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The Brown Bookshelf team blogs about children's literature, interviews authors and librarians, new releases in children's literature and several other issues and topics in children's literature.
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“‘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:
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.
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.
B. A. Binns is a Chicago Area author who writes stories about “real boys growing into real men,” and finds writing the perfect follow-up to life as an adoptive parent and a cancer survivor.
She has authored three realistic, YA books exploring multicultural themes: PULL (2010), DIE TRYING AND OTHER STORIES (2012) and BEING GOD (2013). She presents workshops on subjects such as Reaching Reluctant Readers, Multicultural literature, and Non-traditional Romances. She has been featured at the Illinois Reading Council, the Wisconsin Festival of Books, the Ohio Educational Library Media Association, the Indiana Library Federation, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE, DePaul University. In 2013 she will present at the Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature for Children. It is with great honor that we present to you, B.A. Binns, on Day 10 of our 28 Days Later Program.
Tell Us About “The Journey.”
The best part about taking any journey is that you always end up somewhere. The nicest part about my journey is that it’s on-going, I still have new destinations before me.
My journey began with a character who moved into my head and refused to leave. She was joined by others, her friends, relatives, and even a few enemies. Suddenly I had more imaginary friends than my elementary school daughter. Friends with their own lives who wanted me to tell their stories.
One character in particular, David Albacore, needed to explain his motives to the world. I combined his need with information from an AWP (Association of Writing Professionals) workshop I attended in 2009, about boys not reading. The result was his story, told from his POV. I found an agent and editor who loved the message and christened the book PULL. Westside Books published David’s story in 2010.
Watch the PULL book trailer:
What or Who Is Your Inspiration?
Cynthia Liu and I are both Chicagoland girls, and I loved her Paris Pan middle grade book. It was wonderful to meet her and discuss some issues about POC in today’s YA books.
James Klise is another Chicago area author, librarian, and teacher. He and I have met and worked together at several conferences and workshops. This summer we will collaborate on a presentation about attracting male reluctant readers at the American Library Association summer conference (I have come full circle from my AWP days).
Last, but so not least, Torrey Moldanado a Hispanic male YA author I discovered at the 2012 YALSA literature symposium. I immediately became a fan. I was deeply moved hearing him speak about writing to reach out to his own younger reluctant reader self. That remains one of my major motives in writing, to reach out to young reluctant readers and help turn them around.
Can You Fill Us In onThe Back Story?
PULL sold to Westside in 2010 and was rushed into production by November of that year. The response to David’s world inspired other characters and both short stories and new books. BEING GOD takes Malik Kaplan, Pull’s antagonist, on his own journey, because even bad guys have reasons for their actions. And when that “bad guy” is only seventeen, he deserves a shot at redemption. So I take the boy who believes that force is the right response to almost every situation and make him confront a series of disasters that force him to look into a mirror and decide if the man he sees staring back is really the man he wants to be.
PULL was named a 2012 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers, and named to a 2011 School Library Journal list of Best Books For Youth In Detention. PULL has also received wonderful reviews from a number of sources.
A sample of some of the reviews:
This compelling story gives authentic voice to…the long-term consequences of domestic violence, and a maturing teen’s need to differentiate the expectations he has of himself from those even the adults he respects have. …Offers much to engage both male and female readers, readers of color, and teachers. – Booklist
The story is gripping, and the raw language accurately depicts how young adults speak…many young adults will enjoy reading about the many challenges David faces and his unruly wooing of Yolanda. It is the kind of book where once you’ve read the first page, you are hooked. – Voya
Tautly written, gripping and realistic…the story of what we owe our parents’ dreams for us–and what we do not. – Tanita S. Davis, recipient of the 2010 Coretta Scott King Author Honor
The characters’ feelings are realistically portrayed and the raw language is not gratuitous. …this is Binns’ first novel and she is an author who definitely has potential. – School Library Journal
David is never a comfortable character, and he won’t make you feel comfortable (especially if you, like me, wince at the thought of someone not getting an education). And that, I think is what makes this book so raw and powerful. It is simply too easy to believe that David is real. To buy into what is a complex mix of teenage anger and angst and hope and self-hatred and arrogance all at once–and even though those things sound contradictory, when David lets you know how it is, in his short, terse, no-nonsense style, it’s real. – USA Today Bestselling author Courtney Milan
It was beyond refreshing to have a guy male character who is not a “lovable nerd” or a “playa with a soft interior”. David seems to fit in the middle of these two extremes. He’s not a playa, nor is he particularly good at school and he’s surprisingly not hopeless when it comes to girls (it most likely helps that his mother was a good example and that he has two sisters). I was afraid that David would try and play the “noble hero” throughout the novel. He does try it, but he soon realizes that he does resent his sisters. Because of his sisters he can’t keep his paycheck for himself or take The Dare (as Yolanda is known) out on fancy dates along with a host of other things. The noble thing about David is that he acknowledges his resentment, but fights to keep it under control. Pull is a frank story that does not hesitate to talk about sex, swear or even gay relationships (I was grinning from ear to ear when I read a certain scene between Carl and Neill. They were gay and it was no big deal. Yes!). – Ari at Reading in Color blog
My favorite review came from an 8th grade boy described by his teacher as a “reluctant reader,” who called Pull “better than cable” and asked for MORE. That desire helped inspire me to complete The DIE TRYING collection (2012) and now BEING GOD (2013).
BEING GOD’S first review came from a 17-year-old boy, who said, “The book BEING GOD was really good! I was able to relate to what the main character was going through. This book shows that there is always a way out of trouble, and also how the decisions we make can affect us in the long run. I loved it.”
See my blog: http://harperwriterstogether.blogspot.com/p/pull-reviews.html for a more comprehensive list of reviews.
In Your Opinion, What is The State of the Industry?
Westside wanted to publish more books with diverse characters, but it couldn’t find the right mix and market. The company’s demise in 2012 left me without a home. I made a decision to self-publish BEING GOD, which came out February 1, 2013 under my own imprint, AllTheColorsOfLove. I purchased cover art, hired an editor, used Createspace for printing, and signed a contract with Follett Library Services for distribution of my books. And now I am free to move on to the next book, MINORITY OF ONE, where Neill, a black gay teen, deals with the revelation that he was adopted, has a white half-sister, and that his mother wants to re-enter his life.
I believe the new world of publishing will open avenues to readers in the niche or boutique markets that major publishers may be reluctant to risk entering. I write for people who want diversity in their reading material, and for reluctant teen readers. I realize those groups are still considered niche groups among the major players in the publishing world. While I hope everyone who likes a good read will pick up one of my books, for AllTheColorsOfLove, those “niche” groups are the prime target.
I do not believe books featuring diversity in characters and settings is a limiting area. People just don’t know how many quality multicultural books are out there or where to find them. I speak at a number of librarian and educator conferences. When I do, I always find teachers and librarians who want more diversity in their collections and do not know how to find the right books. I donate books to schools, libraries, and juvenile detention centers to make sure my intended audience find books to instill a love of reading.
For more about B. A. Binns check out her website, http://babinns.com, blog http://barbarabinns.com or LIKE AllTheColorsOfLove on Facebook, http://facebook.com/allthecolorsoflove
See B. A. Binns interviewed by:
Sammy the Parrot at the 2012 Illinois Library Federation:
Norwood Holland of Black Literature Magazine, at the 2012 Romance Slam Jam – http://youtu.be/7yMUtZXaEz4?t=6m15s
Veronica Chambers has “written more than a dozen books for children, most recently Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa and the body confidence Y/A novel, Plus. Her teen series, Amigas, is a collaboration between Chambers, producer Jane Startz and Jennifer Lopez.”
From Ms. Chambers’ Web site:
“After two years of planning the hottest quineaneras in Miami and beyond, the girls of Amigas Incorporated are facing their biggest challenge yet—high school graduation. While Carmen and Jamie know exactly what they want, Alicia is on the fence. Should she go to the school of her dreams even if it means doing exactly what has always been expected of her? Or should she try something new? With so many decisions to make, Alicia is beginning to feel like choosing a school is like preparing for a quince—without any of the fun. On top of it all, the group has gotten a mysterious request from a young woman who wants to throw the most secret of quinceaneras. The girl wants it to be so secret that she won’t even tell them her name! Now the group must figure out how to throw the perfect party for a perfect stranger, nail the SATs, and figure out if there is anyone at the school willing and capable of taking on their business. Will it all work out? Or will the end of school mean the end of Amigas Incorporated?”
Read this review of AMIGAS from Ari at Reading in Color.
