in all blogs
Viewing Blog: The Brown Bookshelf Blog, Most Recent at Top
Results 1 - 25 of 476
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.
Statistics for The Brown Bookshelf Blog
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 11
The annual celebration of the children’s books, Children’s Book Week is here. Sponsored by the Children’s Book Council and Every Child A Reader, includes events across the U.S., downloadable resources for kids and educators, and a Gala honoring the year’s Children’s and Teen Choice Book Award winners. This year, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Walter Dean Myers will present the Impact Award to author and journalist Michele Norris, whose work at National Public Radio is “creatively and significantly advancing our collective mission of instilling a lifelong love of reading in children.” From the CBC: “Ms. Norris conceived of NPR’s Backseat Book Club, a book club for children ages 9-14 that encourages them to read along with the monthly selection and to send their questions in to NPR. At month’s end, some of those questions are put to the book’s author during a segment on All Things Considered. Programs like this promote the joy of reading, a necessary element in instilling a lifelong love of reading in children.”
In honor of Children’s Book Week, we invite you to post your favorite new titles (within the past two years) from Black authors and illustrators in the comments below. At the end of the week, we will compile the list for your summer reading enjoyment.
The Brown Bookshelf Team
Beloved children’s author Fredrick L. McKissack died on Sunday April, 28 at the age of 73. With his wife and longtime writing partner Patricia, McKissack was the author of more than 100 books for children, including the award-winning DAYS OF JUBILEE (Coretta Scott King Honor, 2003), BLACK HANDS, WHITE SAILS: The Story of African-American Whalers (Coretta Scott King Honor, 2000), CHRISTMAS IN THE BIG HOUSE, CHRISTMAS IN THE QUARTERS (Coretta Scott King Author Award, 1995), GREAT AFRICAN-AMERICANS (Enslow series), THE DARK THIRTY: Southern Tales of the Supernatural. (Newbery Honor, 1993), and NEVER FORGOTTEN (PEN/Steven Kroll Award, 2012 and Coretta Scott King Author Honor, 2012). From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “…their work has won everything from the Newbery Honor and Caldecott Honor to the Coretta Scott King Award, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, the Jane Addams Peace Award, and more.”
McKissack was born in Nashville, Tennessee and worked as a civil engineer and served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He and Patricia lived and worked in St. Louis, Missouri, where they built their company, All-Writing Services. And they did write it all–collaborating on projects from picture book to nonfiction biographies to young adult, timeless tales across genres.
As authors everywhere reacted to the news of McKissack’s death, many echoed the sentiment of author and publisher Cheryl Willis Hudson, who wrote: “Fredrick McKissack was such a generous and caring spirit. His research was impeccable and in his partnership with Patricia, he made a great contribution to children’s literature and African American history.”
Thank you, Mr. McKissack!
Check out this video interview with the McKissacks on Reading Rockets and School Library Journal’s obituary.
Given the release of “42,” the story of how Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, we feature a couple of books about the legendary star and others.
Jackie Robinson: American Hero, written by Sharon Robinson (Scholastic, 2013; ages 7 and up). In this comprehensive biography, Sharon Robinson introduces a new generation of readers to her legendary father, Jackie Robinson.
42: The Jackie Robinson Story: The Movie Novel, (Scholastic, 2013, ages 8 and up)
A novel based on the movie 42–a biopic about Jackie Robinson’s history-making signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first African American Major League Baseball player.
Includes a full-color insert of photos from the movie.
Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige Vs. Rookie Joe Dimaggio, written by Robert Skead, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Carolrhoda Picture Books, 2013, ages 4 to 8)
From Amazon: In 1936, the New York Yankees wanted to test a hot prospect named Joe DiMaggio to see if he was ready for the big leagues. They knew just the ballplayer to call Satchel Paige, the best pitcher anywhere, black or white.
For the game, Paige joined a group of amateur African American players, and they faced off against a team of white major leaguers plus young DiMaggio. The odds were stacked against the less-experienced black team. But Paige’s skillful batting and amazing pitching with his “trouble ball” and “bat dodger” kept the game close.
Would the rookie DiMaggio prove himself as major league player? Or would Paige once again prove his greatness and the injustice of segregated baseball?
You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!, written by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Terry Widener (Schwartz & Wade, 2013, ages 4-8)
According to Booklist in a starred review, “the Say Hey Kid had style to spare, and so does this irrepressible book.”
He hit 660 home runs (fourth best of all time), had a lifetime batting average of .302, and is second only to Babe Ruth on The Sporting News‘s list of “Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players.” Many believe him to be the best baseball player that ever lived. His name is Willie Mays.
Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game, written by Chris Crowe, illustrated by Mike Benny (Candlewick, 2012, ages 6 to 9)
From Amazon: Batter up for the first-ever children’s book about Larry Doby, the first African-American player to hit a home run in the World Series.
The year is 1948, and Homer and his daddy are baseball crazy. Ever since last season, when their man Larry Doby followed Jackie Robinson across baseball’s color line and signed on with their team, the Cleveland Indians, it’s been like a dream come true. And today Larry Doby and the Indians are playing Game Four of the World Series against the Boston Braves! With a play-by-play narration capturing all the excitement of that particular game – and the special thrill of listening to it on the radio with family at home.
Henry Aaron’s Dream, written and illustrated by Matt Tavares (Candlewick Press, 2012, ages 8 to 12)
From Amazon: Matt Tavares hits one out of the park with this powerful tale of a kid from the segregated south who would become baseball’s home-run king.
Before he was Hammerin’ Hank, Henry Aaron was a young boy grow ing up in Mobile, Alabama, with what seemed like a foolhardy dream: to be a big-league baseball player. He didn’t have a bat. He didn’t have a ball. And there wasn’t a single black ball player in the major leagues. B ut none of this could stop Henry Aaron.
Clemente! written by Willie Perdomo, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Henry Holt and Co., 2010, ages 6- to 10)
From Barnes and Noble: A little boy named Clemente learns about his namesake, the great baseball player Roberto Clemente, in this joyful picture book biography.
Born in Puerto Rico, Roberto Clemente was the first Latin American player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the only player for whom the five-year initiation period was waived. Known not only for his exceptional baseball skills but also for his extensive charity work in Latin America, Clemente was well-loved during his eighteen years playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He died in a plane crash while bringing aid supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, written by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Don Tate (Harper Collins, 2010, ages 5 to 10)
From Barnes and Noble: Effa always loved baseball. As a young woman, she would goto Yankee Stadium just to see Babe Ruth’s mighty swing. But she never dreamed she would someday own a baseball team. Or be the first—and only—woman ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
From her childhood in Philadelphia to her groundbreaking role as business manager and owner of the Newark Eagles, Effa Manley always fought for what was right. And she always swung for the fences.
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion Books for Children, 2008, ages 9 to 12)
From the publisher: The story of Negro League baseball is the story of gifted athletes and determined owners; of racial discrimination and international sportsmanship; of fortunes won and lost; of triumphs and defeats on and off the field. It is a perfect mirror for the social and political history of black America in the first half of the twentieth century. But most of all, the story of the Negro Leagues is about hundreds of unsung heroes who overcame segregation, hatred, terrible conditions, and low pay to do the one thing they loved more than anything else in the world: play ball.
With only a month into baseball season, it’s not too late to highlight a few baseball books.
Today is a special day at BBS. Team member Crystal Allen’s latest novel, The Laura Line (Balzer & Bray) made its debut. We’re so proud of Crystal and excited about her new book. Don’t you just love the cover?
Check out the awesome book trailer here .
Crystal’s first middle-grade novel, How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, won a starred review from Publishers Weekly and lots of praise. Here’s what Donna Gephart, author of Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, had to say about The Laura Line: “Laura Dyson’s sweet, sassy voice draws you into this delightful story of self-discovery and acceptance, unwavering friendship and the deep roots of one amazing family.”
To learn more about The Laura Line and Crystal’s work, please visit her site www.crystalallenbooks.com.
Happy Book Birthday, Crystal!
Love your BBS Family :).
Didn’t We Have Fun!
Written by Hilda Robinson and Jeff Kunkel
Featuring paintings by Hilda Robinson
Published by Crickhollow Books
First off, I enjoyed everything about this book — its poetic prose, its vibrant art, its aura of a down-home African American culture gone by. The book captured it all so perfectly.
Didn’t We Have Fun is written and illustrated by celebrated artist Hilda Robinson, who shared the joys growing up in a closely-knit African American family and neighborhood. In a quiet, plain-spoken voice, she affectionately described the games she played as a child, the songs she sang, the chores completed. It’s a nostalgic look at a simpler life before television and video games were invented.
The book is divided into two-page chapters. Within each chapter, we get a glimpse into different aspects of the author’s life growing up. Readers are introduced to Robinson’s five brothers and sisters, described as kind, bookish, dark skinned, strong, cute, happy and spoiled. We meet her Mama who cooked and cleaned for the family. We meet her Daddy, who often answered the children’s questions by saying, “Go ask your mother.” They made their home in Philly, but the love is universal.
This book struck me emotionally. I saw myself in it, my own childhood. I saw my mother and father, and my grandparents. I found myself wanting to share this book with them knowing they would enjoy seeing themselves in it, too.
One of my favorite spreads is entitled Rollerskating. A passage reads: “Not far away, there was a steep street called Sulzberger Hill. This hill meant danger and fun! In summer, we took our rollerskates and skated down Sulzberger Hill. Each of us held onto a long rope and played Crack the Whip all the way down. Oh, what speed!…“
This scene played out in my own life. Growing up, our Sulzeberger Hill was known as Dead Man’s Curve. We shot down that hill on rollerskates, skateboards and bicycles. Our rope was a bed sheet that doubled as a parachute.
Hilda Robinson creates vibrant paintings with oil pastels laid thick and textured, colorful and bold. Her characters imbued with dignity, charm, and a spirit of pride.
Didn’t We Have Fun! is published by Chickhollow Books and perfectly exemplifies what is best about indy publishing — it’s quality art for the sake of quality art, with no shortcuts due to smaller niche market.
The book is co-authored by Jeff Kunkel, an artist, an ordained United Methodist pastor, and accomplished writer. Hilda and Jeff have collaborated on several projects in public schools, churches and galleries.
It’s a book to be enjoyed by young, old, and everyone in between. Don’t stow this one away on your bookshelf, instead display it in the family room for everyone to enjoy.
