Book report: Walking Home to Rosie Lee

May 30, 2011

written by A. LaFaye
illustrated by Keith D. Shepherd
published by Cinco Puntos Press 


The Civil War was fought and slaves were free. And now young Gabe wants to find his mother, Rosie Lee, sold away long ago. But finding her won’t be easy.

On the road, Gabe meets other people in search of their families, too — brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers — families torn apart, sold to plantations far away from each other. They sing songs, tell stories, share dreams about their future as free people. Gabe finds many disappointments during his months-long journey, but the image of his mother’s smiling eyes keeps him strong.

WALKING HOME TO ROSIE LEE offers young readers a glimpse into a journey made by many African Americans trying to find their loved ones following the Civil War and emancipation of slaves. A. LaFaye tells the story in an authentic southern voice, with an emotional arc that tugs at the heart. Newcomer Keith D. Shepherd’s rich acrylic paintings bring the story to life. A truly wonderful pairing of words and pictures.

For more information on this chapter of our nation’s history, an author’s note encourages readers to take a look at FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM, by John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, and African American history museums like the Smithsonian national Museum of African American History and Culture, online at

–Don Tate

Love it!

May 15, 2011

Chronicle Books children’s fall/winter 2011 catalog features wonderful artwork by Vanessa Brantley Newton. The artwork is for the upcoming picture book adapted by Cedella Marley, One Love. It is based on the Bob Marley song.

Don’t ‘cha love this cover, too?

Ruth & the Green Book

May 12, 2011

As summer nears, so does vacation season. That may mean trips to the beach or amusement parks or time visiting out-of-state family and friends. I gained new appreciation for that freedom to travel and find places to stop, eat and sleep when I read Ruth & the Green Book, a poignant picture book written by playwright and debut children’s book author Calvin Alexander Ramsey and illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Carolrhoda, $16.95).

Ramsey’s historical fiction story features Ruth, a girl whose family is driving from their Chicago home to her grandma’s house in Alabama. She’s excited about the trip until she learns first-hand what segregation means. They are turned away from a restroom. They have to sleep overnight in the car, because a hotel won’t take them in. The first-person narration lets you feel Ruth’s fear, homesickness and hurt and eventually her lifting spirits as she hugs Brown Bear and sings along with her parents as they drive. Finally, with the help of The Green Book, a real guide that helped black people find restaurants and lodging that were friendly to them, Ruth’s family finds places where they will be welcome on the way to grandma’s loving house. It’s an important story that’s told, through words and evocative sepia-toned images, with grace and power.

(Here’s a link to an actual 1949 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book:

Honoring mothers and fathers

May 5, 2011

OK, this is an oldie, but a goodie. In Praise of Our Fathers and Mothers: A Black Family Treasury by Outstanding Authors and Artists, is a lovely collection of stories, written and illustrated by some of the best-known authors and illustrators of our time.

The stories are complied by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, and includes essays, stories, poetry, interviews, photographs and illustrations by some 40 authors and illustrators. Author contributors include Virginia Hamilton, Joyce Carol Thomas, Angela Johnson, Walter Dean Myers, Eleanora E. Tate, Mildred Pitts Walter, Tonya Bolden, Nikki Grimes, more. Illustrators include Ashley Bryan, Floyd Cooper, Leo and Diane Dillon, Tom Feelings, E.B Lewis, James Ransome, George Ford, more.

My personal favorite is a story called Momma’s Kitchen Table, written by my aunt, Eleanora E. Tate. It is illustrated by Faith Ringgold. It’s a story is about my family, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my history.

 In Praise of Our Fathers and Mothers would make a wonderful Mother’s Day Gift.

Celebrating the Multifaceted, Multicultural, and Multicolored World of YA Fiction

May 2, 2011

Diversity in YA Fiction (DIYA) is a website and book tour founded by two young adult authors, Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, to celebrate diverse stories in YA. From the site:

“DIYA is a positive, friendly gathering of readers and writers who want to see diversity in their fiction. We come from all walks of life and backgrounds, and we hope that you do, too. We encourage an attitude of openness and curiosity, and we welcome questions and discussion. Most of all, we can’t wait to have fun sharing some great books with you!”

Cindy is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, will be published in April 2011.

Malinda is the author of Ash (Little, Brown, 2009), which was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, and named one of the Kirkus Best Young Adult Novels of 2009. A companion novel to Ash, titled Huntress, will be published in April 2011. Cindy and Malinda will be joined on tour by a marvelously diverse array of award-winning authors across the country; with the launch just days away, Malinda took the time to answer a few questions for The Brown Bookshelf.

Where and how do you see the biggest changes happening regarding diversity in children’s literature?

I think that in recent years there has been a huge growth in books that feature diverse main characters but don’t focus on diversity as an issue. I really welcome that development, because while I know there’s a place for the issue novel in children’s literature, I personally am not drawn to those kinds of stories. I like to read books that focus on story, and in that story, it’s wonderful if the characters happen to be black or Asian or gay. I think that sometimes race and sexuality can be better understood when experienced sort of sideways, via a broader story that isn’t specifically about race or sexuality.

What would you like to see “gatekeepers” such as booksellers, librarians, educators, etc. do to support more diversity in children’s literature?

I know that gatekeepers are already encouraging readers to try out books that feature diverse characters, and I thank them for that! One thing I don’t want is for these books to be seen as chores, you know? I think that gatekeepers should consider booktalking these books without emphasizing the educational or politically correct aspect. Kids don’t want to read books that are good for them — at least, I never did! — they want to read books that excite them in some way. So many of the books I’ve seen from authors on our diversity tour are full of adventure and thrills and romance. I think it would be great to position these books based on those hooks.

Along with the blog and tour, can we expect other initiatives from DIYA? What are your goals for the project?

Although the majority of our tour will take place from May 7-14, we’ll definitely be around for the rest of 2011. This summer we’re launching a Diversify Your Reading Challenge for libraries and readers everywhere. Our goals are to challenge readers to read novels featuring diverse characters, and to invite librarians to focus on these books as well. We’ll have some great prizes!

Later this year in October, we’ll be doing some events in San Diego during the World Fantasy Convention. Our website will be going strong all year, so be sure to stop by and see what we’re up to. And we hope to see lots of folks out on the road during our tour in May!

The tour begins in a few days — find out when DIYA will be in your neck of the woods. And those great prizes? You can win one now! Leave a comment on this post for a chance to receive a book from one of the tour authors. (Winner and book will be chosen at random; giveaway open to U.S. residents only.)