Sacred Mountain: Everest

September 30, 2009

CTB_300dpi_v2When you think about Mount Everest, what do you see? Some may envision the splendor of the world’s highest mountain. Others may picture climbers or snow-capped peaks. Christine Taylor-Butler gives us a new and important view. Her acclaimed book, Sacred Mountain: Everest (Lee & Low, 2009), puts the Sherpa — unsung heroes of the majestic mountain — center stage.

Author of more than 40 books, Taylor-Butler has won many accolades for her work. Her picture book, Mom Like No Other (2004), was included  in an Essence magazine list of best books for children. Her non-fiction books explore an impressive range of topics such as biography, science, health and space.

But with Sacred Mountain, Taylor-Butler brings us a story too seldom heard. With clarity and grace, she explores the mountain’s ecology, history and the lives of the Sherpa — people who call the mountain home. They are courageous guides who make incredible sacrifices for their families. They are parents and children. They are trailblazers and keepers of the mountain, a sacred place.

Sacred Mountain, which includes beautiful color photographs,  is a window into a special world. Here Taylor-Butler gives us the story behind her book:

Your wonderful book, Sacred Mountain: Everest, has won great reviews and was named to a mock Newbery list. Congratulations! What inspired the story?

I have a soft spot for stories about people and places that aren’t covered in other children’s books. When I look for topics I like to choose paths that are less “traveled.” A good friend and mentor, Bernette Ford, broached the idea of writing about mountains for Lee and Low Books. Everest was an intriguing choice because it is the tallest and so little is known about the people who live in the region.

Along with applauding the style of your writing, reviewers have praised the depth of your research. Please tell us about your writing process and journey to publication.

Sacred Mountain was harder to research than other nonfiction topics because there isn’t a lot of primary research material that covers the Sherpa culture. Most nonfiction focuses on foreign climbers and the difficulty of climbing the mountain. Little attention is paid to the Sherpa people who literally drag visitors up to the top.

I logged hundreds of hours of research before developing an outline. That included watching documentaries, listening to interviews and oral histories, reading through biographies and archived materials. It took close to a year to complete the work.

 You’ve written many non-fiction books. How was writing this one different? What meant most to you in writing Sacred Mountain?

Photo credit: Apa Sherpa and Jerry Mika/SuperSherpas

Photo credit: Apa Sherpa and Jerry Mika/SuperSherpas

I loved working on this project because the publisher let me go where I needed to go to make the book work. And the photographs really tell a story in themselves. They make the text come alive.

I wanted to showcase information that isn’t commonly known in a school curriculum. For instance, the fact that the Himalaya mountain range was formed when the Indian continent slammed into the Asian continent. It pushed materials up from the bottom of the ocean. That is why you find fossils of ancient sea creatures on the top of the mountain.

I also read historical accounts of the British attempts to climb the mountain starting in the 1920’s. After several Sherpa were swept away in an avalanche the expedition leader, John Hunt, wrote home to say “Thank God, no British were killed.” It was as if the Sherpa were unimportant and expendable. Even the 1953 expedition that lead to Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary reaching the summit, started with the British forcing the Sherpa to sleep in an unheated barn without food, supplies or bathroom facilities. Their attitude was that the Sherpa would take all the risks blazing the trail, carry hundreds, if not thousands of pounds of supplies across dangerous glaciers and icefalls, and then the British would climb the remaining distance to the summit and claim the glory.

I was appalled by the arrogance. I realized that the true story of the mountain was the people who are responsible for the British success in attaining their goals.

Why do you think the Sherpa are so often unsung?

Photo credit: Apa Sherpa and Jerry Mika/SuperSherpas

Photo credit: Apa Sherpa and Jerry Mika/SuperSherpas

I think it’s because history books are most often written by those with the most resources to tout their own accomplishments – in this case, foreign expedition leaders and their funders.

The Sherpa do not have a written language. Nepal was closed to visitors for many years, so little was known about the people before the early 1900’s. They are Buddhist and as such are very modest. As a result, most books and news articles are about the exploits of foreign climbers and not the fact that it was made possible by a Sherpa guide who blazed the trails, strung ropes, hauled supplies and guided them every inch of the way. Most books relegate the Sherpa to servant status. I wanted to correct that.

I’m convinced the person who should be credited with the historic first summit is Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa team member who saved Edmund Hillary’s life days before. Norgay is the person seen in the first photographs at the top of the mountain.

What moved you about their lives? What surprised you? 

