Day 28: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

February 28, 2015

kareem author photoHe’s far more awesome than I realized.

When I went to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s website to get a little background info on him for this post, I discovered a man that has contributed more to our society than I believe most people are aware of. While I don’t have the space to recount all of his accomplishments here, I’ll bullet-point a fraction of them:

  • NBA All-Time Leading Scorer
  • US Cultural Ambassador, 2012
  • California’s STEAM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics) Afterschool Ambassador, 2012
  • Cancer Research Advocate
  • Columnist for TIME Magazine and LA & OC Registers
  • Award-winning Filmaker
  • New York Times Best Selling Author of 9 Titles (including 3 children’s books)
  • Two-time NAACP Image Award Winner (What Color Is My World & On the Shoulders of Giants)

It is his for work as a children’s book author that we celebrate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on this final day of 28 Days Later. The three, well-reviewed children’s titles he has co-authored with Raymond Obstfeld (thus far) are:

 

Streetball Crew Series, Book Two: Stealing the Game

stealing the game cover

 

“Abdul-Jabbar and Obstfeld…team up for another exploration of the intersection of sports and life conduct. Chris is a good, quiet kid who likes to keep his head down. As he says, ‘I was friendly to everyone but friends with no one.’ Still, if the machinery of thought made much noise, Chris would be a one-man band. For a 13-year-old, he does considerable shrewd, high-ground thinking, as do his friends (‘You know,’ one says, ‘not talking about things doesn’t actually make them disappear’). Where it really shows itself is on the basketball court, where he plays a savvy, court-wise game. Enter his brother, Jax, a golden boy who appears to have fallen from the pedestal upon which his well-intentioned parents have placed him, and Chris’ still waters are about to feel a hefty stone break their surface. Add his classmate Brooke, a sharp girl with plenty of her own baggage, and a waterspout is in the making. The authors’ light hand allows readers to inhabit the characters; to taste the value of respect, dignity and vulnerability; and to embrace the elemental joy of sports-all without ever feeling like they are being tube fed. The shifting structure of the story and a clever series of blind alleys keep readers on tenterhooks. A deft, understated sports thriller with a solid moral compass.”Kirkus

“In another exemplary mix of issues and action both on and off the court, the middle-school cast of Sasquatch in the Paint (2013) returns to take on a team of older, bigger, thuggish rivals amidst a rash of local burglaries. Thirteen-year-old Chris is stunned when his golden-boy big brother, Jax, suddenly shows up at home with gambling debts after (he claims) dropping out of law school. With extreme reluctance, Chris agrees to help Jax get out from under-both by enlisting his street-ball buddies against a club team to settle a bet and by helping his brother break into a pawnshop. At the same time, Chris asks his Sherlockian friend Theo to check out Jax’s story, and he also definitely beats the odds by finding common ground with brilliant, acid-tongued classmate Brooke. Along with vividly drawn characters, the coauthors craft a mystery with artfully placed clues that Jax might not be the loser he seems to be, and also inject plenty of exciting, hard-fought basketball in which speed, strategy, and heart play equally strong roles. Flashbacks crank up the tale-s suspense, flashes of humor brighten it, and the end brings both surprise twists and just deserts all round.”Booklist Online

 

Streetball Crew Series, Book One: Sasquatch in the Paint

sasquatch cover bigger

 

“The author team behind What Color Is My World? opens the Streetball Crew series with the story of Theo Rollins who, though only an eighth grader, is already more than six feet tall. A self-proclaimed nerd, Theo gets recruited for the school basketball team, even though he’s terrible at the sport. Additionally, Theo is puzzled by new girl Rain, who’s smart but being threatened by a guy on a motorcycle; his widowed father is unexpectedly interested in dating; and he might be kicked off the school’s Aca-lympics team if he can’t balance his responsibilities. The depth and realism Abdul-Jabbar and Obstfeld bring to the novel keep it from being a run-of-the-mill sports story. Rain, for instance, is Muslim, while Theo is one of only a few black kids at his school; their ostracism doesn’t overshadow the action, but it isn’t ignored, either. Perhaps most refreshing is the fact that the authors allow Theo to gain confidence in basketball without the predictable game-winning shot. Readers will feel a kinship with Theo as he maneuvers through tough but realistic choices.”Publishers Weekly

