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1. Day 14: Dr. Lorenzo Pace

Photo by Cindy Reiman

Photo by Cindy Reiman

Renowned artist and storyteller, Dr. Lorenzo Pace created a series of poignant picture books – the African American Quartet –  that pay homage to black history and the power of the human spirit. Pace’s debut, Jalani and the Lock (Rosen), was inspired by the lock that bound his enslaved great-great grandfather and was handed down to him. The three others –  Marching With Martin, Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilts and Frederick Douglass and the North Star – explore the lives of these pivotal historic figures Dr. Pace, whose monument Triumph of the Human Spirit in New York City’s Foley Square honors the enslaved Africans originally buried there, uses words and mixed media artwork in his children’s books to bring to life stories from the past.

We are proud to celebrate Dr. Lorenzo Pace on Day 14.

Journey to Publishing

It began with a lock. A cold, hard, more than 150-year-old iron lock. A legacy of man’s inhumanity to man. When my father passed away in Birmingham, Alabama in 1991, I left New York and went South to bury him. My Uncle Julius shocked me and the rest of my family by giving me a lock that had shackled my great-great grandfather Steve Pace in chains. Steve Pace had passed down the lock to other Pace men. I accepted the lock but really didn’t want it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I put it in my closet in Brooklyn.

Not long after that, my daughter, who was about 8, came home and said, “Daddy, kids are making fun of me because of my hair, my nose, and my lips.” I asked why. She said they told her it was because she was from slaves. I said, “Wow, baby. You don’t have to be ashamed of your looks.” I told her she came from beautiful people, strong, creative, and resourceful people.

Our conversation inspired me to explore the lock. The lock was calling out, “Hey, come deal with lockbookme.” So I explored the lock and my great-great-grandfather’s story. Turns out, after emancipation, Steve Pace purchased more than 500 acres of land and shared it with his family. His third eldest son was in the first class at the Tuskegee Institute. He was a minster and the church he founded still exists and will soon be on the National Register of Historic Places. Soon, I found myself writing Jalani and the Lock, to explain to my daughter and other children our history and the triumphs that are the essence of it.

I finished writing and illustrating and shopped for a publisher for five long years. One day a buddy in Chicago referred me to Rosen Publishing. I met with the publisher. He loved the content. He loved the illustrations. He agreed to publish it. It came out in 2000.

I’ve traveled the world with Jalani and the Lock and the book has been translated into Spanish, French, and Dutch. Last year, Jalani and the Lock was re-printed as part of a series I wrote and illustrated called the African American Quartet. The Quartet includes: Marching with Martin, Frederick Douglass and the North Star, and Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilts. The Quartet came about after the publisher and I began talking about ways to build on Jalani’s story and bring it into the 21st century.

Art from Marching with Martin

Art from Marching with Martin

All of the books relate to my personal experiences. I marched with Dr. King in Chicago when I was a teenager. I grew up seeing Frederick Douglass on my grade school walls. I grew up hearing about Harriet Tubman from my grandmother. She and my mom were quilters. I learned that quilts sometimes had anti-slavery sayings woven into them, and there is a legend that the enslaved put Underground Railroad symbols and routes in their quilts. There’s also an Underground Railroad station in my Brooklyn, NY neighborhood. For all these reasons, I wove photos of my family’s quilts into the book’s illustrations.


The inspiration for my books has come first from my personal history. It occurred to me that if these stories are in my family, they’re probably in most African American families. I’m inspired by John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. I listen to them as I write and create. They are such innovators, constantly bringing out new ways of thinking in their music. They make we want to go to a higher plane as an artist. Alex Haley inspires me because of his groundbreaking research on our history. He made me want to dig deeper and deeper. The artist and author Faith Ringgold also inspires me. I love Maya Angelou’s books, period. Her gift for playing with language is second-to-none. There are so many great writers, but those who tell our stories –new stories, uplifting stories –inspire me most. I’ve also gotten motivated by the books of Caroline Brewer. She’s been under the radar because of her focus on literacy, but is about to come into greater recognition. She has some very intense and motivational books on the African American experience, like a fun but educational picture book on President Obama’s 2008 election, Barack Obama: A Hip Hop Tale of King’s Dream Come True. And the next book, a middle grade novel, is intense, fun, and motivational, too.


I just go. If I have a character or concept, I just begin to feel the energy that goes into how to tell a

Art from Marching with Martin

Art from Marching with Martin

complete a story and how to illustrate it. I go out and get all kinds of materials that I think can help. I go to the art store. I look for materials in the street, in my environment, and just go.

I’ve illustrated my Quartet books using mixed media and collage. I will use an old dress from a thrift store with a particular pattern or color, beads, paper sacks, kente cloth, animal print, newspaper print. I also use acrylic paint, watercolors, colored pencils, markers, glitter, whatever makes a page pop. I let everything around me speak to me and then I put the pieces together.

The most important thing that I do as I work is have fun. I also know I can get kids on color. They love color and so do I. I approach my art in the same way I approach living: be sure to have some fun and add lots of color.

The Buzz

tubmanpacePublisher’s Weekly called the first edition of Jalani and the Lock “a stunning debut.” NBC News cited Harriet Tubman as one of the top 14 books to read in February 2015. The School Library Journal met me at my Brooklyn studio last year to do a piece on the art I created for the books. Booklist offered these words below about the new quartet.

“Perhaps the most personal entry in celebrated sculptor Pace’s ambitious African

American Quartet is this first-person remembrance of what Martin Luther King Jr. meant to Pace while growing up in Alabama and Chicago. The design of the book, and indeed the entire quartet, features two-page spreads of wild, almost Basquiat-like art incorporating paint, jewelry, paper, plastics, and anything else that captures Pace’s fancy. On the left-hand page goes the prose, which, though simple, is packed with restrained emotion: “Many years ago, in 1949, to be exact, when I was a little boy in Alabama, I saw signs that I did not understand.”

State of the Industry

Walter Dean Myers and Chris Myers said it best in their New York Times pieces a couple of years ago. The publishing industry is not doing enough to reflect the rich and deep and vibrant diversity of this country. There are so many children who need to see themselves in books. Books are game-changers. And yet, authors of color can’t depend on the industry to do it all. The efforts of sites like thebrownbookshelf.com are critical to helping put the spotlight on authors and illustrators of color. Whatever we can do to support one another makes us more powerful.

Find out more about Dr. Lorenzo Pace here.


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2. Day 13: Jessixa Bagley

Jessixa Bagley_headshot_small2Jessixa Bagley burst onto the children’s literature stage last year with the debut of her beautiful picture book “Boats For Papa,” a gentle story of loss, healing, and ultimately persevering. Bagley is both author and illustrator. The book has received numerous starred reviews, and it has been widely praised by children, the children’s literature community, and beyond.
Her gentle watercolors are richly detailed, and her characters–a loving family of anthropomorphic beavers–will delight young readers.
I appreciate the generosity Bagley put in to participating in this interview:
Don: Tell us about your path to publishing. How did you get that first trade contract?
Jessixa: It’s been a long road for me to get where I am today, but every step has held a lot of value. I pretty much always wanted to make picture books. Ever since I was a small child, I was writing and drawing my own stories, books, and comics, creating characters and their worlds. Right after graduating college in 2004, I started writing picture books and submitting them to publishers left and right. I had been published for comics already at that point, so I figured I could finally get my real dream going and jump into children’s publishing. I think I made every wrong mistake possible with submitting my work for about 6-7 years. I just really didn’t know what I was doing and I thought I could go it on my own and I had a nice big stack of rejection letters to prove it. I was at a loss for what to do.
Then I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2010. I was an Boats-for-Papa-jacket_sminactive member still for a while- thinking arrogantly that I didn’t need to be part of a club to get published (and just not knowing what SCBWI had to offer). And, shocker, I still wasn’t getting published and didn’t understand why. Then one year I made the leap and decided to go to their annual summer conference in Los Angeles having never attended any previous SCBWI events at all. And that’s when things started to make more sense. I got to see first hand what my portfolio needed to look like and I got to hear about how the business of books worked-the real ins and outs of submitting work and what editors and art directors really cared about.
After some  tears, I went home and started over. It still took me some time, and lots more tears, but I finally started to find my voice as an illustrator and then as a writer. That’s when things began to click inside of me and that’s when things started to change. Once I found this “voice” inside of me that people would always talk about, the awards and opportunities started to show up. Then I did another Hail Mary in 2013 and went to the SCBWI NY Winter Conference and I was runner up for the portfolio showcase and that is where I attended a workshop by Alexandra Penfold (my soon to be future agent). Alex believed in my work, offered me representation shortly thereafter and then went to work submitting my book dummy for Boats for Papa (then called Drift). She put the book in front of Neal Porter- one of the most loveable men on Earth- and then rest is history.
Don: What primary medium do you use in your work?
Jessixa: I use very fine waterproof black pens and watercolor for my illustrations. I use pretty inexpensive watercolor paper to help create my pooling affect in my paintings (pooling is what I call when the watercolor builds up in areas to create unique textures). I also use an eyedropper to help me spread my paint- a technique I created for myself so I can paint large areas fairly evenly with small brushes to retain the right look I want for my pooling. I like to do everything by hand and prefer not to work digitally, except for small touch-ups.
Don: Tell us about your most recent book

