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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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©2014 By Eleanora E. Tate
Photo Credit: Andy King
After Dial Press published my first book, Just an Overnight Guest, in 1980, I naively assumed that it would be in print forever. After all, Phoenix Films adapted it into a television film in 1983 and it aired on Nickelodeon and PBS’s Wonderworks all over the country. I don’t remember which year the hardcover went out of print, but it did, and without even going into paperback!
Since that time, eleven of my manuscripts have become published books, thanks to Dial, Bantam Books, Random House, Delacorte, Franklin Watts, Pleasant Company, Just Us Books, and others. Of the eleven, Just an Overnight Guest, A Blessing in Disguise, Front Porch Stories at the One-Room School, The Minstrel’s Melody, and Don’t Split the Pole: Tales of Down-Home Folk Wisdom went out of print. The books that went out of print quickest were A Blessing in Disguise and Don’t Split the Pole, though at least they made it into paperback before being kicked to the OOP curb.
Hundreds — probably thousands — of books go belly up every year. That’s part of “the writing life.” But when it happens to your baby, it’s a shock. I’ve heard that some writers take to their beds after suffering such catastrophes. I didn’t do that, but I’m sure that I sulked and fussed to myself for days.
Oh, Eleanora, “don’t you weep, don’t you moan”! Almost as quickly as my books went out of print, Just Us Books, the premiere publisher of books about children of color (but to be read by everybody), came to their rescue. It reprinted Just an Overnight Guest (1997), A Blessing in Disguise (1999), and Front Porch Stories at the One-Room School (2007).
Thank you, Just Us Book Publishers Cheryl and Wade Hudson!
The Minstrel’s Melody, published in 2001 by Pleasant Company in its American Girl History Mysteries series, was printed next by Windmill Press in its Mysteries Through Time series (2009), and is now also available through Open Road Integrated Media as a Mysteries Through History series e-book!
Don’t Split the Pole: Tales of Down-Home Folk Wisdom (Delacorte 1997) was brought back to life by iUniverse.com in May 2014 as part of the Authors Guild Backinprint.com edition. I’ve been a member of the Authors Guild since 2003 but wasn’t aware that this service was available to its members! Thanks, Liza Ketchum, Hamline University faculty chum, for telling me about it.
In this collection I wrapped stories around impactful sayings I’d heard over the years. The stories/sayings are: You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks; Slow and Steady Wins the Race; A Hard Head Makes a Soft Behind; Never Leave Your Pocketbook on the Floor; Don’t Split the Pole; Big Things Come in Small Packages; and What Goes around Comes Around. These sayings can probably be found anywhere in the world. I set all but one of my stories along the North Carolina coast.
Proverbs and sayings are also known as aphorisms, mottos, Biblical expressions, similes, even rich brief anecdotes. They explain a truth or a moral, offer opinions, summarize an action or thought, or are phrases or tidbits of songs, poems or books repeated so often that they enter the lexicon. Every culture throughout the world has them. A proverb or saying can be applied to many dissimilar events, depending on how different people interpret it.
I hope to target teachers who work with middle-school and high school readers; writers who seek short story writing techniques; and folklorists, storytellers, and, of course, readers of all ages.
Although many sayings go back to the beginnings of language, I place the ones I use in contemporary settings to show young readers that they still have meaning in today’s world. One of my new favorites is today’s very real “It is what it is.”
If you want to reprint one of your OOP books think about these Tate Tips:
- Make sure that you, the author, have a reversion of rights letter from the publisher who published it. In fact, when you find out that your book has gone out of print, immediately contact your publisher (or your agent) and request a reversion of rights letter from the publisher. This will speed things up when or if you decide to take that reprint step, especially if your original publisher was a “traditional” publisher like Random House, etc.
- After you find a publisher interested in reprinting your old book (good luck!), insist on getting a contract from that publisher spelling out all details, including royalty rates, any revisions that the publisher — or you — desire, publication schedules, etc. It’ll probably be a “boilerplate” contract, with the benefits leaning toward the publisher, but that’s not new.
- If you don’t recognize a word or phrase in the contract ask. Never sign anything that you don’t understand or don’t agree with. In light of today’s changing publishing world, words like all rights, now and forever, known and unknown, electronic rights, and digital rights may have meanings different from what you know. Here’s where an agent can be invaluable, but if you don’t have one, or he/she doesn’t want to be bothered, do your homework and educate yourself. Writers groups like the Authors Guild, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the North Carolina Writers Network, and others might be your saviors.
- Suppose you DO plan to pay a company to reprint your manuscript. That’s fine, as long as you understand what you’re paying for, and what your and the company’s responsibilities are, including marketing, publicity, distribution, and payments. I met a woman the other day who said she signed such a contract, but didn’t know how or if she’d get royalties, didn’t have someone to edit her manuscript, and didn’t have NO money to pay the company. Don’t be like that woman!
- Market your book aggressively. Send out news releases, have blog tours, visit bookstores, make book trailers, and so on, or be willing to pay to have a professional or the company do this for you. Except for the big-name writing stars, most writers these days are expected to do more marketing.
- Be aware that certain computer software programs that some publishers may require you to use to format your manuscript – from pdfs to “jumpshare” file sharing, digital signatures, and more complex stuff — might drive you up the wall if you don’t know how to implement them.
No matter how you choose to reprint your book, remember that good writing is still good writing. Rewrite any part that’s weak. Find the best editor (or professional friend) who’ll help you with spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, overall revision, chocolate cake, and wholehearted encouragement.
And now I can give a sigh of relief that all of my books are back in print. Or they were as of this morning. Happy Reading!
By Alice Faye Duncan
As summer came to a close, there was so much death and sadness around us. The sketchy details of Michael Brown’s murder plagued the news. Actress and activist, Ruby Dee died. Maya Angelou passed away at the top of the summer. And while writing this note, I just received word that J. California Cooper passed away today.
Like never before, we need a visitation of sunshine and good feelings to bolster us. And to this end, I reached out to teacher, poet, activist and lover of music, Arnold Adoff. Arnold is a noted anthologist. He edited the seminal collection of African American poetry, I AM THE DARKER BROTHER. For more than 30 years he was the devoted husband to award-winning children’s author, Virginia Hamilton.
I posed five questions to Arnold a week after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. His wise words offer writers and readers a way to find hope and joy, even in the face of trying times. Hear him with your heart.
virginia once said she wrote long and talked short…and i wrote short and talked long…..
your seemingly straightforward questions all require…. paragraphs and paragraphs of
perspectives and details….think of monet setting up several easels in his garden
and going from one to another to continue painting as the day progressed and the light changed…..
but i will try and be short and honest at the same time….so:
What part does music play in my everyday life?
1. my various simultaneous lives have always progressed with musical foreground and background accompaniments….from the eurocentric so-called classical music playing in my home all day….to my discovery at a young age of bird and prez and mingus and much of progressive jazz and blues…their african roots and the myriad aspects of african american cultures and classes and literatures….
i met virginia through my friendship with charles mingus and i play his compositions several times a day at least….many times to be followed by monk piano performances….
each sunday morning there will be a mahalia album on the turntable…sometimes late at night i will kick back and sip some red wine and go from willie nelson to waylon jennings to joni mitchel to leonard cohen to nina simone to the last poets to meshell ndegeocello…
however….unlike many other writers of several generations…it is an absolute longstanding rule of my process that there is n o music playing while i read and research and rewrite and write…
What are the top five songs that bring sunshine into your day?
2. mahalia’s didn’t it rain children….on a rainy day…of course stevie wonder’s you are the sunshine of my life….anything by ray charles….john lee hooker and lightnin hopkins and bessie smith…zep’s stairway to heaven…jeff buckley’s hallelujah….wade in the water….and on and on and on…depending on time of day and the placement of the easel…so to speak….the position of the sun in my life and the passion and yearning… and always the flash of love in some dark room…in some dark mood….
If Nina Simone were alive today, how would she respond or what would she say about the murder of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown?
3. of course she would speak out and rant in her own powerful voice as she would introduce a piece and she would compose…but perhaps in that mississippi goddamn approach and overview…..
i know there would be much weary deja vu edges around the words…
how many times…. bobby dylan wrote and sang….and in her time she was challenged and buffeted by countless racist unspeakables and the drumbeat of murders and injustice and genocide and…to borrow the title from ralph ginzburg’s seminal collection…100 years of lynchings….
If Langston Hughes was alive, what would he say about the rap music playing on the radio?
4. to read langston’s poetry out loud is to sing incipient rap and hiphop foundation rhythms and beats…concerns and struggles…i can only assume given his all-encompassing racial and world view…that he would embrace hiphop nation as he embraced each succeeding generation of african american poets and versifiers…perhaps he might chide now and then….but if you read one of his later collections…the panther and the lash….he was not left behind…inside his soul and within his political and literary times….
When you find yourself missing Virginia, how do you uplift your spirits?
5. i live in this house in yellow springs we built together in 1969 where we raised our two superb children…and i am surrounded by photos and medals and awards and rooms of floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled to overflowing with copies of her books…of files and speeches and her spirit and sense of pride and her striving for excellence and her unremitting honesty….
the w o r k is all around me and our values and dreams…realized and unrealized as well….
our intertwined histories…our lives together of course….
it is too simplistic to say i miss only h e r…what i miss is being able to walk into her office and sit down and talk about something…some aspect of a book project…some opinion on a family or personal matter…or listen to her read me the latest chapter from her latest book….
and all of that and much more has been internalized…all of our lives together and my life since her passing….i need silence to think and work and poet…(really….one of the many things she taught me is how to take from life experiences of all kinds and use that as food as fuel to make some kind of art)….and within that silence is her voice and her face….
….the struggle continues….
arnold adoff yellow springs, ohio
25 august 2014
ALICE FAYE DUNCAN is a school librarian who writes books for children and adults. Her newest book, Hello Sunshine—5 Habits to UNCLOUD Your Day is a happy pill for readers who want to keep themselves motivated and moving as they tackle the challenges of work, family, entrepreneurship and artistic ambitions. Website: www.uncloudyday.com Email: HelloAliceFaye@aol.com Twitter: @HelloAliceFaye
I first heard Rita Lorraine Hubbard’s name several years ago, when she produced her documentary. How impressive! I followed her remarkable career as she wrote book after book and finally asked her to share her writing success with our readers. Here, in her own words is how she has accomplished so much.
When I was asked to talk about my writing career, I had no clue where to begin. If you’ve been writing since the time you could hold a pencil, telling other people about your journey can be overwhelming.
I’m a southern girl, born and bred in Chattanooga, Tennessee; the product of a public education and fiercely proud of that fact. My degrees are in education and school psychology, but my passion is in writing across genres, depending upon which voice (elementary, middle grade or young adult) is speaking to me loudest at the time.
I have been writing all my life, and since I’ve been on the earth for several decades (I won’t say how many, if you don’t mind), and since my works are only just starting to be recognized, this means it has been a long road to where I am now.
Where am I? Well, I have a nonfiction educational reference book called
African Americans of Chattanooga: A History of Unsung Heroes that has been included
in the Tennessee State Library and Archives and recognized by the State’s Historical Society.
I have a historical fiction picture book that will debut in 2015, Lee and Low Books. It’s tentatively titled Uncle Billy’s Family Reunion. I have three books published by Rosen Publishing (Getting a Job in the Food Industry; Getting the Most Out of MOOC–Massive Open Online Courses; The Right Degree for Me in Health Care).
And I just received the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 2014 Letter of Merit for an unpublished young adult novel called The Man Who Saw Everything.
None of these achievements happened overnight. They came about over the process of time. But whether your road is as long as mine or happens at the speed of light, I firmly believe there are things you can do and opportunities you can take advantage of while you’re waiting for your writing career to manifest itself.
So here is my list of five ways to take advantage of opportunities while you’re waiting to become a published author.
