Newbery Alternative

December 22, 2008

Since much of the debate surrounding the Newbery is that it doesn’t much cater to what many kids actually like and since the Newbery isn’t likely to go changing what it’s been doing for a few decades just because those of us in the kidlitosphere are whining, AND because solutions are so much more fun than itching about the problem…here ya go.


Librarians, teachers and parents can send their young readers here to vote for the books that will win the 2009 Children’s Choice Book Awards*.  Books chosen for kids by kids.

Fair enough?

Although I see one book that seems to showcase diversity, it’s clear that there could be a bit more.

I know, I know, one step at a time.

*this seems to be the 2008 information. Maybe voting hasn’t started for ’09.

Newbery’s, Caldecotts, CSK’s…do kids care?

December 18, 2008

Mmmm…it’s awards time.

Know how I know? Because debating the merits of kiddie lit’s most prestigious honors has started.

I always peek my head up during awards season, if only to hear the buzz. And the recent article in the Washington Post, Plot Twist- The Newbery May Dampen Kids’ Reading, is particularly interesting to me.

I know it’s not what teachers want to hear, but I’ve long been one of those parents/authors/people who believes that required reading is among the reasons so many young readers turn away from books or in some of their cases, never turn to a book in the first place.

The argument, that Newbery selections are usually more appealing to the Newbery committee of adults rather than to the audience the book was meant for, only reinforces my belief that adults can sometimes be the biggest hindrance to kids reading.

However, the Newbery and its counterparts are still important to literature. They honor books that exemplify the best and as subjective as “best” may be, making every award about the most popular would damage the literary field. But what we need is a way to embrace literary and commercial/popular books so one isn’t seen as more valuable than another.

Let’s face it, if a young person isn’t much of a reader, handing them one of the award winners is not going to convert them. And if they’re an avid reader, what do we care if they bypass the selections of the literati?

But I’d like to see books uplifted more within pop culture outlets, reminding young readers that the literature they like is as important as those with a silver sticker on them.

I believe Nickelodeon’s Kid or Teen Choice Awards has a category for best book. Sure, it usually goes to whatever is uber popular at the moment…but that’s the point.

It’s to show that kids are diverse – they may go screaming like mad over those Jonas boys, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like curling up with a good tome.

The perception is, books remain on the edge of youth popular culture or that young people who read are one-dimensional and that’s too bad. Where are the award shoes that uplift literature – they certainly can’t be any more boring to watch than the Grammy’s.

Books need to be right there with music as something to celebrate. We have a better chance of converting non-readers into regular readers if books were seen as something fun to do instead of something only associated with homework.

The main problem with the established lit awards is, the selections often perpetuate the myth that books are meant only to preach and teach. At the very least the awards emphasize that the books adults would rather see kids read should preach or teach.

Can we find no merit in a few popular books?

It’s not about pushing out the literary for the popular. But there is a sense of change that must come about in literature. Popular and commerical fiction should be considered on its own merits instead of being belittled or worse, demonized.

I don’t forsee a time when the Harry Potters and Twilights will be honored by the Newbery or Printz.

But, I’ve gotta be honest, receiving one of those little orange Nick balloon award thingies while millions of teens scream as your book is called as Best Book is probably sweeter, anyway. Because…well, it is about the reader.

Change Has Come, a picture book by Kadir Nelson

December 16, 2008

n1025000128_30232957_8085Yes, I’m a grown man. But I dig children’s literature, especially picture books. I admire creators of these wonderful works of art — authors and artists. So you can imagine the excitement I felt when I discovered a new book on the horizon, illustrated by an artist I admire, Kadir Nelson, about the President-elect whom I admire, Barack Obama.

Here’s a look at the book and the story behind the story:

Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit. Drawings of Kadir Nelson with the words of Barack Obama. Simon & Schuster, Jan. 09.

Don: Tell us a bit about your book.

Kadir: CHANGE HAS COME is a keepsake book to commemorate our new president. It was created very spontaneously with black and white sketches and drawings that celebrate our great American achievement. It is punctuated with quotes from Obama’s speeches from the last four years.

Don: Other than Barack Obama himself, what inspired this book?

Kadir: I really had no intentions of doing any Obama books anytime soon since there were already a great number of books about him on the market. I felt that Nikki Grimes and Bryan Collier did an outstanding job with their picture book biography, so there was no need for me to be redundant. However, the folks at Simon and Schuster presented me with a unique idea–a sketchbook of celebratory sketches that would serve as a beautiful keepsake. I loved the idea immediately. The only challenge was getting it done in time for a mid-January release, which meant I only had ten days to create the artwork!

Don: What were your thoughts/feelings/emotions on election night?

