So, what DO y’all want?

January 1, 2018

Some days I feel like the old school griot of The Brown Bookshelf whose only job is to remind folks of the origins. You know? I’m here to remind folks where we started and compare it to where we’ve come. So, in that spirit, I got to thinking that maybe behind-the-scenes publishing is saying of writers of color – look, so what do y’all want anyway?

The question is frustrating at best and insincere at worst because representation is the answer. Always has been the answer. And there are no tricks tied to representation. If I tell you that I want to attend your party, I don’t mean – can I send my neighbor to attend for me? Writers of color want to attend the party AND…now pay close attention, because there is an AND. AND we want to be asked to dance.

Verna Myers, an Inclusion Activist (because we’ve reached a time where such a thing must exist) says that “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” So yes, we want to be invited and we want to dance.

The longer people of color are not partying with everyone else, the more that’s required of representation in literature. In 2007, when we launched BBS, our goal was to highlight our voices in kidlit. We wanted to make sure that the few of us at the party were actually getting to hold the mic now and then to showcase our books. Our hope, was that when readers and gatekeepers realized we were out there, that it would increase our numbers.

Ten years later, that’s barely the case. Worse, ten years later, there’s a new bugaboo – more people wanting to tell our stories and publishing thinking it’s okay. Because, apparently, as long as the story is told through the lens of a Black character well then *dusts off hands* our jobs are done here.

According to Cooperative Children’s Book Center, in 2007, of the 3,000 books they received only 77 were by African Americans while 150 were about us. Ten years later – of 3,400 books received by CCBC- 94 were by African Americans while 287 were about us. Do you see the problem here?

Just barely half of the books about us were written by us (51%) in 2007. And ten years later, though there was a 48% increase in books showcasing African Americans, only 33% were written by us. More books about us, but even less by us. That means the bouncer is stopping us at the club door, in droves, while everybody else is inside partying to OUR stories.

That’s why the question of what we want is insincere. Playing dumb only wastes our time. But, if plain English is in order – We want to tell our stories. All of them. Urban. Rural. Suburban. Historical. Contemporary. Fantastical.

Sorry, but no we don’t want anyone else telling our stories, because they’re OURS. Because we live as Black people everyday. So yeah, we know what it’s like. Why on earth would anyone tell that story? How could they?

And anyone asking – Well why can’t I… – go back to the beginning of the blog post and start over. Read it until you understand why.

We’re having a hard enough time showing African American children in a broad scope of stories. It’s insulting to constantly explain that we want our kids to hear what few stories exist, to come from their mommas, poppas, aunties and uncles.

Spare me any confusion or anger because I want my story told by someone who is familiar with the source material. Ten years ago, I was more willing to engage a discussion about that. So, you’d have to get in your time machine to elicit my empathy.

Meanwhile, I ask you this – how crazy would it sound to you if I went into a party, danced with your shoes on and then came back out and was like- Whew, that was a hell of a party. You should have been there.

NOTE: The representation stats for Native Americans is abysmal, with only 55 total books represented in 2016. While Asian Americans and Latinos aren’t winning this battle, by any means, I want to note that statistics show they’re experiencing slightly more success on being able to represent themselves. In 2016, 90% of books received by CCBC about Asians were written by Asians and 61% for Latinos. Tiny, barely there victory.

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Throwback Thursday: Eric Velasquez

December 28, 2017

Eric Velasquez

To describe illustrator Eric Velasquez as a “prolific artist” would be an understatement. Before snagging his first picture book contract, he created art for more than 300 book jackets and interior illustrations — more published art than many illustrators create in a lifetime.

A few of those titles include Journey to Jo’Burg and its sequel Chain of Fire, written by Beverly Naidoo; The complete series of Encyclopedia Brown; The complete series of The Ghost Writers; The Terrible Wonderful Telling at Hog Haven; and Gary Soto’s The Skirt and its sequel Off and Running. He also illustrated the cover of the 1999 Coretta Scott King award winning title Jazmin’s Notebook by Nikki Grimes.