BBS member Tameka Fryer Brown is on a virtual tour for her delightful picture book with Shane W. Evans, My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood (Viking, 2013). Today’s stop is right here.
Please join us as we learn more about her new book, favorite colors and love of crayons.
What inspired My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood?
It was inspired by the simple acknowledgement one day that I was “in a mood.” As soon as I had the thought, my writer’s ear determined that “I’m in a mood” would make a great first line or title for a picture book. When I sat down to write, the words just seemed to flow. I had a really good first draft in a couple of days.
Please tell us about your publication journey?
My critique group, the Mudskippers, reviewed the manuscript for (what was then) IN A MOOD before I sent it to my agent, Jen Rofé. She really liked it so we sent it out right away. Early in the submissions process, editor Joy Peskin expressed interest in the story and soon made an offer on behalf of Viking Children’s. Joy and I worked together on some light revisions before she left Viking. Joanna Cardenas became my second editor, and she’s taken wonderful care of both me and MY COLD PLUM LEMON PIE BLUESY MOOD.
How did the story grow and evolve through that process?
This particular story didn’t change very much. We had a few wording changes here and there, and in one scene, Joy asked me to make a streetlight reference a little more accessible to today’s kids, as they might not understand the big deal about not being inside before they came on.
How did you feel when you saw the illustrations by Shane W. Evans? Do you have a favorite picture? What is it?
Illustrator Shane W. Evans (and art director, Denise Cronin) took my words to another level with the most stunning artwork. There is something to gush about in each and every spread, but I do have a favorite. It’s the black mood spread because of how feisty Shane made Jamie’s little sister. She’s really giving it to the older brothers and I just love his characterization of her! I also appreciate how Shane depicted the intensity of Jamie’s emotions with all of the swirls on the page, especially the one that wraps around his body. To me, the spread shows both sides of the color black: the brooding of Jamie, the strength and personal power of his sister. It’s perfect.
What’s your favorite color? Does that express how you feel when you’re happiest?
My favorite colors are all the colors of the rainbow (ROY G BIV), in the brightest hues possible. Bright rainbow colors make me feel energetic and alive, and that is how I feel when I’m at my happiest. If you force me to choose one, I’d say yellow, but I prefer it when they’re all working their polychromatic magic together.
Tell us about your affinity for crayons. What do you like to draw? How do you feel when you color?
I’m pretty sure my affinity for Crayola crayons is strongly linked to my affinity for bright color. The last set I bought had way over 100 crayons and was pure bliss. I don’t really like to draw with crayons—I like to color with them, on coloring pages with bold, black outlines and scenes that lend themselves to using a variety of colors. I feel authentically me when I am coloring, not bound by age or expectations or anything except the feeling of joy and peace the activity brings.
What do you hope children take away from your story?
I want children to know that ALL of their feelings—the good and the not-so-good—are important, valuable, and deserve to be acknowledged…especially to themselves. I want them to recognize they have a right to feel every one of their emotions, to express them verbally or in writing, in constructive and/or creative ways. Identifying, acknowledging and expressing feelings are life skills that precede effective problem-solving—skills we are never too young to start learning.
With this book and Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day, you feature a jazzy, lyrical style and celebrate family, community and cultural diversity. Will we see more books from you in this area?
Lyrical writing, most likely. That seems to be a consistent feature in all my picture book stories. As for the other commonalities, I’m sure these elements will find their way in and out of future published stories, as they are all important to me personally. But I’m constantly challenging myself to write outside of the box, so I’m sure you’ll see something unexpected from me too.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a couple of projects which are still in their early stages. We’ll see which one makes its way to market first!
Learn more about Tameka at www.tamekafryerbrown.com. You can visit other stops on her virtual tour here.
Break out the streamers and confetti! It’s party time at BBS. Today is the birthday of the second picture book by our own Tameka Fryer Brown. Her wonderful new title, My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood (Viking, 2013), illustrated by Shane W. Evans, is officially here. Yay!
Already the book is winning accolades. Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say:
“It’s valuable both for its believable exposition of Jamie’s interior world and for its warm portrait of the life of a nonwhite family in which sharing is essential, rules are followed, conflicts are resolved, and meals are enjoyed together.”
To kick off the release, Tameka is on a blog tour. Her schedule is here. Today, you can find her over at Cynsations. Lucky us, Monday’s stop is right here. Come back to find out how My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood came to be and why Tameka loves coloring.
We’re so proud of Tameka and Shane and excited about their new release. Please join our celebration of their new book and spread the word.
‘There’s no place like home’ could not be truer for author, Jaime Reed. After studying art at Virginia Commonwealth, and living three soul-searching years in New York City, Jaime returned to the place where she spent her childhood in Virginia, and rekindled her love for writing. Now, as the amazing author of the series, The Cambion Chronicles, it is with great honor that The Brown Bookshelf celebrates Day 28 with a spotlight on YA author, Jaime Reed.
Tell us about “The Journey”
I went into the writing world blind, deaf and dumb. I just thought of a cool story that’s been in my head for a while and wrote it down.
As a kid, most of the teen books I read had a lead character and I would place myself into the story and into their shoes. It’s a difficult thing to do when NONE of the characters come from my background or look like me. It shares a startling parallel to black children who only played with white dolls because that was all that was available at the time.
This problem unfortunately leaks into literature. Authors are reluctant to write characters of color in their stories out of fear that having a minority lead will weaken sales. As a result Caucasian females dominate the bookshelves in every major bookstore in America. As most great ideas go, it begins with a very simple question: why?
I felt it was my duty as a writer to even the playing field a bit. So I wrote LIVING VIOLET with a biracial girl as the main character. She balances two worlds and meets a boy who deals with a similar juggling act, but on a different scale. I thought it would fit well with the story, but ethnicity should never dominate a plot.
When I finished the manuscript, I let a few friends read it and they thought it was good enough to publish. So I went to the web and researched, researched and researched for an agent who represented YA fantasy with multicultural characters. Then when I found Kathleen Ortiz (my agent) she loved it. It was a bumpy ride after that–creative differences and schedules–but I have no regrets. I’m still learning the ins and outs of the industry and Kathleen is a godsend.
What or Who is your Inspiration?
I’ve always enjoyed teen fiction and I find myself reading more of it now than when I was an actual teen. I’m a big fan of John Green and Libba Bray. They have a talent for getting into the heart of the teen psyche, which I like to incorporate into my own writing. I look for truth in writing, not pretty words and hot love interests. Though I write fantasy, I want the emotion and the surroundings as realistic as possible.
Can you fill us in on the Back Story?
It started out with just the one story, LIVING VIOLET. I went in thinking it would be a stand-alone story, but as I kept writing I knew there was more in store for my characters, more twists, more conflicts, more adventures. When I was signed with Kensington, they agreed to a 3-book deal. Thus BURNING EMERALD and FADING AMBER were born.
The Cambion Chronicles have received great reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Kirkus Review, (one of the toughest book reviews out there) gave positive acclaim on the follow-up stories, BURNING EMERALD and FADING AMBER. I even have a Tumblr fanpage shipping the two main characters, which I find more exciting than any awards. It’s by fans, for fans who have grown attached to the characters I created. Awesome. The Cambion Chronicles has also been translated into German and Slavic for publication in Europe.
In your opinion, what is the state of the Industry?
I think the industry has made a lot of progress as far as publishing, but there is still a ways to go to integrate lead characters of color into the mainstream. Thankfully, I found a publisher (KTeen/Kensington) who specialize in minority literature. I didn’t have to deal with the hiccups in the industry, like proper shelving in the bookstore or “whitewashing” cover designs.
To be fair, the industry is in a really tight spot that even they find frustrating. There hasn’t been a heavy demand for people of color, and the industry will only supply what’s selling. Once publishers see that there is a growing interest to have minorities in stories, they will request more to agents. But there are a few stories that slip through the cracks that cross cultural lines into the mainstream, and hopefully that will boost the interest and help other authors get their foot in the door.
Becky Birtha has written two picture books for children–two historical, culturally rich, family-inspired picture books that would be valuable additions to any classroom or personal library.
As this year’s campaign approaches its end, we are happy to include the work of this talented picture book author. Presenting the captivating words of Day 27′s honoree, we introduce to you, Becky Birtha.
I started writing poems and stories as a child, growing up in a red brick row house in Philadelphia. My parents, both Hampton graduates, valued literature and writing. We had books in every room, several typewriters, and even a mimeograph machine. My father was the teller of family stories. My mother read to us. To balance out the affordable Little Golden Books and library loans, where black characters and voices were nearly nonexistent, she read aloud classics of African American poetry—Paul Laurence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes.
I took writing classes and workshops whenever I could, in high school, college, and in the community. Nine years after graduating from the State University of New York at Buffalo, I went back to school for the MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. My first publications were for adults. I wrote book reviews for feminist newspapers, hoping to build a following for later acceptance of my own work. Slowly, the plan succeeded; two collections of my short stories and a volume of poetry were published by small presses. But entering the field of writing for children was a whole new endeavor. I knew that I wanted my children’s books to be published by a mainstream publisher, so that they could reach the kids for whom I was writing, who might only encounter books at schools and public libraries.
My journey led through many years of frustration: the manuscripts submitted to publishers and received back many months later; the book that was accepted, with illustrator chosen and pictures painted, but that never came out; the house that paid me for the option to publish my book, then decided not to; the editor who liked my story and was on a friendly email basis with me, before she moved to another publishing house, where my emails to her resulted in a form rejection letter. Fortunately, I got encouragement and support from my writing group friends and from my membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
The breakthrough came when I reread the last two letters I’d received from Albert Whitman and Company. The editor had declined my manuscripts but said they were well written, and that she would like to see more. Somehow, it registered that these were not rejections. I sent a third manuscript. After much shortening, rewriting, and negotiating about historical facts, sentences, and even single words, it became my first published picture book, Grandmama’s Pride. I was lucky to have Colin Bootman chosen as illustrator. His paintings were a perfect match.
When I was nine or ten years old, a famous author/illustrator came to speak at our neighborhood library, a white woman with glasses and gray hair named Marguerite Di Angeli. I had already read about half a dozen of her books, including Bright April, the only book in my childhood with realistic paintings of a brown skinned child who looked like me. After the author’s talk, I even got called on to ask a question. I was thrilled.
