, and general mischief to capture a kid’s interest.” Comprised of seven humorous and sometimes outrageous short stories featuring kid-friendly ups and downs with West African flavor, Akissi is pure fun, and with Books 1-6 already published in Europe, we hope to see more of her stateside very soon.
At 13-years-old, Mo’ne Davis became the first African American girl to play in a Little League World Series. She was the first African American girl to earn a win and to pitch a shutout in the 2014 Little League World Series. She can throw a 70 miles per hour fastball. And her curve ball is positively scary. Baseball isn’t even her favorite sport. Basketball is number one. Now she has written a book about her miraculous achievements, Mo’NE DAVIS REMEMBER MY NAME. Girls (and boys) will be inspired by her achievements and will definitely remember her name.
From the Back Cover
This inspiring memoir from a girl who learned to play baseball with the boys and rose to national stardom before beginning eighth grade will encourage young readers to reach for their dreams no matter the odds.
At the age of thirteen, Mo’ne Davis became the first female pitcher to win a game in the Little League World Series. She was the first Little Leaguer to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in the magazine’s sixty-year history. And as she began eighth grade in the fall of 2014, Mo’ne earned a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame—her shutout jersey now hangs in the museum in Cooperstown, New York.
Mo’ne’s story is one of determination, hard work, and an incredible fastball. From growing up in Philadelphia to throwing out the ceremonial first pitch—a perfect strike—at Game 4 of the 2014 Major League World Series, her groundbreaking achievements are changing the game for women in athletics and putting a positive new spin on the phrase “throw like a girl.” (HarperCollins Publishers)
Watch these interviews for more about Mo’ne.
Face to Face: Mo’ne Davis
Mo’ne Davis: Throw Like A Girl – Chevy Baseball | Chevrolet
How can you not like a character named Hoodoo, who can’t cast a spell? Now that’s what I call creative! Our spotlight is on an amazing writer, who has written a debut novel that awarded him the 2016 Coretta Scott King, John Steptoe Award for new Talent! We not only applaud you, but The Brown Bookshelf is honored to spotlight , on this 11th Day of February,
Please tell us about “The Journey.”
I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a child. I grew up reading fantasy and sci-fi stories, and loved creating imaginary worlds. As an adult, I found my way into advertising, and became a writer of TV commercials. It was a lot of fun for a long time, and writing fiction fell by the wayside. “At least I’m getting paid for writing,” I often told myself.
Then one day, my younger brother, who was working at a Barnes & Noble at the time, turned me on to some great books for young readers: The His Dark Materials books by Philip Pullman, The Sabriel Trilogy by Garth Nix. Harry Potter, of course. That’s when I realized I wanted to write stories again. There was a period of a few years where I was writing very literary short stories, but seeing these great kid’s books inspired me to write what I loved to read as a kid: tales of adventure and other worlds.
Once I decided to focus on children’s lit, I found my voice. Several years later, I was signed by an agent and got a book deal
How about “The Back Story?”
I was fortunate in that I queried an agent who liked Hoodoo, but felt it needed some work. She told me what she thought wasn’t working, and asked if I’d be open to revise and resubmit. She didn’t have to do this, and most agents don’t. I agreed with her advice, and when I sent the manuscript back months later she signed me.
A few days after going on submission, I had offers from several publishers and the book went to auction, which, well, was pretty awesome, to say the least. I signed with Clarion, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
What does your Writing Process look like?
I write organically, without an outline or scene-by-scene plan. Only once I get a few chapters down, can I really see where the story is going. It takes shape as I write. It’s fun, because I am discovering it along the way, just as a reader would. I’ve tried writing programs like Scrivener but they just confuse me. I do outline a little, once I know where the story is going, but mostly it is all part of what John Gardner called “The Fictive Dream,” that place you go in your subconscious when you are really in the zone. It is a type of fugue-state.
I no longer work in advertising, and write every day in my favorite coffee shop. Some days I write at home, but I like having some background white noise, so the ambience in a coffee shop fuels the creative process. Plus…caffeine.
The Buzz on “Hoodoo.”
2016 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award
A Junior Library Guild Selection
Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s 2015 Choices List
“The authenticity of Hoodoo’s voice and this distinctive mashup of genres make Smith one to watch. Seekers of the scary and “something different” need look no further.”
“The chilling supernatural Southern Gothic plot action is enhanced by atmospheric description of rural life in Depression-era Alabama…Readers will particularly enjoy Hoodoo’s authentic and engaging narrative voice.”
—School Library Journal
“Hoodoo’s first-person narrative, which flows beautifully, has an appealing and natural cadence…Through his protagonist, Smith demonstrates an eye for detail and a knack for evocative imagery as well as for telling a riveting story with a dollop of southern gothic appeal.”
