DAY 11: RONALD SMITH

February 11, 2016

HoodooAuthorPic (1)

 

How can you not like a character named Hoodoo, who can’t cast a spell? Now that’s what I call creative!  Our spotlight is on an amazing writer, who has written a debut novel that awarded him the 2016 Coretta Scott King, John Steptoe Award for new Talent!  We not only applaud you, but The Brown Bookshelf is honored to spotlight , on this 11th Day of February,

Ronald Smith

 

Please tell us about “The Journey.”
I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a child. I grew up reading fantasy and sci-fi stories, and loved creating imaginary worlds. As an adult, I found my way into advertising, and became a writer of TV commercials. It was a lot of fun for a long time, and writing fiction fell by the wayside. “At least I’m getting paid for writing,” I often told myself.

Then one day, my younger brother, who was working at a Barnes & Noble at the time, turned me on to some great books for young readers: The His Dark Materials books by Philip Pullman, The Sabriel Trilogy by Garth Nix. Harry Potter, of course. That’s when I realized I wanted to write stories again. There was a period of a few years where I was writing very literary short stories, but seeing these great kid’s books inspired me to write what I loved to read as a kid: tales of adventure and other worlds.

Once I decided to focus on children’s lit, I found my voice. Several years later, I was signed by an agent and got a book deal

How about “The Back Story?”
I was fortunate in that I queried an agent who liked Hoodoo, but felt it needed some work. She told me what she thought wasn’t working, and asked if I’d be open to revise and resubmit. She didn’t have to do this, and most agents don’t. I agreed with her advice, and when I sent the manuscript back months later she signed me.

A few days after going on submission, I had offers from several publishers and the book went to auction, which, well, was pretty awesome, to say the least. I signed with Clarion, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

What does your Writing Process look like?
I write organically, without an outline or scene-by-scene plan. Only once I get a few chapters down, can I really see where the story is going. It takes shape as I write. It’s fun, because I am discovering it along the way, just as a reader would. I’ve tried writing programs like Scrivener but they just confuse me. I do outline a little, once I know where the story is going, but mostly it is all part of what John Gardner called “The Fictive Dream,” that place you go in your subconscious when you are really in the zone. It is a type of fugue-state.

I no longer work in advertising, and write every day in my favorite coffee shop. Some days I write at home, but I like having some background white noise, so the ambience in a coffee shop fuels the creative process. Plus…caffeine.

ron smith's book

The Buzz on “Hoodoo.”

2016 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s 2015 Choices List

“The authenticity of Hoodoo’s voice and this distinctive mashup of genres make Smith one to watch. Seekers of the scary and “something different” need look no further.”
Kirkus

“The chilling supernatural Southern Gothic plot action is enhanced by atmospheric description of rural life in Depression-era Alabama…Readers will particularly enjoy Hoodoo’s authentic and engaging narrative voice.”
School Library Journal

“Hoodoo’s first-person narrative, which flows beautifully, has an appealing and natural cadence…Through his protagonist, Smith demonstrates an eye for detail and a knack for evocative imagery as well as for telling a riveting story with a dollop of southern gothic appeal.”
Booklist

“Filled with folk and religious symbols, this creepy Southern Gothic ghost story is steeped in time and place. Hoodoo’s earnest first-person narrative reveals a believable innocent who can ’cause deeds great and powerful.'”
Horn Book Magazine

“What a splendid novel. Reader, be prepared to have your foundations shaken: this is a world that is deeper, more wondrous, more spiritually charged than you may have ever imagined.”
Gary D. Schmidt, two-time Newbery Honor medalist and author of The Wednesday Wars

“Oh, wow! Hoodoo may just be the perfect book for a rainy day. Find a dog that will sit with you . . . and read on to your heart’s content. What a fun discovery!”
Nikki Giovanni, poet and award-winning author of Rosa

What are your thoughts on the State of the Industry

Shortly after Hoodoo was accepted by my publisher, the We Need Diverse Books movement took off. I think this is an exciting time to be writing children’s books, especially if you are writing about characters that fall outside the mainstream. I think publishers want these books, and are eager to find those that tell a great story. Has it come too late? Perhaps. But change takes time, and thanks to the voices of a few tireless advocates—booksellers, librarians, authors—diverse books are beginning to really be noticed. Every kid needs to see him or herself reflected in books. It’s simple. Seeing yourself, or someone who looks like you or talks like you or lives where you live, makes reading relatable to kids.

