Nominations Now Open for 28 Days Later!

September 1, 2014


Happy Labor Day!

As today is the day our nation has set aside for celebrating the myriad social and economic contributions of our American labor force (which all too often tends to go unlauded the rest of the year), it is more than fitting that we’ve chosen today to open up nominations for 28 Days Later-2015!

28 Days Later is The Brown Bookshelf’s flagship initiative, a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Early Readers, Chapter Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans. Each day in February, we will profile a different children’s/young adult author or illustrator, hard-working African American artists who we’ve identified as creators of quality literature for young people!

The nominations we seek should be for authors, illustrators, or books that meet the following criteria:

*New Children’s or Young Adult book releases

*Children’s or Young Adult books that have “flown under the radar”

*African-American authors or illustrators

*Titles published by a traditional publisher for the trade market.


Nominations will be accepted beginning today, September 1, through October 31, 2014. To nominate an author or illustrator, simply post a comment here, or email us at Feel free to nominate as many individuals (or books) as you like!

Note: To avoid nominating individuals who have already been honored, please check out our previous honorees at the following links:

28 DAYS LATER – 2014

28 DAYS LATER – 2013

28 DAYS LATER – 2012

28 DAYS LATER – 2011

28 DAYS LATER – 2010

28 DAYS LATER – 2009

28 DAYS LATER – 2008


Thanks in advance for your participation in this year’s campaign. We can’t wait to see who you nominate!

Day 27: S.A.M. POSEY

February 27, 2014


Since writing can be compared to a recipe, clearly debut author S.A.M. Posey has something cooking.  She mixed three cups of teenage characters, one cup of terrorist, seasoned her pages perfectly with African American history, and added just enough trouble to bake us one of the best drama cakes ever, The Last Station Master.

Raised in Alabama, S.A.M. Posey has always loved reading.  Like most readers, books were a window for her that opened a view to the world.  She now resides in Florida with her family and pets.  For more information about S.A.M. Posey, (including her real name) visit her website at

On this the 27th day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to highlight young adult author:  


The Journey: I never imagined ever writing a book, but I have always loved reading. I grew up in a small, isolated Alabama town, but thanks to books, I had a window on the world. I loved all the places books took me, and the fascinating characters I met along the way. I jokingly tell people I have read the library of every school I have ever attended. I LOVE TO READ. Consequently, I couldn’t imagine being the mother of a child who did not love reading. So, when my son was born, mission make-baby-a-reader was launched. Eventually I noticed that baby wasn’t taking naps because I was constantly reading to him. Sadly, reading had to be cut back to mainly bedtime hours. But even with the mission slightly curtailed, my wonderful boy grew into a happy reader. Then one day the happy reader read no more. The problem? Not enough books on the market that piqued his interest. My voracious reader discovered that boy-centric books were hard to find and books geared toward African-American boys were harder still.  Naturally, I did what moms do best.  Promised to fix things. I can remember my exact words. “I’ll write you a book, sweetie.” In that moment, S.A.M. Posey the storywriter was born. It would take another five years to get a publishing contract, and another two years for the book to be published, but that most definitely was the moment that sparked my writing adventure. Who knew writing could become addicting? Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

The Process

 I hear voices. You know, the imaginary kind. Characters come to me with these killer elevator pitches and they just won’t go away until I tell their stories. They are constantly whispering into my ear. Wait, did that sound crazy? Uh, then I mean, I do a great deal of academic research into a particular period in history and then try to outline the most effective means of turning this information into a modern-day, kid-friendly story. Yeah, that’s it. I plan, I outline, I do a rough draft and eventually the story blossoms into a full manuscript. There is, of course, no figment of my imagination shadowing my every move, intruding into my thoughts, pulling me from my slumber to write the next chapter and throwing tantrums if it feels ignored. Ahem, no, that’s just silly. So, let’s move on. 

The Inspiration  

I love many writers, but all of my favorites authors write for kids. I love Jacqueline Woodson. She had me with Locomotion, Miracle’s Boys, Feathers … I’m crying halfway through her books. I love the way she pulls the reader into a character’s world so that you care what happens to them. A couple of years ago, my publisher asked me to set up a Facebook page, which I did. I somehow saw Jacqueline Woodson’s name as someone I could friend so I sent her a friend request. I was thrilled beyond words that this social media allows me to stalk, I mean follow, such a talented lady.

