A Mighty Chain of Hands

January 31, 2013

Stereotypes.  Caricatures.  That’s the face of black men children see in the media far too often. That’s if they see them at all. In 1953, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man won the National Book Award. But in many ways, even with our nation being led by an African-American president, recurrent positive images of black men are still missing from literature and popular culture.

That’s why the stunning book, Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America (Disney/Jump at the Sun), written by editor and acclaimed author Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by her husband, award-winning artist Brian Pinkney, is so important. The book begins with a stirring poem whose words “Reaching . . . Pulling . . .”  set the tone for the stories of men who pushed for freedom, handinhandcskfought for justice and reached out to help others. In the preface, Pinkney shares how a circle of teens, “Brother Authors,” inspired her to create this poignant collection that salutes the lives of 10 visionaries and pioneers. “They were hungry for role models,” she wrote of the young men she met. “They wanted shoulders to stand on.” With Hand in Hand, she gave them and children everywhere an amazing gift.

Winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award, this is no ordinary assemblage of biographies. Laced with poems speaking to the power of each trailblazer’s hands and evocative paintings that honor their beautiful spirits, Hand in Hand is a celebration. Arranged chronologically, Pinkney creates a chain of hands that stretches from Benjamin Banneker to President Barack Obama. She shares their stories from childhood to adulthood, deftly exploring their challenges and triumphs.

As I read the story of each man – each a link in Pinkney’s great literary chain  –  I thought about a painting called He Ain’t Heavy by Gilbert Young. In it, Young depicts an African-American man reaching down to grasp the outstretched hand of another brother. The message in the picture and Pinkney’s book is clear: Each generation is pulled up by the one before.

Pinkney’s book is like a mighty hand reaching out to help young people rise and soar. Her words and her husband’s art will inspire readers of all backgrounds and ages to climb and give back as they soak in the stories of amazing black men who changed the nation through their faith, vision and hard work.

The Buzz on Hand in Hand

2013 Coretta Scott King Author Award

“Addressing the appetites of readers “hungry for role models,” this presents compellingly oratorical pictures of the lives and characters of 10 African-American men who exemplify a “birthright of excellence.””

— Kirkus, Starred Review (Best of 2012)

“Ten influential black men—including Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King Jr.—are profiled in this husband-and-wife team’s vibrant collaboration. Andrea Davis Pinkney introduces her subjects with powerful poems, before moving into image-rich, introspective, and candid descriptions of each man’s influence on civil rights, culture, art, or politics . . .”

— Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

Putting Books in Children’s Hands

January 30, 2013

In just a few days, the African American Children’s Book Fair will celebrate its 21st anniversary. Founded by literary publicist and advocate Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, the important festival has grown from a small event at a local department store in Philadelphia to one of the oldest and largest African-American children’s book fairs in the country. Each year, more than 3500 people attend.

201321stanniversaryDrawing children, parents, caregivers, educators and kidlit lovers from around the country, the fair will take place 1-3 p.m. on February 9 in the gymnasium of the Community College of Philadelphia. Want to attend? Try to get there early. Every year, people line up before the doors open for the annual celebration featuring some of the top talents in the children’s book industry.

As always, there will be plenty of books to buy and authors and illustrators on hand to sign them. There are special giveaways too. It’s a magical day that puts African-American book creators in the spotlight and brings them together with kids.

We talk to Vanesse about her book fair turning 21, her mission and dreams:

What does that milestone mean to you?

Twenty-one is a significant hallmark in one’s life. In real life, it is the official age of adulthood. But in the literary world, it is a major milestone, because most book fairs don’t last more than five years.

I attended a seminar this summer in New York and in the conference packet was a timeline of significant events in African-American literary history.  It went all the way back to the 1800’s listing the first African-American children’s book published and people like Langston Hughes who contributed to the movement.  One of the entries of significant events was THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILDREN’S BOOK FAIR established in 1992.  Wow.

How has the book fair changed over the years?

