DAY 21: K’NAAN

February 21, 2015

knaan author photoWhen I get older, I will be stronger,
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag…

Born to a throne, stronger than Rome
But violent prone, poor people zone,
But it’s my home, all I have known,
Where I got grown, streets we would roam.
But out of the darkness, I came the farthest,
Among the hardest survival.
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak,
Except no defeat, surrender retreat

So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we’ll be free,
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day,
It’s not far away, so for now we say

When I get older, I will be stronger,
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag,
And then it goes back, and then it goes back,
And then it goes back…

These are lyrics from Wavin’ Flag, the hit song by Somali-born music artist, K’naan. Born Keinan Abdi Warsame, K’naan (along with his mother and his two siblings) fled war-torn Mogadishu when he was 12 years old; the family ultimately settled in Toronto, Canada along with his father.

Hip-hop music was one of the vehicles through which K’naan learned to speak English, listening to artists such as Nas and Rakim. He cites, however, Somali music as being among his primary creative influences. One would also imagine that his grandfather (a famous Somali poet), his aunt (a well-known Somali singer), and his first hand experience with atrocity and survival have also had a significant impact on his music. Writing for MP3.com, Jim Welte described K’naan’s sound as one that “fuses Bob Marley, conscious American hip-hop, and brilliant protest poetry.”

Wavin’ Flag, K’naan’s most famous song to date, was not only chosen as the anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, it also inspired his first children’s picture book: When I Get Older: The Story Behind “Wavin’ Flag” (Tundra Books, 2012). It relates the story of K’naan’s life before leaving Somalia and after, and is described as “a tribute to growing up, and believing in the future,” a concept certainly worth reinforcing to youth everywhere. It is because of this literary value that we celebrate the book and its author, K’naan, on Day 21 of 28 Days Later.

Knaan when i get older cover

The Buzz:

“There is an elegant simplicity in … K’naan’s telling of his story. It is an immigrant story many, many Canadian children will know personally…. Rudy Gutierrez, whose work is sometimes described as ‘musical’, provides lively, flowing illustrations to complement K’naan’s text. The emotional highs and lows of K’naan’s tale are captured in Gutierrez’s colour and composition…. And one last brilliant feature to this attractive book are the endpapers filled with images of countries’ flags. Hopefully every child reading this book will find the waving flag of his or her homeland.”
—Canadian Children’s Book News

“Somali-Canadian musician K’naan’s first children’s book tells the inspirational story of [K’naan’s] immigration to Canada…. K’naan uses accessible yet poetic language to draw in young readers, exploring his adjustment to Canada and how music kept him connected to his family. Gutierrez’s artwork powerfully conveys a new immigrant’s sense of alienation.”
—ParentsCanada.com

 

To learn more about K’naan, visit his website here.

To purchase When I Get Older: The Story Behind “Wavin’ Flag”, click here.


DAY 20: MILDRED PITTS WALTER

February 20, 2015

 

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

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

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

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

In her words. At 92 years old.

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

MILDRED PITTS WALTER

 The Journey

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

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

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

The Process

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

 

 

The Inspiration

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

 

 

The Buzz

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

2015-01-11 15.28.30

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

 

  

2015-01-11 15.28.18

 

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

 

 

2015-01-11 15.30.50

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

 

 

2015-01-11 15.24.38

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

 

 

2015-01-11 15.51.34BOOKS BY MILDRED PITTS WALTER

 HARPER COLLINS

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

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

MACMILLIAN

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

SCHOLASTIC

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

*Out of print

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 



Day 19: C. Taylor-Butler

February 19, 2015

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

    The Inspiration for the Story

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

    Authors Who Inspire Me


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

    My Path to Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

BBS_TribesGameOver

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Buzz

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

    The Climate


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

Book Trailers


can be found here and

and here

The Lost Tribes online.

Author site.


DAY 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 16: TONYA CHERIE HEGAMIN

February 16, 2015

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

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

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

 

Inspiration

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

 

The Process

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

willow

 

Under The Radar

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

 

State of the Industry

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

 

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


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/


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