I also love Angela Johnson. I believe First Part Last was the first book I read by her. Such a powerful story and so masterfully told. I became and instant fan and had to read more of her stuff. I loved Bird, and Haven. I just love her.

Lois Lowry may have been the first children’s writer I read as an adult. I read The Giver, then found Number the Stars and then made sure to read everything she wrote. The Giver remains my favorite book of all times.

 I can’t say that I write like any of these ladies, only that I have learned lessons about writing from them. Lesson one, a character doesn’t have to be likable to make a reader care about what will happen to them. The reader just has to be able to relate to the character. Characters who have flaws and doubts are interesting people; so write well-rounded characters, with all their flaws intact. Lesson two, there doesn’t have to be a dire emergency or immediate danger around every corner for the main character to have to deal with in order for a book to be interesting. The writing should be compelling enough to capture the reader’s curiosity and then hold that curiosity to the end.  

The Last Station Master

The Backstory 

The Last Station Master is my debut novel, but it is not the first book I wrote. The first book I wrote is unsalvageable. The second story I wrote is a sci-fi with so many plot twists that I’m still reworking it. The Last Station Master would be book number three in this writer’s arsenal of words. All of my stories involve me taking some unsuspecting kid just minding his own business and dropping him into an extraordinary situation. Pity the kid who doesn’t know enough history to work his way out of that situation. What can I say? I love history. All of my stories merge the present with the past, because really, least we forget, the past is always with us. 

The Buzz  

*A Royal Palm Literary Award Winner: “An intriguing story with an unusual twist.” 

*School Library Journal Reviewed on JUNE 1, 2013  |  Grades 5-upGr 6–9—In this fast-moving story, African American Nate Daniels expects to be bored when he’s sent to spend the summer with his grandparents in rural North Carolina, but he quickly learns his vacation will be anything but dull. In her debut novel, Posey successfully juggles multiple story lines while developing appealing characters. Posey vividly depicts the rural setting and conjures images of the Old South as Nate’s sleuthing solves his ancestors’ mystery. Information on influential African Americans of the era is provided in the author’s notes, which could encourage further exploration.—M. Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

The State of the Industry: 

The Industry is changing with the times, me thinks. It is so good to see that the publishing world is becoming more diverse and boy-oriented. I have two books on preorder. They’ll both be coming out later this year. Boys of Blur - N. D. Wilson and The Great Greene Heist - Varian Johnson. Both sound like a fascinating read. Can’t wait to get my hands on them!

Thank you, S.A.M. Posey, for your wonderful debut, and we look forward to reading more from you in the future.




Day 26: Kadir Nelson

February 26, 2014

kadirnelsonphotoKadir Nelson is an award-winning American artist whose works have been exhibited in major national and international publications, institutions, art galleries, and museums. Born in Washington, D.C., Nelson earned a Bachelor’s degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Nelson illustrated several New York Times best-selling picture books and his authorial debut, WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball was winner of the Coretta Scott King and Robert F. Sibert Awards, as well as the 2008 CASEY Award for best baseball book.

Nelson is a two-time Caldecott Honor winner, and received an NAACP Image Award for the book JUST THE TWO OF US. His book NELSON MANDELA was a Coretta Scott King honor book in 2014.

Visit with Kadir Nelson at his website, and this video interview from Scholastic.

Sources: Wikipedia, Author’s web site.
Photo Source: Author site.

Day 23: Stephanie Kuehn

February 23, 2014

SkuehnhighresBWThe Journey

When I was growing up, my father was an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and he worked with freelance writers from all over the Bay Area (and beyond). My whole life, we had diverse and creative people coming in and out of our home, and I was enthralled by their passion and the stories they wanted to tell.

Consequently, I wanted to be a writer from a very young age. My parents encouraged me and I was that kid who spent all my classes daydreaming and jotting down stories in notebooks. However, when I went to college, I became interested in linguistics and philosophy, and I stopped writing fiction. That’s disappointing to reflect back on, but if I’m being honest with myself, I think I was at a school with so many talented writers and artists that I was intimidated to take classes with them. The linguistics department was small and vibrant, and it suited my analytical temperament well.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I found writing again. I had young kids and I was going to graduate school (for psychology), and I needed a self-directed creative outlet. I found some of my old writing that I had saved from high school and it inspired me to try and write a full-length novel. I did that, and I kept writing. Writing for teens felt natural to me. I work with young people and find it meaningful to tell stories that they can relate to.