Jessixa: My most recent book, “Before I Leave,” is about a little hedgehog named Zelda that finds out that she has to move away from her best friend (Aaron the anteater) and instead of being sad about leaving, they decided to cherish those last moments they have together. It’s a story pulled from my own experiences having to move when I was young and how hard it is to leave your friends. I wanted to use a style of writing that was very different than Boats for Papa so I wrote it in more of a letter format, like one friend writing a letter to the other. I was trying to approach it with a more open and poetic quality.
Don: Talk about the research process for the book
Jessixa: This was so much different than my research for “Boats for Papa”-which was much more technical because of the boats and the nautical elements. For “Before I Leave” I looked at tons and tons of photos of hedgehogs and anteaters to familiarize myself with them for the book. (By the way, researching pictures of hedgehogs is probably the CUTEST research anyone could ever have to do.) I read a lot of facts about both animals, where they live, their everyday habits. They are both very fascinating animals. Fun fact: Both hedgehogs and anteaters have very poor eyesight. I thought that was a weird coincidence that I learned after I picked the animals. It seems like a good basis of a friendship, being able to relate to one another!
Don: Any important things you learned about the subject while researching the book?
Jessixa: I got very interested in the idea of having a hedgehog for a pet when working on my book! Once again, they are the cutest animals and you sort of can’t help falling in love with them when you are staring at photographs of them all day. But I found out that like reptiles they have salmonella on their bodies, which because I was about to have a baby, didn’t seem like a good idea. That and they are nocturnal and poop when they run. I figured we should only have one animal in the house that is awake all night and poops while it’s running.
Don: If you could spend one day in a studio, working with any artist — past or present — who would that be, and why?
Jessixa: I have a really hard time with choosing a favorite anything (except for food- hamburgers are my favorite food). For dream artists will have to be a current top five list:
Pieter Bruegel the Elder– He was a master painter and the intricacies of his work are amazing. I’d love to see his traditional painting process. Heck, I’d take the Younger Bruegel too!
Beatrix Potter– She is magic and I think she would be a kindred spirit. I’d love to see how she worked in nature and how her environment shaped her relationship with her characters.
Richard Scarry– He would be SO fun to see work. I imagine he talks to his characters when he draws (like I do). I’d love to hear the backstories he created for his characters and why he thinks pigs would be such terrible drivers.
Mary Blair– She was an amazing painter and I’d love to see her design approach and how that graphic eye influenced her art decisions.
Frances Glessner Lee– She was an aristocrat in the 1940’s who made all of those dioramas of crime scenes that police used for forensic training. I love miniatures and it would be incredible to see how she worked (And just a little creepy).
Don: What would be your dream manuscript? Your dream author to work with?24140_669[1].jpg
Jessixa: I’d love the chance to get to illustrate “The Wind in the Willows.” Those characters speak to my soul as an artist and feel like a part of me lives in that world that Kenneth Grahame wrote. I don’t know how I could do it justice, but I’d love to try! One of my favorite authors right now is Matt de la Peña. I thought the writing in Last Stop on Market Street was simply exquisite. I was really moved by the poetic quality to his work. It did more than just tell a story, it really made you feel. I’d love to see what stories he could create for my little woodland animal world!
Don: Can you talk a bit about your process of illustrating a book?
Jessixa: Because I am a VERY unorganized person, I try to set myself up for success with my books by being very organized in my process. I start off by making a list of how many and what kind of illustrations I have to do and how long I have to do them all. Also because I have a full time job and am a mother to a burgeoning toddler, my time is very limited so knowing how long a painting will take me and knowing how much time I have to paint it is a huge help for time management. I pretty much have a standard process for my illustrations:  thumbnails, dummy, final sketches, transfer sketches to watercolor paper, pen over the pencil art, then watercolor. I also end up doing a lot of paint tests and color tests before I start working on the final art so I know I have my palette right where I want it.
I work at actual size of the final book so I know exactly how fine the details will end up being (and also because I have a hard time using math to figure out percentages for scaling up and down). I usually work on one piece at a time but if I have several pieces that have similar backgrounds- like they are in the same room or it’s the same day- I’ll mix up a huge batch of the watercolor wash and paint the larger areas (like the sky) at the same time to maintain consistency. I also have a really great rhythm with my AMAZING book designer Jennifer Browne and my editor Neal Porter, so once I have a little chunk of final work to show, I scan it and email it into them so we can all make sure everything is looking good. It’s so great that they are willing to work this way because it saves me from illustrating an entire book, then having to turn around and make a ton of changes in the end. Altering as I go is much more efficient and less stressful for me- plus I get to talk to them more frequently which I love because they are just the best people!

Creating thumbnail sketches

Creating character sketches Before I go_anteater1

Final painting for BEFORE I LEAVE

Don: Who are your cheerleaders, those who encourage you?
Jessixa: I am lucky that I feel like I have too many cheerleaders to count within my friends and family! My husband though is my biggest fan and supporter and he’s really helped me keep up the will power to keep going when things were (and are) really challenging. And my amazing picture book friends are just the best. My community of my crit groups, writer friends, and SCBWI partners in crime has really given me so much love and encouragement that I can’t imagine this journey being possible without them. I’ve made incredible friends by getting involved in the community of the picture book world. You think you can do this alone, but I’ve found that making books is an extremely collaborative process and the more people you have to support you, the better- and the work is better for it as well.
Don: What’s on the horizon, what can your fans expect to see from you?
Jessixa: I’ve got two great projects on the horizon! Next winter (2017) my third picture book, Laundry Day comes out and it’s such a fun and silly book and I’m really looking forward to its release! It’s about two twin badger brothers named Tic and Tac who are bored one late summer day and they decide to help their mother with the laundry and of course some wackiness ensues-as of course it always does with laundry. It’s very different in tone than my first two books which I hope readers will enjoy. And my next project-which is very dear to my heart-is a picture book collaboration with my husband, Aaron Bagley. We’ve always collaborated on art and this will be our first picture book together. We both wrote the story and are both painting the illustrations. The book is called Vincent Comes Home and is about a cat that lives on a cargo ship. It’s a very sweet story and that much sweeter to get to work on it with my best friend! It comes out winter 2018.

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3. Emotional Wounds Thesaurus Entry: Wrongful Imprisonment

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

Characters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect. 


Courtesy: miss_millions @ CreativeCommons


  • Being deliberately framed
  • Being mistaken for the criminal because of similar physical features, race, etc.
  • Someone committing perjury and setting one up to save someone else
  • Being found guilty because of the prejudices of a jury or judge

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • I will never be free again.
  • God must be punishing me for something I’ve done.
  • I’m partly to blame for what happened; if I hadn’t been in that place, at that time, doing what I was doing…
  • The system I trusted betrayed me; I’ll never be able to trust anyone or anything again.
  • Hating the people/group/organization that did this to me will make me feel better.
  • There’s no point in following the rules if I’m going to be punished anyway.
  • I’ll never be able to go back to my life again.
  • I’ll never be able to achieve my dreams.
  • Maybe what they say/think about me is true.
  • If I let someone else be in control of me, they’re going to take advantage of me.

Positive Attributes That May Result: ambitious, cautious, independent, industrious, just, persistent, private, proactive, resourceful, thrifty, tolerant

Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, addictive, antisocial, apathetic, callous, confrontational, controlling, cynical, defensive, hostile, humorless, inflexible, inhibited, irrational, jealous, martyr, morbid, paranoid,pessimistic, rebellious, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, temperamental, timid, uncooperative, ungrateful, vindictive, violent, volatile, withdrawn,

Resulting Fears:

  • Fear of never getting out of jail
  • Fear of losing one’s family or loved ones
  • Fear that people will think badly of one
  • Fear of trusting others
  • Fear of others being in control
  • Fear of being disappointed again

Possible Habits That May Emerge: 

  • Being suspicious of and distrusting those in authority
  • Flouting the rules, since following them never did one any good anyway
  • Hating and acting out against the people/group/organization responsible for one’s imprisonment
  • Turning away from one’s faith
  • Clinging to one’s faith
  • Becoming suspicious of the institutions or people that one formerly trusted
  • Becoming accustomed to life in prison out of the knowledge that one will never be able to live
  • Withdrawing from loved ones (returning their letters, not showing up on visiting days) as a way of leaving them before they have a chance to do the leaving
  • Clinging to loved ones
  • Doubting oneself; becoming insecure
  • Becoming determined to prove one’s innocence as a way of striking back at one’s accusers
  • Becoming pessimistic or cynical in one’s thoughts and words
  • Lowering one’s expectations in regards to what one will be able to do or what one can do
  • Refusing to let others control oneself
  • Becoming controlling of others
  • Becoming antisocial; being disillusioned with and fighting everyone and everything
  • Engaging in self-destructive behaviors (drugs, alcohol use, picking fights with others, etc.)