“Filled with folk and religious symbols, this creepy Southern Gothic ghost story is steeped in time and place. Hoodoo’s earnest first-person narrative reveals a believable innocent who can ’cause deeds great and powerful.'”
—Horn Book Magazine
“What a splendid novel. Reader, be prepared to have your foundations shaken: this is a world that is deeper, more wondrous, more spiritually charged than you may have ever imagined.”
—Gary D. Schmidt, two-time Newbery Honor medalist and author of The Wednesday Wars
“Oh, wow! Hoodoo may just be the perfect book for a rainy day. Find a dog that will sit with you . . . and read on to your heart’s content. What a fun discovery!”
—Nikki Giovanni, poet and award-winning author of Rosa
What are your thoughts on the State of the Industry
Shortly after Hoodoo was accepted by my publisher, the We Need Diverse Books movement took off. I think this is an exciting time to be writing children’s books, especially if you are writing about characters that fall outside the mainstream. I think publishers want these books, and are eager to find those that tell a great story. Has it come too late? Perhaps. But change takes time, and thanks to the voices of a few tireless advocates—booksellers, librarians, authors—diverse books are beginning to really be noticed. Every kid needs to see him or herself reflected in books. It’s simple. Seeing yourself, or someone who looks like you or talks like you or lives where you live, makes reading relatable to kids.
My website is http://www.strangeblackflowers.com
Thank you, Ronald Smith, for your contributions to children’s literature!
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews was a child prodigy who began playing the trombone at the age of four, a discarded trombone that was twice as long as he was tall. By age six he was leading his own money-earning band, and by ten he was a bona fide touring musician. Today, at 30 years old, he is a Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist, playing not only trombone, but trumpet, drums, organ and tuba with his current band, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue.
Andrews credits his singer-songwriter grandfather, Jessie Hill, and especially his bandleader brother, James Andrews, as significant influences. Of his brother James (also a trumpeter) he often asserts, “He taught me everything I know.” Young “Shawty” performed with many heavy hitters, including Bo Diddley, Wynton Marsalis, and Wycliffe Gordon, and he learned much about the craft of making music through their mentorship. Over the years, however, Andrews has blazed a distinctive path in the jazz world, fusing elements of modern rock and hip-hop to formulate a sound he calls “SupaFunkRock”.
At the same time he’s been forging innovative sounds, Andrews has also maintained his dedication to New Orleans, the city he says “raised him”, by working to preserve its musical traditions. He has established the Trombone Shorty Foundation “to preserve and perpetuate the unique musical culture of New Orleans by passing down its traditions to future generations of musicians.” The foundation sponsors two intiatives in particular: The Fredman Music Business Institute (providing top-level music industry training to high school students) and Trombone Shorty Academy (a partnership with Tulane University to provide musically gifted high schoolers with mentorship in various areas including reading and writing music, and performance).
In line with his mission to perpetuate New Orleans’ unique musical culture, Andrews has written an autobiographical picture book: Trombone Shorty. It’s the story of how a young Troy Andrews became Trombone Shorty, and how practice and persistence transformed a dream into the reality of being an internationally celebrated artist.
Trombone Shorty—illustrated by Bryan Collier and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers—is a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book and winner of the 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award.
The Buzz on Trombone Shorty:
“Where y’at?” Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, opens his book with this phrase, letting readers know that it’s New Orleans parlance for hello. In this stunning picture book autobiography, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Andrews shares the story of his early years growing up in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. Andrews desperately wished to emulate the musicians in his family and those he saw performing all over his city, so he and his friends made their own instruments out of found materials, played in the streets, and marched with bands. When one day he found a battered, discarded trombone bigger than he was, Andrews finally had a real instrument to play, and he practiced day and night, acquiring the nickname Trombone Shorty from his older brother. The moment Bo Diddley pulled Andrews on stage to play with him during the New Orleans jazz festival was a turning point, and he hasn’t stopped performing since. Collier’s beautiful watercolor, pen-and-ink, and collage artwork picks up the rhythm and pace of Andrew’s storytelling, creating an accompaniment full of motion and color. Each spread offers a visual panoply of texture, perspective, and angles, highlighting the people and the instruments. Andrews’s career is still on the rise, his music gaining an ever wider audience, and this title will be an inspiration to many. VERDICT Coupled with a selection of Trombone Shorty’s music, this work will make for fun and thoughtful story sharing. A must-have.”— School Library Journal
“This well-told and exquisitely illustrated story of a musician with a steep career trajectory will inspire young readers to pursue their passions, despite the challenges.”— Kirkus, Starred Review
“If a fairy tale were set in New Orleans, this is how it would read.”—Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review
Learn more about Trombone Shorty:
An Interview with Vibe Magazine
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Jessixa Bagley burst onto the children’s literature stage last year with the debut of her beautiful picture book “Boats For Papa,” a gentle story of loss, healing, and ultimately persevering. Bagley is both author and illustrator. The book has received numerous starred reviews, and it has been widely praised by children, the children’s literature community, and beyond.