Three things: that the people are willing to take such enormous risks for their children. Think about it; guides are away from their families for months at a time. They risk death when guiding visitors 26,000 feet into the air – all so they can afford to send their children to school. But in the U.S. we have trouble getting parents travel a mile for a parent-teacher conference. We can learn a lot from how the Sherpa face obstacles and where they place their priorities.

Prior to the British expeditions, the Sherpa didn’t climb the mountain whose true name is Chomolungma – Goddess Mother of the World. It was the home of their gods – a sacred space that was meant to be undisturbed. They were traders, herders and subsistence farmers. Now they guide climbers out of economic necessity. They seek spiritual guidance at the local monestary and hold long prayer sessions before embarking on the journey.

 What most surprised me is the strength and resiliency of the people. They have an almost superhuman ability to survive and thrive in that environment. It takes a foreign climber upwards of one to two months to acclimate to the harsh conditions and thin air, and they need specialize clothing and oxygen tanks. Pemba Dorji Sherpa, on the other hand, can climb in eight hours.

In the book, you dealt with tough realities like threats to the mountain and the Sherpa people. What troubles you most about what’s happening? What can people do to help?

Photo credit: Apa Sherpa and Jerry Mika/SuperSherpas

Photo credit: Apa Sherpa and Jerry Mika/SuperSherpas

Significant damage is being caused by tourists and climbers. It’s ironic that visitors participate in the prayer service and light sacred fires to request safe passage before climbing. Once on the mountain they focus solely on personal survival. The landscape is now covered with hundreds of tons of trash, human waste, discarded camping supplies and oxygen tanks.

Glaciers are shrinking at an alarming rate. The melting ice causes flooding downstream and the icefalls are more dangerous to cross. Apa Sherpa joined the EcoEverest team this year to highlight the problem of global warming.. He carried a sacred vessel called a “bumpa” from the Dalai Lama. It was his 19th record-setting climb.

An increase in the number of inexperienced climbers is putting Sherpa guides at personal risk. The world celebrates when a new “first” is achieved; the first blind man to summit, the first person to ski down, the oldest climber, the youngest, etc. But those climbers are often tethered to a Sherpa who literally pulls them up the mountain one slow step at a time. This year a Sherpa was swept away in an avalanche. The foreign climbers he was guiding survived. I worry that the “status” associated with climbing Mount Everest is not weighed against the “human cost” to the Sherpa guides who take them there.

A number of people are trying to reverse the damage and provide economic help to the people. Norbu Tenzing, son of Tenzing Norgay, is on the board of the American Himalayan foundation in San Francisco. Donations are used to fund projects in the region: http://www.himalayan-foundation.org. Apa Sherpa, who holds the world’s record for summits, now lives in Utah and is setting up a non-profit foundation: http://www.supersherpas.com. The EcoEverest team climbs each year in an attempt to clean some of the garbage. Donations are used to pay climbers by the kilogram for trash recovered. http://www.ecoeverest.net.np

I listed links to these resources as well as videos clips, interactive content, and supplemental material in the back of the book. I have also posted them on my website.

What were the challenges and rewards of writing Sacred Mountain?

Photo credit: Apa Sherpa and Jerry Mika/SuperSherpas

Photo credit: Apa Sherpa and Jerry Mika/SuperSherpas

What to leave on the “cutting room” floor. I was lucky to work with editors who became fascinated by the material and the direction I was taking. So the book grew to forty-eight pages – higher than our original target, and there was still quite a bit of information we were not able to include. For instance, a section on the IMAX team filming the Everest movie. The supply manifest was huge and a smaller camera had to be designed that could withstand the cold. It still weighed close to forty pounds. That expedition was guided by Jamling Norgay – the son of Tenzing Norgay. Jamling’s book, TOUCHING MY FATHER’S SOUL touched my heart as well.

Researching the language and assembling a phonetic pronunciation guide for the glossary was hard. Jerry Mika of SuperSherpas provided an early draft of a Sherpa dictionary being developed. I also listened to audio interviews of people from the region.

I could not – given the age of the target readers – address how many people die each year and what happens to the bodies. Of course that is the FIRST question boys ask during school visits. I have to be honest and say they are left on the mountain in most cases. It’s too dangerous to bring them down.

My greatest reward? Creating something that adds to a body of knowledge and making it accessible for a student. The pairing of the text with the beautiful photographs provided by Apa Sherpa, Jerry Mika and many others. Working with an amazing group of editors and book designers. It took a true village to make this book happen.

