Carla’s CSK Choices

January 11, 2008

As Paula mentioned in her Betting on the CSK blog this week, the industry is abuzz this week wondering who will take home the coveted prize this year – the Coretta Scott King Award.

While researching for the 28 Days Later campaign, several books caught my eye because of the uniqueness of the plot, the accolades and reviews, and the cover illustration.  Several of those books are aligned with the purpose of the Coretta Scott King Award which is “Given to African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream.”

Keeping that in mind, I added an additional caveat to come up with my predictions for who will win the 2008 CSK.  My predicted winners cannot have won the award before.  I want to give other authors a chance to stand in the winners circle.  So I looked over the list of past winners which includes Sharon Draper, Toni Morrison, Sheila P. Moses, Angela Johnson, Nikki Grimes, and Brenda Woods.  Side note to Don from his CSK Illustration Award  Predictions blog this week where he pondered about the absence of Black female illustrators, I am wondering where are the Black male authors.  To be fair, Julius Lester, Christopher Paul Curtis, and Walter Dean Myers have all been CSK winners in the past, but the winners have been overwhelmingly female authors.  Not that I’m complaining.

Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner

The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

A finalist for the Essence Magazine Literary Awards as well as the NAACP Image Awards, The Shadow Speaker is classified as science fiction and fantasy which I admit I don’t read much of, but the reviews for her book are all favorable.  The author takes the science fiction realm a step further by blending it with African culture.  It’s time we show our kids that they too can be a part of science fiction stories. 

Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books


Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin

My sentiments echo Paula in that her book is receiving many accolades since publication. Touching Snow was a 2007 National Book Award Finalist, Young People’s Literature as well chosen by NPR as a Novel You Wish a Teacher Would Assign. Past CSK winner Sharon Draper stated, “M. Sindy Felin is a writer whose words flow like mercury – volatile and dangerous. She is a wonderful, mesmerizing new talent.” Essex Public Library in Essex, CT lists Touching Snow as a recommended read.  Because the story is about a Haitian immigrant living in America, it adds an additional level of diversity and reminds me of Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959) which was the story of Barbadian immigrants living in New York City.

John Steptoe Award for New Talent

The Marvelous Effect by Troy Cle

Troy Cle’s The Marvelous Effect which is the first novel in his Marvelous World series.   He is a 2008 Essence Literary Award Finalist and was featured interviewed by Tavis Smiley on PBS  where they discussed how Marvelous World the series is being compared to Harry Potter.  The series features Louis Proof in East Orange, New Jersey who has a strong relationship with his mother as he encounters various adventures akin to what one encounters in video games.  He created his series out of a desire to give us a chance to see ourselves in adventure stories like The Goonies and Harry Potter.

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

Leonard Jenkins for his illustrations in Sweet Land of Liberty written by Deborah Hopkinson

We’re familiar with the story of Marian Anderson being denied by the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing at Constitution Hall, but Hopkinson’s words combined with Jenkins’ illustrations tell the story of Oscar Chapman who was influential in Anderson singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  A colorful cover featuring Anderson and Lincoln as the prominent aspects, Jenkins’ use of color and swirls give the cover the appearance of artwork that can hang in a gallery or on my living room walls.

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award

Shane Evans for his illustrations in When Harriet Met Sojourner written by Catherine Clinton

The title alone intrigues me because of the idea of Harriet Tubman meeting Sojourner Truth and the two of them engaging in dialogue.  I wonder what they would have talked about.  Both are well known icons from slavery and in my mind represent strength so I think this book will be an asset to any library.  The colors have a subtle vibrancy to them so as not to overpower Evans’ artwork.  I’m not a art critique but I like Shane’s work and look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

 John Steptoe New Talent Award for Illustration


Cbabi Bayoc for his illustrations in Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon written by Ruth Forman

Again, this is a fun title with an active book cover that catches your eye.  The cover is filled with vibrant colors and I look beyond the primary characters in the foreground to also check out the action in the background.   I call it layered artwork if you will.