His first picture book, The Piano Man, written by Debbie Chocolate (Walker & Co.), won the 1999 Coretta-Scott King/John Steptoe award for new talent.

In addition to illustrating, Eric is also a writer/storyteller. Grandma’s Records was his first authored title. It published in 1999 to rave reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly and others.  Grandma’s Records is autobiographical, based on Eric’s childhood in Spanish Harlem with his grandmother.

Houdini: World’s Greatest Mystery Man — the interviewer’s personal favorite — is like magic in and of itself. The images are uncanny, and nearly jump off the page.

He received his BFA from the School of Visual Arts, and studied at The Art Students League with Harvey Dinnerstein.

For our third illustrator of 28 Days Later, 2010, we present vanguard illustrator and author Eric Velasquez:

Please talk about your most recent book.

My most recent book is My Friend Maya Loves to Dance (Abrams, 2010), by Cheryl Hudson. I always wanted to do a book about a ballerina, however I never took into account how technical a project it would be. Inspired by the work of Edgar Degas, I figured I’d hire a model and photograph her in a variety of poses, and then use them as reference.

Once I read the manuscript six times, I realized that Cheryl was telling her story in a very personal and heart-felt way. It demanded attention. Suddenly I wanted the images to be far from those of Degas. I abandoned the thought of doing the book in pastels (my original intention). I wanted Cheryl’s words to come through the images unencumbered by the comparisons to Degas.

Cheryl and I went to a ballet school in an African American community, in New Jersey. We hired the dancers, and had the staff pose them. Every pose in the book is the real thing, as well as the model for Maya; she is a real ballet student.

Of the many books and covers you’ve illustrated, what are some that mean the most to you. Why?

I feel fortunate to have had a chance to illustrate a lot of my heroes. Muhammad Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harry Houdini, and Jesse Owens. However I would have to say that the book I am especially proud of will always be Grandma’s Records, which is my story. I am not particularly fond of my illustration work technically.  But the book has resonated with so many people. I still get emails from people thanking me for writing it. Walker Books informed me that the book is their second all-time bestseller.

Grandma’s Records is a simple story about a boy who spends the summer with his Grandma, listening to records and her stories. Three famous Puerto Rican musicians visit them, and they attend a show that changes both of them forever. The book has helped bridge a generational gap that is widening between grandparent and grandchild. People write to me all the time explaining how they are playing old records for their grandchildren, ultimately that is most rewarding.

What is the primary medium used in your work?

My primary medium is oil on paper. I have also done three books in pastel and one in charcoal.

Who are other illustrators or fine artists who’ve inspired you?

I love them all, the old illustrators for different reasons at different times. I am a lifelong student of illustration. However, this is a serious question to me for many reasons. Not all illustrators whose work I admire would have invited me to spend a day in their studio. This is something that I have been aware of since childhood.

Therefore, if I could spend the day in the studio with any artist, it would have been Tom Feelings. Tom and I became friends after the masterpiece The Middle Passage was published.  It was the first time that looking at artwork made dizzy. I really had to sit on the floor of the bookstore when I first saw the book. It is everything that a book should be, a true Masterpiece. When I met Tom, I complimented him and I began to walk away. I guess he sensed my shyness and immediately called me back to thank me and to tell me that he was honored by my words.

We would meet again at the New York Public Library picture collection. We spoke for three hours. Tom Feelings was his artwork. Every pencil line and every composition was evident in his personality. He was as real as his art. I was inspired by his reality and his generosity.

Tom would often call just to see how I was doing and encouraging me to take ownership of my African heritage. A lot of art that is credited as being created by Europeans had in fact originated in Africa. Perhaps my only regret is that I never had a chance to spend a day in his studio and watch him create his magic.

The Middle Passage, Tom Feelings

What was the biggest change, unexpected result, or interesting observation noted since you received recognition by the Coretta Scott King committee, or any other award or honor?