1. Keep Writing! Write what’s in your head and heart. Write for the love of writing, even if you don’t have anyone to share your work with at the time. I’ve written 42 books so far (told you I’ve been on the earth a long time!) but only the two are out there. Two more will debut this fall, and one will debut in 2015. Yet I continue to add to my long list because you never know when a storyline you’re working with will suddenly be all the rave. Diversity is in now; take advantage of it by writing something from your own wonderfully unique perspective.
2. Join Something. Hone your craft by joining groups where peers share your interests. Consider…
• ACAIC (Association of Children’s Authors and Illustrators of Color), which will be launching soon
• Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
• Critique group with members who write what you write.
• Funds for Writers (www.FundsForWriters.com), which alerts writers to various competitions and opportunities).
I’m even a member of Stage 32, a free social network filled with writers, screenwriters, actors, directors, etc.
3. Be a daredevil. Find out what’s out there and dare to put yourself in the mix. For example…• Don’t limit yourself to books or articles. You can even try out film! In 2009, I stumbled across a nonprofit looking for original short films that focused on ways to combat poverty. So I wrote and co-produced An Entrepreneur’s Heart It was the first time I’d ever written a script or tried my hand at filmmaking, and the film became a finalist in the global competition.
• Take on small writing opportunities, even if there’s no prize money. My article, “How to Get Going on a Grant Application” was a first place winner in a For Dummies Online™ competition. There was no prize money but I did get a by-line with a well-known brand.
• Become a writer-for-hire. In 2010, I heard that an educational publisher was looking for writers, and after a year of trying, I finally got an assignment. I now have three titles with Rosen Publications.
• Keep your ears open for state or regional all-calls. A few years ago, two women from the Tennessee American Association of University Women (AAUW) needed volunteers to write about early women who helped shape Tennessee. I jumped on board ensure African American women were represented. My biography on Dr. Emma Rochelle Wheeler made the cut. Every high school in Tennessee now has a copy of the book, and to this day, I’m called upon to speak about Dr. Wheeler and make appearances at book signings.
• Submit to writing competitions. I wrote The Man Who Saw Everything, in 2004, and I’m proud to say it just received the 2014 Letter of Merit in SCBWI’s Work In Progress competition. See what I mean when I say “keep writing?”
4. Share. When you stumble upon something good, don’t hoard. Share writing competitions, fellowships, and all-call’s via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. People are busy and it’s easy to overlook things. Your colleagues will appreciate your generosity and you’ll soon find them sharing their treasures with you.
5. Pay it Forward. The writing community has always been generous and we should do what we can to keep it that way. I started the Picture Book Depot review website to help get the word out about book debuts, and to breathe life into books that have been all but forgotten.
By the way, I also review for The New York Journal of Books. It’s extra work but I see it as a writing opportunity. FYI, I just reviewed a delightful little book called Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by our talented colleague, Katheryn Russell-Brown. Be sure to check it out at this link New York Journal of Books – Little Melba and Her Big Trombone.
Click on Rita Lorraine Hubbard for more information about this creative and enterprising author.
Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks.
Justice On The Lesson Plan
By Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
In addition to the excitement and apprehension about tests, read alouds, and recess, there was tension as the school year got underway in many cities and educators wondered if and how to address the police killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the civil unrest that followed. Do we have one conversation and then “move on”? Schedule a town meeting and then get on with the business of learning? As a parent and children’s author who regularly visits with children in a variety of school communities, I firmly believe that schools should take on the responsibility of engaging students around this story, and do so on an ongoing basis; it’s necessary, it’s relevant, it’s learning.
Some might disagree, with understandable concerns about escalating conflict, and fanning flames of prejudice and fear. It was reported that middle and high school educators in Missouri’s Edwardsville school district were initially advised to “change the subject and refocus the students” if Ferguson was brought up. The Superintendent later clarified his position via a letter to parents, as reported by the Edwardsville Intelligencer, writing “It was not our intent to ignore the educational relevance of these events. However, we felt it was important to take the time to calm a potential situation at the high school and to prepare administrators and teachers to approach this critical issue in an objective, fact-based manner.”
Please, let’s take the time to engage our children in ongoing conversations about race, justice, and power. The reality of the 24-hour news cycle and the ubiquity of social media most likely mean that children and teens know something of these stories. And what we know, we can unpack and discuss. Even if they are not aware of the specific events in Ferguson, what are we educating children for, if not to engage productively with the world they live in? And when that world goes horribly wrong, how do we help them move toward making things right?
Teachers can play a positive role by helping students gain a better understanding of troubling events, creating a safe environment where students can think critically about difficult issues, engage in respectful conversation, and think about what they can do to address the problems they see in the world,” write Laura McClure and Tom Roderick of the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, via email. The Ferguson story offers “…an opportunity for them to learn history, better understand current political realities, consider multiple points of view, think about possible ways to address problems and injustices, and perhaps become more aware of their own biases. It’s a chance for students to develop the ability to express their views and listen respectfully and open-heartedly while others share theirs. It’s part of educating young people for participating in a democratic society.”
In a blog post, Dr Shaun Harper wrote “Most school-age children in Ferguson are Black. They and Black youth across the U.S. need supportive spaces in which to process what happened. Likewise, youth from other racial groups (including Whites) deserve opportunities to talk about Ferguson, particularly what the implications of this tragedy are for their lives and our nation. Young people need to know the truth: Ferguson wasn’t an isolated incident, but instead is connected to a longstanding, more systemic set of structural problems and judicial errors.”
Of course we want teachers doing their best to ensure that all students are educated in a welcoming and safe environment. I’d suggest that that includes demonstrating to students that they, and their ideas and opinions matter. “To keep conversations productive, we encourage teachers to work with students to develop some ‘community agreements,’ starting at the very beginning of the year,” add Roderick and McClure. “This can set the stage for a more caring classroom where it is safe to discuss difficult issues, and safe to disagree.” These agreements include a ‘one mic’ policy (speak one at a time), agreeing to disagree, speaking from one’s own experience, and avoiding sweeping generalizations.
“You may not live in Ferguson, but we all must live with what has happened in Ferguson. Let’s find ways to talk about this,” wrote Dr. Marcia Chatelain in an August 20 Twitter post. Dr. Chatelain, a writer, historian and assistant professor of history at Georgetown University created the #FergusonSyllabus hashtag and initiative, and saw immediately that these conversations can happen in all kinds of communities. “It’s never too early or too late to help a student grapple with the issues that also trouble us…At all ages, students will have questions about why people are so tense and why they are so upset,” she points out in an email. “The best way to respond is to be honest that some people are upset, hurt and frustrated and engage them on how they can prevent making others feel this way through being honest and fair to others. You don’t have to get mired in the murky details of the killing of Michael Brown if you don’t believe you can handle it. Rather, you can talk about the range of emotions, the societal challenges, and the questions this moment elicits.” #FergusonSyllabus has become a compendium of resources across disciplines for early childhood to college classrooms, with contributions from educators, artists, activists, librarians, parents, writers and more.
And then there are books. Literature one of the richest, most productive ways of all to frame these conversations. By helping our children understand that Black Youth Matter and we need diverse books, we teach and learn in critical and transformative ways. Books like
Rita Williams-Garcia’s ONE CRAZY SUMMER and P.S. BE ELEVEN,
Kekla Magoon’s THE ROCK AND THE RIVER and HOW IT WENT DOWN,
Sharon Dennis Wyeth’s SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL,
Jaqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING,
Zetta Elliott’s BIRD, and A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT
MARCH: Book One by John Robert Lewis and Andrew Aydin with artist Nate Powell,
Julius Lester’s LET’S TALK ABOUT RACE,
Shane Evans’ WE MARCH,
and our own Crystal Hubbard’s THE LAURA LINE and Don Tate’s IT JES’ HAPPENED share the stories of struggle, triumph, creativity, beauty, and more that make up our past, present, and future. In my own 8th GRADE SUPERZERO, essentially a contemporary’school story’, characters are challenged by the questions of who and what they stand for in large and very small ways. Resources like Notable Books for A Global Society, RIF, Sarah Park’s Social Justice in Children’s/YA Reading List, Mitali Perkins, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Just Us Books, The Pirate Tree, and of course The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days Later campaigns offer a wealth of ideas and titles to add to classrooms and libraries.
Clearly, these conversations won’t be easy and will likely be, at the very least, uncomfortable. But we don’t educate simply for comfort. Discomfort can mean that there is authentic teaching and learning going on. As students examine not only the events but also the narratives that are presented to them, they can learn to think and act responsibly in many areas of their lives. “One lesson is to beware of misinformation coming through social media about upsetting world events, especially as those events are unfolding,” write Roderick and McClure. “Students need to learn how to evaluate the information they are getting and avoid jumping to conclusions.”
If we claim to be preparing our children for that real world “out there,” let’s recognize that ‘out there’ is our homes, our classrooms, our lives. And these conversations need to continue, need to grow and evolve along with our students during the school year — this is not a “one and done” situation. Let’s give students room to reflect on and navigate many stories in it. Just as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” wove a fascinating narrative of the links between slavery, Jim Crow, and public policies of the past and present, we can use our classrooms to examine how and why Michael Brown is part of the same larger, complex story of race, power, and privilege in America. We can work with our students to look at what we’ve done, and work toward doing better. It’s a matter of life and death.
“How To Talk To Students About Ferguson” by Dr. Marcia Chatelain
“What Happened in Ferguson and Why” from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility
“Challenging Stereotypes: Michael Brown and If They Gunned Me Down”, from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility
Ferguson: Response and Resources compiled by Philip Nel
I am writing to you because I believe you are unstoppable. And that this is a quality you try to instill in the young people you work with or influence.
On September 30, 2014, my new novel, Unstoppable Octobia May, will hit bookstores nationwide. On that day I would love you and/or the young people you influence to join me in shouting out to the world that they too are unstoppable by holding up the following sign, words, image:
I AM UNSTOPPABLE
If you and the young people you influence feel as if you’d like to show the world what skills make you/them unstoppable–while also holding up the sign–great! All this year I will be doing one thing or another as I try to get young people to express what makes them unstoppable.
In my novel Unstoppable Octobia May, a young girl is doggedly chasing down secrets as well as the truth regarding a boarder in her aunt’s boarding home. She is unstoppable and so are you and the young people you impact.
If you would like to join me in this effort, do let me know. On September 30th post your signs, etc. on Twitter and Facebook, create vines, have fun, all while making sure to include the following:
I Am Unstoppable
It is time we all let the world know just what we think of young people and what they think of themselves. Unstoppable! Determined! Powerful! That’s who they are. That’s who we want them to be.
Thanks. And do let me know if you plan to participate. And do pass this along!
You can reach Sharon through her website: http://www.sharongflake.com/.
Guest post for the Brown Bookshelf
by syndicated cartoonist, author and illustrator,
I published my first book back in 1997. Since then I have written and / or illustrated more than a dozen others. I think the reason why I’ve dedicated my life to get kids to read is because I went through most of my life not enjoying reading whatsoever. In fact, whoever coined the term “reluctant reader” must have known me as a kid. And as a teen. And even as a young adult. To be honest, I was a grown man before I ever read a book on my own for enjoyment. It’s not that I couldn’t read, I was an “A” student who made Honor Roll every semester. It was that reading was never anything that was fun. Actually, it was a chore, like mowing the lawn. (Even though there were no lawns in the Washington Heights section of NYC, where I grew up.) And for a kid with a very active imagination, I needed something to grab my attention. I know my parents read to me as a kid, but once the Dr. Seuss stage passed, I was on my own.Sure, I’d see them read newspapers and magazines, but have few memories of them with books.
The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, written by Patrick Henry Bass, illustrated by Jerry Craft
In school, reading was always something I HAD to do, there was no getting around it. And believe me, I tried. Books being boring. For one thing, even though I attended schools that were 99% African American, I don’t ever remember having to read a book that featured characters that looked like any of us. Unless you count runaway slaves. So if it wasn’t for Marvel Comics, my reading enjoyment would have been close to zero! As a kid I was a huge comic book fan. Each week, I’d anxiously run to the corner candy store in order to buy the latest issues of Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four. But even then, if the plots had too many non-fighting pages, I’d kind of gloss over all that boring dialogue in order to get to the good stuff. Ka-Blam! But even though I, and many of my classmates, were reading, having a teacher catch you with a comic book was only slightly better than being caught with some kind of illegal contraband. Apparently, they didn’t want any of those “foul things” rotting our fragile little brains. It wasn’t until I reached the 7th grade that I had my first, and probably only, teacher who was a comic book fan. That was refreshing.
