Going Viral

March 31, 2009

Methinks the issue of spreading the word on kiddie lit by people of color is going (has gone?) viral.

Jade Lennox posted a list, broken down by sub-genre no less, of YA written by authors of color.

Then there’s the Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge, which isn’t exclusively children’s books, but all the better.

And because no good viral marketing campaign is complete without MORE lists, the Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge offers a comprehensive Booklist that covers books from just about any ethnic group you could throw at them.

We’re considering re-configuring our pages here at the BBS to make it easier to find books by sub-genre, so don’t be surprised if some of the above children’s-relevent lists end up linked elsewhere on our site.

It’s all about spreading the word.

Reign of the Mean Girls

March 30, 2009

Holy anger management, Batman!

I’ve read about some fictional mean girls, in my day, but Rita Williams-Garcia’s Dominique from Jumped takes the crown.

It got me thinking about mean girls and the role they play in YA fiction.

About four years ago, mean was really in. Gossip Girl hit its zenith and every time I took my then ten-year-old daughter clothes shopping, I was accosted by those snarky Happy Bunny shirts. The kind with the smiling or scowling white bunny rabbit saying stuff like “You’re stupid…go away,” and other unsavory snittery.

My daughter thought the shirts were hilarious, but because she was hitting middle school age, when being haughty and obnoxious can be at its peak, the shirts disgusted me.

I saw the humor in them, sure. But because they seemed to be specifically targeted at an age-group that needed no help being obnoxious it offended my sensibilities.

Now that she’s in high school and can better understand the sarcasm, bitter wit behind such things, I’m more likely to allow a snarky tee or two. Although, lately she’s been more in a Peace, Love and Soul mode.

Mean shirts aren’t her thing. Mean isn’t her thing, period, and never has been. But there are mean girls out there and thus it would be disingenious not to portray them in YA fiction.

While some may say that real-life mean girl behavior, like this reported by the NY Times, could be blamed on fictional portrayals I say pish and shaw!

No matter how you feel about mean girl depictions, to deny their existence (and well before TV or books put them on stage) is akin to digging a hole and sticking your head in it.

I think mean girls in fiction are meant to represent the very real fact that – not everyone is going to like you. And sometimes the reason people dislike us may be totally nonsensical.

jumpedThe basketball-loving, take no guff Dominique, of Jumped, is by far the scariest and most dangerous example of a mean girl. She’s the type that scares not only students, but faculty. The type that needs therapy and nurturing and lots of it to squash her inner demons.

gossip-girlBut, then there are girls like Blair Waldorf of Gossip Girl who are mean only because they’re so insecure the only way they’re able to boost their self-esteem is to shred someone else’s. When you break it down, Blair is less a bonafide mean girl than a passive-agressive frenemy.

whatsup_175Jessica Johnson, the mean girl who shows her face in So Not The Drama and That’s What’s Up! of my Del Rio Bay series is yet another example of someone using meanness as a shield. Jess is a misguided, materialistic wannabe who uses haughty snobbery to hide the fact that she’s scared mindless she’ll be replaced in her clique by a student whose parents have the “proper” prestige and purse size.

just-listenSophie, of Just Listen, is nothing more than a kid desperate to find someone to cling to. Her need to befriend kids older than herself and her eventual obsession with a leech of a boyfriend, smacks of middle child syndrome gone horribly wrong. She wants attention and gets it by treating others like dirt (negative attention is attention all the same, right?).

When readers meet these fictional bullies, they’re able to process how the story goes down in a safe haven – their own mind. It’s allows them time to ask themselves how they would manage in a similiar situation. What they’d be willing to put up with as this person’s target or in some cases, as their friend.

I mentored girls at a local high school for six years, I know first-hand that the scenario played out in Jumped happens way more than it should. But, as evidenced by the above examples, mean girlerly exists in many forms.

I’d like to see more African American teen books tackle the topic – especially in realms where it doesn’t lead to violence, as the mental and emotional torture these girls cause is as hurtful as physical harm.

If you know of others, please pass along titles of “brown” mean girl depictions in the comments below. Remember to leave the book title and author name.

