Day 22: Lucille Clifton

February 22, 2015

“Poetry is a matter of life, not just a matter of language”

– Lucille Clifton

Every year, people create lists of classic children’s titles. A celebrated poet who wrote more than 20 books for kids, Lucille Clifton’s work should be included. Her eight book Everett Anderson picture book series broke ground for its portrayal of an African-American boy in the city whose experiences ranged from celebrating the arrival of Christmas and accepting the birth of a sibling to coping with the death of a parent and trying to help a hurting friend. Clifton’s Everett, kind, authentic and sensitive, was a reflection of kids around the country who didn’t see themselves in books until him.

“Mom wrote children’s books to fill an obvious void,” wrote her daughters Sidney, Gillian and Alexia Clifton. “Prior to the publishing of Some of the Days of Everett Anderson, there were very few children’s books depicting the lives of black and other children of color.  And of those few; even fewer were written by black or ethnic authors. Creating characters whose lives, language and experience were a mirror to the lives, languages and experiences of thousands of underserved children across the country was important to her, and her pioneering contributions lit the way for the many prolific authors and illustrators of color whose works endure in the marketplace today.”

Clifton’s writing journey began in the adult world of poetry.  Her early work was published in the anthology The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1970 edited by Langton Hughes and Arna Bontemps. She released her first book of verse, Good Times, in 1969. It was named one of the 10 best books of the year by the New York Times.

Just a short time later, in 1970, Clifton made her children’s book debut.  Horn Book described Some of the Days of Everett Anderson (illustrated by Evaline Ness) like this: “The simple, short verses…celebrate the boy’s joie de vivre….Excellent for reading aloud as well as for viewing.” And so a new children’s book star began to fill homes and schools with her light.

Her acclaimed release, Everett Anderson’s Goodbye (illustrated by Ann Grifalconi), won the 1984 Coretta Scott King Author Award and was a Reading Rainbow title. Along with her beloved Everett titles, Clifton wrote gems including All of Us Come ‘Cross the Water (illustrated by John Steptoe), Three Wishes (illustrated by Stephanie Douglas) and The Lucky Stone (illustrated by Dale Payson). The Poetry Foundation wrote: “Her books for children were designed to help them understand their world and facilitate an understanding of black heritage specifically, which in turn fosters an important link with the past.”

Clifton, mother of six children, made writing part of daily life.

Mom_and_Kids_circa_1969

(L to R): Gillian, Fredrica (deceased 2000), Lucille (deceased 2010), Alexia, Sidney, Channing (deceased 2004), Graham. Shared with permission of the Clifton family.

“As children, we watched our mother type on her old-fashioned typewriter at the dining room table.  For us, this is what mothers did; and where they did it; create worlds, play games, and share meals in the same place.  Her creating space was her sanctuary, and ours.  So it is with her every word.”

– Sidney, Gillian, and Alexia Clifton

She drew from the past and the triumphs and trials she saw around her every day and gave that back to us. A National Book Award winner, Pulitzer Prize nominee and the first black woman to win the distinguished Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, Lucille Clifton deserves a place of honor and remembrance for her children’s books too. Her stories, woven with the love of black culture and history and filled with the magical stuff of life, are lyrical tributes to children whose experiences she wanted the world to see. Clifton died in 2010, but her beautiful work lives on.

Her website-in-development, http://www.lucilleclifton.com, has wonderful photos and book covers of some of her treasured titles. Bookmark it and check back for the official launch.

Special thanks to Sidney, Gillian and Alexia Clifton for providing quotes and a family photo and to author Miranda Paul for connecting The Brown Bookshelf with the Clifton family.


DAY 18: Misty Copeland

February 18, 2015
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Life in Motion Photo Credit Gregg Delman

Children’s literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop says that books have the power to be mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors. Firebird (Putnam, 2014), the award-winning picture book written by American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland and illustrated by Christopher Myers, is a beautiful celebration of that truth. In her children’s book debut, Misty shares the touching story of a girl whose faith in her dancing dreams falters until  she meets a reflection of who she can be.

Entering the world of ballet at 13, Misty looked for images of herself too. Through her talent, commitment and passion, she became the third African American soloist in the history of the American Ballet Theater. The previous black soloist had danced two decades before. Where was her mirror?  Misty found it in pioneering ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a soloist of the 1950s Ballet Russe.

Firebird, the title role Misty played in the ballet of the same name, is a love letter to kids who see a “longer than forever” distance between where they are and the soaring heights they can reach. Misty’s poetic story soothes and inspires, affirms and applauds.