In writing the book, you wove many aspects of the mountain together — history, economics, ecology, people. How did you organize all of your material and bring it together in a clear and engaging way?

A lot of diagrams, spreadsheets and 3×5 cards. Books, magazines and note paper were spread all over my office or tacked on the walls. I’m tactile and needed physical materials that I could move around until I found the proper order for the final outline.

But again – a lot of data doesn’t make for a compelling narrative. I had to immerse in the human aspect – the people’s relationship to the mountain. I was fascinated by the Sherpa’s desire to reclaim their mountain for themselves. The all-women climbing teams drew my attention because women are often left out of books about Everest. So I gave the Sherpa climbing expeditions a chapter of their own.

What response have you received?

The response from librarians and teachers has been tremendous. I began getting calls to speak at school and library events after the book was released. I also joined a group of nonfiction authors to present booktalks at the ALA convention in Chicago. We expected 50 people at our session. We got close to 300. Copies of Sacred Mountain sold out at Lee and Low’s booth before my second scheduled signing.

Norbu Tenzing and Jamling Norgay seem genuinely pleased. The book reviews have also been extremely positive including Kirkus which called the book “irresistible.”

It was thrilling to see Sacred Mountain included on the Allen County Public Library’s Mock Newbery nomination list. The competition is fierce and it is an honor to be considered among so many amazing authors.

What tips can you offer others interested in writing non-fiction?

Research, research, research. Read as many primary sources as you can before you write a single word. This includes books, magazine articles, interviews, journal entries, scholarly dissertations. Screening your sources is important because there is a lot of contradictory material both in print and on the internet.

Keep extensive notes and bibliographies, even in a book with a much lower word count. It helps to footnote early drafts to keep track of sources in case an editor asks for clarification. It is not uncommon for a fact-checker or copy editor to suggest text changes based on information they found elsewhere. One wrong fact and the book’s credibility is down the drain.

Lastly – define a point of view. It’s impossible to include everything you find in your research. So ask yourself – “what is the heart of my story?” If you can define that, it will be easier to focus on what is important for the project at hand and park the rest for another book or article in the future.

What’s your dream for Sacred Mountain?

I hope readers will come to see the Sherpa as the mountain’s gift to the world. My point of view is summed up in the opening quote from the Mountains and Water Sutra:

“Although mountains belong to the nation, mountains really belong to people who love them.”

What’s next for you?

A parking lot filled with work-in-process manuscripts. I’m finishing the first draft of a contemporary YA novel that takes a controversial subject and turns it on its ear a bit.

I’m also thinking about the “next” Mountain. I visited Alaska this summer. I’m still in awe of its sheer beauty so Denali/McKinley is a possibility. I’d also like to study Kilimanjaro. The ice cap is melting and it is predicted to be gone in our lifetime. Like Everest, the real stories of those mountains are the people who call the region “home.”

The Buzz on Sacred Mountain:

“Older books on Everest tended to concentrate on the story of New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s historic ascent. This new book, with photos showing climbers from 1920 to 2008 and glimpses into the lives of the long-term inhabitants of the region, emphasizes the relationship of the Sherpa to the mountain they call Chomolungma, Goddess Mother of the World. Living for many centuries in the Himalayas, the Sherpa have adapted to the climate and the land and learned to use their limited resources. They have continued to embrace the Buddhist religion, and some of the most interesting photos picture religious practices. Taylor-Butler effectively describes the efforts of Nepal s government, Tenzing Norgay’s sons and other Sherpa and several foundations dedicated to the preservation of the region and its people to keep the mountain environmentally safe while more and more climbers from many countries tackle one of the greatest challenges on earth. . . . For young armchair travelers who may make the climb someday, this mixture of science, geography, culture and the original extreme sport is irresistible.”

Kirkus Reviews

“This new title goes beyond the usual focus on mountain-climbing to reveal something about the lives and customs of the Sherpas who make it their home, guide mountaineers, and serve as park rangers in the national park on the Nepali side. . . . In the chapter “A Mountain at Risk,” readers learn about the changes that have come to this sacred place, assaulted both by pollution and climate change, but they may be reassured—and even inspired—by the last chapter, “Hope for the Future.” Sidebars and short sections provide further information about the people, the geological history of the mountain, and a timeline of exploration firsts. Well-reproduced color photographs support the text.”

– Horn Book Magazine

For more about Sacred Mountain: Everest, please visit the Sacred Mountain and Lee & Low Books websites.

For more about Christine Taylor-Butler, please visit http://www.christinetaylorbutler.com/.


