DAY28: JAIME REED

February 28, 2013

jaime reed‘There’s no place like home’ could not be truer for author, Jaime Reed. After studying art at Virginia Commonwealth, and living three soul-searching years in New York City, Jaime returned to the place where she spent her childhood in Virginia, and rekindled her love for writing.  Now, as the amazing author of the series, The Cambion Chronicles, it is with great honor that The Brown Bookshelf celebrates Day 28 with a spotlight on YA author, Jaime Reed.

Tell us about “The Journey”

I went into the writing world blind, deaf and dumb. I just thought of a cool story that’s been in my head for a while and wrote it down.

As a kid, most of the teen books I read had a lead character and I would place myself into the story and into their shoes. It’s a difficult thing to do when NONE of the characters come from my background or look like me. It shares a startling parallel to black children who only played with white dolls because that was all that was available at the time.

This problem unfortunately leaks into literature. Authors are reluctant to write characters of color in their stories out of fear that having a minority lead will weaken sales. As a result Caucasian females dominate the bookshelves in every major bookstore in America. As most great ideas go, it begins with a very simple question: why?

I felt it was my duty as a writer to even the playing field a bit. So I wrote LIVING VIOLET with a biracial girl as the main character.Living_Violet_cover for Jaime Reed She balances two worlds and meets a boy who deals with a similar juggling act, but on a different scale. I thought it would fit well with the story, but ethnicity should never dominate a plot.

When I finished the manuscript, I let a few friends read it and they thought it was good enough to publish. So I went to the web and researched, researched and researched for an agent who represented YA fantasy with multicultural characters. Then when I found Kathleen Ortiz (my agent) she loved it. It was a bumpy ride after that–creative differences and schedules–but I have no regrets. I’m still learning the ins and outs of the industry and Kathleen is a godsend.

What or Who is your Inspiration?

I’ve always enjoyed teen fiction and I find myself reading more of it now than when I was an actual teen. I’m a big fan of John Green and Libba Bray. They have a talent for getting into the heart of the teen psyche, which I like to incorporate into my own writing. I look for truth in writing, not pretty words and hot love interests. Though I write fantasy, I want the emotion and the surroundings as realistic as possible.

Can you fill us in on the Back Story?

Burning_Emerald_cover for Jaime Reed

It started out with just the one story, LIVING VIOLET. I went in thinking it would be a stand-alone story, but as I kept writing I knew there was more in store for my characters, more twists, more conflicts, more adventures. When I was signed with Kensington, they agreed to a 3-book deal. Thus BURNING EMERALD and FADING AMBER were born.

 

 

The Buzz

The Cambion Chronicles have received great reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Kirkus Review, (one of the toughest book reviews out there) gave positive acclaim on the follow-up stories, BURNING EMERALD and FADING AMBER. I even have a Tumblr fanpage shipping the two main characters, which I find more exciting than any awards. It’s by fans, for fans who have grown attached to the characters I created. Awesome. The Cambion Chronicles has also been translated into German and Slavic for publication in Europe.

In your opinion, what is the state of the Industry?

I think the industry has made a lot of progress as far as publishing, but there is still a ways to go to integrate lead characters of color into the mainstream. Thankfully, I found a publisher (KTeen/Kensington) who specialize in minority literature. I didn’t have to deal with the hiccups in the industry, like proper shelving in the bookstore or “whitewashing” cover designs.Fading_Amber_cover for Jaime Reed

 To be fair, the industry is in a really tight spot that even they find frustrating. There hasn’t been a heavy demand for people of color, and the industry will only supply what’s selling. Once publishers see that there is a growing interest to have minorities in stories, they will request more to agents. But there are a few stories that slip through the cracks that cross cultural lines into the mainstream, and hopefully that will boost the interest and help other authors get their foot in the door.

You can follow Jaime Reed and The Cambion Chronicles on her website at: http://jaimereedbooks.com/ or on her blog at:  http://jreedwriteordie.blogspot.com/

Thanks so much, Jaime!


Day 27: Becky Birtha

February 27, 2013

BeckyBirtha by John Meyer-1 (2)Becky Birtha has written two picture books for children–two historical, culturally rich, family-inspired picture books that would be valuable additions to any classroom or personal library.

As this year’s campaign approaches its end, we are happy to include the work of this talented picture book author. Presenting the captivating words of Day 27′s honoree, we introduce to you, Becky Birtha.

 

The Journey

I started writing poems and stories as a child, growing up in a red brick row house in Philadelphia.  My parents, both Hampton graduates, valued literature and writing.  We had books in every room, several typewriters, and even a mimeograph machine.  My father was the teller of family stories.  My mother read to us.  To balance out the affordable Little Golden Books and library loans, where black characters and voices were nearly nonexistent, she read aloud classics of African American poetry—Paul Laurence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes.

I took writing classes and workshops whenever I could, in high school, college, and in the community.  Nine years after graduating from the State University of New York at Buffalo, I went back to school for the MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.  My first publications were for adults.  I wrote book reviews for feminist newspapers, hoping to build a following for later acceptance of my own work.  Slowly, the plan succeeded; two collections of my short stories and a volume of poetry were published by small presses.  But entering the field of writing for children was a whole new endeavor.  I knew that I wanted my children’s books to be published by a mainstream publisher, so that they could reach the kids for whom I was writing, who might only encounter books at schools and public libraries.