And then … as if books didn’t have enough competition with things like stickball, and touch football (way back when kids used to go outside to play) they invented the Atari 2600! That was one of the very first video game systems, for those of you who may not know. And reading for enjoyment went the way of the dinosaur.
In high school, there were a bunch of us who read comics, but unfortunately as I got older, the books that we were supposed to read for got bigger. And more boring. And even less reflective of my life. The memory of having to read William Faulkner’s, “As I Lay Dying,” still haunts me to this day!
The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! By Jerry Craft, with Jayden Craft & Aren Craft (his sons)
Fast forward to college where I attended The School of Visual Arts. Most people who know that I went there, think that I was a cartooning major. But the cartooning classes were so popular that I was never able to actually sign up for one. Instead I majored in advertising copywriting where I wrote headlines for newspaper ads, radio commercials and TV commercials. This was right up my alley. What I wrote could be funny, it could be serious, but whatever it was, it had to be short.
Fast forward about 10 years, when I left the struggling advertising world to get a job at King Features Syndicate and later at Sports Illustrated for Kids. It was during this time that I had created my Mama’s Boyz comic strip. Again, the writing was funny and short! This was way back when personal computers just started taking off. And for the first time in my life, I found something that I actually ENJOYED reading other than comic books. Software manuals! Really! I could actually sit down for hours and read a book on how to use Photoshop or Flash. The books were not only huge, nor were they the least bit exciting. But for some reason, I LOVED them!!!
Then one day I got an email from a fan of my Mama’s Boyz comic strip. I used to have a page on my website where I showed how slang had changed from my father’s era, to mine, to the current group of teens. After exchanging a few emails, he told me that he was an author and wanted to know if I wanted to swap books with him. Why not? I sent him a copy of Mama’s Boyz: As American as Sweet Potato Pie! (which I had published myself), and a few days later I got a package in the mail with not only one book, but two! And they were long. “Aw crap, I remember thinking, now I HAVE to read both of these books, ‘cause he’s gonna want to know what I think of them.” And so I started the task. By now, I was married and living in Connecticut, so I had a few hours commuting on MetroNorth each day that I could devote to reading them. And you know what, I liked them. In fact, I LOVED them!!! When I was done, I was proud to write my new author friend, Mr. Eric Jerome Dickey and tell him what I thought of Sister, Sister and Friends and Lovers. From that point on, I felt like a superhero who had gotten super powers as a result of some freak accident. I LIKED TO READ! Now it was a matter of catching up on books that I had always heard about, but had never actually read. Classics like The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Invisible Man.
A few years later I had kids. Not wanting them to be reluctant readers like their dad, I literally read to them every single night for the first six years of their lives. Maybe longer. And then they’d read to me. Or we’d do it together. Short books. Long books. Everything we could get our hands on. I even did voices for the characters. Plus I made sure that they saw characters who looked like them. Their bookshelves were filled with names like Eric Velazquez, Bryan Collier, Shadra Strickland, Don Tate, E.B. Lewis, R. Gregory Christie, and anyone whose last name is Pinkney.
Then when I decided to write chapter books, there was no better sounding board than the two of them. They were my own private focus group. A few years ago, I was reading them a story that I was working on about 5 middle school bullies who get superpowers. And this time, instead of just sitting back and listening, they (now teenagers) were critical. Very critical. “Dad, no kid would say that,” I remember one of them saying. “Well what would he say?” And they told me. And it was good. After a few sessions of them setting me straight, I decided to make them co-writers. Luckily they accepted. And after about a year of writing, we were overjoyed to see, “The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention!” published.
I had not only come full circle, from reluctant reader, to reader. Then to father of readers. Now that they had actually helped to write a book, they had broken through the circle. And that’s something that even a little boy from Washington Heights with an active imagination would have NEVER imagined possible.
Jerry Craft has illustrated and / or written more than two dozen children’s books, comic books and board games. Most recent is a middle grade novel co-written with his two teenage sons, Jaylen and Aren called: “The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention!” — an adventure story that teaches kids about the effects of bullying. He is the creator of Mama’s Boyz, a comic strip that won four African American Literary Awards and was distributed by King Features from 1995 – 2013. He also illustrated “The Zero Degree Zombie Zone,” for Scholastic. For more info email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.jerrycraft.net
It’s not often that a debut picture book earns three starred reviews. But that’s just what Katheryn Russell-Brown won for her brand new release, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone (Lee & Low, 2014). A law professor by trade, Katheryn was called to write for kids after she became a mom. Here’s her inspiring story of bringing her first children’s book to life. We look forward to many more.
The Road to Little Melba and Her Big Trombone
It’s a testament to the power and love of children’s books that so many people want to write them. My yearning to write children’s books only grew after my twins were born. I wanted to do my small part to create a world of reading for them that was different from mine.
When I was little, my mom searched low and high to find books with main characters who were brown like me. I remember being excited to read books by Ezra Jack Keats, including The Snowy Day, Peter’s Chair, and Whistle for Willie. The pages were filled with people who looked like they could be members of my family. I also remember “Color Me Brown,” a coloring book that combined history lessons, art and, race pride. My mother was intent on showing me an alternate, inclusive literary world. It was the late 1960s and change was in the air.
Mom wanted me to read and dream a world more colorful than the one portrayed in the books assigned by P.S. 192, where I attended first grade. It seems the entire year was filled with the activities of Dick, Jane, and Spot.
It was around the time when my twins were the same age—first grade—that I started to seriously consider writing children’s books. I have been a sporadic collector of children’s books for years, with a soft spot for purchasing stories that feature heroines and heroes of color, particularly ones who are African American. My “brown book” mission went into overdrive after I had kids. I was determined that they were going to have realistic and interesting images of themselves reflected in our home library.
This brings me to Little Melba. One afternoon, in 2006, I was listening to the radio and heard a program narrated by Nancy Wilson. She, along with the people being interviewed, were raving about a woman named Melba Liston. Who? They were talking about how Melba had been playing the trombone since she was a girl of seven, that she had a special talent for arranging lush and complex songs, that she had worked with jazz legends, including Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Quincy Jones, and Randy Weston.
Right then and there I decided to write a children’s picture book on Melba Doretta Liston. I immediately started looking for any information I could find on Melba. I came across her name in a few newspaper articles, blogs, journal articles, and magazines. I also found some links to her music and was able to locate video clips of some performances.
I was in my element. I’m a law professor by day and I’m used to doing research and had already published non-fiction books.
The more I read about Melba, the more convinced I became that the world should hear about her musical sojourn. After several weeks, I had what I thought was a solid draft of a picture book, about 900 words. At this point, I figured I was done with the heavy lifting—the research and the writing.
Little did I know that I was still near the beginning of my children’s book publishing journey. Over the next couple of months, I read my story to my local writers’ group (SCBWI). The feedback was encouraging and I made numerous revisions.
Based on the advice I received at conferences and from members of my book group, I did two things. I started sending out query letters to literary agents and I started sending query letters, unsolicited, to publishers. I was hoping to increase my odds by doing both at the same time. I was constantly on the lookout for publishers and agents who expressed an interest in books on African Americans, women, or musicians. For months, I didn’t get any real bites worth pursuing.
I did finally hear from someone who seemed to be a good match for me. She later became my agent. By this time, almost a year had passed since I’d written my first draft. I knew that by snagging an agent I had cleared another major hurdle. I also knew that there was still a lot more work to do. The good news, though, was now I was part of a team. Team Melba.
Almost another year passed before we found the publisher we wanted to work with. Lee & Low Publishers was the perfect match. My agent had worked with them previously and it was clear, based on Lee & Low’s mission and publication track record that they shared our feeling that Melba Liston’s story was an important one to tell.
Team Melba still needed a homerun hitter—a superb illustrator. The amazing Frank Morrison was more than up to the task. He’s done such a wonderful job not only of bringing Melba to life but also showcasing the geography of her life. Just beautiful.
On the road to Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, two of the things I have most relied upon have been confidence in my story and patience. It’s been 4.5 years since Little Melba was a twinkle in my eyes. She’s finally here, sounding and looking good!
The Buzz on Little Melba:
“Russell-Brown’s debut text has an innate musicality, mixing judicious use of onomatopoeia with often sonorous prose.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“An excellent match of breezy text and dynamic illustrations tells an exhilarating story.”
—School Library Journal, starred review
“Staccato rhythms pepper the fluid prose…‘Blues, Jazz, and gospel danced in her head—the plink of a guitar, the hummmmm of a bass, the thrum-thrum of the drum.’”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
Find out more about Katheryn at www.krbrown.net.
Happy Labor Day!
As today is the day our nation has set aside for celebrating the myriad social and economic contributions of our American labor force (which all too often tends to go unlauded the rest of the year), it is more than fitting that we’ve chosen today to open up nominations for 28 Days Later-2015!
28 Days Later is The Brown Bookshelf’s flagship initiative, a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Early Readers, Chapter Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans. Each day in February, we will profile a different children’s/young adult author or illustrator, hard-working African American artists who we’ve identified as creators of quality literature for young people!
The nominations we seek should be for authors, illustrators, or books that meet the following criteria:
*New Children’s or Young Adult book releases
*Children’s or Young Adult books that have “flown under the radar”
*African-American authors or illustrators
*Titles published by a traditional publisher for the trade market.
Nominations will be accepted beginning today, September 1, through October 31, 2014. To nominate an author or illustrator, simply post a comment here, or email us at email@example.com. Feel free to nominate as many individuals (or books) as you like!
Note: To avoid nominating individuals who have already been honored, please check out our previous honorees at the following links:
28 DAYS LATER – 2014
28 DAYS LATER – 2013
28 DAYS LATER – 2012
28 DAYS LATER – 2010
28 DAYS LATER – 2009
Thanks in advance for your participation in this year’s campaign. We can’t wait to see who you nominate!
Fortunately, we receive books! The following are upcoming or recently published books written by African American authors, or authors of any background, but feature diverse main characters.
If Kids Ran the World
by Leo & Diane Dillon
Scholastic, Blue Sky Press, 2014
From the publisher:
Two-time Caldecott Medalists Leo and Diane Dillon show children playfully creating a more generous, peaceful world where everyone shares with others.
All roads lead to kindness in this powerful final collaboration between Leo and Diane Dillon. In a colorful tree house, a rainbow of children determine the most important needs in our complex world, and following spreads present boys and girls happily helping others. Kids bring abundant food to the hungry; medicine and cheer to the sick; safe housing, education, and religious tolerance to all; and our planet is treated with care. Forgiveness and generosity are seen as essential, because kids know how to share, and they understand the power of love.
The book closes with examples of fun ways to help others–along with FDR’s “Four Freedoms” and “The Second Bill of Rights,” which illuminate these concepts.
A tribute to peace and a celebration of diverse cultures, this last collaboration by the Dillons captures the wondrous joy of all people, and the unique beauty within each one of us shines forth. If kids ran the world, it would be a better place–for grown-ups, too.
Review: Publisher’s Weekly *Starred review*
Little Melba and her Big Trombone
by Katheryn Russell-Brown
illustrated by Frank Morrison
Lee & Low Books, 2014
From the publisher:
Melba Doretta Liston loved the sounds of music from as far back as she could remember. As a child, she daydreamed about beats and lyrics, and hummed along with the music from her family’s Majestic radio.
At age seven, Melba fell in love with a big, shiny trombone, and soon taught herself to play the instrument. By the time she was a teenager, Melba’s extraordinary gift for music led her to the world of jazz. She joined a band led by trumpet player Gerald Wilson and toured the country. Overcoming obstacles of race and gender, Melba went on to become a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century: Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few.