We are honored to spotlight Misty Copeland on Day 18:

How did your beautiful picture book, Firebird, come to be? Please share your path to publication. What were the toughest and most rewarding moments?

The children’s book was actually the first idea. I love working with kids and mentoring young people so the children’s book was going to be an extension of my desire to bring the performing arts and classical ballet to kids. My amazing editor, Stacey Barney, who’d been talking about a children’s book with my manager, firebirdhappened to be meeting with Christopher Myers who mentioned that he’d wanted to find a way for us to work together.  I think it was meant to be, this wonderful collaboration. Chris and I got to know one another throughout my writing process and the creation of his illustrations. I came to know more about him as an illustrator and he grew to know me as a ballerina and emerging writer. He even came to some of my performances and got to know my mentor, the legendary ballerina Raven Wilkinson. It was out of the beautiful mentoring relationship between Raven and me that the story throughout the pages of FIREBIRD was written and evolved.

Your lyrical style and voice, full of emotion and authenticity, draws readers in right away. How did your life journey inform and shape your book? Why was it important to tell that story?

From the time that I started taking ballet classes at the age of 13, there has been interest in my story. I understand because I am considered an “unlikely ballerina.” But rather than allow my differences to be an obstacle, I decided to stand up and be an example of what can happen when you’re committed to doing something that you love. So many young girls and women of color before and since me have been told that ballet isn’t for them. By telling my story and being on the stage, I hope that ballet will be seen as a possibility and a world in which they can exist and thrive, both on the stage and behind the scenes.

Your letter to the reader is lovely and meaningful. There’s a lot of buzz right now about diversity in children’s books. Your book shows why it matters. Could you expand on this quote: “But when I opened up ballet books, I didn’t see myself. I saw an image of what a ballerina should be, and she wasn’t me, brown with tendrils sweeping her face. I need to find ME. This book is you and me . . .” How does your book expand “the idea of beauty and art”? How does it empower ballerinas with big dreams?

I think that our life choices often reflect how we see ourselves and if we see ourselves. It’s important to see a living, breathing person who is on a path that may be similar to your own. I remember when I discovered Raven Wilkinson, I felt as if I’d found a missing piece of myself. I identified with her as a black woman and a ballerina. Today, it makes a difference to have her and so many other strong, successful, black women in my life who lift me up when I feel like I can’t do it on my own. It’s their encouragement and support that often keeps me going. That’s what I hope FIREBIRD might do for little girls who need to see a reflection of themselves in such a beautiful, inspiring way.

Your book has won many accolades including starred reviews and landing on best lists. How do you measure literary success? What achievements and experiences have made you most proud?

I measure literary success by young people and/or their parents telling me that the book really spoke to them or they were able to take something from it and use it within their own lives. Or better yet, they’ve started or returned to taking ballet classes. And even better, they bought a ticket to see a ballet. All of that says success to me because in the end, this has never been about me, rather raising awareness about the beauty of ballet.

What do you hope young people take away from your story?

Hope. Perseverance. I hope that they take away that all things are possible when you give it your all.

What’s next for you as a children’s book author? 

I’ve enjoyed this journey so much and working with Chris has been truly amazing. Right now, I’m incredibly busy with my ballet career, learning several new roles, but I’d love to do another children’s book. In the meantime, I’m still focused on spreading the word about FIREBIRD.

What’s your greatest joy?

Dancing is my greatest joy. Being on the stage or in the rehearsal studio is where I release.

The Buzz on Firebird:

2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

2015 Ezra Jack Keats Honor Award for Writing

Essence Magazine Best Children’s Book of 2014

“The language soars into dizzying heights of lyrical fancy… Myers’ artwork… pulsate[s] with kinetic synergy… A starscape filled with visual drama and brilliance.”

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Ballet dancer Misty Copeland makes her children’s book debut with this inspiring love letter to young people, containing breathtaking illustrations of airborne dancers by Caldecott Honor artist Christopher Myers… Brava!”

Shelf Awareness, starred review

Learn more about Misty Copeland here.

 


Day 17 Betty K. Bynum

February 17, 2015

BettyBynumI'M A PRETTY LITTLE BLACK GIRL LAUNCH PHOTO 10.20 (3)

Betty K. Bynum is a woman who dreams big. Plans big. Achieves big. Her dreams of acting resulted in parts in ER, Law & Order, and Death At A Funeral. She is also a journalist, a screenwriter, and a playwright. One day, Betty recognized the lack of diverse books featuring children of color. So she turned her dreams toward writing children’s books.