The Back Story
I suppose I got the book deal for Charm & Strange in a fairly traditional manner. I wrote the novel, revised it, and queried agents that I thought would be a good fit. I was fortunate enough to connect with a really wonderful agent who wanted to represent it. The manuscript went on submission to editors and found the perfect home at St. Martin’s. It was definitely not an overnight thing at all, which is what you always hear about. There was a lot of revising and rejection and waiting, waiting, waiting, and some days I thought nothing would happen. But it all worked out and I am very grateful for that.

The Inspiration
Inspiration is everywhere! My reading taste is somewhat eclectic, but I really dig Robert Cormier, Isabel Allende, Walter Mosley. Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Janne Teller, Nick Burd, John Barth, John Fowles, Flannery O’Connor, Blythe Woolston, Meg Rosoff, Toni Morrison, Josephine Miles, and I’ll stop there because I could go on and on. As far as music goes, I’m a huge jazz fan (I played bass for years) and some favorites are Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, Horace Silver, and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

The Process

I start with a concept. That’s what first piques my interest, although it’s usually a concept that’s abstract and difficult to explain. But that difficulty makes me want to write it even more, so that I can say what I mean and say it just right.

Then it usually takes me playing around with the concept and finding a character and voice to see if the idea takes. If it starts to become less abstract and turn into more of a story, and I’m excited to write it, I’ll go with it. If I can write a few chapters and then compose a rough synopsis of what I’m trying to do, I’m usually committed. What I’m finding is hard is learning how to set something aside and then come back to it. I’m getting better about it, but it can be frustrating because inspiration and motivation can feel so fickle.

I live in a small house with a husband and three kids, and there is no sacred office space. I have tiny desk in my bedroom, but I write anywhere I can find a free moment.Charm and Strange

The Buzz

Charm & Strange has been nominated for YALSA’s 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults list, the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal, and WON YALSA’s 2014 William C. Morris award! (ed. note: woot!)

Under The Radar

Brandy Colbert is a young adult author whose first novel, POINTE, will be published in April by Penguin. I’ve read POINTE and it is amazing. Beautiful and layered and complex, with a narrator who is very special and whose story unfolds in ways you wouldn’t expect. Sumayyah Daud is another young adult author whom I really admire, and her debut BEGIN AGAIN, is forthcoming from Dutton.

Thank you so much, Ms. Kuehn! It’s been a pleasure, and we’re looking forward to COMPLICIT this summer. Visit Stephanie Kuehn online for more!


February 20, 2014

Kimberly Reid_author_photo

Dossier: a file containing detailed records on a particular person or subject. –Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Most blogs and individual websites contain a “bio” or an “about me” section.  On Kimberly Reid’s website, her personal information is listed under “Dossier.”  Let’s use that as our first clue of the kind of books Ms. Reid writes.

According to her dossier, Ms. Reid grew up in Atlanta, but now resides in Colorado.  Both places have provided beautiful scenery for her Langdon Prep Series. Also interesting are the similarities between Ms. Reid, and her main character, Chanti.  These similarities provide the next set of clues:

1.  They both attended a prep school where they did not fit in;

2.  Their moms were police detectives and both Kimberly and Chanti wanted to help solve crimes; and

3.  Both have lived most of their lives around law enforcement types.

Have you figured it out?  Yes!  Ms. Reid writes crime-solving mysteries!

Like many authors, Ms. Reid held several jobs prior to finding her dream work as a writer.  She enjoyed many of those jobs (and they provide great background for books) but she found her joy when she became a writer, the job she dreamed of doing since childhood.

On this the 20th day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to spotlight author, Kimberly Reid.

The Journey:

A decade passed between my first attempt at publication and my first sale. I knew nothing about the business and sent full manuscripts to publishing houses. After a handful of rejections, I gave up on seeing my book in print, though I continued to write. By 2005 when I gave it another go, I’d taken workshops, studied the publishing process, and learned that a handful of rejections meant I was just getting started.

I attended a writer’s conference and discussed my novel with agent Kristin Nelson during a pitch session. We’re both in the Denver area so I had met her at some local publishing events. She was the agent I wanted, but she didn’t seem excited by the story I was pitching. I switched gears and quickly pitched my work-in-progress about growing up during the Atlanta Missing Children investigation, on which my mother was a lead detective. That got Kristin’s attention. She asked me to send the manuscript when it was complete. Several months later, I sent it to her, she offered representation, and we sold No Place Safe to Kensington Books in 2006. It won the Colorado Book Award for Creative Nonfiction the following reid no place safe

The rights recently reverted to me and I just released the e-book, so now I’m a hybrid author, traditionally and self-published.