Paula Chase Hyman is the author of the Del Rio Bay, YA series. Her latest release is, Flipping The Script (Dafina 2009), the series’ fifth and final book. She was never a mean girl, but played one on TV.

Call for new voices

March 20, 2009

mainLEE & LOW BOOKS, award-winning publisher of children’s books, is pleased to announce the tenth annual NEW VOICES AWARD. The Award will be given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash grant of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash grant of $500.

Established in 2000, the New Voices Award encourages writers of color to submit their work to a publisher that takes pride in nurturing new talent. BIRD, which has gone on to win numerous awards, began as a New Voices Honoree.

See Lee & Low Books for more details about entry.

28 & Beyond: Kimani Tru

March 16, 2009

It can be argued (feel free to do so in the comments, as a matter-of-fact) that when it comes to YA for African Americans, once you step out of the traditional – literary fiction of the historical and realistic variety, much of what’s being marketed, currently, falls into two new categories – hood or christian.

That means, adding to the usual portrayals, readers are now presented with the trials and tribulations of growing up young in the hood (and this can be an urban hood or a rural/suburban one) or books with a less edgy more wholesome, christian layer to them. What’s still missing, in mass quantities anyway, are the portrayals that lie between the two.

Oh will you never be happy, you’re asking.

Actually I’m getting there. Because Kimani TRU fills the void between the two nicely.
This year’s 28 Days Later contenders were ripe with Kimani TRU authors. So many, more than half of the YA authors featured would have come from the line had we selected them all.

We featured, Monica McKayhan, but two of her Kimani TRU peers were also among the top choices, Earl Sewell and Joyce Davis.

In Joyce Davis’, YA debut, Can’t Stop The Shine, the story centers around two bickering sisters who put their differences aside to help one of them win an American Idol-like contest.
In an age where reality TV is now the norm among programming, a story about dream pursual is timely and relevent to teens of all colors.

Another bonus – much like Tia William’s cast in It Chicks, the teen protag is a student at an elite performing arts high school.

This mini-influx of books revolved around performing arts students is just in time for the Fame remake…you know you’re going to watch it!

A writer and editor for African American lifestyle mags (Upscale, Heart & Soul and Honey among them), it’s no surprise that Davis would showcase some element of the entertainment field. I hope there’s more like Can’t Stop The Shine planned. Even without trying, there are many lessons to be learned about sacrifice and growing as you chase dreams and who better to cover them then someone who talks to dream chasers (and grabbers) for a living?

Earl Sewell offers two stories of change and redemption revolved around sixteen-year-old Keysha.
In Keysha’s Drama and the follow-up, Lesson Learned, which was released this month, Sewell tells the story of a young girl abandoned by her trouble-making mother. But it’s less a tale of woe than what can happen when you’re cast out of one end of the spectrum and thrown into another.

The reader watches young Keysha rebel against the good life with her father, step mom and step brother, until being the bad girl hits a wall.

African American teens in the suburbs will relate well to the rules of engagement when it comes to choosing a clique. Do you hang with the multi-culti crowd that’s “goody-goody” or the homogenous one that’s “cool.”
Between Sewell and Davis’ works lives a cadre of books dealing with everything from the mixing of an interracial family (How to Salsa in a Sari) to the historical fiction with a contemporary flare from Beverly Jenkins.

What Kimani TRU offers is the black, white and all the greys in between that make up the African American teen experience.





The Buzz on Kimani TRU Books

“I recommend Belle to die-hard Beverly Jenkins’ fans, lovers of historical romance, and readers looking for a page turner to cuddle up with.” – APOOO BookClub

Jaded is a good, young adult novel that can be appreciated by all ages. I recommend it to readers who love a fast moving book with a message.” -
APOOO BookClub

“The characters, storyline and language were very age-appropriate for the age group intended and I would recommend this book to any African-American high-school girl that needs encouragement to read more.” APOOO Bookclub on Can’t Stop The Shine

HOW TO SALSA IN A SARI is a fast-paced read with plenty of twists and turns that will leave you asking, “What will Issa do next?” Buy. Read. Enjoy.” Author, Tera Lynn Childs


The Brown Bookshelf’s Tweetin’

March 12, 2009

Personally, I think social networking is going to be the death of us all. We’re just going to network ourselves to pieces.

