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:


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.


“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.”


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:

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






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.



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:

Author Photo Credit: Adam Johnson

Day 10: Jackie Wellington

February 10, 2015

This year, The Brown Bookshelf would like to introduce a new profile — the “Up and Comer.” In this space, we recognize a children’s book creator “who has made a significant contribution to the world of children books before publication.” We’re delighted to welcome educator, activist, and author Jackie Wellington as our first Up-and-Comer honoree, and as you’ll see below, significant doesn’t even begin to describe it.

How did your teaching lead to your writing of fiction?

I am a writer who was raised in a Jamaican family. If you know anything about the culture, you’d know education is important and writing is not a “worshipped” profession. Doctors, Lawyers, teachers are notable aspirations for a child growing up on a small Caribbean island. Chef, writer, and artist, not so much. So I did what was expected. I graduated high school, joined the Army, and attended college.

For years I taught. Math was my specialty, but I was great in reading and language arts. I worked with students with disabilities. Most of them, if not all, were reluctant readers. Bribing them to pick up a book was my secret weapon. My students never had books. So whatever skill I taught, I wrote stories to supplement the curriculum. Then I had an idea.

One day, I watched my students in the cafeteria. They were loud as usual, trying to figure out who did what. Who was responsible for something? Eavesdropping, I already solved the problem, but they were still baffled. At that moment, I decided they would be the characters in a lesson on logical reasoning.

I wrote a story, each of them had a role to play. I had to allow their persona to shine. My class clown had to be the funny one which was difficult for someone like me to write since I do not consider myself a humorist. They had to work together to solve the problem. It was a hit! They all wanted to be the star of the story. So I created my own curriculum and integrated stories in Math, Language Arts, and Social Studies. Then one of my student said, “Miss, you are good at this…you should write books!” That was years ago.

Why and where did you see the need?

There is a need for diverse books – picture books, middle grade, and young adult. I would like to see more children being represented in picture books. There are many animal characters. Children need to see themselves early on as they embark on the journey of reading. I have to admit, I never paid attention to the characters until I taught. In Jamaica, we got books from America and England. When I was seven, I read every Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Bobbsey Twins. While Nancy was traveling to Arizona to solve mysteries on a ranch, I was going to the beach, sipping coconut water, and eating Jerk Chicken from the side of the road. The fact that Nancy did not look like me did not bother me at all. But in America, your race enable people to form opinions about you. On my island, race is second nature. We are Jamaicans, a mixture of people from all over the world.

What was the response from your students?

My students like to see themselves in books. Whether they are solving mysteries, jumping through obstacles, or slaying dragons, each of them want to be the victor. The hero. The problem solver. The adventurer.

Tell us a bit about the #ReadSameReadDifferent campaign.

The purpose of #ReadSameReadDiffernt campaign is to expose readers to the creativity of underrepresented authors in the Kidlit industry. This is not about Blacks, Whites, Latinas/Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, or any other ethnic groups. This is about books. Children. Reading. And exposing. One goal – to get great books into the hands of children of all races, cultures, and socio-economic groups. This is embracing #DIVERSITY and #MULTICULTURALISM.

This campaign is not complex. I love it because it gives me the opportunity to do what I love – READ BOOKS! I read a lot of books and then I pair them with books written by diverse authors. For instance, one of the books I loved last year was A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT written by Kristy Dempsey and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. This book is a picture book about a little girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina. I can take this book and pair it with MY FRIEND MAYA LOVES TO DANCE by Cheryl Willis Hudson or MOON OVER STAR by Dianna Hutts Aston. I can take HARRY POTTER and pair it with HOW LAMAR’S BAD PRANK WON A BUBBA-SIZED TROPHY.

People say, “Those books don’t go together.” I beg to differ. They are related in many ways beneath the surface. So my job is to convince others why these books are wonderful pairings. I am loving reading new books.By the way, it is time to update the list.

I hope this campaign will enable the industry to extinguish the myth that Black folks don’t read. Books are ways to escape. And everyone deserve the opportunity to escape into a world far from his own. A world where mysteries need to be evaluated, adventures need to be explored, and fantasies need to be encountered.

Tell us about your journey to publication so far.

I am new in the writing game. I have been taking some writing classes, honing my craft. I am paired with some awesome mentors. I did find an agent. I have some stories in revision mode. I guess I am at the point where I am paying my dues, but I have time. I’ve only been writing for one year. So I have time.

What stories do you most want to tell?
I most want to tell stories that expose readers to unknown African-American heroes. The heroes you do not read about in history books. Heroes such as Walter Morris, the first African-American paratrooper in the Army who forced the Army to integrate. Or Valaida Snow, the musical prodigy who was captured and placed in a Concentration Camp. And what about Mary Ellen Pleasant who went from living in slave shack in the south to a millionaire mansion. Children need to know why these people risk their lives for the betterment of their race.

