Celebrating Diversity at ALA: Recommended Titles

June 25, 2016

Party People
Our sincere thanks to all of the ALA participants who joined The Brown Bookshelf in paying tribute to our favorite children’s books created for and by African Americans (and those of the African diaspora).

Below are the links to the book lists we promised:

BBS Nonfiction

BBS Fiction

BBS “Celebrating Diversity” Book Recommendations

Thanks again for all you do to support the mental, social, and emotional growth of our children. LIBRARIANS ROCK!


CORRECTION: During the statistics portion of the presentation, I erroneously stated that the percentage of children’s books in 2015 that contained significant multicultural content was 7.9%. That percentage actually referred to titles with significant African/African American content. The percentage of titles with significant multicultural content in 2015 was actually 14.9% of those received by the CCBC.  Using the same metrics (which exclude books by people of color with no discernible cultural content) this actually represents an increase over the prior year of 3.6 percentage points! Likewise, the 7.9% statistic for books with significant African/African American content represents an increase of 2.8 percentage points over 2014.

While there is still much work to do, our collective advocacy is making a difference! Let’s keep it going!


Call for Submissions

June 21, 2016

jadenCORRECTION: A Brown Bookshelf reader let me know  that there are two Plum Street publishing companies – Plum Street Press, based in New Orleans, and Plum Street Publishers, based in Arkansas, which issued the call for submissions. So sorry for the mix-up. Lucky for us, both are open to new work:

Here’s what I wrote about Plum Street Press:

When I saw the cover for Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest, written by Marti Dumas, I was intrigued. Fly fro, ready for action, cool sub-title: The Quest for Screen Time. Loved it. Who gave that story a home? New Orleans boutique publisher Plum Street Press.

Along with the Jaden Toussaint series, they publish the Swift Walker science and geography series.

Here are the submission guidelines:

All our stories feature children of color as the protagonist, although race need not figure prominently in the story or at all. We are particularly interested in middle grade manuscripts (approximately 10,000-30,000 words targeting 8-12 year olds) but will also be accepting submissions for picture books and YA. Queries can be sent to: query.plumstreetpress@gmail.com.

plumstreetPlum Street Publishers, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, was the company that asked us to spread the word that they’re looking for authors and illustrators. It was founded by award-winner Liz Smith Russell. For almost three decades, she was Publisher at August House. She continues her commitment to multicultural children’s books at her new company.

Here’s the call for submissions:

Plum Street Publishers is seeking submissions for children’s, middle grade, and YA titles. We are also interested in viewing artists’ portfolio samples for our forthcoming picture book line. We are committed to publishing diverse voices and experiences and promote tolerance and understanding through books for young readers. Our submission guidelines can be found at http://www.plumstreetpublishers.com/pages/publishing-with-plum-street.

Get those portfolios and stories ready.

The Brown Bookshelf at ALA

June 21, 2016

We’re taking our show on the road. Several of us will be at ALA for panels, programs and signings. We’d love to see you. Please join us if you’re free and spread the word.

Here’s a schedule of our events:

Friday, June 24

1:30 – 2:30 p.m.Writer’s Block/Winter Park Public Library (Don Tate and Chris Barton)
Location: Winter Park Public Library
460 E. New England Ave., Winter Park, FL

Saturday, June 25

10-11 a.m. Peachtree Publishers signing for Poet by Don Tate – Booth #2039

12:30-1:30 p.m. Albert Whitman & Company signing for One More Dino on the Floor by Kelly Starling Lyons – Booth #2045

1– 2 p.m. Charlesbridge signing for Whoosh! by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate – Booth #2043

3:30-5 p.m. Celebrating Diversity: The Brown Bookshelf Salutes Great Books for Kids sponsored by BCALA. The program will held in the Hyatt Regency Hotel/ Bayhill 19. BBS participants are Don Tate, Gwendolyn Hooks, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Tameka Fryer Brown, Varian Johnson and Kelly Starling Lyons.

Sunday, June 26

10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Not Your Granny’s Dinner Conversation: Diversity, Race, Sex and Gender moderated by librarian Edi Campbell. The panel will be held in Orange County Convention Center, Room W205. Panelists are Publisher Jason Low, Author Ashley Hope Pérez, Author/lllustrator Dan Santat, Professors Dr. Patricia Enciso and  Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo and BBS members and Authors Varian Johnson and Kelly Starling Lyons.