In a summer writing program for students, following my senior year in high school, I heard my second author speak. Kristen Hunter (Lattany) was a much younger, black woman, whose book I had also read, God Bless the Child. In the audience of eager young writers filling the auditorium that day, mine was the only black face, and I knew that she could see me, and was speaking to me, as clearly as I saw and understood her.
Those two experiences exemplify the writers who have inspired me: the many, many children’s book authors that I read as a child, and continue to read, and the black women poets and fiction writers, most of whom did not publish books until after I grew up. My favorite contemporary children’s author is Jacqueline Woodson, for her gift of language, saying so much in so few words, and for her courage in writing about subjects that so need to be addressed. And there will also always be a special place in my heart for Lucille Clifton.
The Back Story
There isn’t much back story to Lucky Beans, my most recent book. My editor at Albert Whitman, Abby Levine, invited me to send more work. Eventually, after some miscommunications and an email that never reached her, I did. They accepted it. It has never been that easy, before or since. Of course, weeks of revisions followed. My editor and I hashed out details and literally counted beans, wondering whether to go with the more historically correct navy beans, or the more colorful kidney beans. And were beans smaller in the 1930s? Nicole Tadgell and I never met, but I was delighted with her bright, kid-friendly water colors, that added humor to my text.
Perhaps, though, the real back story is not about the deal I make with a publishing house, but the deal I make with myself. For me, it’s not easy to sustain the confidence, belief in myself, and fortitude that it takes to continue, through years of challenges and while scuffling to make a living, to keep working steadily, and to finally send work out. I read writing self-help books and push myself with opportunities like the Picture Book Marathon. It helps to know that other writers and readers value my work. Recently it’s been helpful to think of my writing in terms of stewardship—of a precious gift that has been entrusted to me. It also helps to be invited to write a piece like this one, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity, and for the honor.
The Buzz on Lucky Beans
From Horn Book Magazine:
“…With its math and social studies elements, this will be a practical book for schools, but it’s also a welcome addition to the growing number of picture books about families getting through difficult economic times.” Susan Dove Lempke
From Kirkus Reviews:
“…The family works together to survive and finds moments of love, appreciation and sheer happiness. This moving tale not only relates a little history but also some math, as Marshall helps his mother estimate the number of beans in the furniture-store jar and ultimately wins a new sewing machine, which helps alleviate their dire financial situation…. Many children today can relate to the family’s challenges, which makes the timing of this picture book sadly relevant.”
From School Library Journal:
“…Children will appreciate the story’s humor and happy ending. Lucky Beans can be used across the curriculum to educate while it entertains. Ideal for classrooms and school libraries, it’s also a strong choice for public libraries.” Mary Landrum, Lexington Public Library, KY
“Math and wry comedy mix in this lively historical story based on Birtha’s grandmother’s memories of life during the Depression. Young Marshall describes his African American family’s hardship when Dad loses his job and then his relatives crowd into Marshall’s room. Worst of all are the beans Ma constantly cooks….” Hazel Rochman
From Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children:
“…Based on real events in the life of the author’s grandmother, this new book helps today’s generation of young readers better understand the difficult economic times and the racial discrimination of the Great Depression years. With illustrations that beautifully match the text’s subtle humor and grace, Lucky Beans is an ideal choice when seeking picture books that are rich in substantive content.”
From Multicultural Review:
“This heartwarming story provides young readers a lesson in addition and multiplication and reveals a family’s perseverance to make the best of life’s circumstances….”
From Children’s Literature:
“This story is fitting for today’s economic times, and along with the social studies and math connection, it will be welcome in any classroom…Soft watercolors bring to life the 1930s and the warmth of togetherness of a loving African-American family.”
From Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast:
“…And I’ve read Lucky Beans, and I like it. (And if I were a math teacher for late-elementary students—or even a social studies teacher—I’d be all about using it in the classroom.)” Jules (Julie Danielson)
Awards for Lucky Beans:
Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices 2011
New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2010
Smithsonian Magazine 2010 Notable Books for Children
2010 BookLinks Lasting Connection
2011 Storytelling World Resource Award
2012-2013 Show Me Readers Award Nominee List (Missouri)
2012-2013 Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award Nominee
2013 Magnolia Awards Nominee (Mississippi)
2012-2013 Georgia Children’s Book Awards Picture Book Award Nominee
The State of the Industry
I continue to be incredulous and appalled about the small percentage of children’s books published each year, written by African Americans and other people of color. I worry about the effect that the ongoing economic low is having on these writers, and on children’s book publishing in general. I’m scared by the disappearance of bookstores, and the possibility that the entire bookselling business may soon be controlled by one online monopoly. Nevertheless, I’m still optimistic, believing that this industry will continue to thrive, and become more diverse along with changes in the U.S. population and the global interplay among cultures. I am very curious to see how children’s books will continue to evolve in this age of technology. Perhaps, when every child (not every family, but every child) owns an electronic device that can access age appropriate literature, I’ll be able to let go of my belief in the need for books, as we now know them. But I’ve been spending time recently in the public schools of Camden, NJ, Philadelphia, and Chester, PA, where, without question, children still need books.
To hear more from Becky Birtha, check out this podcast:
Interview with Becky Birtha and Illustrator Nicole Tadgell
Business Owner. TV Host. Model. Chudney Ross has many amazing accomplishments. But she reveals on Social Butterfly that her proudest one is getting her book deal. Chudney, the youngest daughter of Diana Ross, made her kidlit debut last year with middle-grade novel, Lone Bean. HarperCollins calls it: “. . . an entertaining read about spunky Bean Gibson and how she learns what it means to be a good friend. And that it’s possible to have more than one.”
Long dedicated to children, Chudney shares on her site that teaching led her to writing. A former preschool and elementary school teacher, she is owner of Santa Monica shop Books And Cookies, a bookstore, bakery and enrichment center.
Lucky for us, Ross has more books in the works. Lone Bean is the first of her series, Bean’s Books. We can’t wait to see more.
The Buzz About Lone Bean:
” . . . Ross, the youngest daughter of singer Diana Ross and the owner of the California children’s bookstore Books and Cookies, creates a relatable protagonist with gumption, whose insights into others’ feelings make her an empathetic friend (“Now I know Tanisha is a meany and a bully, but something in my insides makes me feel bad. I mean, she has no friends, and no sisters and no ice cream”). Things wrap up neatly, leaving the door open for further tales.”
– Publishers Weekly
“This was a delightful story about the joys and perils of third grade. Fans of Sarah Pennypacker’s Clementine, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody will love Bean Gibson. Lone Bean is a great classroom read aloud. I can’t wait to share this book with my third grade teachers so they can share it with their students . . . “
– Mrs. Archer’s Book Notes
Read an interview with Chudney Ross at Crayons and Croissants.
Find out more about her here.
Willie may have been in the right place at the right time, but without his brilliant talent to accompany his imaginative ideas, we wouldn’t have the pleasure of reading his work.
We are proud to celebrate Willie Perdomo on Day 25!
The path to publishing children’s lit was without a doubt a matter of right time, right place. I was an assistant in the Subsidiary Rights department at Henry Holt & Co. Laura Godwin, publisher of Holt Books for Young Readers, got word that I was a published poet. One afternoon she stopped by my cubicle and asked me if I was interested in working with Bryan Collier. His first book, Uptown, was just published and I was really impressed by its richness. I told Laura that I would give it a try even though writing a children’s book was not on my radar. Later that week, I went to East Harlem to visit my mother and as I walked north on 5th Avenue, I walked past Langston’s brownstone and saw what I interpreted as a father and his daughter entering the house. The little’s girl’s voice came to mind, and I wrote the text in a few days. Laura wanted to buy the book instantly and she did. I was really lucky (and spoiled) to be paired with Bryan.
Because I primarily write poetry, I don’t keep up much with the children’s book world. I work as a mentor for BookUp (National Book Foundation literacy program) and titles by Jackie Woodson and Nikki Grimes usually stir up some great discussions. I think Tony Medina’s early children’s work was really dynamic; it touched on issues rarely addressed in children’s lit such as kids with asthma, poverty, and homelessness. His Love to Langston was pretty comprehensive. Lisette Norman’s My Feet Are Laughing was a cool book. Of course, I’m a big fan of Bryan Collier’s work. R. Gregory Christie’s work as well. (I wish I could buy some of their originals!) Rita Williams-Garcia’s work is awesome; it always rings home. I also used to read Tony Dungy’s You Can Do It! with my son when he was in 2nd and 3rd grade.
The Back Story
After I signed a contract for Visiting Langston, I had lunch with Laura Godwin and riffed off a few more ideas I had for a children’s books. Later that day, she offered me a multi-book contract. Clemente! was part of that contract. I wrote the text in San Francisco, almost seven summers ago. I didn’t look at the text again until Laura informed me that Bryan was ready to work on it. I totally revamped the text a few weeks before it went to proof. What’s in the book now is nothing like the original idea and I think the birth of my son had a lot to do with that.
As someone who was new to the children’s book world, I was very fortunate in that the titles I collaborated on received either honors (Coretta Scott King for Visiting Langston) or awards (Amerícas Book Awards for Clemente!). For sure, working with Bryan was the biggest honor. I mean the dude has done projects on everyone from MLK to John Lennon! As far as reviews are concerned, I really can’t imagine a children’s book getting a negative review—but I’m sure it has happened. Most of the reviews for both titles were favorable.
“Perdomo…strikes just the right note of precocious breathlessness, punctuating his text with Spanish to convey a people’s enormous pride in one of their own.” (Clemente! – Publishers Weekly)
“More than just a biography . . .” (Clemente! – Book List)
“. . . the pages of the book come to life with energetic purpose and delight.” (Visiting Langston – School Library Journal)
The State of the Industry
I can’t speak to the market forces that dictate children’s book publishing, but I do know that there’s a growing fear that kids stop reading for pleasure too early and that seems to be the biggest obstacle faced by teachers and I suppose publishers by extension.
To keep up with Willie Perdomo, check out his website Willie Perdomo.
Combining her talents as an editor, journalist, and photographer,
Linda Tarrant-Reid created one of the most powerful compilations of African
American History with Discovering Black America. Her experience includes being managing editor of The Million Man March, contributor and researcher of The Family of Black America, co-editor of Black Star Power: BET Celebrating 20 years and the author of Discovering Black New York.
