DAY 19: Anaya Lee Willabus

February 19, 2017


As an author / illustrator, there’s nothing like looking back at the books I’ve done to make me feel proud. And when I think that I published my first book way back in 1997, there’s nothing quite like that to make me feel old. With the possible exception of interviewing Anaya Lee Willabus, who is all of 9 years old! Once I got over that, it was indeed a pleasure to share the spotlight on this up-and-coming author.

So without further delay, The Brown Bookshelf would like to introduce you to today’s star of 28 Days Later: Miss Anaya Lee Willabus.


The Process: How do you work? Do you start with a character, a concept, an idea? Do you outline first or just go? Is there a technique or routine for drafting or revising that you find particularly helpful? Do you have an office or other location that works best for you?

As for me, ideas for another book are always flowing through my head. When writing my books, I would sit and jot down my ideas so that I do not forget them.  Thereafter, I would re-read and make the necessary changes.  When I was about five, I would put together small pieces of pages and write mini stories about various topics. I knew as I grew that I would be an author. The interest in writing has also captured my attention. Also, I walk with a special notebook to school so when ideas pop up, I would write them down. Overall, I am a ‘write as I go’ type of author, however, I usually have an idea of what my story will be about.

The Journey: Discuss your path to publishing.

My first book was inspired by my trip to Guyana, South America. My parents were born there and they wanted my siblings and me to visit and learn about our Guyanese culture. Upon my visit, it was beyond my expectations. Guyana was truly a difference from what I was accustom to in the USA. Not only was there an abundance of fresh fruit trees everywhere, and summer weather every day, but the celebrations for holidays were done differently. We spent the 2014 Easter holiday  there, and it is part of the Guyanese tradition to fly kites and host picnics with family and friends. That was my first time flying a kite. Overall, my trip was not only awesome, but the cool part was I had a ton of creative book ideas that I needed to write down.  Eventually, my parents saw how serious I was about my idea of writing my first book and they decided to support my initiative. Since my parents were not familiar with the process, it took me about one year to complete the entire process of my first published book.  I would write after school and on the weekends.


Under The Radar: Share the name(s) of authors or illustrators of color who you believe are rising stars.

Firstly, I prefer to read a mixture of fiction and non-fiction books. It is important to learn from different authors’ perspectives to feed my mind. I am not sure of names of other upcoming authors and illustrators, but I do have my own favorites who are already established.

If I have to give a name of one of the favorite illustrators, I would have to shine the light on Mr. Frank Morrison. He is one of the best children’s book illustrators in my opinion.  Not only is he a master at his craft, but he is a great person. I had the honor of meeting him a few months ago at the African American Museum and Library in Oakland, California.

When it comes to authors, there are many that stand out. I have read in excess of six hundred books and there are so many great pieces of literature. Sharon Draper’s book ‘Fire from the Rock,’ was a great read. Jacqueline Woodson’s book, ‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ was an excellent piece on what went on in the 1960’s as an African-American child.  ‘One Crazy Summer’ by Rita Williams-Garcia was another great story. Also, just to add a few more names, I had the pleasure of reading the works of some great civil rights activists like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, George Washington Carver and many more. ‘Dreams from My Father’ by Barack Obama was an interesting take on how the former president grew up and his path to being the great man he is today.


The State of the Industry: Share your thoughts on the state of kidlit by authors of color specifically, or more generally, your views on children’s book publishing.

Throughout my years of reading, there have been many interesting books, but not any that I found by children of color, besides myself. However, I was always encouraged by my parents to read history books. According to my parents, it is important to learn the facts so that I would be furnished with the knowledge of the past and appreciate the people who created the opportunities for me, today.

Upon visiting the library, I do not recall seeing nor reading any books written by African-American children, thus far. This finding was one of my motivations for publishing my books. Also, I could not find books that told stories of my Guyanese culture nor heritage from a child’s perspective.

I think that the big publishing companies focus more on the ‘Quantity’ rather than the ‘Quality!’ In other words, it is more about what sells first and not necessarily what the content has to offer the readers. Most books for children my age focus on picture books while others focus on keeping children in a dream world.

I enjoy writing ‘realist fiction’ books since it gives the readers an opportunity to dive into something different. It is my hope that publishers read my work and appreciate the uniqueness of what I offer.


The Buzz: List reviews/honors, trailers, etc. for featured book(s)

Here are some websites and additional links about my books.