“A crisp tale of sports, smarts and what it means to be your own man or woman-or boy or girl, if you happen to be 13. It seems to be an embarrassment of riches to be, say, one of the best basketball players in history and also write tightly entertaining novels for kids, but there you have Abdul-Jabbar. Surely Obstfeld added polish and framing, but this obviously is a work of someone intimate with sports and, by extension, how sports can serve as metaphor for a way of being in the world. Here, newly tall eighth-grader Theo Rollins is trying to find his way between the brainiacs and the basketball players. Along the way, he meets Rain-aka Crazy Girl-a sort of ‘girl with the dragon tattoo’ minus the heaviest baggage. Characters, both friend and foe, feel real; there is talk of abandonment as well as serious comments about the skewed vision Americans have of Islam. The deepest running narrative pivots around sports, but the story has much to give. Theo’s cousin’s taxonomy of basketball players is broadly applicable: There are the happy-go-lucky, the self-conscious and ‘those who never want the game to be over, because each minute is like living on some planet where you got no problems….[They are], for that brief time, in a place where everything they thought or did mattered.’ Fearless, caring sports fiction.” —Kirkus

 

What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors

what color is my world

 

“Making use of an unusual format, former NBA star Abdul-Jabbar and his On the Shoulders of Giants coauthor Obstfeld offer an upbeat history lesson set within a fictional narrative framework. Siblings Ella and Herbie, whose story unfolds in typeset chapter booklike pages surrounded by warmly lit paintings of their adventures, are less than enthusiastic about their fixer-upper of a new house. But as eccentric handyman Mr. Mital unveils the house’s potential, he also teaches them about contributions made by African-American inventors (‘There’s more to our history than slavery, jazz, sports, and civil rights marches,’ he says). Flaps show lifelike portraits of individuals like Dr. Mark Dean, a v-p at IBM; Dr. Charles Drew, who developed the concept of blood banks; and nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker squirt gun. Ella’s off-the-cuff notes appear inside the flaps, while several spreads provide detailed profiles of other inventors and graphic novel–style passages. The banter between the siblings and, in particular, Ella’s snarky zingers keep things from feeling didactic—it’s an entertaining and often surprising exploration of lesser-known innovators, past and present.” Publishers Weekly

“A fictional story lies at the heart of this unusually formatted collective biography. Twins Herbie and Ella and their parents have just moved into a run-down older home; while they work to fix it up, Mr. R. E. Mital, an eccentric handyman hired by their parents, recounts the contributions of African American scientists and inventors. As the figures are introduced, foldouts on the sides of the pages contain Ella’s notes (full of humor, as well as facts) about each one. More detailed profiles of other inventors fill the spreads, and some are introduced in graphic-novel-style pages. Instead of famous inventors such as George Washington Carver and Benjamin Banneker, readers are introduced to lesser-known individuals, including Alfred L. Cralle (inventor of the ice-cream scoop), Dr. Henry T. Sampson (gamma electric cell), and nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson (Super Soaker). Information about the subjects’ home, lives, and avocations is a welcome addition…the large trim size, numerous illustrations, and unusual format (not to mention the celebrity author) will certainly attract browsers. And a surprise discovery about Mr. Mital’s identity at the end will leave readers with something to ponder.”School Library Journal

 

For more information on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his work, please visit his website.