Ms.Chambers’ other works for children include Marisol and Magdalena. From the Scholastic Web site: “Chambers has a wonderful ease with her characters’ language, infusing Marisol’s first-person narrative with the vibrancy of her bilingual cultural background. Spanish words and phrases are an essential part of Marisol’s way of talking, but are presented in context, so that non-Spanish-speaking readers won’t feel lost or left out. Readers will learn about Marisol’s cultural identity along with her, and identify with her thoughts on friendship, her initial worries about her journey, and the triumph she feels as she discovers that she can make even far-off Panama feel like home.”
Educators can check out this
lesson plan from Scholastic for the book.
For more about Veronica Chambers and her work, visit her online!
Publishers Weekly called it a powerful debut. Booklist said it was hard-hitting and gave it a starred review. Brian F. Walker’s Black Boy, White School (HarperCollins) has won praise for its gripping portrayal of a 14-year-old boy from East Cleveland navigating life in a predominantly white boarding school.
Walker found inspiration for his young adult novel close to home. He grew up in the same neighborhood. He left that world and had to find his way in the unfamiliar land of boarding school. Exploring issues of identity, race and class, Walker’s work will linger long after it’s read.
We are proud to celebrate Brian F. Walker on Day 8:
I grew up in an all Black neighborhood, in a city and a state where the racial divide was wide and strong. There were days that I didn’t see a white person at all, unless it was a teacher or police officer. In the 9th grade all of that changed for me. I was sent to a boarding school in the northeast, where I was one of very few students of color. There were good times and there were bad. The experience changed me, though; made me look out at the world through different eyes.
After college, and some time as a newspaper reporter, I returned to my old prep school as a teacher and coach, found still just a handful of black kids, facing the same problems that I had, years before. That’s when I decided to write the book, although the initial thought was a memoir. Over time the idea changed, though. I had left the position at my alma mater to teach at a different school, closer to a major city. Although there were more students of color, and some even commuted from home every day, I found that the kids struggled in the same familiar ways. It made me realize that the story wasn’t just mine, nor did it belong solely to my alma mater or graduation year. It was a universal story. The memoir was gone, replaced by a work of fiction that borrows heavily from my experiences as a prep school student, teacher and coach
As a kid, I read E.B. White, Edward Stratemeyer, and my favorite was a book called J.T., by Jane Wagner, mainly because it was about a black kid who lived in a city. Other than those, most of the stuff I read was for adults or older kids: Agatha Christie, Mario Puzo, Edgar Allan Poe, and a handful of pulp novels we had about Conan the Barbarian. In terms of today’s children’s literature, though, there is a lot more to choose from, and the stories are so much more compelling and real. Walter Dean Myers is absolutely fantastic. They way he is able to give voice to today’s youth is inspiring. Monster, Game, and Dopesick are my favorites, so far. Sherman Alexie does a brilliant job of weaving humor into tales that otherwise might break the reader’s heart. My favorite so far is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, although Reservation Blues was amazing, too.
The Back Story
The book started out as a memoir but changed over time to a work of fiction. The first draft got me form letters of rejection, possibly even folded by human hands! The second draft garnered more of the same, although a few of the agents scribbled personal notes of encouragement and advice. By draft three I was more confident, having a better understanding of the market and what they were looking for. It was well received, and I chose an agent in California who really believed in the story. Jodie sent the manuscript to a publishing contact and we waited for a response. Days turned to weeks that felt like years. Then, on my birthday, just as I was getting ready to go to bed, I got a call from the west coast. HarperCollins wanted to publish the book. I could have flown from the room and kissed a star.
” . . . Over the course of his year at the academy, Ant’s intense exploration of his own identity leads to more questions than answers—for example, is he Ant, as he’s called in Cleveland, or Tony, a nickname given by white students? How can he live in two worlds and yet feel like he belongs in neither? Walker grapples with these questions of belonging and examines the subject of race relations with unflinching honesty. Both the Cleveland and Maine characters are authentically drawn, and, like Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007), this powerful novel is certain to spark thoughtful discussion.”
– Booklist, Starred Review
“An authentic, raw, honest, wise and thought-provoking exploration of race, of reaching for more even when you aren’t sure what that really looks like, and of how it feels to straddle your childhood and the person you think you’d like to become.”
– Young Adult Books Central
Find out more about Brian F. Walker here.
Brynne Barnes’ story of publication will leave you feeling inspired and wanting more.
Trust me, if you love books and write books or plan to write, her story will resonate with you.
28 Days Later proudly honors Brynne Barnes on Day 7.
Some kids had teddy bears. I had books. I carried them underneath my arm, everywhere I went, since I can remember. I have very early memories from the age of two, lugging around this very large yellow picture book with all of the fairy tales in one collection. I was too young to read it, but I sat there, soaking in the illustrations, imagining the stories. By the age of four, I was reading to my pre-school class during story time. I loved books. Always have.
When I was 9 or 10, I wrote the first piece of writing that I really enjoyed in school. It was a paper about how I spent my summer vacation. It’s my first memory of really “crafting” a piece of writing while creating a narrative. I deliberated over finding the “right words” and the “right adjectives.” But I didn’t think anything of it. By the time I was 12, I started writing poetry. A lot. That’s when I realized that I loved writing as much as I loved reading. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I hadn’t planned to pursue it until later on in life.
I continued to write poetry, speeches, and perform spoken word throughout the rest of my schooling – even in college. During my senior year at the University of Michigan, I volunteered with this program called the We Read Literacy Program. It was a student-run program through The Detroit Project. We volunteered at some grade schools in Detroit that didn’t offer creative writing. Some of these schools also needed books, so we wrote stories for the children, had students from the art school illustrate them, and had them published by a local publisher to give to the students. Then, we helped the students write their own books and illustrate them. That’s when I knew that I wanted to be a children’s author and put my plans to attend medical school on hold – permanently. I was twenty-two then. By the age of twenty-three, I had written my third children’s book manuscript (the second of which was Colors of Me) and started researching publishers.
There are so many authors that have shaped my voice and illustrators that have shaped my imagination that it’s difficult to pinpoint a select few. I’m grateful to them all. I was raised on Dr. Seuss, Madeline, The Snowy Day, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. I read everything I could get my hands on. I first started writing poetry because I discovered Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni and Shakespeare. In school, I read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and haven’t been the same since. Among my favorites in children’s book writers and illustrators include E.B. Lewis, Kadir Nelson, Carole Boston Weatherford, Ezra Jack Keats, Bryan Collier, Christopher Paul Curtis, Walter Dean Myers, for creating gripping illustrations and stories that won’t let go of me. Of course, the list goes on beyond what I could list here.
The Back Story
I re-wrote Colors of Me and changed its title countless times over four years time before Sleeping Bear Press ever saw it. It changed so dramatically from the first draft that it took that process for me to figure out what it was supposed to be. However, during the time that I was re-writing it, I obtained a copy of Children’s Writers & Illustrator’s Market and began to shop it at different publishers (two or three). No one was biting, but I did get a friendly rejection letter or two. Two different editors had complimented me on the manuscript by writing, “Really nice story” and “Great submission, but we’re looking for something different.” I enrolled in Eastern Michigan University’s M.A. program in Creative Writing and pushed forward. I attended my first SCBWI conference in the winter and received some invaluable advice in the one-on-one critique session. “Change the first stanza and you might have something.” I did. In the meantime, during my last semester at EMU, I met one of my best friends. After I graduated, she started interning at Sleeping Bear Press. She emailed me, requesting that I send her my manuscript. She wanted to shop it there, and Sleeping Bear is a closed house (which means they don’t accept blind submissions), so I happily sent it to her. Several months later (and by several, I mean six or seven), I got the news — they offered me my first publishing contract. I was twenty-six and elated. Colors of Me was released one year and a half later.
Since its September 2011 release, Colors of Me was named:
- 2012 Gelett Burgess Award Winner for First Published Book
- 2012 Friends of American Writers Award Winner for Juvenile Literature
Award-Winning Finalist in the Hardcover Fiction Category of The USA “Best Books 2011″ Awards, sponsored by USA Book News
Learn more about this amazing author by visiting her website at www.brynnebarnes.com.
©Paul Abdoo. All rights reserved
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
That’s a truth that Traci L. Jones knows first hand. It was the harshly delivered criticism of a college professor that nearly destroyed the lifelong love Traci had held for the written word as long as she could remember.
It’s also true that life begets life. After the birth of her first child, Traci’s literary passions were reawakened and she enrolled in a writing course at the University of Denver. According to Traci, “My love for writing returned with a vengeance and I haven’t quit writing yet.”