Brimming with ebullience and the joy of making music,Little Melba and Her Big Trombone is a fitting tribute to a trailblazing musician and a great unsung hero of jazz.
The Zero Degree Zombie Zone
by Patrik Henry Bass, illustrated by Jerry Craft
Scholastic Press, 2014
From the publisher:
In the spirit of Tony Abbott’s UNDERWORLD books, comes the new kid on the block – Barkari Katari Johnson!
Shy fourth-grader Bakari Katari Johnson is having a bad day. He’s always coming up against Tariq Thomas, the most popular kid in their class, and today is no different. On top of that, Bakari has found a strange ring that appears to have magical powers–and the people from the ring’s fantastical other world want it back! Can Bakari and his best friend Wardell stave off the intruders’ attempts, keep the ring safe, and stand up to Tariq and his pal Keisha, all before the school bell rings? Media celebrity and Essence Magazine entertainment producer, Patrik Henry Bass delivers adventure, fun, fantasy and friendship in this illustrated action-packed adventure starring an African American boy hero and his classmates.
Unstoppable Octobia May
by Sharon Flake
Scholastic Press, 2014
From the publisher:
Bestselling and award-winning author, Sharon G. Flake, delivers a mystery set in the 1950s that eerily blends history, race, culture, and family.
Octobia May is girl filled with questions. Her heart condition makes her special – and, some folks would argue, gives this ten-year-old powers that make her a “wise soul.” Thank goodness for Auntie, who convinces Octobia’s parents to let her live in her boarding house that is filled with old folks. That’s when trouble, and excitement, and wonder begin. Auntie is non-traditional. She’s unmarried and has plans to purchase other boarding homes and hotels. At a time when children, and especially girls, are “seen, not heard,” Auntie allows Octobia May the freedom and expression of an adult. When Octobia starts to question the folks in her world, an adventure and a mystery unfold that beg some troubling questions: Who is black and who is “passing” for white? What happens when a vibrant African American community must face its own racism?
And, perhaps most important: Do vampires really exist? In her most and probing novel yet, Sharon G. Flake takes us on a heart-pumping journey.
Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina
by Rodman Philbrick
Scholastic, Blue Sky Press, 2014
From the publisher:
Newbery Honor author Rodman Philbrick presents a gripping yet poignant novel about a 12-year-old boy and his dog who become trapped in New Orleans during the horrors of Hurricane Katrina.
Zane Dupree is a charismatic 12-year-old boy of mixed race visiting a relative in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hits. Unexpectedly separated from all family, Zane and his dog experience the terror of Katrina’s wind, rain, and horrific flooding. Facing death, they are rescued from an attic air vent by a kind, elderly musician and a scrappy young girl–both African American. The chaos that ensues as storm water drowns the city, shelter and food vanish, and police contribute to a dangerous, frightening atmosphere, creates a page-turning tale that completely engrosses the reader. Based on the facts of the worst hurricane disaster in U.S. history, Philbrick includes the lawlessness and lack of government support during the disaster as well as the generosity and courage of those who risked their lives and safety to help others. Here is an unforgettable novel of heroism in the face of truly challenging circumstances.
Review: Publisher’s Weekly *starred review*
The Madman of Piney Woods
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic Press, 2014
From the publisher:
Bestselling Newbery Medalist Christopher Paul Curtis delivers a powerful companion to his multiple award-winning ELIJAH OF BUXTON.
Benji and Red couldn’t be more different. They aren’t friends. They don’t even live in the same town. But their fates are entwined. A chance meeting leads the boys to discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. Both of them have encountered a strange presence in the forest, watching them, tracking them. Could the Madman of Piney Woods be real?
In a tale brimming with intrigue and adventure, Christopher Paul Curtis returns to the vibrant world he brought to life in Elijah of Buxton. Here is another novel that will break your heart — and expand it, too.
Review: Publisher’s Weekly
This year, two beautiful picture books about black ballerinas hope to dance their way into children’s hearts and hands. The latest is a gorgeous forthcoming debut by American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland titled Firebird, the name of the classic role she was the first black woman to star in.
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons and illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Christopher Myers, Copeland’s work is a love letter to a brown girl who dreams of being a dazzling dancer too. To lift the child, who sees a “longer than forever” distance between herself and her idol, Copeland reveals her journey from ballet dream to determined realization. In a stirring marriage of lyrical text and poignant images that affirm and encourage, Copeland and Myers create an evocative landscape in which a new generation of young dreamers and dancers can take flight. The book is available for pre-order now and releases on September 4.
The Buzz on Firebird:
“The language soars into dizzying heights of lyrical fancy… Myers’ artwork… pulsate[s] with kinetic synergy… A starscape filled with visual drama and brilliance.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“An inspirational picture book for children daunted by the gap between their dream and their reality.”—Booklist
In January of this year, another moving ballet story began weaving its magic. A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream (Philomel), written by Kristy Dempsey and illustrated by award-winner Floyd Cooper, tells the story of a 1950s Harlem girl inspired by first black prima ballerina Janet Collins.
Like Firebird, the text and illustrations are lyrical and full of heart and movement. But in this historical fiction tale, a girl whose mother works as a seamstress for a ballet school is immersed in the world of dance and dreams of being a prima ballerina. And seeing groundbreaker Collins perform at the Metropolitan Opera turns her dream into something more – a vision of who she can be.
Available in stores now.
The Buzz on A Dance Like Starlight:
“A warm, inspirational collaboration that will resonate in the hearts of all who dream.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
” . . . Though the narrator is imagined, the inspirational message is real. Cooper’s art incorporates his signature subtractive process and mixed media in tones of brown and pink to achieve illustrations as beautiful and transporting as the text.” —School Library Journal
Janet Collins Animated Film: Karyn Parsons (Hilary on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air) launched a campaign to raise funds for an animated short film called The Janet Collins Story that would be produced by Parsons’ company, Sweet Blackberry. Check out the campaign here. Great news: It was fully funded. Now, we can look forward to a wonderful film for children about Collins.
Wouldn’t it be cool to share Firebird, A Dance Like Starlight and The Janet Collins Story with kids you know?
We are honoured to welcome DuEwa Frazier to the Brown Bookshelf today. Poet, founder of Lit Noire Publishing, author of DEANNE IN THE MIDDLE, and much, much more — DuEwa is a true wonder woman. Grab your notebook and a glass of iced tea, lemonade, or just some cool, clear water…and prepare to be inspired.
If I could describe myself in one word, it would be determined. When I graduated from Hampton University as an English major, a few of my classmates asked me what I planned to do after graduation. I told them, “I’m going to be a writer and children’s author.” I didn’t know how I was going to do it but that was my goal and I was determined. Upon graduation I was chosen to be an editorial intern at a teen publication in Massachusetts, my family did not think it was a good idea for me to move to Massachusetts by myself, being so young and right out of college. So I moved back to the Midwest and became an elementary school teacher, I also started graduate school in Secondary English.
Through the 90’s and into the early 2000’s I wrote poetry and children’s stories. In 1999, I moved to my birthplace of Brooklyn. The internet wasn’t quite as booming as it is now, so when I submitted my work for publishing, I made phone calls to agents and publishers and sent my submissions via mail. I even submitted my children’s stories to Nickelodeon hoping to write for the hit show “Little Bill.” I started hand making children’s picture books, putting pencil sketched illustrations to words, in order to create visuals for the stories I wanted to share with young readers. During this time, I received rejection after rejection. Agents and publishers communicated to me that they couldn’t accept my work because I didn’t have a solid track record in publishing. I met an editor at an event who was seeking to publish poets. My first poem “Son of My Sun” was published in Essence Magazine’s December 1999 issue featuring Samuel Jackson and his wife on the cover. It was my first publishing experience and I was actually paid for it!
Years ago I heard the phrase, “What you put your attention on – grows.” This became true for me in my creative life. My poems were published in Essence several more times, as well as in literary journals, online and anthologies. I also published editorials and interviews online. Still, receiving a “publishing deal” through a book publisher was not something that was offered to me, and after a while I didn’t seek it. I kept writing, networking at author signings, attending conferences, reading, doing research, performing my poetry and saving money. Eventually, I taught myself how to self-publish. There was no one there to hold my hand through the entire process but I did receive support. I took writing workshops with the late, great poet, Louis Reyes Rivera and was mentored by Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets. I attended many of the Center for Black Literature’s National Black Writers Conference’s early panels and workshops. I later took children’s writing and non-fiction workshops at other centers in the city. I became a part of a community of writers who had academics and cultural consciousness in their backgrounds.
When I published my first book, Shedding Light From My Journeys in 2002, publishing became an act of community service for me and an added connection to my being an educator. My company, Lit Noire Publishing was founded in 2002. I became an author, publisher, cultural organizer and consultant all under one umbrella. I hired graphic designers and printers. I shared my book and the books of other authors with my middle school students in Brooklyn. Louis Reyes Rivera helped me edit my first collection. He gave me advice about selecting poems that relate to each other in theme. I had been performing on the poetry circuit in various cafes, arts venues and colleges. I was no different from many other writers and poets who wanted their work heard and read, but I made a conscious decision to publish my books because long after we are all gone, the books will still stand.
I am the author or editor of six books to date: Shedding Light From My Journeys (2002), Stardust Tracks on a Road (2005), Check the Rhyme: Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees (2006), Ten Marbles and Bag to Put Them in: Poems for Children (2010), Goddess Under the Bridge: Poems (2013) and Deanne in the Middle (2014). The anthology I edited, Check the Rhyme features 50 women poets from across the globe and was nominated for three awards: NAACP Image Award in Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry, African American Literary Awards Show – Poetry and Writer’s Digest Publishing Awards – Poetry. If your intent is to produce quality literature and share with a community of readers, your work will land where it is supposed to.
I have many writing projects that are “waiting” to be further worked on or picked up, including a few I am currently editing. Creation never stops when you have a passion for writing, but I am not interested in releasing a book every few months. I think each project should have its own space and time. A possible challenge in self-publishing is that you have to motivate yourself to use both traditional and alternative or creative methods of marketing and promoting your work. I have an entrepreneurial, pull myself “up by the bootstraps” spirit, so self-publishing and managing my work doesn’t frazzle me. But every writer may not be suited for it, because you do not have a publicist, manager and editor at your disposal 24/7 creating plans, representing your ideas and doing your bookings.
When you’re self-published, you become DIY all around and you have to be okay with that, including being okay with spending your money to fuel your ideas. However, I do support writers who have good experiences with traditional houses and I find value in it. It’s all about communities of readers and however you are able to share you work is what is most important.
To date, what I enjoy about publishing my work is that I have a certain amount of creative control and as long as I am here, my books will not go out of print. I have talked with writers who have had experiences with publishers who allow their works to go out of print. I do not know why that happened, but I thought it was unfortunate because we’re living in an age where our children need access to books in print to become literate. And one of our legacies is printed books. As an author, I love participating in programs with my books and interacting with readers – both youth and adults. There is nothing like discussing books and hearing about the interests of readers. I have been fortunate to participate in numerous literacy programs for youth, literary conferences and author signings where it has not mattered that I represent myself as an indie author. I have been a writer for fifteen years and I think I have shown my commitment to the work. But I have humility in knowing I still have much to learn and work to do. As a new children’s author, I believe there is great value in continuing to produce books in print, not just in digital format. When I teach workshops for youth, I bring my books with me as references and students enjoy paging through the books and reading from them. There is relationship that a reader has with a book, which digital reading cannot replace. You can curl up with a book and dog ear your favorite pages. You can make notes and symbols in books on the pages. And there’s nothing like the smell of a book – whether new or worn. I am also a big library geek, and I promote our young people to always have a library card and access books through the local library.
My new book Deanne in the Middle chronicles the experiences of 14-year old Deanne Summers who is starting her first year of high school.
Not unlike many youth, Deanne faces bullying, peer pressure and issues in conflict resolution during her first semester. I wrote the story to have a dialogue with young readers about conflict and having friendships with those who are different from you. So many students are bullied and harassed for being different.