New York Daily News

PIX 11News

Huffington Post

News 12 Brooklyn


Day 18: Benjamin Zephaniah

February 18, 2017





I read in an interview with Lynn Baber in 2009 that Benjamin Zephaniah lives in England for seven months out of the year, the rest of the time he lives in China. Wow, that sounds like an interesting guy. Reading more about him, proved that thought to be true. He is a poet, novelist, lyricist, musician and a Tai Chi follower.

Zephaniah is the author of several young adult novels. Terror Kid (Hot Key Books, 2014) tells the story of Rico, a computer whizz kid. He wants to help during the English riots, but he also doesn’t want to attract trouble. Can he use his computer skills to help? Is the new guy, Speech, the answer? Read more about Zephaniah here The Guardian . terror-kid-final-cover-180x276-1

faceZephaniah is also the author of Face (Bloomsbury Children and Teen; Reprint edition 2004). Marin Turner’s face is badly disfigured in a horrific car accident. Taunted with names like “Dog Face” and losing his girlfriend add to his misery. As a white person, it is Turner’s first time to face discrimination. Teens will identify with with Turner’s struggle for acceptance as they struggle to fit into their own world.





“A worthy subject that should give kids plenty to think about.” –Kirkus Reviews
“This book will not only be enjoyed by teen readers for its entertaining story, but also for its statement about prejudice. Zephaniah is not just telling a story of a brave and inspiring young man, he is also teaching readers an important lesson through the voice of Martin.” –VOYA



“A powerful novel about justice, trust and idealism gone wrong that will make you look again at your definition of a terrorist. Labour Research A powerful, accessible and revelatory novel with its finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary social and political issues. Liverpool Echo”


englandFor more about Benjamin Zephaniah’s career, visit his website .






By Gwendolyn Hooks


February 17, 2017


Sometimes it’s fun to find out things about an author or illustrator that has nothing to do with their craft.  For instance, YA author, Angie Thomas, likes playing video games, driving anywhere and nowhere at all, cooking/baking, and Air Jordan collecting. Her favorite foods are baked macaroni and cheese and cheesecake. She was a teenage rapper, and even appeared in the RightOn! Magazine.

Wow.  That’s all big time stuff.  I thought she was finished until I saw the last line of her email which to me was equivalent to dropping the mic, flashing a peace sign, and giving a head nod on your way out the door.  It read:

“I once talked to Left Eye from TLC on the phone.”

I think fun finds some people, and Angie Thomas is proof of that.  Now that you know all about her life outside of writing, it’s time to find out everything about her journey to writing The Hate U Give, one of the most talked about books of the year.

On this the 17th Day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to present:


The Journey

I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember. I was always the one who came up with the plotlines while playing pretend with my friends, and whenever my mom would read books to me, afterwards I would tell my own take on the stories. When I was seven, I wrote my first “book” – “Mickey Mouse’s Space Adventure,” complete with illustrations. I was so proud of that little book that I took it to school and begged my teacher to let me read it during story time. Not only did she let me read it, she agreed that I could read one of my stories to the class every week. The spark was lit.

As I got older, despite how much my love for reading and writing grew, I never thought that being a published author was possible. I didn’t know any authors. No one from my neighborhood was an author. Sure, there were authors who looked like me, some of my favorites did, but it seemed unreachable. I didn’t realize it was something I could actually do until college. I decided to study creative writing, and in doing so I met several authors, including one of my professors. That professor not only told me how to become an author, but he instilled in me that I could actually become one. He also helped me find my voice. I was the only black student in the program, from a neighborhood that was notorious for all of the wrong reasons. But as my professor helped me realize, there were stories in my neighborhood that needed to be told, and I could be the person to tell them. One of those stories turned out to be THE HATE U GIVE. It started as a short story in my senior year and it was the first narrative I ever wrote about a community like mine. Ironic that it is now the first book I will ever have published.image-of-angie-thomas

The Back Story

Social media catches a lot of flack, but I will forever be grateful for it because it played a HUGE role in my road to publication. When I wrote THE HATE U GIVE, it was cathartic—a way for me to express the anger, fear, and frustration I felt as a young black woman every time an unarmed black person was killed. But I also knew that a story like it may not be well-received in YA publishing. Let’s be real – YA is mostly white. I thought my book would be seen as “too diverse.” One day though, the Bent Agency held a question and answer session on Twitter, and I decided to take a step of faith and ask if a book like mine was acceptable for publishing. Agent Brooks Sherman not only said yes, he asked me to query him. A few months later, I signed with him, and a few months after that he submitted my book to publishers. It led to a thirteen publishing-house auction. If you would’ve told Angie-who-was-afraid-to-query that THAT would happen, she wouldn’t have believed it. But it did. Soon, producers were fighting for the film rights and before I knew it, my book had a movie in development with Fox 2000 and Temple Hill with both a director and a star attached. The story I was afraid of was the story that made my dreams come true.