Traci was born in Monmouth, Illinois and raised in Denver, Colorado. She still resides in Denver with her husband and four children–in the very same home in which she was raised. In 2006, Traci won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award for her debut young adult title, Standing Against the Wind (FSG). Two well-received YA novels have followed: Finding My Place (FSG, 2010) and Silhouetted by the Blue (FSG, 2011). On Day 6, The Brown Bookshelf invites you to celebrate the inspirational words and story of author Traci L. Jones.
* * *
From the beginning I was a reader. It wasn’t until I got a manual typewriter for Christmas, when I was ten, that I became a writer. Then it would be another thirty plus years before I became a published author. At first, I never thought about being an author. All through high school and college I wanted to work at an advertising agency and be a copywriter. Jingles that stuck in your head, slogans you wore on t-shirts? THAT was what I wanted to create. Not novels.
Unfortunately, in my very first English class, during my very first semester in college, I was told by one of my first college professors that I was a terrible writer. Rather than hold on to the compliments from teachers I had gotten in elementary, junior high and high schools, I chose to believe him. That’s the thing about being young; you too readily believe what is negatively said about you, rather than what is positively said about you. So, although it was my big dream to come up with a commercial jingle that people would find themselves singing, I stopped taking English classes and switched my major from English to Psychology. Later, I did work in advertising–not on the creative side as I had dreamed, but on the account management side, which I did for six years until I got married and became a stay-at-home mom.
One day I was flipping through the newspaper and stumbled upon an ad for a Creative Writing Certificate. It dawned on me that I had found what I hadn’t realized I’d been missing: writing. So I enrolled at the University of Denver’s creative writing program, and that empty part of my heart was suddenly filled. It was in one of my classes that I began writing my first book. It was an assignment which eventually blossomed into an award winning YA novel called Standing Against the Wind. From the instructor’s desk, to the slush pile at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, to a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award…not bad for a simple classroom assignment.
The range of novelists that inspire me is far too wide and vast to even begin to name them all. Suffice it to say that whatever style of book I’m reading tends to seep into my novels. I was reading a Regency romance novel by Stephanie Laurens when I wrote Standing Against the Wind, which is why the lead male character in the book is very much a dashing hero figure, albeit one who is 13 years old and from the Chicago projects, rather than an adult English Duke from Cambridge.
While I wrote my second book, Finding My Place, I was reading grittier, darker YA novels from authors like Laurie Halse Anderson. Finding My Place started out a much darker novel with a far less happy ending before my editors pulled me back into the light.
As I wrote my third book, Silhouetted by the Blue, I was reading books that focused on family interactions, and how home environment effects characters in ways in which they are sometimes unaware.
I guess I’m like a literary sponge. What I read gets absorbed into my soul, and then gets squeezed out onto the page as I write. Generally, I love the voice of Christopher Paul Curtis, the storytelling of J. California Cooper and the characters of J.K. Rowling.
The Back Story
I have been very fortunate in my career not to have to shop around my books very much. I received a contract with Farrar, Straus & Giroux for my first novel, which led them to accepting my second, which ended with them accepting my third. My first FSG editor, Beverly Reingold, found my novel in her slush pile. She brought Finding My Place, but halfway through the editing process she left FSG and I finished that novel with Lisa Graff. Lisa purchased my third, Silhouetted by the Blue. Halfway through the editing process of Silhouetted Lisa left, and I finished the book with my third editor in 5 years.
The Buzz on Silhouetted by the Blue
Kirkus Reviews says, “The portrayal of Serena is strong, showing both her maturity in handling her family problems and her normal seventh-grade insecurities…A compassionate portrait of an African-American family coping with grief and mental illness.”
School Library Journal says, “Jones has done a magnificent job of describing someone who is clinically depressed.”
BCCB says, “Jones creates a convincing character in Serena…Readers will be immediately sympathetic to Serena’s plight and draw a sigh of relief when she finally gets the help she needs.”
Horn Book Magazine says, “Serena’s courage, perseverance, and hesitant relationships with friends, with Henry, and with new boyfriend Elijah make her a compelling character.”
Publishers Weekly says, “…[A] moving portrait of a girl forced by her mother’s death and her father’s incapacitating depression to accept adult household and child-raising responsibilities.”
The State of the Industry
As much as I love the publishing industry, I also find it can be quite disheartening. I read close to 100 books a year, and find the vast majority well written and fully developed. Yet those are not the books that get the attention of the media and make the deserving authors millions. Like the rest of our nation, even the book industry is celebrity obsessed. It seems that any actor or reality star is able to get not only a lucrative book deal, but invaluable media exposure to help promote their books.
I also think that the industry is color struck. What I mean by this is that often publishing firms seem to pigeon-hole authors of color. They seem to believe that we can only write for readers of color, and because of this assumed narrow segment of readers, it seems that editors further believe that readers of color only want books that focus on slavery, civil rights, or on the art of being ghetto fabulous. Characters must be in some sort of race based peril otherwise the book is somehow unmarketable. Books by authors of color in which race is not a focal point seem to be ignored. For instance, Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind was an incredibly moving and fascinating book which received none of the critical acclaim and attention it deserved. The same goes for If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson. While characters I write are always African-American, that shouldn’t automatically mean that the characters are poor, speak grammatically incorrectly, and don’t know their fathers. Or that the audience for my books is solely kids of color. Good books are good books and we African-American authors should also be given the book ends and prominent displays in all bookstores. Once we are allowed to write characters whose skin color is incidental to the universal theme about which we are writing, the industry will take a huge leap forward.
For more information on Traci L. Jones and her work, visit:
“When you grow up, you must write this down!” Those are the powerful words from Glennette Tilley Turner’s father, and we are so thankful that she listened.
Glennette Tilley Turner was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on November 23, 1933. Blessed with strong, educated parents, she graduated high school, and in 1955, went on to earn her B.A. at Lake Forest College. Even though Mrs. Turner once worked in advertising, her heart was clearly in education. She’s taught in the Chicago Public School System, the Maywood-Melrose Park Public School System and, in 1968, she began teaching in the Wheaton-Warrenville Public School System, where she remained for twenty years.
In 1977, Mrs. Turner went back to school and earned her master’s degree in History and Juvenile Literature at Goddard College.
She is an educator, a consultant, a historical researcher and often lectures on her knowledge of the Underground Railroad. As a member of the Underground Railroad Advisory Committee of the National Park Service (NPS), she testified before subcommittees of the U.S. Senate and House and the Illinois Senate in support of Underground Railroad legislation. Her Underground Railroad program is recognized by the NPS Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program. She has made presentations at National Network to Freedom Conferences, written articles about the Underground Railroad for several magazine and newspaper publications, and has been interviewed by C-SPAN and other cable networks. She even narrated the Chicago Opera Theater’s production of Harriet Tubman!
It is with the greatest honor that we present to you:
A VANGUARD SPOTLIGHT ON GLENNETTE TILLEY TURNER
Tell Us About “The Journey.”
When I was 10 years old my father became president of a small, cash strapped college in St. Augustine, Florida. As a result he was administrator by day and fund riser in the evenings. After doing a full day’s work he would drive to Baptist churches as far as 60 or 70 miles away to appeal for money to operate the college.
My mother feared he would fall asleep at the wheel if he traveled those distances alone, so she solved the problem by sending me along. She figured that having a kid along talking and asking questions would keep him awake. Those were treasured times for me.
As we drove along he would recount family stories and tell about people and events in Black history. He was especially interested and knowledgeable about Black inventors. I was fascinated! Not only was this the first time I heard details of the family stories, it was also my first time I heard about the achievements and contributions of Black people to national and world history. I wasn’t learning any of this in school and there weren’t books that told these stories. Knowing this Daddy would end each story by saying, “When you grow up you must write this down!” So I grew up with every intention of becoming a writer.
After college the only writing related job I could land was writing advertising copy for a woman’s dress store. During this time a fellow copywriter and friend had a chance conversation with a children’s book editor who lived in the same apartment building. The editor told my friend that she was looking for someone to write a multicultural picture book for her fall list. My friend told the editor, “I know just the person to do it.” Surprise for Mrs. Burns was the outcome.
What or Who is Your Inspiration?
After marrying and starting a family I went back to school to get my teaching credentials and began teaching elementary school. Meanwhile I began writing a monthly biographical sketch in Ebony, Jr! magazine. Naturally, it featured some of the figures from Black History that my father had told me about. During that time I had an opportunity to go to D.C. to attend a conference and while there met my idol, Eloise Greenfield. She was gracious, and welcoming, and encouraging. I left there thinking how I could expand on and combine the biographical sketches I’d been writing into a collective biography.
