Free Kindle Copy: Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria

April 28, 2012

Author and quilter Kyra E. Hicks has great news to share: She sold out of copies of her wonderful picture book, Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria. Yay! Go Kyra!

It’s now an ebook available on Kindle. Through tomorrow (April 29), Kyra is offering a free Kindle copy of her book. Here’s the link:

Kyra is planning to post on her blog the results of the promotion. She wondered if other children’s book authors of color have used the Kindle free ebook offer. If you have, please let us know in the comments how it turned out.

Find out more about Kyra E. Hicks here.

Jes’ A Hit

April 23, 2012

We’re peacock proud around BBS. Team member and award-winning illustrator Don Tate celebrated the book birthday for his fantastic authorial debut last week: It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (Lee & Low). Already, the book, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, has won big praise from industry journals.  Kirkus and Booklist gave it starred reviews.

It’s a story that earned him Lee & Low’s New Voices Honor Award. Now, readers are finding out why. Don, illustrator of more than 40 titles, has a gift for writing too. We look forward to showing off more books written by our talented friend.

Here, he talks to us about the New Voices Honor Award, revision process and being on the author side of the picture book team: 

What did winning the New Voices contest mean to you? How did you find out you won?

Let’s talk about the New Voices award. In an effort to nurture new authors of color, Lee & Low Books hosts a writing contest. Writers of color are encouraged to submit their works. The top prize: $1,500 and a publishing contract. The honor recipient receives a $500 prize. I won the honor award.

Needless to say, I was excited when I received the news. It Jes’ Happened was the first manuscript I’d ever pushed beyond an initial rough draft. Winning the contest was a huge confidence booster. That it arrived early in my writing career is what encouraged me to keep writing.

Funny thing is, at the time, I was more confident in Bill Traylor than I was in myself. I knew Bill’s story would win editor’s hearts. Bill had an amazing story. Not because I wrote it, but because . . . Bill had an amazing story. I wasn’t sure if editors would find my writing as amazing. I was thrilled when they did.

Because I truly believed that Bill’s story would win, I expected the phone call. Hope that doesn’t sound brazen, but I’m being honest. I fully expected to win. My editor was Louise May. I missed her phone call with the good news, but she left a long, detailed message on my voice mail. I saved that message and listened to it many times over the next few years.

How did your story grow and develop through the editorial process?

As the honor winner, I wasn’t offered a publishing contract initially. I was a little disappointed, I have to admit. The $500.00 prize was great, I used it to buy new art supplies. But I wanted Bill’s story to get published as a book. Not knowing if that would happen with Lee & Low, I began to share the manuscript with other editors. One editor rejected, suggesting that I try selling the story to AARP. I was so grateful when my editor  at Lee & Low reassured me of her interest to publish once the story was strong enough to take to her editorial board.

The revision process took a grueling 4 years.  Revision was not the hard part, I thoroughly enjoyed that process. I learned so much! Waiting was what drove me bonkers. I worked in a newsroom. At a newspaper, stories are conceived, researched, written, revised, copy edited, illustrated and printed in less than 24 hours. I didn’t understand at the time why it took so long to revise a 1,000 word children’s book. I grew  awfully impatient. Thankfully my editor was patient with me and always professional. I guess she was used to working with newbie authors.

There were four rounds of revisions. The first couple of rounds, my editor raised a lot of questions that needed answers. Not because answers would be included in the story, but because I needed to know the answers in order to tell a more complete story. She also encouraged me to write a stronger ending to the story. I spent a lot of time perfecting the first few paragraphs, but towards the end I got lazy, I was ready to be finished.

The last two rounds of revisions were spent rethinking word choices and tightening up. My editor reminded me to “be more specific.” I’d tend to talk – and therefore write – in generalities. I had all the details in my head, but it was important to get those details down on paper, and not to assume the reader would know the things that I knew. I also used colloquial narration voice, my voice. My editor was fine with my non-formal English, but we had to be sure folks understood what I was trying to convey.

We revised right up until the very end. In fact, on the day the book was to be shipped off to the printer, my editor sent an email suggesting word changes in the very first paragraph. I had described Bill Traylor as an old man. However that description of him might have been offensive to some. We decided ‘elderly’ was a more appropriate description. My editor never told me what to write. She always made suggestions, but left the final decision up to me. Great editor she was.