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus. For our current list of Emotional Wound Entries, go here.

The post Emotional Wounds Thesaurus Entry: Wrongful Imprisonment appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™.

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4. Day 12: “Trombone Shorty”

trombone shorty by Jonathan Mannion

Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews was a child prodigy who began playing the trombone at the age of four, a discarded trombone that was twice as long as he was tall. By age six he was leading his own money-earning band, and by ten he was a bona fide touring musician. Today, at 30 years old, he is a Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist, playing not only trombone, but trumpet, drums, organ and tuba with his current band, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue.

Andrews credits his singer-songwriter grandfather, Jessie Hill, and especially his bandleader brother, James Andrews, as significant influences. Of his brother James (also a trumpeter) he often asserts, “He taught me everything I know.” Young “Shawty” performed with many heavy hitters, including Bo Diddley, Wynton Marsalis, and Wycliffe Gordon, and he learned much about the craft of making music through their mentorship. Over the years, however, Andrews has blazed a distinctive path in the jazz world, fusing elements of modern rock and hip-hop to formulate a sound he calls “SupaFunkRock”.

At the same time he’s been forging innovative sounds, Andrews has also maintained his dedication to New Orleans, the city he says “raised him”, by working to preserve its musical traditions. He has established the Trombone Shorty Foundation “to preserve and perpetuate the unique musical culture of New Orleans by passing down its traditions to future generations of musicians.” The foundation sponsors two intiatives in particular: The Fredman Music Business Institute (providing top-level music industry training to high school students) and Trombone Shorty Academy (a partnership with Tulane University to provide musically gifted high schoolers with mentorship in various areas including reading and writing music, and performance).

In line with his mission to perpetuate New Orleans’ unique musical culture, Andrews has written an autobiographical picture book: Trombone Shorty. It’s the story of how a young Troy Andrews became Trombone Shorty, and how practice and persistence transformed a dream into the reality of being an internationally celebrated artist.

trombone shorty cover

Trombone Shorty—illustrated by Bryan Collier and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers—is a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book and winner of the 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award.


The Buzz on Trombone Shorty:

“Where y’at?” Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, opens his book with this phrase, letting readers know that it’s New Orleans parlance for hello. In this stunning picture book autobiography, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Andrews shares the story of his early years growing up in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. Andrews desperately wished to emulate the musicians in his family and those he saw performing all over his city, so he and his friends made their own instruments out of found materials, played in the streets, and marched with bands. When one day he found a battered, discarded trombone bigger than he was, Andrews finally had a real instrument to play, and he practiced day and night, acquiring the nickname Trombone Shorty from his older brother. The moment Bo Diddley pulled Andrews on stage to play with him during the New Orleans jazz festival was a turning point, and he hasn’t stopped performing since. Collier’s beautiful watercolor, pen-and-ink, and collage artwork picks up the rhythm and pace of Andrew’s storytelling, creating an accompaniment full of motion and color. Each spread offers a visual panoply of texture, perspective, and angles, highlighting the people and the instruments. Andrews’s career is still on the rise, his music gaining an ever wider audience, and this title will be an inspiration to many. VERDICT Coupled with a selection of Trombone Shorty’s music, this work will make for fun and thoughtful story sharing. A must-have.”— School Library Journal


“This well-told and exquisitely illustrated story of a musician with a steep career trajectory will inspire young readers to pursue their passions, despite the challenges.”— Kirkus, Starred Review


“If a fairy tale were set in New Orleans, this is how it would read.”—Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review


Learn more about Trombone Shorty:

His Website

An Interview with Vibe Magazine





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5. Cover Reveal: The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

You know where I lived for eleven years of my New York City life?  Harlem. You know where no one, aside from Walter Dean Myers, ever sets a middle grade novel?  Harlem.  Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, even Queens get more love than Harlem in books for 9-12 year olds.  So you might understand why I’m happy a middle grade novel is set there at long last.  Today’s cover reveal comes via YA-author-turned-middle-grade-writer Elizabeth Eulberg.  Ladies and gentlemen I give you . . .


The quick and dirty:

Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She’s nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen—always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes.

When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that’s eluded her up till now: a friend. The easy-going John isn’t sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that’ll take both their talents to crack.

Elizabeth Eulberg was born and raised in Wisconsin before heading off to college at Syracuse University and making a career in the New York City book biz. Now a full-time writer, she is the author of The Lonely Hearts ClubProm & PrejudiceTake a BowRevenge of the Girl with the Great PersonalityBetter Off Friends, and We Can Work it Out. She lives outside of Manhattan with her three guitars, two keyboards, and one drumstick. Visit her online at www.elizabetheulberg.com and on twitter at @ElizEulberg.

So that is that.  The book is on sale September 6th  and is the first in a three book series. Thanks to Lizzy Mason and the folks at Bloomsbury for the reveal.


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6. Out-of-Print Diversity

There is a perception that we’re all very sophisticated and educated these days, as opposed to the past.  That older books for children have a tendency to be racist or contain outdated ideas.

Not so.

In my *does the math* thirteen years as a children’s librarian I’ve discovered that you can find some real gems if you just dig deeply enough into a library’s backlist.  And just because a title came out twenty or thirty years ago, that doesn’t mean it’s any less forward thinking than our books today (in some cases, more so).

The other day someone asked me a very specific question:  If you could bring back in print any diverse out-of-print children’s book titles, what would they be?

Now the crazy thing is that the first two books I thought of are actually still in-print, albeit in ebook form.  I’ll put them here anyway since they deserve a wider readership.  The first is the delightful Lavender Green Magic by Andre Norton.  Considering the fact that even today I can count the number of middle grade fantasy novels starring African-American characters on one hand, Norton’s book deserves to be better known.


The other novel is Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush by Virginia Hamilton.  A slightly more difficult sell as a YA (a genre that I believe dates more quickly than its younger counterparts) it’s still a compelling read.


Both of those are available through Open Road Media as ebooks, of course.  You know one book that isn’t?  A book that’s about a black, female, space explorer with art from the Dillons?  I’ve mentioned it once before but it bears repeating:


An interior image:


Get more information on the book at Stephanie Whelan’s blog Waiting to Tesseract.

And just to make myself feel old, I’m including here a book that was in-print when I first reviewed it back in 2006 but has since fall out.  The delightful early chapter book Younguncle Comes to Town by Vandana Singh.


I know that there are many other out-of-print diverse books out there.  Can you think of any favorites of your own?


20 Comments on Out-of-Print Diversity, last added: 2/12/2016
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7. Day 10: Mo’ne Davis


At 13-years-old, Mo’ne Davis became the first African American girl to play in a Little League World Series. She was the first African American girl to earn a win and to pitch a shutout in the 2014 Little League World Series. She can throw a 70 miles per hour fastball. And her curve ball is positively scary. Baseball isn’t even her favorite sport. Basketball is number one. Now she has written a book about her miraculous achievements, Mo’NE DAVIS REMEMBER MY NAME. Girls (and boys) will be inspired by her achievements and will definitely remember her name.

From the Back Cover
This inspiring memoir from a girl who learned to play baseball with the boys and rose to national stardom before beginning eighth grade will encourage young readers to reach for their dreams no matter the odds.
At the age of thirteen, Mo’ne Davis became the first female pitcher to win a game in the Little League World Series. She was the first Little Leaguer to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in the magazine’s sixty-year history. And as she began eighth grade in the fall of 2014, Mo’ne earned a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame—her shutout jersey now hangs in the museum in Cooperstown, New York.

Mo’ne’s story is one of determination, hard work, and an incredible fastball. From growing up in Philadelphia to throwing out the ceremonial first pitch—a perfect strike—at Game 4 of the 2014 Major League World Series, her groundbreaking achievements are changing the game for women in athletics and putting a positive new spin on the phrase “throw like a girl.” (HarperCollins Publishers)

Watch these interviews for more about Mo’ne.

Face to Face: Mo’ne Davis

Mo’ne Davis: Throw Like A Girl – Chevy Baseball | Chevrolet







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8. Day 9: Marguerite Abouet

akissi On Day 9, we welcome back Marguerite Abouet, whose revolutionary YA graphic series AYA was a global hit in 2007; she’s returned with a delightful series for younger readers, featuring the adventures of the mischievous and resourceful Akissi. In the first book, Akissi: Feline Invasion

,released in the U.S. in 2013, Abouet “dishes out bursts of simultaneous hilarity and horror in African vignettes aimed at a younger audience,” according to Kirkus, where it received a starred review.

“It isn’t often when I see something in a children’s book that shocks me, but the final story was a glorious jaw dropper.”

School Library Journal review of Akissi.

Marguerite Abouet

The adventures and shenanigans of Akissi, her brother Fofana, and friends’ “are both universal and absolutely particular to her milieu,” continues Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing. “It’s the perfect combination of gross-out humour, authority clashes, and general mischief to capture a kid’s interest.” Comprised of seven humorous and sometimes outrageous short stories featuring kid-friendly ups and downs with West African flavor, Akissi is pure fun, and with Books 1-6 already published in Europe, we hope to see more of her stateside very soon.

