Day 25: Malorie Blackman

February 25, 2012

Award-winning author Malorie Blackman seems to have done it all and won it all — she’s the recipient of the FCBG Children’s Book Award, Fantastic Fiction Award, Lancashire Children’s Book of the Year, Sheffield Children’s Book of the Year — and those are just some of the awards she’s won for her groundbreaking NOUGHTS & CROSSES series. Set in a fictional dystopia, NOUGHTS & CROSSES is science fiction with action and depth, exploring love, racism, violence and more. The series is complex, offering no easy answers. When describing the inspiration for the title, Blackman said that noughts and crosses is “…one of those games that nobody ever plays after childhood, because nobody ever wins…”

Ms. Blackman’s first book, NOT SO STUPID! was published in 1990; since then she’s written over 50 books for children of all ages, including Pig-Heart Boy which was made into a BAFTA winning serial, Hacker and Whizziwig among others. An accomplished playwright and television writer, Blackman is a graduate of the National Film and Television School, and divides her time between book and script writing. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write poems and short stories,” she’s said. “I’ve always been as interested in imaginative flights of fantasy as well as reality.”

Born in London, Ms. Blackman was always an avid reader, and was partly inspired to write by the memory of her own childhood, her times searching the library in vain for ordinary stories with a black central character. “I wanted to show black children just getting on with their lives, having adventures, and solving their dilemmas, like the characters in all the books I read as a child,” she has said. In an Webchat on Mumsnet, Ms. Blackman spoke more about her love of children’s literature: “As I love strong, challenging stories, I think the best place to find those on a regular basis is in books for children/young adults. I don’t know of any children’s writer who writes on controversial topics merely to be exploitative or gratuitous and I have read books for adults which have turned my stomach, quite frankly. But there’s usually an element of hope in children’s books which appeals to me.”

Malorie Blackman’s latest published work, BOYS DON’T CRY was published in 2010, and described in The Independent as a book that “shows her writing at its best, creating characters and a story which, once read, will not easily go away.”

You’re waiting for the postman – he’s bringing your A level results. University, a career as a journalist – a glittering future lies ahead. But when the doorbell rings it’s your old girlfriend; and she’s carrying a baby. You’re fine to look after it, for an hour or two, while she does some shopping. Then she doesn’t come back and your future suddenly looks very different…

Watch the BOYS DON’T CRY trailer:

Listen to Malorie Blackman in conversation about the NOUGHTS & CROSSES series with the Scottish Book Trust,and on The Guardian podcast, discussing her work and writing from the POV of a teenage father.

For more about Malorie Blackman, visit her website.

Day 24: Sofia Quintero

February 24, 2012

A writer. An activist. An educator. A comedienne. The author of works of contemporary fiction like THE MORE THINGS CHANGE and DIVAS DON’T YIELD is also known to readers as “Black Artemis”, the author of several novels of “Feminist Hip-Hop Noir”, including PICTURE ME ROLLIN’. This self-proclaimed “Ivy-League homegirl” graduated from Columbia University with a BA in history-sociology and an MPA from its School of International and Public Affairs, then started a career as a policy analyst and advocate, and worked for various nonprofit organizations and government agencies including the Vera Institute of Justice, Hispanic AIDS Forum, and the New York City Independent Budget Office. All this, and a YA novel too. Sofia Quintero is not playing around.

With her YA debut, EFRAIN’S SECRET (KNOPF, 2010), Ms. Quintero tells the poignant and powerful story of Efrain Rodriguez, a South Bronx honor student who is desperate to realize his dream of going to an Ivy League college — and does something he’d never imagined he’d do as a result. Publishers Weekly, in a starred review (one of several), called EFRAIN’S SECRET “…an in-your-face YA debut, a passionate polemic on racial politics in urban America.” In an interview with She Writes, Ms. Quintero notes that “…writing for young people has actually made me a better craftsperson. The limitations, length, language, etc. forced me to be more imaginative.”
Ms. Quintero describes herself and her work as “unapologetically feminist”, and as such, made deliberate choices when writing EFRAIN’S SECRET. From She Writes: “I have come to believe that part of the feminist movement must include reenvisioning masculinity for boys and men, and my particular concern is with boys of color and working-class boys. Our society tells boys of a certain socioeconomic background, ‘These are the things that make a man,’ only to use racism and classism to block those paths to manhood.”

But wait, there’s more.

From her bio: “Sofia co-founded Chica Luna Productions to identify, develop and support other women of color seeking to make socially conscious entertainment. Among other projects, Chica Luna launched The F-Word and the Popular Media Justice Tookit. The F-Word is a comprehensive filmmaking institute for women of color based in East Harlem in New York City while the Toolkit is a collection of resources that deconstructs images of women of color in popular films from SET IT OFF to I LIKE IT LIKE THAT.

Sofia is also a social entrepreneur and cultural activist devoted to elevating the quality of entertainment both through her personal initiatives and business ventures. With her business partner Elisha Miranda, she founded Sister Outsider Entertainment, a multimedia production company that is developing several projects for television, film and stage including the upcoming Internet series SANGRIA STREET. SOE also co-created CONSCIOUS WOMEN ROCK THE PAGE with Marcella Runell Hall and Jennifer Jlove Calderon. CONSCIOUS WOMEN is a cutting-edge multidisciplinary curriculum that enables socially conscious educators to introduce feminist hip hop fiction into their learning environments and use it to incite social change among their students.”