My website is http://www.strangeblackflowers.com
Twitter: @ronsmithbooks

Thank you, Ronald Smith, for your contributions to children’s literature!


Day 9: Marguerite Abouet

February 9, 2016

akissi On Day 9, we welcome back Marguerite Abouet, whose revolutionary YA graphic series AYA was a global hit in 2007; she’s returned with a delightful series for younger readers, featuring the adventures of the mischievous and resourceful Akissi. In the first book, Akissi: Feline Invasion,released in the U.S. in 2013, Abouet “dishes out bursts of simultaneous hilarity and horror in African vignettes aimed at a younger audience,” according to Kirkus, where it received a starred review.

“It isn’t often when I see something in a children’s book that shocks me, but the final story was a glorious jaw dropper.”

School Library Journal.

Marguerite Abouet

The adventures and shenanigans of Akissi, her brother Fofana, and friends “are both universal and absolutely particular to her milieu,” writes Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing. “It’s the perfect combination of gross-out humour, authority clashes, and general mischief to capture a kid’s interest.” Comprised of seven humorous and sometimes outrageous short stories featuring kid-friendly ups and downs with West African flavor, Akissi is pure fun, and with Books 1-6 already published in Europe, we hope to see more of her stateside very soon.


Day 4: Daniel José Older

February 4, 2016

DJO PhotoDaniel José Older is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, composer, and author fiction for adults as well as teens. He facilitates workshops on storytelling, music, and anti-oppression organizing at public schools, religious houses, and universities. He co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, and his short stories and essays have appeared in Tor.com, Salon, BuzzFeed, Gawker, New Haven Review, PANK, and Strange Horizons.

Older’s YA debut, Shadowshaper, was named a Junior Library Guild selection, New York Times Notable Book, and named to numerous “Best Of” lists of 2015. “In the best urban fantasy,” writes reviewer Holly Black in the Times, “The city is not just a backdrop, but functions as a character in its own right, offering up parallels between personal histories and histories of place. That is certainly true in Daniel José Older’s magnificent “Shadow­shaper,” which gives us a Brooklyn that is vital, authentic and under attack.” We’re honoured to welcome Daniel José Older to the Brown Bookshelf on Day Four:

Shadowshaper_cover

Like most books, Shadowshaper began with just a vague notion, a few scraps of character and magic and a sense that whatever this story was going to shape up to be, it wasn’t one that’s told enough in the world. I had grown up like many sci-fi/fantasy dorks, wondering where I fit into all those wild worlds of monsters and space battles. I was working with black and brown kids in Bushwick and Bed-Stuy and they were wondering the same thing.

Sierra Santiago showed up fully formed in my imagination – she was mischievous and hardheaded, determined and loyal and confused and shy and confident, all at the same time. The next step was building a world around her: family, friends, and the whole ever-changing universe of Brooklyn. When I say ever-changing, I mean that very literally: gentrification caused blocks I’d written about in the early stages of Shadowshaper to be totally different in look and feel by the time I was finishing edits, several years later. This drastic, devastating change on the face of the city became a part of the worldbuilding – how could it not be? And Sierra responds to it as she crisscrosses the volatile landscape of her home.

The story of Shadowshaper changed many, many times throughout the process – more times than any other project I’ve worked on. There were always certain elements and moments at the heart of it that remained though: the importance of art and culture as tools of survival, the power of friendship, the frustration of someone else trying to define you and take over your heritage. The night out with Robbie at Club Kalfour, when the murals dance sultry two-steps amidst the revelers, has been there since very early on, as has the attack on the party at Sully’s, but so much changed around them. For years, I had the story pinned to my office wall and little cartoon sketches on Post-It notes that I would take down, rearrange, scrap entirely.