Her gentle watercolors are richly detailed, and her characters–a loving family of anthropomorphic beavers–will delight young readers.
I appreciate the generosity Bagley put in to participating in this interview:
Don: Tell us about your path to publishing. How did you get that first trade contract?
Jessixa: It’s been a long road for me to get where I am today, but every step has held a lot of value. I pretty much always wanted to make picture books. Ever since I was a small child, I was writing and drawing my own stories, books, and comics, creating characters and their worlds. Right after graduating college in 2004, I started writing picture books and submitting them to publishers left and right. I had been published for comics already at that point, so I figured I could finally get my real dream going and jump into children’s publishing. I think I made every wrong mistake possible with submitting my work for about 6-7 years. I just really didn’t know what I was doing and I thought I could go it on my own and I had a nice big stack of rejection letters to prove it. I was at a loss for what to do.
Then I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2010. I was an
inactive member still for a while- thinking arrogantly that I didn’t need to be part of a club to get published (and just not knowing what SCBWI had to offer). And, shocker, I still wasn’t getting published and didn’t understand why. Then one year I made the leap and decided to go to their annual summer conference in Los Angeles having never attended any previous SCBWI events at all. And that’s when things started to make more sense. I got to see first hand what my portfolio needed to look like and I got to hear about how the business of books worked-the real ins and outs of submitting work and what editors and art directors really cared about.
After some tears, I went home and started over. It still took me some time, and lots more tears, but I finally started to find my voice as an illustrator and then as a writer. That’s when things began to click inside of me and that’s when things started to change. Once I found this “voice” inside of me that people would always talk about, the awards and opportunities started to show up. Then I did another Hail Mary in 2013 and went to the SCBWI NY Winter Conference and I was runner up for the portfolio showcase and that is where I attended a workshop by Alexandra Penfold (my soon to be future agent). Alex believed in my work, offered me representation shortly thereafter and then went to work submitting my book dummy for Boats for Papa (then called Drift). She put the book in front of Neal Porter- one of the most loveable men on Earth- and then rest is history.
Don: What primary medium do you use in your work?
Jessixa: I use very fine waterproof black pens and watercolor for my illustrations. I use pretty inexpensive watercolor paper to help create my pooling affect in my paintings (pooling is what I call when the watercolor builds up in areas to create unique textures). I also use an eyedropper to help me spread my paint- a technique I created for myself so I can paint large areas fairly evenly with small brushes to retain the right look I want for my pooling. I like to do everything by hand and prefer not to work digitally, except for small touch-ups.
Don: Tell us about your most recent book
Jessixa: My most recent book, “Before I Leave,” is about a little hedgehog named Zelda that finds out that she has to move away from her best friend (Aaron the anteater) and instead of being sad about leaving, they decided to cherish those last moments they have together. It’s a story pulled from my own experiences having to move when I was young and how hard it is to leave your friends. I wanted to use a style of writing that was very different than Boats for Papa so I wrote it in more of a letter format, like one friend writing a letter to the other. I was trying to approach it with a more open and poetic quality.
Don: Talk about the research process for the book
Jessixa: This was so much different than my research for “Boats for Papa”-which was much more technical because of the boats and the nautical elements. For “Before I Leave” I looked at tons and tons of photos of hedgehogs and anteaters to familiarize myself with them for the book. (By the way, researching pictures of hedgehogs is probably the CUTEST research anyone could ever have to do.) I read a lot of facts about both animals, where they live, their everyday habits. They are both very fascinating animals. Fun fact: Both hedgehogs and anteaters have very poor eyesight. I thought that was a weird coincidence that I learned after I picked the animals. It seems like a good basis of a friendship, being able to relate to one another!
Don: Any important things you learned about the subject while researching the book?
Jessixa: I got very interested in the idea of having a hedgehog for a pet when working on my book! Once again, they are the cutest animals and you sort of can’t help falling in love with them when you are staring at photographs of them all day. But I found out that like reptiles they have salmonella on their bodies, which because I was about to have a baby, didn’t seem like a good idea. That and they are nocturnal and poop when they run. I figured we should only have one animal in the house that is awake all night and poops while it’s running.