As a classroom teacher I’d been writing skits which kids loved acting out–so paired the bios with skits and published Take a Walk in Their Shoes and later Follow in Their Footsteps. And followed that book with a full length biography of Lewis Howard Latimer. In the meantime I’d began conducting research on the Underground Railroad and have since published The Underground Railroad in Illinois, Running for Our Lives, and An Apple for Harriet Tubman.
Can You Fill Us In on The Back Story?
While at ALA one year I gave a copy of Running for Our Lives to the editor of my most recent book. He liked it and we began a conversation which led to a contract to write Fort Mose: And the Story of the Man Who Built the First Free Black Settlement in Colonial America. The book has personal meaning to me because Fort Mose was located in St. Augustine. At the time our family lived there the story was either unknown—or untold—and I happened to learn of it some forty years later.
What a thrill to tell that story in this book and for there to be such great response to the book. It is the SCBWI 2011 Golden Kite Honor Book for Excellence in Children’s Literature, received a starred review in Booklist, was a Booklist Editors Choice, was listed on Top 10 Best Black History Books by Booklist and as one of 15 best nonfiction multicultural books of the year by Booklinks, and selected for the National Council for the Social Studies list of Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN’S BOOKS, and KIRKUS REVIEWS all gave it excellent reviews. As if I wasn’t already on Cloud Nine, the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program presented me with their Wilbur Henry Siebert Award for excellence in the field of the Underground Railroad. Fittingly the award was presented at the NTF’s national conference in St. Augustine.
On a more personal note, I am the recipient of the Studs Terkel Humanities Award, the Margaret Landon Award, The Alice Browning Award of the International Black Writers Conference, the Irma Kingsley Johnson Award of the Friends of Amistad, and was inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent at the Gwendolyn Brooks Center of Chicago State University. In 2011 I received a lifetime achievement award from Operation Uplift and honored by Top Ladies of Distinction. But most recently, I was the 2012 recipient of Network’s Wilbur Siebert Award for my extensive Underground Railroad writings and efforts to make this significant chapter of American history known.
State of the Industry?
How good it is to see the contrast between the total absence of books by and about people of color and the wonderful books that are being created today.
On behalf of The Brown Bookshelf, thank you, Mrs. Turner, for all of your contributions to education and literature.
When debut author Glenda Armand read the autobiographies of Frederick Douglass, the story of his mother walking 12 miles each way to see him stayed with her. Armand, a mom of two, was moved by Douglass’ mother doing whatever it took to be with her son. She knew the story of their bond had to be shared with kids.
Winner of the 2006 Lee & Low New Voices Award, her picture book, Love Twelve Miles Long, illustrated by Colin Bootman, has been praised for celebrating a special relationship between mother and son and showcasing their love and hope as they deal with the tragedies of slavery and separation.
We are proud to feature Glenda Armand who shares her path to publication, inspiration for the book and meaning of her work:
This book had its beginning, first and foremost, with my love of history, teaching and writing. After many years as an elementary school teacher, I made up my mind to teach middle school. (Some of my colleagues would substitute “lost my mind” for “made up my mind.”) In preparing to teach 8th Grade US history, I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.
In his biographies (he wrote several), Frederick Douglass speaks lovingly of his mother, a slave named Harriet Bailey. Harriet and her son had the same master but lived on different farms, twelve miles apart. Some evenings, after a hard day of labor, Harriet walked those twelve miles to visit her young son and then twelve miles back. Reading about Harriet and her beautiful act of motherly love was a life-changing experience for me. I had to tell her story. I felt Harriet Bailey’s hand guiding me as I wrote it.
I told the story by imagining myself as an unseen observer as Harriet and Frederick talked in Old Master’s kitchen. I wrote what I “heard.” The connection that I felt to Harriet was never as strong as when Frederick asked his mother, “Why did God make us slaves?” To me, the question was too difficult and so, after writing it, I literally crossed it out (I was writing longhand). But then I heard Harriet’s voice telling me, “Let him ask the question. I will answer it.” And she did.
I am inspired to write about African-American history, particularly slavery, because these were people who, even though enslaved, led lives of consequence. They loved, invented, dreamed and hoped. They dared and planned and triumphed.
The institution of slavery, to me, is made all the more cruel if we fail to recognize the humanity of the individuals who were enslaved. We, their descendents, are a testament to a people whose souls, whose spirit and aspirations could not be chained. I feel that I am honoring them by giving them a voice; by telling their stories.
My personal connection to their stories is represented by a Bible which is my most prized possession. This Bible, printed in 1869, first belonged to my great-great-grandfather, who was born a slave and died a free man in 1928.
The Back Story
I met Louise May, the editor-in-chief at Lee and Low, at the annual conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I told her about the manuscript I was writing about Frederick Douglass and his mother. She encouraged me to enter it into a contest that her house had for yet-to-be-published authors.
The manuscript for Love Twelve Miles Long won the New Voices Award for that year, which included a publishing contract. I was honored that Lee and Low chose Colin Bootman to illustrate the manuscript. He did a beautiful job.
2013 California Collections – Elementary School California Readers
“Frederick Douglass’ mother imparts 12 lessons, one for each mile she walks on her clandestine nighttime visits to him . . . In this, her debut effort, Armand focuses on the positive aspects of maternal devotion and a mother’s dreams of greatness for her son. The full-page watercolor paintings capture the nighttime setting and depict a loving mother and child . . . Share this with young readers as a series of homilies on dreams and a family love strong enough to overcome any adversity.”
“As a young child, Frederick Douglass was separated from his mother and sent to live on another plantation. From this slight piece of history, Armand weaves a story that illuminates a mother’s love and amplifies the power of the human spirit . . . Readers are in the night with Harriet and Frederick, almost as if nothing exists outside of their warmth . . . This account is not about escape, tracking dogs, or slave hunters. As an ode to the love a mother has for her son, it is sweetly successful.”
– School Library Journal
“Starting with the boy’s elemental question, “Mama, why can’t I live with you?” the words and pictures tell the family separation story in all its heartbreak and hope.”
Find out more about Glenda Armand at http://glenda-armand.com/.
Check out this fascinating video of four Lee & Low staffers, including publisher Jason Low, walking 12 miles and paying tribute to Frederick Douglass’ mom: http://www.leeandlow.com/p/twelvemilewalk.mhtml.
As a teenager, Alaya knew writing was in her future. From listening to her storytelling family to reading every issue of Writer’s Digest to writing a novel, she followed her dream. Her fans are happy that she stuck to those plans because now she is the accomplished author of The Summer Prince.
Today, the 3rd day of our annual 28 Days Later Campaign, we’re honoring Alaya Dawn Johnson for her writing successes and her contributions to the world of children’s publishing.
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. My mom taught me to read, an experience that remains magical in my memory, and my dad loved to tell us stories from his childhood, of hunting dogs and playing hooky to go fishing in local swimming holes (he grew up in the small town of Lawrenceville, Virginia). Storytelling is important to my family, and it always felt natural and right for me to do it in words on paper. In high school, I subscribed to Writers Digest and read each issue cover to cover. I had this vague knowledge that publishing was a business, and I needed to figure it out in order to become a professional writer. Writers Digest is oriented at a very beginning level, but it taught me a lot about the wider world of writers and publishers. I clung to the writing advice and attempted to incorporate it in my short stories and novels, with varying degrees of success. I was lucky enough to have wonderful teachers who nurtured my ambition and encouraged me to write stories and submit my work. I got my very first rejection letter when I was fifteen. What’s funny in hindsight is how surprised I was! Even now, there aren’t very many published teenaged novelists, but I was vain enough to think I’d be an exception. The real turning point for me happened when I was 17 and 18. I finished my first real, plot-heavy novel and I knew that I finally had something that might one day get published. It didn’t (thank goodness!) but the effort of wrestling that book into somewhat decent shape taught me more about writing than everything I’d learned up until then. I learned that I could finish, even if it seemed impossible. I learned that it’s really not the best idea to use an adverb every time a character “says” something. I learned to think about my words critically, and then do that again and again until I could hardly stand to look at them anymore. The next book I wrote was my first published novel, so I guess it worked.
Growing up, my favorite writer was Diana Wynne Jones. Fire and Hemlock and Hexwood especially inspired me, because of their complex narrative styles that wrecked havoc on reader expectations. I also hugely admire Ursula K. Le Guin, who is of course famous for her Earthsea series (what I guess would now fall somewhere between middle grade and young adult). But it was her adult novel The Left Hand of Darkness that truly showed me the transformative possibilities of social science fiction. Le Guin made everything I did in The Summer Prince possible.