Day 27: John Steptoe

February 27, 2015

DG1168In his twenty-year career, Mr. Steptoe illustrated sixteen picture books, twelve of which he also wrote. The American Library Association named two of his books Caldecott Honor Books, a prestigious award for children’s book illustration: THE STORY OF JUMPING MOUSE in 1985 and MUFARO’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS in 1988. Mr. Steptoe twice received the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration, for MOTHER CROCODILE (text by Rosa Guy) in 1982, and for MUFARO’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS in 1988.

While all of Mr. Steptoe’s work deals with aspects of the African American experience, MUFARO’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS was acknowledged by reviewers and critics as a breakthrough. Based on an African tale recorded in the 19th century, it required Mr. Steptoe for the first time to research African history and culture, awakening his pride in his African ancestry. Mr. Steptoe hoped that his books would lead children, especially African American children, to feel pride in their origins and in who they are. “I am not an exception to the rule among my race of people,” he said, accepting the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Illustration, “I am the rule. By that I mean there are a great many others like me where I come from.”

Mr. Steptoe frequently spoke to audiences of children and adults about his work. He was the 1989 winner of the Milner Award, voted by Atlanta schoolchildren for their favorite author.

John Steptoe died on August 28, 1989 at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan, following a long illness. He was 38 years old and lived in Brooklyn. Mr. Steptoe was among the handful of African American artists who have made a career in children’s books.


Day 26 Brandy Colbert

February 26, 2015

BrandyWeb

 

Pointe may be Brandy’s first published novel, but it is not her first attempt at writing. She is a magazine journalist. Add that to her tap and jazz dance training and you have the perfect person to write about ballet. Her life story is riveting and so is Pointe. After learning about Brandy, you will not be able to resist the urge to read her first novel. The Brown Bookshelf is honored to feature Brandy on 28 Days Later 2015.

The Journey

I’ve wanted to be an author since I was seven years old (at least that’s the first time I documented my aspiration), and have been writing stories since then. I took a bit of a break in college and afterward, while I earned a journalism degree and moved out to Los Angeles to start my career in magazine publishing. Of course I never stopped reading, and I would write sporadically, but I had a hard time finishing projects that I’d started. At the time, I also found it hard to come home and work on my own manuscripts after writing and editing all day at my full-time job.

In 2006, I decided to get serious about pursuing publication. I completed a novel during NaNoWriMo and also signed up for a writing class, as I realized I’d have to start sharing my work with others and get feedback (terrifying!) if I wanted to get published. That project was the first book I’d finished writing since I was a child. It started out as an adult book, but I soon realized the voice wasn’t right. After I switched to teenage characters, I felt like I was on the right track—exploring the issues and lives of teens, as well as writing in their voice.

The Inspiration
I think inspiration can (and should) come from various and unexpected sources. I’m inspired by honest writers, those who aren’t afraid to tackle messy subjects (and even messier characters). Some of my favorites are Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Courtney Summers, Colson Whitehead, Aimee Bender, Sarah McCarry, ZZ Packer, and Toni Morrison.

The Back Story
Pointe is the fourth book I’d written since I began actively working toward publication, and it’s strange to look back pointecoveron this now, but I was just about ready to give up if I hadn’t found representation with that book. It was easily the most honest book I’d written to date, and the one I’d put the most work into. I ended up working on it with an agent who was interested in signing me, but unfortunately, once I turned in the final book, we saw that our visions for it were quite different. After that, I queried a few other agents at the top of my list, not expecting to get very far. But much to my surprise, Tina Wexler of ICM requested a full manuscript just a few hours after I’d queried her! She asked for a fairly big revision, which I turned in around six weeks later. She offered representation shortly after that, and just three days after I’d been laid off from my job as a business writer in Chicago.

After three books and four years of rejection from agents, I also didn’t anticipate interest from editors, though I believed in the book and finally had someone else in my corner who did, too. I’d decided to move back to Los Angeles after being laid off, and at the end of my first day driving cross-country, I stopped in Missouri to see my parents and recharge for a few days. And the morning after arriving in my hometown, Tina called to tell me we had an offer from Ari Lewin at Putnam! I was happy to have an offer, but more important, I was thrilled that Ari believed in my book and had some wonderful ideas on how to improve it while staying true to my vision.