I also want to write stories and correct history. Correct what we have been taught. I want people to know that the Civil Rights Movement went all the way back to the 1800s. And that the “Mother of the Civil Rights” is not Rosa Parks. These are the stories I want to tell.

What are you working on now?
Right now, I am working on a bunch of projects, mostly picture books. However, I do have a middle grade nonfiction project in the works. I am constantly bonding with librarians and pushing books written by authors of color or books about people of color. I am realizing that being the “Book Advocate” takes time away from writing. I have to find a balance between being an activist and a writer. I want to go on record to say, “Activism is hard work, but writing is harder.”

What are your goals for your writing career?
My goals are to publish stories that will reach a wide audience. I want to write screenplays. And I want to publish a book in all the genres of kidlit. Am I a “Brown Girl Dreaming?”

What are some things that you hope to see happen in the industry?
I want to see a more diverse industry. I want to see the inclusion and representation of all children. And I want to see them in a positive light.

What do you wish editors and publishers knew?
I wish editors and publishers knew what diversity looks like. If you do not sit and mingle with people who do not look like you, then how do you know what our characters are supposed to do and say?

Day 9: Jan Spivey Gilchrist

February 9, 2015

JanSpiveyGilchristNewWithPhotoCreditSmallerJan Spivey Gilchrist is an award-winning author, illustrator, fine artist, and lecturer. She is the illustrator of numerous children’s books including, THE GREAT MIGRATION: JOURNEY TO THE NORTH, written by Eloise Greenfield; NATHANIEL TALKING, written by Eloise Greenfield; and MY AMERICA, written by herself with illustrations by Ashley Bryan.

Outstanding features and reviews of her work have appeared in The New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Defender, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, L.A Times and US Today, Chicago Sun-times (Kup’s Column) and Ebony Magazine, etc. as well as television and radio.

Her awards include the Coretta Scott King Award for Nathaniel Talking, and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book forNight on Neighborhood Street.

Day 8: Katheryn Russell-Brown

February 8, 2015
Katheryn and Little Melba (top shelf) at Barnes & Noble in Emeryville, CA (Dec. 2014)

Katheryn and Little Melba (top shelf) at Barnes & Noble in Emeryville, CA (Dec. 2014)

As a child, Katheryn Russell-Brown remembers enjoying books like The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and cherishing the coloring book, Color Me Brown. Her mother made sure she saw affirming images of herself.  When Katheryn became a mom, she wanted the same for her twins. “I was determined that they were going to have realistic and interesting images of themselves reflected in our home library, ” she wrote in this Brown Bookshelf post. As she collected books featuring brown children, she began dreaming about writing them herself.

littlemelbaKatheryn’s debut picture book about pioneering trombonist and arranger Melba Liston, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone (illustrated by Frank Morrison, published by Lee & Low) was inspired by listening to Nancy Wilson rave about her work on a radio program. For Katheryn, professor of law and director of the Center for Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida, raising awareness of Melba’s work became a mission. She used her expert research skills and gift of writing to create a winning story that has been featured on many best lists and has received multiple honors and starred reviews.

Here Katheryn shares her inspiration, children’s writing journey and creative process:

The Journey & Backstory

Patience and perseverance. I had to rely on both of these throughout the years-long process of finding an agent and publisher for my first children’s book. Patience is the key to getting through the process. What was particularly unnerving was the wait after sending out query letters. Most times the response was by snail mail—a form letter that basically said thanks but no thanks. Sometimes the rejection came in e-mail form. A few responses came quickly, but sometimes I didn’t hear back for months. Then there are those agents and publishers who never, ever responded to my query letter. With each rejection I dusted off my bruised feelings and kept going—believing that someone would “get” my story and see its potential. It also helped that I had a mentor, a published children’s book writer, who kept encouraging me to send out my manuscript. After a few months of mostly silence, I started hearing back from agents who expressed a little interest. Ultimately I went with Adriana Dominguez at Full Circle Literary. She was very knowledgeable about the business of children’s book publishing and she expressed sincere interest in working with me as I develop and grow as a writer of children’s books. She has been fantastic to work with.


Here are a few things that fill me with inspiration to write for children (and make me feel good):

  • Any song on Earth Wind & Fire’s “Spirit” album (1976)
  • Dinah Washington’s voice
  • An amazing art exhibit, such as Kara Walker’s “Sugar Sphinx”
  • An incredibly blue sky with translucent clouds
  • Seeing a young child hold and read a book
  • Listening to “Sketches of Spain” by Miles Davis
  • Reading a beautiful and touching book, such as Bebe Moore Campbell’s Sweet Summer
  • Picture book art. Frank Morrison somehow managed to bring Little Melba to life in ways that I could not have imagined. Simply divine.