 The Back Story:

Memoir puts it all out there, which can be a little unnerving. I decided to make things up from that point on, but I wasn’t sure what to write. I studied my trunk novels to discover what they had in common: a crime and a teen protagonist even though I’d written them for adults. They also shared a failed attempt at being deep and earnest. I got over my dream of someday winning the Nobel and figured out YA crime fiction with a touch of humor is my thing. I stole from my life again, this time only for the basic premise of a story—a teen girl becomes an amateur detective thanks to skills learned from her cop mom. I really did learn a lot about detective work from my mother, but was never brave enough to put the knowledge to use. Now I can through my heroine, Chanti.

 Kristin pitched My Own Worst Frenemy to my memoir publisher. They liked the story but turned it down because they weren’t sure it was a good fit for their list. Every writer has likely received that particular rejection letter, but what happened a few months later is rare. The editor called my agent to see if the manuscript was still available.  Kensington was launching a new YA line called K-Teen and she was looking for stories for the multicultural imprint K-Teen/Dafina. You need to write a good book, but you also need a very big dose of luck and timing when it comes to being traditionally published.

Kimberly Reid MY_OWN_WORST_FRENEMY_final_cover_original

The Process: 

With my early manuscripts, I had a let-the-muse-guide me approach to writing, thinking it wasn’t very artistic to plan a book. Those manuscripts went unsold because they were a convoluted mess. In my day job as a project manager, I was all about the planning, so I applied those skills to writing. I found it especially useful to outline mysteries. You have to figure out where the red herrings go, keep track of who knows what and when—I found it was just too hard to wing it. There are mystery writers who do it well, but I’m not one of them. Now that I have a basic process, I usually tweak it with each new manuscript.

That’s the thing about The Process. Not only is it different for every writer; it’s different for every book.

Generally, I start by figuring out who the main character is and what she wants. That first step is huge because conflict drives story. My protagonist must want or need something she can’t have, but will try to get, anyway. I also have to know the end before I start. The original endings never stick, but it gives me something to work toward. All of that planning happens in my head for a couple of months before I begin writing, which goes fairly quickly because I know what has to happen to reach the end.

The writing starts with a one-sentence description of the action in each chapter. This helps with the pacing, gives me a high-level view of the story, and ensures something is happening in every chapter to move the story forward. Then I turn the one sentence into a one-page synopsis per chapter, which becomes the outline. kimberly reid sweet-16-to-lifeOnce I have the outline done, I power through the first draft because it’s my least favorite and the most difficult to write. I prefer revision to writing. The final book only vaguely resembles that original outline, but I have to trick myself into thinking I know exactly what will happen or I’d probably never start, much less finish.

The mental writing happens anywhere—grocery store lines, waiting at the doctor’s office, while riding the bus. The physical writing can only happen in my home office, on an ancient laptop with no internet connection. I’m too easily distracted (by pretty much anything) to write anywhere else.

The Buzz:

 My Own Worst Frenemy 

From Kirkus

Chanti is smart and funny, and this multicultural cast is a welcome addition to the world of teen mysteries. This clever mystery with a biting look at class and privilege is a breath of fresh air.

 Creeping With the Enemy 

From School Library Journal

Chanti is an engaging and well-developed character; she’s full of humor and spunk, and readers will definitely want to know if she gets her man—the bad one and the good one. All of her friends, foes, loves, and neighbors round out this intriguing and suspenseful mystery. A great choice for those who like a bit of romance and suspense in their mysteries and a lot of spirit in their detectives.

 Sweet 16 to Life

 From Kirkus

Reid continues the snappy dialogue and clever storytelling of the previous volumes, and readers will detect real growth in Chanti as she works her way through her difficulties. There are times when Chanti’s insight is laugh-out-loud humorous. A cliffhanger ending will have readers clamoring for more.

Find out more about Kimberly Reid on her website: 

Thank you, Kimberly, for giving us a glimpse of you, your books, and your path to publication!














Day 19: Diane Browne

February 19, 2014 smiling

Diane Browne has written over 40 stories/books. She has been published by Ginn in the United Kingdom; Harcourt Brace and Friendship Press in the USA; Heinemann Caribbean, Carlong Publishers, Arawak Publications, and the Ministry of Education in Jamaica.