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9. Writing Memorable Characters, via Finding Nemo

I love living in New York, but there are a few things I miss from Florida. I miss family, and the beach. I miss knowing how the heck to get around without my GPS. And I’ll be honest: I miss Disney. Raising two small children in south Florida, we spent A LOT of time at Disney. It was one of the few places where we could do family trips without ruining our vacation and everyone else’s. On one of our last trips, we were at Animal Kingdom watching the Finding Nemo show for the dozenth time, and I was sitting there, completely enthralled. I got to thinking about why I wasn’t bored with this show, and it occurred to me: it’s the characters. They’re memorable, and they resonate with audiences. In short, they’re the kind of characters that we all want to write.

So how do we do it? Let’s take a closer look at the cast of Finding Nemo to see what makes them so memorable and how we can use the same techniques when creating our own characters.


Marlin is the hero of Finding Nemo because he has the most to overcome. He’s emotionally wounded by a traumatic event from the past—the death of his wife and almost all of his children. This event has twisted his view of the world, making him believe that the only way to keep his remaining child safe is to hover over him and protect him from all of life’s dangers. But this lie that he has embraced is crippling him and slowly destroying his relationship with the person he loves the most. In order for him to be whole and for his relationship with Nemo to be healthy, he must learn to let go. This is the essence of Marlin’s character arc throughout the course of the story.

Audiences respond to Marlin because they can relate to him. We all have past events that have wounded us. We all have flaws that hamstring us and make it difficult to achieve our goals. If you want to create a hero that people respond to, make sure he’s got a complete character arc. For help in this area, check out Michael Hauge’s Writing Screenplays that Sell, which contains a crash course in characterization and just about everything you need to know about story structure. I’m also shamelessly going to plug The Negative Trait Thesaurus, since it discusses at length how flaws develop and the roles that they play in the character’s arc.



Courtesy: Creative Commons

One of my favorite characters in this story is an antagonist—Bruce, who is as threatening and brutish as any shark should be. But he’s also a vegetarian who runs a twelve-step support group for like-minded sharks. His motto? Fish are Friends, Not Food. This is one of those ideas I wish I’d come up with; it’s genius because it’s so unexpected. It would have been really easy to create just another shark character to add conflict to the story and complicate Marlin’s journey. Instead, the writers gave Bruce a unique twist. By adding some ethics and a sense of social awareness, they created a never-before-seen character that readers remember. When creating characters, make sure to give them some unexpected positive or negative traits that will save them from becoming stereotypes and will make them unique.


As a needy, scatterbrained, and gullible fish, Dory could easily come off as annoying to audiences (Jar Jar Binks, anyone?). Instead, she’s a beloved character, and I think it’s because she’s also funny, friendly, and helpful—all likable traits that offset her flaws. Dory’s memory deficiency also renders her vulnerable, which makes us want to protect her and root for her success. The takeaway here is that if you want your characters to resonate with readers, give them an endearing trait or two. This will help to make even the most broken, weird, or despicable of characters resonate with readers. Oh, and a little vulnerability is always a good idea.


Crush is one of my favorite examples EVER of a stereotype that has been turned upside down. When you think of the mentor archetype, many clichés come to mind: the sage old woman, the shrewd but befuddled wizard, the wise-but-slightly-cracked medicine man, etc. True, Crush is old and wise. But he’s also a super cool sea turtle. He surfs. He’s a thrill-seeker. He talks like Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Clichéd characters aren’t memorable; they’re fairly forgettable because they blend in with all the familiar characters that have come before them. When it comes to the archetypal characters in your story (heroes, villains, mentors, sidekicks, etc.), make sure to avoid the cliché and give them some unique characteristics that will make them stand out from the crowd.

Memorable characters abound on stage, screen, and the written page. Sometimes, just taking a closer look at them can give us insight into why they’re so special and how we can create the same kind of magic with our casts. Can you think of other characters that have stuck with you, characters that were created with the techniques that were shared today? I’d love to see your ideas in the comments section. Happy writing, everyone!

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10. Day 8: Guy A. Sims

GsimsAdapting a book by Walter Dean Myers –  award-winning children’s book creator and former national ambassador for young people’s literature  – is a tough job. Monster, his acclaimed novel, won the first ever Michael L. Printz Award and countless other honors. But Guy A. Sims is used to challenges. In 1990, he, his brother Dawud Anyabwile and Brian McGee debuted Brotherman, a ground-breaking comic that helped fill a void in the industry.

With Emmy Award-winning Anyabwile as illustrator, Sims plunged into writing. His hard work paid off. Monster: A Graphic Novel (HarperCollins, 2015), a stirring black-and-white adaptation, has already won accolades and a starred review. We are proud to celebrate Guy’s great work on Day 8:

The Journey:

Writing has always been a natural extension of myself. From my early years in elementary school through today, writing (and my other loves; theater, forensics, film, songwriting, etc.) has provided the outlet for how I see myself, my place in the world, and perspectives for what could be. I discovered early the power that comes from the written word and the realization that the power could be mine. My father cautioned me to take care in what I write, to fully own what I write because others will take your words to heart and apply them to their lives. A powerful lesson for a powerful medium.

When I was in eighth grade, I had my first short story published in my elementary school newspaper. I cannot recall what the story was about, but I do know the feeling of excitement and anxiety when I heard other kids reading my words. That experience probably solidified my passion for writing. In 1984, I wrote the first children’s book on African American cultural celebration Kwanzaa. The book, The Kwanzaa Kids Learn the Seven Principles, was a collaborative effort with my brother Dawud Anyabwile as the illustrator.

Many people are familiar with street artists and performers, but I don’t know if there is a category called a street writer. During my high school days, I would write on the bus, the subway, different places downtown, at my local playground, wherever. I would engage all kinds of people into my writing process, asking them questions about what they thought were going on, what they were doing, and eventually, to take a look at what I wrote to see if I captured the essence of the environment. I always found my city, Philadelphia, to be a rich tapestry of tales from which to draw. In fact, the majority of my fiction takes place in and around Philly.

The Back Story:

My brother Dawud had worked with Walter Dean Myers before, illustrating the book monster - graphicSmiffy Blue. When the folks at HarperCollins decided to adapt his award-winning young adult novel Monster into a graphic novel, Dawud was tapped to illustrate. In seeking out a writer, my brother suggested me, sharing that I understood the process for writing in the comic book style, thanks in part to our creation, Brotherman Comics, which we started back in 1990.

When asked if I would work on the project, I jumped in head first, unfamiliar with the source material or about Walter Dean Myers. In the end, I am glad that I didn’t because after learning about him as an author, I surely would have been intimidated. In fact, I didn’t get my first taste of his “artistic celebrity” until I visited several of my family members who lived in the NY/NJ area. When I told them, I was working on the Monster book they were more than excited and began sharing with me his importance to the literary world. At that point, I knew I had to do my very best on the project.

During the book development process, I didn’t communicate with Mr. Myers directly, but I would receive positive responses after pages were submitted. Unfortunately, just before the final press, Walter Dean Myers passed away without seeing the final product, although he did see it completed. I understand he was very pleased with how we translated his work. I look forward to similar opportunities to translate popular works into graphic novels.

The Inspiration:

I owe a great deal of credit to really wanting to be a writer to my father who set me on the path. One day he shared with me a recording of Richard Wright’s Black Boy, narrated by Brock Peters. I was mesmerized both by Wright’s words and Peters’ presentation. When I finished listening to the record, I picked up the book from the library and read it. This is who I want to write like is what I told myself. There are numerous writers, theater actors, and pieces of music that have influenced my writing and writing style, but the ignitor was Richard Wright.

The Process:

Writing projects come to me in various ways. Often it is a concept or even a draft of a title that sets the wheels in motion. I begin with the key player or protagonist and let the story build itself from there. Although I have a desktop and laptop, I still draft out my writing in longhand. I tried carrying my laptop around but found I had to concern myself with finding power, the sun glare, etc. The old pen and paper never fail. I save the editing until the end so that I don’t bog myself down with the rules of writing. I write on my lunch hour and for about an hour during the week and use the weekend to transfer what I wrote from paper to the computer. I also usually have two to three projects going on at the same time which requires a high level of time management on my part. When at home, I write in my small office but I still have interruptions thanks to my children, which is okay with me.

Under The Radar

My favorite author currently is Yvvette Edwards, author of A Cupboard Full of Coats and the forthcoming, The Mother. She has a wicked way of keeping her characters in close proximity to each other, maintaining tension, and creates resolutions that take you by surprise. She’s from London, so her UK expressions are also a joy to experience.

The State of the Industry

I have two sons who they are strong readers, whipping through the Harry Potters and Hunger Games with ease. We often talk about the absence of characters that would appear to look like them or come from similar backgrounds. My advice to them is the same my father gave me. If they don’t exist, you must create them.