We can’t wait to see what’s next!

For more from Sofia Quintero on EFRAIN’S SECRET, check out this interview at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

Day 23: Teresa E. Harris

February 23, 2012

Teresa E. Harris counts Katherine Paterson, Mildred Taylor, R.L. Stine and Judy Blume among her best loved children’s book authors.  Now, she’s creating books destined to become favorites herself.

With pointy high heels, a blazer and loads of sass, her elementary school character Summer Jackson struts out of the pages and into our hearts. In this interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Harris says that she was inspired to make children’s literature her career focus as she considered the books that left a lasting impact: “When I look back on my life, it seems that the books that had the most effect on me were the books I read when I was young.”

Praised for its humor and spunky characterization, Summer Jackson: Grown Up, illustrated by AG Ford and published by HarperCollins, is a great start for an exciting new voice.

We’re happy to celebrate author Teresa E. Harris on Day 23 of our campaign:

The Journey

My journey began to publishing began at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I received my masters of writing for children there in 2007, and it is not an overstatement to say the faculty there taught me everything I know. I worked with some of the best in the biz—Jacqueline Woodson, Rita Williams-Garcia, Margaret Bechard, and David Gifaldi. I also met my literary agent at a writer’s retreat at Vermont College, the incomparable Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary. Sarah sold my first novel—tentatively titled Treasure in the Past Tense—to Clarion Books. It will pub some time in the near future—I’m working on revisions right now. Sarah also helped me to sell my picture book Summer Jackson: Grown Up to HarperCollins, and I imagine her involved in my writing life until the day one of us dies—she is that awesome.

The Inspiration

When I sat down to write the manuscript for Summer Jackson: Grown Up, I read more picture books than I ever had before, and developed a (somewhat obsessive) love for Kevin Henkes and Mo Willems—I live for their deliciously naughty characters, and I tried to infuse Summer with a little delicious naughtiness of her own.

The Back Story

I sold Summer Jackson: Grown Up, fittingly, in the summer of 2009. While an editorial assistant at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, my boss Katherine, ever committed to diversity in children’s literature, wanted badly to publish a commercial picture book featuring an African-American girl. The catch: She didn’t want the focus of this book to be on the character’s race. But first, we needed this character. Enter New York Times bestselling author AG Ford, who sent us an illustration of the most adorable little girl, pink-clad and with ponytail and attitude to spare. When I left Harper the summer of 2009, Katherine said to me, “Why don’t you try giving this little girl a voice and a name?” I did. And that’s how Summer Jackson came to be.

The Buzz

Summer Jackson: Grown Up has received favorable reviews from Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, The Horn Book, and Publishers Weekly:

“With a little bit of sparkle and a whole lot of sass, Summer will be right at home with any young girl eager to enter the work world.”

– Kirkus

“Summer Jackson’s parents have always told her that she can be anything she wants when she grows up. The problem is, the seven-year-old does not want to have to wait until then. “From now on, I will wear very high heels with very pointy toes. And maybe a blazer. I’ll get a cell phone. It will ring all the time.” Summer imagines all of the important things she will begin doing, such as making a to-do list, reading the newspaper over breakfast, and becoming a consultant. But when she meets with several of her clients (fellow schoolmates), and begins to charge them for her services, she runs into a bit of trouble with Principal Cutter, who calls her parents. When they talk things over, her parents agree to let Summer take over the adult responsibilities, which frees them to have some fun. All too soon, the child realizes that being a grown-up is not all its cracked up to be. Ford’s charming and humorous cartoon illustrations are liberally sprinkled throughout the book, ranging from three pictures on a page to full-page images . . . “

– School Library Journal

The State of the Industry

I’ve seen the industry from so many different angles: from the editorial side, the author side, and the librarian side—I worked as a children’s library assistant for a year and a half—and I know how hard it is to get a book on all kinds of shelves these days. Harder than it ever was, perhaps, especially for little books that don’t involve teenage girls falling in love with supernatural creatures, or teenage girls falling in love while navigating a poorly-constructed dystopian world. But there are undeniably some great books being published, overdone trends aside, and I’m as excited about the industry as I ever was, though I’m too much of a realist not to acknowledge that my path as an author may be full of more lows than highs, but there is not another career I would rather pursue. Even at its worst (bad Goodreads reviews, anyone?), writing for children and writers for children continue to excite, motivate, and inspire me.

Find out more about Teresa E. Harris here.

Day 22: Sharon Robinson

February 22, 2012

Photo Credit: John Vecchiolla

If Sharon Robinson hasn’t done it all, she’s certainly made sizable progress.

Robinson began with a 20-year career as a nurse midwife and educator, teaching at universities such as Howard, Yale, Columbia, and Georgetown. She directed the PUSH for Excellence program, founded by Jesse Jackson, from 1985 to 1990. She worked as a fund-raiser for both The United Negro College Fund and A Better Chance organizations.

Robinson is currently Vice Chairman of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and serves on numerous boards: the Roberto Clemente Sports City Complex in Carolina, Puerto Rico; Metropolitan Opera; Urban America; and Omnicom Diversity Committee. She is also an educational consultant for Major League Baseball, where she oversees school and community-based educational programs. And she has written several delightful stories for children, including the middle grade titles, Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America, Safe at Home and Slam Dunk!


On Day 22, we welcome the remarkable Sharon Robinson.


