Going Viral

March 31, 2009

Methinks the issue of spreading the word on kiddie lit by people of color is going (has gone?) viral.

Jade Lennox posted a list, broken down by sub-genre no less, of YA written by authors of color.

Then there’s the Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge, which isn’t exclusively children’s books, but all the better.

And because no good viral marketing campaign is complete without MORE lists, the Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge offers a comprehensive Booklist that covers books from just about any ethnic group you could throw at them.

We’re considering re-configuring our pages here at the BBS to make it easier to find books by sub-genre, so don’t be surprised if some of the above children’s-relevent lists end up linked elsewhere on our site.

It’s all about spreading the word.

Reign of the Mean Girls

March 30, 2009

Holy anger management, Batman!

I’ve read about some fictional mean girls, in my day, but Rita Williams-Garcia’s Dominique from Jumped takes the crown.

It got me thinking about mean girls and the role they play in YA fiction.

About four years ago, mean was really in. Gossip Girl hit its zenith and every time I took my then ten-year-old daughter clothes shopping, I was accosted by those snarky Happy Bunny shirts. The kind with the smiling or scowling white bunny rabbit saying stuff like “You’re stupid…go away,” and other unsavory snittery.

My daughter thought the shirts were hilarious, but because she was hitting middle school age, when being haughty and obnoxious can be at its peak, the shirts disgusted me.

I saw the humor in them, sure. But because they seemed to be specifically targeted at an age-group that needed no help being obnoxious it offended my sensibilities.

Now that she’s in high school and can better understand the sarcasm, bitter wit behind such things, I’m more likely to allow a snarky tee or two. Although, lately she’s been more in a Peace, Love and Soul mode.

Mean shirts aren’t her thing. Mean isn’t her thing, period, and never has been. But there are mean girls out there and thus it would be disingenious not to portray them in YA fiction.

While some may say that real-life mean girl behavior, like this reported by the NY Times, could be blamed on fictional portrayals I say pish and shaw!

No matter how you feel about mean girl depictions, to deny their existence (and well before TV or books put them on stage) is akin to digging a hole and sticking your head in it.

I think mean girls in fiction are meant to represent the very real fact that – not everyone is going to like you. And sometimes the reason people dislike us may be totally nonsensical.

jumpedThe basketball-loving, take no guff Dominique, of Jumped, is by far the scariest and most dangerous example of a mean girl. She’s the type that scares not only students, but faculty. The type that needs therapy and nurturing and lots of it to squash her inner demons.

gossip-girlBut, then there are girls like Blair Waldorf of Gossip Girl who are mean only because they’re so insecure the only way they’re able to boost their self-esteem is to shred someone else’s. When you break it down, Blair is less a bonafide mean girl than a passive-agressive frenemy.

whatsup_175Jessica Johnson, the mean girl who shows her face in So Not The Drama and That’s What’s Up! of my Del Rio Bay series is yet another example of someone using meanness as a shield. Jess is a misguided, materialistic wannabe who uses haughty snobbery to hide the fact that she’s scared mindless she’ll be replaced in her clique by a student whose parents have the “proper” prestige and purse size.

just-listenSophie, of Just Listen, is nothing more than a kid desperate to find someone to cling to. Her need to befriend kids older than herself and her eventual obsession with a leech of a boyfriend, smacks of middle child syndrome gone horribly wrong. She wants attention and gets it by treating others like dirt (negative attention is attention all the same, right?).

When readers meet these fictional bullies, they’re able to process how the story goes down in a safe haven – their own mind. It’s allows them time to ask themselves how they would manage in a similiar situation. What they’d be willing to put up with as this person’s target or in some cases, as their friend.

I mentored girls at a local high school for six years, I know first-hand that the scenario played out in Jumped happens way more than it should. But, as evidenced by the above examples, mean girlerly exists in many forms.

I’d like to see more African American teen books tackle the topic – especially in realms where it doesn’t lead to violence, as the mental and emotional torture these girls cause is as hurtful as physical harm.

If you know of others, please pass along titles of “brown” mean girl depictions in the comments below. Remember to leave the book title and author name.

Paula Chase Hyman is the author of the Del Rio Bay, YA series. Her latest release is, Flipping The Script (Dafina 2009), the series’ fifth and final book. She was never a mean girl, but played one on TV.

Call for new voices

March 20, 2009

mainLEE & LOW BOOKS, award-winning publisher of children’s books, is pleased to announce the tenth annual NEW VOICES AWARD. The Award will be given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash grant of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash grant of $500.