When the book fair was created, it was a traditional book fair with authors/illustrators just signing books. The focus then was to promote and preserve African-American children’s literature.  Our mission was to get people reading, but also buying books. There is no African-American children’s book store in the region and retailers that do carry children’s literature have limited amount of shelf space, so our books are in short supply.

The longer the book fair was held, the larger the attendance. The demand increased because the need was greater in the community.  Many schools and libraries don’t have the financial resources to provide the most up-to-date children’s literature.  Parents also understand that when you tell a child to cut off the electronics you’ve got to offer them an alternative.

Another thing that has changed for me is a better understanding of the consumer base.  In general parents and caregivers, no matter what their social economic level is, all want their children to succeed.  The attendees come from all sectors, but making sure their children have books in the home that reflect positive images of themselves is a common goal.

As the years went by, I recognized that my skills as a literary publicist (I’ve produced literary campaigns for a number of New York Times-bestselling authors of books for adults) was beneficial for the book fair, but also for many of the authors/illustrators who participated. So I set up media opportunities in television, print and radio. That exposure gave this pool of exceptional literary talent a broader platform to promote their works. It also gave the consumer a more personal look at the creativity in the African-American children’s literary community.

As sponsors came on board, I was able get them to support buying books of the authors/illustrators. So we now have corporate sponsors like NBC10 (the local NBC affiliate),  PECO an Exelon Company, McDonalds, Comcast, and Health Partners, who as a part of their sponsorship purchase books of our participants to give away to children attending the event. So the authors/illustrators come into the book fair pre-selling their books.

But there is a brisk business in the book fair area.  Consumers wait in long lines with an armful of books to purchase.  They’ve come to buy. Our organization is one of the top sellers in the country of African-American children’s books. We have one of the widest selections of African-American children’s books for preschool to young adult. As one woman said to me there are two times a year she waits in lines – Black Friday and the African American Children’s Book Fair.

What are some of the highlights of this year’s event?

Our sponsor pre-purchase book event is one of the hallmarks of the event. We are on a mission to get books back in the home. Giving a child a book that reflects their image is a great way to get them on the path to a lifelong journey of reading for pleasure. It starts the process of buying books. It’s like you get a sample of something delicious and keep going back for more. That sample leads to purchasing the item.

We are getting corporate America directly involved in the literary movement. There aren’t many book fairs that focus on African-American children’s book authors and illustrators.  But we take it to the next level.

Our educators’ resource area provides consumers with the latest catalogs from children’s book publishers.  These are the same catalogs that are used by booksellers.  This enlightens the consumer.

The NBC10 Reading Circle is an established book giveaway program. It is two-fold – a child gets to meet the person who wrote/illustrated the book.  We know as an adult that an autograph book is treasured.  We create that same experience for the children who attend the event.  The second part is the ownership. This encourages the reading process.

Here are more highlights:

PECO, HEALTH PARTNERS and COMCAST will give away books of select authors/illustrators to educators for use in the classrooms.

Syndicated cartoonist Jerry Craft will offer a cartoon workshop sponsored by PECO an Exelon Company.  Each child will receive a free book.

David Miller, author of Khahil’s Way, will lead a bullying workshop.

Regina Brooks, author of Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal, will host a teen seminar.

Cheryl Wadlington, author of The DivaGirl’s Guide To Style and Self-Respect, will host a self-esteem workshop.

Why is it so important to shine a spotlight on these children’s book creators?

Our mantra is PRESERVE A LEGACY, BUY A BOOK. This may be unsettling to some, but the only way great books continue to be published is if consumers buy them. The demand dictates the supply.

What do you hope visitors to the book fair gain from attending?

First and foremost, I want children at an early age to enjoy reading……………..make reading for pleasure a daily part of their lives. Another goal is to make consumers understand the African-American literary marketplace and the importance of buying children’s books.  Our vast selection gets the consumer on the road to establishing a home library.  My life has been empowered and enriched through African-American children’s books.

What’s your favorite part of the fair?

The excitement of a child receiving a book and finding a corner to read on the spot. Sometimes the media paints a picture of doom and gloom about the children in our communities, but come to our book fair and see the future of our nation. Uplifting.   I have no doubt we will be alright.  Just keep them reading.

