Day 21: Nalo Hopkinson

February 21, 2013


From her bio at Simon & Schuster: Nalo Hopkinson is the award-winning author of numerous novels and short stories for adults. She was born in Jamaica, and lived in Trinidad and Guyana before moving to Canada at sixteen.

Her novels, such as Brown Girl in the Ring and The Salt Roads, and other writing often draw on Caribbean history, culture, and language. Ms. Hopkinson is one of the founding members of the Carl Brandon Society, an organization that helps “build further awareness of race and ethnicity in speculative literature and related fields.”

The first chapter of The Chaos, her forthcoming young adult novel, can be read online. From the book description:

“Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she’s the perfect daughter, at school she’s provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbeans, whites, or blacks. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can’t be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him. Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation ASAP before the Chaos consumes everything she’s ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that’s begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.

For her adult work, Hopkinson has received Honourable Mention in Cuba’s “Casa de las Americas” literary prize. She is a recipient of the Warner Aspect First Novel Award, the Ontario Arts Council Foundation Award for emerging writers, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Locus Award for Best New Writer, the World Fantasy Award, the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, the Aurora Award, and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award.

The Chaos must be characterized by the same literary excellence, as it has received the following reviews already:

“Noted for her fantasy and science fiction for adults, Hopkinson jumps triumphantly to teen literature. . . . Rich in voice, humor and dazzling imagery, studded with edgy ideas and wildly original, this multicultural mashup—like its heroine—defies category.”–Kirkus Reviews, *STARRED

For more about Ms. Hopkinson, visit her online.

Day 20: Ashley Bryan

February 20, 2013

2010 by Louis S croppedHonestly, today’s honoree needs no introduction. We’re already fans of the beloved Ashley Bryan, aren’t we? Known for his extraordinary range and depth of talent, Bryan uses paint, poetry, music, and collage to tell his popular stories.

Born in Harlem, New York, and raised in the Bronx, Bryan describes his childhood as “an idyllic time, full of art and music.” Times that provided a solid foundation for a long and successful career in the arts.

As a child Bryan spent his days working hard and drawing pictures, and he finished high school at the age of sixteen. But getting accepted into an art institution would not prove so easy. He was was rejected on the basis of race. On the advice of his teachers, he applied to New York’s prestigious Cooper Union Art School who administered a blind art test for admission into the school. “You put your work in a tray, sculpture, drawing, painting, and it was judged.” Bryan says. “They never saw you. If you met the requirements, tuition was free, . . .” Bryan passed the test with flying colors.Stable

After serving his country in World War II, and continuing his education at Columbia University, Bryan set his eyes on the prize of becoming a children’s book illustrator. For years he worked passionately to achieve that goal, and he faced many obstacles and rejections. His perseverance paid off in 1962 when he became the first African American children’s book author and illustrator to be published. “I never gave up.” Bryan says. “Many were more gifted than I but they gave up. They dropped out. What they faced out there in the world–they gave up.”

Ashley Bryan has gone on to win many awards for his books — often culled from African folk tales — including nine Coretta Scott King awards and honors, a Golden Kite Award, Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, others.

The following is Ashley Bryan in his own words:

The Journey

I grew up in the Bronx, New York.  As we learned the alphabet, my teacher asked us to draw a picture for each letter.  After Z, we sewed the pages together.  The teacher said: “You have just published an Alphabet Book.  You are the author, illustrator, binder.  Take it home, you are the distributor as well.”  I got rave reviews from family and friends for that book.  All of the ones that followed are built on that foundation.

The Inspiration

I am inspired by my studies in the history of art and by the folk art of all cultures.

The Night Has Ears 300 dpi

The Backstory

I am grateful that I do not have to work deals.

The Buzz

My new book, WHO BUILT THE STABLE, Atheneum, 2012 came out to starred reviews.

Kirkus says: “Bryan’s Christmas offering combines a poignant poem about a shepherd boy who builds his own stable with exuberant paintings in a masterful melding of rhythmic text and dazzling art.”

Publisher’s Weekly says: “Bryan wields tempera and acrylic in strong strokes to evoke Bethlehem, (“A rich and verdant land”) with saturated shades of primary and secondary colors, lively expressions on human and animal faces, and sweeping lines to create the impression of movement. ”

The state of the industry

The United States means people from all over the world. Representation of these diverse cultures in books for young people allows readers to identify and understand the peoples of the world.



Beat the Drum 300 dpi

ashley bryan–Don Tate


Day 19: James Ransome

February 19, 2013

james' promotional @300dpi

The Children’s Book Council once identified James E. Ransome as “one of the 75 authors and illustrators everyone should know”…and we agree.

