Day 3: Mélina Mangal

February 3, 2016

MélinaMangalMedia specialist, mother and author, Mélina Mangal writes to fill a void and inspire. Her books include biographies on award-winning authors like Virginia Hamilton, Mildred D. Taylor and Rita Williams-Garcia. They’re stories she didn’t see in bookstores or on library shelves, so she created them herself.

Her writing ranges from celebrating unsung trailblazers to giving voice to the experiences of African-American children. On her SCBWI page, she says, “My writing focuses on youth in nature, especially those whose voices are rarely heard, and the people and places that inspire them to explore their world.”

We are proud to feature Mélina on Day 3. Here’s her story:

The Journey

My writing began with letters: to my father in Vietnam, my grandmother in France, my pen pal in Jamaica. Around sixth grade, I discovered Langston Hughes and shifted my attention to diary writing. That’s when I first thought of becoming a writer.

It wasn’t until after college, working as a textbook production editor, that I tried to publish my work. My first published piece was a journal entry in an anthology. When the beautiful book arrived featuring luminaries like Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, I was both inspired and humbled. How could my unpolished debut appear alongside their work? I didn’t submit anything for five years after that. I couldn’t. I had to become a better writer.

Through a move across the country, graduate school, and a new career as a school librarian, I kept writing and reading and attending workshops. When my short story “Georgia’s View” (inspired by a Jonathan Green painting) was published in a literary journal, I was hooked. Writing short stories was addictive. So was children’s literature. My short stories began to feature children, and were published in anthologies such as Milkweed’s Stories From Where We Live series. After a writing retreat with editor Patricia Gauch, and a week with Rita Willgarciabioiams-Garcia at the Highlights Writing Workshop at Chautauqua, I was inspired to craft longer works. I moved back to Minnesota, got married, and started writing biographies of the inspiring people lacking from my library shelves, like the trailblazing author Virginia Hamilton, which became my first book. Rita Williams-Garcia and Classic Storytellers: Mildred Taylor came next. I wished their books had been available to me when I was a kid.

After the birth of my daughter, I became even more engrossed in picture books, and in delving deeper into my stories. I’m now spending more time exploring the visual images conjured by my words, after studying with Maya Cristina Gonzalez. My poem “Black Is” will be published in a collection by Reflection Press this spring.

taylorbioI spent the last couple of years researching and writing a picture book about the groundbreaking scientist Ernest Everett Just, which is due out in 2017. I can’t wait for young readers to learn about this inspirational man and his contributions to science.

The Inspiration

Although I had no problem reading, I became a Reader the summer before sixth grade when my family moved from a small town in Wisconsin to the ‘big city’ of St. Paul, Minnesota. I could walk to the library, and there I found books featuring all kinds of people—including people who looked like me. That’s where I discovered Langston and Maya Angelou. I read poetry, biographies, mysteries, and historical fiction, all of which I still turn to for inspiration.

Books by Jacqueline Woodson, Vaunda Michaux Nelson, and Tonya Bolden open my mind, while Tracey Baptiste and Jewell Parker-Rhodes fuel my love of nature, magic, culture, and spirit.

The Process

Ideas come easily to me. I don’t experience writer’s block, but I do suffer from what I call ‘dreamer’s deluge.’ I often have too many thoughts competing for attention. I typically have at least three projects of varying stages in the works. An idea starts with an image, or maybe a voice. I keep a notebook with me and jot it down. I write first by hand, capturing everything I can. I continue fleshing out details of characters by creating a character sketch. Poetry pops up when I try to get inside a character’s head. Later, I revise on the computer, then write by hand again when adding or changing scenes. Full-fledged stories take a long time to percolate.

The Industry: Under The Radar

It’s encouraging to see the work of writers and illustrators like Zetta Elliott, Kathleen Wainwright, Janine Macbeth, and Jerry Craft, who are paving a new way with Rosetta Press, Willa’s Tree Studios, Blood Orange Press, and Mama’s Boyz. Illustrators like Keturah Ariel Nailah Boo, Melodie Strong, and Peter Ambush are creating fresh, vibrant work, highlighting the significance of images in young readers’ lives.

Learn more about Mélina Mangal here.

Day 2: Damian Ward

February 2, 2016

damian profile picAs the lone illustrator on the Brown Bookshelf, I especially look forward to hosting the artists during our 28 Days Later campaign. Today I interview Damian Ward, who is a critically acclaimed illustrator of both trade and educational books for children. Some of the books he’s illustrated include “Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat,” (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2008), written by Nikki Giovanni, and “Bottle Cap Boys Dancing On Royal Street,” (Marimba Books, 2015), written by Rita Williams-Garcia. His digital artwork is lively and vibrant, and successfully brings to life the books that he’s illustrated. Ward studied illustration at the Columbus College of Art and Design.