Tell us about being on the author side of the author-illustrator team. How did that feel? Did anything surprise you? Since you’re an artist, did you also give feedback on the illustrations? Or did you stay out of that process completely?

I was fine with authoring the book and letting someone else create the art. In fact, that was my vision from the very beginning. It wasn’t until I won the New Voices honor that my editors wanted me to illustrate the story should they acquire it. Later it was decided a more naïve/edgy/gritty style would be desired. I am known for my many illustration styles, but I don’t do ‘edgy.’ We decided to go with another illustrator. I was thrilled they let me choose the artist.

I didn’t play a part in the visual process at all, and I didn’t see sketches along the way. Yes, that annoyed me a bit at the time, but my editor knew best. Because I am an illustrator, and because I was so close to the manuscript, it would have been a challenge for me to step back and not make comments, not to try to direct the artist.That wouldn’t have been good for Greg. My editor was forward thinking there.

Greg Christie did a wonderful job with the art. It’s perfect. Absolutely perfect, I love it. That’s what I think every time I see the book. Thankfully, Greg let me purchase a piece of art from the book. The cover!

How do you feel now that your book is out? Did you do anything special to celebrate its debut?

This video demonstrates how I felt. Ecstatic, yes. But in all honesty, I was busy creating ilustrations for my next two books. There wasn’t time to savor the joy. In June I’m planning a launch celebration at BookPeople here in Austin. I look forward to thanking friends who helped me along the way. That’s important.

The Videos

Want a peek inside the story? Check out these awesome videos:



The Buzz

“In his debut as a picture-book author, Tate crafts prose that is clear and specific, the lively text sometimes surrounded by playful figures cavorting off the pages as Traylor draws them . . . An important picture-book biography that lovingly introduces this ‘outsider’ artist to a new generation.”

— Kirkus, Starred Review

Christie’s own flat primitive style is a perfect match for Traylor’s story, and he deftly uses a second naïve style to represent Traylor’s own art. But the real artistry here is in Don Tate’s finely crafted account of Traylor’s first eighty years; the ordinary events in the life of an ordinary African American man…”

— Horn Book

“This picture book introduction to the artist Bill Traylor is astonishing in both its biographical facts and how they are depicted in Christie’s beautiful illustrations . . . Best known as an illustrator, Tate writes with an appealing rhythm and repetition, and with simple eloquence . . . “

— Booklist, Starred Review

Find out more about Don’s work at

Easter Treasures

April 7, 2012

I’m often the go-to person for friends looking for multicultural children’s book recommendations. But when a buddy asked me recently for suggestions of Easter-themed books that feature African-American characters, I was stumped. 

Thankfully, help was just a click away. Through online searches and suggestions from my FaceBook friend, Kathleen T. Horning of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, I found a few books with Easter themes that feature African-American characters and/or were written by African-American authors.

KT Horning also let me know that Marian Anderson’s famous concert at the Lincoln Memorial happened on an Easter Sunday.  She mentioned When Marian Sang  and Sweet Land of Liberty as two books about that historic time. “Sometimes you’ve gotta get creative,” she said. Amen to that :).

The list I shared with my friend is below. Sadly, some of the books are out of print. But you can still purchase them at used book sites or check them out from many libraries. Please add any others you know in the comments. Thanks so much.

Wishing you and your family a beautiful holiday!

Miz Fannie Mae’s Fine New Easter Hat by Melissa Milich, illustrated by Yong Chen

“Tandy and her Daddy go off to the big city to buy her mama an Easter hat. As soon as she spots the broad-brimmed beauty with fruits and flowers and four little eggs nestled at one side, Tandy knows this is the right one, and her father buys it in spite of the high price. Mama insists that the expensive item be returned, but Daddy wears it on his milk-delivery route so that she must keep it. As the proud family sits in church that Easter, the eggs begin to hatch and are mothered by a starling sitting in the rafters. Mama’s hat ends up on a tree limb and serves as a nest to generations of birds. The tale is based on a true family memory, but children will have to decide for themselves when fantasy takes over. The warm evocation of family and small-town life is in the vein of Gloria Jean Pinkney’s Sunday Outing (Dial, 1994) and Elizabeth Howard’s Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) (Houghton, 1991). Chen’s mellow watercolors feature happy faces bathed in the warm sunshine of memory and a variety of interesting perspectives. The solid reality of this family and the fun of the ending help move the story along. A gentle read-aloud that provides a chance for some casual discussion of the past.”