Her diverse future that questions many of the pieties of modern society made me understand the potential scope of science fiction. And finally, Kindred by Octavia Butler is also an adult novel, but one I had assigned by a particularly intrepid eighth grade English teacher.
Her use of speculative tropes to explore the legacy of slavery has resonated with me ever since.
The Back Story
The Summer Prince is truly the novel of my heart. I had a completely different book under contract and I really needed the money I would get for finishing it, but I could not get the story of June, Enki and Gil out of my head. It got so bad that I finally decided that I would drop everything for a month, redeem some Amtrak rail points I had building up and take a three day train journey across the country. I figured I would start writing on the train, continue writing in an apartment in Vancouver, and when the month was done, I’d go back to my life and be the responsible, deadline-meeting writer that I wanted to be. Instead, it became clear that I couldn’t finish enough to satisfy myself in just a month. Even though it seemed like a terrible plan, I decided to forget about the other book for however long it took me to finish The Summer Prince. No one thought this was a good idea.
Ironically, it turned out to be the best move I could have made for my career. When I finished that draft I was looking for a new agent, so I sent it to a good writer friend of mine. She put me in touch with her agent, who read and loved the book, and after revisions sold it within two weeks to Arthur A. Levine. I ended up with a better deal than I’ve had for any of my previous novels, and a fabulous publishing team who really gets my book and my writing. (And I did finish that other book, by the way. My editor was remarkably understanding, given that I turned it in nine months late!)
I’m ecstatic to report that as of this writing, The Summer Prince has gotten two starred reviews, one from Publishers Weekly and the other from Kirkus. Kirkus called it “Luminous,” and Publishers Weekly said, “With its complicated history, founding myth, and political structure, Palmares Três is compelling, as is the triple bond between June, Enki, and Gil as they challenge their world’s injustices.”
It’s also a Junior Library Guild selection for the Spring.
Find out more about Alaya Dawn Johnson by visiting her website at alayadawnjohnson.com.
I’m not sure what to say about Christian Robinson other than: I love his artwork! It’s colorful, bold, vintage, kid-friendly, cool – what other adjectives can I insert?— Wonderful!
My first introduction to this talented artist was on the 7 Impossible Things website. I was mesmerized by the post. His art could be described as Ezra Jack Keats meets Eric Carle, yet Christian maintains his own unique style. No doubt this young man has a bright future. Here is Christian’s story in his own words:
By Christian Robinson
Oh, I like this story.
I had just graduated college (CalArts’ character animation program) and was interning with Pixar Animation Studios in their consumer products department. Long story short: I found myself in a meeting with Pete Doctor, director of Disney Pixar’s Up. My internship mentor, Ben Butcher, had invited me to be a fly on the wall and observe how meetings with directors and the consumer product department go. Ben also asked me to prepare a few sketches and illustrations before the meeting, demonstrating how I might interpret the film’s characters in my own style.
Pete Doctor noticed my illustrations pinned to a board, placed off in some dark corner of the room. He turned to the film’s producer, Jonas Rivera, and said, “Wow, we should have this guy make a book for the film.” And, just like that, I received my first book-illustration gig. I think my mind just exploded in that moment. It was so unreal, the kind of stuff you’d daydream about happening to you — but couldn’t imagine it happening for real.
There are so many artists who inspire me, where do I begin? Roger Duvoisin, Bruno Munari, Ezra Jack-Keats, Abner Graboff, Tomi Ungerer, Paul Rand I could keep going. What I love about each of these artist is their very distinct style and unique point of view. I’d also say they are unified in their ability to create work that I think is authentic and true to themselves. They inspire me to create work in which honesty and sincerity are my policy.
The Back Story
Let’s see, how far back should we go. So after my Pixar internship ended, I was just sort of wandering for a while. I knew I wanted to continue illustrating, just wasn’t sure how. I took on all sorts of small gigs to pay the bills, Including leading after school art workshops with kids. I also blogged about whatever I was creating, a habit I picked up in college. One day I get an email from a guy who had come across my blog asking if I had an agent and if I did to just consider the message fan mail. His name was Steven Malk who is now my agent and friend. I credit Steve with helping me make my dreams come true. Soon after that life changing experience I received the manuscript for Harlem’s Little Blackbird. The name Florence Mills was completely foreign to me. Reading Renée’s beautifully written manuscript was like being a child discovering some lost treasure. Florence’s story is powerful she was a real hero. Immediately I felt very fortunate just being considered as a potential illustrator for this project. How could I not want to be apart of sharing this inspiring story with young readers?
• NAACP Image award nomination for Literary work – Children
• New York Times says: “Robinson’s energetic, appealing illustrations allow [Florence’s] voice to be Watson’s charming and evocative biography, carefully pitched to younger readers, and Robinson’s energetic, appealing illustrations allow her voice to be heard.”
• Booklist, Starred Review, says: “Another element that will draw readers to the book is Robinson’s art. Simple collage shapes with a folk-art appeal capture everything from the warm relationship between Mills and her mother to her decision to forgo the Ziegfeld Follies for a show that introduced young black talent.”
• Kirkus says: “Robinson’s big-eyed portrayal of Florence and her work is terrific: jazzy, geometric and lively. The city scenes, stage moments and glimpses of Florence on- and offstage are sweetly retro; 20 blackbirds on stylized, blooming branches on both front and back endpapers add charm to the work overall.”
• Newsday features HARLEM’S LITTLE BLACKBIRD in a round-up of “Kids Stuff for Black History Month”
• EW.com reviews HARLEM’S LITTLE BLACKBIRD in a round-up of “10 Great New Historical Books for Kids”
“Watson’s lyrical prose is the real treat in this stunning children’s biography of Florence Mills.”
• HuffingtonPost.com has featured HARLEM’S LITTLE BLACKBIRD in a slideshow titled, “Mesmerizing Non-Fiction Children’s Books”
Here’s a look at HARLEM’S LITTLE BLACKBIRD:
Here’s a look at his next book, RAIN, written by Linda Ashman (Houghton Mifflin, 2013):
Here’s a look at his working space! And — shhh!– if you look closely at the art on the walls, you get a sneak peek at his forthcoming book, Josephine: The Story of Josephine Baker, fall, 2013.
And don’t forget, Christian visits schools.
–Interview by Don Tate
Malaika Rose Stanley
was born in Birmingham – Britain’s ‘second city’ – and now lives in the capital, London. She has been a teacher in Zambia, Uganda, Germany and Switzerland, as well as the UK – and at all levels of education including supporting autistic children in primary schools, teaching adult language, literacy, numeracy and creative writing, one-to-one tutoring, conflict resolution and teacher training. She has also worked as a researcher helping adopted people find their birth parents.
She is now a children’s author, whose books feature strong, positive African, Caribbean and Asian characters and reflect the cultural richness and diversity of family life, friendship groups, schools and society in general. Her work ranges from picture books to young fiction and she has recently had an adult short story included in the US-published anthology For Women – In Tribute to Nina Simone (ed Debra Powell-Wright). Her latest books, all published by Tamarind/Random House include Baby Ruby Bawled, Miss Bubble’s Troubles (2010 World Book Day Recommended Read), Spike and Ali Enson (2010 Book of the Year in The Independent national newspaper) and, most recently, the sequel Spike in Space. Skin Deep, the first novel in her Sugar and Spice series was published in 2011 and the second, Dance Dreams, is due to be published in the USA on 26 March 2013.
Malaika has been a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at London Metropolitan University and the London College of Fashion, a British Council Crossing Borders mentor for writers in Africa and a visiting author and workshop leader at various children’s literature festivals, Black History Month, World Book Day and other events. She has compiled a list of books featuring bi-racial characters published in the UK and the USA, which is available on her blog site.
It is truly a pleasure to kick off this year’s campaign with the very versatile Malaika Rose Stanley!
I first started writing for children when my two grown-up sons were young and I felt that there were too few children’s books with black protagonists published in the UK – especially those that featured and/or appealed to black boys. I have always loved writing, but I only thought about trying to write for children after I went to enroll for an adult education class in French! I was so impressed by a display of covers from books published by authors who had previously attended the Writing for Children class – including Malorie Blackman - that I signed up for both courses (although I have to admit that I ditched French after just one semester).
I progressed from the basic course to a follow-up writing workshop where the one criteria for joining was to have a ‘work-in-progress’. During that time, I wrote my first published book, Man Hunt, very slowly and carefully. My editor did not demand any revisions and made only a few, small editorial changes. It left me with a very distorted and unrealistic view of the publication process. My writing journey since then has been much rockier. After my first three books, I returned to teaching and had a ten-year break from publishing, so I have only been a full-time author for the past four years.