My journey led through many years of frustration: the manuscripts submitted to publishers and received back many months later; the book that was accepted, with illustrator chosen and pictures painted, but that never came out; the house that paid me for the option to publish my book, then decided not to; the editor who liked my story and was on a friendly email basis with me, before she moved to another publishing house, where my emails to her resulted in a form rejection letter.  Fortunately, I got encouragement and support from my writing group friends and from my membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

The breakthrough came when I reread the last two letters I’d received from Albert Whitman and Company.  The editor had declined my manuscripts but said they were well written, and that she would like to see more.  Somehow, it registered that these were not rejections.  I sent a third manuscript.  After much shortening, rewriting, and negotiating about historical facts, sentences, and even single words, it became my first published picture book, Grandmama’s Pride.  I was lucky to have Colin Bootman chosen as illustrator.  His paintings were a perfect match.

grandmamaspride cover

 

The Inspiration

When I was nine or ten years old, a famous author/illustrator came to speak at our neighborhood library, a white woman with glasses and gray hair named Marguerite Di Angeli.  I had already read about half a dozen of her books, including Bright April, the only book in my childhood with realistic paintings of a brown skinned child who looked like me. After the author’s talk, I even got called on to ask a question.  I was thrilled.

In a summer writing program for students, following my senior year in high school, I heard my second author speak.  Kristen Hunter (Lattany) was a much younger, black woman, whose book I had also read, God Bless the Child.  In the audience of eager young writers filling the auditorium that day, mine was the only black face, and I knew that she could see me, and was speaking to me, as clearly as I saw and understood her.

Those two experiences exemplify the writers who have inspired me: the many, many children’s book authors that I read as a child, and continue to read, and the black women poets and fiction writers, most of whom did not publish books until after I grew up.  My favorite contemporary children’s author is Jacqueline Woodson, for her gift of language, saying so much in so few words, and for her courage in writing about subjects that so need to be addressed.  And there will also always be a special place in my heart for Lucille Clifton.

 

The Back Story

There isn’t much back story to Lucky Beans, my most recent book.  My  editor at Albert Whitman, Abby Levine, invited me to send more work.  Eventually, after some miscommunications and an email that never reached her, I did. They accepted it.  It has never been that easy, before or since.  Of course, weeks of revisions followed.  My editor and I hashed out details and literally counted beans, wondering whether to go with the more historically correct navy beans, or the more colorful kidney beans.  And were beans smaller in the 1930s?  Nicole Tadgell and I never met, but I was delighted with her bright, kid-friendly water colors, that added humor to my text.

lucky_beans cover

Perhaps, though, the real back story is not about the deal I make with a publishing house, but the deal I make with myself.  For me, it’s not easy to sustain the confidence, belief in myself, and fortitude that it takes to continue, through years of challenges and while scuffling to make a living, to keep working steadily, and to finally send work out.  I read writing self-help books and push myself with opportunities like the Picture Book Marathon.  It helps to know that other writers and readers value my work.  Recently it’s been helpful to think of my writing in terms of stewardship—of a precious gift that has been entrusted to me.  It also helps to be invited to write a piece like this one, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity, and for the honor.

 

The Buzz on Lucky Beans

From Horn Book Magazine:

“…With its math and social studies elements, this will be a practical book for schools, but it’s also a welcome addition to the growing number of picture books about families getting through difficult economic times.” Susan Dove Lempke

From Kirkus Reviews:

 “…The family works together to survive and finds moments of love, appreciation and sheer happiness. This moving tale not only relates a little history but also some math, as Marshall helps his mother estimate the number of beans in the furniture-store jar and ultimately wins a new sewing machine, which helps alleviate their dire financial situation…. Many children today can relate to the family’s challenges, which makes the timing of this picture book sadly relevant.

From School Library Journal:

“…Children will appreciate the story’s humor and happy ending. Lucky Beans can be used across the curriculum to educate while it entertains. Ideal for classrooms and school libraries, it’s also a strong choice for public libraries.” Mary Landrum, Lexington Public Library, KY

From Booklist:

“Math and wry comedy mix in this lively historical story based on Birtha’s grandmother’s memories of life during the Depression. Young Marshall describes his African American family’s hardship when Dad loses his job and then his relatives crowd into Marshall’s room. Worst of all are the beans Ma constantly cooks….” Hazel Rochman

From Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children: 

“…Based on real events in the life of the author’s grandmother, this new book helps today’s generation of young readers better understand the difficult economic times and the racial discrimination of the Great Depression years. With illustrations that beautifully match the text’s subtle humor and grace, Lucky Beans is an ideal choice when seeking picture books that are rich in substantive content.”

From Multicultural Review:

“This heartwarming story provides young readers a lesson in addition and multiplication and reveals a family’s perseverance to make the best of life’s circumstances….”

From Children’s Literature:

“This story is fitting for today’s economic times, and along with the social studies and math connection, it will be welcome in any classroom…Soft watercolors bring to life the 1930s and the warmth of togetherness of a loving African-American family.”

From Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast:

“…And I’ve read Lucky Beans, and I like it. (And if I were a math teacher for late-elementary students—or even a social studies teacher—I’d be all about using it in the classroom.)” Jules (Julie Danielson)

 

Awards for Lucky Beans:

Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices 2011

New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2010

Smithsonian Magazine 2010 Notable Books for Children

2010 BookLinks Lasting Connection

2011 Storytelling World Resource Award

2012-2013 Show Me Readers Award Nominee List (Missouri)

2012-2013 Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award Nominee

2013 Magnolia Awards Nominee (Mississippi)

2012-2013 Georgia Children’s Book Awards Picture Book Award Nominee

 

The State of the Industry

I continue to be incredulous and appalled about the small percentage of children’s books published each year, written by African Americans and other people of color.  I worry about the effect that the ongoing economic low is having on these writers, and on children’s book publishing in general.  I’m scared by the disappearance of bookstores, and the possibility that the entire bookselling business may soon be controlled by one online monopoly.  Nevertheless, I’m still optimistic, believing that this industry will continue to thrive, and become more diverse along with changes in the U.S. population and the global interplay among cultures.  I am very curious to see how children’s books will continue to evolve in this age of technology.  Perhaps, when every child (not every family, but every child) owns an electronic device that can access age appropriate literature, I’ll be able to let go of my belief in the need for books, as we now know them.  But I’ve been spending time recently in the public schools of Camden, NJ, Philadelphia, and Chester, PA, where, without question, children still need books.

 

To hear more from Becky Birtha, check out this podcast:

Interview with Becky Birtha and Illustrator Nicole Tadgell


Day 26: Chudney Ross

February 26, 2013

lonebeanBusiness Owner. TV Host. Model. Chudney Ross has many amazing accomplishments. But she reveals on Social Butterfly that her proudest one is getting her book deal. Chudney, the youngest daughter of Diana Ross, made her kidlit debut last year with middle-grade novel,  Lone Bean. HarperCollins calls it: “. . . an entertaining read about spunky Bean Gibson and how she learns what it means to be a good friend. And that it’s possible to have more than one.”

Long dedicated to children, Chudney shares on her site that teaching led her to writing. A former preschool and elementary school teacher, she is owner of Santa Monica shop Books And Cookies, a bookstore, bakery and enrichment center.

Lucky for us, Ross has more books in the works. Lone Bean is the first of her series, Bean’s Books. We can’t wait to see more.

The Buzz About Lone Bean:

” . . . Ross, the youngest daughter of singer Diana Ross and the owner of the California children’s bookstore Books and Cookies, creates a relatable protagonist with gumption, whose insights into others’ feelings make her an empathetic friend (“Now I know Tanisha is a meany and a bully, but something in my insides makes me feel bad. I mean, she has no friends, and no sisters and no ice cream”). Things wrap up neatly, leaving the door open for further tales.”

Publishers Weekly

“This was a delightful story about the joys and perils of third grade. Fans of Sarah Pennypacker’s Clementine, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody will love Bean Gibson. Lone Bean is a great classroom read aloud. I can’t wait to share this book with my third grade teachers so they can share it with their students . . . “

– Mrs. Archer’s Book Notes

Read an interview with Chudney Ross at Crayons and Croissants.

Find out more about her here.


DAY 25: Willie Perdomo

February 25, 2013

Willie

Willie may have been in the right place at the right time, but without his brilliant talent to accompany his imaginative ideas, we wouldn’t have the pleasure of reading his work.

We are proud to celebrate Willie Perdomo on Day 25!

The Journey

The path to publishing children’s lit was without a doubt a matter of right time, right place.  I was an assistant in the Subsidiary Rights department at Henry Holt & Co.  Laura Godwin, publisher of Holt Books for Young Readers, got word that I was a published poet.  One afternoon she stopped by my cubicle and asked me if I was interested in working with Bryan Collier.  His first book, Uptown, was just published and I was really impressed by its richness.  I told Laura that I would give it a try even though writing a children’s book was not on my radar.  Later that week, I went to East Harlem to visit my mother and as I walked north on 5th Avenue, I walked past Langston’s brownstone and saw what I interpreted as a father and his daughter entering the house.  The little’s girl’s voice came to mind, and I wrote the text in a few days.  Laura wanted to buy the book instantly and she did.  I was really lucky (and spoiled) to be paired with Bryan.

The Inspiration

Because I primarily write poetry, I don’t keep up much with the children’s book world.  I work as a mentor for BookUp (National Book Foundation literacy program) and titles by Jackie Woodson and Nikki Grimes usually stir up some great discussions.  I think Tony Medina’s early children’s work was really dynamic; it touched on issues rarely addressed in children’s lit such as kids with asthma, poverty, and homelessness.  His Love to Langston was pretty comprehensive.  Lisette Norman’s My Feet Are Laughing was a cool book.  Of course, I’m a big fan of Bryan Collier’s work.  R. Gregory Christie’s work as well.  (I wish I could buy some of their originals!)  Rita Williams-Garcia’s work is awesome; it always rings home.  I also used to read Tony Dungy’s You Can Do It! with my son when he was in 2nd and 3rd grade.

ClementeCover

The Back Story

After I signed a contract for Visiting Langston, I had lunch with Laura Godwin and riffed off a few more ideas I had for a children’s books.  Later that day, she offered me a multi-book contract.  Clemente! was part of that contract.  I wrote the text in San Francisco, almost seven summers ago.  I didn’t look at the text again until Laura informed me that Bryan was ready to work on it.  I totally revamped the text a few weeks before it went to proof.  What’s in the book now is nothing like the original idea and I think the birth of my son had a lot to do with that.

visitinglangston

The Buzz

As someone who was new to the children’s book world, I was very fortunate in that the titles I collaborated on received either honors (Coretta Scott King for Visiting Langston) or awards (Amerícas Book Awards for Clemente!).  For sure, working with Bryan was the biggest honor.  I mean the dude has done projects on everyone from MLK to John Lennon!  As far as reviews are concerned, I really can’t imagine a children’s book getting a negative review—but I’m sure it has happened.  Most of the reviews for both titles were favorable.