Don: Tell us about your path to publishing. How did you get that first trade contract?

Damian: Craigslist, believe it or not. I got lucky to work with some talented people who 51n2WNzf5+L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_[1].jpghad experience writing for film, and they wanted to try something different. There was one particular picture in my portfolio that got their attention and after some emails, I was off to New York city to get things moving. It was a great first book experience for me because it was so open for me to interpret while also being on a very tight deadline. I could do just about whatever I wanted so long as I got it done super fast.

Don: Tell us about your most recent book.

Damian: “Bottle Cap Boys Dancing On Royal Street” was a joy. I had so much fun with the challenge of depicting such a distinct place and the people there. I got good guidance from the author and publishers, and that helped to make it feel like it had a real local New Orleans flavor.

Don: Can you talk about the research process for the book?

Damian: I live on the other side of the planet from New Orleans, so I used lots and lots of Google Street view. It wasn’t all high tech new-fangled intel gathering though, I was able to rustle up a few old books from various sources. New Orleans is un-aging in many respects so having a few older images to reference and read about helped to reinforce the classic feel of the locale, at least I hope so.

Don: What primary medium do you use in your work?

11a151dd73b9543a42c9ae35f0a1bf50[1].jpgDamian: I work digitally, primarily using the oil pastel brushes in Corel Painter.

Don: If you could spend one day in a studio, working with any artist — past or present — who would that be, and why?

Damian: I’ve always had a soft spot for Kandinsky. I liked that he seemed to be trying to develop a specific visual language in abstract colors and shapes.

Don: What would be your dream manuscript? Your dream author to work with?

Damian: Hmm, a dream manuscript for me would probably involve insects and or fish. I just like getting up close and drawing the little critters. I also like for there to be a message in there too though, almost hidden away, not beating anyone over the head.
An author I’d like to work with would be someone venturing way out of their comfort zone. I think if Ta-Nehisi Coates wanted to write a children’s book I’d love to take that challenge on.

Don: Can you talk a bit about your process of illustrating a book?

Damian: I start off with lots of thumbnail sketches. Many times I read something and think, I have to draw it this way. I know just how I want this to look, but if I can patiently explore a few options with thumbnail sketches I usually stumble across a better angle or depiction I can try. Sometime it is that first instinct in the end but it pays give yourself options. After that, I start tightening up the line drawings and doing some color studies before finalizing the illustration.

Don: Who are your cheerleaders, those who encourage you?

Damian: My wife and family have been there at every step to try and keep my head on straight (not always an easy task). They keep the orange juice refills and apple pies coming.

Don: What’s on the horizon, what can your fans expect to see from you in the future?

Damian: It’s time for me to start pushing myself to be an author/illustrator. I’ve been my own worst enemy in this regard but hopefully the next couple projects will feature the coveted ‘written and illustrated by…’ line on the cover.

–Don Tate


Day 1: Maya Angelou

February 1, 2016

Maya-Angelou crop

We commence this year’s 28 Days Later Celebration with Vanguard Honoree, Dr. Marguerite “Maya” Angelou (1928-2014).

Maya Angelou is one of our nation’s most important literary voices. From I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Phenomenal Woman, to And Still I Rise and On the Pulse of Morning, the collective writings of Dr. Angelou reflect some of the most horrible and praiseworthy aspects of human nature and American culture.

But did you know she also wrote books for young children?

Here are four titles perfect for introducing young readers to the work of one of our country’s most treasured authors:


Life Doesn’t Frighten Me (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1993) life doesnt frighten me

A unique book that combines the words of a renowned African-American poet laureate and the primitive, modern paintings of a young Haitian-American artist. With lines of verse that shout exuberantly from each page, a young voice rails against any and all things that mean to do her harm. Whether they are “Shadows on the wall/ Noises down the hall” or even “Mean old Mother Goose/Lions on the loose”-to one and all she responds- “they don’t frighten me at all”…A powerful exploration of emotion and its expression through the careful blend of words and art. — School Library Journal


my-painted-house-my-friendly-chicken-and-meMy Painted House, My Friendly Chicken and Me (1994; Crown Books for Young Readers, Reprint ed. 2003)

