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.


DAY 20: MILDRED PITTS WALTER

February 20, 2015

 

mildred
“We are an oral people. We are innately oral people. That is why we are such great storytellers.”  Mildred Pitts Walter

Have you ever met someone who you know has the ability to provide real answers to history through their life experiences instead of what’s been relayed in history books? And, if you had an opportunity to sit at that person’s feet, and just listen, you’d have a better understanding of who you are, and what you can become? If not, today is your lucky day.

Born on September 9, 1922, in DeRidder, Louisiana, to a log cutter and a beautician, Mildred Pitts Walter has seen, and experienced, many of the things we’ve only read about. Ironically, books were something scarce to her since segregation not only infiltrated her church and school, but even visiting the public library was against the law for African Americans. But the opportunity to bring a change presented itself, and, as we all know,  in order to have something we’ve never had before, we must do things we’ve never done before. We’re so glad she took a leap of faith.

A speaker, a frontline author of diverse books, and a teacher who also trained Freedom Fighters, this is her story.

In her words. At 92 years old.

On this 20th day of February, 2015, it is an honor for The Brown Bookshelf to present a vanguard in children’s literature.

MILDRED PITTS WALTER

 The Journey

2015-01-11 15.28.51When I began writing in the 60’s, there were very few books by and about Africans American for children. The most positive one that was widely read by all children, was a Snowy Day by Ezra Keats. I was at the time an elementary teacher in an all black school in Los Angeles. I felt very strongly that if my children were to become aware of themselves, and develop self-esteem, they need books that told their experiences.

There was a publishing company, Ward Ritchie Press in Los Angeles, and I knew one of the board members. I spoke to him about the need of books for my children and that he should find African American authors to write them. There were very few: Dubois, Langston Hughes, Margaret Walker, Lorenz Graham and Arna Botemps. The Crisis Magazine, whose main editor was W.E.B.  Dubois published most of these artists. When I asked for books by the Los Angeles publisher, he said,” Write them.”

I was not a writer, I knew about writers, only. I felt I could not write. He insisted. I wrote Lillie of Watts, A Birthday Discovery. The book received good reviews and I became a writer. During the sixties, President John put fort efforts to bring about diversity. He gave money to publishers to reprint famous African Americans authors and find new writers. Therefore, publishing books for our 2015-01-11 15.28.59children became profitable; I became a successful children’s book writer.

The Process

I begin a manuscript with an idea.   I realized early that to mirror real life was not enough. To challenge the reader and go beyond entertainment the writer has not only to tell what is, but what can possibly be. Therefore my task is to summon characters willing to reveal their past, present and a strong indication of what was ahead for them in the future. I had to 2015-01-11 15.28.06know every detail that set in motion the actions and reactions that led to the moment of crisis or decision. I spend time with the idea and without an outline I begin, keeping in mind that I must listen to the characters and stay in tune with them with just enough control so that there will be creative results. I have a room set aside for creation. My revisions come with an editor.

 

 

The Inspiration

The people whose works inspire me are: Writers: Coffee Awooner ( Ghanaian poet) Mary and Franklin Folsom, Eloise Greenfield, Patricia Mckissick, James Baldwin; Actors: Ossie Davis Ruby Dee2015-01-11 15.25.18 Davis, S Pearl Sharp; Van Tile Whitfield; Musicians: Beethoven, The Black Mozart, Randy Western, Bobby Blue Bland.

 

 

The Buzz

Many of my books have been honored with awards. The Christopher Award; National Council of Social Studies Carter G. Woodson Award; Jane Adams Honor Book Award; and for the books we have buzzed here, including Justin and the Best Biscuits In the World, that received the American Library Association Coretta Scott Award in 1987.

2015-01-11 15.28.30

Publisher’s Weekly’s review of Justin and the Best Biscuits In the World:  …Refreshing, likable characters, an exciting rodeo and a history of the black cowboys combine to create a very special story.”