Reviews:

“Perdomo…strikes just the right note of precocious breathlessness, punctuating his text with Spanish to convey a people’s enormous pride in one of their own.” (Clemente! – Publishers Weekly)

“More than just a biography . . .” (Clemente! – Book List)

“. . . the pages of the book come to life with energetic purpose and delight.” (Visiting Langston – School Library Journal)

The State of the Industry

I can’t speak to the market forces that dictate children’s book publishing, but I do know that there’s a growing fear that kids stop reading for pleasure too early and that seems to be the biggest obstacle faced by teachers and I suppose publishers by extension.

To keep up with Willie Perdomo, check out his website Willie Perdomo.

 


DAY 24: LINDA TARRANT-REID

February 24, 2013

Tarrant-Reid,_Linda

Combining her talents as an editor, journalist, and photographer,
Linda Tarrant-Reid created one of the most powerful compilations of African
American History with Discovering Black America.  Her experience includes being managing editor of The Million Man March, contributor and researcher of The Family of Black America, co-editor of Black Star Power: BET Celebrating 20 years and the author of Discovering Black New York.

It is with great honor that we spotlight Linda Tarrant-Reid on Day 24 of our 28 Days Later Program.

Tell Us About “The Journey.”

I was recruited into the Doubleday Editorial Trainee Program directly from the campus of Hampton Institute, the historically black college in Hampton, VA, in the early 1970s.  As an English Major, with a deep interest in African American history, working at a publishing house was intriguing.  I knew a little bit about the industry, so I jumped at the opportunity.  After interning in various departments including Books for Young Readers, Trade, Sci-Fi, Anchor Books (academic paperbacks) and the Unsolicited Manuscript Department, I landed, with the help of my Editor/Mentor, in the Trade Division working on bestselling books.

Eventually, I made my way back to Anchor Books, where I became the assistant to Marie D. Brown, the renowned editor and now literary agent.  While in Anchor, we edited the Zenith Series – books for young readers on African American history and culture – as well as major non-fiction books by major authors of the Black Arts Movement.  It was a heady time and I learned everything one needed to know about the book making process – from nursing accepted manuscripts through production to published books to the marketing/promotion and bookstore placement of the final products.

After Doubleday, I took a position at ABC-TV in Prime Time Development, still working with books but this time for adaptation to the small screen. I was there when Alex Haley’s “Roots” was made into a mini-series.  Following my stint at ABC, I freelanced several literary projects as Managing Editor, including The Million Man March, The Family of Black America and Black Star Power: BET Celebrating 20 Years.  I finally decided it was time to write my own book and wrote Discovering Black New York:  A Guide to the City’s Most Important African American Landmarks, Restaurants, Museums, Historical Sites, and More.  It received modest notice from reviewers and I was on my way.

What or Who was Your Inspiration?

I am relatively new to this generation of children’s book publishing but I have been inspired by the work of Tonya Bolden, the author of many award-winning books including Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl and M.L.K.: Journey of a King, who writes lyrical passages that make history come alive!  As for illustrators, I think Eric Velasquez is a phenomenal talent with his realistic renderings of real people.  It adds another dimension to the written word for young readers to see everyday people being portrayed on the pages of their books.  And of course, Kadir Nelson, I love his work and now his words!

Can You Fill Us In on The Back Story?

I was introduced to my current publisher via email by a friend.  I sent a very short pitch email describing my concept and was invited in for a meeting.  I do not have an agent, so when I was offered a deal I negotiated it myself.

The Buzz

Discovering Black America, which was published in September 2012, has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and PW, as well as praise from School Library Journal, Booklist and Library Media Connection which ‘highly recommended’ the book.  DBA was also selected by Kirkus as among the “Best Children’s Books of 2012” and by NPR as one of the “Best ‘Backseat’ Reads of 2012.”  DBA also made Essence magazine’s Holiday Shopping & Web Guide in the December 2012 issue. LTRDBACoverImage

And recently, Discovering Black America was selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young  People 2013 list, a cooperative project of the National Council for the  Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council.

I have also been interviewed by reporter Tracie Strahan on WNBC-TV’s “Positively Black,” for the “Urban Agenda” show on KMOJ-FM, the oldest Black-owned radio station in Minnesota, and “Harlem 411” on WHCR-FM, Harlem Community Radio which is broadcast from City College of New York.

Various organizations have hosted book events including the historic ThomasPaineCottageMuseum where Academy Award-nominated actress Ruby Dee read from DBA.

In Your Opinion, What is the State of the Industry?

I just read this informative article in PW on “The State of African-American Publishing” and basically nothing is new under the sun.  It is still a struggle for African American writers to gain access to the halls of traditional publishers, especially with the consolidation of publishing companies morphing into giant media conglomerates and the rise of the “Big Six” Book Publishers – the Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House and Simon & Schuster.  Options for writers wanting to pursue a traditional path are limited and with the potential merger between Random House and Penguin, options are really limited.  So, many with a story to tell have taken to self-publishing which is what the 21st century is all about, doing it yourself!  So, I salute all of the ingenious writers and authors who have put their work out there.