At times it felt like the process would never end, that it’d just become this ongoing, forever morphing creature living on my office wall and in my mind – but of course, that moment finally came when final decisions had to be made as Shadowshaper the process became Shadowshaper the book. Agents and editors rejected it over forty times in the course of it finding its home at Arthur A. Levine Books. It went on to be named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, as well as to multiple other best of 2015 lists, and was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize in Young People’s Literature.

The most important response to Shadowshaper has always been the feedback from young people who see themselves in Sierra and have never had the experience of seeing themselves, their problems and triumphs, their hair and skin, reflected in a YA fantasy hero before. That’s why I sat down to write the book in the first place, and why I’m still writing today.


Day 28: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

February 28, 2015

kareem author photoHe’s far more awesome than I realized.

When I went to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s website to get a little background info on him for this post, I discovered a man that has contributed more to our society than I believe most people are aware of. While I don’t have the space to recount all of his accomplishments here, I’ll bullet-point a fraction of them:

  • NBA All-Time Leading Scorer
  • US Cultural Ambassador, 2012
  • California’s STEAM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics) Afterschool Ambassador, 2012
  • Cancer Research Advocate
  • Columnist for TIME Magazine and LA & OC Registers
  • Award-winning Filmaker
  • New York Times Best Selling Author of 9 Titles (including 3 children’s books)
  • Two-time NAACP Image Award Winner (What Color Is My World & On the Shoulders of Giants)

It is his for work as a children’s book author that we celebrate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on this final day of 28 Days Later. The three, well-reviewed children’s titles he has co-authored with Raymond Obstfeld (thus far) are:

 

Streetball Crew Series, Book Two: Stealing the Game

stealing the game cover

 

“Abdul-Jabbar and Obstfeld…team up for another exploration of the intersection of sports and life conduct. Chris is a good, quiet kid who likes to keep his head down. As he says, ‘I was friendly to everyone but friends with no one.’ Still, if the machinery of thought made much noise, Chris would be a one-man band. For a 13-year-old, he does considerable shrewd, high-ground thinking, as do his friends (‘You know,’ one says, ‘not talking about things doesn’t actually make them disappear’). Where it really shows itself is on the basketball court, where he plays a savvy, court-wise game. Enter his brother, Jax, a golden boy who appears to have fallen from the pedestal upon which his well-intentioned parents have placed him, and Chris’ still waters are about to feel a hefty stone break their surface. Add his classmate Brooke, a sharp girl with plenty of her own baggage, and a waterspout is in the making. The authors’ light hand allows readers to inhabit the characters; to taste the value of respect, dignity and vulnerability; and to embrace the elemental joy of sports-all without ever feeling like they are being tube fed. The shifting structure of the story and a clever series of blind alleys keep readers on tenterhooks. A deft, understated sports thriller with a solid moral compass.”Kirkus

“In another exemplary mix of issues and action both on and off the court, the middle-school cast of Sasquatch in the Paint (2013) returns to take on a team of older, bigger, thuggish rivals amidst a rash of local burglaries. Thirteen-year-old Chris is stunned when his golden-boy big brother, Jax, suddenly shows up at home with gambling debts after (he claims) dropping out of law school. With extreme reluctance, Chris agrees to help Jax get out from under-both by enlisting his street-ball buddies against a club team to settle a bet and by helping his brother break into a pawnshop. At the same time, Chris asks his Sherlockian friend Theo to check out Jax’s story, and he also definitely beats the odds by finding common ground with brilliant, acid-tongued classmate Brooke. Along with vividly drawn characters, the coauthors craft a mystery with artfully placed clues that Jax might not be the loser he seems to be, and also inject plenty of exciting, hard-fought basketball in which speed, strategy, and heart play equally strong roles. Flashbacks crank up the tale-s suspense, flashes of humor brighten it, and the end brings both surprise twists and just deserts all round.”Booklist Online