The Process

I’ve only published one children’s book. So, I can’t say that I have my process down to a science. I have, however, written non-fiction books for adults (on race and the criminal justice system). Also, I’ve written a few other children’s stories that have not been published.

I keep different journals. One is for story ideas. Another is for expressions, words, phrases, etc., that I’ve come across—maybe from a newspaper article or from a story I’ve heard on the radio—something I might use in a future story. Once I select a topic, I start gathering information. I always keep a journal for the book I’m working on. In this journal I write and clip any information or research on my topic area. Also, any books or other resources that I can use, or people who I may want to contact to ask some questions about the topic or person I am writing about.

When I finally begin to write the story, I will have a general outline of how the book should go, from beginning to middle, to end. However, I don’t limit myself to a set number of words. I just write! I save the editing for later. This is my “big pot” approach. I put all my words into the pot (onto the page) and then, after the pot is full, I start to take things out that don’t (or can’t fit) the story I’m telling.

After I have a solid draft—a completed story—I take it to my local Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) group for feedback. Then I edit some more. And, I edit, edit, edit, edit, edit…..

The Buzz

Little Melba has been welcomed with open arms. I’m thrilled that it has

 Six-time Tony Award winner Audra MacDonald holding Little Melba (September 2014).

Six-time Tony Award winner Audra MacDonald holding Little Melba (September 2014).

found a home on several Best-of-2014 book lists, including Kirkus Reviews, the School Library Journal, the Huffington Post, and the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature. The book also received a 2014 Eureka Honor Book Award (California Reading Association). And, Little Melba has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Literary Work, Children.” This nomination is particularly meaningful to me because my dad, Charlie L. Russell, won an NAACP Image Award in 1973 for writing the screenplay for his movie, “Five on the Black Hand Side.”

Find out more about Katheryn Russell-Brown on her website.


Day 7 Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

February 7, 2015



Researching Langston Hughes gave me a chance to look at his work in a different way. Not just to enjoy his poetry, but to read his work while placing it in context of his background. So much of his life is revealed in his poetry. I feel slighted that I didn’t have a chance to meet him in person. It does give me chance to introduce him to new audiences and re-introduce him to his legends of fans. The Brown Bookshelf is proud to honor Langston Hughes on Day 7 of 28 Days Later 2015.

As a child, Langston did not always live with his mother. But during the times that he did, she profoundly affected him. He relates in his autobiography, The Big Sea that his mother often took him to the vine-covered library on the grounds of the capital in Topeka, Kansas.
That is where he fell in love with librarians because they helped him find wonderful books. He remembered the big chairs and the long tables. And the library seemed to be mortgage free—unlike his grandmother’s home.

Langston’s literary interests stretched from westerns like the Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey to love stories such as Mistress of Shenstone by Florence L. Barclay which he borrowed from his mother’s bookshelf.

He barely saw his father who lived in Mexico. After Langston decided not to continue his college education, he never heard from his father again.

Langston worked in flower shop, on a ship, and wrote poetry. Some were published in the Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP. He was a man of the Harlem Renaissance, the period in the 1920s when Harlem exploded with black art, music, and literature. Langston took it all in. He frequented jazz and blues clubs where the music entered his soul and excited into poetry like “Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor. He played a few chords then sang some more . . .” from the poetry collection, Weary cover

He continued to write poems and also plays, screen plays, and short stories. He work always celebrated the life of everyday black people. Author and historian, Michael Eric Owens said, “He was unapologetic, passionate, and an advocate of Black culture.” He was generous with his time and talent, often helping to promote other artists.
house color

He was a traveler. Langstone traveled to any countries including, Russia, Japan, China, Frnce, and Haiti. But he always returned to Harlem. He bought a house at 20 East 127th Street, Harlem, NY. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Schomburg-Center_V1_460x285Langston died on May 22, 1967 and his ashes are buried beneath the Langston Hughes Atrium of the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.



visitinglangstonA book to share with young readers is Visiting Langston written my Willie Perdomo and illustrated by Bryan Collier. You can read more 28 Days Later about Willie  and Bryan.

Langston Hughes awards

• Harmon Gold Medal for Literature
• Guggenheim Fellowship
• Honorary Doctor of Letters
• NAACP Spingarn Medal
• American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Other interesting reading:

A letter Langston wrote in 1944 protessing how black children were portrayed in literature.

Biography with videos.


Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks


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