My personal reflection:  A lot of good books are written and honored with the Coretta Scott King Award, now it’s time for many of them to become movies or television shows.  Spike Lee, where are you?

This was fun coming up with my predictions.  Me thinketh that The Brown Bookshelf needs to have its own awards too.

CSK: My illustration award predictions

January 8, 2008

I won’t pretend to have an inside line to the Coretta Scott King committee. I have no idea who they are considering for the illustration award. But if I could wave a magic wand to determine the outcome, the winner would be…well, my book, of course. Ha! Shoot, I’m not ashamed to admit that. For obvious reasons, that won’t happen, so here are my other choices and predictions:

Predicted winner: Christopher Myers for Jabberwocky. Awesome illustrations! Hands down, the best I’ve seen this year. This guy gets better every year.
My personal choice: Shane Evans for When Harry Met Sojourner. I know, silly of me to select a book solely on it’s cover (I haven’t seen the book in it’s entirety, yet). But I’d love to see this award given to someone other than a past winner. The community of African American children’s book illustrators is so small, it doesn’t seem right to give the award to the same people year after year. Also, I’m a huge fan of this talented artist.

Or possibly: Ashley Bryan for Let it Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals

Others to look at (again, my personal choices):

E.B Lewis for Lily Brown’s Paintings

Kadir Nelson for Henry’s Freedom Box

Floyd Cooper for Tough Boy Sonatas

Bryan Collier for Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali or possibly Lift Every Voice and Sing

Jerome Lagarrigue for Poetry for Young People

John Steptoe New Talent Award for illustration: Cbabi Bayoc for Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon.

Question of the day: Where are the African American female children’s book illustrators?

And since I’m an illustrator, I pay close attention to the Caldecott awards too. My pick: Shelley Jackson for Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County. Such fun, crisp, refreshing illustrations. Or, maybe they’ll award the medal to Christpher Myers. Wouldn’t that be cool?


Betting on the CSK

January 7, 2008

Who cares about the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Grammy’s? It’s literary award time.  And the mother of all literary awards for children’s authors of color, the Coretta Scott King Award will be given during the annual ALA Mid-Winter in just about a week.

We here at the Brown Bookshelf have a vested interest in the CSK. Not only because we’re writers and illustrators. But because, it’s a pretty small lit community and life could very well change for an author among our 28 Days Later contenders. So we have our eyes open.

But, the only thing more fun than finding out who’s won an award is trying to predict who will win.

So we thought we’d give our predictions for CSK winners.

Now me, I’m not a gambling gal.  And, I’ve looked at the list of past winners enough to know that there are certain types of books that have a better chance of taking home the honor. Add those two elements together and you end up with a prediction that’s about as safe as it gets.

I predict:

Author Award
Christopher Paul Curtis will take home the CSK Author awardfor Elijah of Buxton.


Honor Book

Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin


Illustrator Award
For the Illustrator Award, I have a toss up between Bryan Collier for Uptown, Kadir Nelson for Henry’s Freedom Box and E.B. Lewis. I’m going to give the edge to E.B. Lewis for Pitching in for Eubie.



1) Christopher Paul Curtis and all of my illustrator top picks are past CSK recipients. 

Fact: Those who have won a CSK have a higher chance of winning one again. Nikki Grimes, Kadir Nelson, Mildred Taylor, Bryan Collier, Sharon Draper, Walter Dean Meyers, Angela Johnson and Jerry Pinkney are all multi-CSK recipients. Which means, in a year they wrote/illustrated a book, everyone else better hold their breath.

2) Elijah of Buxton is an excellent book.  And you’re thinking that should have been #1.  But the truth is, all of the recipients and honor books are excellent books.  It’s a given. That’s why it’s the #2 reason.

 3) The illustrations in Pitching in for Eubie are clean and crisp.  There’s something about simple illustrations that really attracts my attention. It’s true that art is one of those types of things where you may not know what makes it good, but you do know when you’re looking at a really good piece of it.