“The I’m A Girl Collection” is the result of her efforts. When she could not find a publisher who was on board with her vision, Betty stepped up and published the first book herself. Most authors who venture into publishing face the almost insurmountable task of distribution. Betty found the Target Corporation. Now her book, I’m a Pretty Little

FrontCover(1)Black Girl is sold in Target stores nationwide and online. It features Mia, an African American girl. Betty is the consummate entrepreneur. She designed tee shirts for little girls. But shirts didn’t satisfy Betty.

What does every little girl wish for? A gorgeous doll of course. That was Betty’s next step. She collaborated with doll maker Madame Alexander, who has licensing deals with Disney, Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious, and Angelina Ballerina.

An 18-inch Mia debuted at the North American International Toy Fair in NY yesterday. The Toy Fair is a national event with over 26,000 toy professional attendees in 2014. Of course, Betty traveled to New York to introduce Mia to the masses. doll

Her message is simple. The I’m A Girl Collection celebrates——YOU!
You can read more about Betty and her projects at The I’m A Girl Collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks


Day 15: Faith Ringgold

February 15, 2015

FaithTar_Beach_1.3MBMs. Ringgold is a painter, writer, speaker, mixed media sculptor and performance artist. She lives and works in Englewood, New Jersey.

By Faith Ringgold

I always wanted to be a writer, but never knew I would be. I was an artist, even as a child I knew that. Could I be two things? I don’t think most people think of pursuing two professions simultaneously, but they could. People are constantly asking me, now that they know I am a published author, if I have given up painting. And when I began to make paintings in the quilt format they wanted to know if I had given up painting and even before that when I had made masks and sculptures and did performances they wanted to know if I had given up painting. Why do we have to give up something to have something more? We don’t is the answer. We can have all our dreams and often times all we have to do is reach up and grab them, and hold on while we work hard to make them our own.

Kids often want to know about Faith Ringgold’s writing process:

Harlem_Ren_CoverAbout the Writing Process:

The first step is the idea for the story. When Ms. Ringgold has an idea for a story, she writes it down and practices telling it to her husband, daughters, friends and everyone that may want to hear it. She becomes comfortable with the story and makes it her own by telling and retelling it many times.  Ms. Ringgold’s story changes a little during each telling until it’s just right. When the story is finished it’s divided up to fit onto a designated number of pages. There could be anywhere from 1 to 40 pages (there would need to be 1 – 40 sections of text) depending on the project.

The sections of text are placed at the bottom of new blank pieces of textured paper.  A practice drawing is made (in a seperate sketchbook) to illustrate each section of text. The paintings are  made on the textured pages and are based on the practice drawings. The finished drawings and story are sent to the publisher for printing and distribution to book stores, libraries and young students like you.

About the Book: The Harlem Renaissance Party (Amistad, 2015)

Caldecott Honor artist Faith Ringgold takes readers on an unforgettable journey through the Harlem Renaissance when Lonnie and his uncle Bates go back to Harlem in the 1920s. Along the way, they meet famous writers, musicians, artists, and athletes, from Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois to Josephine Baker and Zora Neale Hurston and many more, who created this incredible period. And after an exciting day of walking with giants, Lonnie fully understands why the Harlem Renaissance is so important.

Faith Ringgold’s bold and vibrant illustrations capture the song and dance of the Harlem Renaissance while her story will captivate young readers, teaching them all about this significant time in our history. A glossary and further reading list are included in the back of the book, making this perfect for Common Core.

The Buzz: 

“Black Pride is Strong in this homage.” -Kirkus

Faith_Paints_Wanted_2__copy

Read her blog at: http://faithringgold.blogspot.com/


Day 13: Patrik Henry Bass

February 13, 2015

PatrikHenryBassPhotojpegYou see his name and picture every month in Essence magazine. Patrik Henry Bass is our trusted voice about African-American books. We count on him for insightful reviews and beautifully-written features.

He has been on the other side of the industry too, writing and editing several acclaimed titles for adults. Lucky us, he has expanded his reach to creating books for kids. The Zero Degree Zombie Zone (Scholastic, 2014), his debut middle-grade adventure novel, debuted in August. Illustrated by Jerry Craft, Publishers Weekly called it “action-packed” and “fast-moving.” The story features friends on a mission to save the world.