I felt Deanne in the Middle was a worthwhile story to tell. This is a story I began writing in 2007 and I submitted it to agents in the past. I was told there was “no market” for my story. And when I workshopped the story I was told that my characters didn’t “sound black enough.” Well as an educated person who has worked with youth of diverse backgrounds, and whose family is also diverse, I really didn’t know what “black enough” was. How many “yo shortys” and “what ups” can you put in a young adult novel to make it believable? For me, not many. If I were a teen, I would become bored with a book written with lingo just to target me and I would feel that the author is patronizing and stereotyping me. And these are among my reasons for publishing my novel Deanne in the Middle, and not waiting another five years or so for someone else to find the “market” in my work. There is value in my story because I know the youth who I serve and young readers deserve to have a myriad of stories to choose from when selecting books to read.
I suggest to aspiring authors and writers for children to: (1) write often (2) have your work workshopped and critiqued and (3) attend literary events and conferences to network. There are times when I could not devote 100% of my time to publishing due to working and attending graduate school (I earned three Master’s degrees from 2006 to 2013 and have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from The New School) but I realize that it’s all about the journey. The journey is filled with learning experiences – how I learn from other authors and what I have to teach. I made a market for my work and have felt privileged to share my writing with young readers and connect with like minded authors.
Thank you for this opportunity to tell my publishing story!
For more from DuEwa Frazier, visit her online at duewaworld.com.
What are you waiting on? Go!
I’m so grateful I had the chance to meet Walter Dean Myers, a giant in so many ways. Before seeing him face to face, I met the award-winning author through his words - Brown Angels, Blues Journey, Looking Like Me. His writing embraced me, affirmed me, gave me that I-am-you-you-are-me nod that brothers and sisters exchange around the world. “Why do I love children?” he wrote in Brown Angels. “I think it is because the child in each of us is our most precious part.”
I saw his magic with kids first-hand at the African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia. Children flocked to greet the legend and get their books signed. Brother Walter wore his National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature medal around his neck, not to show them who he was, but to show them who they could be. As each young person talked to him, Brother Walter seemed to see no one else. The child in front of him was who mattered. And each one knew it. Faces shone with grins. They leaned in to hear every word and left clutching their signed book, a treasure.
Brother Walter was a giant, a tall man with a super-sized heart. A man with huge talent who through his words, through his caring, through his commitment, made people of all ages feel like they could soar.
Today, we celebrate the incredible life and contributions of Walter Dean Myers, a literary giant who blessed the world with more than 100 books for children and young adults. Check out his complete bibliography here. We’re honored to feature essays from two of Walter’s friends, author and publisher, Wade Hudson and author Linda Trice. Their posts immediately follow this one. Let’s keep Brother Walter’s family in our prayers and honor his legacy by sharing his beautiful books, some of which were illustrated by his son Christopher.
Please post your memories and reflections about Walter Dean Myers in the comments. Thank you.
Walter Dean Myers, Cheryl Willis Hudson and Wade Hudson sign books at a Toys R Us in NYC. Photo courtesy of Just Us Books.
By Wade Hudson
I was stunned when I heard that Walter Dean Myers had made his transition. During the 25 plus years that my wife Cheryl and I have been involved in publishing, it seemed that Walter was always “there.” We started Just Us Books, Inc. in 1988 to publish more books for children that focused on black experiences. Writers and artists such as Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff, Eloise Greenfield, Patricia and Fred McKissack, Tom Feelings, George Ford, Leo and Diane Dillon, and of course Walter Dean Myers, had already blazed a trail as book creators that we would follow. We were novices, in a way, learning the business of publishing on the fly.
Cheryl and I were somewhat brash, bent on making a difference, determined to correct the injustices we saw in publishing. One would think that Myers and the other trailblazers who had been at the forefront of the struggle to change publishing to be more reflective of who we are as a nation, would have been taken aback by the two new kids on the block. But they were not. They embraced us and welcomed us. When Cheryl and I did a radio interview with Tom Feelings in 1990, Just Us Books had only published three titles. Tom was already an established artist, a celebrity really. But he treated us as equals, applauded our efforts and encouraged us on the airways. We received support and encouragement from the other trailblazers, too.
Tom is gone. Virginia Hamilton is gone. Leo Dillon and Fred McKissack are gone, too. And now we have lost Walter Dean Myers.
I will miss seeing Walter at Book Expo America, ALA, NCTE and the many other conferences where he often held court, sharing, urging, encouraging, directing, advocating…always trying to make things better. When Walter’s article, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” appeared in the March 15, 2014 issue of the New York Times, many welcomed it as timely and much needed. But Walter had written an article that appeared in the New York Times in 1986, addressing the same concerns. He was always at the forefront, involved in many initiatives, some that he organized himself. He was determined to increase diversity in our body of literature for children. He also advocated for the inclusion of people of color in the offices of publishing houses.
In 1991, Walter, Cheryl and I worked together as jurors for a scholarship competition organized to identify talented writers and artists of color and introduce them to the publishing community. The fellowship competition was a part of Multi-colored Mirror: Cultural Substance in Literature for Children and Young Adults, a conference sponsored by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Walter also supported literacy programs offered by the Children’s Defense Fund, sometimes donating his own money. I watched as he connected effortlessly with the young people who attended the summer sessions there. Whenever a speaking engagement was set up for him, Walter made sure that juvenile detention centers, prisons and other programs for youth were included.
“I know what falling off the cliff means,” he once said. “I know from being considered a very bright kid to being considered like a moron and dropping out of school.”
Yes, Walter Dean Myers was a prolific, multi award-winning writer. As stated on his web site he“touched so many with his eloquent and unflinching portrayal of young African-American lives.” Walter visualized a better world. In the tradition of Frederick Douglass, he used words to encourage, empower, challenge, advocate and agitate for the change that would bring that world about. In that regard, for me, at least, he was a freedom fighter, too.
Reprinted with permission of Just Us Books.
By Linda Trice
Linda Trice and Walter Dean Myers at the annual African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia.
Tributes have been posted mourning the passing of Walter Dean Myers’s unexpected death on July 1, 2014. Many heartfelt ones are from readers who believed that Walter’s work spoke directly to them, reflected their life, understood their pain and guided them towards a hopeful future. People ask what they can do in remembrance of him. Knowing Walter and having read his books, or heard him speak many know the answer–inspire kids to read. We must remind young people and the adults who guide them of the importance of reading.
Walter Dean Myers was the first African American chosen by the Library of Congress as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a two year appointment. He was also only the third person to receive this honor. His motto as ambassador for adults and kids was “Reading is not an option.” He told School Library Journal:
“As a young man, I saw families prosper without reading, because there were always sufficient opportunities for willing workers who could follow simple instructions. This is no longer the case. Children who don’t read are, in the main, destined for lesser lives. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to change this.” Publishers Weekly wrote that Walter believed that reading saved his life.
Walter was raised by two good Harlem people, Florence and Herbert Dean. Walter gave them copies of his books and sadly learned that his beloved dad hadn’t read them. He later discovered why. His father, like many Black men of his generation had never learned how to read.
Walter visited men and children in prisons while doing research for his award winning novel MONSTER. He realized that a huge percentage of them couldn’t read past an elementary school level. Some of them could barely read at all. He wondered how they could get a job when they were released. This knowledge resulted in prison literacy becoming one of his passions. Seeing the limitations of his father and those of kids in prisons helped shape Walter’s belief that the ability to read gives us power.
We should praise Walter and enjoy his books. Hopefully though many of us will reflect on Walter’s message and tell others: “Reading is not an option.” It is how we get power and a better future because in life reading is truly not optional.
Linda Trice is the author of Kenya’s Song (Charlesbridge Publishing). Visit her at www.LindaTrice.com.
Walter Dean Myers, in his own words and what he hoped his legacy would be.
“I hope that my legacy is that I was useful for young people…”
“…I want to make people of color human beings, and I want to make poor people human beings. I want to include them in my books so that they can look at my books and say that could be me, and this guy understands who I am as a poor person.”
The Making Our Own Market series has been about empowering children’s book creators of color with new ways to tell our stories and get them into children’s hands. Luckily, we don’t have to do that last part alone. Wonderful organizations like Reading is Fundamental (RIF), First Book, Teaching for Change and others support our work in important and enduring ways. We’re blessed to wrap up this series by hearing from RIF which sends, with the support of Macy’s, thousands of copies of its annual multicultural collection of children’s books to schools and libraries around the country. A big thank you to Carol Rasco, Judy Blankenship Cheatham and the RIF team for their support of The Brown Bookshelf and books that celebrate the beautiful diversity of our world.
Here’s the message from RIF:
Greetings friends of The Brown Bookshelf! Reading Is Fundamental is honored to connect with you. RIF is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the Unites States. We’ve been in this critical business for a long time. Forty-seven years working to inspire a love of reading and provide ownership of books among children least likely to have access to this essential resource and providing families and educators with the knowledge and materials to support children in their journey towards literacy.
But we realized that we had to do more. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has shown us our nation’s African American, Latino, and American Indian children lag far behind those of white children. This disparity, known as the achievement gap, is the core reason we introduced our Multicultural Literacy Campaign in 2007, a multi-year effort in partnership with Macy’s to promote and support early childhood literacy in African American, Hispanic, and American Indian communities. The centerpiece of the campaign is the release of our annual Multicultural Book Collection for grade K-5. Each year, our team of literacy experts selects books with engaging stories and enriching themes for children, that also offer them windows into the lives of people unlike themselves and mirrors in which they’ll see their own experiences reflected. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote over two decades ago, “When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what make us all human.” The sentiment is no less true than it was when it was written, and the charge to bring that full spectrum of stories to all children no less important.
Selecting good multicultural children’s books begins with the same criteria as that for selecting any good children’s books – the literary elements of plot, characterization, setting, style, theme and point of view must be interwoven to provide an interesting story. In addition, good multicultural children’s books will challenge stereotypes and promote an accurate, realistic glimpse into the lives of diverse groups of people.
Here are some guidelines for choosing multicultural books:
· Look for stories that include a variety of cultures and different family compositions – for example, single parents, families that involve grandparents, and extended families
· Look for accuracy in modern-day stories, historical fiction, and all non-fiction
· Choose books with minority characters who are good role models, independent thinkers, and problem solvers
· Illustrations should suitably convey skin color and facial details, rather than using stereotypical caricatures
· Books should have photographs that accurately portray present-day events, and any and all captions should be specific and correct (e.g. “Harare, Zimbabwe,” rather than the general “Africa”).
You can check out our full library of Multicultural Book Collections online. In the spirit it of “it takes a village”, we have also developed free, downloaded activity sheets for each book in the collection to help parents, educators, and volunteers deepen children’s understanding of the multicultural themes.
Surely, we all agree that every child is a precious resource. With an educated mind and without ignorance and prejudices inhibiting them, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. Let’s continue this dialogue until everyone gets this message. Book People Unite.
Earlier this year at a reading conference, I signed my picture book, The Cart That Carried Martin, written by Eve Bunting. The book was published by Charlesbridge Publishing. Before my signing, I nervously wandered around the Charlesbridge booth. Signings can be a scary thing, especially as a book creator of color, in an exhibit hall filled with people who don’t look like you. Would anyone come to my signing? Would anyone want my book featuring mostly people who look like me? To pass time, I flipped through the Charlesbridge catalog. I was put at ease with what I saw—many brown faces looking back at me. I saw the names of authors and illustrators who I knew to be people of color, or whose names suggested they might be. Charlesbridge—not really marketed as a multicultural publisher—has a nicely diverse list. I felt proud. And my signing went great!
I asked the marketing department at Charlesbridge to contribute to our discussion on marketing titles by and about people of color.
Donna Spurlock, Director of Marketing, Charlesbridge Publishing
Recently there was an online campaign called #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Everyone—publishers, authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, readers, etc.—were joining in with pictures of themselves with their favorite books or with signs that said “We need diverse books because. . . .” People filled in the blank with responses, such as “. . . because people are not the same;” “. . . so that someday all good “multicultural” stories can just be called good stories;” “. . . because I want to be the hero, too;” and so many more.