The Coretta Scott King Illustration Award winner and oft co-collaborator with wife, Lesa Cline-Ransome, is known for creating stunning art for popular picture books such as Uncle Jed’s Barbershop (Simon & Schuster), Visiting Day (Scholastic), and Words Set Me Free: The Story of a Young Frederick Douglass (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books). His most recent illustration project–another Team Ransome creation–is Light in the Darkness (Hyperion).

However, on Day 19, it is James Ransome the author whose work we seek to illuminate. And so, in his own words:


The Journey 

My journey of illustrating books is well documented in my bio which can be found on my website:  My journey as a writer started as a young child.  In fact, writing is what led me to drawing, because I started by writing stories which soon led to comic books.  The stories were about my friends and I going out on missions to save the world during World War II.  The movie The Dirty Dozen and comic books like Sergeant Rock were big influences on me. At some point, I realized I enjoyed making pictures more than writing stories.

gunner cover

Much later in my life, my wife Lesa encouraged me to write picture books; so I owe her all the thanks.  I took very slow steps. My first entrance into the writing world was to edit a book about Christmas (A Joyful Christmas), for which I selected stories and poems submitted by friends.  The first book I both authored and illustrated covered one of my favorite topics: football.  The idea for this book came about while I was doing school visits. I’d often get into conversations with the students about their favorite football teams, which led to the topic of winning and losing and my  being surprised at how important winning was to the kids I was talking with.  That led to a story called Gunner, A Football Hero.

new red bike 2


The Inspiration

Again, the visual artists who inspire me are well documented.  As far as inspirations from writers, I’d have to say, my wife Lesa Cline-Ransome .  Other writers that inspire me are Chris Van Allsburg whose writing is mysterious and has a surreal quality.  Julius Lester and Virginia Hamilton are two favorites and of course, I’d also have to include Toni Morrison.  One of my favorite passages is “not Doctor Street” from her book Song of Solomon.  She is a master at playing with language and that is what attracts me to all these writers.


The Back Story

The inspiration for My Teacher came from a teacher I met years ago who was from the Boca Raton, Florida area. She described her school as one hard hit by the fiscal challenges faced by many schools–but filled with caring, dedicated teachers who, despite setbacks, sought to enrich and inspire their students.

my teacher cover 2


The Buzz

My Teacher has been reviewed in Kirkus and received a Library Media Connections Starred Review, included below.

“Ransome has written a thoughtful, heartwarming story celebrating teachers and the teaching profession. An interesting sidelight is the mention of school libraries. The author has written a gentle, pleasing story about a teacher who truly loves her profession. This teacher knows a good teachable moment, is flexible, consoling, and consistently searches different teaching methods. When the classroom children have to write and illustrate a report on a famous person, Ransome emphasizes the research aspect, using computers, and the library. A refrain that consistently appears throughout the story aptly describes the teacher: “Maybe that’s why she keeps teaching.” The writing style is pleasing and readable. Illustrations are full-page full-color spreads, softly complimenting the text. This is a good selection for teachers and good for school librarians!” Dennis LeLoup, School Librarian, Avon Intermediate East and Intermediate West Schools, Avon, Indiana

Highly Recommended


New Ventures:

The most exciting thing I’m currently doing is YouTube videos.  My daughter is majoring in film-making at Syracuse University.  When I was her age, becoming a film-maker was also my dream.  Because I had to buy a camera for her, I also bought one for myself and made some videos which she is editing for me.  Here is a link to my first one on painting with watercolor: James Ransome Watercolor Video. I have a new one coming out by February 1st where I discuss how to develop a drawing.

For more information on James Ransome, please visit his website here.


February 18, 2013


Sultans, magic, Sinbad and sorcerers!  Who can resist?  With a perfect title, THE BOOK OF WONDERS, readers will find everything they could want in this mystical, fantasy debut by Jasmine Richards.  The Brown Bookshelf is honored to present her in our spotlight on Day 18 of the 28 Days Later Program.

Jasmine Richards was born in London, grew up in a library, and was the first in her family to go to a university. After graduating from Oxford, and following a brief stint at New Scotland Yard, Jasmine chose a career in publishing over being the next Sherlock Holmes. Today she’s a senior editor at a leading British publishing house. She now lives in Oxfordshire with her husband in an old wool mill.


Tell Us about The JourneyJasmine_reading_(2) jasmine richards

I suppose my journey to being published started with my love of reading. Stories undoubtedly shaped me into the person I am today.  They raised my aspirations, broadened my horizons and gave me the gift of imagination. Because stories have always been so important to me I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I love telling them as much as I love reading them.

Even as a child, I always knew that I wanted to write a book one day and the idea for my debut novel came from a collection of stories that I read in my childhood called 1001 Nights.