4) M. Sindy Felin is a new author.  But her book was a National Book Award Finalist, which is bound to bring attention to it. And because it deals with the issue of being a black immigrant in America, it’s a topic that’s new to the CSK mix. It could pump some fresh blood into an award that’s, for the most part, been focused keenly on the African AMERICAN experience.

So, let the predicting again.  I’ve been known to be wrong…once.  Okay, maybe twice.

And the Nominees Are . . .

January 4, 2008

A few weeks ago, Essence magazine announced their Essence Literary Awards and Save Our Libraries campaign.  Recently, they posted the nominees for each category on their website.

The nominees for Children’s Books are:

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine illustrated by Kadir Nelson/Scholastic (picture book)

Henry Box Brown is well known and remembered as a slave who mailed himself from Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to seek his freedom. Written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, Henry’s Freedom Box recreates the story of his escape. 

Publisher Comments
Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. When Henry grows up and marries, he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday – his first day of freedom.


Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace and Raul Colon/Jump at the Sun (picture book)

In her first book for children, Patricia Storace moves the familiar tale of Rapunzel to the Caribbean islands. Storace’s tale is complimented by the illustrations of Raul Colon who has illustrated more  than twenty-five books for children including Nikki Grimes.

Hyperion’s Summary
“You live in a tower without a stair,
Sugar Cane, Sugar Cane, let down your hair.”

Stolen away from her parents on her first birthday by island sorceress, Madame Fate, beautiful Sugar Cane grows up in a tower overlooking the sea. With only a pet green monkey named Callaloo for company, Sugar Cane is lonely — her sole consolation is her love of music. Often she stands at her window and sings, imagining that the echo of her voice is someone answering her. Then one night, someone does hear her song. Could this young man with a gift for music break the spell of Madame Fate and help Sugar Cane set herself free? 


Marvelous World by Troy Cle/Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing  (young adult)
Published in May 2007, Marvelous Effect is the first title of Troy Cle’s Marvelous World series and it is being hailed as the Black Harry Potter, but with Louis Proof at the helm of the book’s adventures.  In his interview with Tavis Smiley, the author gives great insight about what Marvelous World is, how he feels about the comparison to Harry Potter as well as what inspired him to create the Marvelous World series.

Visit Troy on MySpace and at his Marvelous World websites where you can also read the prologue to Marvelous Effect.

Random House’s Summary
Louis Proof is an Ordinary kid. He loves listening to hip Hop, racing radio controlled cars, and hanging out with his best friend, Brandon. Then a mysterious letter invites him to visit the local junkyard. There he finds a secret underground amusement park like no other in existence. This is the best day of Louis’s life. The park even has the most amazing race course for radio-controlled cars. Louis starts racing right away. It’s a close contest; he’s about to activate his nitro boost to take the lead, when…

This is the worst day of Louis’s life. Without warning of reason, thirteen-year-old Louis Proof falls into a coma due to a virus of a mysterious, celestial origin. When he awakens three months later, the world that he once knew and loved is totally out of control. He will learn that his illness is connected to everything that is wrong, and its not only his responsibility but destiny to set things right.


The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-/Mbachu/Jump at the Sun (middle grade/young adult)
Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is the author of Zahrah the Windseeker which garnered a lot of acclaim when it was published in 2005 as well as The Shadow Speaker.  Set in the West African country Niger in 2070, The Shadow Speaker is described by the author as “Spontaneous forests, polygamy, strange insects, Nigerian 419 scammers, really really fast cars, a different kind of Sahara Desert, male beauty contests, the apocalypse, life, death, sword fights, fat chiefs, assassins, this novel is kind of nuts!”

Keep up with what’s going on with Nnedi by reading her blog which chronicles her accomplishments and her life as a writer.

Young Adult Books Central’s Review
The Shadow Speaker is a mythical science-fiction story taking place in Africa. Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu spins a tale all her own, incorporating magic, politics, and vibrant characters that readers of all ages will adore.