I do feel that children’s book publishing has also felt the impact, but it seems that there is a market, which we need to expand, for books on the African American experience and the African Diaspora.  With school districts across the United States adopting the Common Core Curriculum, there will be a need for books that speak to foundational history with research, primary sources and resources that will add to the students’ educational experience in a holistic way.

For more info about Discovering Black America visit: www.facebook.com/discoveringblackamerica


Day 23: Angela Shelf Medearis

February 23, 2013

Angela Shelf Medearis

Look up the word “prolific” and there has to be a photo of a bright-smiling, Texas-dwelling diva named Angela Shelf-Medearis!

Born in Virginia, Medearis called various places home at various times in her childhood, thanks to life with a father who was a recruiter for the Air Force. She settled in Austin, Texas at age 18 with her husband, Michael, and has lived there ever since.

Medearis has published scores of award-winning books for children throughout her career, including numerous picture books and leveled readers.  Not only is she a kidlit diva, but she’s The Kitchen Diva, too…whose business portfolio contains cookbooks, a public television show, a radio show, and other entrepreneurial endeavors produced under the umbrella of Diva Productions.

Inspired yet? Me too!

On day 23, The Brown Bookshelf welcomes Vanguard Picture Book Honoree, Mrs. Angela Shelf-Medearis!

 

The Journey

My career as an author began the day I was fired from my job as a legal secretary.  I was upset, at first, but then I realized that the severance package covered our expenses for 3 months!  For the first time in years I was free to really think about what I wanted to do.  I decided to try my hand at writing.  I went to the library and checked out every book they had about book picking peas for a penny coverpublishing.  After four long years, hundreds of painful rejection letters, and numerous unpublished manuscripts, I wasn’t having any success with New York publishers.  I stopped by a small, regional publisher in my hometown, Austin, Texas.   They were interested in two of my books, and published 1,000 copies (500 hardback, 500 paper) of my first book PICKING PEAS FOR A PENNY, a rhyming story about my mother, Uncle John and my grandparents who owned a farm during the Great Depression.

My husband, Michael, worked full-time and part-time to support my dreams and assisted me on my road trips to school districts around Texas to promote my book.  He refers to those years as “Driving Ms. Angela.”   I created and presented fun programs for elementary through college student that explored the history of African storytelling up to modern publishing.  I had plenty of visual items, and told and acted out folktales.  Those appearances helped me to  hone my skills as a storyteller.  I was named one of the “Best Storytellers in the World” by Storytelling World Magazine. We sold more than 10,000 copies of PICKING PEAS FOR A PENNY at schools, autograph-signings, and book conferences.  I submitted the book to Scholastic (again) and this time, they decided to publish it.  Since that time, I’ve published more than 30 books with Scholastic and 60 with other major publishers.

Texas Monthly Magazine called me  “one of the most influential writers of children’s literature in Texas.”  My book, Chester’s CASA, was published by Scholastic, Inc. for distribution to children in the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program for children in foster care.  I also wrote the award-winning story, Daisy And The Doll, and several other books about daisy and the dollAfrican-American arts and Texas history with my husband, Michael Medearis.

My books have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, and are featured on a line of animated DVDs–The Storyteller Series: Many Books, Many Languages Bilingual DVDs  that I produced and narrated, as well ANGELA’S NOTEBOOK, an educational DVD series about writing, reading, authors, and illustrators.  My works are found in schools, libraries and bookstores around the United States, and have been translated into Spanish, French, Dutch, and Japanese.

I’ve also worked as a reading consultant for the Scholastic, Inc. and 100th day of school coverMcGraw-Hill Literacy Programs.  I assisted the companies with the development of their reading series for elementary school children.  I’ve also written several articles for Scholastic’s READ AND RISE and GO! HEALTHY KIDS magazines.

In 2004, I made a radical life and career change.  I wrote about my experiences in my spiritual memoir that I wrote with my Pastor, Salem Robinson, Jr. entitled Ten Ingredients for a Joyous Life and a Peaceful Home. Today, I’m known as THE KITCHEN DIVA!  I’m the author of seven cookbooks: The African-American Kitchen, The Kwanzaa Celebration, Ideas For Entertaining From The African-American Kitchen, The Ethnic Vegetarian. The New African-American Cookbook, The Kitchen Diva Cooks!, and my newest work, The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.  I’m also the President of Diva Productions, Inc.,  We’re in development with WGBH to produce THE KITCHEN DIVA!  television cooking show for PBS stations nationwide.

 

The Inspirationseven spools of thread cover

I’ve been so fortunate to not only be inspired and encouraged by many talented children’s book writers and illustrators, I’ve also had the chance to meet and work with them.

During those long, lean, discouraging years when I was trying to learn the craft, get my work published, and collecting thousands of rejections,  I loved going to the library and checking out books by Eloise Greenfield, Walter Dean Myers, Julius Lester and Lucille Clifton.  After I became a published author, I had the opportunity to meet and work with numerous talented African-American authors and illustrators.  Their love and support kept me going through the tough times.

The students, teachers and adults I’ve met during my travels around the world to share my work have also been inspiring.  I often receive requests for particular kinds of books or hear great stories that I transform into a fictional work. Their enthusiasm for my work and the letters I’ve received are heart-warming and inspiring.