The Journey

My journey into the world of children’s book publishing started with a childhood love for books…and a locked diary. That love for books and writing grew in my adult years. My first publications were professional. While on the nurse-midwifery faculty at Georgetown University, we published a women’s health text book.

My first major market book was a memoir which took me years to write, and equally long to get published. I started writing that book with a pen and a legal pad. I didn’t even know how to use a computer. After filling several legal pads, I bought my first computer and launched a writing career.

1997 was a pivotal year: My son graduated from high school. My memoir was published. I retired from a twenty-year career as a nurse-midwife, and launched a new career (and educational program) with Major League Baseball. A passion for children’s publishing began with the Breaking Barriers program and a partnership with Scholastic. My first children’s book, Jackie’s Nine, was released in 2001. Ten years later, I’ve now published seven children’s fiction and nonfiction books. A couple more are in various stages of publication. I carry several in my head at all times.


The Inspiration

My inspirations are fluid. I spend a lot of time in schools and listen intently to the conversations of young children everywhere I go. My granddaughter, Jessica, was born last year. She’s my latest inspiration.  You can expect a whole series of books for little girls out of me in the coming years!

My father’s story has inspired several books. I have my favorites:  Promises To Keep:  How Jackie Robinson Changed America (Scholastic) and Testing the Ice: A true story about Jackie Robinson (Scholastic).  While they were both labors of love, Testing the Ice tops the charts. It’s all because of Kadir Nelson.

Kadir and I went into Scholastic as a team. Over the years, we had worked together on smaller projects and spent lots of time chatting during various joint book signings. I was determined that Kadir illustrate Testing the Ice.  It’s a powerful story, one I felt totally comfortable being in Kadir’s hands. I’m always blown away by Kadir’s art. My mother and I were speechless at the unveiling of the artwork.


The Back Story

My most recent publication is Jackie’s Gift with EB Lewis.  I met EB at a children’s book festival in Connecticut.  After meeting me, he told me that he’d read my father had given a Jewish kid a Christmas tree. He asked me if the story was true, and said that it would be a great children’s book.  The next I did the research, searching for layers to the story behind a favorite childhood family tale. Two years later, Jackie’s Gift was published.




“This fond daughter’s reminiscence is a welcome addition to the life story of one of America’s best-known athletes and civil-rights advocates.”

 Publishers Weekly

“Nelson…contributes sumptuous, cinematic paintings that immerse readers in every scene, whether it’s an eye-to-eye meeting with Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey or an idyllic summer afternoon at the family home. Readers will close the book understanding that there are many ways to be hero—and Robinson had all the bases covered.”

New York Times Book Review

“Jackie Robinson’s daughter builds a charming story around a childhood memory…Nelson’s close-ups expertly provides suspense…With the basics of his biography efficiently woven in, this is a lovely introduction to a baseball legend.”

The Chicago Tribune

“Nelson’s illustrations are intensely dramatic…Robinson ripples in action across the double-paged spreads. His courage appears before us in pictures and words. The story will be moving to parents and to children.”



Booklist, starred review

“There are numerous biographies about Robinson available for young people, but none have this book’s advantage of family intimacy. In a personal account, Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, describes her father’s youth, his rise to become major-league baseball’s first African American player, and his involvement in the civil rights movement. Sharon Robinson is an education executive for major-league baseball, and she writes about the sport and her father’s life with the same immediate familiarity. It’s her seamless blend of history and family story, though, that distinguishes this title. Through particular events in her father’s life, the author makes the realities of a segregated society immediate: when her father first showed up for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ spring training, for example, he was housed and fed separately from his white teammates. She also includes photographs of racially motivated death threats sent to the Robinson home. Robinson’s emphasis on her parents’ strong values reiterates some of the material in her previous title for youth, Jackie’s Nine (2001), but her private view of her father’s accomplishments, placed within the context of American sports and social history, makes for absorbing reading. An excellent selection of family and team photographs and other materials, including her parents’ love letters in their own handwriting, illustrate this fine tribute.”

School Library Journal

“In captivating words and pictures, Robinson chronicles the life of her legendary father. She weaves historical events into the story of one of baseball’s greatest players, revealing how they shaped his life. Her text, combined with numerous black-and-white archival and family photographs, reproductions of newspaper headlines, magazine pages, and letters, illustrates Jackie Robinson’s journey from childhood to the moment that he integrated major league baseball to his life as a businessman and civil rights spokesperson. In addition to personal details, this intimate biographical sketch and authentic glimpse into the life of a great African American provides information on the post-Civil War world, race relations, and the struggle for civil rights. It will inspire readers and enhance character-education units. Pair this first purchase with the author’s Jackie’s Nine: Jackie Robinson’s Values to Live By (Scholastic, 2001).


The State of the Industry

Thankfully, parents and grandparents want their children to experience actual books! As the industry changes, I expect children and their parents will adapt to the ebook world while continuing to embrace books.

Authors of color are still challenged to get their work out there, but I remember the days when the selection was grossly limited.  We have to be creative.  That’s why The Brown Bookshelf is so important!

Day 21: Nikki Carter

February 21, 2012

If you haven’t heard of Nikki Carter, this is your lucky day! With novels ranging from adult fiction to young adult drama, she’s proven her writing skills are top notch and we are thrilled to spotlight her during our 28 Days Program.