I’m giving my age away here, but my favourite books from childhood include
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Heidi by Johanna Spyri and the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton. The love of reading that these authors fostered in me continues to be an inspiration in my own writing.
As an adult, I have always admired and been inspired by the Australian children’s author, Morris Gleitzman, ever since I read one of his early books, Two Weeks with the Queen. I was impressed by his ability to write honestly about serious, challenging subjects but with humour and a lightness of touch. A couple of years ago, I heard him speak to about 6 adults and 60+ teenagers and he told us that the starting point for any story is to identify the biggest problem in the character’s life. He signed my copy of Now with the words, ‘G’day Malaika’ – which confirmed me as a die-hard fan.
All my own books start off based in reality, even when they stretch it to the limits and extend into fantasy, which is exactly what happens in Spike in Space:
Want a story that’s full of ALIENS and MONSTERS, and horrible, out-of-this-world smelly POO?
Then meet Spike! His adoptive family are from another planet, and now they’re taking him to live with them in SPACE!
Can he survive a new school, a horrible bully and a deadly attack from a hairy monster?
I wrote the first draft of Spike and Ali Enson many years before it was actually published. My manuscript went through many re-writes but I believe that tastes and trends within the publishing industry also changed. When I first started writing, the demand seemed to be almost exclusively for ‘issue-based’ books rather than stories that just happened to feature black characters – and there seemed to be little room for ‘genre’ books such as sci-fi or historical fiction. My experiences have certainly helped to cement my belief that authors should write what they know and love, rather than trying to write for the demands of the market which are likely to be inconsistent and difficult to predict.
I have been incredibly lucky to have secured deals directly with the publishers for all my books so far, but just over a year ago, I finally signed up with my first-ever agent, Catherine Pellegrino. The advantages were immediate in terms of the size of my admittedly still-small advance and meagre royalties for Spike in Space, but it’s a complete relief to be able to focus on my writing without diverting my creative energies into negotiations about money or foreign rights.
“This fast-paced action adventure… designed to appeal to those who like their stories to be tinged with fantasy, thrills and spills, all the drama unfolds in shortish chapters, with a range of galactic vocab and cartoon-like illustrations to add zing.” (Junior Magazine)
“In a hilarious sequel to Spike and Ali Enson, Spike is off to live with his adoptive family on another planet… The combination of everyday things with which all kids are familiar and the excitement of life in space make this a fascinating and enjoyable series, which also carries a strong message about the importance of families and the reassurance they give.” (Parents in Touch)
“This touching story of changes, new beginnings and dealing with difference is ideal for sharing with young children facing new experiences or beginning a new school year.” (The Book Trust)
My Brief Thoughts on the Industry:
I strongly believe that the children’s book publishing industry needs to actively challenge and reject the idea that books about black and ethnic minority characters will only appeal to readers from the same background. This view leads to the misconception that their commercial potential is limited and in turn makes it difficult for authors and others from diverse backgrounds to break into publishing.
The industry needs to accept that not all books by or about black people have to focus on the so-called gritty reality of racism or discrimination or identity – but that they should not ignore ‘issues’ if and when they arise in ‘slice of life’ stories – and have a wider approach in terms of ‘genre’, eg magic, sci-fi, thrillers, etc.
To find out more:
Visit Malaika Rose Stanley online at her Web home and on her blog.
Wonderful and inspiring words — thank you so much, Ms. Rose Stanley!
Stereotypes. Caricatures. That’s the face of black men children see in the media far too often. That’s if they see them at all. In 1953, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man won the National Book Award. But in many ways, even with our nation being led by an African-American president, recurrent positive images of black men are still missing from literature and popular culture.
That’s why the stunning book, Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America (Disney/Jump at the Sun), written by editor and acclaimed author Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by her husband, award-winning artist Brian Pinkney, is so important. The book begins with a stirring poem whose words “Reaching . . . Pulling . . .” set the tone for the stories of men who pushed for freedom, fought for justice and reached out to help others. In the preface, Pinkney shares how a circle of teens, “Brother Authors,” inspired her to create this poignant collection that salutes the lives of 10 visionaries and pioneers. “They were hungry for role models,” she wrote of the young men she met. “They wanted shoulders to stand on.” With Hand in Hand, she gave them and children everywhere an amazing gift.
Winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award, this is no ordinary assemblage of biographies. Laced with poems speaking to the power of each trailblazer’s hands and evocative paintings that honor their beautiful spirits, Hand in Hand is a celebration. Arranged chronologically, Pinkney creates a chain of hands that stretches from Benjamin Banneker to President Barack Obama. She shares their stories from childhood to adulthood, deftly exploring their challenges and triumphs.
As I read the story of each man – each a link in Pinkney’s great literary chain - I thought about a painting called He Ain’t Heavy by Gilbert Young. In it, Young depicts an African-American man reaching down to grasp the outstretched hand of another brother. The message in the picture and Pinkney’s book is clear: Each generation is pulled up by the one before.
Pinkney’s book is like a mighty hand reaching out to help young people rise and soar. Her words and her husband’s art will inspire readers of all backgrounds and ages to climb and give back as they soak in the stories of amazing black men who changed the nation through their faith, vision and hard work.
The Buzz on Hand in Hand
2013 Coretta Scott King Author Award
“Addressing the appetites of readers “hungry for role models,” this presents compellingly oratorical pictures of the lives and characters of 10 African-American men who exemplify a “birthright of excellence.””
– Kirkus, Starred Review (Best of 2012)
“Ten influential black men—including Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King Jr.—are profiled in this husband-and-wife team’s vibrant collaboration. Andrea Davis Pinkney introduces her subjects with powerful poems, before moving into image-rich, introspective, and candid descriptions of each man’s influence on civil rights, culture, art, or politics . . .”
– Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
In just a few days, the African American Children’s Book Fair will celebrate its 21st anniversary. Founded by literary publicist and advocate Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, the important festival has grown from a small event at a local department store in Philadelphia to one of the oldest and largest African-American children’s book fairs in the country.
Drawing children, parents, caregivers, educators and kidlit lovers from around the country, the fair will take place 1-3 p.m. on February 9 in the gymnasium of the Community College of Philadelphia. Want to attend? Try to get there early. Every year, people line up before the doors open for the annual celebration featuring some of the top talents in the children’s book industry.
As always, there will be plenty of books to buy and authors and illustrators on hand to sign them. There are special giveaways too. It’s a magical day that puts African-American book creators in the spotlight and brings them together with kids.
We talk to Vanesse about her book fair turning 21, her mission and dreams:
What does that milestone mean to you?
Twenty-one is a significant hallmark in one’s life. In real life, it is the official age of adulthood. But in the literary world, it is a major milestone, because most book fairs don’t last more than five years.
I attended a seminar this summer in New York and in the conference packet was a timeline of significant events in African-American literary history. It went all the way back to the 1800’s listing the first African-American children’s book published and people like Langston Hughes who contributed to the movement. One of the entries of significant events was THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILDREN’S BOOK FAIR established in 1992. Wow.
How has the book fair changed over the years?
When the book fair was created, it was a traditional book fair with authors/illustrators just signing books. The focus then was to promote and preserve African-American children’s literature. Our mission was to get people reading, but also buying books. There is no African-American children’s book store in the region and retailers that do carry children’s literature have limited amount of shelf space, so our books are in short supply.
The longer the book fair was held, the larger the attendance. The demand increased because the need was greater in the community. Many schools and libraries don’t have the financial resources to provide the most up-to-date children’s literature. Parents also understand that when you tell a child to cut off the electronics you’ve got to offer them an alternative.
Another thing that has changed for me is a better understanding of the consumer base. In general parents and caregivers, no matter what their social economic level is, all want their children to succeed. The attendees come from all sectors, but making sure their children have books in the home that reflect positive images of themselves is a common goal.
As the years went by, I recognized that my skills as a literary publicist (I’ve produced literary campaigns for a number of New York Times-bestselling authors of books for adults) was beneficial for the book fair, but also for many of the authors/illustrators who participated. So I set up media opportunities in television, print and radio. That exposure gave this pool of exceptional literary talent a broader platform to promote their works. It also gave the consumer a more personal look at the creativity in the African-American children’s literary community.
As sponsors came on board, I was able get them to support buying books of the authors/illustrators. So we now have corporate sponsors like NBC10 (the local NBC affiliate), PECO an Exelon Company, McDonalds, Comcast, and Health Partners, who as a part of their sponsorship purchase books of our participants to give away to children attending the event. So the authors/illustrators come into the book fair pre-selling their books.
