Thelma Morris-Lindsey inspires children to read

April 30, 2008

How do you excite, influence, and stir the souls of our children to greatness? In other words, how do you inspire our children to read?

Create a sense of self-efficacy: I have never known anyone to do anything unless there was a feeling that they could accomplish the task at hand. Putting a book into a child’s hand is the first sign that you believe in their greatness. A book is symbolic of all that is possible for them in this world.

Carve Out Time For What You Believe Is Important:
The time and attention that you give to the art of reading is what signifies to children its worth and value. If instead of a ball you give a book, our children could predetermine their own destiny. If instead of a concert, we took them to the bookstore our children would not only have a piece of the American pie, but would bake, distribute, and sell the pie.

Interest: Let children read what they enjoy reading. Before we can introduce them to the great pieces of literature, let them read about what interests them. Let them discover, inquire, and revel in the sheer delight of books for both information and pleasure.

Loving Space: When you really think about it, some of your most amazing memories were very simple ones. Mama cooking in the kitchen, conversations outside on the porch with Grandpa… Children find a great deal of pleasure in simply spending time with you. Creating a loving space for just you and your child to dream, believe, and read will be the moments they will talk about the most. These will be the real moments that matter.

Readability level: Make sure that children are reading at their level of comfort. Each page turned should encourage another… Children should have a sense of success when reading and be able to comprehend what they have read.

Talk about books and make it applicable to the real world:
One of my favorite books is The Legend of the Valentine. Talk about the challenges and joys we confront as we go through this journey called life. Children love to talk, to share, and to learn. Read to and with your child(-ren). Ask for their opinion about the book. Would they have changed the title? Would they have reacted as the characters did in the book? Would they have written a different ending?

Let them see images that look like them: If you have or work with children of color, let the images they see in books reflect who they are. Let them be proud, hopeful, and secure in their own images. Let them know that the skin they live in is beautiful and adoring.

Have Fun: This is your five minutes of fame! Become the actress or actor you had only dreamed of becoming….Reading to and with your child should be fun. Change your voice as characters are introduced into the story. Sing the song on the page instead of reading it! When describing the place, invoke feelings of wonder, excitement, or doom and gloom if the pages call for it!

In the end, tell your children that reading is a revolutionary act. Tell them that reading defies prejudices and biases. Let your children know that reading is a change agent. Be consistent in your message about reading.

When you really think about it, reading is a constant reminder to our children that we birthed the world, inherited a legacy of great dynasties and great minds, and, every time we pick up a book, our children have an extraordinary opportunity to connect with the greatness that is rightfully theirs.

Thelma Morris-Lindsey is founding director of Earning by Learning of Dallas (EBL), a 13 year old nonprofit created to motivate children to read. EBL is in 64 Dallas ISD elementary schools and currently a part of a Harvard research study. For more information about Earning by Learning, log onto or or email

Earning by Learning • 2904 Floyd Street, Ste. A-1• Dallas, Texas 75241• Phone: 214-442-1620
This is the first in a series, where we will pose the question to folks in the children’s literature/literacy community: How can you inspire children to read?

Now, I pose the question to you: How do you inspire children to read?


Where The Rubber Meets The Road

April 28, 2008

So many books.  So little time.

 I’m overwhelmed with the sheer number of books available. I used to feel ignorant when someone would wax on about an author I hadn’t heard of, because they’d speak of them as if everyone should know the person.

I no longer feel that way.

There are lots of books out there. Our job here at The Brown Bookshelf is to help bring attention to a very tiny niche of books in that vast sea of literature.

It’s no easy feat. So I got to thinking (always a dangerous thing,  by the way), how does one narrow the field when directing someone to good books?

Hey, I thought, those books were produced by a publisher!  Why not start there?

Although the CCBC’s stats revealed that the number of African American authors producing children’s books actually decreased in 2007 – made my heart ache – information is a dangerous thing.  If you’re looking for children’s books for and/or by African American authors here the following are a few places to begin.

Now, just like it’s tricky to go all “I’d like to thank” on people, because you’ll always leave someone out – I do not claim the list below is comprehensive.  Nor are these the only imprints that print multi-cultural books. But it’s a good starting point.

Jump At the Sun (Hyperion)
Likely one of the most recognized African American children’s publishers, the 10-year-old imprint is home to some of the most well-known African American children’s authors, among them Sharon G. Flake, Kadir Nelson, Andrea Pinkney & Jerry Pinkney, Deborah Gregory (author of The Cheetah Girls) and Christopher Myers. It’s also the publisher of several 28 Days Later spotlight authors including Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, Valerie Wilson Wesley and illustrator Shane Evans.