The Buzz
Pointe received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start, is a Cybils Awards finalist, and was named a best book of 2014 by Publishers Weekly, Book Riot, BuzzFeed, the Los Angeles Public Library, and the Chicago Public Library.

The State of the Industry
I think 2014 was a turning point for the children’s books industry in that the conversation on diversity really began to make waves. Many people had noted prior to last year that diversity was an important (and often overlooked) initiative in children’s books, but We Need Diverse Books catapulted it to the forefront, turning a hashtag campaign into a pledge into a nonprofit. I’m so impressed by the group’s commitment to implementing change in the industry, including the provision of publishing internships and grants and awards to writers and authors of color.

When I was growing up, I didn’t need two hands to count the number of black kids in contemporary stories, and it’s sad to me that things aren’t much better so many years later. But I believe the conversation is a great start. And in addition to books that reflect the world around us, we also need diverse authors and agents and editors and publicists and marketing departments—people of color, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTQ. I truly believe that if diversity is championed from within the industry, there will be a greater chance of seeing these stories published. And they are stories that desperately need to be told.

For more about Brandy, please check out her website Brandy Colbert. Brandy’s twitter handle is @BrandyColbert.

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks


Day 25: Georgia McBride

February 25, 2015

georgiamcbrideGeorgia McBride is founder of Georgia McBride Media Group, home of Month9Books, Swoon Romance, and Tantrum Books. She develops content for film and TV, and is also a speculative fiction writer. Georgia founded the #YAlitchat hashtag and weekly chat on Twitter in 2009.

Georgia is one of Publishers Marketplace’s most prolific publishers and has spent most of 2014 atop the editors lists in Young Adult, Digital New Adult and Digital deals. She’s completed over 120 publishing deals on behalf of three imprints in the past 24 months.

Georgia McBride Media Group imprints publish debut authors as well as USA Today and NY Times bestselling author Diane Alberts, Bram Stoker Award nominated author Janice Gable Bashman, Amazon #1 Dystopian authors Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki, Amazon US #1 erotica author Kenya Wright, Amazon #1 Children’s Fantasy author Nicole Conway, Amazon UK #1Teen Mythology and Legends author Jen McConnel, and renowned Young Adult authors such as Jackie Morse Kessler, Michelle Zink and Cindy Pon.

On the film and TV side, The Undertakers series has been optioned for film by Moderncine Films with the creator of the Final Destination films attached. Dead Jed: Adventures of a Middle School Zombie has been optioned to Nickelodeon, and Nameless has been optioned to Benderspink.

But wait, there’s more! Ms. McBride’s list of credits is extraordinarily impressive — she is no joke. And we are honoured to share her words here on The Brown Bookshelf.

As the effort to increase diversity in the book community grows with new initiatives such as We Need Diverse Books, Diversity in YA and of course, this very site, I am struck by how many “discussions” are being had about Diversity without anyone addressing the sweeping changes that need to happen in order for that dream to be fully realized.

Talking about the need is a fantastic first step. We have come a long way from ignoring the lack of diversity and refusing to admit there is a problem, to now to freely discussing the need for diversity and challenging those in a position of power to act upon it.


When I first started writing young adult material in 2008, I took a lot of heat from people for a statement I made on Twitter about being afraid my book would be stocked in the back of the bookstore because it is written by an African American writer and features a diverse cast of characters.

Many shouted from behind their screens about how if the book was “good enough,” it would certainly receive the same placement as any other book of its kind. It was a heated discussion that ensued and one that I will never forget. I wondered whether those same folks were naïve, blind, ignorant or just plain crazy. Where they living in the same publishing world I was living in?