The Inspiration

Growing up, Hip Hop was a way for me to see myself when books did not provide that representation. I couldn’t necessarily connect with the Babysitters Club like I could a Tupac or a Nas song. For THE HATE U GIVE, Tupac provided the most inspiration by far. The title itself comes from the meaning behind the infamous Thug Life tattoo across his stomach—The Hate U Give Little Infants F**ks Everybody. ‘Pac once explained that as what society invests in youth usually comes back later with consequences, which is a big theme in the book. However, Tupac’s range influenced me more than anything. He could make you laugh, make you cry, make you angry, and make you hopeful in just a span of minutes. That’s something I want to achieve with this book and with all of my books.

The Buzz

The buzz surround THE HATE U GIVE continues to surprise me every single day. The auction and the film deal were both mind-blowing, and since then, it has been sold in 16 international territories and has received four starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal. Author John Green (yes, that John Green) called it a classic, (which is still surreal), and Entertainment Weekly named it one of their most anticipated books of 2017.

Keep up with Angie Thomas on her website at:

Thank you, Angie, for your contribution to children’s literacy!


Day 16: Alix Delinois

February 16, 2017

alixdelinoisFor me, the coolest aspect of being a part of The Brown Bookshelf is learning about, and reaching out to, artists and writers who are not currently on my radar. Recently I had the pleasure of learning about Alix Delinois,  a fine artist and art teacher living in Harlem. He has illustrated two children’s books written by award-winning authors Walter Dean Meyers and Edwidge Danticat. His work displays a dynamic color palette and bold compositions to express human emotions and experience. And his subjects of interest include Harlem and NYC’s urban setting; his Haitian background; and his love of Black culture and history.

Please join me in welcoming Alix Delinois to 28 Days Later.

The Journey:

At the age of seven, I moved from Saint Marc, Haiti to Harlem, NYC.  Drawing, for me, became a source of distraction from all of the huge changes in my life at that time.  Doodling characters in notebooks and trying to copy the different characters in children’s books was very appealing to me. It helped me begin to become familiar with my new world and feel some level of mastery and control.  From that point on, I started collecting comic books and practiced drawing the characters from them, too.  Even though I loved comic books, I always returned to picture book stories and their illustrations. When I was in the fourth grade, I came across Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe. From that point on, I would say to myself that I wanted to be like this artist. I knew I wanted to create and illustrate stories that depicted the beauty of African/ Caribbean life and history.

At the age of 13, I was lucky enough to be accepted into the City College Arts Institute, a program focused on teaching inner city students about careers in art and museums.  Every Saturday, I attended classes at the City College Arts Institute.  When it was time to attend high school, my mentor in the City College program, Joseph Harris, suggested that I apply to his alma mater, the High School of Art and Design.  He helped me with my portfolio and I was accepted into the school where I majored in illustration and worked closely with another mentor, Richard Manigualt.  I went on to study illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology and completed my BFA in Illustration at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.   During my last three semesters at Pratt, I began to focus on children’s book illustration. I was fortunate to work with many great picture book illustrators at Pratt including Leonard Jenkins, Floyd Hughes, James Ransome, and Rudy Gutirrez.  While at Pratt, I learned that John Steptoe also graduated from the High School of Art and Design. That knowledge made me tremendously proud and made me feel confident that I was following the right path.
The Inspiration:

Well, I have been influenced by many artists. John Steptoe is my all- time favorite book illustrator. That said, I am inspired by greats such as Arron Douglass, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and illustrators Tom Feelings, Jerry Pinkney, Leo and Diane Dillone, to name a few.  I also draw inspiration from my own life and experiences in Haiti and Harlem as well as Black culture and history.