It is with great honor that we spotlight Linda Tarrant-Reid on Day 24 of our 28 Days Later Program.
Tell Us About ”The Journey.”
I was recruited into the Doubleday Editorial Trainee Program directly from the campus of Hampton Institute, the historically black college in Hampton, VA, in the early 1970s. As an English Major, with a deep interest in African American history, working at a publishing house was intriguing. I knew a little bit about the industry, so I jumped at the opportunity. After interning in various departments including Books for Young Readers, Trade, Sci-Fi, Anchor Books (academic paperbacks) and the Unsolicited Manuscript Department, I landed, with the help of my Editor/Mentor, in the Trade Division working on bestselling books.
Eventually, I made my way back to Anchor Books, where I became the assistant to Marie D. Brown, the renowned editor and now literary agent. While in Anchor, we edited the Zenith Series – books for young readers on African American history and culture – as well as major non-fiction books by major authors of the Black Arts Movement. It was a heady time and I learned everything one needed to know about the book making process – from nursing accepted manuscripts through production to published books to the marketing/promotion and bookstore placement of the final products.
After Doubleday, I took a position at ABC-TV in Prime Time Development, still working with books but this time for adaptation to the small screen. I was there when Alex Haley’s “Roots” was made into a mini-series. Following my stint at ABC, I freelanced several literary projects as Managing Editor, including The Million Man March, The Family of Black America and Black Star Power: BET Celebrating 20 Years. I finally decided it was time to write my own book and wrote Discovering Black New York: A Guide to the City’s Most Important African American Landmarks, Restaurants, Museums, Historical Sites, and More. It received modest notice from reviewers and I was on my way.
What or Who was Your Inspiration?
I am relatively new to this generation of children’s book publishing but I have been inspired by the work of Tonya Bolden, the author of many award-winning books including Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl and M.L.K.: Journey of a King, who writes lyrical passages that make history come alive! As for illustrators, I think Eric Velasquez is a phenomenal talent with his realistic renderings of real people. It adds another dimension to the written word for young readers to see everyday people being portrayed on the pages of their books. And of course, Kadir Nelson, I love his work and now his words!
Can You Fill Us In on The Back Story?
I was introduced to my current publisher via email by a friend. I sent a very short pitch email describing my concept and was invited in for a meeting. I do not have an agent, so when I was offered a deal I negotiated it myself.
Discovering Black America, which was published in September 2012, has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and PW, as well as praise from School Library Journal, Booklist and Library Media Connection which ‘highly recommended’ the book. DBA was also selected by Kirkus as among the “Best Children’s Books of 2012” and by NPR as one of the “Best ‘Backseat’ Reads of 2012.” DBA also made Essence magazine’s Holiday Shopping & Web Guide in the December 2012 issue.
And recently, Discovering Black America was selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2013 list, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council.
I have also been interviewed by reporter Tracie Strahan on WNBC-TV’s “Positively Black,” for the “Urban Agenda” show on KMOJ-FM, the oldest Black-owned radio station in Minnesota, and “Harlem 411” on WHCR-FM, Harlem Community Radio which is broadcast from City College of New York.
Various organizations have hosted book events including the historic ThomasPaineCottageMuseum where Academy Award-nominated actress Ruby Dee read from DBA.
In Your Opinion, What is the State of the Industry?
I just read this informative article in PW on “The State of African-American Publishing” and basically nothing is new under the sun. It is still a struggle for African American writers to gain access to the halls of traditional publishers, especially with the consolidation of publishing companies morphing into giant media conglomerates and the rise of the “Big Six” Book Publishers – the Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House and Simon & Schuster. Options for writers wanting to pursue a traditional path are limited and with the potential merger between Random House and Penguin, options are really limited. So, many with a story to tell have taken to self-publishing which is what the 21st century is all about, doing it yourself! So, I salute all of the ingenious writers and authors who have put their work out there.
I do feel that children’s book publishing has also felt the impact, but it seems that there is a market, which we need to expand, for books on the African American experience and the African Diaspora. With school districts across the United States adopting the Common Core Curriculum, there will be a need for books that speak to foundational history with research, primary sources and resources that will add to the students’ educational experience in a holistic way.
For more info about Discovering Black America visit: www.facebook.com/discoveringblackamerica
Look up the word “prolific” and there has to be a photo of a bright-smiling, Texas-dwelling diva named Angela Shelf-Medearis!
Born in Virginia, Medearis called various places home at various times in her childhood, thanks to life with a father who was a recruiter for the Air Force. She settled in Austin, Texas at age 18 with her husband, Michael, and has lived there ever since.
Medearis has published scores of award-winning books for children throughout her career, including numerous picture books and leveled readers. Not only is she a kidlit diva, but she’s The Kitchen Diva, too…whose business portfolio contains cookbooks, a public television show, a radio show, and other entrepreneurial endeavors produced under the umbrella of Diva Productions.
Inspired yet? Me too!
On day 23, The Brown Bookshelf welcomes Vanguard Picture Book Honoree, Mrs. Angela Shelf-Medearis!
My career as an author began the day I was fired from my job as a legal secretary. I was upset, at first, but then I realized that the severance package covered our expenses for 3 months! For the first time in years I was free to really think about what I wanted to do. I decided to try my hand at writing. I went to the library and checked out every book they had about book publishing. After four long years, hundreds of painful rejection letters, and numerous unpublished manuscripts, I wasn’t having any success with New York publishers. I stopped by a small, regional publisher in my hometown, Austin, Texas. They were interested in two of my books, and published 1,000 copies (500 hardback, 500 paper) of my first book PICKING PEAS FOR A PENNY, a rhyming story about my mother, Uncle John and my grandparents who owned a farm during the Great Depression.
My husband, Michael, worked full-time and part-time to support my dreams and assisted me on my road trips to school districts around Texas to promote my book. He refers to those years as “Driving Ms. Angela.” I created and presented fun programs for elementary through college student that explored the history of African storytelling up to modern publishing. I had plenty of visual items, and told and acted out folktales. Those appearances helped me to hone my skills as a storyteller. I was named one of the “Best Storytellers in the World” by Storytelling World Magazine. We sold more than 10,000 copies of PICKING PEAS FOR A PENNY at schools, autograph-signings, and book conferences. I submitted the book to Scholastic (again) and this time, they decided to publish it. Since that time, I’ve published more than 30 books with Scholastic and 60 with other major publishers.
Texas Monthly Magazine called me “one of the most influential writers of children’s literature in Texas.” My book, Chester’s CASA, was published by Scholastic, Inc. for distribution to children in the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program for children in foster care. I also wrote the award-winning story, Daisy And The Doll, and several other books about African-American arts and Texas history with my husband, Michael Medearis.
My books have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, and are featured on a line of animated DVDs–The Storyteller Series: Many Books, Many Languages Bilingual DVDs that I produced and narrated, as well ANGELA’S NOTEBOOK, an educational DVD series about writing, reading, authors, and illustrators. My works are found in schools, libraries and bookstores around the United States, and have been translated into Spanish, French, Dutch, and Japanese.
I’ve also worked as a reading consultant for the Scholastic, Inc. and McGraw-Hill Literacy Programs. I assisted the companies with the development of their reading series for elementary school children. I’ve also written several articles for Scholastic’s READ AND RISE and GO! HEALTHY KIDS magazines.
In 2004, I made a radical life and career change. I wrote about my experiences in my spiritual memoir that I wrote with my Pastor, Salem Robinson, Jr. entitled Ten Ingredients for a Joyous Life and a Peaceful Home. Today, I’m known as THE KITCHEN DIVA! I’m the author of seven cookbooks: The African-American Kitchen, The Kwanzaa Celebration, Ideas For Entertaining From The African-American Kitchen, The Ethnic Vegetarian. The New African-American Cookbook, The Kitchen Diva Cooks!, and my newest work, The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook. I’m also the President of Diva Productions, Inc., We’re in development with WGBH to produce THE KITCHEN DIVA! television cooking show for PBS stations nationwide.
I’ve been so fortunate to not only be inspired and encouraged by many talented children’s book writers and illustrators, I’ve also had the chance to meet and work with them.
During those long, lean, discouraging years when I was trying to learn the craft, get my work published, and collecting thousands of rejections, I loved going to the library and checking out books by Eloise Greenfield, Walter Dean Myers, Julius Lester and Lucille Clifton. After I became a published author, I had the opportunity to meet and work with numerous talented African-American authors and illustrators. Their love and support kept me going through the tough times.
The students, teachers and adults I’ve met during my travels around the world to share my work have also been inspiring. I often receive requests for particular kinds of books or hear great stories that I transform into a fictional work. Their enthusiasm for my work and the letters I’ve received are heart-warming and inspiring.
Last, but certainly not least, my wonderful husband, daughter and son-in-law, grand-daughter, parents, siblings and my church family have been my support, sources of inspiration, and cheering section throughout my life and my career.
I’ve been so blessed to do what I love, with people I love, and to meet so many wonderful folks over the years. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity that I’ve had to be an example of how you can fulfill your dreams if you keep the faith and don’t give up!
I’ve been working for the last 7 years as a culinary historian, cookbook author, and food columnist for newspapers and magazines. I’ve also been working as a television chef and producer of cooking shows. Recently, I’ve been talking with Scholastic about contributing to an exciting new book series. I’m looking forward to writing for children again!
The State of the Industry
I like to read the industry magazines to see what’s being published. It helps me to decide what’s needed in the marketplace. As always, it seems that the same biographies about African-Americans are being published over and over. I remember when I wanted to write about Ida B. Wells Barnett–school teacher, newspaper owner, civil rights activist (her investigations of lynching incidents are legendary), wife, mother of 4 children and fashionista. Her face was on the postage stamp on the letter I sent to the publisher to pitch my biography idea. They turned it down because they “had never heard of her!” I had to fight to get the book published, but it was worth it to honor such a wonderful woman and to educate folks about her life.
I’d like to see all aspects of African-American history celebrated in children’s literature. In the future, I’ll probably work with my publishers to publish books that celebrate the stories about our contributions to history that haven’t been told.
The Buzz (AWARDS AND HONORS)
DIVA PRODUCTIONS, INC.
