Looking ahead to Friday!

January 30, 2008

I just wanted to take a second to let everyone know how excited we are about our 28 Days Later initiative, which premiers on Friday. The past couple of months have been a growing experience for me. Many of the authors we plan to profile here, I’d never even heard of until we began this campaign.

In addition to learning about new authors, I learned a new word: Kaizen. I learned it while interviewing author Janice Harrington, who wrote the book The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County. When asked how she manages to find balance in her life as an author, librarian, poet, speaker and parent, she answered: “I practice the principle of Kaizen, continual improvement by taking small steps.”

According to Wikipedia, Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “change for the better,” or “slow continual improvement.” Sounds like just the kind of system I need to employ in my personal and business life. If you have a second today, read more about the Kaizen system here, and here.

For more tidbits of wisdom like this, be sure to tune in on Friday, when we will begin highlighting 28 of the best and brightest authors and illustrators in the field of children’s literature.

Now, go get your Kaizen on!

Heads Up Vol IV

January 28, 2008

aacbwismalllogo_thumbnail.jpgHeads Up is a reposting of AACBWI’s announcement of book releases that may picque the interest of young African American readers. As a Brown Bookshelf partner, The African American Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators society is dedicated to spreading the word about these and other books that are of special interest to multi-cultural audiences.

From Board Books to Young Adult fiction, Heads Up serves as a guide of what to look for in stores or what to ask for at the library.

hope-chest.jpgTHE HOPE CHEST (Random House) by Karen Schwabach (Ages 9-12)

Violet’s older sister Chloe didn’t get married. She bought a car instead. And then she drove that car to New York City and never came home again. Violet’s parents said Chloe had turned into the Wrong Sort of Person, but Violet knew better. Now she’s determined to find her sister, and she’ll go all the way to New York City to do it. The only problem is that Chloe’s not in New York anymore. So Violet must journey even further to Tennessee , where Chloe is fighting for the vote for women. Nashville is a hotbed of political intrigue. Suffs and Antis are doing anything and everything to sway legislators to their side: bribing them, pleading with them, and even kidnapping them. Violet is hanging out with suffragists, socialists, and colored people. But if she’s becoming the Wrong Sort of Person, why does it feel just right?

nikki-and-deja.jpgNIKKI AND DEJA by Karen English – Clarion Books (Ages 4-8)

Can Nikki and Deja’s friendship survive the drill team club and the new girl? Meet Nikki and Deja, who live next door to each other and are best friends. They do everything together-watch Saturday morning cartoons, play jacks, jump double Dutch at recess, and help each other with their homework for Ms. Shelby’s third-grade class. But when an arrogant new girl arrives and Nikki and Deja form a club that would exclude her, the results are not what they expect. This warm, easy-to-read chapter book from an award-winning author captures all the joys and complexities of elementary school life-particularly friendships and cliques-with finesse and humor.

new-boy.jpgNEW BOY by Julian Houston – Paperback version (Young Adult)

In this compelling debut novel, a sixteen year-old African American boy discovers the world-and himself-when he integrates an all-white boarding school in the 1950s.

missy-violet.jpg MISSY VIOLET AND ME by Barbara Hathaway – Houghton Mifflin paperback version (Ages 9-12)

The Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award was given to this moving story of a young girl’s apprenticeship to a midwife. The summer that Viney is eleven years old is extraordinary. It takes her out of school and puts her under the wing of Missy Violet, a well-loved midwife whose wise and warm ways help teach Viney about the business of catchin’ babies. At turns scary, funny, and exhilarating, the rhythm of Viney’s rural life in the South quickens as she embraces her apprenticeship and finds her own special place as Missy Violet’s “best helper girl.”

road-to-paris.jpgTHE ROAD TO PARIS by Nikki Grimes – Puffin paperback version (Ages 9-12)

Paris has just moved in with the Lincoln family, and she isnt thrilled to be in yet another foster home. She has a tough time trusting people, and she misses her brother, whos been sent to a boys home. Over time, the Lincolns grow on Paris . But no matter how hard she tries to fit in, she cant ignore the feeling that she never will, especially in a town thats mostly white while she is half black. It isnt long before Paris has a big decision to make about where she truly belongs.

oprah.jpgUP CLOSE: OPRAH WINFREY by Ilene Cooper – Puffin (Young Adult)

Oprah Winfrey has been called the Queen of All Media for good reasonduring her more than thirty-year career, she has left an indelible mark on radio, television, film, theater, magazines, and books. One of the most influential people today, Oprah is also a committed humanitarian.


Why we do what we do

January 25, 2008

Some days I look up from a full day of Brown Bookshelf preparation, writing, promotion or whatever is on my plate and I wonder what possessed me to add such a detailed initiative as 28 Days Later onto my workload.

I could plead temporary insanity.  But what might my Brown Bookshelf cohorts excuses be?  Could it be possible that we’re all a little loopy?

Then I’ll run across something like the 2007 Librarians’ Choices , a list of 100 children’s books and it hits me, “Ohhh yeah…that’s why.”

