Like the trailblazers in her picture books, Crystal Hubbard knows what it means to beat the odds. As a child, she struggled with chronic asthma. That could have meant sports were out of reach. But Crystal went on to overcome that challenge and not only excel at sports, but develop a passion for them.
Her determination and desire to share the stories of African-American sports heroes with children led to the publication of her first picture book, Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream (Lee & Low, 2005). Crystal ‘s children’s books, which include the stirring story of the last black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, celebrate the potential for greatness that exists in every child.
We are proud to feature Crystal Hubbard on the second day of our 28 Days Later campaign.
What inspired you to write for children?
My first child was born in 1996, and I read to him from the time he was four months old. We used to go to the Burlington Public Library in Massachusetts and check out twenty or thirty books a week. When I came across a short reference to a female Negro League baseball player, I wanted to tell her story to my son. That was the inspiration for my first children’s book, Catching The Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream.
Please tell us about your journey to publication.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, whether it was for school, in my journal, or just to get a story on paper to stop it running around in my head. I didn’t seriously seek publication for any of my work until I was working as a copy editor in the sports department of the Boston Herald newspaper. Editing helped me sharpen my own writing, and working for the paper, I was able to familiarize myself with lots of different publishers and the books they produce. When my first daughter was born in 2001, she had a very hard time adjusting to having my husband care for her while I was working nights. I ended up leaving the Herald to care full-time for my children. I gave myself a two-year deadline to sell one of my manuscripts to a publishing house. Two days after my two-year deadline, I sold my first adult fiction novel. The day after that, I sold my first picture book.
What surprised you most about the field?
I suppose I was most surprised about how long it takes for a picture book to go from my notebook to the library and bookstore shelves. Since I’m not an illustrator, I had no idea about the amount of time it takes to create the artwork that brings the text of a book to vivid life. A good writer, illustrator and editor are what make children’s books true works of art, and I didn’t fully appreciate that until I became involved in writing for children.
What have been your proudest and toughest moments?
My proudest moments have been the births of my children. I can’t really take credit for the genetic roulette that resulted in four smart, creative, good-natured, beautiful children, but they really are my finest work. Every milestone – their first steps, their first words, potty training, the first day of school, the first time they tell a joke they made up – is their success, but I take a great deal of pride in their accomplishments. In terms of writing, my proudest moment was when Lee & Low Books for Children accepted Catching The Moon for publication. I felt that this story that I loved so much and devoted so much time to was finally going to reach its intended audience.
What’s your mission? What do you hope young people take away from your stories?
I don’t really have a mission, other than to tell good stories well. I generally chose subjects who aren’t necessarily well known, but whose stories have the power to inspire. They are people who were the first at what they did. The message that I hope young people take from my stories is that we all have greatness within us. If you can’t be the first at something, you can always strive to be the best.
Your first two picture books have been about African-American sports heroes. Why was it important to tell those stories?
With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States, the dream that Americans-no matter your race-can achieve their dreams has been so brightly illustrated. The subjects of my books prove that same thing. If Marcenia Lyle, a black woman born in 1921, can grow up and achieve her dream of being a professional baseball player, there’s no reason at all that a young person today can’t achieve his or her dreams. Jimmy Winkfield, who always thought so humbly of himself as “a little black man from Chilesburg (Kentucky)” but became one of the greatest jockeys of all time, proves that talent, hard work and resourcefulness can take you to the top, no matter your race. It’s important for me to tell the stories of the African-American and female heroes I select because they are ordinary people who do extraordinary things, and their stories too often go untold.
How did your love of sports begin?
Throughout middle and high school, I had chronic asthma, so gym class was a nightmare for me. I was in my early twenties when I started taking a medication that controlled my asthma very well, so I was able to become more active. I took tennis lessons and to my surprise, showed an aptitude for it. I started bike riding, skateboarding, swimming, running and playing softball and basketball. I was finally able to do all the things that had made me wheeze when I was a kid. Once I started participating in sports, I became more interested in watching them. Baseball, football, basketball, tennis and ice hockey were my initial favorites, but when I took a job as a sports editor, my interest in sports exploded. I started following everything, from amateur senior bowling to Japanese miniature golf to curling. I love curling and would really like to try it sometime.
I read that your writing career began at the Bay State Banner in Boston. You’ve also been a sports copy editor for the Boston Herald. How has your career as a journalist informed your children’s writing?
Journalism gave me the patience and skill to do the research required for the types of children’s books I write, and it also taught me how to get through writer’s block. The deadlines in journalism can be tough, so I learned how to hunker down and focus to get a job done within the time allowed to do it.
On your website, you write about being a cancer survivor and advocate for early detection. Thank you for sharing your story. Has that battle and victory given your writing life even more meaning?