Becoming Nikki Carter: The Journey

When I started my writing journey, Nikki Carter wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. I mean, I write serious adult fiction with real-life drama, spiritual lessons and faith. Well, that’s what Tiffany L. Warren writes. Are you confused yet? Ha!

Nikki Carter is my pen name, my alter-ego, my Sascha Fierce, the fun teenagery person that still lives inside of me. See, teenagers totally make up their own words. When I write as Nikki, not only do I make up words, but I create drama-filled almost steamy capers with plenty of teen angst.

Honestly, I never intended to pursue writing young adult fiction. I was between adult book deals, and my agent thought it would be a good idea to expand my brand and reach out to write in other genres. When I sat down to write my first young adult novel, I traveled back in time to my middle school years. It started off as the diary of a sarcastic, nerdy, skinny teenage girl, and ended up being my very first teen novel Step to This.

Who or What Inspires You?

I love authors who push the envelope and come up with original takes on classic tales. When I was a teen I read Madeline L’Engle, Judy Blume, Octavia E. Butler, Stephen King and all one million of the Sweet Valley High books. Now, my teen daughters and I love Paula Chase, Stephanie Perry Moore, ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Stephanie Meyer. Since I am a mother of five (holy smokes) I love teen authors who can bring the drama plus a lesson at the same time!

The Back Story

I’ve been with Kensington Publishing since 2009, and they have been really great with thinking ahead of the curve! My latest book deal is a continuation of the Fab Life series, where the main character starts college life. I thought it would be fun to do a tie in with the So For Real series and have the heroine from that series, Gia, meet up as a college roommate to the heroine of the Fab Life series, Sunday. We ended the So For Real series somewhat abruptly, and left the readers without a senior year for Sunday, Hope, Ricky and Gia. I appreciate that Kensington is allowing me to give the readers of that series some closure while introducing them to my new characters! That’s the exciting thing about the industry. Some ideas work, some don’t, and you always have to be willing to roll with the punches if you want any longevity.

The Buzz

Here are some reviews and quotes about my work!

Harriet Klausner on COOL LIKE THAT

“This is an engaging young adult romance starring a teen drama queen and the two hunks in her life.”

Booklist on COOL LIKE THAT

“…so much fun.”

Romantic Times on DOING MY OWN THING

“Ooo-wee does this novel have plenty of reality show-type drama…Edgy, but fun. Readers will look forward to the next installment of Sunday’s life on campus.” 

APOOO BookClub

It Is What It Is by Nikki Carter is a fun, hip read with tons of laugh-out-loud moments.”

Kirkus on IT’S ALL GOOD

“Carter portrays a rounded picture of African-American teen life anchored by school, church and  family.”

Urban Reviews

“Step To This is a fun, fast read by Nikki Carter.”


“…this series is poised to “blow up”…”


“Juicy drama with constant twists, turns and bons mots and plenty of room for additional episodes.”

Booklist on STEP TO THIS

“…the story is told with energy and humor and will appeal to those seeking a softer side to urban fiction.”

ReShonda Tate Billingsley, author of The Good Girlz series

“Nikki Carter is a fresh, new voice in teen fiction! Step to This has it all –drama, humor, and a lesson that everyone can learn from. Full of fun-loving, unforgettable characters that readers will love, Nikki has written a page-turner that will leave the reader wanting more!” 

Monica McKayhan, Essence bestselling author of Indigo Summer

Step to This is hot, it’s new, it’s now…with characters that leap from the pages, it’s absolutely a must-read.”

Chandra Sparks Taylor, author of Spin It Like That and The Pledge

“Nikki Carter steps up and delivers a home run with her debut novel, Step to This. It’s a real winner.”

Victoria Christopher Murray, National bestselling author of the Divine Divas series

Step to This is a wonderful, witty tale that is full of laugh-out-loud moments and great lessons.”

Ni-Ni Simone, author of A Girl Like Me

“Filled with smart and witty characters, Step to This is a fun, fast-paced read teens will love.”

Shelley Adina, author of the All About Us series

“Fun, honest, and so for real … I loved Gia and cheered for her as she struggled to find where she fits with friends, family, and  faith. Debut author Nikki Carter is now on my must-read list!” 

Melody Carlson, author of The Carter House Girls, Diary of a Teenage Girl, TrueColors and The Secret Life of Samantha McGregor series  

“Gia Stokes might be a Hi-Stepper, but this teen role model has both feet on the ground as she meets life’s challenges with style and grace. Kudos to Nikki Carter for a great start in this  fun and relevant teen series!”

Thank you, Nikki!


Day 20: Traci Dant

February 20, 2012

Traci Dant describes herself as both a fiction writer and a poet. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, and published in literary journals such as PoemMemoirStory and Crab Orchard Review. Her first picture book, Some Kind of Love, was published in April 2010 by Marshall Cavendish.

Dant, who earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. She currently lives in Oswego, Illinois with her husband and two children. On day 20, we present to you the very talented Traci Dant.


The Journey

Sixteen years ago I was a first year law student at Duke University. I was at a great school and getting good grades, but I had the nagging sense that I wasn’t on the right path. Something deep inside me just wasn’t comfortable with becoming a lawyer. As my sense of discomfort grew, I decided that instead of focusing on what I didn’t want, I needed to decide what I did want. And the answer was simple – what I wanted was to be a writer.

For me, being a writer meant that I needed to leave law school. Leaving law school meant battling my parents, contending with peers who thought I was crazy, and taking a part time job at a book store until I got accepted into an MFA program. But in the midst of all that chaos, I knew I was doing the right thing.