A superb portrayal of Ndebele village life and art for young children. “Hello Stranger-friend” begins eight-year-old Thandi as she stands in front of a brightly painted house. In a thoroughly child-true voice, she tells about her beloved chicken, her people’s ideas of “good” (which is as close as they come to saying “beautiful”), their ways of making designs in paint or beads, her brother, and going to town. Courtney-Clarke’s full-color photographs are stunning…A unique book that honors Africa by projecting images that are true and honors American children by giving them the very best.—School Library Journal


kofi and his magic

Kofi and His Magic (Knopf, 1996)

A young Ashanti boy invites readers to visit his West African village, famous for fine kente cloth, and to share his “magic”—a masterful imagination. Artistic typesetting composition is accompanied by appealing color photos that bring the lyrical text into sharp focus…will speak to children everywhere and present them with a clear vision of [Kofi’s] beloved West African world.—School Library Journal




poetry for young people

Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou (2007; Sterling Children’s Books, Reprint ed. 2013)

A collection of 25 poems written by Maya Angelou, including the inspirational Still I Rise and Me and My Work.





To learn more about Maya Angelou, visit her website here.

24th Annual African American Children’s Book Fair

January 31, 2016

martin regusters 0336 webEach year, the African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia celebrates the beauty of literature by black children’s book creators. Founded by literary publicist and advocate Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, it is known as “one of the oldest and largest single-day events for children’s books in the country.” Thousands of parents, children, teachers, librarians and book lovers come to see an all-star line-up of award-winning black authors and illustrators. It’s a moving testament to the power of affirming images and good books. We welcome Vanesse back to The Brown Bookshelf and thank her for her vision, commitment and incredible work:

Congratulations on the 24th anniversary of the African American Children’s Book Fair! Please share how the annual event has grown over the years and why it has staying power.

The event started as a Black History Month event at a major department store with 10 authors/illustrators. EB Lewis, Tonya Bolden and Jacqueline Woodson participated in that first event. Over 250 people attended. Today, on average, over 3,500 people pass through our doors for the book fair. People don’t come to browse — they come to buy. We sell more books on the first Saturday in February than any other African-American retailer in the country.

Our Literary Row is legendary. This is a great promotional tool to get them in the door. Once I’ve got them in the door, they buy. Seeing a long line of consumers buying books is such a beautiful sight. I set up the room in the same manner as traditional retailers.

Yet, even with all of our success every year, I still have to convince some in the publishing industry what we are doing is valid.

Why does the event have staying power? THE NEED.

Who are you featuring this year? Why is it important for children to meet black authors 2016Poster - African American Children's Book Fairand illustrators?  

The best and the brightest. It sounds a like a cliché, but it is truly a talented group of African-American authors and illustrators who have produced some of the best books of our generation.

To participate is highly competitive. From September to the closing date of December 31, I got over 150 requests. When I preview the books, I look to find the right mix for the book fair. I’m like a child in a toy store. The added value is the participants are really nice people who share my passion about books and know how to interact with their fans. Yes, these are the book stars of the industry.

We’ve got the best group of illustrators on the planet — Eric Velasquez, Shadra Strickland, Floyd Cooper, Nancy Devard, James Ransome, Theodore Taylor and EB. Lewis — who all just so happen to be American Library Association (ALA) past winners of various awards from Caldecott Honors to The Coretta Scott King.

The 2016 ALA Coretta Scott King best book winner, Rita Williams-Garcia, author of Gone Crazy In Alabama, will showcase the third book in her winning series. Ekua Holmes, who won the ALA John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator award, will be in the house. Ekua’s bold and vivid strokes in Voices of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer Spirit of The Civil Rights Movement shines with Carole Boston Weatherford prose, which won a Randolph Caldecott book honor. The book also won The Robert Sibert Informational Book.

Representing non-fiction are two of the best children’s historians from the literary community — Tonya Bolden and Carole Boston Weatherford — who both have won awards up and the down the literary landscape. 

When describing these groups, I didn’t use the word African American because these books have African-American themes or protagonists but are designed to include all readers.

Rounding out the group are my fiction divas — Crystal Allen, Sundee Frazier, Renée Watson, and Denise Lewis Patrick.

In the African-American publishing community, it is a family affair. James Ransome, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Wade and Cheryl Hudson, G. Todd Taylor and his wife Tiffany who owns the imprint are bring it strong in the fiction lane.

Picture books always take center stage at this event — Pamela Tuck never disappoints her audience with her storytelling skills.

Linda Trice, Tiffany D. Taylor and Veronica Chambers remind us in their picture books that in every problem there is a solution that brings happiness.