 

Streetball Crew Series, Book One: Sasquatch in the Paint

sasquatch cover bigger

 

“The author team behind What Color Is My World? opens the Streetball Crew series with the story of Theo Rollins who, though only an eighth grader, is already more than six feet tall. A self-proclaimed nerd, Theo gets recruited for the school basketball team, even though he’s terrible at the sport. Additionally, Theo is puzzled by new girl Rain, who’s smart but being threatened by a guy on a motorcycle; his widowed father is unexpectedly interested in dating; and he might be kicked off the school’s Aca-lympics team if he can’t balance his responsibilities. The depth and realism Abdul-Jabbar and Obstfeld bring to the novel keep it from being a run-of-the-mill sports story. Rain, for instance, is Muslim, while Theo is one of only a few black kids at his school; their ostracism doesn’t overshadow the action, but it isn’t ignored, either. Perhaps most refreshing is the fact that the authors allow Theo to gain confidence in basketball without the predictable game-winning shot. Readers will feel a kinship with Theo as he maneuvers through tough but realistic choices.”Publishers Weekly

“A crisp tale of sports, smarts and what it means to be your own man or woman-or boy or girl, if you happen to be 13. It seems to be an embarrassment of riches to be, say, one of the best basketball players in history and also write tightly entertaining novels for kids, but there you have Abdul-Jabbar. Surely Obstfeld added polish and framing, but this obviously is a work of someone intimate with sports and, by extension, how sports can serve as metaphor for a way of being in the world. Here, newly tall eighth-grader Theo Rollins is trying to find his way between the brainiacs and the basketball players. Along the way, he meets Rain-aka Crazy Girl-a sort of ‘girl with the dragon tattoo’ minus the heaviest baggage. Characters, both friend and foe, feel real; there is talk of abandonment as well as serious comments about the skewed vision Americans have of Islam. The deepest running narrative pivots around sports, but the story has much to give. Theo’s cousin’s taxonomy of basketball players is broadly applicable: There are the happy-go-lucky, the self-conscious and ‘those who never want the game to be over, because each minute is like living on some planet where you got no problems….[They are], for that brief time, in a place where everything they thought or did mattered.’ Fearless, caring sports fiction.” —Kirkus

 

What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors

what color is my world

 

“Making use of an unusual format, former NBA star Abdul-Jabbar and his On the Shoulders of Giants coauthor Obstfeld offer an upbeat history lesson set within a fictional narrative framework. Siblings Ella and Herbie, whose story unfolds in typeset chapter booklike pages surrounded by warmly lit paintings of their adventures, are less than enthusiastic about their fixer-upper of a new house. But as eccentric handyman Mr. Mital unveils the house’s potential, he also teaches them about contributions made by African-American inventors (‘There’s more to our history than slavery, jazz, sports, and civil rights marches,’ he says). Flaps show lifelike portraits of individuals like Dr. Mark Dean, a v-p at IBM; Dr. Charles Drew, who developed the concept of blood banks; and nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker squirt gun. Ella’s off-the-cuff notes appear inside the flaps, while several spreads provide detailed profiles of other inventors and graphic novel–style passages. The banter between the siblings and, in particular, Ella’s snarky zingers keep things from feeling didactic—it’s an entertaining and often surprising exploration of lesser-known innovators, past and present.” Publishers Weekly