Public speaking. That has been the most significant change in my life. Up until I won the award I never spoke publicly. I hid in my studio and painted. Many doors opened, especially when I began doing school visits. Most notably, teaching.  I was hired by the chairman of the Illustration Department at FIT (The Fashion Institute of Technology), Ed Soyka, after he viewed a school presentation I gave on C-Span Book TV.

Three books recently illustrated by Velasquez: I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer, written by Carole Boston Weatherford; The Rain Stomper, written by Addie Boswell; Voices of Christmas, written by Nikki Grimes.

Can you talk a bit about your process for illustrating a book?

After reading the manuscript several times I begin to do my rough thumbnail storyboard sketches.  Next I begin to research the story in terms of costumes, location, books, etc. Basically I try and learn everything I can about the subject within the time I have.

From there I create a book dummy (a pagination) of the book. This involves cutting up the manuscript and pasting it down next to the corresponding images.  I submit the book dummy to the publisher for approval. Sometimes there are changes at this stage. Next I find models and costumes, then I set up a photo shoot.

Next, I begin the final artwork. First I create a detailed drawing of the image then I paint on top of it using oil paint.

If you could wave a magic wand and completely change professions, what would you be doing today?

I waved a magic wand when I was seven and I wanted to be an illustrator. Nothing has changed.

Why do you illustrate for children? What do you find most gratifying?

The ability to change the future through art. For instance, let’s say I have text that reads: “Then he laid his eyes on the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.”

Now, let’s say I paint an image is of a darkly complexioned African woman. My point: If enough artist are courageous enough to depict a variety of images of beauty, regardless of country of origin, slowly the next generation will begin to open their eyes to another more truer sense of beauty, that of a broader spectrum.

For aspiring children’s book illustrators,  please talk about your path to publication.

There are so many obstacles today perhaps more than ever. There are lots of closed doors in publishing. It’s a small community that seems to be getting smaller. Currently I am a loss for words. I am very concerned with the future of publishing.  Persevere.

If you could put your career in reverse, is there anything you’d do differently as a young artist?

I would read more. Aside from Baldwin, Hughes, Wright, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky. Gogol, Zola. These writers really formed the basis of my perspective in illustration.

See the trailer for Racing Against All Odds: The Story of Wendell Scott, Stock Car Racing’s African-American Champion, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, above.

What is the most challenging thing about illustrating a children’s picture book?

Finding your voice in the story without overshadowing the text.

What was your favorite book as a child?

The Lollipop Party by Brinton Turkle. I grew up at a time where there were no images of African Americans in children’s books. I gravitated toward this book because there is a little brown boy in the story that I identified with.

Most Americans have no idea what is like not to see themselves represented in books or films. They don’t know what it’s like to constantly see images of themselves portrayed in a negative light or subservient role to the main protagonist.

How do you find balance in your busy schedule?

Very carefully. I pretty much work all the time.

What would be your dream manuscript? Is there an author you’d especially like to work with?

My dream author would be James Baldwin.

A current author would perhaps be Willie Perdomo, the poet. I really would like to explore more of the Afro-Caribbean perspective; sadly there is not enough of it in children’s books.

Who are your cheerleaders, those who encourage you?

My lady, Elizabeth, E.B. Lewis, James Ransome, and the countless  fans that write telling me how my work has affected them.

Do you visit schools? Is there any particular message you like to leave with children when you speak?

Yes. My message is that everyone has a story to tell that is unique. Don’t be satisfied with the same old story being retold, like the stuff that comes out of Hollywood. Tell me a story that I have not already heard.

What’s on the horizon, what can your fans expect?

I have just completed all of the art for Grandma’s Gift, the prequel to Grandma’s Records. I am very excited about it.

This book deals with art the way Grandma’s Records dealt with music and explains where the sketchbook comes from.

