Where The Rubber Meets The Road

So many books.  So little time.

 I’m overwhelmed with the sheer number of books available. I used to feel ignorant when someone would wax on about an author I hadn’t heard of, because they’d speak of them as if everyone should know the person.

I no longer feel that way.

There are lots of books out there. Our job here at The Brown Bookshelf is to help bring attention to a very tiny niche of books in that vast sea of literature.

It’s no easy feat. So I got to thinking (always a dangerous thing,  by the way), how does one narrow the field when directing someone to good books?

Hey, I thought, those books were produced by a publisher!  Why not start there?

Although the CCBC’s stats revealed that the number of African American authors producing children’s books actually decreased in 2007 – made my heart ache – information is a dangerous thing.  If you’re looking for children’s books for and/or by African American authors here the following are a few places to begin.

Now, just like it’s tricky to go all “I’d like to thank” on people, because you’ll always leave someone out – I do not claim the list below is comprehensive.  Nor are these the only imprints that print multi-cultural books. But it’s a good starting point.

Jump At the Sun (Hyperion)
Likely one of the most recognized African American children’s publishers, the 10-year-old imprint is home to some of the most well-known African American children’s authors, among them Sharon G. Flake, Kadir Nelson, Andrea Pinkney & Jerry Pinkney, Deborah Gregory (author of The Cheetah Girls) and Christopher Myers. It’s also the publisher of several 28 Days Later spotlight authors including Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, Valerie Wilson Wesley and illustrator Shane Evans.

Inspired by and named for the advice of author Zora Neale Hurston’s mother, telling her daughter to aim high and jump at the sun, JATS is a leading publisher in the field of African American children’s books, offering both the literary and the popular. If award-winning books are your thing, you’ll find no shortage among JATS’ authors.

Dafina for Young Readers (Kensington)
Kensington Books is the last man standing among independent U.S. publishers of hardcover, mass trade and paperback books. Well-known among romance readers and writers, Kensington’s African American imprint, Dafina, ventured into YA in 2006 to help fill the void in diverse offerings for African American teen readers, with the release of the popular Drama High series.

Though a newcomer to YA, Dafina for Young Readers is fast earning a reputation for hip, contemporary, multi-cultural popular teen literature. The imprint is cultivating a growing stable of authors, among them 28 Days spotlight author, Stephanie Perry Moore, Latino author, Kim Flores and Brown Book shelf co-founder, yours truly, Paula Chase.

Amistad (Harper Collins)
Another long-time player in the African American children’s book publishing game, Amistad is home to 28 Days Later vanguard authors Walter Dean Myers, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Eloise Greenfield as well as hidden gem, Nina Crews.

Although best known for its heavily literay list with name authors like Nikki Grimes and Gwendolyn Brooks, Amistad could rightly be credited with taking the first step in offering middle grade pop fic for African American readers with the ’05 release of Philana Marie Boles, Little Divas.

Kimani Tru (Harlequin)
Like Dafina for Young Readers, Kimani Tru was born of a traditional romance house. One of the most recognized romance publishers in the U.S. and no doubt internationally, Harlequin joined the YA for AA fray in ’07 with its first release, Indigo Summer by Monica McKayhan. Since then, you’re likely unable to get out of the YA section without noticing the bold, colorful Kimani Tru label luring your eye to one of their many teen lit books.

Using a balanced mix of fresh new voices – teen writer, Cassandra Carter and JD Guilford- combined with veteran writers taking their first step into young adult fiction (Joyce Davis of Upscale Magazine, Kendra Lee of Heart & Soul) Kimani Tru is becoming a go-to source for readers seeking teen lit with various shades of romance.

Just Us Books
A rare bird in today’s giant publisher-dominated landscape, Just Us Books is an independent black-owned company dedicated to publishing children’s books. Kicked off with the popular AFRO-BETS ABC picture book, Just Us Books is now celebrating its 20th year offering books of interest to people of color. Although they offer all levels of children’s books, picture books are the lion’s share of JUB’s catalog.

Known for agressively pursuing opportunities to showcase their authors, JUB’s focus on children’s books has attracted a wide range of writers – from the award-winning to the debut. Among the authors whose books have found a home at JUB, 28 Days spotlight authors Eleanora E. Tate, Valerie Wilson-Wesley, vanguard, Carole Boston-Weatherford, popular authors Nikki Grimes and Rosa Guy, and Brown Bookshelf member, Kelly Starling Lyons.

When looking for children’s books of African American interest, no better place to start than where the rubber meets the road. Check these publishers and their imprints out for future releases and stay tuned while I dig deep among publishers like Flux and biggie, Random House – those without a special imprint for multi-cultural but who have and are publishing multi-cultural books.

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8 Responses to Where The Rubber Meets The Road

  1. Don says:

    And we can’t forget Lee & Low Books. Founded in 1991, specializing in diversity, they are one of the grand-daddies of multi-culti children’s literature.

  2. Paula says:

    Ahh yes, Lee & Low. I’m pretty certain I’ve left out others. So please everyone chime in if there are African American publishers or imprints I’ve left out that publish children’s literature.

  3. Rob says:

    Review of books for young readers, reviews from teachers who recommend these books to their classes

  4. cloudscome says:

    Thanks for this run down. I wish I had read this years ago!

  5. Doret says:

    I should of said this before but I’ll say it now. I enjoyed the 28 days interviews. Actually I finally went ahead and ordered Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor Mbachu. Her interview was my favorite. Thanks.
    Also scholastic has that Bluford High series

  6. Paula says:

    Hmmm…Doret, I did a little digging and the Bluford High Series is actually published by Townsend Press.

    For further info here’s the link – Bluford High Series (YA)

    And a link to Lee & Low Books

    Keep the suggestions coming. We want to bring awarness to as many as we can.

  7. Doret says:

    Sorry for the misinformation. I went to thisispoint.com the other day, and noticed a new release , “This book isn’t fat its fabulous” by Nina Beck ( sorry, for no link) Anyhow it looks fun, and comes out Sept 1.

  8. Erin B. says:

    Thanks, Paula, for this wonderful list! As a school librarian at an urban charter school, I look up and down for good YA and MG titles with African-American characters, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job of keeping current. But just from looking at this list I found out about a new title that I had never heard of: Little Divas by Philana Marie Bowles. And it has an Accelerated Reader test too–which is important at my school. Actually, one of my main wishes right now is that the young adult books that are being published by Dafina and Kimani Tru would get represented by AR. I have been recommending them regularly on the AR recommendation form, but so far nothing. They’re much better with titles published by the big publishers, even including a number of adult titles.

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