But there is a brisk business in the book fair area. Consumers wait in long lines with an armful of books to purchase. They’ve come to buy. Our organization is one of the top sellers in the country of African-American children’s books. We have one of the widest selections of African-American children’s books for preschool to young adult. As one woman said to me there are two times a year she waits in lines – Black Friday and the African American Children’s Book Fair.
What are some of the highlights of this year’s event?
Our sponsor pre-purchase book event is one of the hallmarks of the event. We are on a mission to get books back in the home. Giving a child a book that reflects their image is a great way to get them on the path to a lifelong journey of reading for pleasure. It starts the process of buying books. It’s like you get a sample of something delicious and keep going back for more. That sample leads to purchasing the item.
We are getting corporate America directly involved in the literary movement. There aren’t many book fairs that focus on African-American children’s book authors and illustrators. But we take it to the next level.
Our educators’ resource area provides consumers with the latest catalogs from children’s book publishers. These are the same catalogs that are used by booksellers. This enlightens the consumer.
The NBC10 Reading Circle is an established book giveaway program. It is two-fold – a child gets to meet the person who wrote/illustrated the book. We know as an adult that an autograph book is treasured. We create that same experience for the children who attend the event. The second part is the ownership. This encourages the reading process.
Here are more highlights:
PECO, HEALTH PARTNERS and COMCAST will give away books of select authors/illustrators to educators for use in the classrooms.
Syndicated cartoonist Jerry Craft will offer a cartoon workshop sponsored by PECO an Exelon Company. Each child will receive a free book.
David Miller, author of Khahil’s Way, will lead a bullying workshop.
Regina Brooks, author of Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal, will host a teen seminar.
Cheryl Wadlington, author of The DivaGirl’s Guide To Style and Self-Respect, will host a self-esteem workshop.
Why is it so important to shine a spotlight on these children’s book creators?
Our mantra is PRESERVE A LEGACY, BUY A BOOK. This may be unsettling to some, but the only way great books continue to be published is if consumers buy them. The demand dictates the supply.
What do you hope visitors to the book fair gain from attending?
First and foremost, I want children at an early age to enjoy reading……………..make reading for pleasure a daily part of their lives. Another goal is to make consumers understand the African-American literary marketplace and the importance of buying children’s books. Our vast selection gets the consumer on the road to establishing a home library. My life has been empowered and enriched through African-American children’s books.
What’s your favorite part of the fair?
The excitement of a child receiving a book and finding a corner to read on the spot. Sometimes the media paints a picture of doom and gloom about the children in our communities, but come to our book fair and see the future of our nation. Uplifting. I have no doubt we will be alright. Just keep them reading.
What gives you the most joy?
- The great literary movement in this country. When you attend my book fair, it refutes the idea that African-Americans do not buy books for their children. Our attendees start lining up at 10 a.m. for entrance into an event whose doors open at 1 p.m.
- Adults who attended as children are now bringing their children. People who came as parents are now bringing their grandchildren. Time after time, I meet people who tell me stories about how the books they found at our book fair transformed their lives.
- The talented authors/illustrators who make my work possible. They are true stars in our community.
Learn more about the book fair and find out which authors and illustrators will be there at http://theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org/.
Yesterday The American Library Association announced its 2013 book award winners, which left us at the Brown Bookshelf happy dancing all over the place. Ellen’s Broom, written by Kelly Starling Lyons, one of the Brown Bookshelf’s founding members, received a Coretta Scott King Illustration Honor. Daniel Minter, featured next month during our 2013 28 Days Later campaign, is the brilliant illustrator of the book. While we are happy for every book that was honored yesterday, we are especially happy and proud for Ellen’s Broom. Join me in congratulating Daniel and Kelly for a job well done.
Below is a complete list of winners, congratulations to all:
Author Book Award
“Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America,” written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney, published by Disney/Jump at the Sun Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group.
Author Honor Books
“Each Kindness” by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group
“No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller” by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, published by Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.
Illustrator Book Award
“I, Too, Am America,” illustrated by Bryan Collier, text by Langston Hughes, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
Illustrator Honor Books
“H. O. R. S. E.,” illustrated and written by Christopher Myers, published by Egmont USA; “Ellen’s Broom,” illustrated by Daniel Minter, written by Kelly Starling Lyons and published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group; and “I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr.” illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Martin Luther King, Jr. and published by Schwartz &Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Today, we are proud to announce the honorees for our sixth annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of emerging and established children’s book creators of color. As is tradition, a stand-out author or illustrator will be saluted each day during February.
“This is my second year working with the 28 Days Later campaign and I’m just as excited as the first year,” said team member Gwendolyn Hooks. “Researching authors that I wasn’t familiar with and showcasing them so others will know of their spectacular work is a dream job. When I read their books, take note of their awards, and follow their path to publication, I’m swept along in the flow of their achievements. I can’t wait to share them with our readers.
The month-long submissions window for our campaign opened in October. Wonderful suggestions from librarians, teachers, publishers and kidlit lovers flowed in. We considered those names along with internal nominations and nominees from past years, keeping focused on our mission to “push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers.”
We will honor 28 children’s book creators in all – 24 authors and four illustrators.
“Due to busy and conflicting schedules, we considered ending our 28 Days Later campaign,” said team member Don Tate. “I’m sure happy we didn’t. I am inspired by this year’s honorees more than ever.
The authors and the day they will be featured are as follows:
Vanguard authors in bold.
Illustrators in italics.
Feb. 1 – Malaika Rose Stanley (MG)
Feb. 2 – Christian Robinson– (Illustrator)
Feb. 3 – Alaya Dawn Johnson – (YA)
Feb. 4 – Glenda Armand – (PB)
Feb. 5 – Glennette Tilley Turner – (MG)
Feb. 6 – Traci L. Jones – (YA)
Feb. 7 – Brynne Barnes – (PB)
Feb. 8 – Brian F. Walker – (YA)
Feb. 9 – Veronica Chambers – (MG)
Feb. 10 – B.A. Binns (YA)
Feb. 11 – Donna Washington – (PB)
Feb. 12 – Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams – (MG)
Feb. 13 – Octavia Butler – (YA )
Feb. 14 – Ann Tanksley – (Illustrator)
Feb. 15 – Lyah Beth LeFlore – (YA)
Feb. 16 – Tololwa M. Mollel – (PB)
Feb. 17 – Arna Bontemps – (MG)
Feb. 18 – Jasmine Richards – (MG)
Feb. 19 – James Ransome – (PB)
Feb. 20 – Ashley Bryan – (Illustrator)
Feb. 21 – Nalo Hopkinson – (YA)
Feb. 22- Daniel Minter – (Illustrator)
Feb. 23 – Angela Shelf Medearis – (PB)
Feb. 24 – Linda Tarrant-Reid – (MG)
Feb. 25 – Willie Perdomo – (PB)
Feb. 26 – Chudney Ross – (MG)
Feb. 27 – Becky Birtha – (PB)
Feb. 28 – Jaime Reed – (YA)
Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad
Author-Illustrator Henry Cole
Scholastic Press, 2012
First of all, my reader, please don’t take anything in this book report as negative. I love this book! The marketing folks at Scholastic mailed it to me, I’m supposing, because they consider it a diversity book. And we are a diversity website.
Initially, however, I argued with myself over whether Unspoken was a diversity book at all. The book gave me pause. I mean, it’s an Underground Railroad story. Enslaved African Americans used the Underground Railroad to escape north to freedom. But I didn’t see any African American’s pictured in this book — well, except for an eyeball. And I didn’t realize, having not read the cover flap copy or the Author’s Note, that it was an African American eyeball.
In Unspoken, a Civil War-era farm girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in a barn. At first the young girl is frightened and runs off. But her conscience sends her back to the barn with food. When slave catchers arrive, does she tell? No, her good sense of humanity would not allow her to do that. The favor is returned by the runaway at the end of the story with a very special gift.
This book was a huge undertaking on Cole’s part – and a risk – in my opinion. For one, you have a white author-illustrator telling a story of Black history. Now in all fairness, it’s not only Black history, it’s American history. The subject of slavery and the Civil War is not a Black thing. But while white authors publish these stories about slavery and the Underground Railroad all the time (all the time . . . all the time . . . all the time), for many African Americans, the subject still carries unhealed wounds. That Cole chose to tell the story while visually omitting the Black runaway was brilliant storytelling, but it could have just as easily backfired. I’m glad it didn’t. I’m glad it has been so well received (deservingly so). But I have to wonder, just a wee little bit, if picturing the slave would have made the story any less successful.
Of course, I’m coming at this from knowing my history. I know the enslaved person hiding behind the cornstalks in the barn is African American. But will a 6-year-old know that? Is it important to that 6-year-old to know the race of the runaway? Um, I think so, but that’s me. The book will surly conjure up interesting classroom discussions.