Kadir: I was actually painting while keeping an eye on the election results on the computer. I was, as they say, “cautiously optimistic.” But, I knew as soon as Pennsylvania went for Obama that it was only a matter of time. I was so proud of America. That night was like magic. It was a wonderful sight to see the Obama’s take the stage after the election had been called.

Don: Will you sell the original art after the book publishes?

Kadir: I think I may sell them. Creating the drawings for this book, and recently exhibiting drawings in Kansas City with a friend and artist, Shane Evans, has really re-sparked an interest in drawing for me. Having painted so much, I almost forgot how much I love to draw.

Don: Thanks for squeezing this project in, it will definitely be a keepsake I’ll treasure.

See more of Kadir’s work at his websites: and



Literary Awards: The Best Books of 2008

December 12, 2008

It’s that time of year again to recognize the best and brightest in books for 2008 according to various giants in the publishing industry.

First up, The New York Times announced its Notable Children’s Books of 2008 which includes Walter Dean Myers’ Sunrise Over Fallujah on its list.

Publishers Weekly joined in the praise for Sunrise Over Fallujah and included Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship:  The Story of Negro League Baseball in its list of Best Books for 2008 under children’s non-fiction.

School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2008 includes Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship:  The Story of Negro League Baseball, Walter Dean Myers’ Sunrise Over Fallujah, Hope Anita Smith’s Keeping the Night Watch, and Carole Boston Weatherford’s Becoming Billie Holiday.

Amazon has joined the Best Books recognition as well with three separate lists for picture books, middle grade, and young adult.

This week, the Cybils announced the nominees for this year’s competition.  The lists are extensive and I don’t envy the committee for the work that they have to do in choosing a winner for each of the eleven categories next year.

Finally, the National Book Foundation announced their winners for the 2008 National Book Awards.

Congratulations to all of the winners and best wishes to the Cybils nominees!

The industry agrees

December 11, 2008

A recent article in Publisher’s Weekly emphatically backs what The Brown Bookshelf has long endorsed — importance of increasing the diversity of books out there for young African American teen readers.

The article points to signs that this is happening.

One interesting point – editor Stacey Barney (who actually acquired So Not The Drama for Dafina) asks where are the Gossip Girl and the like for Af-Am readers?  But then Marva Allen of Hue-Man books worries that “the marketplace will become filled with fad titles that eventually become irrelevant.”

To that I say, I’d rather see that happen then to see us left out of contemporary portrayals.  I know it’s a slippery slope, believe me, I do.  But being left out of the various niches within YA is not fun for the authors or the readers.

So bring on the fad titles be it fantasy, paranormal or teen soap operas – just let us get in the game.  It doesn’t seem right that mainstream fads pass us by, as if somehow our readers are too “good” for them.  Pleasure reading is just that, reading for fun and sometimes those titles are faddish.  Doesn’t mean the heavy stuff gets left behind – there are enough different readers for us all.

It’s a Reading and Writing Affair

December 9, 2008

Established in 2000, RAWSistaz (Reading and Writing Sistaz) Literary Group is committed to the support and promotion of books by, for and about African-Americans. Every year, RAWSistaz presents an annual gathering for the members of their online group in various cities.  In addition to being a reunion for the group’s members, The RAWSistaz Affair spotlights authors and focuses on various topics as it relates to literature and increasing the appreciation of the written word.  This year, the RAW Affair will be held online.  As a matter of fact, it is taking place this week beginning December 8 – 13, 2008.

Although primarily a promoter of adult literature of all genres, RAWSistaz is a Brown Bookshelf partner. They’ve wholeheartedly supported our mission to increase exposure of children’s books written and illustrated by African Americans to parents, librarians, teachers and other gatekeepers in a young reader’s life.  On Wednesday, December 10, 2008, visit the RAW event to talk to the members of The Brown Bookshelf as we discuss the best ways to get young readers excited about books, overcoming the required reading slump, and supporting literary balance as the influx of YA street literature increases.  Join Paula, Varian, Don, Kelly, and Carla throughout the day on December 10th in a great discussion about children’s literature.  To visit our panel, or any other, click on the panel topic and submit a comment or question.

What are teens reading? Ask A Librarian

December 5, 2008

With respect to teen readers, there’s always a fine line. They certainly don’t want to be told what to read and yet, are right on the cusp of realizing that aduls can and do provide pretty decent recommendations.

A recent SLJ article provides a peek into what teen readers are into, at the moment, from three high school libraries across the country.

Take a peek. Might be a few books on there your readers may enjoy, if they haven’t already taste tested ’em.

Full disclosure: My Del Rio Bay books are mentioned and I’m pleased as punch to be among Sarah Dessen, Alex Finn and Ms. Stephanie Best seller/Blockbuster Meyer.