Inspired by and named for the advice of author Zora Neale Hurston’s mother, telling her daughter to aim high and jump at the sun, JATS is a leading publisher in the field of African American children’s books, offering both the literary and the popular. If award-winning books are your thing, you’ll find no shortage among JATS’ authors.

Dafina for Young Readers (Kensington)
Kensington Books is the last man standing among independent U.S. publishers of hardcover, mass trade and paperback books. Well-known among romance readers and writers, Kensington’s African American imprint, Dafina, ventured into YA in 2006 to help fill the void in diverse offerings for African American teen readers, with the release of the popular Drama High series.

Though a newcomer to YA, Dafina for Young Readers is fast earning a reputation for hip, contemporary, multi-cultural popular teen literature. The imprint is cultivating a growing stable of authors, among them 28 Days spotlight author, Stephanie Perry Moore, Latino author, Kim Flores and Brown Book shelf co-founder, yours truly, Paula Chase.

Amistad (Harper Collins)
Another long-time player in the African American children’s book publishing game, Amistad is home to 28 Days Later vanguard authors Walter Dean Myers, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Eloise Greenfield as well as hidden gem, Nina Crews.

Although best known for its heavily literay list with name authors like Nikki Grimes and Gwendolyn Brooks, Amistad could rightly be credited with taking the first step in offering middle grade pop fic for African American readers with the ’05 release of Philana Marie Boles, Little Divas.

Kimani Tru (Harlequin)
Like Dafina for Young Readers, Kimani Tru was born of a traditional romance house. One of the most recognized romance publishers in the U.S. and no doubt internationally, Harlequin joined the YA for AA fray in ’07 with its first release, Indigo Summer by Monica McKayhan. Since then, you’re likely unable to get out of the YA section without noticing the bold, colorful Kimani Tru label luring your eye to one of their many teen lit books.

Using a balanced mix of fresh new voices – teen writer, Cassandra Carter and JD Guilford- combined with veteran writers taking their first step into young adult fiction (Joyce Davis of Upscale Magazine, Kendra Lee of Heart & Soul) Kimani Tru is becoming a go-to source for readers seeking teen lit with various shades of romance.

Just Us Books
A rare bird in today’s giant publisher-dominated landscape, Just Us Books is an independent black-owned company dedicated to publishing children’s books. Kicked off with the popular AFRO-BETS ABC picture book, Just Us Books is now celebrating its 20th year offering books of interest to people of color. Although they offer all levels of children’s books, picture books are the lion’s share of JUB’s catalog.

Known for agressively pursuing opportunities to showcase their authors, JUB’s focus on children’s books has attracted a wide range of writers – from the award-winning to the debut. Among the authors whose books have found a home at JUB, 28 Days spotlight authors Eleanora E. Tate, Valerie Wilson-Wesley, vanguard, Carole Boston-Weatherford, popular authors Nikki Grimes and Rosa Guy, and Brown Bookshelf member, Kelly Starling Lyons.

When looking for children’s books of African American interest, no better place to start than where the rubber meets the road. Check these publishers and their imprints out for future releases and stay tuned while I dig deep among publishers like Flux and biggie, Random House – those without a special imprint for multi-cultural but who have and are publishing multi-cultural books.

Book report: Before John Was a Jazz Giant

April 21, 2008

Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Sean Qualls
Published by Henry Holt and Company, April 2008

Life can be a rat race, I know. We get so busy we never take the time to stop and listen, taking a chance on missing life’s blessings.

Young John Coltrane, however, didn’t miss his blessings. He listened. He listened to the sounds that ham bones made as they cooked in his Grandma’s pots. He listened to the hiss of steam engines, and to the warbling of birds. He listened to the hymns his mother played on the piano for the church choir. Before John Coltrane became a jazz giant, “he was all ears.”

Written by award-winning author, Carole Boston Weatherford, this picture book biography tunes along like a song. The text is kid-friendly with the young child in mind. It’s easy to read, rhythmic, repetitive. My 6-year-old son could read this book on his own, and fully grasp the story because there’s not a bunch of dates or milestones to remember, things he wouldn’t care about anyway.

Before John Was a Jazz Giant is illustrated by Sean Qualls. And same as his previous books, his artwork pleases. His color pallet and impromptu, painterly style croons. A perfect match for the subject matter.

An author’s note at the end fills in the details.

