Is there too much white noise …or not enough?

September 30, 2008

Forgive me, I think I’ve spoken about this before.  But I think it’s an issue worth re-discussion, if that indeed is a word.

Every now and again, I suffer from internetus overloadicus.  It’s bound to happen when you have a website, a Myspace, a Facebook, a blog, are a member of several Yahoo groups, regular visitor to a handful of blogs, and cofounder of a group that communicates solely via the internet.

I’m involved in so many writing networks and various other web marketing initiatives that sometimes, I swear to you, I forget I have books to write. So I’ve pulled back, way back on my internet presence. #1 I have no idea if I’ll ever be able to quantify its usefulness and #2 I’m beginning to think there’s so much white noise out there on the ‘net that a lot of the essential information isn’t being heard.

Except, when it comes to children’s books for and by African Americans. In that case, the lack of chatter relating to concrete tools to help locate such books is deafening.

What got me thinking about it recently is Denene’s Millner’s article, which Varian mentioned in yesterday’s blog post. Denene’s article was a shot in the arm to those of us in the trenches of the YA for African American reader battle. Anytime readers and gatekeepers are reminded that there are choices, it’s a good thing.

But I was disappointed that the article didn’t mention how a gatekeeper or potential reader might decrease their learning curve as to the myriad of African American authors out there offering alternatives to hot niche genres of the moment.

Surely there must be one or two resources that are used widely enough to become the official go-to source of choice.

I’d love to see that be The Brown Bookshelf. But that’s my and my cofounders job to take care.

In the meanwhile, aren’t there any others that could have been mentioned? Places where parents and librarians alike can quickly browse exactly what is out there – to know what to ask for before acquisition or purchase?

I started at home, with the Brown Bookshelf’s partenrs. Among them is the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. BCALA was created as a guide for librarians and they offer many good programs, including literary awards. But the awards are for adult fiction. There’s very little mention of books or specially focused programs for children.

RAWSISTAZ, a literary reading group focused on adult fiction by African Americans, partnered with BBS specifically to point their adult visitors to a site dedicated to books for children. Founder, Tee C. Royal, intends to one day launch a RAWSISTAZ site for children’s literature, but has her hands full with the organizations current endeavors.

It’s our partner, the African American Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, that may best serve those searching for good children’s books.  Although AACBWI’s mission is to help nurture the writers and illustrators, their site exposes a visitor to a number of children’s books currently available.

Other resources, like AALBC (African American Literature Book Club) and BIBR (Black Issues Book Review) will serve those seeking adult literatue, but falls short on providing in-depth insight into children’s fiction. When sites and resources dedicated to supporting black literature fail to make children’s literature an essential part of their information, there’s little hope of an African American children’s lit author (one who is not an award winner) accomplishing Stephanie Meyer/Gossip Girl/Harry Potter levels of recognition.

Where are the sites talking up all children’s fiction by and for African Americans?  One which spans Picture Books, Middle Grades, Young Adult, non-fiction, fiction, commerical and literary?

We keep hearing the books are out there. And they are…but having them on shelves does little good if there aren’t more outlets showcasing what those books are and who are writing them.

When I was researching authors for the 2008 28 Days Later, I went to several book stores and my local library to see if they carried the authors we were considering.  Of the twelve authors on my list, I only found the books of one in the chain store. One out of 12.

I had better luck at my local library. The library had about half of the books I mentioned, but only one or two were well-circulated.

It’s the chicken or the egg syndrome.  Are children’s books by African Americans not readily available because they don’t sell well or do they not sell well because they’re not readily available? And once out there, does anyone know about them?

If you know of a site that promotes children’s books by and about African Americans, please let us know. The Brown Bookshelf is dedicated to making it easier for folks to identify such works and their authors. I’m not usually a proponent of creating more white noise, but I’d rather see a glut of sites dedicated to this initiative than leave readers wandering the online galaxy.

Meanwhile, please visit The Brown Bookshelf library. We try to keep the sources updated with current releases and have recently added links to those publishers and imprints dedicated to multi-cultural children’s books.

28 Days Later – 2009

September 29, 2008

A little over a year ago, I, along with four of my colleagues in the kid-lit industry, joined together to form The Brown Bookshelf – an online community charged with highlighting both established and up-and-coming African-American children’s and YA authors and illustrators. Our 2008 – 28 Days Later Campaign was a huge success, and I’m happy to announce that we’re now accepting submissions and nominations for 28 Days Later – 2009.

As our new campaign began to ramp up, I found myself thinking a lot about the role of The Brown Bookshelf. Were we making enough of an impact? What additional programs should we be pushing? Had we outgrown our usefulness?

As I contemplated these and many other questions, I was directed to a Publishers Weekly essay by Denene Millner, co-author of the “Hotlanta” series. In the essay, Millner notes the dearth of books for African-American teens, stating, “Very few prolific authors have enjoyed consistent, successful careers writing about black teen life, and only a handful of publishing houses have dedicated their resources to publishing black teen books. And once those books are released, good luck finding them in bookstores or reviewed in the media.” Specifically, Millner points out the gluttony of “street fiction” on bookshelves, and implores publishing houses to publish “more books about and for African-American teens, and not tomes about slavery, the ghetto and growing up in impossible conditions. I’m talking books with modern, hip stylings and everyday stories that address teen issues in a way that speaks to the audience in their own language.”