She has been a visiting author for the Students’ Encounter Programme at the Miami Book Fair, and has presented papers on children’s literature at the National Association of Teacher’s of English, UK; the International Association of School Librarianship, the International Reading Association and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. She has frequently participated as trainer/consultant in writing workshops for both writers of children’s fiction and textbooks, in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.


My journey began when I was quite young; I loved books. I read the usual books, Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys as well as listened to Anancy stories. But I knew that I wanted someone
to write books about us, people who looked like us and lived like us. I longed for this. And then when my two girls were little, I realized that this person could be me. There was nothing for them to read that represented them. There was a particular Enid Blyton book ( a British children’s author) in which there was a golliwog, which was a doll depicting black people, a caricature really, and he was always the one giving trouble or getting into trouble. A subtle but significant message. My older daughter, was then only about eight, and she remembers feeling uncomfortable about this. Our story book heroes were still the golden haired girls and princesses. I had to write children’s stories so my children, all our children would have books reflecting positive images of themselves.

However, my journey is not only a story of my writing for children. It became a journey as a children’s writer with a passion for raising the consciousness, here and in the Caribbean region, of the importance of our own children’s stories to validate our children and their lives. Children must see themselves in books.

My actual writing journey began on a project for the Ministry of Education. The project was to write supplementary readers, the Dr. Bird Readers, for our government-run primary schools (elementary schools), which the majority of the children in the island attend. This was in the late 1970s early 1980s, and it was revolutionary. Story books which featured snow, ice skating, sledding and firesides and chimneys were presented as the norm for children, who lived in a country which was hot all year round, where beaches and palm trees and towering green mountains and tropical vegetation were what they saw. When our writing team went into schools to meet our target audience, we discovered that the children thought that all writers were either foreigners or were dead. The Dr. Bird books changed this. They are still in schools, and even now, I run into adults, a policeman, a nurse, who remember favourite books from that series. My most recent experience was last year with a team interviewing at risk youth, ages 15 – 20, all male. When asked what books they could remember reading, we got the not unexpected looks of astonishment. How could anybody expect them to remember a book? And then they began to recall books they had read in school and call out their names – books I had written.

I grinned with pleasure, as it dawned on them: “Is she write it?” (Amazement!) “Yes, is she write it!”

(Discovery): And I replied, “Yes, is me write it.” Creole is often used to express surprise, a familiarity one with the other. Grins and laughter all round. We were one in this delight of writing and reading our own stories. These were their story books. These are what they remember.

One of my picture story books produced by Heinemman Caribbean at this time was Cordelia Finds Fame
and Fortune. This was also published in the USA in a library series called Passports by Harcourt Brace and Company. Although I had only used Creole structures in the dialogue, and very modified ones, the American edition totally changed those so that a folk song in the book, the first line of which read , ‘Oh Cordelia Brown, whe mek you head so red?’, became ‘Oh Cordelia Brown, what makes your hair so red?’ Nonetheless, I was thrilled that there had been an American edition; at the recognition. And I was fortunate to be part of a Student’s Encounter Programme for the Miami Book Fair where we were able to sing the original version of that folksong.

Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune, is about a little girl who is teased because she has red hair with dark skin, an anomaly. That was connected to my younger daughter’s experience, although I did not realize that that was my inspiration then. Our passions inform our writing journey even when we aren’t looking.

My journey has taken me from picture story books to ‘tween’ books, two Time Travel novels in which the protagonists go to historical events in our past,( because we can do time travel too just like people in big countries); and to my most recent book, a novel in the YA genre, Island Princess in Brooklyn, published by Carlong Publishers, Jamaica, 2011.


ISLAND PRINCESS IN BROOKLYN is a coming of age story of a 13 year-old protagonist, who reluctantly leaves her Granny with whom she has grown, to join her mother in Brooklyn. Princess has to adjust not only to a mother she barely knows, but also to a stepfather she never knew existed, a new country and a new school.

My connections with New York go way back. Most of my father’s family migrated in the 1930s and eventually lived in Jamaica, Long Island (which we always said, to differentiate it from our own Jamaica.)

Did this back story begin with my 15 year-old self who went to visit them, and had such a magical time discovering more family, and Radio City Music Hall, and the United Nations (where she planned to work when she grew up) that she fell in love with New York?