1-1:45 p.m. Lee & Low signing for Tiny Stitches by Gwendolyn Hooks – Booth #1469

1– 2 p.m. Charlesbridge signing for Don Tate –  Booth #2043

2-3 p.m. Scholastic Book Signing for To Catch a Cheat and The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson – Booth #1236



Expanding Our Family: New BBS Members

May 17, 2016

We’re thrilled to share that our family has grown. Please join us in welcoming two stand-outs in the kidlit world to our Brown Bookshelf team – author and editor Tracey Baptiste and author/illustrator Jerry Craft.

Tracey announced a new book deal last month. She’s writing a sequel to her award-winning novel The Jumbies. Yesterday, Jerry was one of four featured children’s book creators for the Young Males Reading Challenge in Jackson, MS. He, Eric Velasquez, David Miller and Kenneth Braswell talked to third-fifth grade boys about the power of literacy and signed 900 books.

We’re excited about the new ideas, energy and expertise Tracey and Jerry will bring to The Brown Bookshelf. Next year marks the 10th anniversary of 28 Days Later, our Black History Month celebration of black children’s book creators. We look forward to saluting that milestone and finding more ways to raise awareness about black children’s book authors and illustrators and inspire and empower all kids. Thank you, Tracey and Jerry, for joining us in that mission.

Here’s more about them from the About Us section of our site:

Tracey Baptiste, M. Ed, is the author of the MG novel The Jumbies, which was a New York Public Libraries Staff Pick and included in the Bank Street Best Books of 2016, among other accoladScreen Shot 2016-03-25 at 8.51.58 AMes. She’s also the author of the YA novel, Angel’s Grace, and several nonfiction books for children. Her latest is The Totally Gross History of Ancient Egypt. Tracey is on the faculty at Lesley University’s MFA program in Creative Writing, and works as a freelance editor for various publishing companies as well as running her own editorial company, Fairy Godauthor. Find out more about her at www.traceybaptiste.com.


Jerry Craft has illustrated and/or written close to two dozen children’s books and board games. His latestimages middle-grade novels are The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! — an action / adventure story co-written with his two teenage sons that is designed to teach kids about the negative effects of bullying and The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, written by Patrik Henry Bass. His work has appeared in national publications such as Essence Magazine, Ebony, and two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Jerry is also the creator of Mama’s Boyz, an award-winning comic strip that has been distributed by King Features Syndicate to almost 900 publications since 1995. Jerry has won five African American Literary Awards. Find out more about Jerry at www.jerrycraft.net.



“We’re the People” releases 2016 Summer Reading List

March 25, 2016

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We’re the People, a collaboration of authors, bloggers, academics, and librarians who share a passion for children, literacy, and diversity, has released their 2016 Summer Reading List! The focus of the list are books that are written or illustrated by Native Americans or writers/illustrators of color that have withstood a critical review. You can find the full annotated 2016 list here. 

Thank you, Edith Campbell, Sarah Park Dahlen, Sujei Lugo, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Nathalie Mvondo, Debbie Reese, and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas.

Guest post: Nadia Hohn’s selfie interview on “Malaika’s Costume”

March 1, 2016

Luscious Carnival queenWhen author/illustrator Don Tate invited me to write a blogpost about Malaika’s Costume, I thought.  Of course.  Why not?  Why don’t I take this opportunity to ask all of the questions, the sorts of questions I get asked all the time, the sorts of questions I wished I was asked about this book?  Ladies and gentleman.  I present to you, the selfie-interview.  Here it goes.

Interviewer Nadia:  Today, you launch your very first picture book Malaika’s Costume.  Congratulations. 

Nadia L. Hohn: Thank you.

IN: But I am trying to get the record straight.  I heard a rumour that you launched two other books less than two weeks ago.

NLH: Yes, that’s right.

IN:  Wow!  And those were your first books?

NLH: Yes.  Music and Media books in the Sankofa Series.  They’re for the educational market.