According to Becky’s description of the program:
The goals of the project are twofold, to develop participant knowledge base about current books for children and young adults and the ability to read and write critically about these books and to use this experience to create a professional resource for others interested in choosing outstanding and intriguing books for the young people they serve.

So I reviewed the list anxiously, hoping to see some newly familiar names to me, in the way of African American authors. But I saw (with respect) the “usual suspects.”

Christopher Paul Curtis, Carole Boston Weatherford and Sharon Draper.

In fairness, Becky points out that they certainly didn’t review all books on the market. But did attempt to make the list as thorough and comprehensive as possible. And I take that on its word.

Speaking unofficially on behalf of other Black children’s writers, it’s hard not to feel invisible when lists like this are announced and only the same authors are mentioned. Especially since some of the authors included on the list are new authors – several were peers of mine in the Class of 2K7.

How are these brand new authors discovered and put in front of the committee?

Are publishers not getting African American children’s authors in front of projects like the Librarians’ Choices?

Are the books by African American children’s authors being considered but not making the final cut?

Obviously, these are rhetorical questions. And I’m neither whining or poking holes at the Librarians’ Choices list. But, it’s a reminder why The Brown Bookshelf has a long road ahead of it.

Here’s to seeing some new names join the trailblazers on lists like these in ’08 and beyond.

Artist to artist: Don Tate chats with CSK honor winner, Nancy Devard

January 23, 2008

Wednesdays are my day to blog here at the Brown Bookshelf and yesterday, I realized I had less than 24 hours to come up with something. I had nothing. And I was too busy to even think about it. I wanted to post an interview. Pie in the sky, Nancy Devard, illustrator of the book, The Secret Olivia Told Me, written by N. Joy (Just Us Books, 2007).

But that was out of the question, I figured. After all, it’s only been a week since Nancy became one of the recipients of a Coretta Scott King Honor award, one of the greatest honors bestowed on an African American children’s book creator. She wouldn’t have time for me.

I was so wrong. Nancy responded to my interview questions and put the biggest smile on my face since the new year rolled in. So today, I present Nancy Devard. Enjoy!

Don: Sometimes I imagine myself getting the call, you know, from the Coretta Scott King folks. How did you learn the news of your Coretta Scott King Honor award?

Nancy: I received a telephone call around 7:10 to 7:15 A.M. in the morning of January 14th. I was recovering from both a nasty cold and tooth pain (root canal, tooth extraction, infected tooth! yikes!!!) and had a large dose of NyQuil the night before. I was a little tired and groggy when I received the good news. I heard the words,”Congratulations” from one librarian from the Coretta Scott King Awards Committee and many other voices cheering in the background. Then I heard that “The Secret Olivia Told Me” was selected as the Coretta Scott King illustration honors book. I was very happy (but still groggy and stuffed up).

Don: Well, I’ll bet that phone call chased your cold away. And I’ll bet you haven’t slept since! How did you feel winning this award, this being your first trade picture book?

Nancy: I was excited. But the significance of this award really hit me when they told me that The Secret Olivia Told Me was a co-honor selection along with a book (Jazz) illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Okay, now they really had my attention! Oh, my gosh! I share honors with the Dillons!!! They are among my favorite illustrators; I own quite a few of their books and use them for inspiration. Their artworks/illustrations are just plain beautiful! My high beams were on thereafter.

Don: Tell me, what drew you to the field of children’s publishing, and how did you get your first book contract?

Nancy: Formerly, I worked as an artist at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri, and I can honestly say that I had never considered working in illustration (let alone children’s book illustration) until I worked at Hallmark. They had one of the best and most inspirational art/reference libraries that I had ever seen. I regularly took out children’s books for inspiration for my Hallmark artwork assignments, and discovered art and artists (children’s book illustrators) that I never heard of, but whose work was fabulous.

I’m a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where students were trained as a fine artists, but not as a working artist/illustrators. Your training is all about developing/honing your skills in as a painter, sculptor or printmaker, and not about using these skills to earn a living. In other words, they train the people who work in services industries by day (waiters, salesclerks, customer services, etc.) but are incredible fine/gallery artists at night or whenever they have free time. (Darn those pesky bills for rent, food, medical care and clothing!)

Anyway, one of my fellow artists at Hallmark, Cathy Ann Johnson, who is herself a lovely children’s book illustrator, gave my name to Bernette Ford, an editor and packager who was creating a line of early reader books for African-American children, for Scholastic Books. (I think that Shane Evans
[a fellow former Hallmark artist, turned illustrator and CSK winner] also tossed my name out as an illustrator who was looking for a break; I am very grateful to both of them). Ultimately I was selected to illustrate two books for the “Just for You” line of books, A Mom Like No Other and The Mystery of the Missing Dog. Interesting, after I talked to Cathy, I discovered that the author of “A Mom Like No Other” was another former Hallmark employee living (like I was at that time) in Kansas City. She is Christine Taylor-Butler who was starting out her new career as a children’s book author.

