A Conversation with Shawn Goodman, author of SOMETHING LIKE HOPE

January 26, 2012

After reading Something Like Hope, it took several days before I could stop thinking about the characters and get my head around the journey I’d taken through each chapter.  This is an amazing story and I am thrilled that Shawn Goodman agreed to chat about his young adult novel, Something Like Hope.

1. What is Something Like Hope about?

It’s the story of Shavonne, a fierce and desperate seventeen year-old who finds herself in a large juvenile lockup hundreds of miles from home. She wants to turn her life around, but her problems seem too big, and time is running out. Amidst corrupt guards, out-of-control girls, and shadows from her past, Shavonne must fight for a redemption she’s not sure she deserves.

2. Was it difficult for you to write this story?

It was. At the time, I was working as a psychologist in a girls’ detention center. It was a violent, chaotic place, and I’d leave feeling tired, confused, and generally hopeless. Questions nagged at me. Like, do we really need to lock up children for misdemeanors and status offenses (infractions that aren’t illegal for adults)? Is it possible to do good work in a corrupt system and not be complicit? And if it’s not possible, what should I do? Quit? Fight the system? There were many other questions, and writing the book became a way to try and deal. I’d stay up late, typing, satisfied that at least I’d given voice to some of the struggles I’d witnessed.

3. Why did you write Something Like Hope with an African American Protagonist?

I thought it needed to be told from that perspective. I had spent many years listening to tragic stories from girls who appeared to be invisible, without power or voice. Most were African American, and had family histories of abuse, neglect, illiteracy, mental illness, etc. And even though the stories were sad, terribly sad, they contained flashes of insight, strength, and dignity. I wanted to capture this, and to do it accurately required a female African American protagonist.

But apart from this formal reasoning, I heard (or imaged hearing) Shavonne’s voice. Other books I’ve written may have started with an idea, an image, or a situation. I say may have because who really knows? But this one, so far as I can tell, started with a voice resonating quite clearly in my head. It was an angry voice, but also intelligent. This last part is very important, I think, because Shavonne’s intelligence is the undeveloped strength that holds the key to her redemption, small though it might be. She can’t really change her past, but she can learn to think differently about it, and that’s how she grows.

4. What were the challenges you encountered in capturing the voice of an African American female teenager?

If I can change the challenges to risks, I’d say the first risk is failure. There are so many ways for a writer crossing gender and race to get it wrong. Unbelievable characters. Stilted language. Forced or shallow emotions. Or simply showing to the world through your writing that you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!

The other big risk is of stepping on others’ cultural toes. I think the question that best speaks to this is, “what gives you the right to write this book?” It’s a good question, a fair question, and perhaps the best answer in this case is, “because no one else was going to write that particular book.” The girls I got to know in lockup read everything they could get their hands on. And yet, there were so few books with characters and stories that reflected their experiences. It’s invalidating, if you think about it. Every kid should be able to find books that speak to him/her, books that offer different perspectives.

5. What kind of response have you received from the African American community in response to Something Like Hope?

People have been very positive. The most frequent comment has been, “I read it straight through, from beginning to end.” This has been seconded by, “I keep thinking about Shavonne; she reminds me of…” Those are good things for any writer to hear, but I have been especially grateful for the openness of readers and critics to allow a forty-year old white man tell the story of a seventeen-year old African American girl. It would be easy to dismiss the whole thing, and yet…people haven’t. I am grateful for this, because the alternative is to write only within the boundaries of our own racial, cultural, and/or gender identities. Imagine if we could only tell stories about people who look and dress and talk exactly like us?

6.  Not necessarily a question, but these very impressive reviews for Something Like Hope:

A Booklist starred review book

“Shavonne’s voice—witty, tender, explicit, and tough—will grab readers. In the tradition of Walter Dean Myers’ and Jacqueline Woodson’s novels, this winner of Delacorte’s 2009 prize for best YA debut gets behind the statistics to tell it like it is.”

School Library Journal

 “Those teens who applauded the urban survivors in Sapphire’s Push and Coe Booth’s Tyrell will do the same for [Goodman’s] Shavonne.” 