Did that girl reach out across the years to Princess? Or was the genesis of the back story more in the present? Some few years ago when my older daughter was in New York as her husband was doing a fellowship at a hospital in Brooklyn, I went up for the birth of my two grandchildren. And I fell in love again! Big time – with Brooklyn; the Brooklyn of migrant peoples and old-time houses turned into apartments buildings, laundromats where people who did not speak English helped you anyway, dollar stores, grandmas watching children in small front yards, old men sitting on steps in the sun. Different ethnic groups, all there working for the American dream; I saw their lives, our lives.

I was dizzy with joy! I would have written an ode to Brooklyn. Instead Princess McQueen turned up and said, ‘Tell my story’. I wrote in the first person, so it is Princess’ voice we hear. By the end of the story, Princess grows to discover that it may be possible after all to love both Jamaica and New York, that family, may not be perfect – but they are family.

This theme of migration is a part of the fabric of our lives. Everybody has family or knows of someone who has migrated to the USA, the UK or Canada. And therefore there is the social construct of the absent parent who has left children to make a better life overseas before sending for them. These
children left behind here are often called ‘barrel children’ because of the barrels of goodies sent home by the parent, ‘evidence’ of their love and success.

Many have told me how much they love this book; women from cultures as different as Puerto Rico and Uganda said it speaks to them of their lives, the dynamics of their families. They recognise the various levels in the story, including that of the women in a family. In this novel there are three pivotal female figures circling around one another, Princess, her Mum and Granny. As Princess’ Mum says about the relationship to Granny: She was my mother before I was your mother, she was my mother before she was your grandmother.

We all belong to each other. Nothing can change that.

However, the character who has the greatest impact on Princess’s coming to terms with her new life is an African American boy. I didn’t plan that; he just stepped forward and played that role.

In a way Island Princess in Brooklyn celebrates my father’s family and their journey. Interestingly
enough, Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune celebrated the fact that fame and fortune can be found here
at home (no need to migrate). However, Princess is forced to migrate and forced to make a new life
or return home. Is this back story then part of the journey, a journey in which I am now able to look outwards from our island to our people overseas? This circle of family, of story, fills me with wonder.


“This delightful well-wrought novel . . . All the challenges of the young protagonist, who tells her story in the first person, are handled with emotional impact and veracity of experience. We are treated to the world as seen by the new migrant. It is a fresh and appealing point of view that makes for fast-paced reading that often melds the two countries . . . Browne builds a solid map of Jamaican culture and mores that her youthful migrant can use to comfort herself in the strange new situations she encounters without being obtrusive or in any way false or forced. This is one of the attractive features of the narrative, for the young protagonist becomes more and more appealing as she faces each challenge that comes her way.” Mary Hanna: Bookends, The Sunday Observer: Jamaica

“a delightful read” — Geoffrey Philp

Diane Browne has won awards for her children’s stories/books in Jamaica, including a prestigious Musgrave Medal for her contribution to the field of children’s literature from the Institute of Jamaica.

She also won the special prize for a children’s story in the Commonwealth, (a worldwide association of countries) from the Commonwealth Foundation, 2011.


I was inspired by the West Indian writers of adult fiction like Sir V. S. Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, Edgar Mittelholzer, John Hearne. They were telling our stories, stories I understood about people whom I recognised. This was the understanding and recognition in literature that I wanted to bring to our children. In contemporary children’s literature I was inspired by the American Judy Blume, especially her book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, as she presents us with the multi-faceted characters of real young people; Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce and Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time led me to a fascination with time travel, made me want to create time travel for my people. I suppose everything I read and liked, urged me onwards to create our own stories.


In the Caribbean we need more opportunities for publishing of children’s books, and more people buying books, but too often disposable income is limited. Moreover, foreign children’s books undersell local books because of their economies of scale. Nonetheless, I do not think that indigenous literature gets the support of our education institutions which our children and our countries deserve. I’m delighted that there are more and more African American children’s books. That these books, as well as Black British books are also available to us, is a good thing. They provide our children with images of children like themselves, even if there are cultural differences. What I would love to see is Americans being interested in children’s material from the Caribbean. The Brown Bookshelf by affording me the opportunity of writing this blog, has highlighted us, and I thank you.


I write as the spirit moves me, as the characters appear, as a story set in a place or time calls out to me.