 

  

2015-01-11 15.28.18

 

Publisher’s Weekly review of SUITCASE:Readers will cheer for Xander as he develops his talents, manages to please both his father and himself, and sends his self-doubt packing. Ages 8-up

 

 

2015-01-11 15.30.50

Publisher’s Weekly review of MISSISSIPPI CHALLENGE: Walter, said PW, “painstakingly documents the courageous struggle of African Americans in Mississippi to overcome pervasive racism and win their economic and political rights.” Ages 12-up. (Jan.)

 

 

2015-01-11 15.24.38

Publisher’s Weekly review of THE SECOND DAUGHTER: Walter (Mississippi Challenge) treats fiction as the handmaiden of history and politics in this fact-based story, drawing from research about Mum Bett, a Massachusetts slave who successfully sued for her freedom shortly after the Revolutionary War. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)

 

 

2015-01-11 15.51.34BOOKS BY MILDRED PITTS WALTER

 HARPER COLLINS

Brother to the WindHave A HappyMy Mama Needs Me; Ray and the Best Family Reunion Ever; SuitcaseJustin and the Best Biscuits in the World;

Kwanzaa, A family Affair; Darkness; Two and Two Much

MACMILLIAN

Mariah Loves Rock; Mariah Keeps Cool*; Mississippi Challenge*; Ty’s One-Man-Band; Trouble’s Child; Because We Are; Lillie Of Watts, A Birthday Discovery; Lillie of Watts Takes a Giant Step

SCHOLASTIC

Second Daughter; Girl On The Outside *; Liquid Trap*; Alec’s Primer; 

*Out of print

Foreign print: Ma Maman a Besoin de Moi (My Mama Needs Me) (Korean publication)

In spite of the fact that African Americans buy books that have meaning to their experiences, less than 1`% of books by and about African Americans is printed.

There is a serious need for diversity, books for all people of color.

 

As an extra bonus, watch this incredible video of Mildred Pitts Walter, inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame :

 

 

 

 



Day 19: C. Taylor-Butler

February 19, 2015

BBS_CTB The Power of Perseverance, by C. Taylor-Butler

    The Inspiration for the Story

I’m a child of science fiction.I grew up on Star Trek, Lost in Space, The Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits. I buried my head in Alfred Hitchcock anthologies and Ray Bradbury stories. I was the weird nerd kid who loved math, science and puzzles, but grew up in a neighborhood where I had to hide being smart. Then I went to MIT to study engineering and found myself surrounded by nerds who were Big Bang Theory decades before there was a television show. I still meet children who, years later, think they are outliers. So I was inspired to write a book about a kid who dreams of playing basketball and sees it as his ticket out of his monotonous suburban neighborhood, until he is given a challenge by his uncle and finds himself at the center of a larger mystery. My file cabinet and hard drives are filled with real-life mysteries scientists have yet to solve. I’m intrigued by unbreakable codes and puzzles. I love conspiracy theories about why there are odd monuments scattered across the globe. In a sense, in writing Tribes I was telling myself a story and letting the characters take me on an adventure. I wrote it for children who are left out of the inner circles of many popular books and have no real characters to call their own. I knew ancient civilizations such as the Maya and Sumerians were doing complex math and science long before the Europeans. One one day I stumbled on to a book about hieroglyphics and that became the beginnings of my character’s journey.BBS_Tribes_cover