Guy A. Sims is also the author of the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim detective series, and the novel, Living Just a Little.

The Buzz About Monster: A Graphic Novel

“The superbly rewarding format serves to powerfully emphasize Myers’s themes of perspective and the quest to see one’s self clearly. A must-have for public and school libraries, and a standout graphic novel.”

— Booklist (starred review)

“It’s not easy for an adaptation to please both old and new readers, but this respectful one pulls off that trick.”

— Kirkus Reviews

“This graphic novel adaptation will introduce this story to a new generation of fans.”

— School Library Journal

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11. Day 7: Ekua Holmes


Photo credit: Clennon L. King

Before making her debut as a children’s book illustrator, Ekua Holmes was already an accomplished and award-winning fine artist. She was the first African American woman to be appointed a commissioner on the Boston Arts Commission. She was the recipient of a 2013 Brother Thomas Fellowship from The Boston Foundation for her contributions to the Boston arts community. In addition, she was the creator of a 2015 Google Doodle honoring the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday!


Last year, Holmes took the children’s book world by storm with her illustrations in Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. The book went on to receive numerous awards, including a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrator’s Original Art exhibition, four starred reviews, a Sibert and Caldecott Honor, and a Coretta Scott King New Voices Award.

Holmes is a painter and collage artist who uses news clippings, photographs, vibrant gunnamed[1].jpgcolor and skillful composition to infuse her work with energy.

Presenting Ekua Holmes:

Tell us about your path to publishing. How did you get that first trade contract?

My path to publishing seemed to appear out of the blue. One day I got a call from a woman who had seen my work at an Open Studios event in my hometown of Roxbury, a neighborhood of Boston, MA. They asked would I be interested in working in Children’s literature. Would I ??? YES! I have always loved Children’s books and in the back of my mind held it as a possible path for my work. At exhibitions of my work people would say, “Have you ever thought about doing Children’s books.” I believe children’s books introduced me to art through the illustrations. Long before I went to museums and galleries, I went to the library. At the time of the call, I didn’t know if anything would come of it but I was pleased that there was interest.

Tell us about your most recent book, “Voice of Freedom.”

Months later the same woman called to say that her company, Candlewick Press, had a manuscript for me to consider—a manuscript about Fannie Lou Hamer. I knew about her role in the Freedom Summer, and her signature statement, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I admired her and was honored to be asked to illustrate her story. I said YES! What a blessing.


Talk about the research process for the book.

Well first things first—reading the manuscript— again and again! Then images began to come into my mind – colors, patterns, shapes, faces.  After that, I started doing online searches. One search led to another and I was able to find images of Ms. Hamer from the 60s. The manuscript is so rich! It chronicles her life from the age of six to her 70s. Of course there were no early photos. Her family was too poor for that. So for the early years, I had to imagine her as a child. What did she look like? How did she wear her hair? What was her demeanor? Where did she live? I read books and articles about her. I read comments written by people who had worked with her in the movement. I listened to tapes of her speaking and singing. I looked at photos of her hometown. I immersed myself in her world.  Another smart thing I did was engage a college student to help me collect the books and information from various sources. She was so helpful (thank you Chianta).


Google Doodle by Ekua Holmes

Talk about the medium you use in your work

I primarily use collage techniques with acrylic paint. Collaging is basically glueing things onto a surface – photos, newspapers, lace- whatever helps to tell the story. My work is made of cut and torn paper and paint. I am also a proud and committed thrifter. I am always at the flea markets and thrift stores picking up things that speak to me. Just as I was about to work on the image of the doll Fannie Lou Hamer’s mother bought for her, I ran across these two old handmade dolls at a thrift store in Salem, MA. They seemed to be just the kind of dolls that Fannie Lou Hamer would have received from her Mother. They were so authentic! It was as if the universe had provided just what I needed.

Was there anything especially interesting that you learned about the subject while researching the book?

Fannie Lou Hamer was 45 years old when she started her Voting Rights work. Because of her upbringing, experiences and intellect, she was ready when it was her time to step onto the world stage. She was a devoted mother and daughter, committed wife and staunch believer in the word of God. She knew the battle was bigger than her, bigger than any human being. It was a righteous struggle and right had to win.  She never said, I’m too old, too tired, too poor- I’m inspired by that.

If you could spend one day in a studio, working with any artist — past or present — who would that be, and why?

What I would really enjoy is going thrifting with them, so artists like Whitfield Lovell, Radcliffe Bailey, Rene Stout or Bettye and Alison Saar. Oh and Nick Cave! They have the same affinity for the power of found objects. WE could spend the entire day (or days) driving through the South (or new England) visiting garages and barns, finding just the right items to inspire our work.

What would be your dream manuscript?


I like to think it’s on its way to me right now. Stay tuned.



Your dream author to work with?


Its funny, there is not as much communication between author and illustrator as you might think. Generally the publisher selects the illustrator (but does get the writer’s approval, I think). So I feel very fortunate to have worked on this book by Carole Boston Weatherford, who has written over 30 books and won many awards. Now I’m working on a book of poetry created by Kwame Alexander – another powerhouse writer/poet and winner of the 2015 Newberry Award. I couldn’t be happier.




Can you talk a bit about your process of illustrating a book?


This was my first time illustrating a book but I think it’s much like working on my personal collages. Research is crucial. I saturate myself in the author’s words (or subject) and allow images to rise to the surface. I sketch and revise, sketch and revise. Each time hoping to get closer to what I feel is the right composition. There is a lot of looking, thinking and moving things around.




Who are your cheerleaders, those who encourage you?


My partner and I are both artists (he’s a filmmaker). We give each other a lot of high fives. He is very proud of me right now.  Also my 8-year old granddaughter introduces me by saying “…and this is Nana, my artist.” Once she patted me on the head while saying this. I couldn’t have been more amused or flattered. If I can work on books that she and her generation will cherish, I will have everything I need in this world as an artist.




What’s on the horizon, what can your fans expect to see from you?


Winning a Caldecott Honor, a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award and a Robert F. Sibert Award for “Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement” is a hearty and magical welcome into the world of Children’s literature. I look forward to illustrating many more books. Folks can expect me to do my absolute best on each story, striving for creative excellence so that the illustrations I make will complement, illuminate and enhance the texts —it’s a collaboration. And after all—my granddaughter is watching.

–Don Tate

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12. Day 6: Renée Watson

Watson Headshot cropped

In 2011, The Brown Bookshelf celebrated Renée Watson as an up-and-coming voice in the world of children’s literature, with two titles debuting the previous year: A Place Where Hurricanes Happen, a picture book illustrated by Shadra Strickland and published by Random House; and What Momma Left Me, a middle grade novel published by Bloomsbury. Since that time, she has become a celebrated author who has gone on to produce other stellar titles, including the picture book Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills (illustrated by Christian Robinson, Random House 2012) and her first YA novel – which happens to be today’s featured title – This Side of Home (Bloomsbury 2015).

this side of home smaller cover


In This Side of Home, high school seniors Maya and her twin sister Nikki, find themselves in the unusual predicament of being at odds over the gentrification of their neighborhood. Nikki is excited about the new changes—pretty shops and boutiques replacing abandoned storefronts—while Maya is disturbed by all the “upgrades” that seem to be only for the benefit of the new people coming in, as opposed to the residents who have been there all along. For the first time, the sisters must, as the publisher puts it, “confront their dissenting feelings on the importance of their ethnic and cultural identities and, in the process, learn to separate themselves from the long shadow of their identity as twins.” Complicating matters even more, Maya finds herself becoming attracted to the new white boy who has moved in across the street, which understandably creates a sense of internal conflict.

Watson’s timely and conversation-provoking young adult novel has been well received, garnering starred reviews by Booklist and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (BCCB). Please join us in celebrating This Side of Home on Day 6 of 28 Days later!


Read what Renée Watson has to say about This Side of Home:

Home is a Complicated Place 

Book Page Interview on This Side of Home


Listen to Renée Watson speak about This Side of Home and writing for children:

Black Book Talk

Schomburg Live: Renée Watson and Tracey Baptiste on Diversity in Literature

NPR Interview & Jacqueline Woodson and Renée Watson, Photographed in Brooklyn




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13. The REFORMA Children in Crisis Project: A Personal Account

Photo by Hendrik Terbeck

Photo by Hendrik Terbeck

The REFORMA Children In Crisis (CIC) Project was created by librarians who witnessed an inhumanity and felt compelled to act. There are several articles out there that introduce the great work of this project. However, for this piece, I wanted to bring in a perspective that captured the spirit of the movement — the very personal connection the members have to the work they do. Ricardo Ramirez is a Senior Library Assistant for Youth and Spanish Services at Butte County Library in Chico, California. Below is a personal narrative about his experience.