As a marketer, I love these opportunities to join the conversation. I think this would be my number one piece of advice to any author or illustrator just starting out in the industry: Join the conversation!
At Charlesbridge we publish a very diverse list of books. Our trade book publishing program started twenty-five years ago with five nature books by Jerry Pallotta and we have continued introducing the natural world to young readers ever since, including books about a strange little species known as Human. What those critters get up to is strange, hilarious, inspiring, sometimes shocking, and always interesting.
At Charlesbridge we are privileged and proud to publish books by authors and illustrators of all stripes—established authors and illustrators, new voices, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. Many of the people we work with are people of color including the awesome Don Tate, the wonderful Grace Lin, the incomparable Mitali Perkins, and so many more. One of the best reasons to work in publishing is to bring stories to people—ALL people. And all people are different. Stories aren’t about a race or a gender or a religion. And while stories may be born in a particular culture, aren’t they all really about being human and living in the world?
When I read The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Don Tate, I didn’t feel that this was an African American story that I couldn’t relate to. Nor was it a piece of history that I’ll need to know about for an upcoming test. This was a story about a man, about the people his life touched, and also about the world we live in today. I didn’t need to approach this book differently than I do any other book as a marketer. I had a beautiful book on my hands with a story that still touches everyone’s lives. All I had to do was join the conversation.
In this day and age we have so many opportunities to talk to people about books: via a slew of social networks, at conferences and trade shows, through the media, and one-on-one with our friends and neighbors. The main purpose of marketing is to gain word of mouth for your book. How do you do that? By telling people, not so much about the book, but about the story. And by listening to their stories and telling someone else about the story you just heard. It’s like that old shampoo commercial: You tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and so on and so on. When you join the conversation in a campaign like #WeNeedDiverseBooks you are telling thousands of people that you hear them and you are interested in what they have to tell you. And they are telling you the same thing.
Don Tate asked me to contribute to this blog as a marketer to speak about how I approach marketing books by and about people of color. I don’t think I do anything differently than I do for a book about life under the sea or man’s journey to the Moon. I find my audience and I tell them about the story I have to share. Authors and illustrators can do this with a minimal of effort: have a Twitter account and follow the authors and illustrators who interest and inspire you, have a Facebook page and like booksellers and libraries, visit schools and share the passion you have for your subject with students who have the potential to be passionate about everything, or whatever else you can think to do. Do what you can conceivably keep up with. Many authors and illustrators have a hard time putting themselves out in the world as a marketer, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to be a salesperson. Just be yourself, tell your story, share your passion and people will join your conversation.
Facebook can be what you make it. Want to reconnect with family and friends? Got you covered. Want to use it as a way to unite with other kidlit folks? Got your back there too. That latter reason brought writer Jackie Wellington and publisher Leila Monaghan together. Rallying around the cause of pushing for more diverse books, they found each other. They’ve come up with inventive ideas including a Read Same Read Different campaign and an initiative to promote wonderful middle-grade novels like The Laura Line by our own Crystal Allen. Here’s an inspiring conversation between these two FB friends and advocates dedicated to helping writers of color and multicultural children’s books succeed:
Reaching the World through Facebook
By Jackie Wellington and Leila Monaghan
Jackie: I write books for 4 -12 year olds. For years, I struggled to find books for my students. I taught in four different states and worked with students with disabilities. When the states adopted alternative assessments for these students, I was forced to create reading materials. My students had one request, “Miss, make sure that it is not boring. And make sure they (the characters) look like us.” So I started writing stories and assigning my students’ names to the characters based on their personalities. It was then that I developed a love for writing. Especially since my students would say, “Miss, you should write books.” So now I am on a writing journey.
I read the Walter Dean Myers article in the New York Times and smiled. “Finally,” I thought. “Someone is seeing what I am seeing and they are talking about it.”
So when I was finished reading the article, I left a comment. A few days later, Leila Monaghan contacted me via Facebook. We chatted about the need to see all children represented in books. I joined Kids of Color Children Books. And since then we have been brainstorming different ways to get the word out about our mission. And that is to promote books written by people of color. To advocate for more books with children of color. And equal marketing strategies for authors of color.
Leila: Just like Jackie, I was very excited to see Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Meyers talking about the lack of books for children of color. I used to teach second grade in West Philadelphia and there were no middle grade books I could find that reflected my students’ experiences. I was excited that a lot of them read Harry Potter but really frustrated that there was nothing like the Potter books set in West Philly or a similar urban neighborhood. It led me to write stories set in West Philly under the name of Lee Mullins. As I am a PhD in linguistic anthropology, I left grade school teaching to go back to college teaching but the importance of diverse children’s literature stuck with me. Since then, I have also started a small publishing company, Elm Books.
The articles by Myers and Myers and comments like Jackie’s inspired me start a children’s division and to reach out to others who also cared deeply about diverse children’s books. I feel it is a civil rights issue. Children need books with which to identify so they may develop a love of reading, which will eventually lead to strong literacy skills. Without solid skills in reading and writing, so much of the world is closed off to young people, particularly in today’s high tech age. But the social media of today also allows people who share a vision to get together in ways that just weren’t possible before.
Jackie: At this time, we are still brainstorming networking strategies. However, we cannot deny that we are blessed to be in an era where social media speaks volumes. Facebook, Tumbler, Twitter, and blogs have the potential to reach thousands even millions. Within the next few months, we will be using these medium to get our message out. One campaign we will be promoting is “Read Same Read Different” (#ReadSameReadDifferent). The idea is to get all children to read books that reflect their experiences (Read Same) and those quite different from their experiences (Read Different). Michelle Obama recently spoke about the resegregation of America and we all need to reach across lines including the lines of the publishing industry. For example, even if libraries have diverse books on their shelves, people are not necessarily taking them out so they get taken off shelves. Our goal is to reach out to the publishing industry, libraries, schools, music industry and Hollywood. I know it seem like a stretch, but we can do it. It is about reaching the right people at the right time and making sure diverse books get a fair chance at being read.
Leila: For me, this is a time for experimenting in networking, for trying to build bridges that support diverse children’s books. We are still trying to understand how it works ourselves. Some of the ways that we have been working on this have been launching the #ReadSameReadDifferent campaign, building the Kids of Color Children’s Books group on Facebook, and promoting specific diverse children’s books such as Crystal Allen’s lovely The Laura Line. We now have almost 400 members in the KoCCB group and 400 likes for the Facebook page we set up for The Laura Line. This is just a small first step but at least it is a step in the right direction.
Some ways we came up with to support diversity in children’s books:
–Write diverse children’s books
–Read diverse children’s books
–Get everyone you know to read and buy diverse children’s books
–Support the diverse books you love like The Laura Line on social media including Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.
–Go to Facebook, like the author’s page, and encourage friends and families to do the same.
–Write reviews and give stars to books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other sites.
–Tweet about what you are reading. Take a picture of it and tweet why you like it.
–Blog about diverse books and review the books you read.
–Start a book club and emphasize diverse books.
–Make connections in the media or at conferences and workshops with other people who care about diversity.
A Few Media Starting Places:
Kids of Color Children’s Books https://www.facebook.com/groups/598139093596498/
The Laura Line on Facebook
The Laura Line on Goodreads
Read Same Read Different Blog
When I read Summer in the City written by teacher and blogger Kathleen M. Wainwright, I was taken back in time. I remembered playing hide-and-seek and freeze tag with my neighbors and cousins, sailing on the swing at the playground, chasing fireflies under a quilt of stars. With illustrations by Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor winner Nancy Devard, Summer in the City delivers something magic. We’re happy to feature Kathie in our Making Our Own Market series.
Here’s her story on choosing to be an independent publisher:
I decided to self-publish because I had a story I wanted to share with the world and I wanted to share it on my terms. Initially, my plan was to use a vanity publishing company but after following the advice of Jerry Craft, I decided to put my goal on pause and really research what it would take to start my own publishing company. That is when my role shifted from a “self-published” author to an “independent publisher/entrepreneur.” In 2013, I started my publishing company, Willa’s Tree Studios, LLC. Summer in the City was my first publication and a year later I published my newest book, Ziggie Tales: Ziggie’s Big Adventure. Going the traditional publishing route would have been ideal at the start of my journey as a writer, and it is something I would consider if the opportunity presented itself. However, I truly enjoy the publishing process, the creative control and the opportunities that come along with working as an indie author.
Why did I initially choose to self-publish?
I first wrote Summer in the City in 2006, did a search on the internet, and sent my manuscript out. I never heard anything back from the two or three places I sent it. This could be for several reasons, but it was most likely due to my story being underdeveloped at the time. I had a vision – I knew exactly how I wanted to transform my readers when they read my book. I knew the type of illustrations I needed to make this possible. I just didn’t know where to start so I stopped. I put my publishing goal to the side and wasn’t really sure at the time what would happen. Over the years I would tweak it here and there changing a sentence or two. But Summer in the City didn’t truly come full circle until I sat down with my illustrator in 2011 and added my final revisions as we mapped out the illustrations and layout of the book.
I actually think waiting to publish on my own was the best thing I did. During the time between writing Summer in the City and actually publishing the book I made great leaps as an educator. I earned my Master’s degree, a certificate as a reading specialist, began my second Master’s while pursuing a certificate in special education, and successfully completed National Board Certification for Professional Teachers. I also participated in several organizations, developed lasting relationships with other professional leaders. I created a teacher’s blog, The Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher, which now has a following of over 6,000 readers. All of these experiences have helped to position me for making my presence known as a new up and coming children’s author.
Once I decided to start a career as an independent publisher I did a great deal of research. I attacked this process as if it were another program or certificate that I wanted to complete. Only this time my instructors were established authors, illustrator, publishers, bloggers, marketing professionals, and content specialist. I read whatever I could get my hands on, I asked hard questions, and I hired a consultant. I used my network and I soaked up any bit of information that I could get my hands on. I took a few writing courses and I bought a ton of books. I even flew out to New Mexico (to visit my mother at the time) and had the opportunity to schedule a meeting with someone who had established their own publishing company and was willing to let me sit down and pick his brain.
I founded Willa’s Tree Studios, LLC in February 2013. Willa is my grandmother, my mother’s mother who passed when I just a few months old. My grandmother represents the foundation/ roots of our family and my mother, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and I represent her branches. Collectively we are Willa’s Tree and she lives on through us and the legacies we leave behind – for me, my books.
In 2010, the plan to independently publish was intentional. It was something that I wanted to do and knew I would find success with. I wanted the control over what my book would look like. I wanted to choose my own illustrator and I wanted to control my timeline. Although the process came with a hefty price tag, I looked at it as an investment and knew that it would take work if I wanted a return. I was told by several people in the industry not to pursue publishing on my own and to wait for a publishing company to pick me up. But at this stage in my career, I didn’t want to. I wasn’t concerned with not putting out quality work. I am an avid children’s book collector and have over 1,000 children’s books. I know what quality looks like. I wasn’t concerned with the amount of work I would have to put in to marketing and promoting- the consensus was it doesn’t matter, independent or traditional, you have to be willing to market your own book. In fact, that is one of the aspects I enjoy most about being an author. I wasn’t afraid of failing- because it has been instilled in me that “if at first you don’t succeed, try again.”
I don’t want to paint a picture that independently publishing a book is easy- it is not! It is a lot of work and I am still learning. There are so many things that I would like to do but because I am not a full-time writer it is challenging. Additionally, I don’t have the backing of a large distributor just yet so that is also a major bridge I have to cross. I take advantage of any opportunity to share my book (i.e. teacher conferences, school visits, career fairs, flea markets and bazaars, speaking engagements, etc). Because I wear all of the hats, I am responsible for seeking out those opportunities and making those connections- and this can be overwhelming at times, too. Despite all of this, I love this process and I am looking forward to what this journey shall bring.
Currently, I am drafting book two in my new Ziggie Tales series- Ziggie Tales: Ziggie’s Trick or Treat. My goal is to release this book by October 1, 2014.