7. Are you working on another novel? If so, can you tell us about it?

My next book is called Kindness for Weakness, and it’s a little bit of Catcher in the Rye meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It should be out in summer, 2013, with Delacorte. The title actually comes from a line in Something Like Hope, but it’s a very different kind of book. It lacks much of the drama and emotion, yet I think it’s every bit as powerful. Perhaps more.

Thanks so much, Shawn!

You can read more about Something Like Hope at:  http://www.shawngoodmanbooks.com

Twenty Years Strong

January 24, 2012

On Saturday, February 4, Philadelphia’s African American Children’s Book Fair turns 20. It’s a milestone that means a lot to founder Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati.

“Twenty years of putting on this book fair has reinforced my belief that children will read if you put good books in front of them,” she said. “They will read if they have books they can relate to.”

Over the years, her fair has brought more than 500 African-American authors and illustrators to the area. Thousands of new books have been given away to children in need. With the illiteracy rate and closing of bookstores around the country, her work is even more important now, she said.

“When bookstores close, introducing children to the love of reading becomes more of a challenge,” said Lloyd-Sgambati, who is also a library consultant who helps assess their collections and incorporate new books. “Parents can’t go in and browse. It’s tough to select a book online too. The key to finding good books is knowing who the authors and illustrators are.”

That’s where the African American Children’s Book Fair comes in.

“The African American Children’s Book Fair highlights some of the best books of our generation,” she said. “These authors and illustrators cover every aspect of African American lives.  The books are well-written and beautifully illustrated.  These books will open the door to a love of reading and enlightened children of all ages.  We also stress the importance of having a home library. Our mantra is “TAKE A BOOK HOME.”  Every home should have an area that is the family reading center.  Also getting our children to read means everyone in the family should be reading.”

Nearly two decades ago, 250 people braved the cold to attend the first African-American Children’s Book Fair at John Wanamaker Department Store in Philadelphia. Today, the book fair, held in the gymnasium of the Community College of Philadelphia, attracts thousands. In fact, not only is it one of the oldest single-day events for African-American children’s books, it has grown to become one of the largest too.

For some children, the book fair will be the first time they meet a black children’s book author or illustrator, the first time they receive a personalized book.

“Every time a book is sold that means a story is told,” Lloyd-Sgambati said. “Telling those stories enables the African American book industry to grow. This growth will mean that our legacy, our history is preserved.”

Lloyd-Sgambati said securing sponsors for these non-profit efforts is always a challenge, but those who help support the effort to make sure children have books in the home.  This year’s sponsors include local NBC affiliate, NBC10, PECO, Comcast, Health Partners Foundation and McDonald’s.

“For some children this ownership and the opportunity to meet the person who wrote and illustrated the book make the pages comes to life,” she said.

Along with having authors and illustrators sign books and read excerpts, the fair will feature workshops including one on cartooning led by syndicated cartoonist and children’s book illustrator Jerry Craft. An area called Literary Row will offer free promotional materials and a parent’s book resource section.

“Twenty years is a great accomplishment for any effort, but the success of this event is the community who recognizes that books empower and enrich a child’s life,” Lloyd-Sgambati said. “I also created this platform to support the works of the African American publishing community. Many of the authors/illustrators get no press for their great works, so I use my skills as literary consultant to put them front and center.  The line-up this year has some of the best books of our time.  Talented is an understatement.”


20th Anniversary African American Children’s Book Fair

Saturday, February 4, 2012, 1-3 p.m.

Community College of Philadelphia (Gymnasium)

17th Spring Garden Street

Free and open to the public

For more information, please call 215-878-BOOK


Jabari Asim

Tonya Bolden

Regina Brooks

R. Gregory Christie

Bryan Collier

Kerri Conner

Floyd Cooper

Jerry Craft

Nancy Devard

L. Divine

Sharon Flake

Deborah Gregory

Al Hunter, Jr.

E.B. Lewis

Kelly Starling Lyons

David Miller

Walter Dean Myers

Marilyn Nelson

Vanessa Brantley Newton

Jerry Pinkney

Sean Qualls

Deborra Richardson

Amira Shiraz

Javaka Steptoe

Shadra Strickland

Linda Trice

Elizabeth Zunon


Contact Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati at 215-877-2012 or  vlloydsgam@aol.com.