I started working on the REFORMA CIC in the summer of 2014. It was during my second semester as a MLIS student at SJSU, and in the very early stages of being a parent, that the contemporary plight of refugees from Central and Latin America came to the forefront of my attention. Because at the time I did not have a television, it was from following social justice non-profits on Facebook and being networked on social media with activists and educators, that I began to learn the issues affecting these refugees, and moreover, the fact that so many of them were unaccompanied children from some of world’s most dangerous regions. The keyword here, is children, very much like my own child, who would like to climb up on my lap while I did my graduate research. I was not surprised to learn that this type of child migration existed, but it was shocking none the less, and especially painful to see the conditions in which they were detained by immigration agencies. At the time I had just finished a pair of papers, Counter-Storytelling in Young Adult Literature and Braided Histories: Beyond Collected Biographies in Children’s Literature, both of which explored how “non-traditional” narratives can provide young people in hostile environments valuable resources and emotional support. A flicker of hope and inspiration occurred: I am a position to offer some type of support…

Before I had submerged myself in statistics of the crisis, before I understood the demographics of the refugee children, there were a handful of photographs that moved me. It is important for me to mention this because I was in the early stages of raising my own child and also deeply involved in the early learning programming at my library, and from that particular vantage point at that time in my life I was constantly motivated to explore how young minds could be shaped by positive learning environments and play. The photographs that I saw of the refugee children were in stark contrast to what I saw on a daily basis, and what my ideals were for creating spaces where children and families can thrive and explore. Far from learning environments, most child refugees from Central America are detained in spaces that are dark and heartbreaking. I held my own child as I encountered these images, and I knew that the one thing I could do for them was to extend my hand and my heart. I imagined a consortium of librarians and educators providing school, storytimes, and performance. I had witnessed on a daily basis how a genuine smile, a song, a story could brighten the spirit of child who was attending their first storytime, or listening to their parent hum a melody they had never heard before. As I daydreamed about all of this, in Austin, San Diego, Miami, Fresno, and in other parts of the country, librarians, the kind who have spent their entire library careers as advocates for the underserved and unrecognized, gathered their energy and came together to form what would become the REFORMA Children in Crisis Task Force. Somehow, because I raised my hand when they called for members, I was pulled in by their gravitational force, and have been along for the ride ever since.

Addressing the literacy and information needs of these children is a part of a complex issue. Children and teens who are fleeing from violent regions face extreme hardships that can cause a lifetime of trauma. Books and outreach are an important step. Librarians like Ady Huertas and David Lopez, two all-star members of the CIC Task Force, have provided outreach to detention centers and refugee shelters by providing books and programming, as well as giving tours of their libraries, library card sign ups, and summer reading programming. In both cases, they were supported by their local REFORMA chapters and members into action. Ady Huertas’ proximity to the US-Mexican Border Region and her connections with Tijuana librarians like Rosa Maria Gonzalez, has enabled our outreach to expand not only to refugee children, but also children and families who are living in extreme geographic and socio-economic isolation. 

It is eye opening work, that can be exhausting. But what it has done for me is to be constantly vigilant for causes of the underrepresented and populations of young people that have experiences that we may be unprepared to deal with. Challenges exist. At the core of the CIC is a continual fundraising and advocacy effort for a cause that is perpetual and variable from region to region. Add to this, working against a strong re-emergence of hostility towards migrants and refugees, librarians who serve youth and families have a strong responsibility to be inclusive to new communities and be prepared to provide resources that are focused on their evolving needs. Yet librarians and educators must also be able to create programs for all in their service areas that reinforce community building and positivity towards new immigrants. This can be as simple as taking the time after a storytime to personally welcome a new family with warmth and gratitude because they are spending their family time with you.

The most important thing about all of this, for us as information professionals and resource providers to children and families, is that refugee children are living their lives in a state of uncertainty. They don’t know if they will ever find a safe refuge, here or anywhere else. All take great risks to migrate towards safety despite increased violence and persecution on their route to the United States. Refugee children from Central America, much like their counterparts from distraught regions in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, have no other option but to keep moving away from violence. There is no home to return to. In the past few years many of us have been inspired by public libraries that open their doors to act as a refuge for communities in pain. At the same time, we are heartbroken by imagery of children in detention and being passed from nearly capsized fishing boat into the hands of rescue. What is at the heart of the CIC mission is that some relief is possible in this, be it through the gift of a book that a child can take with them on their journey, or in the outreach that we can offer as they prepare to resettle into a new life that has more hope for them.

To learn more about how you can get involved, visit the REFORMA Children in Crisis Project website. 

Sylvia Aguiñaga, LSSPCC Committee Member 

Ricardo Ramirez, Senior Library Assistant for Youth and Spanish Services, Butte County Library, Chico, CA

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14. Creating a new style with Digital Watercolor

Digital Watercolor

I’ve been trying some new stuff for the last month or so here at the studio and I think it’s about time to let the cat out of the bag. For many years I worked traditionally, mostly with watercolor and airbrush. I don’t really miss the airbrush, that thing was a crazy amount of work and to be honest Photoshop just does a better job. The watercolor though, that’s a whole different story. I love the spontaneity of working in watercolor but trying to capture that look and feel digitally has been a challenge. I could never really get the subtle variations I wanted so it inevitably wound up on the back burner saved for another time. I supposed I could have just dragged out my old set of Winsor Newtons and scanned them but I really wanted to see if I could make this happen digitally. Here’s a little peak at what I’ve been up to. I’m pretty happy with the direction things are headed. Hopefully, as I get used to the brushes and how to mimic the translucency that make watercolor so special, things will only get better.


dinosaur digital watercolor by bob ostrom lunch time digital watercolor by bob ostrom grandma digital watercolor by bob ostrom beach digital watercolor by bob ostrom study digital watercolor by bob ostrom puppy digital watercolor by bob ostrom


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15. Beyond the Red: Review

A scorched desert planet, politics, rebellion, and star crossed love. What could go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out. Beyond the Red is a love story disguised as political science fiction, but not a particularly effective one. To make matters worse, there is a love triangle. Let’s take a look at the many ways in which this novel does not work. The story is told in dual POV. We have Eros (seriously, that’s his name. Why?), the half human, half Sepharon outcast who is captured and enslaved to the Sepharon elite. We also have Kora, the Sepharon queen fighting to hold onto her throne. When Kora and Eros meet, he is taking a beating for being an insubordinate and unruly slave. For reasons that are completely indeterminate, Kora decides this insubordinate stranger would be the ideal personal guard. She knows him barely several minutes, and barely tests his combat skills,... Read more »

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16. Day 5: Johnny Ray Moore


Johnny Ray Moore realized at an early age that writing was in his future. Thank goodness for his readers, he followed his passion. Share his literary journey and if you haven’t read his work, February is the perfect month to add his books to your collection.

The Journey

As a child, I was shy, and I spent a lot of time daydreaming. When I got into school, I loved reading, especially, reading poetry. I wrote my first poem while in the third grade. I don’t recall the name of the poem. In high school, I took creative writing classes. Years later, while in the

Army, I received two checks from Aim Magazine for two poems I had written. Getting paid to write felt good. Because I had studied and written so much poetry, to eventually write children’s books became my destiny. Thanks to poetry, I can say what I want to say with

very few words. And, my books, A LEAF, only 88 words; and, HOWIE HAS A STOMACHACHE, only 100 words, are both proof that I can communicate with very few words.
The Inspiration

As for writers and illustrators who inspire me, I am inspired by all writers and illustrators who are true to their profession. Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Alex Haley, Eleanora Tate, Kelly Starling Lyons, Don Tate, Carole Weatherford, and Tameka Fryer, to name a few, are blessed and creative people who inspire me. What I know of the few authors and the one illustrator that I have listed is that they were and are committed to their work. And, that is inspiration enough for me.




The Back Story

One of my children’s books that was a blessing for me and a struggle was THE STORY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., a 200-word board book biography. My former agent, Etta Wilson, informed me that Ideals Publication wanted someone to write a board book about Martin Luther King, Jr., in about 300 words, that would speak to young children. I thought about what I was being asked to consider, for a day or two. I struggled with what I could say about Dr. King that would be of interest to young children. Well, after musing over the opportunity at hand, then praying, I started to write. After about 10 rewrites, I emailed the manuscript to my agent. And, it was accepted.


HowieThe Buzz

As for the good things THE STORY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. has caused, I have gotten a few emails from teachers expressing how their young students could not get enough of it. I have gotten similar responses from parents.

The mentioned board book has gotten pretty good reviews, in general. And, in December of 2015, I was informed by the publisher, Worthy Kids/Ideas, that THE  STORY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. has sold well over 100,000 copies, is still selling well. Furthermore, the book has been reformatted to a slightly larger size. I am elated and blessed, to say the least.

The State of the Industry

As time goes on, I want to see more African-American children’s book publishers come on

the scene. I want to see more African-Americans write for children, period.

Why? Because, our children must be prepared to shine for us in the future as we have done and

are doing for them.

A LeafWe must make sure that WE TELL OUR OWN STORIES. If

you are not African-American, you cannot write about the black experience, convincingly. GOD

knows we are intelligent, creative and gifted enough to inspire, teach and support our very own,

first. So, let’s continue to INSPIRE; TEACH; and SUPPORT our children by writing and creating

the very best children books that we can.

