Celebrating a Giant: Walter Dean Myers

July 15, 2014
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Photo of award-winning author Walter Dean Myers from his website: http://walterdeanmyers.net.

I’m so grateful I had the chance to meet Walter Dean Myers, a giant in so many ways. Before seeing him face to face, I met the award-winning author through his words – Brown Angels, Blues Journey, Looking Like Me. His writing embraced me, affirmed me, gave me that I-am-you-you-are-me nod that brothers and sisters exchange around the world. “Why do I love children?” he wrote in Brown Angels. “I think it is because the child in each of us is our most precious part.”

I saw his magic with kids first-hand at the African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia. Children flocked to greet the legend and get their books signed. Brother Walter wore his National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature medal around his neck, not to show them who he was, but to show them who they could be. As each young person talked to him, Brother Walter seemed to see no one else. The child in front of him was who mattered. And each one knew it. Faces shone with grins. They leaned in to hear every word and left clutching their signed book, a treasure.

Brother Walter was a giant, a tall man with a super-sized heart. A man with huge talent who through his words, through his caring, through his commitment, made people of all ages feel like they could soar.

Today, we celebrate the incredible life and contributions of Walter Dean Myers, a literary giant who blessed the world with more than 100 books for children and young adults. Check out his complete bibliography here. We’re honored to feature essays from two of Walter’s friends, author and publisher, Wade Hudson and author Linda Trice. Their posts immediately follow this one. Let’s keep Brother Walter’s family in our prayers and honor his legacy by sharing his beautiful books, some of which were illustrated by his son Christopher.

Please post your memories and reflections about Walter Dean Myers in the comments. Thank you.

 


Walter Dean Myers–More Than an Outstanding Writer

July 15, 2014
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Walter Dean Myers, Cheryl Willis Hudson and Wade Hudson sign books at a Toys R Us in NYC. Photo courtesy of Just Us Books.

By Wade Hudson

I was stunned when I heard that Walter Dean Myers had made his transition. During the 25 plus years that my wife Cheryl and I have been involved in publishing, it seemed that Walter was always “there.”     We started Just Us Books, Inc. in 1988 to publish more books for children that focused on black experiences.  Writers and artists such as Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff, Eloise Greenfield, Patricia and Fred McKissack, Tom Feelings, George Ford, Leo and Diane Dillon, and of course Walter Dean Myers, had already blazed a trail as book creators that we would follow.  We were novices, in a way, learning the business of publishing on the fly.

Cheryl and I were somewhat brash, bent on making a difference, determined to correct the injustices we saw in publishing. One would think that Myers and the other trailblazers who had been at the forefront of the struggle to change publishing to be more reflective of who we are as a nation, would have been taken aback by the two new kids on the block.  But they were not. They embraced us and welcomed us. When Cheryl and I did a radio interview with Tom Feelings in 1990, Just Us Books had only published three titles. Tom was already an established artist, a celebrity really. But he treated us as equals, applauded our efforts and encouraged us on the airways. We received support and encouragement from the other trailblazers, too.

Tom is gone. Virginia Hamilton is gone. Leo Dillon and Fred McKissack are gone, too. And now we have lost Walter Dean Myers.

I will miss seeing Walter at Book Expo America, ALA, NCTE and the many other conferences where he often held court, sharing, urging, encouraging, directing, advocating…always trying to make things better. When Walter’s article, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” appeared in the March 15, 2014 issue of the New York Times, many welcomed it as timely and much needed. But Walter had written an article that appeared in the New York Times in 1986, addressing the same concerns.  He was always at the forefront, involved in many initiatives, some that he organized himself.  He was determined to increase diversity in our body of literature for children. He also advocated for the inclusion of people of color in the offices of publishing houses.