What gives you the most joy?

  • The great literary movement in this country.  When you attend my book fair, it refutes the idea that African-Americans do not buy books for their children. Our attendees start lining up at 10 a.m. for entrance into an event whose doors open at 1 p.m.
  • Adults who attended as children are now bringing their children. People who came as parents are now bringing their grandchildren.  Time after time, I meet people who tell me stories about how the books they found at our book fair transformed their lives.
  • The talented authors/illustrators who make my work possible.  They are true stars in our community.
What are your tips for others who want to start an African-American children’s book fair in their area?
Start small but keep it focused on books.  Selling other types of merchandise takes away from the real purpose of the event. It is a book fair. If you cast your net, you would be surprised to find out how many published authors are  in your area. Start with a few. But again, keep it focused on the books.  Check out your local bookstores to see if they will partner with you. My company, The Literary Media and Publishing Consultants, is an advisor to authors/illustrators, publishers and corporate entities interested in literacy. We can pull together events anywhere in the country.
As your book fair has grown over the years, have your dreams for it grown too?
I want to take this show on the road.  Every city should have a book event that celebrates reading…celebrates African-American children’s books.  And of course I want to share this experience with the WHITE HOUSE WITH OUR PRESIDENT AND HIS FAMILY.  My dream event is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue……………..Do you hear me Mr. President?……….A Book opens Up a world of Opportunities.We want the opportunity to showcase our literary talents………..

Learn more about the book fair and find out which authors and illustrators will be there at http://theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org/.


Happy dancing at the Brown Bookshelf, ALA 2013 Coretta Scott King Award winners

January 29, 2013

urlYesterday The American Library Association announced its 2013 book award winners, which left us at the Brown Bookshelf happy dancing all over the place. Ellen’s Broom, written by Kelly Starling Lyons, one of the Brown Bookshelf’s founding members, received a Coretta Scott King Illustration Honor. Daniel Minter, featured next month during our 2013 28 Days Later campaign, is the brilliant illustrator of the book. While we are happy for every book that was honored yesterday, we are especially happy and proud for Ellen’s Broom. Join me in congratulating Daniel and Kelly for a job well done.

Below is a complete list of winners, congratulations to all:

Author Book Award 

“Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America,” written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney, published by Disney/Jump at the Sun Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group.

Author Honor Books

“Each Kindness” by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group

“No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller” by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, published by Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.
Illustrator Book Award

“I, Too, Am America,” illustrated by Bryan Collier, text by Langston Hughes, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

Illustrator Honor Books

“H. O. R. S. E.,” illustrated and written by Christopher Myers, published by Egmont USA; “Ellen’s Broom,” illustrated by Daniel Minter, written by Kelly Starling Lyons and published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group; and “I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr.” illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Martin Luther King, Jr. and published by Schwartz &Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

Shining the Spotlight: 2013 Honorees

January 21, 2013

Today, we are proud to announce the honorees for our sixth annual 28 Days Later cam28dayslogopaign, a Black History Month celebration of emerging and established children’s book creators of color. As is tradition, a stand-out author or illustrator will be saluted each day during February.

“This is my second year working with the 28 Days Later campaign and I’m just as excited as the first year,” said team member Gwendolyn Hooks. “Researching authors that I wasn’t familiar with and showcasing them so others will know of their spectacular work is a dream job. When I read their books, take note of their awards, and follow their path to publication, I’m swept along in the flow of their achievements. I can’t wait to share them with our readers.

The month-long submissions window for our campaign opened in October. Wonderful suggestions from librarians, teachers, publishers and kidlit lovers flowed in. We considered those names along with internal nominations and nominees from past years, keeping focused on our mission to “push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers.”

We will honor 28 children’s book creators in all – 24 authors and four illustrators.

“Due to busy and conflicting schedules, we considered ending our 28 Days Later campaign,” said team member Don Tate. “I’m sure happy we didn’t. I am inspired by this year’s honorees more than ever.