Ejii lives in the peculiar world of Kwamfa in the year 2070. After The Great Change, flying carpets in the marketplace and open portals to other worlds are not uncommon. At just 14, Ejii has already experienced more than most adults in an entire lifetime. At nine, she saw the beheading of her father by Jaa, the Red Queen of the Niger. Jaa transformed Kwamfa from a small village to a thriving city. One day, she decided to leave, and that’s when Ejii’s father came to power. Ejii’s father was much more conservative than Jaa, and he believed that women were good for nothing more than being good wives. He limited women’s rights and was a very oppressive ruler. Just as suddenly as she left, Jaa reappeared in Kwamfa to save her people from Ejii’s father’s tyrannical rule. The day of her father’s beheading will remain ingrained in Ejii’s memory forever. While Ejii can see her father’s shortcomings, he was still her father, and he was once a good man.

Besides her significant family history, there is something else about Ejii that makes her unique. She is a shadow speaker, with cat-like eyes that frighten most people. Shadows speakers are rare, for they can see in the dark for miles, speak to the shadows, and even read other people’s minds. Some people are afraid of the powers that shadow speakers possess, and call them witches.

Now, Jaa rules supreme in Kwamfa again, but there are rumors that she is leaving once more, for some matter of great secrecy. Ejii defies her mother and follows Jaa out of town. Somehow, Ejii knows that it is her duty and that she will play a part in something vastly important.

Mbachu’s story of a futuristic world explores important themes in war and politics, while simultaneously telling a coming-of-age story of a young girl. Ejii is able to find a place and purpose for herself in the world, and make a notable impact on the course of history. This is a story that science-fiction and fantasy fans will enjoy, but far from the typical fantasy plot. The choices that Ejii has to make will force readers to reconsider their own values and how they would respond in Ejii’s place. 

Sallie Gal and the Wall-a-Kee Man by Shelia P. Moses and Niki Daly/Scholastic (middle grade)
The author of many popular children’s titles, Sheila Moses tells the story of Sallie Gal in a Vietnam era story set in rural North Carolina.  Illustrated by Niki Daly, Sallie Gal teaches children to respect the values taught to them by their parents.

From School Library Journal
Cousins Sallie Gal and Wild Cat live near each other on Cumbo Road in North Carolina. Sallie Gal’s father is serving in Vietnam. Although the eight-year-olds spend many of their summer days chopping cotton, they also play and scheme together. Sallie Gal’s greatest desire is to have hair ribbons just like Wild Cat’s, but money is tight and Momma is proud and self-sufficient. The girls try several ways to earn enough for the coveted ribbons and run into trouble along the way. Customers are few at their lemonade stand, and disaster strikes when Sallie Gal breaks her mother’s glass pitcher. When the Wall-a-Kee Man, a salesman with a whole store in his station wagon, gives Sallie Gal ribbons, she knows Momma will make her return them, so she hides the gift and struggles with her conscience. Appealing black-and-white illustrations in various sizes embellish the text. Moses takes a fond look at strong family ties and the values of honesty and hard work. Short paragraphs and peppy dialogue make this easy chapter book a candidate for reading aloud. 

I’m happy to see Essence adding this new dimension to their publication’s accolades, but I can’t help feeling that the category needs to be broken up into three categories — picture books, middle grade, and young adult fiction.  There are many titles that are published every year that need to be lauded by our own.  Maybe next year!

Congratulations to the nominated authors and illustrators!

Janet McDonald’s Legacy

January 3, 2008

I first became aware of Janet McDonald with her memoir, PROJECT GIRL. I related to her girl-woman journey to Vassar College, NYU Law School, and living abroad in Paris. Through her words, I learned of my own inner strength to accomplish my goals, and most of all that it was possible to achieve them.

So, I was very excited when I found out that Janet had published a YA novel. She transferred her authentic voice to feisty and funny characters. In the worlds that Janet created, she showed how despite inner obstacles or external circumstances, a teen girl can achieve what matters most—self-respect, love, and acceptance.

Whether it be the entrepreneurial sisters Keeba and Teesha of TWISTS AND TURNS, hilarious Aisha of CHILL WIND, or witty Raven of SPELLBOUND, Janet always made a point of presenting a multi-faceted teen girl and the lessons learned on her journey.