Cole’s bold graphite drawings on antique color paper add to the authentic feel of this story. Study this book and return to it time and again. Excellent visual storytelling, I’m an artist, I get it. And, yes, it is a diversity book, in my humble opinion. The Civil War and slavery was experienced from a variety of vantage points. In this story, we get a glimpse from a slightly different point of view than what we are used to seeing. Will make for great discussions in the classroom.
Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads and father-figures. Reposting a list of picture books that celebrate these great men. Please share your favorite books about dads of color in the comments. Thank you:
Too often, we just hear stories about dads who aren’t there. But there are so many fathers who are. They are teachers, comforters, heroes, friends. They are protectors, motivators, providers. And they’re all around us — even in the world of children’s books.
Forget about fairytale perfection. These storybook dads are the real deal – strong black men with individual experiences and concerns and a shared devotion to their children.
Here are some picture books that celebrate African-American fathers and father figures.
The Bat Boy and His Violin (Simon & Schuster), a poignant story of a boy whose father — coach of a Negro League team – makes him bat boy and comes to appreciate his special musical gift, written by Gavin Curtis, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.
I Dream of Trains (Simon & Schuster), an eloquent tale of a boy who dreams of riding the rails with his hero, engineer Casey Jones, and discovers his own father is a hero too, written by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Loren Long.
In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall (Lee & Low), a collection of poems saluting black fathers, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. In this moving volume, children’s book authors such as Carole Boston Weatherford and Angela Johnson share the many ways fathers touch our lives.
Daddy Goes To Work (Little, Brown Young Readers), a sweet tale of a girl accompanying her father to his job and getting a peek at his working world, written by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Aaron Boyd.
A Day with Daddy (Teaching Resources), a lyrical look at a boy’s weekly visit with his dad, written by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Nicole Tagdell.
Bippity Bop Barbershop (Little, Brown Young Readers), a touching trip with a boy who braves his first haircut by having his daddy at his side, written by Natasha Tarpley, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.
Joe-Joe’s First Flight (Knopf Books for Young Readers), a beautiful tale of how a boy’s dream of flying gives wings to his father’s – and their town’s – hope, written by Natasha Tarpley, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.
Kevin & His Dad (Little, Brown Young Readers), a fun day just for the guys, written by Irene Smalls, illustrated by Michael Hays.
One Million Men and Me (Just Us Books), a special view of the Million Man March through the eyes of a girl who was with her daddy the day black men made history, written by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Peter Ambush.
Father & Son (Philomel), a lyrical portrait of the beautiful connection between father and son, by Denize Lauture, illustrated by Jonathan Green.
When I Am Old with You (Orchard Books), a boy imagines being old with his grand-dad and sharing happy times with him, written by Angela Johnson, illustrated by David Soman.
When I Was Little
Don’t forget, the deadline for entering the New Voices Award and the New Visions Award is just around the corner. New Voices is an award given for picture books written by writers of color. The deadline is September 30. New visions is an award given for middle grade and young adult science fiction, fantasy, and mystery manuscripts written by writers of color. Deadline is October 30th.
For more information, see the Lee & Low Books website.
Get ready to rep your favorites. It’s that time. The submissions window has officially opened for the sixth annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans. We will take nominations today through November 2.
Over the past five years, we have proudly saluted 140 black authors and illustrators through our signature initiative. But there are so many more who deserve to be showcased.
That’s where you come in. Help us identify under-the-radar and vanguard African-American children’s book authors and illustrators we should consider profiling. Let us know who we should check out so we can give them the praise they’ve earned.
After the submissions window closes, we’ll research the names you’ve submitted and our internal nominations. Then, we’ll choose the stand outs who will be the next class of 28 Days Later honorees. The celebration of their work begins February 1.
Our mission is to “push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers.” Too often, these authors and illustrators go unsung. With 28 Days Later, we put these talents in front of the folks who can get their books into the hands of kids – librarians, teachers, parents and booksellers among others.
Nominate your favorites in the comments section. Anyone can nominate. Publishers may nominate their authors. Authors may self-nominate. Please note that we do not accept nominations of self-published authors. You can check out who we’ve featured in the past here, here, here and here. If you could make sure your nominee hasn’t already been featured, that would be a great help.
Spread the word and nominate often. With your support, we can make a difference. Thank you for helping us salute children’s book creators of color.
Just wanted to thank everyone for the fantastic nominations! So excited to learn about new authors and illustrators. We look forward to celebrating our new class of 28 Days Later honorees in February. We appreciate your support.
Also, we have some happy news: The Brown Bookshelf has been named a Great Website for Kids by a committee of the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. Yay!
Here’s the link to check out the wonderful sites they recommend: http://gws.ala.org/
It’s Best-of season! It’s that time of year when review journals, newspapers, and book lovers of all kinds choose the best children’s books in a given year. I love it. Reminds me of Academy Award season in the movie business. Everyone talks about the best movie, actor/actress, director. And then everyone rushes out to see the talked-about movies. I’ve been doing the same with picture books, collecting the popular ones published this year. So much fun.
A few of my favorites: I Want My Hat Back, Fifty Cents and A Dream, Unspoken, Oh No!, Who Built The Stable, Green. I own all of these books except for a few, but I’m getting the others soon.
As an African American and debut picture book author myself, I’ve especially kept my eyes peeled to diversity among all these end-of-year lists. Some lists are refreshingly well balanced. When you consider that picture books written by or about African Americans make up such a fraction of the publishing pie, its good to see more than a few of these books on lists at all. I can only imagine what those lists looked like 20 years ago. Much to celebrate.
Below is a look at some of the 2012 Best-Of lists that include books written or illustrated by African Americans, or feature African American characters.
Kirkus (Out of 100+ books, this is wonderful. Also, Kirkus has a longer list than others)
Fifty Cents and a Dream
Who Built The Stable?
Jimmy The Greatest!
Drummer Boy of John John
Dreaming Up (Features an African American child on cover)
I Have a Dream
Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!
Hand in Hand (not sure if this title is considered a picture book, but listing here just in case)
It Jes’ Happened
I, Too, Am America
I Have a Dream
Fifty Cents and a Dream
Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!
Twice As Good
National Science Teacher’s Association, Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12: 2013 (Books published in 2012)
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
What Color Is My World?
School Library Journal
I Have a Dream
Fifty Cents and a Dream
Jimmy the Greatest!
For a more complete listing of the Best Books of 2012 lists, see Mr. Schu’s blog, Watch. Connect. Read. Also, I’ve compiled a list of 2012 picture books on Pinterest.
I haven’t seen much diversity among newspaper lists. Not much at all. Sigh.
Question: What other best-of lists have you seen that include African Americans as creators or subjects of picture books?
Congratulations to those authors and illustrators that received a nomination for the 2013 NAACP Image Awards.
It’s no surprise that many are previous 28 Days Later spotlights. The Brown Bookshelf prides itself on being among the first to honor these, in some cases unsung, creative artists.
Literary Work – Children
Fifty Cents and a Dream – Jabari Asim (Author), Bryan Collier (Illustrator) (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Harlem’s Little Blackbird – Renee Watson (Author), Christian Robinson (Illustrator) (Random House Books for Young Readers)
In the Land of Milk and Honey – Joyce Carol Thomas (Author), Floyd Cooper (Illustrator) (HarperCollins / Amistad)
Indigo Blume and the Garden City – Kwame Alexander (Word of Mouth Books)
What Color is My World? – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Author), Raymons Obstfeld (Author), A.G. Ford (Illustrator) (Candlewick Press)
Literary Work – Youth/Teens
Fire in the Streets – Kekla Magoon (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)
Obama Talks Back: Global Lessons – A Dialogue With America’s Young Leaders – Gregory Reed (Amber Books)
Pinned – Sharon G. Flake (Scholastic Press)
The Diary of B. B. Bright, Possible Princess – Alice Randall (Author), Caroline Williams (Author), Shadra Strickland (Illustrator) (Turner Publishing Company)
The Mighty Miss Malone – Christopher Paul Curtis (Wendy Lamb Books)
News announcement courtesy of The Children’s Book Council
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Today Brown Bookshelf members Kelly Starling Lyons and Don Tate celebrate the publication of their new book, Hope’s Gift (Putnam Juvenile, December 27, 2012). Kelly writes a poignant story that celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Don Tate illustrates this significant moment in American history.
Kirkus Kirkus describes: “A warm story about the love of a family and the jubilation of freedom.”
What are some of your other favorite stories that celebrate freedom?