I’m not sure, just yet, how my experience with cancer has affected my writing. In some ways, cancer made writing seem terribly unimportant. Storytelling seemed so unimportant compared to getting healthy. But then it was writing that pulled me from the doldrums when I was feeling the most sorry for myself, or when I was terrified of the thought of leaving my children without a mother.
I shared my condition with my readers, and the outpouring of support and encouragement I got from them shamed me into behaving like a grown up.
I would put my emotions on paper, which had the effect of cleansing me of them. When I wrote a journal entry bemoaning my husband’s terrible taste in women, and creating scenarios of the type of woman he would bring home to be stepmother to my children, I stopped worrying about it because each scenario was so absurd. When I wrote of my sadness at the possibility of dying, I came to understand that death didn’t frighten me at all. It was the thought of leaving my children that troubled me so. In committing all of those thoughts and feelings to paper, I realized that even if I were to succumb to cancer, my children would still have my words. They would have that part of me to carry with them for the rest of their lives. E.B. White wrote, “All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” I echo that sentiment, but I’d add that I love my children just as much.
As a mom, what do you look for in books for your kids? What do you applaud? What disappoints you?
I look for books that entertain and educate my children, preferably both. I like giant paperback books and miniscule hardback books. I like books in foreign languages and modern retellings of classic tales. I don’t especially care for book versions of television shows, but I do like the Spongebob Squarepants joke and riddle books. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Sciezska, Stephanie’s Ponytail by Robert Munsch, Clever Cat by Peter Collington, and A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon are among my most favorite picture books. Sciezska’s Math Verse and Science Verse are wonderful as well, along with just about everything by Munsch and his usual illustrator, Michael Martchenko. Sciezska is brilliant at disguising education as entertainment.
I introduced the Classics to my children at a young age as well, because I enjoy them so much myself. My kids and I can act out The Iliad in three minutes flat. Beowulf takes five, but we can spend days acting out The Odyssey.
On your website, you have beautiful images of cakes you’ve decorated, including two inspired by your daughters. Will you write books inspired by your children too?
My children give me some of my best ideas for books. My oldest daughter inspired me to write a retelling of the story of King Midas. My children’s interests become my interests, to an extent, so when my second daughter, for example, was really into pigs, I wrote stories about pigs to pique her interest in learning to read.
Along with being an award-winning children’s book author, you’re an acclaimed romance novelist. Is it tough switching gears? Any plans to write a love story for young adults or to explore interracial relationships in your work for younger readers?
It’s harder switching gears from the fantasy realm of romance writing to the real-life world of writing children’s books. With a romance novel, I have up to 100,000 words to tell a story. I can spread out, relax, put my feet up and really delve into the details of setting, plot and character. With children’s books, I’m more confined. I have around 3,000 words to tell a complete story. I have to be much more discerning about what I include and how I present the information.
Under the pen name Anne Wilde, I’ve written a young adult romance. It’s the story of a very introverted high school senior whose life is turned inside out when a popular sitcom star becomes interested in her after he enrolls at her school to spend his senior year as a “normal” kid. The book is called Million Dollar Girl (Antares, 2003), and I suppose it could be classified as an interracial romance because the heroine is half Sioux and the hero is Caucasian. I don’t think about race in a deliberate way when I’m creating characters. I more or less grab people I know from real life and pair them up. Personalities, not race, decide my match-ups.
Can you give us a preview of your forthcoming picture book? When will it debut?
My next picture book is a biography of Arthur Ashe. He’s probably best known for being a tennis champion, but he was just as great a champion off the court. He was the first African-American man to win the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and he used his celebrity to bring attention to the social causes that were important to him. Ashe was one of the first prominent voices to speak out against Apartheid, which was South Africa’s official policy of keeping black people separate from white people. When he became infected with AIDS through a blood transfusion, Ashe became an active advocate for AIDS education and funding for research to find a cure. I met Arthur Ashe twice when I was a kid, and he had a profound effect on me.
The Arthur Ashe book doesn’t have a set title yet, but it’s slated for release in spring 2010.
What’s next for you?
What’s next? As soon as I finish this interview, I’m making lunch for my two- and four-year-old daughters, and then I’m probably going to answer letters from my readers. If a kid takes the time to write to me about one of my books, I’m certainly going to write back. After that, I’ll pick up my son and older daughter from school. Three of my nephews and my niece usually come over after school, and they’ll stay with me until their moms come home from work and pick them up. I’m not sure what I’ll make for dinner, but it’ll be quick and delicious and it’ll make my husband think I’ve been peeling, chopping, sautéing, stirring and baking for hours. I’ll get the kids into the bath or shower and then into bed, and after I’ve read to the little ones, I’ll go into the family room, settle in my favorite recliner with my MEAD notebook, and I’ll bring the pages to life with words that I hope will turn into another good story.