Established in 2000, the New Voices Award encourages writers of color to submit their work to a publisher that takes pride in nurturing new talent. BIRD, which has gone on to win numerous awards, began as a New Voices Honoree.

See Lee & Low Books for more details about entry.

28 & Beyond: Kimani Tru

March 16, 2009

It can be argued (feel free to do so in the comments, as a matter-of-fact) that when it comes to YA for African Americans, once you step out of the traditional – literary fiction of the historical and realistic variety, much of what’s being marketed, currently, falls into two new categories – hood or christian.

That means, adding to the usual portrayals, readers are now presented with the trials and tribulations of growing up young in the hood (and this can be an urban hood or a rural/suburban one) or books with a less edgy more wholesome, christian layer to them. What’s still missing, in mass quantities anyway, are the portrayals that lie between the two.

Oh will you never be happy, you’re asking.

Actually I’m getting there. Because Kimani TRU fills the void between the two nicely.
This year’s 28 Days Later contenders were ripe with Kimani TRU authors. So many, more than half of the YA authors featured would have come from the line had we selected them all.

We featured, Monica McKayhan, but two of her Kimani TRU peers were also among the top choices, Earl Sewell and Joyce Davis.

In Joyce Davis’, YA debut, Can’t Stop The Shine, the story centers around two bickering sisters who put their differences aside to help one of them win an American Idol-like contest.
In an age where reality TV is now the norm among programming, a story about dream pursual is timely and relevent to teens of all colors.

Another bonus – much like Tia William’s cast in It Chicks, the teen protag is a student at an elite performing arts high school.

This mini-influx of books revolved around performing arts students is just in time for the Fame remake…you know you’re going to watch it!

A writer and editor for African American lifestyle mags (Upscale, Heart & Soul and Honey among them), it’s no surprise that Davis would showcase some element of the entertainment field. I hope there’s more like Can’t Stop The Shine planned. Even without trying, there are many lessons to be learned about sacrifice and growing as you chase dreams and who better to cover them then someone who talks to dream chasers (and grabbers) for a living?

Earl Sewell offers two stories of change and redemption revolved around sixteen-year-old Keysha.
In Keysha’s Drama and the follow-up, Lesson Learned, which was released this month, Sewell tells the story of a young girl abandoned by her trouble-making mother. But it’s less a tale of woe than what can happen when you’re cast out of one end of the spectrum and thrown into another.

The reader watches young Keysha rebel against the good life with her father, step mom and step brother, until being the bad girl hits a wall.

African American teens in the suburbs will relate well to the rules of engagement when it comes to choosing a clique. Do you hang with the multi-culti crowd that’s “goody-goody” or the homogenous one that’s “cool.”
Between Sewell and Davis’ works lives a cadre of books dealing with everything from the mixing of an interracial family (How to Salsa in a Sari) to the historical fiction with a contemporary flare from Beverly Jenkins.

What Kimani TRU offers is the black, white and all the greys in between that make up the African American teen experience.





The Buzz on Kimani TRU Books

“I recommend Belle to die-hard Beverly Jenkins’ fans, lovers of historical romance, and readers looking for a page turner to cuddle up with.” – APOOO BookClub

Jaded is a good, young adult novel that can be appreciated by all ages. I recommend it to readers who love a fast moving book with a message.” –
APOOO BookClub

“The characters, storyline and language were very age-appropriate for the age group intended and I would recommend this book to any African-American high-school girl that needs encouragement to read more.” APOOO Bookclub on Can’t Stop The Shine

HOW TO SALSA IN A SARI is a fast-paced read with plenty of twists and turns that will leave you asking, “What will Issa do next?” Buy. Read. Enjoy.” Author, Tera Lynn Childs


The Brown Bookshelf’s Tweetin’

March 12, 2009

Personally, I think social networking is going to be the death of us all. We’re just going to network ourselves to pieces.

I’m not totally convinced that it’s the marketing tool of ages that others do. For the most part, if you were a popular business or entity before you Myspaced, Facebooked or yes, Twittered, then you’ll likely be popular on those networks. Some unknowns get “discovered” via social networks but I’ve yet to see the social network as marketing tool provide significant – let me repeat, significant exposure.

Be that as it may, when you put social networks into perspective and know going in, why you’re bothering with one platform over the other, I think they serve a multitude of purposes.

The Brown Bookshelf is now on twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/brownbookshelf.

And here’s why:

1) Although you may comment on the blog, Twitter will provide a more interactive experience for those who want it.