IN: Well, it must be a very busy and exciting time for you.  Why don’t you tell us more about Malaika’s Costume?Malaika's Costume cover version 1

NLH:   Malaika’s Costume is the story about a little girl who lives with her Grandmother in the Caribbean.  Plus, it’s Carnival season, the first Carnival since Malaika’s mother has moved to Canada for work, to send money home to support the family.  When the money doesn’t arrive in the mail to pay for Malaika’s kiddie Carnival costume, she has to figure out what to do. 

IN:  What inspired you to write the book?

NLH:  I used to write stories and make books as a child.  One of the few books I still have that I wrote and illustrated for a Grade 5 project is called “The Greatest Carnival Ever”.  So I always loved the idea of a book culminating with a Carnival.  Years later in the winter of 2010, I took a writing course at George Brown College with author Ted Staunton.  He gave us a picture book assignment and this is when I wrote Malaika’s Costume.   I remember getting very excited as I worked on the details of the story.  I have also played Mas’– which means I wore a costume and danced– in the Caribana parade a few times, Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival and loved the experience


IN: We noticed that Malaika’s mother does not live with her, in fact, she lives in Canada.  Why did you choose that location?  How common is it for parents, especially mothers, to live in other countries than their children? 

NLH:  One parent immigrating, usually the mother, to work and send money home to support their loved ones is a very common experience, especially in the immigration of Caribbean peoples to the UK, US, and Canada in the 1950s to 1980s.  They sometimes called them “barrel children”.  Parents and relatives abroad would send money and fill the barrels with clothing, toys, and items and ship them back home for their families.  Canada is my home so naturally I chose it although I have many relatives in the US. This is a common story of immigration within my family.  It still happens today with Caribbean and other ethnic groups and communities.

IN:  And suspense ensues.  Exciting.  Nadia, you’re from Toronto, Canada.  I am sure many people have said to you, Wow.  There are Black people in Canada?  So I am not going to ask you that but how big is the Black community in Canada?

NLH: Other than Drake, there are around a million people.

IN:  LOL.  Really?  Please educate our audience.

NLH:  The African-Canadian or Black community in Canada lives mostly in big cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver but there are Black people living throughout the country in smaller communities.  Black people have lived in Canada for hundreds of years and are the descendants of enslaved Africans, Black Loyalists, and escapees in the Underground Railroad.  Today we are mostly Caribbean and African immigrants or “first gens” like myself.

IN:  From where?

NLH:  Jamaica. 

IN:  Island in the sun… Well, your book has definitely got the Caribbean flavour.  A lot of our readers are of Caribbean descent, on what island does Malaika’s Costume take place?

NLH:  I leave it unnamed purposely.  I want my Caribbean readers to see a little of their own island it.  Yet, I wanted to honour the traditions and culture of the islands whose features I name so there is a glossary at the front.

IN: Malaika’s Costume was illustrated by Irene Luxbacher and published by Groundwood Books.   I know this is a story close to your heart and it must have taken a lot of trust to work with your publisher. 

NLH: This is true.

IN: What was it like working with Groundwood? 

NLH:    I think the experience has been a very positive one. I had a lot of input and at the same time learned to trust the professional judgements of the publisher and illustrator.  I learned to share the telling of my story. 

IN:  The bond between Malaika and her grandmother is very strong.  Were you close to your grandmother and what inspired you to make their relationship a central part of the story?

NLH: Intergenerational bonds are so important.  My grandmothers each immigrated to and lived in New York City and Florida so I didn’t get to always see them.  I did visit them from time to time and they both have passed away but I wish I got to know them more.  I also have grandparents that I have never met, nor seen photos.  Perhaps there is a bit of longing and liberty with those relationships in the book.  I also show how grandparents often “step in” when a parent or parent(s) are away.  This is so common in the Caribbean and in other places.

IN: And where is Malaika’s father?

NLH: I can’t giveaway all of my secrets but you may find out in another book.

IN: You write this book in a lyrical style… patois… Creole.  We don’t see that very often in picture books.  To have a book written in the spoken language… Caribbean-English or Ebonics… that’s rare.  How have the reviewers and critics responded?  How open was your publisher receptive, open to you writing in this way?

NLH: I wrote this book in what I call “patois lite”.  I don’t use alternate spellings, the phonetic spellings you can often see on signs in the Caribbean.  Instead, I use certain language that often happen in the English-speaking Caribbean and when I do read-aloud, I use my “Caribbean voice”.  So far critics have called the way I write “colloquial” and one reviewer said she found it “jarring “ on the first read but by the second read, she liked it and found it the charm of the book.