    Authors Who Inspire Me


I’m not a fan of simple stories with neat and tidy resolutions. While in the throes of writing Tribes I told one of my editors at Scholastic Magazine how much my family had loved Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials Trilogy. The editor, Dara Sharif, introduced me to the works of L.A. Banks whose adult paranormal series at St. Martin’s Press was addictive. She was a gloriously detailed researcher who drew vivid scenes set in real places and based many of her character’s belief systems on real world religions. Her books are definitely not for kids, but I found in her a kindred spirit and she was a very gracious person to talk to. She passed away and I think it’s a loss for the world. Her advice on craft should have been recorded for those who follow in her footsteps. What works for me about Pullman’s and Bank’s works are the multiple “tribes” they write about and how adept both are at maintaining distinct voices and behavioral patterns for each one. I also took class with Tess Gerritsen one year and realized her method of creating voice was a good template for me to follow. To give myself permission to write scenes out of order and explore character motivations without worrying about where it all fit. That allowed me to explore each of my characters – even the adult ones – in more depth even if those passages might not make it into the book. Like the rhythms in music, I included a variety of voices in the ensemble cast to allow each reader to find someone they could identify with on an emotional level.BBS_hieroglyphic_clue

    My Path to Publishing

It took a village to raise this author. My journey started with the Highlights Foundation. In 2001, I attended their week long writing conference in Chautauqua, NY. I was assigned to work with James Cross Giblin who had written a nonfiction book, “The Riddle Of The Rosetta Stone.” Poor guy. I arrived with a huge binder of science facts and twenty chapters of my fantastical adventure. I regaled him with stories about all the interesting things the characters would do and how they got from point A to point B. He said, “This is fascinating. But what is the story about?”
BBS_TribesCat
I was confused by that question. As a new author I thought I’d had a handle on the plot, but I needed a deeper understanding of my character’s conflicts and motivations. Still, he told a colleague, Patti Gauch, that I was on to something.

My second “victim” was Jerry Spinelli, Newbery Award winning author of Maniac Magee and amazingly patient guy. During the course of the week he gave me advice that turned out to be prophetic. I worried that no one would buy a book featuring children of various ethnic backgrounds. He told me to stop worrying about the market and write the book I truly cared about. He said “That’s the only book that matters.”

That year, I enrolled in “The Heart of the Novel”, a Highlights workshop with Patti Gauch who has mentored a number of award winning authors. After editing several chapters and giving me writing challenges to ponder, she asked. “What’s the book about?” I told her about the fantastical adventures and how my character solved the mysteries that unfolded and she looked “perplexed. “No,” she said. “That’s what happens to the character, but it’s not what the book is about. It’s about a boy who wants his uncle’s approval and is never going to get it.”

I stopped cold. In such a simple summary she had nailed the emotional arc of my book. It was right there on the page. But I didn’t have the language to describe it. From there I made the edits to refine the trajectory. Patti called the writing “skilled and confident.”

Still, year after year I had no takers. I had a lot of compliments including “very well written,” and “fun and exciting.” I also had a lot of detractors that included, “The character isn’t likeable,” or “No market for a book like this.” One editor was honest enough to admit that such a book would be housed in the African American section of a bookstore which would kill its sales.

BBS_TribesGameOver

Bernette Ford, CEO of ColorBridge Books acquired five of my books for very young readers for various clients. When she heard of my distress regarding Tribes and its lack of acceptance in publishing she said, “Keep going until you find the editor who understands what you are doing.” Dara Sharif said the same thing. And so did many teachers and librarians I’d encountered – so many in fact – that I needed a page to acknowledge them. One year, a librarian, Anitra Steele, ran a list of books in print and mailed it to me with a note that said, “I can’t find anything like what you are doing. Keep going.”


I met my current editor, Eileen Robinson, when she was at Children’s Press. She asked me to write nonfiction for her beginner reader series and I declined. I wasn’t skilled in that market. But if you’ve ever met Eileen she’s a feisty spitfire of a person and she doesn’t take no for an answer. That “push” proved to be prophetic as non-fiction became a career boost for me. I went on to publish almost eighty books, most nonfiction, but every editor I’ve ever worked with knew that Tribes was “my one true love.”