Read more about Johnny’s fascinating journey here.

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17. Shakespeare’s Reading List: INFOGRAPHIC

Oxford University Press has created an infographic called Shakespeare’s Reading List.

The infographic explores early national literacy rates in England; the production costs of bookmaking; along with the writers that influenced Shakespeare.

We’ve got the entire infographic for you to explore after the jump.


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18. Zac Posen Inks Book Deal With Rodale

Fashion designer Zac Posen has inked a cook book deal with Rodale Books.

Posen has been a chef for many years, cooking with ingredients in his rooftop garden. He has cooked alongside the likes of  Eric Ripert, Martha Stewart, Mario Batali, Marcus Samuelsson and Giada De Laurentiis and has built a popular social feed at #CooingWithZac. The book, Cooking With Zac, is based on Posen’s homegrown recipes.

“My love for fashion design and food have really developed hand in hand,” stated Posen. “When it comes to food, I believe in a balance between healthy food based on fresh, local ingredients, and decadent desserts.”

Rodale Books Senior Editor Marisa Vigilante acquired the world rights from agent David Kuhn of Kuhn Projects. The book is slated for publication in 2017.

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19. Twitter…for Research?

A long time ago, I wrote a children’s manuscript called Peculiar Plants. It was all about weird little shrubberies that did things that other plants don’t do. Most of them were rare, growing only in a small patch somewhere on the far side of the planet, so they were hard to research. And not being a botanist myself, I needed credible sources to vet my work and offer quotes. Back then, the Internet wasn’t what it is now, and it was really hard to find experts in the field, much less approach them with questions.

Luckily, the process is a lot easier now—if you know where to look. Kathy Klopp Cohen is here today to explain how, with just a few quick steps, one social media network can supply you with a whole list of experts in whatever field you need.

I opened a Twitter account some months back and had reservations about it. I already had Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, and email accounts, so was it worth my while to also add Twitter to my day? In a very short period of time, I realized that YES, it was worth the time and effort—but not in the way I had expected.

While researching my new mystery, I ran into a dead end on one question: If investigators find a dog at a murder scene in someone’s house, what do they do with the dog? Nowhere on the Internet could I find out what would be done in this scenario. I employed Google, Facebook, and emailed friends but came up with nothing. Then I thought of Twitter.

I got on my account, searched for someone listed as a policeman/woman, and found one in my old hometown who seemed to be fairly active on Twitter—in other words, he seemed to get on his account at least daily. So I tweeted my question to him.

Two minutes later I had my reply. Just like that! In TWO minutes, I was able to consult an expert in the field who gave me the answer I needed to write my scene authentically.

I’m sold on using Twitter now as a research tool. And since research is necessary for all authors, I’d like to share the process with you.

Let’s say that you’re looking for the answer to the following question: “When a surgeon is performing a long operation—for twelve hours or more—does he take breaks to eat, and if so, where and how?”

1. On your Twitter account homepage, go to the “Search Twitter” box at the top right. Enter surgeon there.

Twitter 1

2. That search will take you to a page called Surgeon. Click on the search box, and a drop box will appear with a fairly long list. Click on the very last option that says “search all people for surgeon.”

Twitter 23. And voilà! You now have a long list of bona fide surgeons with Twitter accounts who can be approached to answer your question.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 3.22.46 PM

4. As with any potential source, it’s important to verify that your new contact is who he/she claims to be. As you search your list, take the time to read the individual biographies under their names. The information they provide should include their full names, the cities in which they live, and their places of employment. In addition they should include links directing you to credentialed web sites, along with contact numbers you can use to verify their authenticity. Read some of their back-and-forth tweets to get a feel for their knowledgeability in the subject area and their potential willingness to answer your questions.

5. Settle on a few that seem to Tweet fairly regularly, since you’ll need your questions to be answered in a timely manner. Then politely message or tweet them with your question.

6.When you get a response from someone, be sure to say, “Thank you!”

If you’ve been looking for answers to questions for your story, try Twitter. It’s very likely that you’ll find an expert who’s willing to answer not only your immediate queries but also any others that come up down the road.

me Kathy Klopp Cohen is the author of three mystery novels and several articles covering topics of linguistic interest. All of her writing has required research, and she’s very happy to share how Twitter has enlarged her research sources. She has lived in Omaha, Nebraska, Germany, and the Washington D.C. area and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can check out all of her published works at her Amazon author page.


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20. Day 2: Damian Ward

damian profile picAs the lone illustrator on the Brown Bookshelf, I especially look forward to hosting the artists during our 28 Days Later campaign. Today I interview Damian Ward, who is a critically acclaimed illustrator of both trade and educational books for children. Some of the books he’s illustrated include “Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat,” (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2008), written by Nikki Giovanni, and “Bottle Cap Boys Dancing On Royal Street,” (Marimba Books, 2015), written by Rita Williams-Garcia. His digital artwork is lively and vibrant, and successfully brings to life the books that he’s illustrated. Ward studied illustration at the Columbus College of Art and Design.

Don: Tell us about your path to publishing. How did you get that first trade contract?

Damian: Craigslist, believe it or not. I got lucky to work with some talented people who 51n2WNzf5+L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_[1].jpghad experience writing for film, and they wanted to try something different. There was one particular picture in my portfolio that got their attention and after some emails, I was off to New York city to get things moving. It was a great first book experience for me because it was so open for me to interpret while also being on a very tight deadline. I could do just about whatever I wanted so long as I got it done super fast.

Don: Tell us about your most recent book.

Damian: “Bottle Cap Boys Dancing On Royal Street” was a joy. I had so much fun with the challenge of depicting such a distinct place and the people there. I got good guidance from the author and publishers, and that helped to make it feel like it had a real local New Orleans flavor.

Don: Can you talk about the research process for the book?

Damian: I live on the other side of the planet from New Orleans, so I used lots and lots of Google Street view. It wasn’t all high tech new-fangled intel gathering though, I was able to rustle up a few old books from various sources. New Orleans is un-aging in many respects so having a few older images to reference and read about helped to reinforce the classic feel of the locale, at least I hope so.

Don: What primary medium do you use in your work?

11a151dd73b9543a42c9ae35f0a1bf50[1].jpgDamian: I work digitally, primarily using the oil pastel brushes in Corel Painter.

Don: If you could spend one day in a studio, working with any artist — past or present — who would that be, and why?

Damian: I’ve always had a soft spot for Kandinsky. I liked that he seemed to be trying to develop a specific visual language in abstract colors and shapes.

Don: What would be your dream manuscript? Your dream author to work with?

Damian: Hmm, a dream manuscript for me would probably involve insects and or fish. I just like getting up close and drawing the little critters. I also like for there to be a message in there too though, almost hidden away, not beating anyone over the head.
An author I’d like to work with would be someone venturing way out of their comfort zone. I think if Ta-Nehisi Coates wanted to write a children’s book I’d love to take that challenge on.

Don: Can you talk a bit about your process of illustrating a book?

Damian: I start off with lots of thumbnail sketches. Many times I read something and think, I have to draw it this way. I know just how I want this to look, but if I can patiently explore a few options with thumbnail sketches I usually stumble across a better angle or depiction I can try. Sometime it is that first instinct in the end but it pays give yourself options. After that, I start tightening up the line drawings and doing some color studies before finalizing the illustration.

Don: Who are your cheerleaders, those who encourage you?

Damian: My wife and family have been there at every step to try and keep my head on straight (not always an easy task). They keep the orange juice refills and apple pies coming.

Don: What’s on the horizon, what can your fans expect to see from you in the future?

Damian: It’s time for me to start pushing myself to be an author/illustrator. I’ve been my own worst enemy in this regard but hopefully the next couple projects will feature the coveted ‘written and illustrated by…’ line on the cover.

–Don Tate


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21. Day 3: Mélina Mangal

MélinaMangalMedia specialist, mother and author, Mélina Mangal writes to fill a void and inspire. Her books include biographies on award-winning authors like Virginia Hamilton, Mildred D. Taylor and Rita Williams-Garcia. They’re stories she didn’t see in bookstores or on library shelves, so she created them herself.

Her writing ranges from celebrating unsung trailblazers to giving voice to the experiences of African-American children. On her SCBWI page, she says, “My writing focuses on youth in nature, especially those whose voices are rarely heard, and the people and places that inspire them to explore their world.”

We are proud to feature Mélina on Day 3. Here’s her story:

The Journey

My writing began with letters: to my father in Vietnam, my grandmother in France, my pen pal in Jamaica. Around sixth grade, I discovered Langston Hughes and shifted my attention to diary writing. That’s when I first thought of becoming a writer.

It wasn’t until after college, working as a textbook production editor, that I tried to publish my work. My first published piece was a journal entry in an anthology. When the beautiful book arrived featuring luminaries like Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, I was both inspired and humbled. How could my unpolished debut appear alongside their work? I didn’t submit anything for five years after that. I couldn’t. I had to become a better writer.