Visit The African-American Children’s Book Project (host of the book fair) at www.theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org.

28 Days Later, 2012 honorees

January 20, 2012

Click on image for full size poster.

Party for Five

January 16, 2012

One may be the loneliest number, but five is a party.

We’re proud to announce our twenty-four authors and four illustrators spotlights marking our fifth annual 28 Days Later initiative, a month-long celebration of veteran and emerging children’s authors of color.

There was a time when we considered doing something BIG to mark the fifth year. Five years is a wonderful milestone. In five years we’ve gained three additional Brown Bookshelf members helping to spread the word on good books, we’ve aligned ourselves with other great bloggers and most importantly, once you add this year’s great batch of creative artists to the mix, we’ve profiled 140 authors and illustrators.

Then we realized that simply bringing you these special profiles was big enough. But we’d like your help making sure the word gets out that The Brown Bookshelf is the place to hit for any reader, parent, teacher or librarian looking for great books by and about people of color. Tell a friend to tell a friend to come back every single day in February and we’ll officially seal the deal on doing big things for kiddie lit.

So without further ado, the 2012 28 Days Later Features:

February 1 – Kwame Alexander
February 2 – Denise Lewis Patrick
February 3 – Noni Carter
February 4 – James Haskins
February 5 – NiNi Simone
February 6 – Keith Shepherd
February 7 – Nikki Giovanni
February 8 – Tracey Baptiste
February 9 – TL Clarke
February 10 – Atinuke
February 11 – Bryan Collier
February 12 – Earl Sewell
February 13 – Debbi Chocolate
February 14 – Lynda Jones
February 15 – Calvin Alexander Ramsey
February 16 – L. Divine
February 17 – Charlotte Riley Webb
February 18 – Bil Wright
February 19 – Pansie Hart Flood
February 20 – Traci Dant
February 21 – Nikki Carter
February 22 – Sharon Robinson
February 23 – Teresa Harris
February 24 – Sofia Quintero
February 25 – Malorie Blackman
February 26 – Alice Faye Duncan
February 27 – Elizabeth Zunon
February 28 – Margaree King Mitchell

Celebrating Us: Children’s Books about Weddings

January 6, 2012

My picture book, Ellen’s Broom (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) debuted yesterday. Yay! It’s a Reconstruction-era story, illustrated by Daniel Minter and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, that celebrates family, love and freedom.

Right now, I’m on a 9-day blog tour. At each stop, there  is something special like a review, interview or guest post. You can see the full schedule here, read reviews of Ellen’s Broom here and check out the trailer here.

But I wanted to do something a little different at BBS. Our mission is to raise awareness of children’s book creators of color. So in that tradition, I’d like to celebrate the release of my new book by celebrating others. Below, you’ll find a list of six more multicultural children’s books about weddings.

Please spread the word about these titles and share them with children you know. And if you know of others, please list them in the comments.

Oh, and if you leave a comment on this post or any of my blog tour stops, you’ll be entered in a drawing for the grand prize giveaway – a wedding/anniversary broom donated by Stuart’s Creations and a poster of the Ellen’s Broom cover. Thank you for your support.


Flower Girl Butterflies (Greenwillow Books) by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, illustrated by Christiane Kromer. 

The Buzz on Flower Girl Butterflies:

“All of the excitement and anxiety of a wedding day are captured in this charming picture book. When young Sarah is asked to be a flower girl in her Aunt Robin’s wedding, the child is consumed with doubts. She worries that she will forget to throw her flowers. She’s nervous about tripping in front of everyone, getting sick, or ruining her new dress. With the loving reassurance of her African-American family, she calms her fears enough to walk down the aisle. After all, she has to be a “big girl” role model for the little ring bearer. This book is a wonderful celebration of family as the grandmothers and several uncles and cousins come to spend the night before the wedding at Sarah’s house. Sarah’s big moment is a perfect splash of pink background and scattered pink petals with the child’s dark skin gleaming against her white flower-girl dress. The lovely bride, in a frothy white gown, follows. The collage textures added to the watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations give the book a tactile look. A warm, family-oriented story that children will love.”