Years later, Eileen left Scholastic. She read the manuscript and suggested colleagues who acquired middle grade works. But by then I was burnt out on rejections. Honestly, the sometimes snarky comments from editors can be soul crushing. As was their the constant underlying reminder that white children won’t read a book that features kids of color so what was the point of taking it to acquisitions? So I thanked Eileen but declined her offer of help and put the series in a drawer. I took it out only to do a workshop with Jane Yolen. Over the course of a weekend Jane and two librarian’s from Chicago asked, “Why isn’t this sold yet?” The librarians said “We have boys looking for books like this right now.” And I said, “I’m now writing this book for me.” and told them most major publishers reiterated that there was no market for a book like this. Jane offered her assistance, my agents (plural) didn’t follow up. So I left them. It was liberating. 

A few more years passed and Eileen started Move Books. She called and said “Send me that middle grade manuscript.” In fact, she was emphatic about it. And as I said, when Eileen wants something she doesn’t back down until she gets it. She didn’t strike me as the science fiction sort but I said, “Okay.” She said she still remembered it after all these years and felt passionate about it. She sent it out to beta readers for a second opinion – middle grade librarians. I put a fake name on the book so no one could research my publication background. I wanted an unbiased opinion. The assessments came back positive. One librarian even line edited the book and pointed out things she loved about it, places where she laughed, and places where students would have questions. And so the book was acquired. In fact, Move Books took the entire series.

Here’s how I knew Move was “the one” in terms of publishers. When it came time to edit, Eileen asked “What does this mean?” and “Is this important?” She was careful to understand what something meant, or what breadcrumbs I was dropping for the next books. She understood every joke, every change in speech pattern and every nuance. And when asked to cut pages I used advice I’d gotten from seasoned authors like Gregory Maguire and Linda Sue Park and let go of my affection for the scenes and decided to be ruthless. Eileen put some of the cuts back in and said “You can’t cut that. It’s too important to the story.” or “That eliminates the set up for the next mystery.” She said “just tighten so that every word matters.” My edits at Patti’s workshop had gone the same way. I’d cut or change something and she’d ponder it and sometimes she’d say, “No. I think I liked it better the way you had it.” (Not all the time, mind you, but occasionally she would hand me a “win” and I’m better for the tutoring because I was able to submit a tight draft.)

Move Books did me the honor of selecting Patrick Arrasmith as the illustrator. He is just as passionate about the series and he’s a genius with scratchboard. We let him play with the imagery and I’ve been blown away with how the art expands my ideas. The full cover reveal is beyond beautiful.

After almost 14 years of hard work, endless submissions and rejections, I found the editor who understood me and realized that the book mattered in the greater scheme of things for a child of color wanting a book that let them see themselves as heroes.

    The Buzz

Kirkus Reviews said, “Well-written and well-paced: a promising start to what should be an exciting and unusual sci-fi series.” (Science fiction. 10-14)

    The Climate


It’s getting better for mainstream books about children of color. But the industry is still not there yet. I take solace in the fact that there are more mainstream television shows being celebrated and they are leading the way. I hope that success model extends to publishing. One where we can eschew the race based angst and stop assuming every child of color lives in impoverished crime filled areas in favor of a broader definition of their lives. They live and dance to multiple rhythms. Their lives and environments are not ubiquitous. Shouldn’t those children be reflected in the upper bandwidth of life’s journeys?

Book Trailers


can be found here and

and here

The Lost Tribes online.

Author site.


Day 16: TONYA CHERIE HEGAMIN

February 16, 2015

tonya hegamin author photoWhen we put out the nominations call for this year’s 28 Days Later Campaign, there was one name that flooded the comments section more than any other: Tonya Cherie Hegamin.

Hegamin began life as a resident of Westchester, PA, but later relocated to Rochester, NY. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children from the New School University in 2003. As an Assistant Professor at the City University of New York, Medgar Evers College, Hegamin currently teaches Children’s Literature, Fiction Writing, and Composition. In 2010, her picture book, Most Loved in All the World, won the NYPL’s Ezra Jack Keats award. She is also the author of three young adult novels: M+O 4EVR, Pemba’s Song, and her most recent, Willow (Candlewick Press, 2014).