SKIN DEEP AND OTHER TEENAGED REFLECTIONS: 1996 Violet Crown Awards Special Citation
HOLIDAY HOUSE, Inc.
DANCING WITH THE INDIANS: 1991 Violet Crown Special Citation
THE SINGING MAN: 1994 Violet Crown Special Citation/ALA Coretta Scott King Honor Book for Illustrations
POPPA’S NEW PANTS: 1996 Teddy Award
THE GHOST OF SIFTY-SIFTY SAM: North Carolina Children’s Book Award, 1999
SEEDS GROW: Gold Winner Oppenheim Book Award, 2000
THE PRINCESS OF THE PRESS: THE STORY OF IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT: National Council of Social Studies Woodson Award
ALBERT WHITMAN AND COMPANY, Albert Whitman & Co.
SEVEN SPOOLS OF THREAD: winner of the Platinum Book Award-Oppenheim Toy Portfolio; featured on THE TODAY SHOW; Notable Social Studies Trade Book-2001, Children’s Book Council and National Council for the Social Studies; 2002 Children’s Book Committee Best Children’s Book of the Year; Show Me Readers Award Master list; Louisiana Young Reader’s Choice Award, Not Just for Children Anymore! 2001
BOOKS WITH MICHAEL RENE MEDEARIS
VERMONT FOLKLORE SOCIETY,Middlebury, VT.
DAISY AND THE DOLL: Winner of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Living the Dream Award, 2002
Artist-illustrator Daniel Minter comes to us hot off the heels of winning a 2013 Coretta Scott King honor for his illustrations in the book Ellen’s Broom, written by Kelly Starling Lyons.
Minter has mastered both fine and commercial art. He creates his art using canvas, wood, metal, paper . . . the list goes on . . . twine, rock, sand, paint. Computer art too. An extraordinary talent he is, not many artists are as versatile.
The creator of the 2004 and 2011 Kwanzaa stamp for the U.S. Postal Service, Minter employs a bold and colorful pallet. His art has been exhibited both nationally and internationally at galleries and museums including the Seattle Art Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, Bates College, Hammonds House Museum and the Meridian International Center.
Minter is not a newcomer to the field of children’s literature. His first book, The Footwarmer and the Crow, written by Evelyn Coleman, published in 1994 to critical acclaim. He is also the illustrator of Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, by Angela Shelf Medearis, which is illustrated in his distinctive lino-cut technique.
By Daniel Minter, artist-illustrator
In 1993 as I was making an effort to infuse more of a statement with my work by combining my personal art sensibilities with my commercial illustration work wherever possible, I received a call from Harold Underdown at Macmillan Publishing requesting to see some samples of my artwork that included people and children. Apparently the author, Evelyn Coleman, had seen some of my paintings in Atlanta and thought that they would make a perfect match with her story, “The Footwarmer and the Crow”, and convinced Harold to consider me (an unknown artist) as the illustrator for her book. Normally, the choice of the illustrator is reserved for the editor while the author has little or no involvement. Many people are surprised at this and feel that of course, the author should pick the illustrator and tell them how to draw the characters, but there is very little reason for an editor to do this.
My thanks goes to Harold and Evelyn for seeing what they were looking for in my work and stepping outside of the prescribed methods of finding an artist.
The whole experience for me was a positive introduction to the world of picture books which is very different from the other rushed commercial illustration that I would do. The 9 month deadline I was given seemed like an eternity and the level of freedom to create was liberating.
“The Footwarmer and the Crow” was an excellent first story for me. It blended perfectly with the narrative nature of the carved and painted wood art that had been working with for a few years. I used flat wood panels to carve in relief and paint each illustration for the book in the same manner that I was creating my fine art. I was able to tell the story in an expressive style and use a central character who looked like us.
The work of Leo and Diane Dillion was perhaps the first children’s book illustrations that made me think seriously about perhaps applying my own art to a children’s story. Their work seemed to emanate from a fantastical futuristic ancient place that allowed them to tell stories with their art that was always optimistically forward looking. I looked to their work to for inspiration to develop my narrative craft and technique as an illustrator. I was drawn to the beauty, the research and care with which they illustrated all people of color. Their way of working was something to aspire to.
As a model of how to live and be in the world, I find Ashley Bryan hugely inspiring. He has found a way to pour his heart into everything he does. The most assessable way of experiencing him is through the art of his children’s books but his storytelling and human interactions express the total of what he is. He lives his art and shares his life with the world.
The Back Story
Over the years the broom has been used as an element in my art. Not only for its use as a ritual object in the African American wedding tradition, but also as an object of power for its representation of cleansing, change and new beginnings in general.
When an editor from Penguin book, Stacey Barney, contacted me about illustrating Kelly Staring Lyon’s story, “Ellen’s Broom”, I do not think she knew of my love for brooms. Just hearing the title my head began to spin with hundreds of ideas for using brooms. I was overly excited.
After I calmed down and actually read Kelly’s manuscript, I could see that it was a quietly powerful story about emancipation and the right to marry. Those ideas of the right to marry are very relevant today but I decided to focus on Ellen using a style of illustration to fit the time and feel of the story, seeing that those were very important aspects just as much as the broom. With the help and guidance of the art director we narrowed the approach to the block print work instead of a more painterly style.
Publisher’s Weekly says: “The narrative has a loving, homespun tone, though the story’s emotions feel subdued. Minter’s (The First Marathon) vibrant linoleum block prints—which use springtime colors for the present day and sepia tones for flashbacks to the time of slavery—give the book more of an emotional charge.”
Kirkus says: “Minter uses hand-painted linoleum block prints for a bright, sunny and upbeat accompaniment. Scenes of slave times are colored in sepia to set them apart. A spirited story filled with the warmth of a close family celebrating a marriage before God and the law.”
Daniel Minter’s beautiful art for the book Ellen’s Broom
– Don Tate
From her bio at Simon & Schuster: Nalo Hopkinson is the award-winning author of numerous novels and short stories for adults. She was born in Jamaica, and lived in Trinidad and Guyana before moving to Canada at sixteen.
Her novels, such as Brown Girl in the Ring and The Salt Roads, and other writing often draw on Caribbean history, culture, and language. Ms. Hopkinson is one of the founding members of the Carl Brandon Society, an organization that helps “build further awareness of race and ethnicity in speculative literature and related fields.”
The first chapter of The Chaos, her forthcoming young adult novel, can be read online. From the book description:
“Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she’s the perfect daughter, at school she’s provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbeans, whites, or blacks. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can’t be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him. Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation ASAP before the Chaos consumes everything she’s ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that’s begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.
For her adult work, Hopkinson has received Honourable Mention in Cuba’s “Casa de las Americas” literary prize. She is a recipient of the Warner Aspect First Novel Award, the Ontario Arts Council Foundation Award for emerging writers, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Locus Award for Best New Writer, the World Fantasy Award, the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, the Aurora Award, and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award.
The Chaos must be characterized by the same literary excellence, as it has received the following reviews already:
“Noted for her fantasy and science fiction for adults, Hopkinson jumps triumphantly to teen literature. . . . Rich in voice, humor and dazzling imagery, studded with edgy ideas and wildly original, this multicultural mashup—like its heroine—defies category.”–Kirkus Reviews, *STARRED
For more about Ms. Hopkinson, visit her online.
Honestly, today’s honoree needs no introduction. We’re already fans of the beloved Ashley Bryan, aren’t we? Known for his extraordinary range and depth of talent, Bryan uses paint, poetry, music, and collage to tell his popular stories.
Born in Harlem, New York, and raised in the Bronx, Bryan describes his childhood as “an idyllic time, full of art and music.” Times that provided a solid foundation for a long and successful career in the arts.
As a child Bryan spent his days working hard and drawing pictures, and he finished high school at the age of sixteen. But getting accepted into an art institution would not prove so easy. He was was rejected on the basis of race. On the advice of his teachers, he applied to New York’s prestigious Cooper Union Art School who administered a blind art test for admission into the school. “You put your work in a tray, sculpture, drawing, painting, and it was judged.” Bryan says. “They never saw you. If you met the requirements, tuition was free, . . .” Bryan passed the test with flying colors.
After serving his country in World War II, and continuing his education at Columbia University, Bryan set his eyes on the prize of becoming a children’s book illustrator. For years he worked passionately to achieve that goal, and he faced many obstacles and rejections. His perseverance paid off in 1962 when he became the first African American children’s book author and illustrator to be published. “I never gave up.” Bryan says. “Many were more gifted than I but they gave up. They dropped out. What they faced out there in the world–they gave up.”
Ashley Bryan has gone on to win many awards for his books — often culled from African folk tales — including nine Coretta Scott King awards and honors, a Golden Kite Award, Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, others.
The following is Bryan Ashley in his own words:
I grew up in the Bronx, New York. As we learned the alphabet, my teacher asked us to draw a picture for each letter. After Z, we sewed the pages together. The teacher said: “You have just published an Alphabet Book. You are the author, illustrator, binder. Take it home, you are the distributor as well.” I got rave reviews from family and friends for that book. All of the ones that followed are built on that foundation.
I am inspired by my studies in the history of art and by the folk art of all cultures.
I am grateful that I do not have to work deals.
My new book, WHO BUILT THE STABLE, Atheneum, 2012 came out to starred reviews.
Kirkus says: ”Bryan’s Christmas offering combines a poignant poem about a shepherd boy who builds his own stable with exuberant paintings in a masterful melding of rhythmic text and dazzling art.”
Publisher’s Weekly says: ”Bryan wields tempera and acrylic in strong strokes to evoke Bethlehem, (“A rich and verdant land”) with saturated shades of primary and secondary colors, lively expressions on human and animal faces, and sweeping lines to create the impression of movement. ”
The state of the industry
The United States means people from all over the world. Representation of these diverse cultures in books for young people allows readers to identify and understand the peoples of the world.
The Children’s Book Council once identified James E. Ransome as “one of the 75 authors and illustrators everyone should know”…and we agree.
The Coretta Scott King Illustration Award winner and oft co-collaborator with wife, Lesa Cline-Ransome, is known for creating stunning art for popular picture books such as Uncle Jed’s Barbershop (Simon & Schuster), Visiting Day (Scholastic), and Words Set Me Free: The Story of a Young Frederick Douglass (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books). His most recent illustration project–another Team Ransome creation–is Light in the Darkness (Hyperion).