I’m not totally convinced that it’s the marketing tool of ages that others do. For the most part, if you were a popular business or entity before you Myspaced, Facebooked or yes, Twittered, then you’ll likely be popular on those networks. Some unknowns get “discovered” via social networks but I’ve yet to see the social network as marketing tool provide significant – let me repeat, significant exposure.

Be that as it may, when you put social networks into perspective and know going in, why you’re bothering with one platform over the other, I think they serve a multitude of purposes.

The Brown Bookshelf is now on twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/brownbookshelf.

And here’s why:

1) Although you may comment on the blog, Twitter will provide a more interactive experience for those who want it.

2) It would be great to see an active community of authors, illustrators, readers (psst…and those in the pub biz) of color alongside those who have interest in creative material revolved around people of color (just like we have here). Twitter seems just as good a place to attempt that as any.

3) It’s another way to reach out to a larger variety of people interested in books. Myspace was primarily good for reaching out to librarians. My own theory about significant exposure could be disproved, if some of our regular visitors tell me they discovered BBS via Myspace. Not sure if many libraries are tweeting…I’d think not because it would definitely distract from real work. But I believe agents, editors and a lot of others with a vested interest in books are.

If tweeting can expose more folks to the authors we profile, can help get African American children’s books implemented more solidly within mainstream outlets, get more folks thinking about multicultural books and generally keeps us top of mind – then it’s worth it.

If you’re already on Twitter, follow us and keep up with what we’re blogging or talking about.

If you haven’t yet given in to the Twitter bug, no worries. We’re happy to have you along no matter which way you ride.

And the winners are…

March 11, 2009

Thank you for your support this year. This year’s 28 Days Later campaign was a roaring success. We more than doubled our page views and appreciate the word-of-mouth and blog love the site has been given. Please continue to spread the word.

And while I’m sure discovering more about authors are already a reward for book lovers, there’s nothing wrong with a little more incentive. So here are the winners of this year’s batch of books.

Rosenberg Library in Galveston, Texas

The library will receive a copy of the most current book of the 28 Days authors and illustrators.

Individual winners*
*Please send an email to email@thebrownbookshelf.com and provide us with your snail mail address.

March On! The Day my Brother Martin Changed the World to Katrina L. Burchett

Almost to Freedom to Deborah Taylor

Young Pele to Philly Fledgling

Joseph to Edi (campbele.wordpress)

Freedom Train to Shadra Strickland

Ruby and the Booker Boys #4 to Cloudscome

November BluesLisa L.L. Owens

Little DivasAnnette Simon

My name is Sally Little SongSean Qualls

One Million Men and Me to Patricia W.

Ron’s Big MissionSusan (Black Eyed Susan)

The Del Rio Bay full series – TadMack

Freshman Focus and Just BeDoret

My Life as a RhombusLaurel Handfield

Book report: Mama Says: A Book of Love for Mothers and Sons

March 10, 2009


Mama Says: A Book of Love for Mothers and Sons,
written by Rob D. Walker
illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
published by Scholastic/Blue Sky, 2009

The phrase father knows best simply isn’t always true. Speaking for myself, my Mama knew best — and to this day, she still does. That’s why I fell for this book upon reading the title. Mama Says: A Book of Love for Mothers and Sons uses simple prose and stunning art to create a powerful tribute to mother and child.

The book is written by singer/writer/artist/actor Rob D. Walker (Once Upon a Cloud). With each poem, a mother from various nations, cultures, religions, races, offers life lessons and guidance to their sons, in this richly illustrated, multicultual picture book. The poems are paired with translations of the various cultures. My personal favorite came from a Hebrew mother:

Mama says
Have faith
Mama says
Mama says
To trust in God
And let God take the lead

sneaks5mamasaysPractically spoken from my own mother’s mouth!

