October 27, 2009

FIRST COME THE ZEBRA, written and illustrated by Lynne Barasch (Lee & Low Books, 2009). For thousands of years, millions of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle have journeyed through the plains of the Serengeti and the Massai Mara, in search of fresh water and grasses. It’s known as the annual ‘Great Migration.’

One day during the migration, Abaani, a young Maasai boy takes his cattle out to graze. He discovers a small fruit and vegetable stand, tended by Kaki, a young Kikuyu boy. Abaani wastes no time hurling insults, repeating things he’d overheard his elders say about the Kikuyu people. An argument ensued. Remember back in the day, what happened when you told “Yo Mama” jokes?

A group of women approached the vegetable stand to trade baskets, and Kaki turned away to do business. One woman sat her baby on the ground, and he wandered off toward the tall grass, where three grouchy warthogs were grazing. That’s when Abaani sprang into action, distracting the warthogs with a stick, motioning to Kaki, who rescued the baby.

In the end, the boys become friends, though still reluctant. Old habits and stubborn grudges die hard. But they came together over a game of mancala, and soon worked on a plan to bring their families together, too.

So many good things with this book. Peaceful conflict resolution. The spirit of cooperation and working together for a common good. Forging friendships by overcoming differences and finding commonalities in one another. Important messages I want my own son to know about.

The illustrations are appealing, light and loose, and successfully bring the story to life.

MOST LOVED IN ALL THE WORLD: A STORY OF FREEDOM, by Tonya Cherie Hegamin (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera.

At it’s core, MOST LOVED IN ALL THE WORLD is the story of a mother, who loves her child so much, she’s willing to do the unthinkable: She sends her daughter off into the darkness of night, with strangers, in hopes the child will find a brighter future than her own.

With beautiful prose and a colloquial voice, Hegamin tells the story of a young girl, whose mother is an agent on the Underground Railroad. During the day, she witnesses her mother toil long hours in the fields. At night, she sees her mother return home with cut-up hands and whip marks across her back. But Mama isn’t thinking about her own lot, she’s thinking about her child’s future. She sews a quilt for the young girl to use on the Underground Railroad, inscribed with images: “A log cabin means a place is safe. This star is brightest in the sky; it’s for you to follow.”

In the middle of the night, Mama hands off her daughter to people she hopes will lead the child to freedom. Although the story is told within the framework of slavery, this same story plays out even today, as Hegamin states in her Author’s Note, when, for so many reasons, mothers give up their children for adoption, or put them in foster care, hoping for a life they aren’t able to provide.

Cozbi Cabrea — whose handcrafted cloth dolls have attracted the attention of collectors around the world — illustrates the story with a collage of thick-laid paint and textured cloth, befitting of the story. The illustrations are wonderful, and I can’t wait to see what else Ms. Cabrea has on the horizon.


Me personally

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here at the Brown Bookshelf. I was busy finishing illustrations for my next book project, SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY, written by Audrey Vernick. When I finished illustrating the book, I was too busy to blog, trying to catch up with all the things I couldn’t do while illustrating the book.

SHE LOVED BASEBALL is the story of Effa Manley, the first woman to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. She and her husband, Abe Manley, owned the Negro League’s Newark Eagles baseball team. Effa fought for the civil rights of African Americans in Harlem, and for the equal treatment of Black baseball players entering into the Major Leagues. The book publishes with HarperCollins (Blazer+Bray) next year.


Don is the illustrator of more than 30 trade and educational books for children, including Ron’s Big Mission (Dutton, 2009), I Am My Grandpa’s Enkelin (Paraclete, 2008), and  Sure As Sunrise (Houghton Mifflin, 2004). His forthcoming titles include She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story (HarperCollins, 2010), and It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Taught Himself to Draw (Lee & Low Books, 2010), in which he is the author.

YALSA 2009 Teens Top Ten

October 19, 2009

First and foremost, this post is meant as a celebration in honor of Teen Read Week.

The YALSA Teens Top Ten is out. These books were voted on by teens at libraries nationwide. That’s an exciting thing.

The fact that teens still go to libraries for books and not merely to access the internet is a good thing.

Many of the authors on the list are folks we at The Brown Bookshelf know, personally. Authors who stand with us, in the trenches, to spread the word on good books. So a hearty congratulations to them! Making the list means teens are reading their books.