We are honored to celebrate Patrik Henry Bass on Day 13. Here he shares his incredible work:

ABOUT PATRIK HENRY BASS

Patrik Henry Bass is an award-winning writer and editor, with an extensive background in publishing covering books, lifestyle and popular culture. Bass currently serves as editorial projects director at Essence Magazine. He has written and edited for a number of publications including The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, The Washington Post, Time Out New York, Brooklyn Bridge, Entertainment Weekly, Black Enterprise and BET Weekend, where he was a founding editor. Bass is a former board member of The New York Association of Black Journalists (NYABJ) and a member of The National Association of Black Journalists.

Bass, a former adjunct professor at the Arthur Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, is a contributor to The Takeaway with John Hockenberry, a nationally syndicated radio program produced by Public Radio International. He has lectured widely on magazine writing and editing. Bass and photographer and artist Karen Pugh coauthored In Our Own Image: Treasured African-American Traditions, Journeys and Icons (Running Press, 2001). He is also the author of Like A Mighty Stream, The March on Washington, August 28, 1963 (Running Press, 2002).

Bass is also the editor of several books for ESSENCE and Time Inc. Home Entertainment including A Salute to Michelle Obama (2013); LEDISI Better Than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power (2013); The Obamas in The White House (2010); and The Obamas: Portrait of America’s New First Family (2009).

ZeroDegreeZombie_highrescoverThe Zero Degree Zombie Zone (Scholastic Press), his first book for middle-grade students was released on August 26, 2014. The book has garnered praise for spotlighting African-American boys as heroes in the fantasy genre.

THE JOURNEY

“I didn’t have a plan. I just wanted to have a life and career that was interesting.” 

Bass began his writing career as a reporter for The Carolina Peacemaker in Greensboro in the early 90s.  After working there for about six months, Bass knew that being a newspaper reporter was not for him. Covering zoning meetings was uninteresting. Yet, he was intrigued by a reliable source, a woman who worked in city planning who demystified zoning ordinances. Bass said it looked like she was having fun in her job and he liked the interaction with the media so he enrolled at Pratt’s School of Architecture for city planning. Once he started classes at Pratt, he realized he had made a monumental mistake. “I was like a fish on a bicycle,” he said.

One day on campus someone overheard Bass giving a commentary during the American Music Awards and asked if he could write like he talked. He quickly became a columnist for the Prattler newspaper. That opportunity led to a publishing job with The Big Idea, a magazine for UPS Corporation. There Bass learned about deadlines, attention to detail. Best of all, he was able to meet people in the publishing industry.

Many writers lived in his Brooklyn neighborhood at the time, working in publishing by day and writing at night. Bigger things started to happen. Bass began to write about books and publishing on a freelance basis for alternative presses. In late 1999, he came to the attention of editors at Essence Magazine. He landed the job that had played a significant role in the careers of previous books editors for the magazine such as Paula Giddings, Elsie Washington, Benilde Little, and Martha Southgate.

When he took the job at Essence, he had been asked by Running Press to write a book about his family memories and then a book on the historic March on Washington, a topic that also interested the magazine. “My goal for the book was to give the readers an idea of the diversity of race and age of those who attended the march,” said Bass. “The March on Washington was our evolution of the spirit of the country.”

THE ZERO DEGREE ZOMBIE ZONE

Although it took nearly seven years to bear fruit, a lunch meeting in 2007 between Andrea essencearticleDavis Pinkney, a vice president and executive editor at Scholastic Press, and Patrik Bass, an editorial projects editor at Essence, eventually led to the publication of The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, an adventure story featuring four African American middle-school friends. As they had chatted over their meal, Andrea and Patrik realized that the solution to the sense of frustration they both felt at the lack of children’s books with protagonists of color was right in front of them: Patrik would write a story and Andrea would publish it. They later agreed that Jerry Craft would be the perfect artist to create the book’s illustrations. The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, published in August 2014, tells the story of a day in the life of Bakari Katari Johnson, a shy boy who is coping with everyday bullies when the school is suddenly overrun with zombies. Fortunately, he has three good friends to inspire and assist him, and through some resourcefulness and steadfast courage at a crucial moment, Bakari manages to save the day.

For more extensive information on Patrik Henry Bass and his books, please visit these article sources:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/63512-zero-degree-zombie-zone-introduces-an-african-american-cast.html

http://americanbookreview.org/currentissue.asp

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzjxetfEptQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BIQMhtYy6Y


Day 12 Fredrick McKissack

February 12, 2015

 

fredrick_l_mckissack_jr__163x309_1In the summer of 2005, I had the pleasure of meeting Fredrick McKissack. He and his wife, author Patricia McKissack, were teaching and sharing their experiences on how to write for children at a Highlights workshop.  He had a fascinating personality and was a gracious host. His work as a researcher was outstanding and informative.