Kathleen Wainwright is a dedicated teacher in the School District of Philadelphia. She is also an adjunct instructor at her college alma mater, Temple University, where she teaches foundational literacy courses to pre-service teachers. Kathleen is the writer of the teacher’s blog, The Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher. She is also the creator of Not So Wimpy Teacher Resources, specializing in Common Core Aligned reader’s companions for a variety of children’s books. For more information about Kathleen Wainwright, visit www.kathleenwainwright.com.
This week, we’ve shared books by three stand-out children’s book creators who have chosen to publish their own work, Zetta Elliott, Jerry Craft and Kathleen M. Wainwright. We know there are more great authors and illustrators our readers should check out. Please post your self-published titles, link and a one or two line summary in the comments. We can’t promise a future feature or review, but we hope showcasing them here will get them on more people’s radars. Thank you for using your talent to create books for kids.
Carole Boston Weatherford starting writing poems in childhood and never looked back. Her first picture book, Juneteenth Jamboree, about a summer celebration in memory of the Texas Emancipation, was published in 1995 by Lee & Low Books She’s written numerous picture books, board books, poetry collections, chapter books, and more, including the award-winning The Sound That Jazz Makes, a poem that traces the history of African-American music. It’s our great pleasure to re-introduce Carole Boston Weatherford and her exciting latest ventures!
A year ago, my son Jeff Weatherford and I partnered in establishing Great Brain Entertainment, a digital media company that produces books, video, and graphic T-shirts. The company’s has released two books: Africa, an ebook for preschoolers; A Bat Cave: An Abecedarian Bedtime Chronicle (for Pre-K-1). Princeville: The 500-Year Flood, a new chapter book edition of an out of print picture book title, is coming soon.
Here’s why Jeff and I became publishers.
- Printing and publishing have been the family business since the 1950s. My father was a printing teacher, I have been an author, editor, publicist and professor, and my son Jeff is a digital and fine artist. I may have ink in my blood, but Jeff has microchips in his. Ebooks and print-on-demand publishing are a natural evolution for both of us.
- For years, self-publishing was synonymous with vanity publishing. Then, services like Amazon CreateSpace provided a model that skipped the middleman and gave author-publishers higher royalties. Granted, few self-published books or ebooks become bestsellers. Fortunately, self-publisher don’t need blockbuster sales to make a profit.
- I had seen other upstarts succeed. I figured I could too—with my son’s help. I watched with awe as professor/blogger Sylvia Vardell and poet/ex-lawyer Janet Wong launched Pomelo Books. Using the print-on-demand model, the new press published the Poetry Tag ebook series and several Poetry Friday anthologies for K-12 classrooms. I am proud to have contributed to their projects.
- I want to meet my readers where they are. Today’s children are practically born with tablets in their hands. Reading Rainbow is even an app.
- Ebooks are the fastest growing segment of book sales, especially for children and young adults. I want a stake in that digital future.
- At a time when unemployment rates are high among young men, the publishing business is my son’s way of making a job for himself. Through his digital media company, Great Brain Entertainment, Jeff is putting his degree in computer graphics and animation to work.
- I couldn’t wait to show off my son’s mad design and illustration skills. We’re pitching collaborations to major publishers. While we await acquisition decisions, we are publishing on our own.
- Although I have 40-plus books and several projects in the pipeline at major houses, the wheels are turning slower in the publishing industry. The intervals between my new releases grew longer. I did not want to fall off the radar. Self-publishing gave me more control over the timing of my new releases.
- There is a market, and need for, more multicultural books and ebooks. The number of multicultural children’s books being released each year has plateaued at fewer than 100 titles a year. This at a time when the U.S. population is increasingly diverse.
- The reason I became an author in the first place was for my words to reach readers. I have built up a backlist of out-of-print and never-published titles, which editors say have promise but are too “niche.” For an ebook or on-demand publisher, the so-called niche doesn’t need to be as large as that of an established press facing higher overhead and lower profit margins.
This has been an adventure. Not that we have worked out some of the kinks in production, marketing is the next frontier. I had hoped to trade on the name recognition that I have as an award-winning children’s book author. To promote the books, Jeff plans to use social media more aggressively.
Carole Boston Weatherford, the author of more than 40 books, is a professor at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.
Any time a new book enters the world is a great day. But it’s even more thrilling when the book comes from one of our own. The Brown Bookshelf co-founder Varian Johnson celebrated the birthday of his new stand-out middle-grade novel, The Great Greene Heist (Arthur Levine Books), on Tuesday. It’s already winning raves.
Today, Varian is featured in Kirkus. You can read the article here. Elizabeth Bird wrote this review in SLJ. And check out this inspiring movement: Bookstores are taking The Great Greene Heist Challenge where they work to make Varian’s book a New York Times bestseller. A big thank you to author Kate Messner for championing Varian’s book and issuing the first challenge to readers. The contest runs through June 30.
We’re proud of Varian and so excited about his success. Learn more about him and his books at his site. And get your copy of The Great Greene Heist, named a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book of 2014, today. Here’s are links to two wonderful indies to make it easy: Buy The Great Greene Heist at Book People.
Buy The Great Greene Heist at The Book Spot.
Thank you for supporting our brother and showing that diversity matters.
“The Great Greene Heist is one crazy cool caper!”
– Rita Williams-Garcia
“A smart, charming, and hilarious novel featuring one of my favorite protagonists in years. I’d follow Jackson Greene anywhere, and The Great Greene Heist is a fantastic ride.”
– Matt de la Peña
“The elaborate bait and switch of this fast-paced, funny caper novel will surprise its readers as much as the victims.”
– Kirkus, starred review
Why I chose Kickstarter to fund my Children’s Picture Book
by JQ Sirls
There are many reasons why I decided to go in the route of Kickstarter, all of which stem from a common idea about people in my generation (millennials). People of my parent’s generation often claim that we are lazy, entitled, ungrateful, selfish, the list goes on. The truth is that we are a highly observant and instinctual group of people, who have watched how the effects of following certain traditions harmed our parents, grandparents and families in general.
I witnessed my parents and grandparents endure jobs that they hated, while missing special moments with their families, only to be laid off later on down the line, for someone younger who will accept less pay. I chose to honor their sacrifice, by using it as a trampoline to aim higher, so that no one in my family will ever have to endure that pain again. I took control of my own destiny by starting my own multimedia company that also publishes books. I would not only publish my own books, but in time, merge multimedia with physical product development to potentially create a whole new market for children’s storytellers.
JQ paces the story, inks final touches to NO MONSTER NO!
Yes, I could have published traditionally, and done exactly what history’s insanity cycle said was the correct path to comfort and happiness. But I witnessed too many others get burned from following that path. Many authors and illustrators of color follow the traditional path of publishing. They publish to critical acclaim, they win many awards, only to end up wondering why their books aren’t given the same marketing support as fair skinned creators. I did not want to become another goldfish in the same ocean. These are just a few of the many reasons why I chose Kickstarter over traditional publishing. It was my goal to shift history’s insanity cycle, and to create a better path for tomorrow’s children’s book creators. For the children’s book creators who came before me, I want to make them proud.
In 2007, my company, Moodi Studios, wrote and successfully funded our first picture book, No Monster No. The story is about a bold little girl who takes the monster under her bed to school and teaches him manners. I’d heard about Kickstarter through friends whose projects had been successfully funded. I was raised on two core principals: do better than the best you can with what you have and no matter what, keep moving forward because motion itself is a professor. So, without any extra marketing funds or heavy marketing experience, I started a campaign. However, the first campaign failed, and boy-oh-boy, was that an emotionally heavy learning experience. But without that failure, I wouldn’t have learned the steps that allowed my second campaign to soar beyond expectations.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Focus your fundraising on professional colleagues and social networks. And don’t rule out total strangers who are meeting you and your work for the first time. Imagine going to a department store and being exposed to something really cool. You talk about it, share it, and support it with a purchase. Then after you make that purchase, it’s like you justify it by getting others to agree with how cool it is and have them get one too. It’s kind of like that. They don’t necessarily know you, just the work you represent. Close friends and family will likely be the last to support you — if at all. Keep them informed, though. When they see your success, they may want to join in at a later time.
2. No one is too little or insignificant. You will need to promote your Kickstarter campaign in various ways — but for now, lets focus on blogs and social networking (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc). When you create a crowd-funding campaign, you are asking hundreds of people to be somewhat tech-savvy and pay for something they can not interact with. That requires trust. Social Media and blog articles create that trust, and trust is equivalent to the rarest stone on earth. Blogs allow you to communicate who you are, what you do and what you are trying to say. Much like what’s happening with myself and this very article. Social media, on the other hand, is like cable television where everyday people are searching for new channels to ‘follow’ for new content. Like television, many people do not want to think. You have to think for them. Your job is to create specific content that cater to the specific needs of a specific audience. You then have to remove the bells and whistles of distraction and communicate your topic simply and effectively. I am still learning this. Once you do that, your following that will come to see you as the foremost authority of a certain topic or product (think Apple and a new iPhone or Oprah and practically anything). Your following will buy whatever you sell and pledge on your crowd-funding campaign through trust. However, If you focus only on big blogs, like Huffington Post, or Buzzfeed, and promote on social media with no clear niche definition, you could miss the golden opportunity to grow outrageously. Smaller blogs (blogs with very little following) should never be counted out as they need content as bad as you need crowd-funding pledges. If the blog grows, you grow. Social media is crowded with millions of people who do millions of things. You will stand out through consistency of posts, clarity of topic, and discipline of work-ethic. If you plan on crowd-funding your book, Trust is your best friend.
JQ sought and received the support of various music and media stars, such as Da Internz and Timbaland, pictured here.
3. Define it as it is—crowd-funding is pre-ordering. Never look at your campaign as soliciting for donations. You are selling a product and getting pre-orders for that product. Market or sell it as anything else and you destroy the cool-factor and lose the magic, as you look like your are begging. Your product is amazing and one of kind. When people make a pledge, they are securing a copy of your first edition. I can’t stress this one more.
4. Don’t assume that everyone knows about Kickstarter and what it is. Even though Kickstarter has had millions of dollars pledged from millions of users, you have to assume and act as though NO ONE has ever heard of it or crowd-funding before. Then, you must assume that more than half of your potential pledges are people who think the internet is out to get them and steal all their money. Go with that assumption from the beginning and have a clear, holding-of-the-hand method to address it.
JQ documents his journey
- 5. Create an amazing video. Luckily for us, we had a cinematographer, video editor, audio engineer, and motion graphic artist on hand to create a nice video. However, with the first campaign, I failed in not having a great shot of me reading the book to kids. I added these features just days before the campaign ended, only reached half of my goal, making it unsuccessful. But I did use the same video for the second campaign that I started just two weeks later that eventually became funded.
Here is what I learned from the second campaign (that succeeded).
1. There is power in happiness and a positive mind. Basic laws of attraction work here. You have to believe and be happy. It’s infectious and people are drawn to it like a magnet. They want what you have. The first campaign I let lack of support and struggle turn me into a stressed out bitter guy — totally the opposite of my own message with Moodi Studios. The second campaign, I approached it with peace and tried to remain childlike and optimistic. My faith changed for the better and I noticed other people noticing it.
2. People tend to help those who help themselves. Many people were moved by my determination to get back up and try again just weeks after the first project failed. If you believe in it this much, then it’s worth pledging in to find out why.
3. Don’t just post, become social. Don’t get on social media and talk at people like a club promoter. Engage in things with them and build a conversation. Let your profile or page say all that is needed to bring them to Kickstarter, with a post or two a day. But engage with people on their topics and ideas. Post a comment and retweet. Being self-centered will not create a following. I highly recommend the book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, by Gary Vaynerchuk. Whether or not you choose crowd funding, it’s a must read if you have a product or service you are selling.
4. “Thank you” goes a long way. There is nothing else more to write on that.