The List:

1. Paper Towns by John Green (Penguin/Dutton)
2. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
4. City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare (Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry)
5. Identical by Ellen Hopkins (Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry)
6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins)
7. Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse)
8. Untamed by P.C. and Kristin Cast (St. Martin’s Griffin)
9. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Disney-Hyperion)
10. Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

But (hah, you sort of figured there was a but, didn’t ya’?) I think the list, while a peek into the minds of what readers loved this year, also showcases how important it is that books featuring and/or by people of color are booktalked.

Their absence, to me, simply means they aren’t talked about enough for teens to consider them on a significant level.

Varian and I attended the Kidlit Con this weekend in DC. It was great meeting bloggers who, until Saturday, I only knew through their posts. But I made sure to remind them that part of the solution is ensuring they are reviewing books by/about poc.

So, spread the word about the ’09 Teens Top Ten. Actual readers chose these books which makes this honor that much more special. But do, keep name dropping POC books so that readers know they’re out there.

Teen Read Week 2009

October 15, 2009

I can tell time by events going on in the literary world. For example, Halloween falls smack in the middle of The Brown Bookshelf’s call for nominations (September 30th) and YALSA’s Teen Read Week (October 19-24th). So I always know when to go out and buy my candy!

Every year, Readergirlz goes full out for TRW and this year is no different.

Every night at 9 p.m. Eastern time, a YA author will be hosted at the RGZ blog. Check out the line up and stop by. Few people throw a good lit party like the Readergirlz.

*Monday, October 19th: Beyond Imagination
rgz diva Justina Chen Headley (NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL)
Alyson Noël (EVERMORE)

* Tuesday, October 20th: Beyond Hardship
rgz diva Lorie Ann Grover (HOLD ME TIGHT)
Elizabeth Scott (LIVING DEAD GIRL)
Lynn Weingarten (WHEREVER NINA LIES)

* Wednesday, October 21st: Beyond Daily Life
rgz diva Holly Cupala (TELL ME A SECRET)
Lisa McMann (WAKE)
Cynthia Leitich Smith (ETERNAL)

* Thursday, October 22nd: Beyond Our World
rgz diva Melissa Walker (LOVESTRUCK SUMMER)
Cassandra Clare (CITY OF ASHES)

* Friday, October 23rd: Into Our Beyond
rgz diva Dia Calhoun (AVIELLE OF RHIA)

Writers Against Racism: Kelly Starling Lyons

October 14, 2009

Kelly Starling LyonsThe Writers Against Racism series is running fast and furious. Our very own Kelly Starling Lyons was Saturday’s feature.

If you missed it (like I did!), check it out now.

An excerpt:

In elementary school, I remember reading just one children’s book featuring African-American characters — Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I bought it from Troll book club. I wished it and others had been part of the curriculum. I had wonderful, caring teachers, but I didn’t learn about the body of children’s books by African-Americans until I was in my early 20s. A new world opened to me. I felt affirmed.

After reading about Kelly’s experiences, check out M. Lavora Perry (Taneesha Never Disparaging) and Eleanora Tate, a 2008 Brown Bookshelf Spotlight.

Writers Against Racism: Paula Chase-Hyman

October 8, 2009

The Brown Bookshelf’s own Paula Chase-Hyman is featured in Amy Bowllan’s wonderful Writers Against Racism series. Read her interview here.

Here’s a peek: “I’ve always lived in color. So, I tend to create worlds that mirror the one I was brought up in. Those worlds aren’t devoid of racism or ignorance, by any means, but they’re rarely the focus. Instead, I focus on the myriad of other issues that prevent folks from seeing eye-to-eye.”

For more about Paula, please visit her website:

No Doom and Gloom Here

October 8, 2009

Congratulations to our very own, Varian Johnson. Per Publisher’s Weekly:

Children’s Young Adult: Varian Johnson’s UNTITLED companion novel to the forthcoming SAVING MADDIE, again to Stephanie Elliott at Delacorte, by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger, NA

That calls for a Woo and a Hoo! Despite rumors of publishing’s imminent demise, books continue to be acquired. A fact that’s apparently not quite as sexy as the headline, “Books Gone The Way Of The Dinosaurs.”

I’m excited at the acquisition of any children’s book, but would be lying if I didn’t say I get an extra kick of joy when a brown author sells one. Add another brick on the stat pile – 1 brown book acquired. Only eighty-three to go to beat the 2008 numbers of kiddie lit by African American authors (CCBC Choices).

Note, I hope it ends up being a whole lot more than 83!

Meanwhile, don’t forget, Varian’s, Saving Maddie hits stores January 2010.