Last, but certainly not least, my wonderful husband, daughter and son-in-law, grand-daughter, parents, siblings and my church family have been my support, sources of inspiration, and cheering section throughout my life and my career.

I’ve been so blessed to do what I love, with people I love, and to meet so many wonderful folks over the years.  I’ve enjoyed the opportunity that I’ve had to be an example of how you can fulfill your dreams if you keep the faith and don’t give up!

 

Upcoming Projects

I’ve been working for the last 7 years as a culinary historian, cookbook author, and food columnist for newspapers and magazines. I’ve also been working as a television chef and producer of cooking shows.  Recently, I’ve been talking with Scholastic about contributing to an exciting new book series.  I’m looking forward to writing for children again!

 

The State of the Industry

I like to read the industry magazines to see what’s being published.  It helps me to decide what’s needed in the marketplace.  As always, it seems that the same biographies about African-Americans are being published over and over.  I remember when I wanted to write about Ida B. Wells Barnett–school teacher, newspaper owner, civil rights activist (her investigations of lynching incidents are legendary), wife, mother of 4 children and fashionista.  Her face was on the postage stamp on the letter I sent to the publisher to pitch my biography idea.  They turned it down because they “had never heard of her!”  I had to fight to get the book published, but it was worth it to honor such a wonderful woman and to educate folks about her life.

I’d like to see all aspects of African-American history celebrated in children’s literature.  In the future, I’ll probably work with my publishers to publish books that celebrate the stories about our contributions to history that haven’t been told.

 

The Buzz (AWARDS AND HONORS)

DIVA PRODUCTIONS, INC.

SKIN DEEP AND OTHER TEENAGED REFLECTIONS: 1996 Violet Crown Awards Special Citation

HOLIDAY HOUSE, Inc.

DANCING WITH THE INDIANS: 1991 Violet Crown Special Citation
THE SINGING MAN: 1994 Violet Crown Special Citation/ALA Coretta Scott King Honor Book for Illustrations
POPPA’S NEW PANTS: 1996 Teddy Award

SCHOLASTIC, Inc.

THE GHOST OF SIFTY-SIFTY SAM:  North Carolina Children’s Book Award, 1999
SEEDS GROW: Gold Winner Oppenheim Book Award, 2000

PENGUIN, U.S.A/DUTTON,

THE PRINCESS OF THE PRESS: THE STORY OF IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT:  National Council of Social Studies Woodson Award

ALBERT WHITMAN AND COMPANY, Albert Whitman & Co.

SEVEN SPOOLS OF THREAD: winner of the Platinum Book Award-Oppenheim Toy Portfolio; featured on THE TODAY SHOW; Notable Social Studies Trade Book-2001, Children’s Book Council and National Council for the Social Studies; 2002 Children’s Book Committee Best Children’s Book of the Year; Show Me Readers Award Master list; Louisiana Young Reader’s Choice Award, Not Just for Children Anymore! 2001

BOOKS WITH MICHAEL RENE MEDEARIS

VERMONT FOLKLORE SOCIETY,Middlebury, VT.

DAISY AND THE DOLL: Winner of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Living the Dream Award, 2002


Day 22: Daniel Minter

February 22, 2013

url-15Artist-illustrator Daniel Minter comes to us hot off the heels of winning a 2013 Coretta Scott King honor for his illustrations in the book Ellen’s Broom, written by Kelly Starling Lyons.

Minter has mastered both fine and commercial art. He creates his art using canvas, wood, metal, paper . . . the list goes on . . . twine, rock, sand, paint. Computer art too. An extraordinary talent he is, not many artists are as versatile.

The creator of the 2004 and 2011 Kwanzaa stamp for the U.S. Postal Service, Minter employs a bold and colorful pallet. His art has been exhibited both nationally and internationally at galleries and museums including the Seattle Art Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, Bates College, Hammonds House Museum and the Meridian International Center.

Minter is not a newcomer to the field of children’s literature. His first book, The Footwarmer and the Crow, written by Evelyn Coleman, published in 1994 to critical acclaim. He is also the illustrator of Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, by Angela Shelf Medearis, which is illustrated in his distinctive lino-cut technique.url-16

By Daniel Minter, artist-illustrator

The Journey

In 1993 as I was making an effort to infuse more of a statement with my work by combining my personal art sensibilities with my commercial illustration work wherever possible, I received a call from Harold Underdown at Macmillan Publishing requesting to see some samples of my artwork that included people and children. Apparently the author, Evelyn Coleman, had seen some of my paintings in Atlanta and thought that they would make a perfect match with her story, “The Footwarmer and the Crow”, and convinced Harold to consider me (an unknown artist) as the illustrator for her book. Normally, the choice of the illustrator is reserved for the editor while the author has little or no involvement. Many people are surprised at this and feel that of course, the author should pick the illustrator and tell them how to draw the characters, but there is very little reason for an editor to do this.

My thanks goes to Harold and Evelyn for seeing what they were looking for in my work and stepping outside of the prescribed methods of finding an artist.

The whole experience for me was a positive introduction to the world of picture books which is very different from the other rushed commercial illustration that I would do. The 9 month deadline I was given seemed like an eternity and the level of freedom to create was liberating. url-17

“The Footwarmer and the Crow” was an excellent first story for me. It blended perfectly with the narrative nature of the carved and painted wood art that had been working with for a few years. I used flat wood panels to carve in relief and paint each illustration for the book in the same manner that I was creating my fine art. I was able to tell the story in an expressive style and use a central character who looked like us.