********* Just For Fun **********

Favorite M&M color: I don’t really eat candy

Favorite TV show: Dexter

Favorite food: Salmon

Favorite sport: Biking

Favorite ice cream flavor: Coconut

Favorite Author: James Baldwin

Favorite American Idol winner: Huh?

Favorite Pop culture personality: Huh?

Favorite Day of the week: Any day that I don’t have to leave the studio.

Favorite genre of book: Nonfiction

Myspace or Facebook: Facebook


Voices of Change: A Teen Reflects on Freedom

November 14, 2017

Freedom

By JGL, 13

What’s the use of freedom, if we’re not really free
You say all religions will be treated equally
Don’t ostracize Muslims, let them be

What’s the use of freedom, if we’re not really free
Our president doesn’t support free press, it may be gone soon
Forthright writing is only found once in a blue moon

What’s the use of freedom, if we’re not really free
We should be able to articulate how we feel, without repercussion
Don’t be aloof, have a genial discussion

What’s the use of freedom, if we’re not really free
Justice should be fair and resolute
Regardless of race and gender, or the point is moot

What’s the use of freedom, if we’re not really free
You can’t purge the world of guns
But people shouldn’t bask in violence or flaunt weapons for fun

What’s the use of freedom, if we’re not really free
Don’t make the accused wait in anguish
While they continually languish

What’s the use of freedom, if we’re not really free
Search should be legal and follow the rules
Don’t make people scapegoats or play them for fools

What’s the use of freedom if we’re not really free
My premonition is that if we follow the constitution’s true meaning, we’ll be great
We need to instill love and exterminate the defect of hate

Read about Voices of Change on The Brown Bookshelf:

The Brown Bookshelf opens up this space to you — to young readers, to parents and caregivers, to educators, and all who work directly with children and teens. See previous entries here.

What are you thinking? How are you feeling about what is happening in our towns and cities, our world? Where do we go from here? What would you like to see happen? What do you want to do? How can we offer our support?

Please feel free to share your words and/or images with us, by sending them to teambrownbookshelf@gmail.com. And we will post them here. Posts with profanity, explicit imagery, etc will not be accepted or published. Unless a contributor requests otherwise, we will share first initials, age and/or position only.


Shining the Spotlight: The Brown Bookshelf Salutes Great Books for Kids

November 11, 2017

If you’re attending AASL, please join us for our Shining the Spotlight program today in Room North 124A from 10:40 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. The BBS team will be represented by Gwendolyn Hooks, Kelly Starling Lyons, Tameka Fryer Brown and Crystal Allen.

Following the session, Crystal will sign at booth 223 from 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Tameka will read in Authorpalooza at 12:15 p.m.

Tameka and Kelly will sign in Authorpalooza at 12:30 p.m.-1 p.m.

Here’s the list of books we featured in our book talk:

A Night Out With Mama by Quvenzhane Wallis, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe

One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson

American Ace by Marilyn Nelson

Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Crown by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon James

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet

My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Tiny Stitches by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Colin Bootman

Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown and The Wall of Fame Game by Crystal Allen, illustrated by Eda Kaban

In Your Hands by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

The Ring Bearer written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Thank you for your support.


Voices of Change: A Poet’s Call

October 25, 2017

 

“That Village”

By Johnny Ray Moore

 

Let’s all become that VILLAGE,

Just like we used to be?

That VILLAGE made of KINGS and QUEENS, 

A place of DIGNITY.

Back then, WE RAISED our children,

We taught them RIGHT from WRONG,

When problems came and shook their FAITH,

We urged them to HOLD ON.

We even PRAISED our ELDERS,

They PAVED THE WAY for us,

And, if they needed ANYTHING,

We GAVE without a fuss.

That village was a place of STRENGTH,

Where MEN made PEACE with MEN,

And WOMEN stood beside their mates,

Right to the very end.

The CHURCH, also, had POWER,

It gave much HOPE to many,

It taught SALVATION was for all,

And DID NOT COST A PENNY!