I have no set pattern and often I’m thinking when next I’ll get the time to write while I’m doing other things. I usually write an entire story and then rewrite, edit, etc. over a period of time. If it’s a novel, the first draft is always done before I return to any specific thing within the story. Then I grow my story in layers.

Thank you so much, Ms. Browne! I love thinking of growing a story in layers. (*And* it makes me think of cake, which I also happen to love.) Readers, visit Diane Browne’s blog for more about her extensive work, and a wealth of resources on Caribbean children’s literature! You can also read an excerpt from ISLAND PRINCESS IN BROOKLYN over at Anansesem Magazine.

DAY 17: Nikki Shannon Smith

February 17, 2014

Nikki Shannon Smith Headshot

Last summer, I visited the Little Golden Books exhibit at the Smithsonian. As I perused the historic titles, I had no idea I would meet Nikki Shannon Smith, a current Little Golden Books author. Her story is amazing. She’s a perfect picture of a “can-do-never-give-up” attitude. An attitude that resulted in The Little Christmas Elf.

Please join us in honoring Nikki Shannon Smith on Day 17 of 28 Days Later.

The Journey: My Path to Publishing

I’m not one of those people who always knew she would be an author. I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, the first female president, and what I actually became: an educator. Somewhere along the way, between teaching and being a wife and a mother, I lost myself. There was nothing I did “just for me.” Every moment of my day was spent on other people, and I had forgotten to play, to dream. I was becoming resentful and bored. I was wilting. I stayed home alone one day in 2007, and watched Oprah. (I know how this sounds, but I’m telling the truth.) This particular episode was about women who looked way younger than their age. Oprah asked each one of them what their secret was, and they all said they had hit a point where they realized they weren’t happy, and changed course to follow their dreams. I didn’t need to be as drastic as they were (leaving husbands, quitting jobs…), but I had to nourish myself.
Within minutes, I hopped out of the bed, ran to my kids’ rooms, and started pulling books off the shelves. I had always been a reader and a writer, even as a little girl. It was how I escaped and made sense of the world. It was how I forgot that I wasn’t sure where I fit in. It was what set my imagination free. I needed to write for children. And maybe… if I worked really hard, my stories would make their way out into the world and into the hands of little people. Maybe they would laugh, or wonder, or try, or believe… or see themselves on a page in one of my books.
A few of the books in my hands that day were by Nikki Grimes. I went to her website and found all the resources an aspiring children’s author could ask for. I methodically followed those steps. I joined SCBWI, I bought the recommended books, joined a critique group, attended my first conference… the trajectory had been set. I wrote as often as I could, usually at night. All of my early manuscripts are picture books. Many of them are light-hearted stories with African-American main characters. None of them are published.
The one that got published was the one I didn’t want to write. It was a December homework assignment for my critique group—a story about Christmas. I struggled to even come up with an idea. I waited until the last minute… and then a story that I really loved came pouring out. A couple of years later, it sold!
Elf Cover (641x800)The Back Story: How I Got “The Deal”
I submitted the story (then called The Littlest Elf) for critique at my local SCBWI conference. It landed in the hands of Diane Muldrow, Editor at Random House/Little Golden Books. She said nice things about it, and made some suggestions, but didn’t ask for it. I liked her suggestions, edited the manuscript, and sent it to her a month later—snail mail. (I did this myself, I didn’t have an agent…still don’t.) I waited and didn’t hear back. I spent a lot of time perseverating over the whole thing. I literally paced the hall. I waited some more, and then decided to move on. Thirteen months after I sent the manuscript, I got an email from Diane… wondering if it was still available. I made quite a scene in my school office, and then started researching how to negotiate my own contract. I have to say that my first publishing experience has been nothing but delightful. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about people being unhappy with their editors, or the illustrations, or the timeline, or the deal, or whatever. I don’t have a single complaint or regret. It has been a dream-come-true.
The Inspiration: Who Inspired Me
I have many sources of inspiration, so it’s hard to pinpoint just a few. When I was a very young child I was an avid reader. (I got in trouble for reading instead of doing what I was supposed to do.) There weren’t a wide variety of children’s books by and about African-Americans, though. I do remember re-reading Black is Brown is Tan, by Arnold Adoff, over and over again. I remember looking at those pictures and thinking about how the shades of the people in the family resembled my own. That may well have been the first time I was inspired by a book. Two other authors I read a lot of as a young person were Judy Blume and Stephen King. When I was a teenager, my father gave me a box of books by African-American authors that were his from the 1960’s. Among them were books by Nikki Giovanni and Richard Wright. There was an honesty in their work that struck me.