The Color of Us: Chapter Books

September 29, 2009

Series like NEATE and Kid Caramel published by Just Us Books and Hyperion’s Willimena Rules! by Valerie Wilson Wesley helped open the door for more chapter book diversity. Today, more publishers are responding to the need.

The offerings include series created by celebrities — Whoopi Goldberg’s Sugarplum Ballerinas and Amy Hodgepodge by Kim Wayans & Kevin Knotts — and series by emerging and established stars in the kidlit field. I’m proud to salute the four series below, including three by previous 28 Days Later honorees.

Please spread the word about these great chapter books and share them with children you know:

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Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel (Putnam Juvenile, 2009) by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Rich, the second in the series, debuts in late October.

The Buzz on Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel:

“What’s the matter with the new boy? wonders third grader Dyamonde Daniel. Free always looks angry and never talks in class, only communicating in grunts. Dyamonde knows what it feels like to be new: her parents’ divorce caused her to relocate from Brooklyn to Washington Heights. Yet her friendly overtures are rebuffed each time. When Free scares one of the little kids in the lunchroom, Dyamonde has had enough and confronts him about his grouchy behavior. It turns out that the classmates have much in common, including their unusual names and a longing for their old schools and friends. Dyamonde, smart, assertive, wild-haired, and skinnier than half a toothpick, is a memorable main character, though she sometimes sounds too mature for her years. Yet her actions and feelings ring true. Christie’s illustrations flesh out the characters, and along with patterned page borders, contribute child appeal. This is a promising start to a new series of transitional chapter books; suggest it to readers who enjoyed Karen English’s Nikki & Deja (Clarion, 2008), another early chapter book about the ups and downs of friendship between two African-American students.”

– School Library Journal

“Smart, confident Dyamonde sits in her third-grade classroom and wonders why she’s been at her new school for weeks and still doesn’t have a best friend. In walks Free, a new student who’s so withdrawn and irritable that Dyamonde secretly names him Rude Boy. When plucky Dyamonde challenges Free, he begins to open up and slowly becomes a friend. Any child who is a “new kid” could benefit from contrasting the two main characters: Free tends to look backward to his old life and inward to his emotions, while Dyamonde looks forward to a new best friend and outward to the people and possibilities of her new neighborhood. Clean, direct prose and strong, clear characterizations make this an appealing early chapter book, while Christie’s stylized, dynamic drawings give it a fresh look. A welcome addition to the steadily growing list of beginning chapter books with African American protagonists, this is a promising start for the Dyamonde Daniel series.” 

– Booklist

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Ruby & the Booker Boys: Brand New School, Brave New Ruby (Scholastic, 2008) by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton. Also, check out other titles in the series including Trivia Queen, 3rd Grade Supreme; Slumber Party Payback and Ruby Flips for Attention.

The Buzz on Brand New School, Brave New Ruby:

“Ruby Booker wakens to the strains of her favorite song and loudly sings along to celebrate her first day as a student at Hope Road Academy. Her three older brothers have already established themselves at the school through leadership, academics, personality, and pranks, but Rudy wants to find her own way to shine, in her third-grade classroom and beyond. After going out on a limb to be noticed, though, she realizes that she may have landed in trouble. There’s plenty to like in this, the first volume in the Ruby and the Booker Boys series, from the warm portrayal of the African American Booker family at home and at school to the buoyant character of Ruby herself. With large print, wide-spaced lines, and effective black-and-white drawings at intervals, the book will appeal to readers moving into chapter books.”

- Booklist

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Nikki & Deja  (Clarion, 2007) by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman.  Also, check out Nikki & Deja: Birthday Blues and the forthcoming Nikki & Deja: The Newsy News Newsletter.

The Buzz on Nikki & Deja:

“As in Hot Day on Abbott Avenue (Clarion, 2004), English explores the intricacies of childhood friendship, capturing the dialogue and experiences with near-perfect tone. Nikki is a budding writer, and Deja wants to be a decorator; the two third graders are best friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, when a new girl moves to their street, this friendship begins to unravel. Antonia isn’t very friendly, so in retaliation, Nikki and Deja form an exclusive drill team club and vow to keep her out. When it comes to light that Nikki has no rhythm, the girls’ insecurities come to a head, fueled by Antonia’s manipulations. Eventually, Nikki and Deja realize how much they miss each other and make up. Nikki and Deja are still learning how to navigate complex relationships, alternating between codependence, jealousy, and stubbornness. And like most youngsters when faced with new emotional experiences, they don’t always behave in the best manner possible. The story balances all this angst with humor: a scene in which the girls discover that their teacher actually—gasp!—shops at the same grocery store is priceless. Freeman’s black-and-white illustrations depict a multicultural cast. Put this into readers’ hands and they’ll most likely see the ups and downs of their own friendships reflected.”