However, on Day 19, it is James Ransome the author whose work we seek to illuminate. And so, in his own words:
My journey of illustrating books is well documented in my bio which can be found on my website: www.jamesransome.com. My journey as a writer started as a young child. In fact, writing is what led me to drawing, because I started by writing stories which soon led to comic books. The stories were about my friends and I going out on missions to save the world during World War II. The movie The Dirty Dozen and comic books like Sergeant Rock were big influences on me. At some point, I realized I enjoyed making pictures more than writing stories.
Much later in my life, my wife Lesa encouraged me to write picture books; so I owe her all the thanks. I took very slow steps. My first entrance into the writing world was to edit a book about Christmas (A Joyful Christmas), for which I selected stories and poems submitted by friends. The first book I both authored and illustrated covered one of my favorite topics: football. The idea for this book came about while I was doing school visits. I’d often get into conversations with the students about their favorite football teams, which led to the topic of winning and losing and my being surprised at how important winning was to the kids I was talking with. That led to a story called Gunner, A Football Hero.
Again, the visual artists who inspire me are well documented. As far as inspirations from writers, I’d have to say, my wife Lesa Cline-Ransome . Other writers that inspire me are Chris Van Allsburg whose writing is mysterious and has a surreal quality. Julius Lester and Virginia Hamilton are two favorites and of course, I’d also have to include Toni Morrison. One of my favorite passages is “not Doctor Street” from her book Song of Solomon. She is a master at playing with language and that is what attracts me to all these writers.
The Back Story
The inspiration for My Teacher came from a teacher I met years ago who was from the Boca Raton, Florida area. She described her school as one hard hit by the fiscal challenges faced by many schools–but filled with caring, dedicated teachers who, despite setbacks, sought to enrich and inspire their students.
My Teacher has been reviewed in Kirkus and received a Library Media Connections Starred Review, included below.
“Ransome has written a thoughtful, heartwarming story celebrating teachers and the teaching profession. An interesting sidelight is the mention of school libraries. The author has written a gentle, pleasing story about a teacher who truly loves her profession. This teacher knows a good teachable moment, is flexible, consoling, and consistently searches different teaching methods. When the classroom children have to write and illustrate a report on a famous person, Ransome emphasizes the research aspect, using computers, and the library. A refrain that consistently appears throughout the story aptly describes the teacher: “Maybe that’s why she keeps teaching.” The writing style is pleasing and readable. Illustrations are full-page full-color spreads, softly complimenting the text. This is a good selection for teachers and good for school librarians!” Dennis LeLoup, School Librarian, Avon Intermediate East and Intermediate West Schools, Avon, Indiana
The most exciting thing I’m currently doing is YouTube videos. My daughter is majoring in film-making at Syracuse University. When I was her age, becoming a film-maker was also my dream. Because I had to buy a camera for her, I also bought one for myself and made some videos which she is editing for me. Here is a link to my first one on painting with watercolor: James Ransome Watercolor Video. I have a new one coming out by February 1st where I discuss how to develop a drawing.
For more information on James Ransome, please visit his website here.
Sultans, magic, Sinbad and sorcerers! Who can resist? With a perfect title, THE BOOK OF WONDERS, readers will find everything they could want in this mystical, fantasy debut by Jasmine Richards. The Brown Bookshelf is honored to present her in our spotlight on Day 18 of the 28 Days Later Program.
Jasmine Richards was born in London, grew up in a library, and was the first in her family to go to a university. After graduating from Oxford, and following a brief stint at New Scotland Yard, Jasmine chose a career in publishing over being the next Sherlock Holmes. Today she’s a senior editor at a leading British publishing house. She now lives in Oxfordshire with her husband in an old wool mill.
Tell Us about The Journey
I suppose my journey to being published started with my love of reading. Stories undoubtedly shaped me into the person I am today. They raised my aspirations, broadened my horizons and gave me the gift of imagination. Because stories have always been so important to me I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I love telling them as much as I love reading them.
Even as a child, I always knew that I wanted to write a book one day and the idea for my debut novel came from a collection of stories that I read in my childhood called 1001 Nights.
Also called Arabian Nights, this collection of tales feature the famous stories of Sinbad, Aladdin and his magic lamp as well as tales like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
As a kid, it always irked me that by the end of 1001 Nights the sultan, who has been busily beheading his wives with impunity gets a happy ending. That didn’t seem fair to me. I wondered whether there might be a different version of this story and that was when the idea for the Book Wonders was sown.
Who or What is your Inspiration?
I am a huge fan of Roald Dahl’s writing. The Witches, Matilda, The Twits . . . I love them all. Roald Dahl never talks down to children, and he doesn’t pretend that the world is always a nice place. I think it is that honesty that I connected with as a child and which I would like to convey in my own books.
I also greatly admire Phillip Pullman. I absolutely devoured his Sally Lockheart books as a child and when I was older His Dark Materials trilogy. Like Dahl he doesn’t talk down to children and isn’t afraid to tackle big issues.
What About The Back Story?
I live in the UK but I am very lucky to have an amazing agency behind me Stateside called Adams Literary. They sent out The Book of Wonders to a select few publishers and I was delighted when Harper Collins came back and made an offer for my book! A dream come true.
Here’s The Buzz
From Publishers Weekly
The Book of Wonders
Jasmine Richards. Harper, $16.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-201007-0
In her skillful debut novel, Richards, an editor of children’s books in the U.K., keeps the novelties coming. The setting is Arribitha, a land with ancient Middle Eastern overtones; the quest is full of danger and magic; and the combative protagonist, known variously as Zardi or Zee, is in fact a 13-year-old Scheherazade. Zardi is the daughter of a vizier serving a cruel sultan who has forbidden magic throughout his realm, and her best friend is Rhidan, a boy whose silver hair and violet eyes are unlike those of anyone else they know. When Zardi’s sister and father are taken by the sultan to be prey in his hunt, Zardi and Rhidan go chasing rumors of rebels who might be persuaded to help. Their escort is an unwilling Sinbad, a pirate-charlatan whose half-djinni mother sets the children on their path of destiny. It’s a fun action-adventure read, unapologetically two-dimensional, and a good challenge for developing readers, who will find the headlong action a worthwhile incentive to master the vocabulary. Ages 8–12. Agent: Adams Literary. (Jan.)
From Kirkus Reviews
BOOK OF WONDERS
By Jasmine Richards (Author)
Age Range: 8 – 12
Dipping into the deep plot well of Middle Eastern fairy and folk tales, this buoyant debut offers a fresh plot, brisk pacing and engaging characters. Zardi’s 13th birthday celebration is cut short when her sister, Zubeyda, is abducted by the cruel sultan to serve as his praisemaker, an “honor” that in 90 days will end in her death. Zardi (short for Scheherazade) sets off to find the sultan’s enemies and obtain help in rescuing Zubeyda, accompanied by her adopted brother, Rhidan, who is on a quest of his own: tracking down Sinbad the sailor, who has clues to Rhidan’s mysterious heritage. Though not entirely reliable, Sinbad proves an ally, as does his mother, Sula, who defies the sultan’s ban on magic and uses her powers to help Zardi and Rhidan discover their own.
With Sinbad, they head for the Black Isle, home to powerful sorcerers and possibly Rhidan’s birthplace, but fate has other plans for them. These include rocs, a brass giant, trapped djinn and the fearsome Queen of the Serpents in her snake-filled kingdom. Richards deftly borrows from lesser-known tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights to enrich her complex storyline while keeping style and syntax simple and direct. A sprightly, accessible series opener recommended for those ready for a change of venue from standard-issue, middle-grade fantasy.
Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 2012
Page count: 416pp
The State of the Industry
Young readers, in fact all readers, want the same thing. Great narratives, characters that you can love and empathize with, vivid settings and a plot that keeps you turning those pages.
It shouldn’t matter what color the characters are who populate these fictional worlds but surely there should be variety?
Our planet and the people who live on it our varied, readerships are varied, characters in children’s fiction should be varied! This is what frustrates me about children’s fiction at times. It all feels so homogenous and not representative of the world we live in.
Also let’s consider this, if you are a child of color and you fail to see people like yourself in novels then there is a danger that you might think you’re not important enough to be described in a book, that maybe you are even invisible . . .
How do we change this state of affairs? Well, I think we need more diversity in the publishing industry at all levels -editorial, marketing and sales. We need more diversity in our booksellers and we need more authors who are keen to write books with characters of color in their narrative landscapes.
No child deserves to be invisible.
Children’s book author Donna Washington grew up with storytelling all around her. At the dinner table, her father would share mesmerizing tales that sent Donna’s imagination soaring. In college, she studied speech and theater and learned she had a gift for storytelling too.
Donna has won many awards and accolades for her work. Her recordings of “Live and Learn: The Exploding Frog and Other Stories” won a Parent’s Choice Award. Her CD, ”The Sword and The Rose,” garnered a Storytelling World Award. Each year, she’s a sought-after performer at festivals, libraries and schools around the country.
Her writing sings and brings culture to life in inventive and enduring ways. We are proud to celebrate Donna Washington on Day 10 of our campaign:
My path to becoming a published author begins in a most improbable way. I’d just finished doing a storytelling series for a book company out of Illinois. They decided to break out a few of the stories and turn them into wordless picture books. They sent me out to California to perform some of the tales and as I left the stage a woman walked up to me and asked if I would be interested in writing a book. Being young and foolish, I decided to do an anthology. It took twelve years from conception to publication. A Pride of African Tales (HarperCollins), illustrated by James Ransome, was the first book I wrote, but the second one to be released!
I have always loved children’s books. My first love in book form was What Mary Jo Shared by Janice May Udry. I suspect it was because it was the only book I had where the characters looked like me. Seeing African American people doing normal things in a book made me very happy. My second love was Tikki Tikki Tembo. I loved the wordplay and the repetition. I can’t say that I remember the illustrations all that much. My favorite works are often stories that play with language and create amazing images whether you look at the pictures on the page or not. Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, Leo and Diane Dillon, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, and Madeline L’Engle are a few of my favorties.
The Back Story
My most recent book is called Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa (HarperCollins), illustrated by Shane W. Evans. I wanted to write a book that happens at Kwanzaa time but is not about Kwanazaa. There are not very many Kwanzaa books that are just for fun; most of them explain how the festival is celebrated. The book was received well and there were lots of reviews from websites that promote books for children.