I started writing around the time a major publisher took a hit for putting a white teen girl on the cover of a book about a black girl. Shortly thereafter, readers of the Hunger Games went crazy over the possibility that Katniss Everdeen may be cast as other than a white in the film adaptation, despite the author’s own description of the character as having olive-toned skin. Readers, fans and others took to social media to voice their concern, and some even said they would boycott the film if Katniss was not cast as white. Even the author refused to officially define the character’s ethnicity.

Flash forward to today. It’s 2015, and we have only just begun to accept the need for diversity in books for young readers. This is a major step in the right direction, but we need to do more. We need to make sure the images being put into the market are not the same tired stereotypes of non-white youths. We need to make sure that tokenism, in all its forms, is rejected as a response to the need for diversity, and dare I say, we need more people in a position to acquire and publish diverse books to make doing so a priority.
And finally, when we come across an amazing book with diverse characters, we need to simply call it an amazing book, not an amazing “diverse” book. Because by doing so, it is nearly the same as calling me a “black writer” or “black publisher.” After all, it’s not the color of my skin that defines me, but the content of my character. And if we want readers and trade to stop judging books by the color or ethnicity of the characters in them, we must stop calling attention to it ourselves. I would love to hear what you think. Please feel free to comment and I will do my best to respond. Thanks for allowing me to share my opinion and experience with you.

Georgia McBride

You can find more about Georgia McBride at her web site, and connect with her on Twitter.


DAY 24: JUSTINA IRELAND

February 24, 2015

JustinaIreland

 

What is a purveyor of awesomeness? If you saw one walking down the street would you know? Let me help you out. Just look at the picture to the left. When you write novels about butt-kicking females with a Greek mythology backdrop, you can put “Purveyor of Awesomeness” on your website next to your name because you’re bound to turn heads! She turned ours, and that’s why on this 24th day of February, 2015, The Brown Bookshelf is honored, and excited to spotlight:

JUSTINA IRELAND

The Process

How do you work? Do you start with a character, a concept, an idea? Do you outline first or just go? Is there a technique or routine for drafting or revising that you find particularly helpful? Do you have an office or other location that works best for you?

I am a complete and utter pantser (meaning I don’t outline). So my writing process is deceptively simple and completely insane:

  1. I come up with the basic idea (not a plot, just a general idea). Example: Dexter meets Greek Mythology.
  2. I write the first 30,000 words or so. Generally the entire first act heading into the second (my books are generally between 80,000 and 90,000 words).
  3. I write the ending so I have a direction. Otherwise I would just keep writing with no end in sight.
  4. I fill in the gaps.
  5. Revisions! Smoothing out the plotholes, making sure plot threads make it the entire way through the book, etc.

9781442444621(1) If the process sounds disorganized, that’s because it is. I see writing as a kind of archeology. The process of uncovering the story is just as important as the story for me, which sounds a lot prettier than it is in reality. There is usually swearing. And lots of swearing. To be honest my process has been different for each story, but there is always swearing.

I think that’s what makes it fun, the spontaneity of it all! Or maddening. Sometimes it is both fun and maddening, which explains the swearing.

I mostly write at home, in the evenings and in the mornings before I head to work (I have a day job that is not writing related). My writing locations are the office I share with my husband within my home and the dining room table. Not sure why I like writing at the dining room table. Maybe because it’s right next to the kitchen and therefore close to the food.

The Inspiration

I actually write a lot of my stories based on music, which sounds weird. But sometimes hearing just the right song will inspire a feeling that drives my story.

Vengeance Bound, my first published story, was sparked by the album American Idiot by Green Day.

Promise of Shadows was pretty much entirely written to three albums: What to Do When You are Dead by Armor for Sleep, Juturna by Circa Survive and On Letting Go by Circa Survive.

My most recent story was inspired by Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire, so you can pretty much imagine what that is like. For me, music is a huge part of my process. I listen to music when IBY JUSTINA IRELAND write, and I actually find it pretty hard to write without it.