Other blogs about this book:

A Fuse #8 at School Library Journal

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

I picked up this book last week at the Texas Library Association’s conference in Dallas, Texas. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of publishers who were familiar with The Brown Bookshelf and our 28 Days Later initiative. If you have a picture book that you’d like to submit for possible mention here, send me an email and I’ll return it with my mailing address (For the sake of full disclosure, I may donate books to schools or libraries, but I also reserve the right to keep them, since this is an unpaid, volunteer endeavor). Personally, I don’t like the term book review. There may be some formal protocol that I don’t know about, and so to keep things casual, I will post book reports. Anyone can write an informal book report, right?

What to send:
Picture books or very early chapter books, of particular interest to African American children (regardless of the race of the author). I’m looking for books with African American characters (however you choose to define that) or subject matter.

For other types of books — YA novels, middle grade chapters, graphic novels, contact Paula, Varian, Kelly or Carla (Although they, I’m sure, would welcome picture books too.)

— Don

28 & Beyond: Almost to Freedom

April 10, 2008

Children’s librarian and author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson was exploring an exhibit of historic rag dolls at New Mexico’s International Museum of Folk Art when inspiration struck. As she perused the collection, which included a few dolls from Underground Railroad hideouts, she is quoted as thinking: “If only these dolls could talk.”

So began Nelson’s journey to use a doll to give voice to the harsh realities of slavery. Her award-winning picture book, Almost to Freedom, beautifully illustrated by Colin Bootman (Carolrhoda, 2003), does this in a powerful way.

Sally, the doll of enslaved child Lindy, witnesses the hardships of the time — picking cotton in oppressive heat, feeling the pain of the lash, bearing the searing ache of loved ones being sold away. When Lindy and her mom escape for freedom along the Underground Railroad, Sally comes with them.  One night, the family — reunited with Lindy’s father — has to flee a safe house to escape slave catchers and Sally is accidentally left behind. The doll, lonely at first, brings the story full circle as she becomes the fabric of hope for another child.

Almost to Freedom is a rich story. Adapted into a play for St. Paul, Minnesota’s SteppingStone Theater, Nelson’s book continues to move children and adults. Author of several books for young readers, including Juneteenth (Millbrook Press, 2006), Possibles (Putnam, 1997), Beyond Mayfield (Putnam, 1999) and Mayfield Crossing (Putnam, 2002), Nelson’s latest offering is Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal (Carolrhoda), illustrated by Tyrone Geter. It debuts November 2008.

The Buzz on Almost to Freedom:

2004 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book

“A compelling story told from the point of view of an enslaved child’s beloved rag doll. Made for young Lindy by her mama, Miz Rachel, the hand-stitched toy is the girl’s most prized possession. She tells her, “Your name be Sally. We gonna be best friends.” When the child’s father is sold and Lindy is beaten for asking Massa’s son how to spell her name, the horrid conditions of the cotton plantation become intolerable. One night Miz Rachel wakes Lindy and they run for their lives. They are reunited with Mr. Henry and the fugitive family heads North to freedom. They are given shelter at a station on the Underground Railroad, but must flee from slave catchers in the middle of the night. In the frantic scramble, Sally is left behind. The doll is lonely for her friend and worries for the safety of Lindy and her folks. When another child and her mother are sheltered in the basement, the doll joins her new best friend on her trip to Freedom. This accessible story is told in language that is within the experience of a young child and makes its impact without frightening or overwhelming readers. It is ultimately a story of hope and resilience, love and friendship. The evocative oil paintings are expertly rendered and effectively convey the powerful emotions of the tale. A fine addition to most collections.”

— School Library Journal

“Lindy’s beloved rag doll, Sally, tells how Lindy’s family escapes on the Underground Railroad to find freedom “in a place called North.” The doll’s narrative and Bootman’s dark, dramatic paintings bring close the child’s daily experience: the cruel separation and physical punishment, and then the adventure of running away and hiding. At times it’s hard to distinguish Sally from Lindy–why not just let the child tell the story herself? But then there’s an anguished twist in the plot: the child and her doll are separated. Lindy gets away, but in the turmoil she leaves her doll behind. When another escaping child finds Sally and hugs her to herself, the story comes full circle. That’s a powerful way to express the sorrow of loving families torn apart, and Bootman’s stirring portraits, many of them set at night, in rich shades of purple and brown, show that the small rag doll bears witness to historical events of cruelty and courage.”

— Booklist


Speak Up…Who’s Your Favorite?

April 9, 2008

I’m used to my own blog being quiet.  People lurk and like it that way. I never give them a hard time about it.