Ten years after I left law school, my first book, Some Kind of Love: a Family Reunion in Poems was accepted for publication by Marshall Cavendish.


The Inspiration

Many books on creative writing contend that you should write about what you don’t know in order to free your imagination. But for me the opposite is true. I feel most comfortable and most inspired by writing about things that are close to home. I may feel this way because my first stories were my father’s oral histories. I was fed daily recountings of what it was like to grow up poor on a small farm in a small town during the days of Jim Crow. When I began writing seriously in graduate school, I found my father’s stories springing up from my keyboard. His stories continue to inspire me to this day.

I am also inspired by the writers I loved as a child. I never get tired of Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and Maurice Sendak. And I am also moved by the picture books I read to my kids. I read them books written by Nikki Grimes, Jacqueline Woodson, and Kadir Nelson. These are writers who manage to write with great beauty and a great sense of awareness that the books read to our children are sacred texts. The moment where you cuddle with your child at the end of a long day is precious. And the stories that we share with them during that time should be precious as well.


The Back Story

My book was born out of a series of fortunate circumstances. In 1999, I crossed paths with Toi Derricotte at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. Because of that meeting, I applied and attended the Cave Canem Poetry Retreat for African American Poets. Years later through the Cave Canem Listserve, I connected with an editor seeking poets who were interested in writing books for children. After a year of correspondence, that editor purchased my first book in 2007.

The Buzz

Some Kind of Love: a Family Reunion in Poems was selected as one of 2010’s “Best of the Best” books for children by the Chicago Public Library and received positive reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and the School Library Journal.

Publisher’s Weekly: All opening with the line, “Must be some kind of love,” lyrical yet plainspoken poems describe a large African-American family’s reunion in Missouri, while Velasquez’s expressive oils make the family members feel alive. Though there’s not much sleeping room (“We sleep four boys to a bed. Head to foot and head to foot”), each activity affirms the spirit of love and mutual understanding. Cousins fish with cane poles, Aunt Lois’s two-bedroom house becomes a “space large enough to hold 100 people for a fish fry,” stories are shared and connections strengthened. Even good-byes are cause for celebratory hugs and kisses, driving home the message about unbreakable ties.

School Library Journal: Gr 1–6—In this moving tribute, 15 poems describe the joy of one African-American family’s annual reunion weekend. It begins with the words of Grandma: “Always come home/Come home so I can see your faces./Your brown, your cream, your peach,/your purple, your midnight faces. Come.” The poems take readers through the anticipation of everyone’s arrival, crowded sleeping arrangements, fishing, telling stories, and more until the time to say goodbye. Velasquez depicts this warm, inviting party in oils, and the illustrations are rich with color and emotion. Each selection begins by calling attention to the love that binds this family. A rich celebration of togetherness.—Julie Roach, Cambridge Public Library, MA


For more information on Traci Dant, visit her website:

Day 19: Pansie Hart Flood

February 19, 2012

It seems being the youngest of seven children would give Pansie Hart Flood plenty of adventures to write about.  But it was the memories from summer visits with her Grandmother that penned her first trilogy.  The Brown Bookshelf is honored to spotlight Pansie Hart Flood during our 28 Days Later Program.

Tell Us About Your Path to Publication 

The journey to having my first novel,Sylvia & Miz Lula Maye published was surprisingly short. It was less than six months. I followed a traditional path of first researching publishers interested in receiving and reading manuscripts in my genre. Following submission guidelines was a “must.” I mailed submission packages to around thirty publishers and waited.  While waiting, I continued to write.

I ended up not signing with the first publisher that showed interest in my story because they wanted to make too many changes to my authentic voice. Carolrhoda Books (a division of Lerner Publishing), liked my story and my voice. They actually suggested the trilogy idea which allowed me to divide and elaborate one longer story into three.  Therefore, my first book deal ended up being three books: Sylvia & Miz Lula Maye (2002), Secret Holes (2003), and Sometimey Friend (2005).

 Where Did Your Inspiration Come From?   

The inspiration to write came from many different writers and people in my life. In middle school Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks and Maya Angelou captured my attention.  As for children’s books, authors like Jacqueline Woodson, Walter Dean Myers, Bill Cosby, Christopher Paul Curtis, etc…just to name a few, allowed me to believe that I could become a children’s author just like them.  These authors write realistic fiction about African Americans and what it was like experiencing life during a particular time and place. 

 Creating characters that can jump off the page, grab its readers by the hand and drag them into the plot of the story is one of many goals I aim to achieve.  A little, then sometimes a lot of humor, family matters and friendship are other important elements that I include in my stories.  Memories of my grandmother inspired me to write the initial story for Sylvia & Miz Lula Maye. A visit to the public library with my so (who at the time was around six years old), sprouted ideas for a young reader series called Tiger Turcotte.

 Let Us In On “The Back Story.” 

 The back story of how I signed a contract for a young reader series with the same publisher Carolrhoda Books, proves a very important lesson. Shortly after editors from Carolrhoda Books contacted me expressing interest in my Sylvia & Miz Lula Maye manuscript, the following question was asked, “What else have you written that we might be interested in reading?”  I am so glad that I continued creating stories and writing material while I was waiting to hear back from publishers about my submissions.  I answered, “Yes, I have written several stories that cater to young readers. The main character is a young boy named Tiger who is multi-racial.”