Hegamin’s passion for young people extends beyond the literary; she has served thousands of young people as a crisis counselor, rights advocate, and sexual health educator as well. On day 16, The Brown Bookshelf shines its spotlight on author Tonya Cherie Hegamin.

 

Inspiration

I’ve always been inspired by Virginia Hamilton—she was the model for successful black women in the publishing world for a big chunk of time and I think she will always be a writer who I strive to emulate in terms of depth and most loved in all the worldbreadth of work. Her husband, Arnold Adoff has been another mentor/inspiration to me since my first picture book, Most Loved In All the World. He’s the one I’ve turned to again and again not just for his experience the industry, but for his commitment to the expression of language. His ear for word craft is impeccable, and he is still the best person to talk to when I question being a writer. My other inspiration is E.B. Lewis. He would listen to me read drafts of Willow for hours on the phone while he was painting. He was the first person to believe in that book when it was only twenty five pages and he wouldn’t let me quit. I am so grateful to him for that! My other inspiration is Tove Jansson. Although she is completely different from me as a writer, I’ve read almost all of her work (Moomins and her adult writing) and I am in awe in how she constructs story in such a care-free way. She and her partner, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä were out and proud before lesbianism was acceptable in public; they both were courageous and powerful artistic humans who never let anyone change them.

 

The Process

Willow sprouted from a lot of my research for M+O 4Evr and Pemba’s Song. I found books (like Slaves Without Masters by Ira Berlin) about those who “managed themselves” while the master was gone, and even those who feared leaving their sheltered lives in the South. I also read a great book called Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad by Betty DeRamus. I researched historical figures like Mary A. Shadd who wrote A Plea for Emigration (she grew up and was educated in Delaware and Pennsylvania, but led a campaign urging former slaves to Canada for freedom). Then I researched accounts of freed men and women who would travel south to help others over the Mason Dixon line and escape enslavement. Finally, in my own family history we have more than one account of my enslaved ancestors being related to their owners. One great-great-grandmother even sued her white father after the Civil War!  The question of what would make someone stay and willingly subjugate themselves and what would motivate one to leave a seemingly ‘comfortable’ life that rendered you powerless was always in my mind. It became a perfect storm of “what if” that all writers chase for a good book.

willow

 

Under The Radar

I’d have to say that even more than people who are being “traditionally” published, I believe my students’ writing is the best undiscovered talent I know. Many of my students are writing amazing fiction and creative non-fiction that is so raw and fresh. They are living the world that others are being paid gobs of money to write about. I had a student who wrote a children’s book about a boy with Autism who makes a friend who doesn’t care what other people say. She wrote it so she could share it with the kids she teaches. Another student wrote about a dystopia where kids who are dynamic because of their differences were the only ones who could survive. They write for the joy of it and the need to set their hearts free. I hope they all continue to hone their craft, if simply to create stories that aren’t being told, and sharing it with kids who aren’t being remembered by the industry.

 

State of the Industry

Perhaps you detect the cynicism in my tone? I do believe that the children’s book industry is saturated with people who churn out the same stuff (I might also be one of them). I don’t think it’s because we writers can’t think of anything new, it’s just that what is marketable and what we really need are two different things. Although I see the merit of the intentions of the Common Core pedagogy, I also know that there will be another educational evolution in the next few years and our ideas about literacy and books for young people will shift yet again, hopefully ever for the better. I think that the future of diversity is inclusion; diversity is quantitative, inclusion is qualitative. We have to take personal steps to stop labeling people as different and embrace them for who they are. The industry is concerned with numbers, not hugs. Companies only shift marketing practices for new demographics when there’s a profit. The more we each demand to be recognized and included there is always possibility for positive change.

 

For more information on Tonya Cherie Hegamin, please visit her website.


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