Through a move across the country, graduate school, and a new career as a school librarian, I kept writing and reading and attending workshops. When my short story “Georgia’s View” (inspired by a Jonathan Green painting) was published in a literary journal, I was hooked. Writing short stories was addictive. So was children’s literature. My short stories began to feature children, and were published in anthologies such as Milkweed’s Stories From Where We Live series. After a writing retreat with editor Patricia Gauch, and a week with Rita Willgarciabioiams-Garcia at the Highlights Writing Workshop at Chautauqua, I was inspired to craft longer works. I moved back to Minnesota, got married, and started writing biographies of the inspiring people lacking from my library shelves, like the trailblazing author Virginia Hamilton, which became my first book. Rita Williams-Garcia and Classic Storytellers: Mildred Taylor came next. I wished their books had been available to me when I was a kid.

After the birth of my daughter, I became even more engrossed in picture books, and in delving deeper into my stories. I’m now spending more time exploring the visual images conjured by my words, after studying with Maya Cristina Gonzalez. My poem “Black Is” will be published in a collection by Reflection Press this spring.

taylorbioI spent the last couple of years researching and writing a picture book about the groundbreaking scientist Ernest Everett Just, which is due out in 2017. I can’t wait for young readers to learn about this inspirational man and his contributions to science.

The Inspiration

Although I had no problem reading, I became a Reader the summer before sixth grade when my family moved from a small town in Wisconsin to the ‘big city’ of St. Paul, Minnesota. I could walk to the library, and there I found books featuring all kinds of people—including people who looked like me. That’s where I discovered Langston and Maya Angelou. I read poetry, biographies, mysteries, and historical fiction, all of which I still turn to for inspiration.

Books by Jacqueline Woodson, Vaunda Michaux Nelson, and Tonya Bolden open my mind, while Tracey Baptiste and Jewell Parker-Rhodes fuel my love of nature, magic, culture, and spirit.

The Process

Ideas come easily to me. I don’t experience writer’s block, but I do suffer from what I call ‘dreamer’s deluge.’ I often have too many thoughts competing for attention. I typically have at least three projects of varying stages in the works. An idea starts with an image, or maybe a voice. I keep a notebook with me and jot it down. I write first by hand, capturing everything I can. I continue fleshing out details of characters by creating a character sketch. Poetry pops up when I try to get inside a character’s head. Later, I revise on the computer, then write by hand again when adding or changing scenes. Full-fledged stories take a long time to percolate.

The Industry: Under The Radar

It’s encouraging to see the work of writers and illustrators like Zetta Elliott, Kathleen Wainwright, Janine Macbeth, and Jerry Craft, who are paving a new way with Rosetta Press, Willa’s Tree Studios, Blood Orange Press, and Mama’s Boyz. Illustrators like Keturah Ariel Nailah Boo, Melodie Strong, and Peter Ambush are creating fresh, vibrant work, highlighting the significance of images in young readers’ lives.

Learn more about Mélina Mangal here.

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22. Cover Reveal: What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A. Levine

It’s a cloudy February here in Illinois.  Yesterday the heavens opened up and let loose a downpour.  Today it is wet if not actively raining.  We are in the thick of winter, albeit an oddly warm one.  With all this in mind, I think we need some cheering up.

Now a friend recently pointed out to me that there are a plethora of books coming out this year penned by publishers and agents.  Crazy, right?  If I’d been paying attention I’d have put that in my SLJ trending piece.  In any case, today’s cover reveal is from the man who had the wherewithal to bring us Harry Potter.  Arthur A. Levine has a new picture book out (and it’s hardly his first) and it’s coming to our shelves on August 9th.



Aw. Bring it all home, Katie Kath.

Thanks to Cassie Drumm for the pic.


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23. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #225: Kentucky Student Pretends to Be . . . Me!



I received this note from a mother the other day:

My son, Joey, completed his reading project that I mentioned in an earlier CourageTestFrontCvre-mail.  He had to read three books from one author, provide summaries to the class, create a poster, and be the author for a class presentation.  This is a picture of him after the big event.  He read Bystander, The Fall
and Before you Go.  His classmates were very interested in the subject material.  They asked many questions after the presentation.

In any case, thought you might like to see the picture.  We were going to put facial hair on but the teacher did not allow make up.

Joey is looking forward to your new book, The Courage Test.

I keep imagining this dear, kind mother sitting at the kitchen table shaking her head, “Why, Joey? Why?”

There are, of course, copious tears.

There’s even a Youtube video of Joey, as James Preller, giving a brief presentation. It was a strange sensation for me, as if staring into a mirror and seeing a much improved version of my actual self. I liked that Joey wore the Mets hat, and it’s fairly remarkable that he came up with an Oneonta sweatshirt. It is too bad about the rule against facial hair. That would have nailed it.

Thank you, Joey. I’m grateful and a little shocked that you would pick me out of all the possibilities. Though I suppose I was a better choice for you than, say, Beverly Cleary. I just don’t see you in those glasses.


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24. Publishing Jobs: BenBella, Random House, Write Stuff

This week, BenBella Books is hiring an editor/senior editor, while Random House needs a senior manager of consumer shows and conferences. Write Stuff is seeking a senior editor, and Routledge/Taylor & Francis is on the hunt for an editorial assistant. Get the scoop on these openings and more below, and find additional just-posted gigs on Mediabistro.

Find more great publishing jobs on the GalleyCat job board. Looking to hire? Tap into our network of talented GalleyCat pros and post a risk-free job listing. For real-time openings and employment news, follow @MBJobPost.

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25. Program in a Post: Stuffed Animal Sleepover

Stuffed Animals Playing on the Bridge in Youth Services at RPL

With this post, a storytime, a camera, and a color printer you can have a grand time caring for stuffed animals overnight!

Back in 2011 the brilliant guest contributor and librarian extraordinaire, Kris Lill, posted about Allen County Public Library’s Stuffed Animal Sleepover program and now, all of these years later I am here to remind you about this wonderful, easy, awesome program that brings in the numbers and fuzzy friends!

The first Stuffed Animal Sleepover at Rochester Public Library (MN) was presented in June 2015 to 23 people and 7 stuffed animals. We followed that with a program in October 2015 for 150 people and 73 stuffed animals and THEN (are you ready for this) in January 2016 for 295 people and 115 stuffed animals! And the thing is, it is one of the easiest things you can do if you don’t mind working after hours on a Friday night.


  • A fabulous bedtime storytime
  • A camera

    Sleepover Book Cover

    Sleepover Memory Book Cover

  • A color printer
  • A stapler
  • A template for your Stuffed Animal Sleepover Memory Book (Ours is available by request, just ask in the comments and I will email it to you. It is a Publisher file.)
  • A list of photo ops for the animals
  • Rubber bands, binder clips, and other tools to use while posing the animals.
  • Other optional activity items as desired
stuffed animal poster

Stuffed Animal Sleepover Poster

Prep work: Advertise your program at storytimes and other events for preschoolers and elementary school kids (I would be happy to share our Publisher poster template as well). We also created a Facebook ad for our January program, which we think was part of the reason for the through-the-roof attendance. Gather your storytime books, props, and music. Have your Sleepover Memory Book template ready to go and prepare a list of photo ops.

Crafts Sleepover Memory Book Page

Optional prep work includes: Make simple braided friendship bracelets from yarn, art projects, or sleepover buttons for all of the animals. These activities also make great photo ops as you can take pictures of the animals making bracelets, art, and/or buttons.

Puppet Show Sleepover Memory Book Page

Washing Machine Sleepover Memory Book Page

Room Setup: Set up for a storytime with one small addition: have a blanket or two spread out at the front for the kids to use to put their animals to bed. For our next event, we are going to use an adjacent meeting room as a bedroom for the animals.

Program format: We schedule our Stuffed Animal Sleepover for 4:30pm on a Friday (one hour before closing). The storytime lasts about 25 minutes and then we invite the children to tuck their stuffed animals into bed and remind them to pick their friends up the next day.

After all the animals are tucked in and tears are dried, we start setting up the animals for photos in several “behind-the-scenes” shots. For this last event we took photos of the animals “sleeping”, playing the piano in the auditorium, putting on a puppet show with our puppet theater, experimenting with art supplies in the back room, and jumping on the bed. Once the library was closed we took some of the animals out into the Youth Services Division to play in our Minnesota Children’s Museum Smart Play Spot for a few more photo ops.

Sleepover Jumping on Bed

Jumping on the Bed Sleepover Memory Book Page

After we had all of our photos, including a few extras to post on Facebook, we uploaded them to the computer and filled in the memory book with the best of the best. While 125 books were printing, we cataloged the animals and put them on carts for pick up. It required several carts for 115 animals! After stapling the books together, we left them on the Youth Services Information Desk for distribution with the animals. We usually finish with everything around 7pm. Pick up time made for a busy Saturday morning with happy smiles and hugs all around!

Playing on the Bus Sleepover Memory Book Page


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