Groundwood Logos Spine

The Process:

My process is very straightforward. I sketch many different ideas of what I think could work well for a book. My concepts and sketches usually involve the character(s) in the appropriate space /scene and then I build around them. When it comes to colors, I find it natural for me to use a lot of colors, particularly bright colors. I think being from Haiti makes that very natural for me.

Sometimes, to develop scenes, I research and take pictures that I can use for references.  I had a lot of fun with my last book, Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence. Since Mumbet was a period piece, once I had my sketches and storyboard in good order, I rented American colonial period outfits from a costume shop. My friends and I drove to Staten Island in a small Zipcar and took photos in costume at Richmond Town, a preserved colonial village.
The Back Story:

I met Sheila of Groundwood Publishing at a book convention.  I was happy to hear back from Sheila regarding a book idea for a story entitled Greetings Leroy after our meeting. I liked the story very much because it reminded me of my own story when I first came to America. Thank you, Sheila, for providing with a beautiful and relatable story to work from.  Greetings Leroy is set for release on May 1st, 2017.

Day 15: Maya Penn

February 15, 2017

Maya Penn headshot 16 year-old Maya Penn is a CEO, activist, author, illustrator, animator, coder, and so much more. She started her first company at eight years old, has TEDtalked to millions of people across the globe (as the youngest female in history to deliver two back-to back official TED Talks–her 2013 TEDWomen Talk is ranked as one of top 15 TEDWomen talks of all time), and is now sharing her inspirational message with young people around the world with her recent release: YOU GOT THIS!. I’m thrilled to welcome this dynamic young woman to The Brown Bookshelf.

The Journey

I’m a eco-designer, artist, philanthropist, activist, entrepreneur, animated filmmaker, coder, illustrator, writer and author. I’m the author of 3 books, 2 fictional children’s books that I wrote, illustrated, and self published, and 1 nonfiction book which is my latest book called “You Got This! Unleash Your Awesomeness, Find Your Path, and Change Your World”. It is published by Simon & Schuster. I’ve given three TEDTalks and, my latest TEDWomen Talk has gone viral worldwide and with almost 2 million views and growing. It was because of this TEDTalk that I decided to write You Got This!, as I began to receive a multitude of emails and messages from people of all ages who have been inspired to follow their passion because of my TEDTalk and want to know the best place to start.

The Inspiration:

Maya Angelou, my grandfather (he is also a children’s book author), and bell hooks (I read her book Happy to Be Nappy when I was little and it really reinforced my belief in being proud of who I am, and embracing my natural hair).

The Process

Writing tends to be very spontaneous for me. When writing my latest book “You Got This!” I approached it like a journal (no really, I kept a journal). I wrote it over the course of about a year, and since the general theme was my journey as a young CEO, artist, activist, etc. and how others can put their passion into action, I just took a topic or two each day pertaining to that theme and wrote about it. Whether it be a story I lived through and what I took away from it, or just a brain-dump on the topic, I wrote it down. I just kind of let it happen. In terms of a choice location, when it comes to any form of exercising my creativity (writing, animating, designing), I love being outside. Nature always creates a kind of sanctuary for my ideas to flourish. Of course this doesn’t always permit so my second choice is my studio.
The Buzz

It has been incredible to see the huge impact my book has made in such a short amount of time. I’m so happy and blessed to have received such a flood of emails and messages from teens and people of all ages who have been inspired by my book. There have been a multitude of libraries, schools, workshops, conferences (such as the ALA/American Library Association Conference where I was a keynote speaker in 2016) etc. that have invited me to speak about my book. It’s been so exciting to also see organizations such as Donors Choose have been providing copies of my book to schools.

Under The Radar

Taylor Moxey is an incredible 10 year old entrepreneur, activist and author of color! Her book The Adventures of Taylor The Chef is inspiring and encouraging for all youth.

Where Do We Go From Here?

More and more young people have a chance to use their voice to make a positive impact on the world and fight for the causes they’re passionate about. This is why it’s so important for us not to take this chance for granted as more platforms are available to create awareness and be the change you want to see in the world, online and offline. This current generation of young people will be the future leaders in our world and we have to make sure our world and society will be in good hands. As for my next projects, I will launch a bigger animation and film studio in Atlanta called Penn Point Studios and the first project I will be releasing is an animated series called The Pollinators.