David Miller, whose first chapter book was about bullying, takes a spin in the picture book lane.

One of the hallmarks of this event is the support of corporate America. They show up in a big way at the event.

NBC10-TELEMUNDO62 is the sponsor of the Reading Circle. Our Educators Book-Give is sponsored by Wells Fargo, Tierney, Always Best Care Senior Service, Health Partners Plans, Health Partners Foundation and Universal Companies. PECO, which is the local electric company, sponsors a Literary Salon, which features our workshops.

All of these things set the stage to opening up the doors to a life-long love of reading.

What do you want people to take away from the experience of attending?


We are selling the joy of reading. People who read for pleasure use it as a coping skill. I have heard over and over again of people who read to relax. I believe the love of reading starts early. Every time I read, I learn something more about the past, present and future of who I am.

We have signs posted around the room that say, “PRESERVE A LEGACY, BUY A BOOK.” 

What’s next for the book fair? What’s your dream?

The book fair will continue to grow here in Philadelphia (tristate region). I have adults who attended as children bringing their children. My son just had a daughter Giuliana Isabella Sgambati so I’ve got to make sure she never says these words “There Are No African American Books In My Community.”

Also to expand nationally. I’m developing plans to take the book fair on a nationwide tour. I’m in conversation with national corporate partners. So if anyone in this radar has an interest please reach us at

We are a resource center – use us.

I’m also planning the children’s platform at BookExpo.

As always, my dream is to have the President of The United States host African American authors/illustrators in the White House. Having the president acknowledge the talent from the African American Children’s Book Community would be the icing on the cake. He knows best that “A Book Opens Up A World Of Opportunities.”


Saturday, February 6, 2015, 1-3 p.m.

Community College of Philadelphia (Gymnasium)

17th & Spring Garden Streets

Free and open to the public.

Details here:



























Contact Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati at or call (215) 878-BOOK.


Kenya’s Art

January 28, 2016

Kenyasart - coverWhen I think about picture book series starring black characters, Linda Trice’s proud and creative Kenya immediately comes to mind. Trice, a 2014 28 Days Later honoree, released the first two books – Kenya’s Word and Kenya’s Song – to critical acclaim. Now, she’s back with another winner – Kenya’s Art (illustrated by Hazel Mitchell, published by Charlesbridge) – a celebration of ingenuity, recycling and family.

Like in earlier titles, Kenya is showcased here as a smart, confident girl whose discoveries empower not just herself but also her friends in Mrs. Garcia’s class. Kenya’s Art was inspired by an assignment Trice, a former Black Studies professor and elementary school teacher, gave her first grade students at PS 80 in Queens, NY (pictured with Trice below). kenyasart - classphotoThe story follows Kenya’s quest to find something special to share about her spring vacation.

A hallmark of Trice’s Kenya books is their focus on family togetherness and love. That shines in Kenya’s Art too as she longs for a cool vacation experience and Daddy suggests touring a museum. There, they see an exhibit called “Recycle! Reuse! Make Art!” featuring every-day items turned into colorful displays that get Kenya’s imagination spinning. In a sweet scene, Daddy holds her hand, chants the recycling slogan and shares her excitement. Then back at home, the whole family gets in on the fun inspired by what Kenya saw.

Trice’s depiction of a close-knit, supportive family and Hazel Mitchell’s warm, inviting illustrations leave you with a smile. Kenya’s triumph at the end is a victory for her and each child who reads her story.

Learn more about Linda at

Happy Book Birthday, Crystal Allen!

January 26, 2016

Oh Mylanta…She’s back!

We are pleased as peanut brittle to celebrate the latest, greatest release from author and BBS contributor, Crystal Allen, also known as The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown (Balzer and Bray).


We asked Crystal for some inside scoop on the creation of her new chapter book series. Our conversation went as follows:


BBS: You are known as a phenomenally talented MG author. What made you decide to write a chapter book?

Crystal: I was asked by my publisher. It was very difficult at first to change my writing from middle grade to chapter book, but as the voice of this sassy new character came alive, the writing took on a life of itself. It’s been so much fun!

BBS: What was the biggest difference craft-wise in writing a chapter book? Was it more difficult than you anticipated? If so, how so?

Crystal: Oh Mylanta…

Plot. There is such a big difference in the plot of a middle grade novel versus the same in a chapter book. With Middle Grade, it’s okay if things don’t tie together in a nice, neat, little bow. It’s alright if the characters don’t live happily ever after. But that’s not the case with chapter books. The plot must be simpler. As much as I love creating MG plots, they are too elaborate for the young chapter book reader. That was one of my biggest adjustments.