Here are a few of my favorites:
“When you celebrate something you aren’t too little, you can make a difference like Little Rabbit. He ended up making a big surprise for his grandma. When he told all the friends, they joined in to make it a great Kwanzaa fest.”
– Review from a child named Grayce, Reader Reviews For Readers By Readers
“I wanted to read this book with my daughter to educate both of us on the celebration of Kwanzaa. She had learned about the holiday in school and I wanted to understand and reinforce global celebrations that are unique from our customary approach. Through the story of Little Rabbit, who wants to make Kwanzaa special for his sick Granna rabbit, we learn the 7 principles of Kwanzaa – the Nguzo Saba – which are timeless and universal themes of humanity. “Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa” is a beautiful book, great story – sure to be a classic.”
– Review from Grayce’s parents, Reader Reviews For Readers By Readers
Here is another review that is typical of the reception the book enjoyed:
“I happen to see this book at my local bookstore when I was looking around for books for my 3.5 year old. I picked it up and read it and first thing that came to my mind was “what a cute story!” This book is great for kids . . . the illustrations grab the kids’ attention as well as the wording of the book.
This is a book for people who celebrate Kwanzaa and for people who want to teach about Kwanzaa to children of ages 3-8 (although according to Amazon.com, the age group for this book is 4-8). I did show this to my 3.5 year old and after I read it to her, she said, “I want this book, Mommy! I love it!”
So this book is mother-tested and kid-approved :).
FYI: At the end of the book, the seven principles of Kwanzaa are listed. So this is a must-have in your Kwanzaa or holiday book collection!
The Next Chapter
My upcoming book is called Boo Stew and will be published by Peach Tree Press in Georgia. The story originateed during a roundtable storytelling game I play with my children. It is a play on Goldilocks. We are still in the illustrator stage, and I hope that it will be out in a couple of years. The heroine of the book is a young girl named Curly Locks who is a horrible cook. Despite her other fine characteristics, it is this lack of skill in the kitchen that ends up winning the day.
The State of the Industry
The industry is changing. There are fewer companies producing fewer books. Cartoon characters and serials are the best selling books and many books cross over to the cartoon network. As companies compete with electronic media and video, more and more people claim that the print book is moving towards its end. As for me, I don’t think books will ever die, but we most certainly may reach a point where we no longer indulge in paper books. I personally will be sad if that happens, and I hope it won’t ever. How that will affect authors and illustrators, I don’t know, but I will be there, right in the middle of it, writing.
Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa
“Being the youngest in the family is hard for Li’l Rabbit at Kwanzaa. Unlike his
siblings, he can’t create elaborate gifts to share. He does find a way to
contribute to the celebration, though. Granna is too sick to cook the big feast,
Karamu, that she usually prepares. Li’l Rabbit remembers Granna saying that
Kwanzaa is a special time for helping others, and he tells the family’s animal
friends that she is ill. In a warm surprise, the animals come together with food
and gifts to celebrate with Granna. From bespectacled Poppa Squirrel reading in
a tree and carpenter Groundhog with his tool belt to Momma Field Mouse pulling
her children in a wagon, the characters in Evans’ very bright, playful, textured
pictures capture the spirit of community that is the essence of the holiday . . . “
A Pride of African Tales
“Like a group of lions, these six stories are majestic. “Anansi’s Fishing
Expedition” (Ghana), “The Roof of Leaves” (the Congo), “The Wedding Basket”
(Nigeria), and “The Talking Skull” (Cameroon) are among the tales included. Each
one begins with a short note of explanation and is identified as a
pourquoi, trickster, or cautionary tale. A map of Africa pinpoints the
countries of origin and brief source notes are appended. The morals are not
lost, but the writing is not heavy-handed. The smooth retellings are paired with
extraordinarily lush watercolors . . . These selections can be
read alone but they beg to be shared aloud. The phrasing and cadences invite
pauses and should encourage successful retelling–good for librarians and those
who coach children in storytelling contests. A handsome package.”
– School Library Journal
Find out more about Donna Washington at http://donnawashington.com/index.html.
My daughter was immediately enchanted by The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess, big time. From the moment she saw the luminous cover to her nonstop read of the lyrical, lovely tale, she was hooked. And no wonder. This mother-daughter team packs a powerhouse punch.
At Vanderbilt University Alice Randall teaches Bedtime in the Briarpatch: African American Children’s Literature. Briarpatch is an intensive examination of African-American children’s literature from the 17th century to the present. In her course and in her writing Randall is concerned with how African-American children’s literature can be used to reflect and challenge the larger society. Some of the books her students read include: Peeny Butter Fudge, by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison, Please, Baby, Please, by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lewis, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, by Kadir Nelson; Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt, by Patricia McKissack; Zeely, The House of Dies Drear, and M.C. Higgins, the Great all by Virginia Hamilton, Monster and All the Right Stuff, both by Walter Dean Myers;
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor, The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 , by Christopher Paul Curtis, Tar Beach Faith Ringgold, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou and Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Caroline Randall Williams is the great-grand daughter of the man many consider to be the father of African-American children’s literature, Arna Bontemps. Like Bontemps, Williams is poet and a children’s author.
Many thanks to both for their wonderful and wise words (and a fabulous bit of history below!):
“First, we want to wish all the readers out there a very, very happy Valentine’s Day and an inspiring Black History Month. Because it is Valentine’s week and Black History month we have a cyber Valentine for you made possible by the Library of Congress—a link that will allow you to peruse one of the great treasure troves of Black Kid Lit—The Brownies Book.
Edited by W.E.B. DuBois and Jesse Redmon Fauset , The Brownies’ Book was a
“Monthly Magazine for the Children of the Sun.”According to the cover The Brownies’ Book was “designed for all children but especially for ours. “ We love the Brownies’ book. And we think you’ll love it too. What reader of the Brown Bookshelf wouldn’t love a magazine that states on its cover that “it aims to be a thing of Joy and Beauty, dealing in Happiness, Laughter and Emulation, and designed especially for Kiddies from Six to Sixteen.”
There’s poetry, and short stories, there’s history, and letters. And there are wonderful photographs and drawings. Page after page of brilliance by and for African-American children. Elegant and amusing The Brownie’s Book was a kind New Yorker for children.”
Our journey to publishing was a bit circuitous. Though we have a big New York agent for this book, Conrad Rippy, we ultimately chose to publish with a distinguished independent publisher, Turner Books located in our hometown, Nashville.
Working on the creation of a Black Fairytale Princess, B. B. Bright, we were very, very inspired by The Brownies’ Book which was only published for a year or two starting about January 1920. The Brownies’ Book celebrates the writing of Black children by publishing their letters. That was part of our inspiration to narrate our novel in the forms of letters written into a diary. The Brownies’ Book assumed that the child reader was sophisticated and curious and recognized that adults often peer over the shoulder of the children reading in the house. Like The Brownies’ Book our novel is written for children, and for folks who once were children. Other writers who have influenced us significantly that we love include Virginia Hamilton and Patricia McKissack. Both of these writers bring beauty and grace to the page—are willing to summon a kind of archetypical elegance—and they always tell a good story in a voice that is at once feminine and universal. That’s hard. But they do it and do it well. Creating a girl’s voice that boys would listen to was something we were seeking to do. But we were most strongly committed to writing to empower girls to be their full authentic selves and to know when they are being fully and finally themselves—they are royal. No matter who their parents are or what the situation into which they are born or live.
This story began in a doctor’s office over twenty years ago. Caroline got bored and Alice started telling her a story—about a fairytale princess that looked like young Caroline with beautiful brown skin and brown eyes. Immediately Caroline started changing and adding to the story. Twenty years later we had a book—and a contract for seven more.
We were so excited that The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess was nominated for a NAACP Image Award; that was a big honor. Making it better we got to sit next to a hero of ours, Christopher Paul Curtis (The Watson’s Go to Birmingham) at the awards! We were also excited that The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess was nominated for a Cybils Award in MG Fantasy. We’re even more excited that there’s been some talk of turning The Diary of B.B. Bright Possible Princess into a movie. We’ve begun talks with an Oscar nominated producer about optioning the rights.
The State of the Industry
It has always been hard to get African-American children’s books published and hard to get the word out about them once they are published. There are precious few of us working as agents booksellers, editors, publishers, or publicists. And precious few writing and illustrating. But our children read. There is a growing audience that gets larger by the day. Children are profoundly influenced by the books they read and don’t read. This keeps us writing, to close gaps. There are still far too many aspects of ourselves not reflected on published pages.
We take heart from our history from knowing what our foremothers and forefathers endured to get published and read. The history of African-American Children’s literature (something Alice teaches at Vanderbilt) is a history of writers who manage to triumph over obstacles and land in homes and schools, and set up residence in the hearts and heads of children of color.
Many thanks for your amazing work!
Visit Alice Randall online at her Web site.
“‘So do you really believe that in the future we’re going to have the kind of trouble you write about in your books?’ a student asked me as I was signing books after a talk. The young man was referring to the troubles I’d described in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, novels that take place in a near future of increasing drug addiction and illiteracy, marked by the popularity of prisons and the unpopularity of public schools, the vast and growing gap between the rich and everyone else, and the whole nasty family of problems brought on by global warming.
‘I didn’t make up the problems,’ I pointed out. ‘All I did was look around at the problems we’re neglecting now and give them about 30 years to grow into full-fledged disasters.’
‘Okay,’ the young man challenged. ‘So what’s the answer?’
‘There isn’t one,’ I told him.
‘No answer? You mean we’re just doomed?’ He smiled as though he thought this might be a joke.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I mean there’s no single answer that will solve all of our future problems. There’s no magic bullet. Instead there are thousands of answers–at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.’”
Award-winning, Vanguard Young Adult Author, Octavia E. Butler, penned these words for an article in the May 2000 issue of Essence Magazine (A Few Rules for Predicting the Future). They remain amazingly relevant and poignant today…as does her body of work overall.
* * *
Octavia Estelle Butler was born on June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California to Laurice and Octavia M. Butler. An only child whose father died when she was just a baby, Octavia grew up tall, painfully shy, and dyslexic. She was also creative, a thoughtful reader, and a keen observer of life’s complexities and injustices. Having already written several short stories by the age of 10, Octavia’s first published series of novels was the result of stories she began writing as a youth, after having watched a bad science fiction movie on television and knowing she could create something much better.