IN:  Who do you think will like this book?

NLH:  I think children ages 3 to 7 will definitely like it.  I tested it out on my own students and a New York City school I visited in February.  I also think folks of Caribbean background and immigrants will identify with the story.  Teachers and librarians will love it for the diverse content.  And children’s book lovers will love that it is a “fresh” voice— a patois-speaking little girl— a story told from her perspective.  It’s a window to another culture and way of being.

IN:   I also know you started a group called Sankofa’s Pen.  Can you tell us about it?

NLH:  I originally called this group African-Canadian Writers for Children and Young Adults (ACWCYA) when I found myself signing my book contracts in 2014.  At the time I belonged to other associations but really wanted to find a community of Black authors who might write about similar topics as I do.  The Black children’s and young adult author community in Canada is very small but it does exist.  We meet face-to-face a few times a year and have an active facebook group.  You don’t need to be Canadian to join.

IN: What’s next for you?

NLH:  Currently, I am promoting Malaika’s Costume.  My launch is in Toronto this Saturday, March 5 however I am also planning a tour and hope to do signings and readings in a few cities both north and south of the border.  The sequel of the picture book will be out in 2017.  I am also working on a few other writing projects and still teaching full-time.   

IN:  Well, you definitely keep busy.  Thank you for your interview.

NLH:  It was a pleasure.

IN:  We just had an interview with our guest, Nadia L. Hohn, who is the author of a picture book Malaika’s Costume which will be in stores and on sale March 1, 2016.  For more information on Nadia Hohn and her books, please visit: http://www.nadialhohn.com

Day 29: Edi Campbell

February 29, 2016

This year, we get a little extra. On Day 29, we are delighted to have the opportunity to welcome Edi Campbell, an academic librarian who blogs at Crazy Quilts. Edi “works to improve the literacy of teens of color and am a strong ally for all marginalized young people. As part of this effort, I also work to promote authors of color. Reading multiple varieties of text is the basis for all literacies and in becoming literate, we learn how to navigate the world around us.” Thank you, Edi, and again, welcome:

It is an honor to be part of the 28 Days celebration. As I’ve read about works of such outstanding authors and artists over the years, I never even imagined that I’d be part of it; still cannot believe it. I started blogging about marginalized teens almost ten years ago and when I began, I was pretty much on my own. I hadn’t discovered people like Hannah Gomez, Nathalie Mvondo, Ari, Karen Lemmons, KC Boyd or Vanessa Irvin who are as active online for our children as they are in person. And I certainly hadn’t read the fine, important works by Rudine Sims Bishop, Claudette McLinn, Violet Harris, Jonda McNair, Nancy Tolson, Virginia Hamilton and so many, many others. Ten years ago I knew there weren’t enough books published for the Black and Latinx students in the school where I worked and even though I’ve grown to understand the immensity of the issue, I still simply want to put one more book in one more child’s hand and turn one more child into a reader.

If you consider that the whitest industries in America continue to be information industries (publishing, technology, libraries and movies) you should begin to question why that’s so.
I’m not into conspiracy theories, so I don’t believe it’s intentionally about mind control, but there does seem to be a very controlled, very white message being perpetrated upon our children. And all I want is one more brown book. One more Jerry Craft, Bil Wright, Brian Walker, L. Divine, Kelli London, NiNi Simone, Nnedi Okorafor, Dia Reeves and Zetta Elliott. One more mirror, one more door. One more Tim Tingle, Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo, Eric Gansworth, Y.S. Lee, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Juan Filipe Herrera, Alex Sanchez and Sheela Chari.

I feel like the next ten years will not look like the past ten years in children’s publishing. Libraries are embracing (even creating) self-published books. Twitter, Vine, Instagram and Tumblr are giving voice to the masses allowing us to voice concerns, to announce agendas and to connect directly with those who had been hidden from us. These platforms help us find debut authors and promote their books, to immediately questions portrayals of people and histories and they’ve created #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

What I’ve learned over the past 10 years is that I’m not alone, we’re not alone and it takes all of us to get that one more book.


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