“A fictional story lies at the heart of this unusually formatted collective biography. Twins Herbie and Ella and their parents have just moved into a run-down older home; while they work to fix it up, Mr. R. E. Mital, an eccentric handyman hired by their parents, recounts the contributions of African American scientists and inventors. As the figures are introduced, foldouts on the sides of the pages contain Ella’s notes (full of humor, as well as facts) about each one. More detailed profiles of other inventors fill the spreads, and some are introduced in graphic-novel-style pages. Instead of famous inventors such as George Washington Carver and Benjamin Banneker, readers are introduced to lesser-known individuals, including Alfred L. Cralle (inventor of the ice-cream scoop), Dr. Henry T. Sampson (gamma electric cell), and nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson (Super Soaker). Information about the subjects’ home, lives, and avocations is a welcome addition…the large trim size, numerous illustrations, and unusual format (not to mention the celebrity author) will certainly attract browsers. And a surprise discovery about Mr. Mital’s identity at the end will leave readers with something to ponder.”School Library Journal

 

For more information on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his work, please visit his website.


Day 25: Georgia McBride

February 25, 2015

georgiamcbrideGeorgia McBride is founder of Georgia McBride Media Group, home of Month9Books, Swoon Romance, and Tantrum Books. She develops content for film and TV, and is also a speculative fiction writer. Georgia founded the #YAlitchat hashtag and weekly chat on Twitter in 2009.

Georgia is one of Publishers Marketplace’s most prolific publishers and has spent most of 2014 atop the editors lists in Young Adult, Digital New Adult and Digital deals. She’s completed over 120 publishing deals on behalf of three imprints in the past 24 months.

Georgia McBride Media Group imprints publish debut authors as well as USA Today and NY Times bestselling author Diane Alberts, Bram Stoker Award nominated author Janice Gable Bashman, Amazon #1 Dystopian authors Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki, Amazon US #1 erotica author Kenya Wright, Amazon #1 Children’s Fantasy author Nicole Conway, Amazon UK #1Teen Mythology and Legends author Jen McConnel, and renowned Young Adult authors such as Jackie Morse Kessler, Michelle Zink and Cindy Pon.

On the film and TV side, The Undertakers series has been optioned for film by Moderncine Films with the creator of the Final Destination films attached. Dead Jed: Adventures of a Middle School Zombie has been optioned to Nickelodeon, and Nameless has been optioned to Benderspink.

But wait, there’s more! Ms. McBride’s list of credits is extraordinarily impressive — she is no joke. And we are honoured to share her words here on The Brown Bookshelf.

As the effort to increase diversity in the book community grows with new initiatives such as We Need Diverse Books, Diversity in YA and of course, this very site, I am struck by how many “discussions” are being had about Diversity without anyone addressing the sweeping changes that need to happen in order for that dream to be fully realized.

Talking about the need is a fantastic first step. We have come a long way from ignoring the lack of diversity and refusing to admit there is a problem, to now to freely discussing the need for diversity and challenging those in a position of power to act upon it.


When I first started writing young adult material in 2008, I took a lot of heat from people for a statement I made on Twitter about being afraid my book would be stocked in the back of the bookstore because it is written by an African American writer and features a diverse cast of characters.

Many shouted from behind their screens about how if the book was “good enough,” it would certainly receive the same placement as any other book of its kind. It was a heated discussion that ensued and one that I will never forget. I wondered whether those same folks were naïve, blind, ignorant or just plain crazy. Where they living in the same publishing world I was living in?

I started writing around the time a major publisher took a hit for putting a white teen girl on the cover of a book about a black girl. Shortly thereafter, readers of the Hunger Games went crazy over the possibility that Katniss Everdeen may be cast as other than a white in the film adaptation, despite the author’s own description of the character as having olive-toned skin. Readers, fans and others took to social media to voice their concern, and some even said they would boycott the film if Katniss was not cast as white. Even the author refused to officially define the character’s ethnicity.