Once again, the Dillon’s rocked. The art is bold and detailed, with patterns and environment representative of each culture.

There’s a quiet simplicity about the book, with an ending that will warm your heart (spoiler warning). The final spread pictures a gathering of men from every corner of the world, from Black to White and every shade in between, dressed in their native costume — boys who listened to their mothers and grew up to be men, pride radiating from their faces. It’s really a powerful spread.

Translations included: Cherokee, Russian, Amharic, Japanese, Hindi, Inuktitut, Hebrew, English, Korean, Arabic, Quechua, Danish.

It’s not just a book for boys, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a book for girls is on the horizon.

Note: Our mission here at the Brown Bookshelf is to spotlight books by or about African Americans, with an emphasis on authors or illustrators who may have been missed by teachers and librarians. So, I know what you’re thinking (because I’ve heard some critical feedback): But the Dillons are widely known, major award winners.

I agree. But our mission here isn’t to exclude the biggest of the big names. In addition, aside from the fact that I truly loved this book, it made our humble spotlight here because the Dillions’ publishers sent a copy of the book to me. It’s much easier and more convenient to report on a book if I have it in my hand. I love children’s literature, so I will go out of my way to find books and authors to report on, but when my illustration schedule is full (like it is now) and it’s my turn to write a blog post, I’m likely to turn to the stack of books sitting right next to me, sent by authors, illustrators or publishers.

Thanks for your support.

– Don Tate

Your Blog Is Fabulous!

March 9, 2009


Thanks to Patricia W over at Readin N Writin blog for selecting The Brown Bookshelf as a Fab Blog.

Since you’re only supposed to select five blogs and it’s five of us here at BBS, it works out perfectly. You’re also supposed to list five things you’re addicted to…but sorry Pat we’re going to skip that part and just bestow some fab love on a few lit bloggers we heart.

I’ll go first…

They say imitation is the best form of flattery. And out of Readergirlz, or at least the concept, The Brown Bookshelf was born. It goes without saying their site is fab, but their blog is fabulous because it keeps the visitor totally tied into ReaderGirlz happenings with short, sweet entries – just the way teen readers like ‘em…and me too.

Don — I’ve been reading Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations ever since I discovered blogs, back in 2004.

There are so many social networks now, and the kidlitosphere has grown so large that it’s hard to keep up with all that’s going on. So Cynsations and/or SpookyCyn has become my main source of industry news.

Kelly — Kyra Hicks’ Black Threads in Kid’s Lit was one of the first blogs I read. When Kyra wrote about the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s (CCBC) multicultural publishing statistics, she set the Internet abuzz. With an insightful blend of black picture book recommendations, industry news and cool factoids and photos, she keeps me coming back.

Carla — Boys Rule Boys Read is a new addition to my blog reading, but this is a great blog that actively promotes boys reading and does it with a cool Star Wars oriented theme.  I always saw mention of Boys Rule, Boys Read when I logged on to my local library website, but recently checked it out thinking it was just a reading list for boys.  So male readers in Charlotte can attend events sponsored by BRBR, but male readers, their parents, and teachers can log on to BRBR and participate from afar in great discussions.

Varian — Two blogs have caught my attention recently: A Wrung Sponge and Color Online. At A Wrung Sponge, Librarian Andromeda Jazmon routinely posts about multi-cultural kid’s books and poetry. Color Online is a blog dedicated to providing a platform for young women to express themselves through literature and other arts. Both are great blogs to add to your blogreader.

Meet The BBS: Varian Johnson

March 6, 2009


Vital Statistics

Structural Engineer / Grad Student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts /YA Author


Saving Maddie (Delacorte, 2010)

My Life As a Rhombus (Flux, 2008)

A Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid (Genesis Press, 2005)

Three Words That Describe Varian




Varian’s Writing Style

rhombusHmm…I’m still trying to figure it out. It seems every book brings its own set of unique challenges. The only consistent thing about my writing style is that I usually don’t figure out who my characters are and what they want until halfway through the first draft. Once I figure this out, I start all over again.