Mr. McKissack discussed his research for Black Hands, White Sails.

He was meticulous, checking and recheckingBlack Hands cover the finest detail, and traveling to the east coast from their home in St. Louis to visit whaling museums. That book written by his wife won a Coretta Scott King Honor award. It told the story of black sailors on whaling ships. And it showed me the possibilities of writing nonfiction. It remains one of my favorites.

The writing and researching duo published over 100 books. Many won awards including the Coretta Scott King Award, the NAACP Image Award, the Newbery, the C.S. Lewis Medal, the Caldecott Award, the Jane Addams Peace Award, and the Regina Medal.

Mr. McKissack died on April 28, 2013.

 

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks

 

 

 

 


Day 11: JESMYN WARD

February 11, 2015

Where the Line Bleeds.

Salvage the Bones.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir.

If you have not been previously acquainted with the work of author Jesmyn Ward, consider today your lucky day.

 

Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi, a small rural community with which she had a “love-hate relationship”. These hometown experiences have informed each of her three novels to date. While not technically published under the banner of children’s literature, Ward’s novels are particularly suited to the older YA audience due to the ages of the characters and the relevancy of their themes. Her pre-publication literary accomplishments are substantial: an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan (where she received five Hopwood Awards); a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University(2008-2010); a John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at The University of Mississippi (2010-2011). She currently serves as Associate Professor of English at Tulane University.

 

where the line bleeds jesmyn wardShortly after receiving her MFA, Ward and her family were forced to flee their flooding home by Hurricane Katrina. Where the Line Bleeds (Agate Publishing, 2008) is Ward’s first published novel. It is the story of twin brothers who grow increasingly estranged after one of them begins to sell drugs to assuage the family’s post-Katrina financial burdens. It endured three years of rejection before finding a home at Agate.

 

The prolonged devastation Ward encountered day to day—driving back and forth through ravaged neighborhoods on her way to work at the University of New Orleans—rendered her mentally and emotionally unable to write anything new during the three years it took her first novel to sell. Landing her first book deal, however, inspired Ward to pick up the proverbial pen again. Her renewed salvage the bones by jesmyn wardefforts produced Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury USA, 2011) which, although roundly ignored by the literary community upon publication, ended up winning the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction. Post-nomination, it was suddenly and profusely well-reviewed. Another rich tale centered around Katrina, Salvage the Bones chronicles twelve days in the lives of a pregnant teen, Esch, her three brothers and her father. The twelve-day account includes the ten days leading up to the storm, the day it hits, and the day after. According to the book’s copy, it is “[a] big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty…muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.”

 

men we reaped by jesmyn wardMen We Reaped: A Memoir (Bloomsbury USA, 2013) is Ward’s most recent book. It is a reflection on her personal experience with the death of five young men in her life (including her brother). Causes of death range from suicide to drugs to accidents to the plain old “bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men.” In a starred review, Kirkus called it “[a]n assured yet scarifying memoir by young, supremely gifted novelist Ward… A modern rejoinder to Black Like MeBeloved and other stories of struggle and redemption—beautifully written, if sometimes too sad to bear.”

 

In her acceptance speech for the National Book Award, Ward said this about the motivation behind her writing: “I understood that I wanted to write about the experiences of the poor, and the black and the rural people of the South…so that the culture that marginalized us for so long would see that our stories were as universal, our lives as fraught and lovely and important, as theirs.” This sensibility makes her novels significant mirror and window books for mature teens of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

 

If you had not been previously acquainted with the work of author Jesmyn Ward, I hope you’ll consider today your lucky day. I certainly do.

 

THE BUZZ

For the buzz on Men We Reaped: A Memoir, click here.

For the buzz on Salvage the Bones, click here.

For the buzz on Where the Line Bleeds, click here.

 

For more extensive information on Jesmyn Ward and her books, please visit these article sources:

http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/17/breakfast-meeting-nov-17/

http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/18/author-wins-prestigious-award-for-book-ignored-by-literary-world/

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/16/celebratory-night-for-the-book-world/?_r=0#more-244085

http://www.bloomsbury.com/author/jesmyn-ward

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesmyn_Ward

Author Photo Credit: Adam Johnson


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