I will also continue my project with my nonprofit organization Maya’s Ideas 4 The Planet where I designed and have now created eco-friendly sanitary pads for women and girls in developing countries in need. They’re being shipped out to girls and women all over the world and our most recent shipment was sent to women at the St. Joseph Health Care Center of Baback in Senegal.

Now this year I’m launching an initiative through my nonprofit to provide seed grants to young female entrepreneurs that aspire to start their own businesses. I am also putting into action a girl’s empowerment event and a STEM/STEAM workshop for girls where my book You Got This! will be used during the workshop to guide and inspire the girls. It’s been so exciting to also see organizations such as Donors Choose have been providing copies of my book to schools.

Thank you, Maya!

For more about Maya and her work, visit her online, and check out her 2013 TED Talk.


Day 14: Christine Kendall

February 14, 2017

christine-kendall-photo_credit-michael-grimmFrom Philadelphia, The Brown Bookshelf presents Christine Kendall, author of the debut middle grade novel Riding Chance. Christine grew up in a family of six children where everyone played an instrument. She studied piano and clarinet. Her readers are ecstatic that she decided to pursue writing as a fulltime occupation. Please join me in welcoming Christine Kendall to 28 Days Later 2017.

The Journey

I began writing as a child as I was raised in a family of artists where I was surrounded by a lot of creative energy. Stories have always been in my head even though I was busy with a career in the corporate world. Then, about fifteen years ago, I started spending a lot of time in nature and, inspired by the peacefulness I found, I began to write my stories down again. I realized I wanted to pursue writing seriously so I made the decision to write full time. I attended numerous writing conferences including Bread Loaf and studied children’s literature at the Southampton Writers’ Conference where I met the editor who eventually would publish my debut novel, Riding Chance.

riding-chance_cover-c-kendallThe Inspiration

I’ve always loved children’s books and have been inspired by many. My favorite picture book of all time is Hot Day on Abbott Avenue written by Karen English and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. I love how the magnificent collage art work brings out the wonderfully simple but moving story of everyday life. One of the middle grade novels I’ve most enjoyed is Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer. It is historical fiction exploring an African-American family’s relationship with the Black Panthers in 1968. Williams-Garcia handles this provocative story with honesty and grace.

The Back Story

One of the first things I did when I decided to pursue a second career in children’s literature was attend the Southampton Writers’ Conference. I had the good fortune to participate in a week-long writing workshop led by the wonderful author/editor Andrea Davis Pinkney who saw the glimmer of a story in what I created that week and encouraged me to “write it from the heart.” Andrea reviewed many drafts of the book and provided constructive criticism every step of the way. My focus all along had been more on developing as a writer than selling a book, but once the story was complete I realized how important it was to get it out in the world. The afternoon Andrea called me with an offer from Scholastic made for a very, very happy day.

The Buzz

I am so grateful for the warm embrace Riding Chance has received from readers, librarians and teachers. The book has received the following recognition:
— NAACP Image Award Nominee in the category of Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens
— Named one of the 50 Best Books for Teens by the New York Public Library
— Named a Junior Library Guild Selection for fall 2016
— Recipient of a 2016 National Parenting Publications Award
—”A worthwhile first outing; Kendall shows promise.” — Kirkus Reviews
— “Boys at risk and polo ponies? Christine Kendall has made me a believer and a cheerleader in her promising debut of navigating trust and necessary armor.” — Rita Williams-Garcia, Coretta Scott King Award-winning author of Gone Crazy in Alabama and Newbery Honor winner of One Crazy Summer
— “A heartwarming tale of redemption and second chances, as seen through the eyes of a teen surrounded by love, and determined to press on, no matter what.” —Sharon G. Flake, Coretta Scott King Award-winning author of The Skin I’m In and Bang!
— “Christine Kendall’s powerful debut is full of hope. Her characters fill each page with resonance that will linger with readers from the book’s very first words to its final lines.” — Coe Booth, author of Tyrell and Kinda Like Brothers

Read more about Christine Kendall on her website.

Day 13: Ibi Zoboi

February 13, 2017

I first met Ibi Zoboi at a writing conference in New York City. We were passing each other through a crowd, and she said that an editor had mistaken her for me because we both submitted stories set in Haiti. My novel is more of a mashup between Trinidadian and Haitian cultures, but Ibi’s debut, AMERICAN STREET is an immigrant story that is solidly Haitian and questions how the American dream may be different in our minds than it is in reality. What I found most striking in her work is the juxtaposition of gritty reality with magical realism. Her book debuts tomorrow to rave reviews. Please welcome Ibi to the Brown Bookshelf.