School Library Journal

“Accesible writing, authentic characters, an easy-to-identify-with plot and Freeman’s appealing black- – and-white illustrations come together smoothly in this straightforward friendship tale.”

– Kirkus Reviews

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Sassy: Little Sister Is Not My Name (Scholastic Press, 2009) by Sharon M. Draper. Also, check out Sassy: The Birthday Storm (debuts Oct. 1) and the forthcoming Sassy: The Silver Secret.

The Buzz on Sassy: Little Sister Is Not My Name:

“Sassy finds her school uniform boring, and she loves shopping at the mall, dressing up, and eating out at fancy places. As the youngest in her African American family, she hates being called Little Sister, but it is hard to get her busy parents to hear her. In fact, she feels pretty invisible at home, except when her beloved Grammy, who first turned her on to reading, comes to visit and performs as a professional storyteller in Sassy’s school. Draper is an award-winning teacher and writer, and the classroom scenes, including the teacher’s mistakes, are as much fun as the family uproar. Told in Sassy’s lively voice, this first title in the new Sassy series is more than a situation, and in the story’s dramatic climax, it is the smallest kid who saves the day. Young grade-schoolers will eagerly wait for more about resourceful, “sparky” Sassy and her search for herself.”

– Booklist


Writers Against Racism Series

September 24, 2009

If you haven’t been following Amy Bowllan’s Writers Against Racism series, catch up.

I’m behind and shame on me because I missed Varian’s day.

But it’s never too late. Check him out.


Olu’s Dream

September 21, 2009

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Here’s my sure-fire way to test if a new picture book sings. I read it to my daughter. She’s a tell-it-like-it-is sort of girl. If it’s boring, she’ll let me know flat out before moving on to other things.

When Olu’s Dream (HarperCollins, 2009) arrived, she excitedly checked out the cover. She flipped through the pages.

“Can we read it now?” she asked.

We read the story three times that day. And have read it even more since.

Olu’s Dream, written and illustrated by Shane W. Evans, is a special story. It’s a celebration of imagination, father-son relationships and cultural diversity. It takes children and adults on a magical ride. The story opens the mind to possibility. My daughter already has a dream in mind for Olu: “Maybe there will be an Olu amusement park one day. Wouldn’t that be cool?”

We are proud to have Evans, an accomplished illustrator and 2008 28 Days Later honoree, back at The Brown Bookshelf to talk about his authorial debut.

Congratulations on your new book, Olu’s Dream! On your site, you say it’s the culmination of 10 years of work. How did the seed of the idea bloom?

The idea for Olu’s Dream was truly seeded out of life. I was recognizing the blessings in my life and how all of the love that has been around me since I was a child has helped me to live my dreams, not only live them but realize the importance of having them. There are ups and downs in life and with LOVE as a base you can make the adjustments needed to get past the worst lows. I have never been the type of person to compare the struggles of one person against another but it would be fair to say that we as a whole are made of up of stories. That there are things that we can learn from the struggles and the triumphs of others that can get us through. As I started Olu’s Dream, I held onto the premise that we all dream and it is important to who we are. It took 10 years to create and when I began the process the story was not NEAR complete because I was growing as a person and as a storyteller. All of the life elements took time to fall into place so that Olu’s Dream could be as REAL as possible for those who read the book.

You’re a beloved illustrator, but this is the first picture book you authored. Have you always loved to write? What was it like writing Olu’s Dream?

Let me start by saying I am honored to be coined a “beloved illustrator.” I have always loved to write although I have to be honest there was a time in middle school where I was discouraged by a teacher about my ability to write … I will expound on that just a bit… First, I will say in reflection I don’t think that the teacher had malice but every person responds to criticism differently and it was something that she said that made writing feel like a HOT SURFACE that burned me and I was cautious every time I touched it. I think that stuck with me for YEARS. I would say that it stuck with me all the way to college. I recall breaking the notion when I took a writing course at Syracuse University. We had an assignment to read some short stories and write a piece on one of the works. I took (what I felt) was a creative approach to the piece, and ironically, I got like a “C” on the paper… but it was something about that “C” that motivated me because what I wrote about for me was TRUE… it was HONEST. I actually wrote about a character in the short story that HAD NO VOICE, essentially the character appeared for a moment and then left the story. The character happened to be a black butler… there was something that struck me odd about his inclusion in the piece that his brief mention must have meant something or the author would not have included him, but we NEVER talked about him in class. I thought it was more than relevant and I wanted to tell his story. Now most would look at that “C” as a failure but it was that grade that made me say, this is MY VOICE and this is what I want to say with it and that was when I truly started to write/express in words.