2) It would be great to see an active community of authors, illustrators, readers (psst…and those in the pub biz) of color alongside those who have interest in creative material revolved around people of color (just like we have here). Twitter seems just as good a place to attempt that as any.

3) It’s another way to reach out to a larger variety of people interested in books. Myspace was primarily good for reaching out to librarians. My own theory about significant exposure could be disproved, if some of our regular visitors tell me they discovered BBS via Myspace. Not sure if many libraries are tweeting…I’d think not because it would definitely distract from real work. But I believe agents, editors and a lot of others with a vested interest in books are.

If tweeting can expose more folks to the authors we profile, can help get African American children’s books implemented more solidly within mainstream outlets, get more folks thinking about multicultural books and generally keeps us top of mind – then it’s worth it.

If you’re already on Twitter, follow us and keep up with what we’re blogging or talking about.

If you haven’t yet given in to the Twitter bug, no worries. We’re happy to have you along no matter which way you ride.

And the winners are…

March 11, 2009

Thank you for your support this year. This year’s 28 Days Later campaign was a roaring success. We more than doubled our page views and appreciate the word-of-mouth and blog love the site has been given. Please continue to spread the word.

And while I’m sure discovering more about authors are already a reward for book lovers, there’s nothing wrong with a little more incentive. So here are the winners of this year’s batch of books.

Rosenberg Library in Galveston, Texas

The library will receive a copy of the most current book of the 28 Days authors and illustrators.

Individual winners*
*Please send an email to email@thebrownbookshelf.com and provide us with your snail mail address.

March On! The Day my Brother Martin Changed the World to Katrina L. Burchett

Almost to Freedom to Deborah Taylor

Young Pele to Philly Fledgling

Joseph to Edi (campbele.wordpress)

Freedom Train to Shadra Strickland

Ruby and the Booker Boys #4 to Cloudscome

November BluesLisa L.L. Owens

Little DivasAnnette Simon

My name is Sally Little SongSean Qualls

One Million Men and Me to Patricia W.

Ron’s Big MissionSusan (Black Eyed Susan)

The Del Rio Bay full series – TadMack

Freshman Focus and Just BeDoret

My Life as a RhombusLaurel Handfield

Book report: Mama Says: A Book of Love for Mothers and Sons

March 10, 2009


Mama Says: A Book of Love for Mothers and Sons,
written by Rob D. Walker
illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
published by Scholastic/Blue Sky, 2009

The phrase father knows best simply isn’t always true. Speaking for myself, my Mama knew best — and to this day, she still does. That’s why I fell for this book upon reading the title. Mama Says: A Book of Love for Mothers and Sons uses simple prose and stunning art to create a powerful tribute to mother and child.

The book is written by singer/writer/artist/actor Rob D. Walker (Once Upon a Cloud). With each poem, a mother from various nations, cultures, religions, races, offers life lessons and guidance to their sons, in this richly illustrated, multicultual picture book. The poems are paired with translations of the various cultures. My personal favorite came from a Hebrew mother:

Mama says
Have faith
Mama says
Mama says
To trust in God
And let God take the lead

sneaks5mamasaysPractically spoken from my own mother’s mouth!

Once again, the Dillon’s rocked. The art is bold and detailed, with patterns and environment representative of each culture.

There’s a quiet simplicity about the book, with an ending that will warm your heart (spoiler warning). The final spread pictures a gathering of men from every corner of the world, from Black to White and every shade in between, dressed in their native costume — boys who listened to their mothers and grew up to be men, pride radiating from their faces. It’s really a powerful spread.

Translations included: Cherokee, Russian, Amharic, Japanese, Hindi, Inuktitut, Hebrew, English, Korean, Arabic, Quechua, Danish.

It’s not just a book for boys, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a book for girls is on the horizon.

Note: Our mission here at the Brown Bookshelf is to spotlight books by or about African Americans, with an emphasis on authors or illustrators who may have been missed by teachers and librarians. So, I know what you’re thinking (because I’ve heard some critical feedback): But the Dillons are widely known, major award winners.

I agree. But our mission here isn’t to exclude the biggest of the big names. In addition, aside from the fact that I truly loved this book, it made our humble spotlight here because the Dillions’ publishers sent a copy of the book to me. It’s much easier and more convenient to report on a book if I have it in my hand. I love children’s literature, so I will go out of my way to find books and authors to report on, but when my illustration schedule is full (like it is now) and it’s my turn to write a blog post, I’m likely to turn to the stack of books sitting right next to me, sent by authors, illustrators or publishers.

Thanks for your support.

— Don Tate