— School Library Journal

Easter Parade by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist

“In this holiday story set in 1943, Leanna, an African American girl in Chicago, and her older cousin Elizabeth in Washington, D.C., look forward to their respective Easter celebrations. The joys of black patent-leather shoes and hats with ribbons – de rigeur for the promenade to church – are mingled with the more serious concerns of tight finances and Elizabeth’s father, who is off fighting in the Second World War. Greenfield’s careful, emotionally astute writing convincingly portrays the girls’ viewpoints and takes an original approach to the arrival of a long-awaited letter from the front: Elizabeth “sits across the room from her mother, facing away from her. She wants to be alone and try to hear her father’s voice.” Gilchrist, who previously collaborated with Greenfield on For the Love of the Game, contributes realistic, smudgy sepia drawings in the oval format of old photographs. The last one uses a burst of color to convey the excitement of the parade for little Leanna. This petite, Easter-egg-bright book would add a sweet-spirited and affecting touch to a holiday basket.”

— Publishers Weekly

At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems of Easter by Nikki Grimes with woodcuts by David Frampton

“Through beautiful, lucid free verse, Nikki Grimes explores some of the ambiguous, enigmatic events and circumstances leading up to the central theme behind the annual Easter observance. Twenty-two poems introduced by a brief explanatory paragraph portray the story through the imagined eyes of the principals involved. Details of the Last Supper, Pilate’s wife’s role, the religious council tribunal, Mary’s grief, the darkening of the sky at the time of the crucifixion and the site of the ascension are all included. Questions raised in each piece encourage discussion of multiple interpretations, as in the poem titled “What’s in a Name?,” which refers to Judas’s role as one of betrayer and the subsequent altered implication to his name. Poetry is gentle yet thoughtful, alluding to the brutality of the execution while providing an almost prayer-like personal reflection. Multi-colored woodcuts suggest the emotion and mood of each scene in a parody of stained glass. A handsome, well-designed offering for middle readers and families.”

— Kirkus, starred review 

Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco
“Ms. Polacco spins another heartwarming story from her tapestry of real-life tales. Set in Oakland in a racially diverse neighborhood we watch eagerly as Stewart, Winston, and Trisha try to find a way to thank the boys’ gramma, Miss Eula, for those scrumptious Sunday dinners. They decide to pool their money to buy her the Easter hat she admires. What can they do to earn enough for the hat? Clue: Pysanky eggs play an important part. Ms Polacco’s paintings recreate the time period of the early ’60’s perfectly down to the photos on Mill Eula’s dining room bureau. This is one of those special books that light up one’s life.”
— Children’s Literature

Painted Eggs and Chocolate Bunnies by Toni Trent Parker with photographs by Earl Anderson.

Description from

“A soft padded cover, catchy rhyming verse, and colorful photographs of young African-American children make up this warm celebration of Easter by Toni Trent Parker and photographer Earl Anderson.What do you think of when you think of Easter?Easter eggs! Easter bunnies! Chocolate! Lots of love! All of those things — and more — are found in PAINTED EGGS AND CHOCOLATE BUNNIES. A convenient 9×7 1/2 trim size with padded cover, this holiday title is made up of 16 lush cardstock pages. Toni Trent Parker has filled each spread with snappy verse focusing on all the things that young children identify with in their celebration of Easter. Earl Anderson’s striking, full-color photographs of adorable African-American children very effectively illustrate the text.”

Happy Easter, Everyone! A Lift-the-Flap Story by Hopi Morton, illustrated by Robert Powers

Little Bill is a Nick Jr. series created by Bill Cosby. Description from

“Hello, friend.”

Children love to learn and are always figuring things out about themselves and the world around them. And the more they know, the better equipped they are to handle the challenges of growing up.

Little Bill encourages children to value their family and friends, to feel good about themselves, and to learn to solve problems creatively.

I hope young readers will see Little Bill as their friend and enjoy his real-life adventures.

Happy reading!