The Inspiration

The work of Leo and Diane Dillion was perhaps the first children’s book illustrations that made me think seriously about perhaps applying my own art to a children’s story. Their work seemed to emanate from a fantastical futuristic ancient place that allowed them to tell stories with their art that was always optimistically forward looking. I looked to their work to for inspiration to develop my narrative craft and technique as an illustrator. I was drawn to the beauty, the research and care with which they illustrated all people of color. Their way of working was something to aspire to.

As a model of how to live and be in the world, I find Ashley Bryan hugely inspiring. He has found a way to pour his heart into everything he does. The most assessable way of experiencing him is through the art of his children’s books but his storytelling and human interactions express the total of what he is. He lives his art and shares his life with the world.

index-1The Back Story

Over the years the broom has been used as an element in my art. Not only for its use as a ritual object in the African American wedding tradition, but also as an object of power for its representation of cleansing, change and new beginnings in general.

When an editor from Penguin book, Stacey Barney, contacted me about illustrating Kelly Staring Lyon’s story, “Ellen’s Broom”, I do not think she knew of my love for brooms. Just hearing the title my head began to spin with hundreds of ideas for using brooms. I was overly excited.

After I calmed down and actually read Kelly’s manuscript, I could see that it was a quietly powerful story about emancipation and the right to marry. Those ideas of the right to marry are very relevant today but I decided to focus on Ellen using a style of illustration to fit the time and feel of the story, seeing that those were very important aspects just as much as the broom. With the help and guidance of the art director we narrowed the approach to the block print work instead of a more painterly style.

The Buzz

Publisher’s Weekly says: “The narrative has a loving, homespun tone, though the story’s emotions feel subdued. Minter’s (The First Marathon) vibrant linoleum block prints—which use springtime colors for the present day and sepia tones for flashbacks to the time of slavery—give the book more of an emotional charge.”

Kirkus says: Minter uses hand-painted linoleum block prints for a bright, sunny and upbeat accompaniment. Scenes of slave times are colored in sepia to set them apart. A spirited story filled with the warmth of a close family celebrating a marriage before God and the law.”

Daniel Minter’s beautiful art for the book Ellen’s Broom

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Character studies

lino

 

– Don Tate


Day 21: Nalo Hopkinson

February 21, 2013

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From her bio at Simon & Schuster: Nalo Hopkinson is the award-winning author of numerous novels and short stories for adults. She was born in Jamaica, and lived in Trinidad and Guyana before moving to Canada at sixteen.

Her novels, such as Brown Girl in the Ring and The Salt Roads, and other writing often draw on Caribbean history, culture, and language. Ms. Hopkinson is one of the founding members of the Carl Brandon Society, an organization that helps “build further awareness of race and ethnicity in speculative literature and related fields.”

The first chapter of The Chaos, her forthcoming young adult novel, can be read online. From the book description:

“Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she’s the perfect daughter, at school she’s provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbeans, whites, or blacks. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can’t be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him. Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation ASAP before the Chaos consumes everything she’s ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that’s begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.

For her adult work, Hopkinson has received Honourable Mention in Cuba’s “Casa de las Americas” literary prize. She is a recipient of the Warner Aspect First Novel Award, the Ontario Arts Council Foundation Award for emerging writers, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Locus Award for Best New Writer, the World Fantasy Award, the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, the Aurora Award, and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award.

The Chaos must be characterized by the same literary excellence, as it has received the following reviews already:

“Noted for her fantasy and science fiction for adults, Hopkinson jumps triumphantly to teen literature. . . . Rich in voice, humor and dazzling imagery, studded with edgy ideas and wildly original, this multicultural mashup—like its heroine—defies category.”–Kirkus Reviews, *STARRED

For more about Ms. Hopkinson, visit her online.


Day 20: Ashley Bryan

February 20, 2013

2010 by Louis S croppedHonestly, today’s honoree needs no introduction. We’re already fans of the beloved Ashley Bryan, aren’t we? Known for his extraordinary range and depth of talent, Bryan uses paint, poetry, music, and collage to tell his popular stories.

Born in Harlem, New York, and raised in the Bronx, Bryan describes his childhood as “an idyllic time, full of art and music.” Times that provided a solid foundation for a long and successful career in the arts.

As a child Bryan spent his days working hard and drawing pictures, and he finished high school at the age of sixteen. But getting accepted into an art institution would not prove so easy. He was was rejected on the basis of race. On the advice of his teachers, he applied to New York’s prestigious Cooper Union Art School who administered a blind art test for admission into the school. “You put your work in a tray, sculpture, drawing, painting, and it was judged.” Bryan says. “They never saw you. If you met the requirements, tuition was free, . . .” Bryan passed the test with flying colors.Stable

After serving his country in World War II, and continuing his education at Columbia University, Bryan set his eyes on the prize of becoming a children’s book illustrator. For years he worked passionately to achieve that goal, and he faced many obstacles and rejections. His perseverance paid off in 1962 when he became the first African American children’s book author and illustrator to be published. “I never gave up.” Bryan says. “Many were more gifted than I but they gave up. They dropped out. What they faced out there in the world–they gave up.”