Janet passed away in Paris, France on April 11, 2007, which was a great loss to young adult literature. Her last book, OFF-COLOR, was published last Fall from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and tells the story of 15 year old Cameron who has to move from her working-class neighborhood to the projects. As with most of Janet’s novels, Cameron finds strength with the revelation of her true self. It is one of her best works showcasing what Janet did best—mixing humor, realism, hope, and honesty.

In an interview, Janet reveals why she wrote several novels for teen girls:

“Maybe since I had so many problems growing up and didn’t have anything to read that spoke directly to me about my world, I want to put something out there for other girls who might need some kind of encouragement or recognition.”

Although Janet is no longer with us, at least her words can live on in the teen girls who read her novels.

Karen Strong is the moderator of the AACBWI List Forum. She is a professional writer for the software industry and currently completing a young adult novel. Her post is the first in an occasional series of guest blog entries by children’s book authors, librarians and industry professionals.

Charles R. Smith Jr. combines his passions — basketball, photography and writing

January 2, 2008

I need to preface this highlight by saying that…well, I think the book might be out of print. My apologies. Regardless, I’m highlighting this book and it’s author anyway. For me it was an introduction to a talented author, one whom I plan to follow. In the future, I promise I’ll do my homework to be sure the book I’m highlighting still exist, somewhere.

Charles R. Smith Jr. loves basketball. And he loves writing and photography, too. Through the world of children’s literature, he’s found a way to combine his passions — he writes books for children (mostly about basketball), and he illustrates his works with photography. In his book, Tall Tales: Six Amazing Basketball Dreams, his love for writing, basketball and photography ring true.

I’m not a basketball fan myself. I’d much prefer to floss my gums with 24-grit sandpaper than to play a game of basketball with anyone other than my 6-year-old son. Basketball is not my thing. But you don’t have to be a basketball fan to enjoy the larger-than-life stories in Tall Tales. In each story, I found myself rooting for the characters, regardless of the sport they were playing.

In What Jo Did, the main character loves to play basketball and practices every day, jumping high into the air, touching the backboard. Jo’s parents, who had no idea how high a basketball rim should be hung, mounted it 16-feet high on the side of their roof. Typical basketball hoops, apparently, are 10-feet high. Jo, having never played with anyone else, didn’t know the difference.

One day, on the way to the store, a group of boys invited Jo to play ball. Before long everyone was dazzled by Jo’s ability to block a shot by jumping high above everyone else. “Unbelievable,” one boy exclaims. “Where’d you learn to do that?” another boy asks.

In the end, Jo accepts a challenge to slam-dunk the ball. Everyone is astounded as Jo leaps through the air and, looking down at the hoop, slams the ball through. This part of the story thrilled me because I, the reader, knew something the other boys didn’t. Jo…er, Joanna is a girl, revealed only when her hat flew off, mid-air, at the height of her dunk.

I especially enjoyed Funky Stuff, which led the reader through a series of dialog bubbles, signifying, as though playing the dozens. Each speaker one-upped the last: “I had a shirt that smelled so bad…” Followed by, “I had some socks that were so nasty…” Followed by, “I once had a shirt, some shorts, socks, and shoes that were so funky…” Reminded me of the trash talking my brothers and I used to do as children.

The other five stories read with the same rhythmic action and high energy as the first. As I read, I felt like I was right there on the court, watching, even playing along.

Mr. Smith’s photographs are electric, accomplished by using a 35-millimeter camera with infrared color film. While the photographs are on target, the graphics refused to be out-staged. They are bold, bright, and lead the reader through a colorful array of over-sized typography and funky page design. What a fun reading experience this was.

Don’t be fooled by the cover which features two dark, menacing and muscled basketball figures. This is not a book for boys only. In fact, the main characters in three of the six stories are girls — white, black, the book is multi-racial.

Other titles by this author with sports themes include Rimshots and Short Takes. And more recently, Hoop Kings, Hoop Queens and Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali, illustrated by the great Bryan Collier.



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