But Don and I have always wished the comments here at the BBS reflected the number of folks actually visiting.  Still, I don’t want to scare anyone away by making them feel they need to comment.  But I would like you to speak up to Essence Book Editor, Patrik Henry Bass: patrikspicks at esssence dot com.

In the latest issue of Essence, he’s reviewed two children’s books –We Are The Ship by Kadir Nelson and Hotlanta, the new YA series by Denene Millner and Mitzi Miller.  This is a great start, as Essence doesn’t review children’s lit with any regularity.

Now, it just so happens that We Are The Ship and Hotlanta are already hot literary commodities.  So as excited as I am to see them given some shine, I’m more excited that Mr. Bass has asked readers to submit, to him, their favorite African American children’s book titles.

Here’s your chance to let the book editor of an African American lifestyle media mainstay know what you – librarians, teachers, parents and other influencers – are reading or recommending to young readers of color.

The number of children’s titles by authors of color was down in 2007. But that doesn’t mean we can’t pay homage to the authors who wrote some great literature for young readers by making Essence and Mr. Bass aware of them.

What I’m saying is – you don’t have to out yourself in the comments below, but drop Essence a line and let them know what your favorite African American children’s book is – be it one of our jewels (the vets) or hidden gems (newbies and midlisters).

Speak up for your fave.

Guest blogger Kyra Hicks: Black Kid’s Lit Authors – Down 12% in 2007

April 7, 2008

The number of African American Children’s Book authors published in 2007 has declined nearly 12% since 2006!

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison has tracked children’s books by and about people of color in the US since 1994. Its study of African American children’s book authors goes back further to 1985 (based on the books received by the CCBC). Recently the CCBC released the 2007 stats – an estimated 77 children’s books by African American authors were published in 2007 out of an estimated 5,000 children’s books published!

Seventy-seven Black Children’s Book Authors – only? Indeed all kid lit authors of color are the same or down in 2007, according to the CCBC:

  • 42 Latino Children’s Book Authors in 2007, just as 2006
  • 56 Asian American Children’s Book Authors in 2007, down from 72 in 2006
  • 6 American Indian Children’s Book Authors in 2007, down from 14 in 2006

What’s happening? Is there anyone talking about this decline in publishing circles or on the Internet? Have you read these CCBC statistics in the news? Did the CCBC send out a press release on these stats? Are authors of color just producing less? Or, does it just not matter?

There are several self-published children’s book authors. Heck, I’m one! As part of the marketing of my book, Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria, I donated a copy to the CCBC to ensure that I was counted… and to ensure that an organization that promotes and studies children’s literature has my book in its catalog for future readers. Ensuring that institutions that teach children’s literature have your book, especially books about kids of color, in their libraries is important.

Is there a sense that the number of African American children’s book authors published in 2008 will increase? What say you?


Kyra Hicks is the author of Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria. For more information pertaining to literature of particular interest to Black children, see her blog.

Need a MAPP of black history?

April 2, 2008

I just discovered an amazing website, an invaluable education tool: Maaping the African American Past (MAAP). This valuable resource was produced by the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) in partnership with Columbia University’s Teachers College and Creative Curriculum Initiatives (CCI), to enhance the appreciation and study of significant sites and moments in the history of African Americans in New York from the early 17th-century through the recent past.

MAAP is not only a great tool for teachers and librarians, but for authors and illustrators in search of primary sources for their works. I will certainly use this site myself!

MAAP also offers lesson plans geared towards 8th through 12th grade students. African American history is a required component of the New York State social studies curriculum in 4th, 8th, and 11th grades. MAAP lessons, developed at Teachers College, Columbia University, help teachers at all levels engage content on this website through stories about building community, resisting slavery, and contributing to New York City’s development.

If maps and lesson plans aren’t cool enough, MAAP also offers podcasts of all locations on the website. Listen to a Professor of English at Columbia University discuss Duke Ellington. An architect who designed the African Burial Ground Memorial discusses the feelings he hoped to invoke in those who visit the memorial.

Go check it out, there’s so much more. Only thing is, we need a site like this for every major city!

By the way, I learned about MAPP through Amy Bowllan’s blog, another valuable resource at the School Library Journal site. While I enjoy reading Elizabeth Bird (Fuse #8), Marc Aronson, and others, sometimes I’ve overlooked the god-mother who started it all over there. If you didn’t know, Amy Bowllan pioneered the SLJ blog back in 2005, and for a couple of years, ran the show by herself.

Amy is currently the Director of Communications and Educational Technology at The Hewitt School in Manhattan, where she teaches Broadcast Journalism, and Technology, to students and teachers.

Go check her out, too!