Ashley Bryan has gone on to win many awards for his books — often culled from African folk tales — including nine Coretta Scott King awards and honors, a Golden Kite Award, Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, others.

The following is Ashley Bryan in his own words:

The Journey

I grew up in the Bronx, New York.  As we learned the alphabet, my teacher asked us to draw a picture for each letter.  After Z, we sewed the pages together.  The teacher said: “You have just published an Alphabet Book.  You are the author, illustrator, binder.  Take it home, you are the distributor as well.”  I got rave reviews from family and friends for that book.  All of the ones that followed are built on that foundation.

The Inspiration

I am inspired by my studies in the history of art and by the folk art of all cultures.

The Night Has Ears 300 dpi

The Backstory

I am grateful that I do not have to work deals.

The Buzz

My new book, WHO BUILT THE STABLE, Atheneum, 2012 came out to starred reviews.

Kirkus says: “Bryan’s Christmas offering combines a poignant poem about a shepherd boy who builds his own stable with exuberant paintings in a masterful melding of rhythmic text and dazzling art.”

Publisher’s Weekly says: “Bryan wields tempera and acrylic in strong strokes to evoke Bethlehem, (“A rich and verdant land”) with saturated shades of primary and secondary colors, lively expressions on human and animal faces, and sweeping lines to create the impression of movement. “

The state of the industry

The United States means people from all over the world. Representation of these diverse cultures in books for young people allows readers to identify and understand the peoples of the world.

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Beat the Drum 300 dpi

ashley bryan–Don Tate

 


Day 19: James Ransome

February 19, 2013

james' promotional @300dpi

The Children’s Book Council once identified James E. Ransome as “one of the 75 authors and illustrators everyone should know”…and we agree.

The Coretta Scott King Illustration Award winner and oft co-collaborator with wife, Lesa Cline-Ransome, is known for creating stunning art for popular picture books such as Uncle Jed’s Barbershop (Simon & Schuster), Visiting Day (Scholastic), and Words Set Me Free: The Story of a Young Frederick Douglass (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books). His most recent illustration project–another Team Ransome creation–is Light in the Darkness (Hyperion).

However, on Day 19, it is James Ransome the author whose work we seek to illuminate. And so, in his own words:

 

The Journey 

My journey of illustrating books is well documented in my bio which can be found on my website: www.jamesransome.com.  My journey as a writer started as a young child.  In fact, writing is what led me to drawing, because I started by writing stories which soon led to comic books.  The stories were about my friends and I going out on missions to save the world during World War II.  The movie The Dirty Dozen and comic books like Sergeant Rock were big influences on me. At some point, I realized I enjoyed making pictures more than writing stories.

gunner cover

Much later in my life, my wife Lesa encouraged me to write picture books; so I owe her all the thanks.  I took very slow steps. My first entrance into the writing world was to edit a book about Christmas (A Joyful Christmas), for which I selected stories and poems submitted by friends.  The first book I both authored and illustrated covered one of my favorite topics: football.  The idea for this book came about while I was doing school visits. I’d often get into conversations with the students about their favorite football teams, which led to the topic of winning and losing and my  being surprised at how important winning was to the kids I was talking with.  That led to a story called Gunner, A Football Hero.

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The Inspiration

Again, the visual artists who inspire me are well documented.  As far as inspirations from writers, I’d have to say, my wife Lesa Cline-Ransome .  Other writers that inspire me are Chris Van Allsburg whose writing is mysterious and has a surreal quality.  Julius Lester and Virginia Hamilton are two favorites and of course, I’d also have to include Toni Morrison.  One of my favorite passages is “not Doctor Street” from her book Song of Solomon.  She is a master at playing with language and that is what attracts me to all these writers.

 

The Back Story

The inspiration for My Teacher came from a teacher I met years ago who was from the Boca Raton, Florida area. She described her school as one hard hit by the fiscal challenges faced by many schools–but filled with caring, dedicated teachers who, despite setbacks, sought to enrich and inspire their students.

my teacher cover 2

 

The Buzz

My Teacher has been reviewed in Kirkus and received a Library Media Connections Starred Review, included below.

“Ransome has written a thoughtful, heartwarming story celebrating teachers and the teaching profession. An interesting sidelight is the mention of school libraries. The author has written a gentle, pleasing story about a teacher who truly loves her profession. This teacher knows a good teachable moment, is flexible, consoling, and consistently searches different teaching methods. When the classroom children have to write and illustrate a report on a famous person, Ransome emphasizes the research aspect, using computers, and the library. A refrain that consistently appears throughout the story aptly describes the teacher: “Maybe that’s why she keeps teaching.” The writing style is pleasing and readable. Illustrations are full-page full-color spreads, softly complimenting the text. This is a good selection for teachers and good for school librarians!” Dennis LeLoup, School Librarian, Avon Intermediate East and Intermediate West Schools, Avon, Indiana

Highly Recommended

 

New Ventures:

The most exciting thing I’m currently doing is YouTube videos.  My daughter is majoring in film-making at Syracuse University.  When I was her age, becoming a film-maker was also my dream.  Because I had to buy a camera for her, I also bought one for myself and made some videos which she is editing for me.  Here is a link to my first one on painting with watercolor: James Ransome Watercolor Video. I have a new one coming out by February 1st where I discuss how to develop a drawing.

For more information on James Ransome, please visit his website here.


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