Flash forward to today. It’s 2015, and we have only just begun to accept the need for diversity in books for young readers. This is a major step in the right direction, but we need to do more. We need to make sure the images being put into the market are not the same tired stereotypes of non-white youths. We need to make sure that tokenism, in all its forms, is rejected as a response to the need for diversity, and dare I say, we need more people in a position to acquire and publish diverse books to make doing so a priority.
And finally, when we come across an amazing book with diverse characters, we need to simply call it an amazing book, not an amazing “diverse” book. Because by doing so, it is nearly the same as calling me a “black writer” or “black publisher.” After all, it’s not the color of my skin that defines me, but the content of my character. And if we want readers and trade to stop judging books by the color or ethnicity of the characters in them, we must stop calling attention to it ourselves. I would love to hear what you think. Please feel free to comment and I will do my best to respond. Thanks for allowing me to share my opinion and experience with you.

Georgia McBride

You can find more about Georgia McBride at her web site, and connect with her on Twitter.


DAY 24: JUSTINA IRELAND

February 24, 2015

JustinaIreland

 

What is a purveyor of awesomeness? If you saw one walking down the street would you know? Let me help you out. Just look at the picture to the left. When you write novels about butt-kicking females with a Greek mythology backdrop, you can put “Purveyor of Awesomeness” on your website next to your name because you’re bound to turn heads! She turned ours, and that’s why on this 24th day of February, 2015, The Brown Bookshelf is honored, and excited to spotlight:

JUSTINA IRELAND

The Process

How do you work? Do you start with a character, a concept, an idea? Do you outline first or just go? Is there a technique or routine for drafting or revising that you find particularly helpful? Do you have an office or other location that works best for you?

I am a complete and utter pantser (meaning I don’t outline). So my writing process is deceptively simple and completely insane:

  1. I come up with the basic idea (not a plot, just a general idea). Example: Dexter meets Greek Mythology.
  2. I write the first 30,000 words or so. Generally the entire first act heading into the second (my books are generally between 80,000 and 90,000 words).
  3. I write the ending so I have a direction. Otherwise I would just keep writing with no end in sight.
  4. I fill in the gaps.
  5. Revisions! Smoothing out the plotholes, making sure plot threads make it the entire way through the book, etc.

9781442444621(1) If the process sounds disorganized, that’s because it is. I see writing as a kind of archeology. The process of uncovering the story is just as important as the story for me, which sounds a lot prettier than it is in reality. There is usually swearing. And lots of swearing. To be honest my process has been different for each story, but there is always swearing.

I think that’s what makes it fun, the spontaneity of it all! Or maddening. Sometimes it is both fun and maddening, which explains the swearing.

I mostly write at home, in the evenings and in the mornings before I head to work (I have a day job that is not writing related). My writing locations are the office I share with my husband within my home and the dining room table. Not sure why I like writing at the dining room table. Maybe because it’s right next to the kitchen and therefore close to the food.

The Inspiration

I actually write a lot of my stories based on music, which sounds weird. But sometimes hearing just the right song will inspire a feeling that drives my story.

Vengeance Bound, my first published story, was sparked by the album American Idiot by Green Day.

Promise of Shadows was pretty much entirely written to three albums: What to Do When You are Dead by Armor for Sleep, Juturna by Circa Survive and On Letting Go by Circa Survive.

My most recent story was inspired by Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire, so you can pretty much imagine what that is like. For me, music is a huge part of my process. I listen to music when IBY JUSTINA IRELAND write, and I actually find it pretty hard to write without it.

As for writers who inspire me, I love Courtney Summers, Jenny Han, Justina Chen, Nova Ren Suma, and Alaya Dawn Johnson.

Under The Radar

Brandy Colbert’s Pointe is a book that I think has not gotten nearly enough love. Theo’s journey is just plain heartbreaking, and I hope lots of good things happen for that book in 2015.

I’m also a huge fan of LR Giles, Stephanie Kuehn, Elsie Chapman, Lydia Kang, and Maurene Goo. I hope all of them continue to write fantastic books. And I hope people continue to read them.