Please tell us about your journey to publication. What were the struggles? What were the joys?

Writing Olu’s Dream was like trying to summarize all of the joys of my life into a book for children, that is NO EASY TASK. It took time, patience and compromise, but I would say that it opened the door to a milestone much like the “C” where another level of honesty came into view. The journey was a long one and there were times where I was not so patient but I see in retrospect that it needed to go through this process to be an honest journey. The struggles came in the learning process of writing for this medium. When you write for yourself you have no boundaries. When you are writing for books you are often acknowledging a long tradition and this is something that has to be honored and respected. I have been working with Harper Collins and Katherine Brown-Teegan for many years on illustrated books so we took the needed time to adjust to me tackling a written and illustrated piece. It was a process that I can say I learned a lot as I watched this story COME TO LIFE!

In your book, Olu has biracial heritage — African father and Asian mother. Why was it important for you to celebrate that cultural diversity?  

The celebration and recognition of a multicultural story line was important for so many reasons. When you look out into the world today we are seeing stories combining EVERYDAY. I define culture as the fabric of a people held together by the thread of stories… so when we look at the “cloth of the world” we are starting to see a “quilt” of sorts. It is not about “race” and I want to make that distinction, as race is often a construct that divides us. It is about STORIES… CULTURE covers our world. So we look at 2 people from 2 distinct stories that come together and have a child. The amazing thing is that this child is now blessed with so much information and knowledge and that is what makes us as human beings so rich. Just look in the WHITE HOUSE! We are living in a world where our stories are crossing every day and that makes living in this time and space dynamically interesting.

Olu’s father plays a sweet role in the story. What inspired you to focus on their relationship?

My inspiration for the role of the father has many layers. One of which is the father-child relationship is not honored enough in stories. I know so many engaged and caring fathers and that is such an important structure to a family worldwide. What mothers and fathers bring to the table is so dynamically different and it is through that balance that a child feels a full spectrum of love. There are many families who are missing the father figure in the traditional sense and showcasing the father-child relationship in the empowering of dreams, even in this subtle way, was an important first step in this series.

Olu goes on amazing adventures with his teddy bear sidekick Brindle. Do you have a favorite of his adventures?

My favorite adventure is Olu and Brindle finding themselves stuck with monsters in a room. There is a moment of fright and then they RUN like the wind… What is important about this moment is that they get away from what scares them, but there is a moment later in the book where Olu and Brindle actually TRIUMPH over this fear in the BIG RACE! Monsters may find their way into our dreams, but we can beat them if we focus on our goals.

What do you hope kids take away from Olu’s Dream?

I hope that children of ALL AGES take away from Olu’s Dream that dreaming is vital and through what we imagine we can live our dreams in our everyday lives.

What response have you received from children? from adults?

The response to Olu’s Dream from children and adults of ALL cultures has been incredible. I participated in the 14th annual Kennedy Center Multicultural Book Festival where over 20,000 people visit in a 6-hour period. I could see the eyes of families light up as they were introduced to the book and the character. I was able to read and perform the theme song to many families that came that took the level of interest over the top. I have had fathers reach out to me and share the impact the story has had and how elated they are to share this book with their child. That means a great deal to me.

Olu’s Dream inspired the name of the studio you opened in Kansas City in 2007 — Dream Studio. Could you please talk about that? How has your studio grown since it’s opening? What about it makes you most proud? What’s your dream for its future?

Dream Studio has been a place of great growth and a place to help evolve the dreams of others. I have seen that by living your dreams the importance of helping others to fulfill their dreams and we look to build on that concept at Dream. We have hosted artists from all over the world. We have featured great performances, visual art and opened the doors to community. Art had a tremendous impact on my life and it is important that I can share that impact with all. In the short time that we have been open, we have watched our guest book grow and grow and watched families return to multiple events knowing that Dream Studio is a place to share with their children. I am most proud when I can look out and see a five-year-old in AWE as a musician sings from their soul or a 10-year-old expresses how they love to paint and create books. That is truly rewarding. My dream is to continue to grow and share this work world wide, and move this concept model into neighborhoods all over the nation and all over the globe.