The Journey

Iibiz can clearly remember the actual day I made the decision to be a writer. There was no particular journey or goal. I called myself a writer and that was that. I was in college and got myself one of those pens you can wear around your neck and carried around a steno notepad and proclaimed to the world that I was a writer. And writers write. This was all after first calling myself a spoken word poet and storyteller. I embraced the oral tradition before the written mode, although, I was writing the whole time. I studied black poets and I read African and Caribbean folktales and myths. I tried to commit to memory Anansi stories and Brer Rabbit stories. So in that sense, I was always a storyteller. But as a writer, I was a journalist first. One of my first passions besides myths and folktales, was investigative journalism. So my journey to publishing began there, needing to dig for the truth and tell it to the world. From that point on, I realized that I could make a little bit of money with this writing thing. I published articles, essays, and short stories. But unfortunately, I ended up spending more money than I was making. (No one had warned me, or if they did, I didn’t listen). I took writing workshops in college. I applied for and got accepted into the Clarion West Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop to study with the late Octavia Butler. I spent one week at the VONA (Voices of Our Nation) Workshop. Finally, I went for an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I loved the process of studying craft and talking about writing and books. So I consider myself both a writer and a scholar. I need to understand both the craft and the canon. So for me, writing is studying, and studying is writing. It’s an endless journey.

The Back Story

americanstreet_revised8Now that is long, winding road of a back story. I’ve always written about the immigrant experience. As a Haitian immigrant, it’s the only kind of story I know. Whether it’s in the form of science fiction, fantasy, or even a long poem, I write about what it’s like to move from one place to another trying to fit into strange surroundings while preserving cultural traditions. The very first ideas for American Street began to take root after I read a New York Times article titled “Last Stop on the L Train: Detroit.” The L Train runs through my old Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick which is now being gentrified. These new residents are priced out by wealthier newcomers and some are considering less expensive cities like Detroit. I remembered how incredibly broken and underserved Bushwick was back when I was a little girl, much like many parts of Detroit now. So I wondered what it would be like for a Haitian teen to move to somewhere like old Bushwick with its boarded up windows and empty lots. I needed to dig deep into this idea of going from one broken place to another, and what we keep and what we leave behind in the process. And through my teen girl’s story, I wanted to uphold the beauty and strength of black girlhood in the the midst of uncertainty and trauma. Most of all, I wanted to explore what happens to families in both marginalized communities and countries. How do they preserve their love for each other? How do they build dreams atop so much adversity?

The Inspiration 

Edwidge Danticat, for sure! Even before I watched her on Oprah, through her first book Breath, Eyes, Memory, she let me know that the world still cared about little black girls from poor countries like Haiti. And she also let me know that Haiti may be financial poor, but it is incredibly rich in culture and has a long tradition of storytelling. Octavia Butler taught me to think big, to reach for not only stars, but other planets. I’ve had the honor of meeting and speaking with both writers.

The Buzz

American Street has received five starred reviews. My proudest moments were signing books for teachers who either had Haitian students in their classrooms or were Haitian themselves; and anyone who’ve told me that they connected with Fabiola’s story, even if they didn’t share her background. My next YA book is set in Bushwick and is a love story. My first middle grade novel, My Life As An Ice Cream Sandwich, is set in 1980s Harlem. I’m excited about these next books and they’re both due out in 2018.

The State of the Industry

I’ve read plenty of beautiful YA novels that I absolutely loved which are not written by black authors, nor do they feature black children or any characters of color. There was something truly remarkable in these stories that I connected with, and it didn’t have anything to do with race, identity, oppression, or trauma. This is what I would like to see as a reader—books featureing black main characters that don’t focus on any of these things. Why not a blockbuster book featureing a black girl that not only saves herself or her community, but saves the world? How about a love story featuring two black characters where no one dies? There’s a spoken word video that sums this up poetically—“I wanna see a movie about dinosaurs in the ‘hood!” And this would be a testament to our magic—nothing more, nothing less. I don’t think the industry understands what blackness is in order to accurately portray it in books, or to have blackness in all its diversity honestly reflected back to young black readers. We need more range, more diversity within diversity, more magic and adventure to balance out the pain and trauma. We still have a very long way to go.

You can find Ibi online at her website and on Twitter.