Also, the main characters in my two middle grade novels, Lamar and Laura, talked lots of trash, and had a language identifiable to the reader as fun, sometimes hilarious. Mya and her friends have a few created words, but not many.

BBS: How did the idea for this specific series come to be? Did you set out to write a series initially, or did that idea evolve along with the manuscript?

Crystal: My publisher had an idea for a type of character, but didn’t have a look or a voice for her. After writing How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy and The Laura Line, my publisher believed that I might have the voice they were looking for. It turned out that I did! The Magnificent Mya Tibbs was always billed as a series.

BBS: Tell us about your main character, Mya. How do you think she’s different (or similar) from other well-known series MC’s?

Crystal: If we’re going to talk about well-known series MC’s, we would have to talk about Ramona Quimby and Clementine. Neither Ramona nor Clementine were cookie-cutter characters. By that, I mean they were not stereotypical girlie girls. Ramona and Clementine were allowed to do things wrong, make bad decisions, say what was on their minds, and figure out how they were going to fix their own problems. They were so relatable and because of that, their books are still relevant today.

Mya doesn’t always make the right decision and her personality isn’t always “girlie”, but she’s a good friend and very comfortable with her love for everything country and western. Hopefully Mya will be relatable to today’s young girl.

Both of those chapter book heavy-weights were strongly considered as I created Mya. However, the biggest influence for me came from Fern Arable of Charlotte’s Web.

BBS: Tell us more about Fern’s influence. Also, what’s your overall goal in writing this series? What need are you hoping Maya fills among the contemporary works of today? Is there something specific you hope readers experience after reading Maya’s stories?

Crystal: To me, there’s a difference between creating a character and providing a friend. Back in the day, when I read Charlotte’s Web, I had just moved to a farm and was the new kid at school. I was friendless, bullied, and on the verge of hating everything and everybody. When the librarian gave me Charlotte’s Web, I realized Fern was just like me. She lived on a farm, loved animals, and didn’t seem to have many friends. I needed her. She looked like me, in ways other than skin color. That’s what I’m hoping Mya does for someone else.

BBS: What’s the next title in the series? When is the pub date?

Crystal: The next title is called The Wall of Fame Game. It’s pub date will be in 2017.

BBS: Any other projects you want to share?

Crystal: Nope. I’m just having fun with Mya!



To learn more about Mya, Crystal, and her other books, please visit Crystal’s  website:

Congratulations to the Honorees!

January 25, 2016

28dayslogoToday, we are proud to announce the honorees for our ninth annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of emerging and established children’s book creators of color. Throughout February, we will showcase outstanding authors and illustrators through guest posts, Q&As and features on their latest book. We invite you to come along on our journey and spread the news to your friends.

The submissions window for our campaign opened on November 15 and closed on December 1. We are grateful for the wonderful suggestions from librarians, teachers, publishers and kidlit lovers that came in. Our team considered those names along with internal nominations and nominees from past years, keeping focused on our mission to raise awareness of the many African-American voices writing for young readers.

The celebration will begin on Monday, February 1, 2015, and we will honor 28 children’s book creators – 24 authors and four illustrators. This year – a leap year – we’re honoring a  phenomenal children’s literature scholar who is dedicated to raising awareness of children’s book creators of color too.

The honorees and the day they will be featured are as follows:

(Vanguard authors/illustrators in bold.)

Day 1 – Maya Angelou 

Day 2 – Damian Ward

Day 3 – Mélina Mangal

Day 4 – Daniel José Older

Day 5 – Johnny Ray Moore

Day 6 – Renée Watson

Day 7 – Ekua Holmes

Day 8 – Guy A. Sims

Day 9 – Marguerite Abouet

Day 10 – Mo’Ne Davis

Day 11 – Ronald L. Smith

Day 12 – Troy Andrews

Day 13 – Jessixa Bagley

Day 14 – Dr. Lorenzo Pace

Day 15 – Sharee Miller

Day 16 – Trevor Pryce

Day 17 – Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Day 18 – Tom Feelings

Day 19 – Lynda Blackmon Lowery

Day 20 – Cheryl Wills

Day 21 – Shannon Gibney

Day 22 – Edwidge Danticat

Day 23 – Christopher S. Ledbetter

Day 24 – Danielle Paige

Day 25 – John Lewis

Day 26 – Nnedi Okorafor

Day 27 – Aaron Phillip

Day 28 – Nicola Yoon

Day 29 – Edith (Edi) Campbell




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 728 other followers