I read that Olu’s Dream will be a seven-book series. When will the next adventure debut? Could you please give us a sneak peek? 

The Olu’s Dream series is already underway. I have plotted out all seven books that introduce 6 new dreamers and 6 new sidekicks. In the seventh book, all of the characters who are introduced come together in an EPIC dream. The total work is an important piece that will show how we can ALL work together through our dreams.

What’s next for you?

Next is to continue the hard work and to share stories both visual and written that inspire.

I have a number of projects coming out that I am very proud of — more stories that I have written and illustrated and working with some wonderful authors like Holly Robinson-Peete, Taye Diggs and Charles Smith Jr. on books that are wonderfully dynamic.

What’s your dream for Olu? What’s your dream for children around the world?

My dream for Olu is that the stories reach the world, that this voice is translated into hundreds of languages and that both young and old will awaken their dreams through this work. I dream that children worldwide are able to listen to their dreams and follow them to reality and utilize that inspiration to change the world.

More About Olu

For a video featuring Shane talking about Olu’s Dream and a wonderful, musical animation of scenes from the book, please check out:  www.olusdream.com/animation.html

For more about Olu’s Dream, please visit: www.olusdream.com


On The Troll Again

September 21, 2009

The Brown Bookshelf will once again be accepting submissions for our flagship initiative, 28 Days Later, starting September 28th through November 1st.

We are looking for submissions of African American children’s authors who are flying under the radar of teachers, librarians, parents and anyone who considers themselves a gatekeeper to a child’s reading choices.

Submissions will be accepted here at our website or can be sent to thebrownbookshelf at gmail dot com.

Read the entire release, here…


Black Angels

September 17, 2009

linda_colorSharon G. Flake tweeted that people should run out and get Black Angels (Putnam Juvenile, 2009) when it debuts. She said: “U won’t want 2 put it down.”

Sheila P. Moses said: “This novel and the character Luke will move readers like Huckleberry Finn moved us on the Mississippi River 100 years ago.”

Nikki Giovanni described it this way: “. . . Black Angels needs a cup of hot cinnamon tea, a blanket across our knees and a little bit of our time to go on a marvelous journey to America’s best self when we struggled to free the future of hate and fear.”

When you’ve got award-winning authors buzzing, you know you have a winner. Novels that explore the Civil War are not new, but  Linda Beatrice Brown examines that time through such a fresh and compelling lens that it’s like looking at that period for the first time. In Black Angels, released today, she takes us on a harrowing journey with Luke, Daylily and Caswell — three orphans finding a way to survive.

Brown’s characters defy typical notions of family. These children are not kin by blood, but rather forge a rich and enduring bond through the trials they face together. That they come from different places makes their connection even more powerful. Twelve-year-old Luke ran away from a plantation in hopes of fighting for freedom. Nine-year-old Daylily was freed, but must navigate a scary and treacherous world. Caswell, 7, is white and the child of a slave owner whose home was burned by the Yankees. 

Part of the magic Brown weaves is through the growth of these characters. They are children facing unimaginable challenges, but as they scramble to withstand the dangers of the Civil War and meet a special Black Indian woman, they go on a journey of self-discovery. Hope, love  and understanding bloom.  Full of heart, intensity and meaning, Black Angels is a young adult novel that you don’t just read, you feel down deep.

So I’m with Flake, run out and get a copy. Get two if you can and share one with a library or school in need.  

Here we talk to Brown, a distinguished professor at Bennett College and acclaimed novelist, about her writing life and her amazing new young adult novel, Black Angels:

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 14.

Before writing for children, you wrote two successful novels for adults, Rainbow Roun Mah Shoulder and Crossing Over Jordan. Please tell us about your journey to publication.

I was first published at the age of 19 in an anthology, Beyond the Blues. I won a creative writing contest at Bennett College while I was a student. After I graduated,  I published several single poems and then a chapbook, A Love Song to Black Men. I started my first novel in the 1970’s and it won first prize in a competition. Part of the prize was publication with Carolina Wren Press in NC.

What called you to write for children?

I had written and published poetry for children and it was natural to move into fiction.

I read that your teaching experiences inspired you to write a novel for young people about the Civil War era. Could you talk more about that inspiration? How long have you been working on Black Angels? How did the story come to you?

I specifically wanted to explore what happened to children during the Civil War since I had taught about it in my Black Studies courses. I worked on Black Angels  on and off for about 10 years. The story evolved form Luke to the other characters. The voice started out as the voice of Betty Strong Foot, the Black Indian woman in the story.