In 1991, Walter, Cheryl and I worked together as jurors for a scholarship competition organized to identify talented writers and artists of color and introduce them to the publishing community. The fellowship competition was a part of Multi-colored Mirror: Cultural Substance in Literature for Children and Young Adults, a conference sponsored by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Walter also supported literacy programs offered by the Children’s Defense Fund, sometimes donating his own money. I watched as he connected effortlessly with the young people who attended the summer sessions there. Whenever a speaking engagement was set up for him, Walter made sure that juvenile detention centers, prisons and other programs for youth were included.

“I know what falling off the cliff means,” he once said. “I know from being considered a very bright kid to being considered like a moron and dropping out of school.”

Yes, Walter Dean Myers was a prolific, multi award-winning writer. As stated on his web site he“touched so many with his eloquent and unflinching portrayal of young African-American lives.” Walter visualized a better world. In the tradition of Frederick Douglass, he used words to encourage, empower, challenge, advocate and agitate for the change that would bring that world about. In that regard, for me, at least, he was a freedom fighter, too.

Reprinted with permission of Just Us Books.


Walter Dean Myers: “Reading is not an option”

July 15, 2014

By Linda Trice

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Linda Trice and Walter Dean Myers at the annual African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia.

Tributes have been posted mourning the passing of Walter Dean Myers’s unexpected death on July 1, 2014. Many heartfelt ones are from readers who believed that Walter’s work spoke directly to them, reflected their life, understood their pain and guided them towards a hopeful future. People ask what they can do in remembrance of him. Knowing Walter and having read his books, or heard him speak many know the answer–inspire kids to read. We must remind young people and the adults who guide them of the importance of reading.

AMBASSADOR
Walter Dean Myers was the first African American chosen by the Library of Congress as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a two year appointment. He was also only the third person to receive this honor. His motto as ambassador for adults and kids was “Reading is not an option.” He told School Library Journal:
“As a young man, I saw families prosper without reading, because there were always sufficient opportunities for willing workers who could follow simple instructions. This is no longer the case. Children who don’t read are, in the main, destined for lesser lives. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to change this.” Publishers Weekly wrote that Walter believed that reading saved his life.

FATHER
Walter was raised by two good Harlem people, Florence and Herbert Dean. Walter gave them copies of his books and sadly learned that his beloved dad hadn’t read them. He later discovered why. His father, like many Black men of his generation had never learned how to read.

PRISON
Walter visited men and children in prisons while doing research for his award winning novel MONSTER. He realized that a huge percentage of them couldn’t read past an elementary school level. Some of them could barely read at all. He wondered how they could get a job when they were released. This knowledge resulted in prison literacy becoming one of his passions. Seeing the limitations of his father and those of kids in prisons helped shape Walter’s belief that the ability to read gives us power.

We should praise Walter and enjoy his books. Hopefully though many of us will reflect on Walter’s message and tell others: “Reading is not an option.” It is how we get power and a better future because in life reading is truly not optional.

Linda Trice is the author of Kenya’s Song (Charlesbridge Publishing). Visit her at www.LindaTrice.com.


Walter Dean Myers passes away at 76

July 2, 2014

 

Walter Dean Myers, in his own words and what he hoped his legacy would be.

“I hope that my legacy is that I was useful for young people…”

“…I want to make people of color human beings, and I want to make poor people human beings. I want to include them in my books so that they can look at my books and say that could be me, and this guy understands who I am as a poor person.”


Making Our Own Market: Reading is Fundamental

June 18, 2014

PrintThe Making Our Own Market series has been about empowering children’s book creators of color with new ways to tell our stories and get them into children’s hands. Luckily, we don’t have to do that last part alone. Wonderful organizations like Reading is Fundamental (RIF), First Book, Teaching for Change and others support our work in important and enduring ways. We’re blessed to wrap up this series (occasional posts may follow) by hearing from RIF which sends, with the support of Macy’s, thousands of copies of its annual multicultural collection of children’s books to schools and libraries around the country. A big thank you to Carol H. Rasco, Judy Blankenship Cheatham, Cheryl Clark, Teri Wright and the entire RIF team for their support of The Brown Bookshelf and books that celebrate the beautiful diversity of our world.