What’s your greatest joy?
My children, the ones I gave birth to and the ones my books bring into my life.
The Buzz on The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby: The Story of Jimmy Winkfield:
“Hubbard’s text is richly informative and filled with exciting sensory details. . . . The stirring scenes of horses streaking down the track, hooves pounding through clouds of dust, will easily capture children’s attention. The background history of discrimination and African Americans in horse-racing history, spelled out in the foreword and expanded on throughout the text, adds even more heft and curricular ties to Wink’s personal story, which is helpfully summarized in an afterward. A solid introduction to a fascinating subject.”
“Indomitable African-American jockey Jimmy Winkfield, known as Wink in horse-racing history, is the subject of Hubbard’s dramatic picture-book biography, which explains Winkfield s career struggles as the last African-American jockey to win a Kentucky Derby, in 1902. From Winkfield’s initial love of horses as a sharecropper’s child to success at the raceways, loss of opportunity in the United States and the development of a successful career in France, his ambition is a dominant thread. The emphasis is on the races, however, the narration reading like a race call as Wink maneuvers his mounts to victory and sometimes defeat. McGuire’s rough, realistic oils depict both racing action and turning points in the life of this two-time Derby winner. The foreword, afterword and list of sources will guide readers to more information. As a whole, this overview of Winkfield’s life as a jockey stands as both a celebration of racing and a snapshot of one determined man.”
— Kirkus Reviews
The Buzz on Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream:
Storytelling World Honor Award
2006 Amelia Bloomer Project Award
2006 Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College Children’s Book Committee
2006-2007 Florida State Award Masterlist
“In her torn dress and street shoes, Marcenia, who is growing up in the 1920s, bests many of the boys on her baseball team. But her father criticizes her “tomboy” interests, and a scout for a local baseball camp refuses to accept a girl on the team. Marcenia vows to play hard and change the scout’s mind, and she finally wins a spot on the team. An afterword explains that Marcenia grew up to become Toni Stone, the first woman to play for a professional baseball team. Hubbard never clarifies which parts of the story, rich in dialogue and detail, are based on true events. She does, however, write with sensory precision that conveys the thrilling feel of playing (“the powdery taste of dust clouds”; “the sting” of a baseball slamming into a mitt), while DuBurke’s textured ink and acrylic images emphasize Marcenia’s excitement on the field and yearning at home. Children, especially girls, will cheer for Marcenia as she defies the narrow expectations for young women of the time and fiercely pursues her dream.”
“This anecdotal tale is based on the childhood of Marcenia Toni Stone Lyle Alberga (1921-1996), who became the first woman to play professional baseball. As a girl, Marcenia dreams only of playing baseball, while her strict but loving parents suggest that she stick to dolls and focus on school. One night she overhears them ruefully acknowledge the limited options that lie in store for most African-American girls: teaching, nursing, or being a maid. Marcenia promises herself that she’ll achieve her goal. Opportunity arrives in the form of Gabby Street, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, who runs a free baseball camp for kids. He’s impressed by her talent, but doesn’t allow girls to participate. The story ends with her acceptance into the camp and her determination to make her dream come true. An afterword sums up Lyle’s name change and her career, including the fact that she filled the spot vacated by Hank Aaron when he joined the Major Leagues. Hubbard’s lively text does a fine job of capturing this young heroine’s unquenchable spirit. DuBurke’s balanced pen-and-ink and acrylic artwork strongly supports the mood and emotion of the text. Much like its winsome, pigtailed heroine, this heartwarming picture book will inspire and engage dreamers young and old.”
— School Library Journal
The Buzz on Million Dollar Girl:
“Emmy Award-winning actor and teenage heartthrob Logan Maddox just wants to be accepted as a normal person. When his longtime TV series ends, he decides to finish his schooling at Prescott High School.
Honors student and talented photographer Emy Okiwe was comfortable in her low-profile solitude until the guidance counselor asked her to tutor Prescott’s famous new kid. Now the charming actor is making Emy feel things she never thought possible. But when Hollywood comes knocking, Logan must choose between the opportunity of a lifetime and the girl of his dreams.
Fans of The Princess Diaries will love MILLION DOLLAR GIRL. Debut author Ms. Wilde combines the trials of high school with larger-than-life situations to craft a romantic tale that will appeal to both the young and the young at heart. A promising future for the sweet, sassy kids of Prescott High.”
— Romantic Times
For more about Crystal Hubbard, please visit her at www.crystalhubbard.com.