Don: Nancy, your artwork is truly beautiful! How would you describe your illustration style and technique?

Nancy: Okay, that a hard one. My academy training stressed using only one style, one medium and sticking with that style and medium. At Hallmark, it was just the opposite: versatility was valued. Art/cards projects were needed in the styles of other artists that were currently and formerly on staff at Hallmark. Learning to use different media for card product (computers, alkyds, water media, pastels, colored pencils, sculpture, etc.) was encouraged, which I enjoyed. I would say that my style is primarily figurative and realistic, but not exclusively realistic (there’s that wishy-washy Pisces in me again). For The Secret Olivia Told Me which was created using Adobe Illustrator, the kids had large heads and feet and
comparatively delicate necks and gangly limbs. I created/proposed a card back when I was at Hallmark comprised of three silhouettes of black women on a three panel card. I think this card helped me win my first illustration assignment from Just Us Books.

On other illustration projects, I have used more realistic proportions.
Honestly, I am open to just about any kind of project in children’s book illustration because I Love a Challenge ­Right now I’m thinking a children’s fantasy book with imaginary would be fun.

Don: What’s on the horizon for you?

Right now, I am working on four new titles for a new multicultural imprint, Marimba Books. They will be published in the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009. The main characters are 2 to 5 years old and the books are geared towards toddlers and early readers. I’m really enjoying working on this series. Right now everything is so new for me in children’s book illustration that each project has been a pleasure and a learning experience.

Incidentally, I’m also in the same boat as you; I’m also considering looking for an agent to help guide my future assignments. That way I’ll have more time to focus on the execution my creative work.

P. S. Two of my fellow Hallmark alumnae are participating in your 28 Days Later lecture series: Shane Evans and Kyra Hicks. I did some illustration work for the adult versions of the children’s story (biography) that Kyra wrote about Martha Ricks and Miss Martha’s visit with the Queen of England (Queen Vic). I have attached artwork that I painted for the project for Kyra. Kyra’s quiltwork is awesome!

Thanks, Don, to you and Brown Bookshelf for giving me an opportunity to share some thoughts about my work and this incredible honor I’ve just received for my first trade picture book.

Don: Thank you, Nancy, for taking the time to share your work and experiences. This was such a treat for me.

This is a first in a series of artist to artist chats I plan to conduct at the Brown Bookshelf.

It’s No Mystery: The 2008 Edgar Awards

January 18, 2008

It’s still the season to recognize authors, books, and darn good writing.  Named after Edgar Allan Poe, the Edgar Awards are presented every year by  the Mystery Writers of America to honor the best mystery writing in fiction, non-fiction, and film. 

Nominated for Best Young Adult is Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin who was also a finalist for the National Book Awards.

Nominated for Best Juvenile is Shadows on Society Hill by Evelyn Coleman.

 It feels good to see them both being recognized for their writing talent. 

Newbery Highlight: The Hundred Penny Box

January 17, 2008
When I began writing for children, I searched for mentors. A kind children’s book author agreed to meet me in a local library and pass along pearls of wisdom. Her first tip: Start by reading. “Get to know the award winners,” she said and handed me a pamphlet of titles that won Newbery and Coretta Scott King awards and honors.

I have a long way to go in meeting her challenge. But in the process, I’ve discovered books that made me laugh, weep and marvel at the power of words. My most recent read was the 1976 Newbery Honor Book, The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. It’s an unforgettable work. As I celebrate the new class of award-winning black children’s book authors, I salute too geniuses like Mathis who blazed the trail.

In The Hundred Penny Box, Mathis expertly weaves the story of a young nephew and his 100-year-old great-great Aunt Dewbet Thomas. She’s come to live with him and his parents, bringing with her a worn wooden box that holds more than the hundred pennies — one for each year of her age — tucked inside a cloth, rose-printed sack, but the heart of her life.

In her quest to help Aunt Dew adjust to being at their home and focus on the future, Michael’s mom has thrown many of the elder woman’s old things away. But when his mom turns her sights on the hundred-penny box, Michael speaks out. He desperately searches for a way to preserve his aunt’s cherished box — and her.

“When I lose my hundred penny box, I lose me,” Aunt Dew tells him . . . “Them’s my years in that box,” she says. “That’s me in that box.”

The beauty of the book is its simplicity. It’s a short story yet lush with emotion, detail and meaning. The characters linger long after you finish reading. So do their words.

Cheers to Sharon Bell Mathis for creating a story that still entrances decades after its debut. 

Re-introducing our 28 Days Later Poster

January 16, 2008

If you dropped by here earlier today and tried to download our 28 Days Later poster, I need to apologize. We had major problems…or, more specifically, I had major problems. I’ll spare you the technical gobbledegook. But after a long day and many, many, many error messages, I think the poster is finally good to go. Click here to download a .pdf version. Click here to download a .jpg.
If you’re still receiving error messages, please let us know so that we can continue to work out any bugs.