Here’s the message from RIF:

Greetings friends of The Brown Bookshelf! Reading Is Fundamental is honored to connect with you. RIF is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the Unites States. We’ve been in this critical business for a long time. Forty-seven years working to inspire a love of reading and provide ownership of books among children least likely to have access to this essential resource and providing families and educators with the knowledge and materials to support children in their journey towards literacy.

But we realized that we had to do more. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has shown us our nation’s African American, Latino, and American Indian children lag far behind those of white children. This disparity, known as the achievement gap, is the core reason we introduced our Multicultural Literacy Campaign in 2007, a multi-year effort in partnership with Macy’s to promote and support early childhood literacy in African American, Hispanic, and American Indian communities. The centerpiece of the campaign is the release of our annual Multicultural Book Collection for grade K-5. Each year, our team of literacy experts selects books with engaging stories and enriching themes for children, that also offer them windows into the lives of people unlike themselves and mirrors in which they’ll see their own experiences reflected. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote over two decades ago, “When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what make us all human.” The sentiment is no less true than it was when it was written, and the charge to bring that full spectrum of stories to all children no less important.

Selecting good multicultural children’s books begins with the same criteria as that for selecting any good children’s books – the literary elements of plot, characterization, setting, style, theme and point of view must be interwoven to provide an interesting story. In addition, good multicultural children’s books will challenge stereotypes and promote an accurate, realistic glimpse into the lives of diverse groups of people.

Here are some guidelines for choosing multicultural books:

·         Look for stories that include a variety of cultures and different family compositions – for example, single parents, families that involve grandparents, and extended families

·         Look for accuracy in modern-day stories, historical fiction, and all non-fiction

·         Choose books with minority characters who are good role models, independent thinkers, and problem solvers

·         Illustrations should suitably convey skin color and facial details, rather than using stereotypical caricatures

·         Books should have photographs that accurately portray present-day events, and any and all captions should be specific and correct (e.g. “Harare, Zimbabwe,” rather than the general “Africa”).

You can check out our full library of Multicultural Book Collections online. In the spirit it of “it takes a village”, we have also developed free, downloaded activity sheets for each book in the collection to help parents, educators, and volunteers deepen children’s understanding of the multicultural themes.

Surely, we all agree that every child is a precious resource. With an educated mind and without ignorance and prejudices inhibiting them, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. Let’s continue this dialogue until everyone gets this message. Book People Unite.

 


Making Our Own Market: Charlesbridge Publishing on marketing diverse titles

June 13, 2014

603526_495373203869993_2116115699_nEarlier this year at a reading conference, I signed my picture book, The Cart That Carried Martin, written by Eve Bunting. The book was published by Charlesbridge Publishing. Before my signing, I nervously wandered around the Charlesbridge booth. Signings can be a scary thing, especially as a book creator of color, in an exhibit hall filled with people who don’t look like you. Would anyone come to my signing? Would anyone want my book featuring mostly people who look like me? To pass time, I flipped through the Charlesbridge catalog. I was put at ease with what I saw—many brown faces looking back at me. I saw the names of authors and illustrators who I knew to be people of color, or whose names suggested they might be. Charlesbridge—not really marketed as a multicultural publisher—has a nicely diverse list. I felt proud. And my signing went great!

I asked the marketing department at Charlesbridge to contribute to our discussion on marketing titles by and about people of color.

Donna Spurlock, Director of Marketing, Charlesbridge Publishing

Recently there was an online campaign called #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Everyone—publishers, authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, readers, etc.—were joining in with pictures of themselves with their favorite books or with signs that said “We need diverse books because. . . .” People filled in the blank with responses, such as “. . . because people are not the same;” “. . .  so that someday all good “multicultural” stories can just be called good stories;” “. . . because I want to be the hero, too;” and so many more.95507

As a marketer, I love these opportunities to join the conversation. I think this would be my number one piece of advice to any author or illustrator just starting out in the industry:  Join the conversation! 