 The editors asked me to prepare and submit summaries about each story.  I did and they suggested the idea of creating a young reader’s series called Tiger Turcotte. Book one of this series is called, It’s Test Day! Tiger Turcotte (2004).  Book two is called, Tiger Turcotte and the Know-It-All (2005). Other books were in the making, however due to the economy and the children’s book market, they were killed.

The Buzz 

School Library Journal; Dec2005, Vol. 51 Issue 12, p146

Flood’s characters are likable, and the realistic dialogue lends an appealing ethnicity to this charming story about a loving African-American family.

 The buzz regarding reviews is that I do not make a list or keep tabs on reviews.  Having a school system select any of my books for summer reading lists, or recommended as required reading is a fantastic honor that I hold in high regard.  I was thrilled to learned that some of my books have AR tests and are e-books.

Thank you, Pansie!

Day 18: Bil Wright

February 18, 2012

Bil Wright is an award winning novelist, playwright, and director. His latest award was announced last month at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting– The Stonewall Book Award -Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award for Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy.

“Carlos Duarte knows who he is and isn’t trying to be anyone else—in fact, Carlos is waiting for the world to catch up to him,” said Stonewall Book Awards Committee Chair Lewis Day. Congratulations, Bil!

Bil has three other novels and his plays include Bloodsummer Rituals, Leave Me a Message, and This One Girl’s Story. He directed Yasmin Rana’s The War Zone Is My Bed, New World Theatre Dance Festival, and The Man Who came to Dinner. His work has also appeared in anthologies. Bil says he has always loved to read and write. “I just like to write, to put words together to create images or tell stories.” His goal is to stimulate an impact in his readers, something two of his favorite authors did for him; J. D. Salinger and James Baldwin. Bil’s work portrays what’s on the minds of young people—things they really want to happen in their lives. He speaks to their conflicts and struggles and hopes they realize that even though their life may be hard right now, you can be who you are in the long run. Today, the 18th day of our annual 28 Days Later campaign, we’re honoring Bil Wright for his writing successes and his contributions to the world of children’s publishing.

The Journey

I’ve always written. I was always a kid with a piece of paper scribbling down thoughts or mages. I’m still that kid. When I was much younger, it was a way of escaping. I loved and was fascinated by fairy tales; the way one story could have elements of longing and fulfillment, evil and cruelty, curses of eternal damnation and lives to be lived happily forever. I began to create my own fairytales, writing about the good and the wicked I knew, the people who made my life feel heavenly or like a never-ending hell. I learned that I too could have my stories published for others to read and that the readers of my stories might be carried to other worlds that either made them laugh out loud or touched a place of sadness deep within them. It was perhaps the first time I fell in love with the idea that there was a continuing circle of images and characters being created and passed along to others to know, in stories, in books, in plays.  There were characters to love or hate, or become friends with for a time until their story ended and you wished them well, knowing your friendship had ended with the last page of their story.

My first stories were published in anthologies. I wrote poems and sent them out and had them included in books of poetry. When I heard a writer suggest that short stories were for sprinters and novelists were long-distance runners, I took it as a challenge to see if I could indeed run for a long distance, carrying my characters and their stories with them. My first book was SUNDAY YOU LEARN HOW TO BOX which attracted adults and young adults and was received favorably in publications for both. My next two books for young adults were WHEN THE BLACK GIRL SINGS and PUTTING MAKE-UP ON THE FAT BOY. I’m thankful that both young adults and adults have responded to all of my books.

The Inspiration

One of my first inspirations was James Baldwin. As a very young person, I’d never read work that transported me to the world of Harlem, which I knew well, but not from another, earlier time. I’d read about late 18th century England and the early 19th century and also of America in earlier times, but never had I read a book that clearly and sympathetically portrayed people I knew so intimately. And I knew I could trust Baldwin because of his honesty. Black people, in his writing, could be brutal, but they could have great dignity and emotional breadth and stature as well. I am so thankful that he existed and cared so much about his work and the stories he told. In college, I had the honor to meet Gwendolyn Brooks and share some of my poetry with her. She was very complimentary and made it clear to me that writing was an important part of my life that I should invest in. Alice Walker and Toni Morrison can never be acknowledged enough. I still celebrate the royalty of literature as I know them to be. They provided me with inspiration when inspiration was sorely needed.

Now, though, I’m most inspired by the people around me, both young and old. I think these are pretty challenging times and when I see certain people struggle to keep going toward any productive goal, I’m truly inspired. There are so many people who are going without some pretty basic things like decent education and decent food and decent shelter, I can’t help but be inspired by their struggle to keep moving toward the light. I want so much for young people to challenge themselves and the older people around them to be the best that they can be, to have the courage to truly love themselves and each other. I know it may sound like a Christmas card, but that’s the point. Whether we believe in a Christian God or not, the principles of love and respect and honesty go a long way toward making our individual and collective lives better.

 The Back Story

My editor for PUTTING MAKE-UP ON THE FAT BOY first read my book, SUNDAY YOU LEARN HOW TO BOX.  The protagonist, Louis Bowman, is a young kid and it’s his pretty perilous journey (although he has a great sense of humor), that the books centers on. David, my editor, read the book and suggested to the editor of SUNDAY that I had a great “voice” for young adult readers. When I finished WHEN THE BLACK GIRL SINGS, my agent sent it to him and he published BLACK GIRL and PUTTING MAKE-UP ON THE FAT BOY.