Although I still didn’t consider becoming a writer, those books stayed with me in a way that I still feel today. Once I became a mother and an elementary school teacher, my love of children’s books resurfaced. There was so much more available, in terms of diversity. I’m inspired by, and thankful for, all of those who create work with the brown child in mind.

Another inspiration for me was Bill Cosby. In my parents’ house, we weren’t allowed to watch TV on weeknights… until The Cosby Show. I knew just by that change something important was happening. I loved the way the show (and later A Different World) paid homage to the culture while still addressing universal themes. I loved that the parents were professionals, but slipped into dialect sometimes—they portrayed the complexity of being African-American. Again, I was seeing myself—my family. More than that, EVERYBODY was watching. People from other races were seeing “us” and finding similarities, relating to our lives, and laughing with us instead of at us.

These varied experiences with books and media inspired me in a way that influences my writing. I write everything from funny to serious, from picture books to young adult. I write stories with Black characters that aren’t about being Black, and stories that directly speak to the Black Experience. I have a few stories with non-human characters, and of course The Little Christmas Elf, with an elf who in my mind, is Latina. I even write poems that should never see the light of day. I feel fortunate to be witnessing a change in children’s books, and I hope I can contribute, and maybe even inspire someone else.

The Process: How I Work

The process for The Little Christmas Elf was not my typical process. This was early in my writing career, and most of the time little ideas would just pop into my head and I’d start writing, sometimes not knowing where the story was going to go. Other times, the full plot would come to me, and I’d just add details along the way. ELF was incredibly difficult for me. For one thing, I don’t like to be told what to do. It was homework, for goodness sake. Another challenge was that a Christmas story didn’t feel like “my thing.” I don’t know why; I love Christmas. Probably, I was being stubborn—putting up my own hurdles.

With ELF, I sat at the computer numerous times and got up again without writing a word. I didn’t have a single idea. NOT ONE. Right before the homework was due, I knew I didn’t have a choice, and figured it didn’t have to be good. It just had to be done. I came up with the character first: the smallest elf in the workshop. I named her Nina, for the Spanish word niña (little girl). I got a mental picture of her, very small at a great big table, making a toy, but didn’t have the plot yet. It didn’t take long to decide that she would be struggling to finish the toy on time. From there, the story flowed, until it was time for Santa to arrive. I didn’t want to give her an easy out, but couldn’t think of a way for her not to finish the toy on time and still have a happy ending. I sat for a while, and then got the idea for the end. I drafted it in one sitting, and was pretty satisfied with it. Of course, I revised and revised, but the characters and plot never changed. Sure wish I could do that again….

If you can’t tell from this, I’m not an outliner. It’s strange, because I am such a planner and an organizer in all other aspects of my life. I actually get on people’s nerves with it. With writing, I tend to let ideas marinate in my brain for a long time, and then one day I sit down and write. I’m writing young adult novels now, and I work the same way with those. By the time I start writing, I have the characters and plot figured out in my mind. Except for some reason, I get to page 60 or so, then have to plot and take character  notes get “un-stuck.”  

Nikki signing

THE BUZZ: ELF Publicity
Little Golden Books aren’t reviewed and publicized in the same way that some books are, but there has been some fun “buzz.” Little Nina even made a cameo on The Today Show for Christmas 2013.

“This sweetly tender story feels like a Little Golden classic already and the gentle art evokes the happiest of childhood memories.” Connie Goldsmith, reviewer for The Book Report/California Kids Newsletter


The Today Show: Jill’s Steals and Deals, 12/4/13, The Little Christmas Elf and other Little Golden Books are featured.

Cynsations, 11/19/11, New Voice: Nikki Shannon Smith on The Little Christmas Elf
Writing Teazurs, 7/12/12, Interview with Nikki Shannon Smith: Author of The Little Christmas Elf
California Kids! December 2011, The Book Report, p. 13
The Davis Enterprise, 9/15/11, Korematsu Teacher Celebrates her First Book
The Davis Enterprise, 11/27/11, Downtown Says Happy Holidays!
Davis Life Magazine, 4/13/12, Korematsu’s Author on Stage

More about Nikki . . .

Website: Nikki Shannon Smith and


Twitter: @nikki2smith

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks


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