After graduating high school in 1965, Octavia worked and attended college simultaneously, taking a variety of writing courses along the way. She also attended writing workshops sponsored by the Writers Guild of America, through which she met acclaimed science fiction writer, Harlan Ellison…through which she was invited to participate in Clarion’s Writers Workshop (in 1970)…through which she received her first publication credit, a story included in an anthology.
Before going to work, Octavia would consistently wake up in the wee hours of the morning to hone her writing skills. In 1976, Doubleday published Patternmaster, the first novel in a five book series often referred to as the Patternist Series.
In 1979, Octavia wrote Kindred, a novel inspired by the indignities she’d quietly witnessed her mother and countless others experience under the oppression of a racist society, and by the flippancy with which the younger generations seemed to regard the ancestral sacrifices made on their behalf. Kindred would be Octavia’s most successful novel. The books that comprise her Xenogenesis and Earthseed series would also prove to be popular. Besides novels, Octavia wrote award-winning short stories and novellas (like Blood Child), and became the first science-fiction writer to win the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius Grant” in 1995.
During her career, Octavia also received the Hugo and Nebula awards, the Langston Hughes Medal, and a PEN Lifetime Achievement award. Her last novel, Fledgling, was published in 2005. In February of 2006, at age 58, Octavia Butler died outside of her Seattle home. She remains the “grand dame of science fiction”, having broken through the barriers of a male-dominated field…paving the way for women, African-Americans, and legions of science-fiction writers worldwide.
“Butler’s acclaimed vision of a world transformed by a secret race of telepaths and the violence, intolerance, and plague that follow their rise to power.”
“Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.”
“Lilith Iyapo is in the Andes, mourning the death of her family, when war destroys Earth. Centuries later, she is resurrected — by miraculously powerful unearthly beings, the Oankali. Driven by an irresistible need to heal others, the Oankali are rescuing our dying planet by merging genetically with mankind. But Lilith and all humanity must now share the world with uncanny, unimaginably alien creatures: their own children. This is their story…”
“Octavia Butler tackles the creation of a new religion, the making of a god, and the ultimate fate of humanity…The saga began with the near-future dystopian tale of Parable of the Sower, in which young Lauren Olamina began to realize her destiny as a leader of people dispossessed and destroyed by the crumbling of society.
“In Parable of the Talents, the seeds of change that Lauren planted begin to bear fruit, but in unpredictable and brutal ways. Her small community is destroyed, her child is kidnapped, and she is imprisoned by sadistic zealots. She must find a way to escape and begin again, without family or friends.”
“Fledgling…is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly unhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted—and still wants—to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself. Fledgling is a captivating novel that tests the limits of “otherness” and questions what it means to be truly human.”
The information in this spotlight was obtained from the sources below. For additional facts, interviews, and commentary on this important literary trailblazer, please visit the following:
Ann Tanksley is the illustrator of My Heart Will Not Sit Down (Knoff, 2012), written by Mara Rockliff. Ann is a fine artist who graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). She is the illustrator of the picture book The Six Fools by Zora Neale Hurston, and the creator of a series of monoprints based on the writings of Hurston titled, “Images of Zora,” which Maya Angelou described as “dazzling.” She lives in Great Neck, New York.
Tanksley’s lush, vibrantly colored paintings, . . . take seemingly simple images and render them big, beautiful and bold.
Tanksley’s pared-down, childlike pictures provide a sketch of Cameroon village life, their electric hues of orange, magenta, and scarlet jumping from the pages.
– Don Tate
Lyah B. LeFlore is the author of the young adult novels, The World Is Mine and Can’t Hold Me Down in the Come Up series. Both are published by Simon & Schuster. In a video interview on Simon & Schuster’s website, Lyah said the Come Up books are about a group of multi-ethnic kids “taking their dreams to the next level by any means necessary”. Her inspiration was her big sisters going to New York to “go for their dreams”.
Booklist says of The World Is Mine, “The Come Up series has nailed a strong opener.”
Read the complete review at Booklist Review
To find out more about Lyah including a video interview, visit her Simon & Schuster author page.
Tololwa M. Mollel describes on his website the first time he had a new book to call his own. He stared at it. He smelled the pages. He cherished the words that transported him into different lives and worlds.”When I finally began school and to enjoy access to books, like a parched throat thirsts for water, I couldn’t get enough,” he wrote.
Reading and two special mentors – his paternal grandfather and uncle – put him on the path to writing and storytelling. Today, he’s an award-winning author of more than 16 children’s books including Coretta Scott King Honor book My Rows and Piles of Coins, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, and Parents’ Choice honoree The Orphan Boy, illustrated by Paul Morin. Mollel’s stories have won praise for drawing on his African heritage, exploring family and folklore and focusing on universal themes.
Along with being an author, Mollel is a dramatist and performer. His stories beg to be read aloud. Some even have songs. Mollel, who lives in Canada, enjoys sharing his work at schools and libraries: “I aim to provide a feast of words –written and spoken – for the eye, the ear and the mind; as well as for the creative imagination, and for performance.”
The idea of “feasting” on words came from the culture of his Massai-speaking grandfather who filled Tanzania-born Mollel with appreciation for the spoken word. He celebrates that spirit everywhere he goes. His books and performances captivate young readers and take them to magical places. He hopes through his work to share “the gift of story” that was given to him.
My Rows and Piles of Coins
“A warm family story set in Tanzania in the 1960s . . . The
first-person story contains several universal childhood experiences: the pride
in persevering and gaining a new skill and in making an unselfish contribution
to the family. Since the narrative focus is on the boy’s own goals, the story is
natural and never excessively moralistic. The fluid, light-splashed watercolor
illustrations lend a sense of place and authenticity. Watching Saruni’s savings
mount visually is a nice touch. A short glossary gives the meaning and
pronunciation of frequently used words. Deft and effective.”
– School Library Journal
“Buoyed by exceptional illustrations, Mollel (The Flying Tortoise) spins a tale of universal appeal from a scrap of Tanzanian folklore . . . Mollel’s story is an engaging fantasy for little ones with big aspirations, but it is Lewis’s (Fire on the Mountain) crisp, understated watercolors that steal the show. His pleasing compositions, with their surprising perspectives, incorporate details particular to the Tanzanian setting even as they evoke a sense of boundless space.”
– Publishers Weekly
Rhinos for Lunch and Elephants for Supper!
” . . . Mollel, whose retelling of another story from his Maasai heritage, The Orphan Boy, is a Notable Children’s Book for 1992, tells this amusing cumulative tale with a verve that especially recommends it for oral sharing; Spurll sets her wonderfully expressive animal characters in a carefully composed jungle attractively bordered with a lively geometric design, adding such delightful touches as a bespectacled leopard reading to her wide-eyed cubs. Delightful.”
Find out more about Tololwa M. Mollel here.
View Next 25 Posts
Arna Wendell Bontemps was an award winning author born in 1902 in Alexandria, Louisiana. When he was four, his family moved to southern California. He loved books and read everything even if his minister father didn’t approve. Entering and winning a poetry contest after graduating from Pacific Union College in 1923, inspired him to move to New York. New York was in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance and Arna felt a connection with the writers, artists, and musicians who were making their presence known. One of those writers was Langston Hughes. Arna and Langston became lifelong friends and literary collaborators. Langston described Arna as:
“one of America’s simplest yet most eloquent writers dealing in historical materials, as his historical novels and his “The Story of the Negro” prove. His prose is…readable, …yet rich in poetic overtones and the magic of word music…. I have known Arna Bontemps for more than twenty years and have collaborated with him on children’s books, plays, and the editorship of a recent anthology, The Poetry of the Negro. I know him to be a very thorough and conscientious worker, methodical, giving a certain number of hours every day to his writing, and a fine literary craftsman. His factual prose is not dry, but full of warmth and poetry. And he has both tolerance and humor.”
Vanguard Middle Grade Author Arna Bontemps’ books were filled with the “magic of word music”. He won many awards including a Newbery Honor for The Story of the Negro in 1949. It also won the Jane Addams Children’s Book award.
Arna married in 1926 and had six children. Undoubtedly, they served as inspiration for his many children’s books. He continued to write books, poetry, and edit anthologies throughout his life. He also worked at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. Then he became Head Librarian at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He also taught creative writing classes.
In 1966, Arna left for the University of Illinois to teach American Literature. But a stroke forced him to return to Nashville. After he regained his health, he taught at Yale University for two years. He became Writer-In-Residence at Fisk in 1971 and began an autobiographic research project. Sadly, he never wrote it before his death of a heart attack in 1973.
Arna and Langston Hughes were literary collaborators as well as close friends. One collaboration was Boy of the Border, a coming of age story about a young boy’s horse-drive journey from Mexico to Los Angeles. The adventure story, filled with compassion and curiosity about life is just as relevant today as it was when first published.
Arna wrote Bubba Goes to Heaven in the 1930s, but it wasn’t published until after his death.
Of Lonesome Boy Arna wrote to his friend Langston, “This is the book I enjoyed writing, perhaps because I did it impulsively for myself, while editors hounded me for my misdeeds and threatened me if I did not deliver manuscripts I contracted for. So I closed the door for two days and had myself a time.” Upon publication Langston replied, “It is a perfectly charming and unusual book.”
During his teaching and writing carrer, Arna recieved Carnegie and Guggenheim research grants and a brilliant list of awards. More impressive than that, in each of his literary works, Arna Bontemps has left us with ”the magic of word music”.
More Literary Awards
- Alexander Pushkin Poetry Prize, Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, 1926, for “Golgotha Is a Mountain”
- Alexander Pushkin Poetry Prize, Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, 1927, for “The Return”
- First Prize, Poetry, The Crisis, 1927, for “Nocturne at Bethesda”
- First Prize, Fiction, Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, 1933, for “A Summer Tragedy”
- Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Jane Addams Peace Association, 1956, for The Story of the Negro, 1955 edition
Samples of Arna’s poetry are available on his Facebook page.
Watch this You Tube video to learn more about Arna Bontemps and his role in the Harlem Renaissance.
His Birthplace home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a museum.
Kirkland C. Westport wrote his biography, Renaissance Man From Llouisiana: A Biography of Arna Wendell Bontemps (Greenwood Press, 1992).