As for writers who inspire me, I love Courtney Summers, Jenny Han, Justina Chen, Nova Ren Suma, and Alaya Dawn Johnson.

Under The Radar

Brandy Colbert’s Pointe is a book that I think has not gotten nearly enough love. Theo’s journey is just plain heartbreaking, and I hope lots of good things happen for that book in 2015.

I’m also a huge fan of LR Giles, Stephanie Kuehn, Elsie Chapman, Lydia Kang, and Maurene Goo. I hope all of them continue to write fantastic books. And I hope people continue to read them.

 

The State of the Industry

I honestly think that the industry is really at a pretty important decision point. The We Need Diverse Books campaign has done a good job of shining a light on the challenges within the publishing industry with regards to diversity and how we can all do better. There’s a lot of talk about increasing diversity, not just with regards to the books being published but also with regards to the staff at the publishing houses. But right now I feel it’s more lip service than reality. Everyone thinks diversity is important, but it seems like few people are actually challenging themselves to make it a reality. If the big publishing houses want to cater to people of color they need to make a commitment to doing just that. And they need to publish books that reflect diversity across the board, not just a couple of issue books every season or diverse books ghettoized under a specific imprint. Where are my black Katnisses? Or my Latino Harry Potters? I’d love to see more books that really push the envelope and break out of the old models, books like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Love is the Drug, which is a book that talks about race and class but also has a pretty amazing storyline as well.

Of course, there are publishers like Lee and Low that have always been committed to diversity and that probably don’t get nearly enough credit for what they do. But in an ideal world I’d really like to see publishers like Lee and Low rendered obsolete. I’d like it to be easier to find a book with a character of color than a talking animal or some mythological creature, but I think right now we’re a few years away from that goal.

 

Thank you, Justina, for your contributions to Young Adult books!

Learn more about Justina Ireland by visiting her website:  http://justinaireland.com

Follow Justina Ireland on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/tehawesomersace


Day 23: Jerry Craft

February 23, 2015

By Jerry Craft

JerryCraftOffendersComposite_w (1)I published my first book back in 1997. Since then I have written and / or illustrated more than a dozen others. I think the reason why I’ve dedicated my life to get kids to read is because I went through most of my life not enjoying reading whatsoever.  In fact, whoever coined the term “reluctant reader” must have known me as a kid. And as a teen. And even as a young adult. To be honest,  I was a grown man before I ever read a book on my own for enjoyment. It’s not that I couldn’t read, I was an “A” student who made Honor Roll every semester. It was that reading was never anything that was fun. Actually, it was a chore, like mowing the lawn. (Even though there were no lawns in the Washington Heights section of NYC, where I grew up.) And for a kid with a very active imagination, I needed something to grab my attention.  I know my parents read to me as a kid, but once the Dr. Seuss stage passed, I was on my own. Sure, I’d see them read newspapers and magazines, but have few memories of them with books.

In school, reading was always something I HAD to do, there was no getting around it. And believe me, I tried. Books being boring. For one thing, even though I attended schools that were 99% African American, I don’t ever remember having to read a book that featured characters that looked like any of us. Unless you count runaway slaves. So if it wasn’t for Marvel Comics, OffendersCover_w (1)my reading enjoyment would have been close to zero! As a kid I was a huge comic book fan. Each week, I’d anxiously run to the corner candy store in order to buy the latest issues of Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four. But even then, if the plots had too many non-fighting pages, I’d kind of gloss over all that boring dialogue in order to get to the good stuff. Ka-Blam! But even though I, and many of my classmates, were reading, having a teacher catch you with a comic book was only slightly better than being caught with some kind of illegal contraband. Apparently, they didn’t want any of those “foul things” rotting our fragile little brains. It wasn’t until I reached the 7th grade that I had my first, and probably only, teacher who was a comic book fan. That was refreshing.

And then … as if books didn’t have enough competition with things like stickball, and touch football (way back when kids used to go outside to play) they invented the Atari 2600! That was one of the very first video game systems, for those of you who may not know. And reading for enjoyment went the way of the dinosaur.