 

The State of the Industry

I honestly think that the industry is really at a pretty important decision point. The We Need Diverse Books campaign has done a good job of shining a light on the challenges within the publishing industry with regards to diversity and how we can all do better. There’s a lot of talk about increasing diversity, not just with regards to the books being published but also with regards to the staff at the publishing houses. But right now I feel it’s more lip service than reality. Everyone thinks diversity is important, but it seems like few people are actually challenging themselves to make it a reality. If the big publishing houses want to cater to people of color they need to make a commitment to doing just that. And they need to publish books that reflect diversity across the board, not just a couple of issue books every season or diverse books ghettoized under a specific imprint. Where are my black Katnisses? Or my Latino Harry Potters? I’d love to see more books that really push the envelope and break out of the old models, books like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Love is the Drug, which is a book that talks about race and class but also has a pretty amazing storyline as well.

Of course, there are publishers like Lee and Low that have always been committed to diversity and that probably don’t get nearly enough credit for what they do. But in an ideal world I’d really like to see publishers like Lee and Low rendered obsolete. I’d like it to be easier to find a book with a character of color than a talking animal or some mythological creature, but I think right now we’re a few years away from that goal.

 

Thank you, Justina, for your contributions to Young Adult books!

Learn more about Justina Ireland by visiting her website:  http://justinaireland.com

Follow Justina Ireland on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/tehawesomersace


DAY 21: K’NAAN

February 21, 2015

knaan author photoWhen I get older, I will be stronger,
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag…

Born to a throne, stronger than Rome
But violent prone, poor people zone,
But it’s my home, all I have known,
Where I got grown, streets we would roam.
But out of the darkness, I came the farthest,
Among the hardest survival.
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak,
Except no defeat, surrender retreat

So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we’ll be free,
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day,
It’s not far away, so for now we say

When I get older, I will be stronger,
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag,
And then it goes back, and then it goes back,
And then it goes back…

These are lyrics from Wavin’ Flag, the hit song by Somali-born music artist, K’naan. Born Keinan Abdi Warsame, K’naan (along with his mother and his two siblings) fled war-torn Mogadishu when he was 12 years old; the family ultimately settled in Toronto, Canada along with his father.

Hip-hop music was one of the vehicles through which K’naan learned to speak English, listening to artists such as Nas and Rakim. He cites, however, Somali music as being among his primary creative influences. One would also imagine that his grandfather (a famous Somali poet), his aunt (a well-known Somali singer), and his first hand experience with atrocity and survival have also had a significant impact on his music. Writing for MP3.com, Jim Welte described K’naan’s sound as one that “fuses Bob Marley, conscious American hip-hop, and brilliant protest poetry.”

Wavin’ Flag, K’naan’s most famous song to date, was not only chosen as the anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, it also inspired his first children’s picture book: When I Get Older: The Story Behind “Wavin’ Flag” (Tundra Books, 2012). It relates the story of K’naan’s life before leaving Somalia and after, and is described as “a tribute to growing up, and believing in the future,” a concept certainly worth reinforcing to youth everywhere. It is because of this literary value that we celebrate the book and its author, K’naan, on Day 21 of 28 Days Later.

Knaan when i get older cover

The Buzz:

“There is an elegant simplicity in … K’naan’s telling of his story. It is an immigrant story many, many Canadian children will know personally…. Rudy Gutierrez, whose work is sometimes described as ‘musical’, provides lively, flowing illustrations to complement K’naan’s text. The emotional highs and lows of K’naan’s tale are captured in Gutierrez’s colour and composition…. And one last brilliant feature to this attractive book are the endpapers filled with images of countries’ flags. Hopefully every child reading this book will find the waving flag of his or her homeland.”
—Canadian Children’s Book News

“Somali-Canadian musician K’naan’s first children’s book tells the inspirational story of [K’naan’s] immigration to Canada…. K’naan uses accessible yet poetic language to draw in young readers, exploring his adjustment to Canada and how music kept him connected to his family. Gutierrez’s artwork powerfully conveys a new immigrant’s sense of alienation.”
—ParentsCanada.com

 

To learn more about K’naan, visit his website here.

To purchase When I Get Older: The Story Behind “Wavin’ Flag”, click here.


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