The Buzz

One of Barnes and Noble Reviews Best Books for Young Adults of 2011

Wright (When the Black Girl Sings) gives voice, complexity, and heart to the kind of character often relegated to a cliché sidekick role. Sixteen-year-old Carlos Duarte’s dream is to become a famous makeup artist (“I’ve had subscriptions to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar since I was fourteen… so I knew what I was doing was beyond genius”). Carlos’s mother has lost her job, and his older sister is getting abused by her boyfriend, who is also harassing Carlos for being gay. Carlos’s single-minded drive for success leaves some casualties in his wake (as when a $300 borrowed pair of “beyond incredible” boots are damaged when he’s assaulted), but his big heart, optimism, and powers of persuasion are infectious. And given the very realistic harassment Carlos regularly suffers, those attributes are a survival skill, too. He’s a walking example of the inner strength teens need–regardless of their sexuality.   Publishers Weekly.

Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy, by Bil Wright, is a new YA novel whose main character Carlos Duarte, “knows that he’s fabulous. He’s got a better sense of style than half the fashionistas in New York City, and he can definitely apply makeup like nobody’s business. He may only be in high school, but when he lands the job of his dreams–makeup artist at the Feature Face counter in Macy’s–he’s sure that he’s finally on his way to great things…”      Lambda Lliterary Review
Carlos, 16 and fabulous, just knows he’s going to be famous. Cocky but playful—”I had just the slightest touch of color in my cheeks. I’d given myself a manicure. I looked beyond excellent!”—Carlos strides purposefully toward his goal: Makeup artist to the stars. Zipping around Manhattan, he obtains employment with a hip, prestigious cosmetics company in Macy’s and nabs a position working for the star of a Saturday Night Live equivalent. His campy voice (“seriously gorgeous bootay. Tight and round and perched, honey, perched!”) turns bitchy sometimes. He also needs to learn accountability for his actions: Macy’s makeup really can’t leave the store before being paid for, no matter how famous the star requesting it, and Stella McCartney boots begged from a friend must be returned pristine. Carlos loses that friend but narrowly saves his job; he also fights his sister’s abuser (who calls Carlos “maricón”) and strains for dignity when a kind but clueless straight boy tells Carlos to his face that he doesn’t return his crush. Wright’s occasionally flashy but mostly straightforward  prose should work equally well for bookish and non-bookish readers; the excellent treatment of a gay, Latino teen. He may step on some toes along the way, but this fat boy’s going places.  Kirkus Reviews

“What an amazing time in which we live, where a book like this could be
conceived, written, published, and put in the hands of young people who are struggling to become themselves in a world that may not understand them. How I wish such a shining light was available to me at that age; in my time, I had to search for it. In this wonderful, fun, insightful, and astonishing book, that light is shining from the first page to the last, showing us all the way through the darkness to our own truth. I am heartened that the world is changing to accept each of us for our beautiful gifts…this book is proof of it.”  Chris March, Star of BRAVO TV’s MAD FASHION







Find out more about Bil Wright at

Day 17: Charlotte Riley-Webb

February 17, 2012

Contemporary realism with an abstract flair is how Charlotte Riley-Webb has described her art. Her rhythmic style with bright bold colors easily translates into the children’s books she illustrates. Today, Web-Riley blogs about her journey as a children’s book illustrator and fine artist.

By Charlotte Riley-Webb

For the final year of my college education I changed my major from graphic design to illustration. Even then, I had not considered translating that skill level into children’s book illustrations.  When Lee & Low approached me about illustrating Rent Party Jazz in 2001, it seemed an insurmountable task. I could not imagine creating so many paintings for so few words. I had written a book myself during the time when my son was challenging every conceivable law and rule laid down in first grade as well as in our home. My book was titled, The Beat of A Different Drummer. That was what his teacher said in a parent teacher conference, when we both were at our wits end while trying to figure out how to deal with this very difficult child, …. “maybe he marches to the beat of a different drummer”…she said. Intuitively, artists turn most things we hear and experience into visuals. I sat down that evening and wrote the poem and later illustrated a book with that theme and he, at five years old as the subject. He is now, thirty-nine, so you see how long ago that has been. Even though I never attempted to publish it, I do acknowledge it as my first illustrated book. 

I was asked to illustrate Rent Party Jazz, by author, William Miller, because of my bright color palette, rhythmic brushstroke and the publisher’s desire to portray the music of New Orleans and the communal spirit of the neighborhood.  Afterwards the same publisher asked me to illustrate Sweet Potato Pie by Kathleen Lindsey. I particularly enjoyed the challenge of illustratively bringing the family out of their dire situation of not having the finances they needed and using what they had available, sweet potatoes, from which they made pies to sell at the state fair in order to solve their problems.

What I find most challenging about all of the books is the necessity to repeat the subjects from page to page as they appear throughout the book, but with a variety of expressions and in different situations, and yet maintain the continuity all the way through the story. The next, a book of poems, Entrance Place of Wonders, was a collection selected by Daphne Muse for Abrams Books. These were poems of the Harlem Renaissance. I was intrigued that these famous Renaissance authors had also written poems for children. Among them were Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson and Claude McKay, just to name a few.