At Charlesbridge we publish a very diverse list of books. Our trade book publishing program started twenty-five years ago with five nature books by Jerry Pallotta and we have continued introducing the natural world to young readers ever since, including books about a strange little species known as Human. What those critters get up to is strange, hilarious, inspiring, sometimes shocking, and always interesting. 

At Charlesbridge we are privileged and proud to publish books by authors and illustrators of all stripes—established authors and illustrators, new voices, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. Many of the people we work with are people of color including the awesome Don Tate, the wonderful Grace Lin, the incomparable Mitali Perkins, and so many more. One of the best reasons to work in publishing is to bring stories to people—ALL people. And all people are different. Stories aren’t about a race or a gender or a religion. And while stories may be born in a particular culture, aren’t they all really about being human and living in the world? Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 7.46.34 AM

When I read The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Don Tate, I didn’t feel that this was an African American story that I couldn’t relate to. Nor was it a piece of history that I’ll need to know about for an upcoming test. This was a story about a man, about the people his life touched, and also about the world we live in today. I didn’t need to approach this book differently than I do any other book as a marketer. I had a beautiful book on my hands with a story that still touches everyone’s lives. All I had to do was join the conversation. 

In this day and age we have so many opportunities to talk to people about books:  via a slew of social networks, at conferences and trade shows, through the media, and one-on-one with our friends and neighbors. The main purpose of marketing is to gain word of mouth for your book. How do you do that? By telling people, not so much about the book, but about the story. And by listening to their stories and telling someone else about the story you just heard. It’s like that old shampoo commercial: You tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and so on and so on. When you join the conversation in a campaign like #WeNeedDiverseBooks you are telling thousands of people that you hear them and you are interested in what they have to tell you. And they are telling you the same thing. 92421

Don Tate asked me to contribute to this blog as a marketer to speak about how I approach marketing books by and about people of color. I don’t think I do anything differently than I do for a book about life under the sea or man’s journey to the Moon.  I find my audience and I tell them about the story I have to share. Authors and illustrators can do this with a minimal of effort: have a Twitter account and follow the authors and illustrators who interest and inspire you, have a Facebook page and like booksellers and libraries, visit schools and share the passion you have for your subject with students who have the potential to be passionate about everything, or whatever else you can think to do. Do what you can conceivably keep up with. Many authors and illustrators have a hard time putting themselves out in the world as a marketer, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to be a salesperson. Just be yourself, tell your story, share your passion and people will join your conversation. duke ellington nutcracker


Making Our Own Market: Jackie Wellington and Leila Monaghan

June 12, 2014

Facebook can be what you make it. Want to reconnect with family and friends? Got you covered. Want to use it as a way to unite with other kidlit folks? Got your back there too. That latter reason brought writer Jackie Wellington and publisher Leila Monaghan together. Rallying around the cause of pushing for more diverse books, they found each other. They’ve come up with inventive ideas including a Read Same Read Different campaign  and an initiative to promote wonderful middle-grade novels like The Laura Line by our own Crystal Allen. Here’s an inspiring conversation between these two FB friends and advocates dedicated to helping writers of color and multicultural children’s books succeed:

Reaching the World through Facebook

By Jackie Wellington and Leila Monaghan

Jackie:  I write books for 4 -12 year olds. For years, I struggled to find books for my students. I taught in four different states and worked with students with worlddisabilities.  When the states adopted alternative assessments for these students, I was forced to create reading materials. My students had one request, “Miss, make sure that it is not boring. And make sure they (the characters) look like us.” So I started writing stories and assigning my students’ names to the characters based on their personalities. It was then that I developed a love for writing. Especially since my students would say, “Miss, you should write books.” So now I am on a writing journey.