– School Library Journal


Jumping the Broom (Scholastic) by Sonia W. Black, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu.

The Buzz on Jumping the Broom:

“Upbeat without being preachy or sentimental, these titles in the new Just for You! easy-reading series tell realistic stories of African American family life with excitement and grace. In Jumping the Broom, Erin’s big sister is getting married. Everyone is happy except Erin, who can’t find the right gift–until Grandmother tells her about jumping the broom, a wedding tradition that started among slaves. The characters are beautifully defined in both words and pictures, and many kids will recognize Erin’s pride in honoring her roots . . .”

– Booklist


Nikki & Deja: Wedding Drama  (Clarion, debuts March 2012) by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman.

The Buzz on Nikki & Deja:

“Ms. Shelby is getting married! As the girls in Nikki and Deja’s class compete over who
can plan the best imaginary wedding for their teacher, Nikki excitedly throws herself
into preparations for the real thing. But Deja is not so enthusiastic. Her Auntie Dee has
been temporarily laid off from her job, and Deja is worried. What will happen now
that she can no longer afford a new dress and special hairdo? Will Nikki leave her best
friend behind while she shops and primps? Will Deja be able to get over her jealousy
and enjoy the celebration anyway?
This is a charming entry in a chapter book series praised for its accessibility, authenticity,
and humor..”



Snapshots from the Wedding (Puffin) by Gary Soto, illustrated by Stephanie Garcia.

The Buzz on Snapshots from the Wedding:

“There’s nothing like a wedding, and this book about a wedding is not quite like any other. Soto takes readers to a Mexican American nuptial, and young Maya, the flower girl, is the lens through which the action is seen. All the fun of the event is here: the altar boy with the dirty sneakers under his gown, Maya putting pitted black olives on each of her fingers, the kids whacking one another with balloons. There are the more traditional moments as well–the wedding kiss, the wedding cake, and the toast to the bride and groom. The text’s free verse could have been illustrated in many ways, but the choice of three-dimensional artwork was inspired. Created with Sculpy clay, acrylic paints, wood, ribbons, and flowers, the art is displayed in large boxes set against pages covered with lace. The doll-like members of the wedding are exaggerated just enough to be amusing; at times, just a body part or two are highlighted, as when Maya’s feet are shown on top of her father’s while they dance. Just like a wedding album, this will be looked at over and over.”

— Booklist


The Wedding (Orchard), by Angela Johnson, illustrated by David Soman.

The Buzz on The Wedding:

“Through the eyes of young Daisy, readers experience and anticipate the preparations for her sister’s wedding-“Long dresses, flowers, wrapped boxes, and tissue-paper rooms-with everybody saying ‘Congratulations.'” The simple text follows Daisy and her family as they celebrate and then say a tearful good-bye to Sister. The last page shows the whole family looking at the wedding photos. As in other books by these collaborators, such as When I Am Old With You (1990), One of Three (1991), and Tell Me a Story, Mama (1989, all Orchard), the illustrations portray a warm, loving African-American family. The distinguished collage artwork conveys the action and the whole range of emotions that the day entails. Both text and illustrations work together to create a seamless experience that is happy, sad, and tender all at once. A perfect book for preparing for that special day.”

School Library Journal


Here Comes Our Bride! An African Wedding Story (Frances Lincoln), by Ifeoma Onyefulu.

The Buzz on Here Comes Our Bride:

“Far from the reverential, there is a lively mix of the traditional and the contemporary in this photo-essay about a wedding in Benin, Nigeria. Osaere is a doctor; Efosa is an architect. As Onyefulu points out in her introduction, the wedding is a family affair, and the close-up, full-color photos show the formal visits, when the relatives bring all kinds of gifts, including jewelry and foods (kola nuts stand for peace and harmony; schnapps is for the ancestors). After the formality, there is lots of teasing to cement the friendship. Then an old man talks to the ancestors, and Osaere and Efosa are married in traditional robes. Much later, there’s a church wedding (he’s in a tux; she wears a wedding gown), with even more guests, foods, and gifts. A young boy narrates the story, and kids will enjoy learning about the Nigerian ritual while they recognize the universal excitement of wedding pageantry and bonding.”

— Booklist