Your core characters — Luke, Daylily and Caswell — are so memorable and moving. Did you hear a particular character’s voice first or did you all of the characters come to you at once?

 The hardest part was moving from novels for adults to novels for young people. A lot of what you want to say to adults you have to “imply” for young people. However it was very rewarding.

I would say it was most rewarding whenever I felt a chapter worked well. That was when it was truly exciting and fun.

What was your process for developing and shaping Black Angels? What was the toughest part of writing it? What were the most rewarding moments?

My process involves listening. Listening to my inner voice and the voices of my characters. Envisioning and meditating are also techniques I use.

On your website, you say a central theme of Black Angels is learning to be family. You weave a beautiful story of family created not through blood, but through a bond formed as the main characters count on each other as they face terrible trials and adversity. Could you talk about that more? Why was that important to explore?  

It was important to explore family this way because in our time there are many kinds of families and many people need to find ways to bond with others, especially those torn apart from traditional family by wars and conflicts.

How much research did writing Black Angels require? Did you know from the beginning that you’d focus on the impact of the Civil War on youth?

Yes, I knew I wanted to write about the impact of war on children. I did a great deal of research through the years as I was teaching, and then intensified the research once I decided to wrote a novel.

Please tell us how Black Angels found a home. Where were you when you got the news about your deal? What did you do? How did you feel?

It took a good while to find a publisher for Black Angels. My agent was indispensable. I thought about self publishing but then Penguin Putnam became interested. I was at home when my agent called me and I was VERY excited and happy. It is a great feeling to know that your book will be published and “live out in the world!”

I was excited to read that you’re at work on a sequel to Black Angels. Any hint about what that book will explore?

The sequel will be based in the American Reconstruction period and there will be two more children in it. That is all I am going to reveal right now.

Just as family is central in the lives of your characters, family seems central in your life too. I love the wonderful pictures on your website. Does that strong connection to family inspire your stories? 

My family has been an inspiration to me all my life. There were many books for children and adults in our home. My mother was an artist and  musician and my sisters were very creative. My father taught me a lot about social justice because he worked for the Urban League. They were always very supportive of my writing.

What is your dream for Black Angels? For your writing career?

My dream is that my book will inspire and teach children all over the world. I wanted to help children and adults to understand the need to settle conflicts of ethnicity, race, and culture in some way other than conflict and war. I would love for the sequel to inspire even more understanding.

The Buzz on Black Angels:

“Luke, 11, tries to run away from Massa Higsaw’s place to join Union soldiers but instead becomes the leader of two children even younger than himself: Daylily, another slave, and Caswell, the white child of a slave owner. The small band manages to avoid danger, taking refuge with a woman of mixed heritage who may be a spy for either side. Eventually, the three make their way to Harper’s Ferry, Daylily and Caswell finding a family to take them in while Luke follows his plan to join the Union. They vow to meet again at Betty Strong Foot’s cabin in the future. This is an unflinching look at how early childhood ended for children of slavery and the toll the Civil War took on all in its path. The pace of the story conveys the fear and urgency felt by the compelling central characters, and the coarse vernacular of the time contributes an air of authenticity. The transition to the future meeting, ten years hence, is somewhat abrupt, but it serves to provide a satisfying conclusion to the story.”

– Kirkus

For more about Black Angels and Linda Beatrice Brown, please visit www.lindabeatricebrown.com.


Booktalking Kiddie Lit By POC

September 11, 2009

Some people wring their hands over an issue, more worried about how things may never change versus how they can be part of the solution.

Others, like Publisher Weekly’s Elizabeth Bluemle, dive in head first ready to arm wrestle the problem to the floor.

Two weeks ago, Bluemle, a children’s author herself and the incoming president of the Association of Booksellers for Children lamented the lack of “just books” featuring people of color, within children’s literature. The lamentation isn’t new, but the focus on it has been hotly renewed since the Liar cover controversy.

I’m not sure if Elizabeth was ready for the overwhelming response to her call for books. But in only twelve days time, she’s compiled a work-in-progress list featuring Picture Books, Middle Grades and YA novels that are good reads and happen to also revolve around a character of color.

With well over three hundred books on the list, right now, I never want to hear the words “they aren’t out there,” again.

For the record, however, you’re still allowed to say “they aren’t marketed as well.”

But we’re putting a dent in that too.

I’ll be looking to make this link a permanent one on the Brown Bookshelf Library Page as well.

Spread the word and continue to pass on titles to Elizabeth.


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