I’ve stated before my surprise, and disappointment, when teens shout out that their favorite authors are Zane and Eric Jerome Dickey. Truthfully, Zane and Eric Jerome Dickey may be okay for some students. However, I’d love to go into a school one day and hear a teen say that his or her favorite author is Coe Booth or Rita Williams-Garcia or L. Divine.

And, I think this can happen, because teens that read novels by these authors love their books. The key is—how do we get these books into the hands of the readers? Libraries are our primary lifeline to these students, but is there another way to reach these readers? Can we—authors, publishers, booksellers, and parents—do more?

But as Millner’s essay reminded me, sometimes it’s not just the end reader that we need to support. Milliner states:

“…I’m not as confident about what can be done to improve the morale of authors like me, who are weary from the mess that has become black fiction. I can’t tell you how painful it is to have my books—particularly a teen book—dismissed as street fiction because the cover features black girls.”

African-American authors are a dying breed, a breed which I fear may become extinct if we don’t do a better job of supporting both established and emerging talent. That’s why 28 Days Later is so important. We need books not just for African-American children and teens, but we need books—well-written, diverse books— written and illustrated by African Americans.

So please, drop by the site today and nominate an author or illustrator. And remember: well-written, entertaining books aren’t just a benefit for certain ethnic groups. They’re a benefit to the entire industry. And most importantly, good, well-written, diverse books provide the greatest benefits to our end users—children and teens all across the world.

A new book about Honest Abe!

September 25, 2008

I received two very cool books in the mail today, Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln, written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. And We Are The Ship, written and illustrated by Kadir (I already have this book, but shhh!). So what’s up with the Kadir books? I’ve been granted the honor of introducing or moderating his session at this year’s Texas Book Festival, so Jump At The Sun sent me his most recent books.

Both books, of course, are nothing less than gorgeous. My favorite is a scene from Abe’s Honest Words that depict Black Union soldiers standing side by side, those who joined the army following the Emancipation Proclamation.

The design of Abe’s Honest Words matches that of others in the series written by Doreen Rappaport — Martin’s Big Words and John’s Big Dreams (both illustrated by Bryan Collier). The covers have no text and feature large, close-up images of the subjects. The titles are on the back covers. The designer was a genious.

Some have described Kadir as a modern-day Norman Rockwell. That may be true. But I think Kadir’s art and accomplishments stands on it’s own.

(cross-posted at my personal blog)



September 20, 2008

While surfing the net today, I discovered one more Barack Obama children’s book to add to my list, Barack, written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by AG Ford (read his blog). I haven’t read the book, yet (maybe they’ll send me a review copy), but the cover illustration is off the chain. Do they still say that?

Anyway, it’s published by HarperCollins, September 2008.

Children’s books on Obama

September 16, 2008

My six-year-old son was a staunch Hillary supporter. I didn’t have a problem with that; I was happy his mind was open to a woman president. What bothered me, however, was his attitude toward Obama. “I don’t want a Black president,” I overheard him say to a playmate. And he got quite emotional on caucus night when my wife stood in line to vote for Obama and wouldn’t allow him to stand in the Hillary line.

My 26-year-old daughter was a Hillary supporter, too. Again, I didn’t mind. She wanted to vote for a woman, and I’m glad that, for the first time in history, she had that option. But I can’t help but wonder, based on some of her comments, if she was opposed to the idea of having a Black president, too.

I work for the media, so I can’t reveal my support for any candidate (and, no I didn’t attend the caucuses with my wife). But I can say, regardless of who wins this election, I am thankful for Obama. He’s planted a seed. My son can aspire to be President, if he so desires, and it’s no longer such a far fetched idea.

On the night Obama accepted his party’s nomination, I insisted my son watch. He didn’t protest, but said, “Dad, I don’t wanna be President. I wanna be a basketball player like Kobe Bryant.”

I was cool with that, too.

Here are a couple of new children and YA books on Obama:

Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope, by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Bryan Collier, ages 9-12, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

Obama: A Promise of Change, by David Mendell, ages 9-12, Amistad

And of course, there’s this and this, too.


Are you a new voice?

September 3, 2008

Are you an unpublished writer of children’s fiction or nonfiction, who is a person of color? It’s not too late to submit a manuscript to Lee & Low Books Ninth Annual New Voices Award. Submissions are still being accepted through October 31, 2008.

See the Lee & Low Books website for more information.

Congratulations to Zetta Elliott, whose book, Bird, was a 2005 New Voices honoree. It publishes this fall and has already racked up a starred review from Kirkus. From the Lee & Low website: Young Mekhai, better known as Bird, loves to draw. With drawings, he can erase the things that don’t turn out right. In real life, problems aren’t so easily fixed.

As Bird struggles to understand the death of his beloved grandfather and his older brother’s drug addiction, he escapes into his art. Drawing is an outlet for Bird’s emotions and imagination, and provides a path to making sense of his world. In time, with the help of his grandfather’s friend, Bird finds his own special somethin’ and wings to fly.

The book is illustrated by Shadra Strickland

New Voices winners receive a $1,000.00 grant and a standard publishing contract. Honor winners receive a cash grant of $500.00.

So polish off your manuscripts and mail them in!