5. Like-ability is golden. You have to be likable and charming. If you aren’t, then let your campaign be led by someone who is. Be completely honest with yourself and set your ego aside for the success of the project. No one should want to punch you in the face after watching your video.
Launching NO MONSTER NO with friends and family.
And the biggest step of all:
6. Trust your instincts and embrace failure. I cannot stress that more. If you allow it, your instincts will tell you step-by-step what works and what doesn’t work. They already know what you want to do as they are the compass to how you will get there. Kickstarter success is primarily instinctual. It’s entire model is to grab and touch the hearts (and wallets) of people. But you have to embrace fear and failure to hear your instincts clearly. My biggest fear during my first campaign, was failure and the embarrassment of everyone seeing that failure. My ego, pride and hinge of doubt caused me to become deaf to my instincts and walk with panic. Following your instincts involve further risk, and when you are already in the midst of a larger risk, taking another is scary. However, when I eventually saw failure and embarrassment from the first campaign, my greatest fears came to pass and they didn’t kill me. I was just fine. The book didn’t explode and life as I know it didn’t end. I jumped off a cliff, expecting wings, but fell on my face instead. From there I learned that as long as you trust your instincts and jump, you can survive the fall. So keep jumping and embrace the fall. Embrace failure.
Life after the kickstarter is fantastic! The books were printed and families absolutely love No Monster No! Honestly, many adults who don’t have kids at all have purchased the book for themselves as a coffee table book and one teacher called us, “The dawn of a new Seuss.” Not one that gets giddy’ over accolades, but that one felt pretty awesome.
Celebrating with young fans at a school visit
Irene Smalls is an award winning children’s book author with publishers like Scholastic, Simon and Schuster, and Little Brown. Not only that, she has presented programs at the White House Easter Egg Hunt, toured internationally and most impressively taken her career into her own hand. Study her website and you’ll realize that her motto must be “I am the master of my fate.”
Determining My Fate Two books, My Nana and Me and Pop Pop and Me and A Recipe, from a major publisher went out of print. The publisher gave the books no real support or marketing. They ignored my suggestions on how to promote the books. I suggested ebook and Spanish versions, but they did not agree. I feel strongly that I don’t want someone else determining my level of income. I decided to put the books back into print. My first thought was as a self-publisher but the inherent credibility issues and lack of marketing muscle behind self-publishing made that a last choice. Luckily I was able to find a small ebook/print on demand publisher who was interested in republishing my titles. I negotiated a contract that gave very limited rights to the publisher.
That is the major reason I am exhibiting at the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt, Germany in October of 2014. At the Frankfurt Book Fair I can present my books to publishers from 120 countries to sell translation rights, etc. When I went to the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair I negotiated two international contracts for two of my titles.
Marketing My Books Authors have much more flexibility now than they did in the past. I have signed up for Apple’s ebook publishing program and a few others. The key element is the marketing effort you put into your products. Make contact with any celebrities you know. The celebrity angle helps. The challenges are time and money to support your book. You have to make marketing your books a semi-full time job. You have to allocate the money to support your books either to hire someone to help or to design, print and promote yourself. Some authors are not salespeople. To be effective you must sell, sell, sell. Authors have to wear a character, if necessary, to sell their books.
Rewarding Myself The rewards are clear. It is better to be “captain of your fate” versus letting people who really don’t care about you or your books determine what happens. When you are successful you maximize income from your efforts. But, it is not an easy thing to do. Authors must look at their books through market lenses. I recast Pop Pop and Me and A Recipe as a cookbook for kids and grandparents. I wrote an etiquette guide for kids to accompany My Nana and Me. The illustrator and I put together Spanish versions of the titles. Grandparents are very important in Latino culture. What is important is not what the books mean to me but what they mean to the market.
Also, as people of color, we have to go global. United States publishing as Walter Dean Myers http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/where-are-the-people-of-color-in-childrens-books.html and his son, Christopher Myers http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/the-apartheid-of-childrens-literature.html?_r=0 noted in the NYT has such a limited and narrow view of books by authors of color for children of color. We have to move beyond the US. Technology can save us if we learn how to use it effectively. The market is not good or bad, it just is. We have to learn how to use the market and market forces to our advantage.
Irene Smalls and the Frankfurt Book Fair: Join us at the Frankfurt Bookfair, the world’s largest, in October of 2014 Details at http://www.frankfurt2014.com See our Frankfurt video
Click on http://www.irenesmalls.com for more about Irene Smalls’ fascinating career.
Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks
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Don Tate, Kirsten Cappy
For our series, MAKING OUR OWN MARKET, Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, a book consulting company, tackles the subject of marketing books created by or about African Americans.
Taking Book Marketing Off the Page, Out of the Park
by Kirsten Cappy of Curious City
For me, children’s book marketing on the Brown Bookshelf or off has never been about social media, press, coverage, or other perils of “self-promotion.” For me, marketing has always been about storytelling and discovery. The best marketing finds ways to:
- retell a story beyond the framework of the book
- engage readers deeper in the story
- create partners for the book by finding commonalities
- exhibit the book in unlikely locations
A bulleted list is meaningless, of course, without stories. Let me tell you a few. Let’s go out of the park and off the page to show how my small firm, Curious City used these marketing methods on a group of exceptional African American titles.
Beyond the Framework: Book Trailers
A book trailer is not a must in releasing a book. Yet, when we look at the challenges of getting a book stocked by a bookseller or the challenges of a reader walking into a store and saying, “that book is for me,” book trailers can be a way to bring the book to where readers are. A book trailer can “retell a story beyond the framework of the book” to a targeted online community, classroom, or a lone librarian or book buyer—all outside the confines of the traditional browsing experience.
How could I not want to open Don Tate’s illustrations for She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story (HarperCollins) by Audrey Vernick to a wide audience? The day Don sent us the original scans of the art (complete with splashes of paint on the edges) was more than memorable. We choose to weave Don’s work with the narration of actor Dion Graham. Graham is known for TV roles including regular spots on The Wire and Law & Order, but for those in the book world, he is known as the voice of Kadir Nelson’s audio for We Are the Ship. Dion Graham’s is the kidlit voice of the Negro Leagues.
By sharing the trailer with bloggers who cared about female sports leaders or the Negro Leagues, we were able to “create partners for the book by finding commonalities.” Their blog posts would have been decent coverage for the book, but NJ author Audrey Vernick thought an additional partner might be the city of Newark where Effa Manley is still known. Audrey took the book and trailer to the firm that does publicity for Newark. Before we knew it, the city and minor league team based in Newark decided to honor Effa Manley with a special day at the ballpark that Effa and her husband had founded.
On a summer afternoon, cases and cases of the book were given away at the gate (courtesy of HarperCollins) and the book trailer played on the jumbotron. Dion Graham’s voice filled the stadium and Don Tate’s illustrations filled the screens. The team management liked the trailer so much, they played it in a free advertising jumbotron slot for the rest of the season, exposing the book to 1000’s of baseball fans. This was indeed an “unlikely location for an exhibit” of Don Tate’s work.
The book trailer can also be used to give voice to an African American character or subject when the author wants to be back stage, especially when the author of an African American title is White. We used the trailer for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (FSG) to allow author Phillip Hoose to introduce Civil Rights heroine Claudette Colvin. After the intro, however, Phillip takes a step back (both in the visuals and the audio), clearly indicating that this is Claudette’s story, not his book.
Deep Reader Engagement: Reader Expression
Author Terry Farish had the privilege of becoming close to an extended family of Sudanese refugee girls and women in Portland, Maine. The mothers, worried about their daughters, welcomed Terry to write about their daughter’s struggle of being African and trying too quickly to become American. The Good Braider (Amazon Children’s Publishing) was vetted and blessed by the community before publication. After publication, however, Terry was hyper-aware of her whiteness. “Please, please do not put me behind an author table,” she said in our first meeting, “I do not want to be the face of this book. It is not my story.”
In “creating partners for the book by finding commonalities,” I reached out to a young Sudanese hip hop artist and shared a galley of the book with him. A few months later OD Bonny told me the book reminded him of his flight out of South Sudan alongside his brothers. I asked if we could pay to use one of his songs as the audio for a book trailer. He responded, “Why wouldn’t you want a song of your own? I’ll write it. Tonight.”
When I heard his song, “Girl From Juba,” I realized that it was not just marketing, but a reader’s genuine tribute to a work of fiction. An author can have no greater gift. I also realized that I did not need to be the one to produce this trailer. I transferred the book trailer funds to OD and the music video/book trailer was created with an all Sudanese American cast (save one Irish kid), crew, and director. The video had 1000 hits within a week, not of book professionals, but of Sudanese and African American young adults that follow OD’s music.
Getting a reader or a small group of readers deeply engaged can lead to a product which can become an incredible discovery tool for your book. A group of middle school students were the first ones to read Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. Using photocopied galleys, librarian Kelley McDaniel led students in a discussion of Claudette’s life.
While Kelley was doing this, I was reading the book with a group of college Art Education majors. Together we designed a way for the middle school students to express their thoughts about Claudette in art. Because 14-year-old Claudette refused to give up her bus seat nine months before Rosa Parks became famous for doing the same, and because Claudette testified as a teenager in the court case that rang the death knell for transportation segregation, I proposed we exhibit the student’s art on a public bus.
Imagine the conversation I had with the bus company! They listened carefully and responded, “You want to talk about the abuse of African Americans onboard buses…on my bus system??” The NAACP representative who had planned to attend with me could not come at the last minute, so I had to figure out how to answer on my own. By the time I left, the bus company had not only said “yes,” but had given me old bus advertising signs to use as our canvasses.
Using a combination of small grant funds, school partnerships, and community sponsors like the NAACP, we launched the exhibit by flying Claudette Colvin in for a preview. After a lifetime of silence and before publication would make Claudette’s story national, this was the first time she had seen her words in print. The effect was breathtaking. This exhibit in an “unlikely location” toured the city for a month, introducing riders to a story they had never heard. You can read more about the reproducible Understanding Courage Project here and see more photos here.
Create Partners: Interns, Education, & WordPress
I have buckets of examples of how blogging on WordPress about the content of your title leads to discovery. When you take the non-fiction elements of your book (yes, even your novel) and explore them deeper in blog posts, you are creating delicious fodder for the search engines.
Working again with the local arts college, I designed a semester-long course of study on Bill Traylor, the outside artist brilliantly profiled in Don Tate’s book It Jes’ Happened (Lee & Low). An intern, Morgan Cremins, studied not only Taylor, but the illustration of Don Tate and R. Gregory Christie. Together Morgan and I built a website in support of the book where she blogged about all she had studied.
Paired with that site was an art curriculum created out of the same college’s Art Education department. The curriculum allows children to recognize, experience, and create with Bill Traylor’s visual lexicon. That curriculum served as an opening for Don Tate, R. Gregory Christie, the art educator Kelly McConnell, and myself to be the first outside educators to work at the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Tate and Christie appeared at the museum in conjunction with a Traylor exhibit. You can see photos of the appearance and art project here.
At the event, children created amazing art inspired by Bill Traylor. One of the most powerful moments came when Don Tate stepped forward to talk with kids about the depiction of African Americans in Bill Traylor’s work and in R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations. When a white 9-year-old raised his hand and asked the white staff educator why the Bill Traylor figure’s had the “bump on their back,” the educator became flustered and tried to move on. Don stood and explained that Bill Traylor emphasized the large “backends” of African Americans seen from his street corner in Montgomery, AL.
“As an African American man,” Tate said, “I am proud to have bigger lips, a bigger nose, and yes, maybe a bigger butt than my white friends. It is what makes me unique and I am proud of it.” The children, wide-eyed and smiling, accepted this as an uncomplicated and intriguing truth. And the program rolled on.
Books on the Brown Bookshelf share the same marketing challenges as any children’s book published, but they offer more opportunities to retell stories that break out of the framework of the book, pull children of all races deeper into the story, build crucial partnerships between different sides of the race equation, and have the freedom to exhibit themselves beyond the traditional confines of children’s publishing outlets. Let’s go off page, out of the park. and show kids the essential stories they have been missing.