And furthermore, that VILLAGE was,

Designed to keep us grounded,

Instilling precious HARMONY,

The BEST THING ever founded.

So, as we sometimes toil with doubt,

STAND TALL and PERSEVERE,

Because, THAT VILLAGE WAY OF LIFE,

IS STILL SO VERY DEAR.

Johnny Ray Moore is a poet, children’s book author, greeting card writer and songwriter. His acclaimed board book, The Story of Martin Luther King Jr., has sold more than 100,000 copies. His children’s poetry collection, Silence, Please (Clear Fork Publishing), debuts in April.

 

Read about Voices of Change on The Brown Bookshelf.

The Brown Bookshelf opens up this space to you — to young readers, to parents and caregivers, to educators, and all who work directly with children and teens. See previous entries here.

What are you thinking? How are you feeling about what is happening in our towns and cities, our world? Where do we go from here? What would you like to see happen? What do you want to do? How can we offer our support?

Please feel free to share your words and/or images with us, by sending them to teambrownbookshelf@gmail.com. And we will post them here. Posts with profanity, explicit imagery, etc will not be accepted or published. Unless a contributor requests otherwise, we will share first initials, age and/or position only.


Voices of Change: A Parent Speaks

October 16, 2017

Blackness
by Brenda Payne Whiteman

I love my blackness
Good to know who I am
Hailing from my parents’ and ancestors’
Collective womb
Nurturing, strong and proud

I face a cold world
When pain is inflicted
With words that cut into my heart
Sharp as a knife
By looks that burn a hole in my soul

I feel invisible at times in a sea of whiteness
By those encaged in bold, cocky entitlement
Basking in their reality

I have news
The world does not revolve
Around you
It revolves around us all

We all share this planet
As human beings
Who laugh, cry, and bleed the same red
No one is more supreme than you or me
We all have something to give

Brenda Payne Whiteman is an aspiring children’s picture book writer and a member of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is a parent, age 58.

Read about Voices of Change on The Brown Bookshelf.

The Brown Bookshelf opens up this space to you — to young readers, to parents and caregivers, to educators, and all who work directly with children and teens. See previous entries here.

What are you thinking? How are you feeling about what is happening in our towns and cities, our world? Where do we go from here? What would you like to see happen? What do you want to do? How can we offer our support?

Please feel free to share your words and/or images with us, by sending them to teambrownbookshelf@gmail.com. And we will post them here. Posts with profanity, explicit imagery, etc will not be accepted or published. Unless a contributor requests otherwise, we will share first initials, age and/or position only.


Call for Submissions – 28 Days Later

October 11, 2017

28dayslaterlogoIt’s that time. The submissions window has officially opened for the 11th annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of black children’s book creators. We will take nominations today through November 10th.

Over the past decade, we have proudly saluted more than 250 authors and illustrators through our signature initiative. But there are so many more who deserve to be showcased.

That’s where you come in. Help us identify under-the-radar and vanguard black children’s book creators we should consider featuring. Let us know who we should check out so we can give them the praise they’ve earned.

After the submissions window closes, we’ll research the names you’ve submitted and our internal nominations. Then, we’ll choose the stand-outs who will be the next class of 28 Days Later honorees. The celebration of their work begins February 1.

Too often, the work of black authors and illustrators goes unsung. With 28 Days Later, we put these talents in front of the folks who can get their books into the hands of kids – librarians, teachers, parents and booksellers among others.

Nominate your favorites in the comments section. Please note that due to the limited resources of the team, we can only take nominations of traditionally published books. We may highlight a small number of self-published children’s book creators for the 28 Days Later campaign, but these authors and illustrators will be internally nominated.

You can check out past honorees in the 28 Days Later pull-down tab in the menu above. If you could make sure your nominee hasn’t already been featured, that would be a great help.

Spread the word and nominate often. With your support, we can make a difference. Thank you.