Day 11: Donna Washington

dlwstorytellerChildren’s book author Donna Washington grew up with storytelling all around her. At the dinner table, her  father would share mesmerizing tales that sent Donna’s imagination soaring. In college, she studied speech and theater and learned she had a gift for storytelling too.

Donna has won many awards and accolades for her work. Her recordings of “Live and Learn: The Exploding Frog and Other Stories” won a Parent’s Choice Award. Her CD, “The Sword and The Rose,” garnered a Storytelling World Award. Each year, she’s a sought-after performer at festivals, libraries and schools around the country.

Her writing sings and brings culture to life in inventive and enduring ways. We are proud to celebrate Donna Washington on Day 10 of our campaign:

The Journey

My path to becoming a published author begins in a most improbable way.  I’d just finished doing a storytelling series for a book company out of Illinois.  They decided to break out a few of the stories and turn them into wordless picture books.  They sent me out to California to perform some of the tales and as I left the stage a woman walked up to me and asked if I would be interested in writing a book.  Being young and foolish, I decided to do an anthology.  It took prideoftalestwelve years from conception to publication.  A Pride of African Tales (HarperCollins), illustrated by James Ransome,  was the first book I wrote, but the second one to be released!

The Inspiration

I have always loved children’s books.  My first love in book form was What Mary Jo Shared by Janice May Udry.  I suspect it was because it was the only book I had where the characters looked like me.  Seeing African American people doing normal things in a book made me very happy.  My second love was Tikki Tikki Tembo.  I loved the wordplay and the repetition.  I can’t say that I remember the illustrations all that much.  My favorite works are often stories that play with language and create amazing images whether you look at the pictures on the page or not.  Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, Leo and Diane Dillon, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, and Madeline L’Engle are a few of my favorties. 

The Back Story

My most recent book is called Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa (HarperCollins), illustrated by Shane W. Evans.   I wanted to write a book that happens at Kwanzaa time bulilrabbitt is not about Kwanazaa.  There are not very many Kwanzaa books that are just for fun; most of them explain how the festival is celebrated. The book was received well and there were lots of reviews from websites that promote books for children. 

Here are a few of my favorites:

“When you celebrate something you aren’t too little, you can make a difference like Little Rabbit. He ended up making a big surprise for his grandma. When he told all the friends, they joined in to make it a great Kwanzaa fest.”

– Review from a child named Grayce, Reader Reviews For Readers By Readers

I wanted to read this book with my daughter to educate both of us on the celebration of Kwanzaa. She had learned about the holiday in school and I wanted to understand and reinforce global celebrations that are unique from our customary approach. Through the story of Little Rabbit, who wants to make Kwanzaa special for his sick Granna rabbit, we learn the 7 principles of Kwanzaa – the Nguzo Saba – which are timeless and universal themes of humanity.  “Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa” is a beautiful book, great story – sure to be a classic.”

– Review from Grayce’s parents, Reader Reviews For Readers By Readers

Here is another review that is typical of the reception the book enjoyed:

Momsword.org Review:

“I happen to see this book at my local bookstore when I was looking around for books for my 3.5 year old. I picked it up and read it and first thing that came to my mind was “what a cute story!” This book is great for kids . . . the illustrations grab the kids’ attention as well as the wording of the book.

This is a book for people who celebrate Kwanzaa and for people who want to teach about Kwanzaa to children of ages 3-8 (although according to Amazon.com, the age group for this book is 4-8). I did show this to my 3.5 year old and after I read it to her, she said, “I want this book, Mommy! I love it!”

So this book is mother-tested and kid-approved :).

FYI: At the end of the book, the seven principles of Kwanzaa are listed. So this is a must-have in your Kwanzaa or holiday book collection!

The Next Chapter

My upcoming book is called Boo Stew and will be published by Peach Tree Press in Georgia. The story originateed during a roundtable storytelling game I play with my children. It is a play on Goldilocks. We are still in the illustrator stage, and I hope that it will be out in a couple of years. The heroine of the book is a young girl named Curly Locks who is a horrible cook. Despite her other fine characteristics, it is this lack of skill in the kitchen that ends up winning the day.

The State of the Industry

The industry is changing.  There are fewer companies producing fewer books.  Cartoon characters and serials are the best selling books and many books cross over to the cartoon network.  As companies compete with electronic media and video, more and more people claim that the print book is moving towards its end.  As for me, I don’t think books will ever die, but we most certainly may reach a point where we no longer indulge in paper books.   I personally will be sad if that happens, and I hope it won’t ever.  How that will affect authors and illustrators, I don’t know, but I will be there, right in the middle of it, writing.

The Buzz

Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa

“Being the youngest in the family is hard for Li’l Rabbit at Kwanzaa. Unlike his
siblings, he can’t create elaborate gifts to share. He does find a way to
contribute to the celebration, though. Granna is too sick to cook the big feast,
Karamu, that she usually prepares. Li’l Rabbit remembers Granna saying that
Kwanzaa is a special time for helping others, and he tells the family’s animal
friends that she is ill. In a warm surprise, the animals come together with food
and gifts to celebrate with Granna. From bespectacled Poppa Squirrel reading in
a tree and carpenter Groundhog with his tool belt to Momma Field Mouse pulling
her children in a wagon, the characters in Evans’ very bright, playful, textured
pictures capture the spirit of community that is the essence of the holiday . . . “

– Booklist

A Pride of African Tales

“Like a group of lions, these six stories are majestic. “Anansi’s Fishing
Expedition” (Ghana), “The Roof of Leaves” (the Congo), “The Wedding Basket”
(Nigeria), and “The Talking Skull” (Cameroon) are among the tales included. Each
one begins with a short note of explanation and is identified as a
pourquoi, trickster, or cautionary tale. A map of Africa pinpoints the
countries of origin and brief source notes are appended. The morals are not
lost, but the writing is not heavy-handed. The smooth retellings are paired with
extraordinarily lush watercolors . . . These selections can be
read alone but they beg to be shared aloud. The phrasing and cadences invite
pauses and should encourage successful retelling–good for librarians and those
who coach children in storytelling contests. A handsome package.”

– School Library Journal

Find out more about Donna Washington at http://donnawashington.com/index.html.

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One Response to Day 11: Donna Washington

  1. tadmack says:

    It’s not every storyteller whose spoken word tradition travels well to the written word. Kudos to Ms. Washington and her lively, fun books.

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