In 2010 I was again asked by Abrams to illustrate Around Our Way on Neighbors Day, by Tameka Fryer Brown. As I worked on the illustrations, I reflected on the neighborhood block parties we enjoyed so much as children, even though I did not grow up in New York, but Cleveland.  . When illustrating children’s books, I’ve found that it is important to be able to utilize as many of the senses as possible in order to set the tone for the story. Again, I do a lot of this with my brush strokes and palette. If the author, for instance is talking about food for an event in the scene, I will focus on how the smell of the food will look and attempt to interpret that in terms of color and texture.

Because there are so many elements that factor in, the illustrations often take several months. These include carrying out the story line, page layout with the consideration for copy as well as the painting, continuity of the subjects and maximizing the emotion and excitement on each page.  I have spent the good part of a year on some of the books that I have illustrated. One reason for this is that I am a painter by profession, and will usually be exhibiting somewhere, and am working on two or more projects concurrently. Each of the pages in a book is a painting and if it is a continuous story, the characters in the paintings have to carry over to the next page and yet with colors and compositions be able to hold the interest and understanding of the child reading it.

Our Children Can Soar was a compilation of paintings by twelve select illustrators asked to illustrate one page each of the well known verse… beginning with, “Our ancestors fought so George could invent…George invented so Jesse could sprint”…., from Ella, to Rosa, to Jackie; from Martin to Barack…….all of these African American heroes laid the groundwork so “Our Children Can Soar”! I was asked to illustrate, baseball great, Jackie Robinson, because of my ability to show action. Collectively this was a masterful work, which garnered us all the 2010 NAACP Image Award for Children’s Literature. My latest book illustrations are for Peachtree Publishers. Seed Magic, a true “beauty being in the eye of the beholder” legend; is due to be released in the spring of 2012.


Day 16: L. Divine

February 16, 2012

More than a decade ago, L. Divine dreamed of creating books that would inspire young adults to read for pleasure. The teacher and scholar came up with a main character, Jayd Jackson, a teen from Compton, California who attends a predominantly white school and navigates the world of classes, boys, friendships and family.  “DRAMA HIGH,”  she shared on one site, “is about coming into one’s power through yourself and through your identity.”

Her vision sparked a sensation. Hailed for being  a fresh voice with the power to keep teens coming back for more, L. Divine now has 14 novels in print and is planning her second series, Drama U, which will spotlight  Jayd’s college years. She is a mother, mentor, teacher, sought-after speaker and volunteer who remains committed to writing books that young people love to read.

We’re proud to celebrate the work of L. Divine on Day 16 of our campaign:

The  Journey

As a tutor and student teacher I noticed a lack of available literature that interested my students in junior high and high school. I self-published my first novel Drama High, The Fight as an answer to what I saw was a serious gap in the literary world. The literature my students—in particular my girls—were interested in was inappropriate for their young adult minds, and I felt stuck as an educator in more ways than one. I started working on the first volume in graduate school and completed it while teaching junior high school in Carson, California, which is a small city adjacent to my hometown, Compton. The Fight was inspired by an actual fight between two girls in my classroom—best friends—over a boy. The altercation upset me so much that I went home and wrote about it, incorporating it into my first novel.

After the completion of the self-published edition, I studied the writing industry’s textbooks—such as Writer’s Market—and sent out dozens of query letters and proposals, all the while polishing my still in-process manuscript. After about a year of trying, I was finally in the right place at the right time, met my first agent, and the rest is herstory.

The Inspiration

I have always loved reading and am still an avid reader. Octavia Butler, Alice Walker, Maryse Conde, Gloria Naylor and Derrick Bell are just a few of the writers who have inspired me for most of my life. I love science fiction and these writers weave stories of race, fiction, fantasy and social commentary into captivating tales with unforgettable characters. I wanted to write just like them when I grew up and I continuously strive to master the craft. When I was a child I also read all of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley books, which inspired me to write a series with a similar premise but characters based off of people in my environment. I also read what my mother read, which were novels mostly by Mary Higgins Clark and Danielle Steele.

The Back Story

Volume fourteen of the Drama High Series, So, So Hood, was published in June, 2011. The series was initially acquired by HarperCollins/Amistad. I followed my then editor to Dafina/Kensington and have been there ever since. Being a published novelist has been an invaluable learning experience and I am enjoying the journey.

The Buzz

The series has had excellent reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Essence and Ebony magazines as well as several national newspapers. The public has shown special interest in the series and it’s growing in popularity. There are currently 14 volumes in publication, which debuted October 2006. Most recently I served as a sub-committee member for the NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Children’s Literature and had the honor of being a selected author for the American Library Association’s Quick Pick List for Reluctant Young Adult Readers for the past four years. I was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year in 2010, had the pleasure of being a selected author at the NAACP Author’s Pavilion in both 2009 & 2011, and was a featured author at the Book Expo America in 2008 & 2009.

The State of the Industry

The “teen years” are a unique time for all young adults, and I think the genre of African American YA literature should reflect that. The first thing we need to do is recognize that African American YA/Teen lit is in a category all of its own. Solely race, supernatural occurrences or hood issues do not define it. Like other YA literature, African American YA is a mixture of these themes and more. Most importantly it is not children’s literature, which it’s often miscategorized as, nor is it completely adult. Junior high and high school are such unique times in our lives, where we have lost some of the innocence of childhood yet maintain a belief in all things being possible. This is why I love writing for teens: because there are no limitations to the merging of reality with imagination. That’s why I believe we’ve yet to see the full potential of this relatively new literary niche.

Find out more about L. Divine here.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 555 other followers