In high school, there were a bunch of us who read comics, but unfortunately as I got older, the books that we were supposed to read for got bigger. And more boring. And even less reflective of my life. The memory of having to read William Faulkner’s, “As I Lay Dying,” still haunts me to this day!

Fast forward to college where I attended The School of Visual Arts. Most people who know that I went there, think that I was a cartooning major. But the cartooning classes were so popular that I was never able to actually sign up for one. Instead I majored in advertising copywriting where I wrote headlines for newspaper ads, radio commercials and TV commercials. This was right up my alley. What I wrote could be funny, it could be serious, but whatever it was, it had to be short. Fast forward about 10 years, when I left the struggling advertising world to get a job at King Features

BigPixCoverFinalSyndicate and later at Sports Illustrated for Kids. It was during this time that I had created my Mama’s Boyz comic strip. Again, the writing was funny and short! This was way back when personal computers just started taking off. And for the first time in my life, I found something that I actually ENJOYED reading other than comic books. Software manuals! Really!  I could actually sit down for hours and read a book on how to use Photoshop or Flash. The books were not only huge, nor were they the least bit exciting. But for some reason, I LOVED them!!! Then one day I got an email from a fan of my Mama’s Boyz comic strip. I used to have a page on my website where I showed how slang had changed from my father’s era, to mine, to the current group of teens. After exchanging a few emails, he told me that he was an author and wanted to know if I wanted to swap books with him. Why not? I sent him a copy of Mama’s Boyz: As American as Sweet Potato Pie! (which I had published myself), and a few days later I got a package in the mail with not only one book, but two! And they were long. “Aw crap, I remember thinking, now I HAVE to read both of these books, ‘cause he’s gonna want to know what I think of them.” And so I started the task. By now, I was married and living in Connecticut, so I had a few hours commuting on MetroNorth each day that I could devote to reading them. And you know what, I liked them. In fact, I LOVED them!!! When I was done, I was proud to write my new author friend, Mr. Eric Jerome Dickey and tell him what I thought of Sister, Sister and Friends and Lovers. From that point on, I felt like a superhero who had gotten super powers as a result of some freak accident. I LIKED TO READ! Now it was a matter of catching up on books that I had always heard about, but had never actually read. Classics like The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Invisible Man.

A few years later I had kids. Not wanting them to be reluctant readers like their dad, I literally read to them every single night forZombieZoneCover_wthe first six years of their lives. Maybe longer. And then  they’d read to me. Or we’d do it together. Short books. Long books. Everything we could get our hands on. I even did voices for the characters. Plus I made sure that they saw characters who looked like them. Their bookshelves were filled with names like Eric Velazquez, Bryan Collier, Shadra Strickland, Don Tate, E.B. Lewis, R. Gregory Christie, and anyone whose last name is Pinkney. Then when I decided to write chapter books, there was no better sounding board than the two of them. They were my own private focus group. A few years ago, I was reading them a story that I was working on about 5 middle school bullies who get superpowers. And this time, instead of just sitting back and listening, they (now teenagers) were critical. Very critical. “Dad, no kid would say that,” I remember one of them saying. “Well what would he say?” And they told me. And it was good. After a few sessions of them setting me straight, I decided to make them co-writers. Luckily they accepted. And after about a year of writing, we were overjoyed to see, “The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention!” published. I had not only come full circle, from reluctant reader, to reader. Then to father of readers. Now that they had actually helped to write a book, they had broken through the circle. And that’s something that even a little boy from Washington Heights with an active imagination would have NEVER imagined possible.