Brown Bookshelf Role

Papa Techie. The Brown Bookshelf is a great example of a group of folks who know just enough about technology to be dangerous. I do my best to keep us and the site tethered to the new millennium. I try to keeps our pages clean and links functional, and can figure out some of the kinks in WordPress when necessary.

Paula says I’m like the head of our little family, providing the last word on best practices when it comes to the many moving parts it takes to keep our machine running. But really, I just do what she tells me to do!

What You Don’t Know About Varian…

savingmaddiejktMy next novel, Saving Maddie (Delacorte, 2010), is the first novel that I’ve written that features a male as the main character.

During my second semester at Vermont College, my advisor, Rita Williams-Garcia, forced me to write a picture book. How the edge YA writer wrote a picture book, I don’t know, but I’m actually pretty proud of it. Maybe I’ll try to get it published one day.

When I first moved to Austin, other writers would mistake me for Don Tate.

The only English class I took in college was Technical Writing.

I have a twin brother. Although he’s not a writer, I hope he gives it a try one day. I think he’d be pretty good at it.

I hate, hate, hate text messaging. My thumbs just aren’t made for it.

Praise for Varian’s Work

“Realistic and nuanced.” — KLIATT on My Life As a Rhombus

“A sensitive and powerful friendship story. Realistic and heartfelt.” -Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Tantalize on Rhombus

A Red Polka Dot in World Full of Plaid was a March 2006 Essence Magazine Best Seller

Meet The BBS: Carla Sarratt

March 5, 2009

Carla Sarratt
Vital Statistics
Quality Assurance Supervisor /YA Author

Freshman Focus

Just Be

Three Words That Describe Her
Ambitious.  Procrastinator.  Daydreamer.


Her Writing Style
I still have not shed my teacher persona so that comes out in my writing.  I want to still be able to teach through my writing yet not have it feel like 300 pages of homework.  Plus I have a huge desire to make readers laugh as they read.  I believe my stories should be enjoyable as well as educational.

Brown Bookshelf Role
Codename: Cleaner. As with many initiatives, The Brown Bookshelf requires a great deal of logistical manuevering. So it’s essential to have someone there who doesn’t mind handling the detail work. Carla keeps the wheels of production unclogged by being there to manage, assist and jumpstart everything from additional research to writing copy.

What You Don’t Know About Carla…

I am a big time Internet junkie.  I spend a lot of time just surfing the net.  I am always amazed at the vast amount of information available with just a tap on my laptop’s sensor.

I love technology and gadgets.  I recently purchased a Blackberry and my word, that thing is fun. 

I love the video game Tetris.  I play it a lot and it gives me a chance to zone out and sometimes think about my own issues, story lines, and try to put it all in place.

I cried writing chapter 11 of Freshman Focus.  Writing that chapter was very cathartic for me and allowed me to relive my father’s death through Lamar’s eyes.  I’ve had several people who read Freshman Focus tell me that they can relate so well to Lamar and that his story line helped them.  That is one of my greatest joys as an author to know that I connected with my readers.

I am determined to transition from being a self-published author to being an author with a literary agent, publishing house, and an editor.  I’ve learned a lot about being an author through my own journey being self-published as well as through my friendships with traditionally published authors.

I’m amazed at how things in everyday life, random thoughts, ordinary conversations can inspire a story.   I think that as long as an author remains observant, story ideas will never go away.  I cannot tell you the number of times an idea, a scene comes to mind in the middle of the night that I fail to write down then and there.  Good thing, I have a good memory.

Praise for Freshman Focus and Just Be

“There are moments where the reader will laugh, they are moments where the reader will cry, and there are moments where the reader will think.” – Shon Bacon, ChickLitGurrl on Freshman Focus

“Ms. Sarratt added a bit of African American history at the beginning of each chapter. Some of these events I must say I never even knew happened, so not only did I enjoy a great bunch of characters, but I learned something as well.” APOOO Bookclub on Freshman Focus

“Just Be offers a lesson on not changing to suit other people. The characters are enjoyable, even with their antics in the classroom.” – APOOO Bookclub on Just Be


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