Don: If you could spend one day in a studio, working with any artist — past or present — who would that be, and why?
Jessixa: I have a really hard time with choosing a favorite anything (except for food- hamburgers are my favorite food). For dream artists will have to be a current top five list:
Pieter Bruegel the Elder– He was a master painter and the intricacies of his work are amazing. I’d love to see his traditional painting process. Heck, I’d take the Younger Bruegel too!
Beatrix Potter– She is magic and I think she would be a kindred spirit. I’d love to see how she worked in nature and how her environment shaped her relationship with her characters.
Richard Scarry– He would be SO fun to see work. I imagine he talks to his characters when he draws (like I do). I’d love to hear the backstories he created for his characters and why he thinks pigs would be such terrible drivers.
Mary Blair– She was an amazing painter and I’d love to see her design approach and how that graphic eye influenced her art decisions.
Frances Glessner Lee– She was an aristocrat in the 1940’s who made all of those dioramas of crime scenes that police used for forensic training. I love miniatures and it would be incredible to see how she worked (And just a little creepy).
Don: What would be your dream manuscript? Your dream author to work with?
Jessixa: I’d love the chance to get to illustrate “The Wind in the Willows.” Those characters speak to my soul as an artist and feel like a part of me lives in that world that Kenneth Grahame wrote. I don’t know how I could do it justice, but I’d love to try! One of my favorite authors right now is Matt de la Peña. I thought the writing in Last Stop on Market Street was simply exquisite. I was really moved by the poetic quality to his work. It did more than just tell a story, it really made you feel. I’d love to see what stories he could create for my little woodland animal world!
Don: Can you talk a bit about your process of illustrating a book?
Jessixa: Because I am a VERY unorganized person, I try to set myself up for success with my books by being very organized in my process. I start off by making a list of how many and what kind of illustrations I have to do and how long I have to do them all. Also because I have a full time job and am a mother to a burgeoning toddler, my time is very limited so knowing how long a painting will take me and knowing how much time I have to paint it is a huge help for time management. I pretty much have a standard process for my illustrations: thumbnails, dummy, final sketches, transfer sketches to watercolor paper, pen over the pencil art, then watercolor. I also end up doing a lot of paint tests and color tests before I start working on the final art so I know I have my palette right where I want it.
I work at actual size of the final book so I know exactly how fine the details will end up being (and also because I have a hard time using math to figure out percentages for scaling up and down). I usually work on one piece at a time but if I have several pieces that have similar backgrounds- like they are in the same room or it’s the same day- I’ll mix up a huge batch of the watercolor wash and paint the larger areas (like the sky) at the same time to maintain consistency. I also have a really great rhythm with my AMAZING book designer Jennifer Browne and my editor Neal Porter, so once I have a little chunk of final work to show, I scan it and email it into them so we can all make sure everything is looking good. It’s so great that they are willing to work this way because it saves me from illustrating an entire book, then having to turn around and make a ton of changes in the end. Altering as I go is much more efficient and less stressful for me- plus I get to talk to them more frequently which I love because they are just the best people!
Creating thumbnail sketches
Final painting for BEFORE I LEAVE
Don: Who are your cheerleaders, those who encourage you?
Jessixa: I am lucky that I feel like I have too many cheerleaders to count within my friends and family! My husband though is my biggest fan and supporter and he’s really helped me keep up the will power to keep going when things were (and are) really challenging. And my amazing picture book friends are just the best. My community of my crit groups, writer friends, and SCBWI partners in crime has really given me so much love and encouragement that I can’t imagine this journey being possible without them. I’ve made incredible friends by getting involved in the community of the picture book world. You think you can do this alone, but I’ve found that making books is an extremely collaborative process and the more people you have to support you, the better- and the work is better for it as well.
Don: What’s on the horizon, what can your fans expect to see from you?
Jessixa: I’ve got two great projects on the horizon! Next winter (2017) my third picture book, Laundry Day comes out and it’s such a fun and silly book and I’m really looking forward to its release! It’s about two twin badger brothers named Tic and Tac who are bored one late summer day and they decide to help their mother with the laundry and of course some wackiness ensues-as of course it always does with laundry. It’s very different in tone than my first two books which I hope readers will enjoy. And my next project-which is very dear to my heart-is a picture book collaboration with my husband, Aaron Bagley. We’ve always collaborated on art and this will be our first picture book together. We both wrote the story and are both painting the illustrations. The book is called Vincent Comes Home and is about a cat that lives on a cargo ship. It’s a very sweet story and that much sweeter to get to work on it with my best friend! It comes out winter 2018.