*****************************************************

Jerry Craft has illustrated and / or written more than two dozen children’s books, comic books and board games. Most recent is a middle grade novel co-written with his two teenage sons, Jaylen and Aren called: “The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention!” — an adventure story that teaches kids about the effects of bullying. He is the creator of Mama’s Boyz, a comic strip that won four African American Literary Awards and was distributed by King Features from 1995 – 2013. He also illustrated “The Zero Degree Zombie Zone,” for Scholastic. For more info email him at jerrycraft@aol.com or visit http://www.jerrycraft.net


Day 22: Lucille Clifton

February 22, 2015

“Poetry is a matter of life, not just a matter of language”

- Lucille Clifton

Every year, people create lists of classic children’s titles. A celebrated poet who wrote more than 20 books for kids, Lucille Clifton’s work should be included. Her eight book Everett Anderson picture book series broke ground for its portrayal of an African-American boy in the city whose experiences ranged from celebrating the arrival of Christmas and accepting the birth of a sibling to coping with the death of a parent and trying to help a hurting friend. Clifton’s Everett, kind, authentic and sensitive, was a reflection of kids around the country who didn’t see themselves in books until him.

“Mom wrote children’s books to fill an obvious void,” wrote her daughters Sidney, Gillian and Alexia Clifton. “Prior to the publishing of Some of the Days of Everett Anderson, there were very few children’s books depicting the lives of black and other children of color.  And of those few; even fewer were written by black or ethnic authors. Creating characters whose lives, language and experience were a mirror to the lives, languages and experiences of thousands of underserved children across the country was important to her, and her pioneering contributions lit the way for the many prolific authors and illustrators of color whose works endure in the marketplace today.”

Clifton’s writing journey began in the adult world of poetry.  Her early work was published in the anthology The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1970 edited by Langton Hughes and Arna Bontemps. She released her first book of verse, Good Times, in 1969. It was named one of the 10 best books of the year by the New York Times.

Just a short time later, in 1970, Clifton made her children’s book debut.  Horn Book described Some of the Days of Everett Anderson (illustrated by Evaline Ness) like this: “The simple, short verses…celebrate the boy’s joie de vivre….Excellent for reading aloud as well as for viewing.” And so a new children’s book star began to fill homes and schools with her light.

Her acclaimed release, Everett Anderson’s Goodbye (illustrated by Ann Grifalconi), won the 1984 Coretta Scott King Author Award and was a Reading Rainbow title. Along with her beloved Everett titles, Clifton wrote gems including All of Us Come ‘Cross the Water (illustrated by John Steptoe), Three Wishes (illustrated by Stephanie Douglas) and The Lucky Stone (illustrated by Dale Payson). The Poetry Foundation wrote: “Her books for children were designed to help them understand their world and facilitate an understanding of black heritage specifically, which in turn fosters an important link with the past.”

Clifton, mother of six children, made writing part of daily life.

Mom_and_Kids_circa_1969

(L to R): Gillian, Fredrica (deceased 2000), Lucille (deceased 2010), Alexia, Sidney, Channing (deceased 2004), Graham. Shared with permission of the Clifton family.

“As children, we watched our mother type on her old-fashioned typewriter at the dining room table.  For us, this is what mothers did; and where they did it; create worlds, play games, and share meals in the same place.  Her creating space was her sanctuary, and ours.  So it is with her every word.”

– Sidney, Gillian, and Alexia Clifton

She drew from the past and the triumphs and trials she saw around her every day and gave that back to us. A National Book Award winner, Pulitzer Prize nominee and the first black woman to win the distinguished Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, Lucille Clifton deserves a place of honor and remembrance for her children’s books too. Her stories, woven with the love of black culture and history and filled with the magical stuff of life, are lyrical tributes to children whose experiences she wanted the world to see. Clifton died in 2010, but her beautiful work lives on.

Her website-in-development, http://www.lucilleclifton.com, has wonderful photos and book covers of some of her treasured titles. Bookmark it and check back for the official launch.

Special thanks to Sidney, Gillian and Alexia Clifton for providing quotes and a family photo and to author Miranda Paul for connecting The Brown Bookshelf with the Clifton family.


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