I read the Walter Dean Myers article in the New York Times and smiled. “Finally,” I thought. “Someone is seeing what I am seeing and they are talking about it.”

So when I was finished reading the article, I left a comment. A few days later, Leila Monaghan contacted me via Facebook. We chatted about the need to see all children represented in books. I joined Kids of Color Children Books. And since then we have been brainstorming different ways to get the word out about our mission. And that is to promote books written by people of color. To advocate for more books with children of color.  And equal marketing strategies for authors of color.

Leila:  Just like Jackie, I was very excited to see Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Meyers talking about the lack of books for children of color.  I used to teach second grade in West Philadelphia and there were no middle grade books I could find that reflected my students’ experiences.  I was excited that a lot of them read Harry Potter but really frustrated that there was nothing like the Potter books set in West Philly or a similar urban neighborhood.  It led me to write stories set in West Philly under the name of Lee Mullins.  As I am a PhD in linguistic anthropology, I left grade school teaching to go back to college teaching but the importance of diverse children’s literature stuck with me.  Since then, I have also started a small publishing company, Elm Books.

The articles by Myers and Myers and comments like Jackie’s inspired me start a children’s division and to reach out to others who also cared deeply about diverse children’s books.  I feel it is a civil rights issue.  Children need books with which to identify so they may develop a love of reading, which will eventually lead to strong literacy skills.  Without solid skills in reading and writing, so much of the world is closed off to young people, particularly in today’s high tech age.  But the social media of today also allows people who share a vision to get together in ways that just weren’t possible before.

Jackie: At this time, we are still brainstorming networking strategies. However, we cannot deny that we are blessed to be in an era where social media speaks volumes. Facebook, Tumbler, Twitter, and blogs have the potential to reach thousands even millions. Within the next few months, we will be using these medium to get our message out.  One campaign we will be promoting is Read Same Read Different” (#ReadSameReadDifferent). The idea is to get all children to read books that reflect their experiences (Read Same) and those quite different from their experiences (Read Different).  Michelle Obama recently spoke about the resegregation of America and we all need to reach across lines including the lines of the publishing industry. For example, even if libraries have diverse books on their shelves, people are not necessarily taking them out so they get taken off shelves.  Our goal is to reach out to the publishing industry, libraries, schools, music industry and Hollywood. I know it seem like a stretch, but we can do it. It is about reaching the right people at the right time and making sure diverse books get a fair chance at being read.

Leila: For me, this is a time for experimenting in networking, for trying to build bridges that support diverse children’s books. We are still trying to understand LauraLinehow it works ourselves.  Some of the ways that we have been working on this have been launching the #ReadSameReadDifferent campaign, building the Kids of Color Children’s Books group on Facebook, and promoting specific diverse children’s books such as Crystal Allen’s lovely The Laura LineWe now have almost 400 members in the KoCCB group and 400 likes for the Facebook page we set up for The Laura Line.  This is just a small first step but at least it is a step in the right direction.

Some ways we came up with to support diversity in children’s books:    

–Write diverse children’s books

–Read diverse children’s books

–Get everyone you know to read and buy diverse children’s books

–Support the diverse books you love like The Laura Line on social media including Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.

–Go to Facebook, like the author’s page, and encourage friends and families to do the same.

–Write reviews and give stars to books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other sites.

–Tweet about what you are reading.  Take a picture of it and tweet why you like it.

–Blog about diverse books and review the books you read.

–Start a book club and emphasize diverse books.

–Make connections in the media or at conferences and workshops with other people who care about diversity.

A Few Media Starting Places:

Kids of Color Children’s Books https://www.facebook.com/groups/598139093596498/

The Laura Line on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/teamlauraline

The Laura Line on Goodreads

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16065579-the-laura-line

Read Same Read Different Blog

http://readsamereaddifferent.wordpress.com/

 


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