The authors and the day they will be featured are as follows:

Vanguard authors in bold.

Illustrators in italics.

Feb. 1 – Malaika Rose Stanley (MG)

Feb. 2 – Christian Robinson– (Illustrator)

Feb. 3 – Alaya Dawn Johnson – (YA)

Feb. 4 – Glenda Armand – (PB)

Feb. 5 – Glennette Tilley Turner – (MG)

Feb. 6 – Traci L. Jones – (YA)

Feb. 7 – Brynne Barnes – (PB)

Feb. 8 – Brian F. Walker – (YA)

Feb. 9 – Veronica Chambers – (MG)

Feb. 10 – B.A. Binns (YA)

Feb. 11 – Donna Washington – (PB)

Feb. 12 – Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams – (MG)

Feb. 13 – Octavia Butler – (YA )

Feb. 14 – Ann Tanksley – (Illustrator)

Feb. 15 – Lyah Beth LeFlore – (YA)

Feb. 16 – Tololwa M. Mollel – (PB)

Feb. 17 – Arna Bontemps – (MG)

Feb. 18 – Jasmine Richards – (MG)

Feb. 19 – James Ransome – (PB)

Feb. 20 – Ashley Bryan – (Illustrator)

Feb. 21 – Nalo Hopkinson – (YA)

Feb. 22- Daniel Minter – (Illustrator)

Feb. 23 – Angela Shelf Medearis – (PB)

Feb. 24 – Linda Tarrant-Reid – (MG)

Feb. 25 – Willie Perdomo – (PB)

Feb. 26 – Chudney Ross – (MG)

Feb. 27 – Becky Birtha – (PB)

Feb. 28 – Jaime Reed – (YA)

Book Report: Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad

January 9, 2013

unspoken_111-495x436Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad
Author-Illustrator Henry Cole
Scholastic Press, 2012

First of all, my reader, please don’t take anything in this book report as negative. I love this book! The marketing folks at Scholastic mailed it to me, I’m supposing, because they consider it a diversity book. And we are a diversity website.

Initially, however, I argued with myself over whether Unspoken was a diversity book at all. The book gave me pause. I mean, it’s an Underground Railroad story. Enslaved African Americans used the Underground Railroad to escape north to freedom. But I didn’t see any African American’s pictured in this book — well, except for an eyeball. And I didn’t realize, having not read the cover flap copy or the Author’s Note, that it was an African American eyeball.

In Unspoken, a Civil War-era farm girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in a barn. At first the young girl is frightened and runs off. But her conscience sends her back to the barn with food. When slave catchers arrive, does she tell? No, her good sense of humanity would not allow her to do that. The favor is returned by the runaway at the end of the story with a very special gift.

This book was a huge undertaking on Cole’s part – and a risk – in my opinion. For one, you have a white author-illustrator telling a story of Black history. Now in all fairness, it’s not only Black history, it’s American history. The subject of slavery and the Civil War is not a Black thing. But while white authors publish these stories about slavery and the Underground Railroad all the time (all the time . . .  all the time . .  . all the time), for many African Americans, the subject still carries unhealed wounds. That Cole chose to tell the story while visually omitting the Black runaway was brilliant storytelling, but it could have just as easily backfired. I’m glad it didn’t. I’m glad it has been so well received (deservingly so). But I have to wonder, just a wee little bit, if picturing the slave would have made the story any less successful.

Of course, I’m coming at this from knowing my history. I know the enslaved person hiding behind the cornstalks in the barn is African American. But will a 6-year-old know that? Is it important to that 6-year-old to know the race of the runaway? Um, I think so, but that’s me. The book will surly conjure up interesting classroom discussions.

Cole’s bold graphite drawings on antique color paper add to the authentic feel of this story. Study this book and return to it time and again. Excellent visual storytelling, I’m an artist, I get it. And, yes, it is a diversity book, in my humble opinion. The Civil War and slavery was experienced from a variety of vantage points. In this story, we get a glimpse from a slightly different point of view than what we are used to seeing. Will make for great discussions in the classroom.