Also called Arabian Nights, this collection of tales feature the famous stories of Sinbad, Aladdin and his magic lamp as well as tales like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

arabian_nights_books_(2) jasmine richards As a kid, it always irked me that by the end of 1001 Nights the sultan, who has been busily beheading his wives with impunity gets a happy ending. That didn’t seem fair to me. I wondered whether there might be a different version of this story and that was when the idea for the Book  Wonders was sown.


Who or What is your Inspiration?

I am a huge fan of Roald Dahl’s writing. The Witches, Matilda, The Twits . . . I love them all. Roald Dahl never talks down to children, and he doesn’t pretend that the world is always a nice place. I think it is that honesty that I connected with as a child and which I would like to convey in my own books.
I also greatly admire Phillip Pullman. I absolutely devoured his Sally Lockheart books as a child and when I was older His Dark Materials trilogy. Like Dahl he doesn’t talk down to children and isn’t afraid to tackle big issues.

What About The Back Story?

I live in the UK but I am very lucky to have an amazing agency behind me Stateside called Adams Literary. They sent out The Book of Wonders to a select few publishers and I was delighted when Harper Collins came back and made an offer for my book! A dream come true.

Here’s The Buzz



From Publishers Weekly

The Book of Wonders

Jasmine Richards. Harper, $16.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-201007-0

In her skillful debut novel, Richards, an editor of children’s books in the U.K., keeps the novelties coming. The setting is Arribitha, a land with ancient Middle Eastern overtones; the quest is full of danger and magic; and the combative protagonist, known variously as Zardi or Zee, is in fact a 13-year-old Scheherazade. Zardi is the daughter of a vizier serving a cruel sultan who has forbidden magic throughout his realm, and her best friend is Rhidan, a boy whose silver hair and violet eyes are unlike those of anyone else they know. When Zardi’s sister and father are taken by the sultan to be prey in his hunt, Zardi and Rhidan go chasing rumors of rebels who might be persuaded to help. Their escort is an unwilling Sinbad, a pirate-charlatan whose half-djinni mother sets the children on their path of destiny. It’s a fun action-adventure read, unapologetically two-dimensional, and a good challenge for developing readers, who will find the headlong action a worthwhile incentive to master the vocabulary. Ages 8–12. Agent: Adams Literary. (Jan.)

From Kirkus Reviews


By Jasmine Richards (Author)

Age Range: 8 – 12

Dipping into the deep plot well of Middle Eastern fairy and folk tales, this buoyant debut offers a fresh plot, brisk pacing and engaging characters. Zardi’s 13th birthday celebration is cut short when her sister, Zubeyda, is abducted by the cruel sultan to serve as his praisemaker, an “honor” that in 90 days will end in her death. Zardi (short for Scheherazade) sets off to find the sultan’s enemies and obtain help in rescuing Zubeyda, accompanied by her adopted brother, Rhidan, who is on a quest of his own: tracking down Sinbad the sailor, who has clues to Rhidan’s mysterious heritage. Though not entirely reliable, Sinbad proves an ally, as does his mother, Sula, who defies the sultan’s ban on magic and uses her powers to help Zardi and Rhidan discover their own.

With Sinbad, they head for the Black Isle, home to powerful sorcerers and possibly Rhidan’s birthplace, but fate has other plans for them. These include rocs, a brass giant, trapped djinn and the fearsome Queen of the Serpents in her snake-filled kingdom. Richards deftly borrows from lesser-known tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights to enrich her complex storyline while keeping style and syntax simple and direct. A sprightly, accessible series opener recommended for those ready for a change of venue from standard-issue, middle-grade fantasy.

(Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 2012


Page count: 416pp

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

The State of the Industry

Young readers, in fact all readers, want the same thing. Great narratives, characters that you can love and empathize with, vivid settings and a plot that keeps you turning those pages.  

It shouldn’t matter what color the characters are who populate these fictional worlds but surely there should be variety?

 Our planet and the people who live on it our varied, readerships are varied, characters in children’s fiction should be varied! This is what frustrates me about children’s fiction at times. It all feels so homogenous and not representative of the world we live in.   

Also let’s consider this, if you are a child of color and you fail to see people like yourself in novels then there is a danger that you might think you’re not important enough to be described in a book, that maybe you are even invisible . . .

How do we change this state of affairs? Well, I think we need more diversity in the publishing industry at all levels -editorial, marketing and sales. We need more diversity in our booksellers and we need more authors who are keen to write books with characters of color in their narrative landscapes.

No child deserves to be invisible.



DAY 17: Arna Bontemps

February 17, 2013

Arna Wendell Bontemps was an award winning author born in 1902 in Alexandria, Louisiana. When he was four, his family moved to southern California. He loved books and read everything even if his minister father didn’t approve. Entering and winning a poetry contest after graduating from Pacific Union College in 1923, inspired him to move to New York. New York was in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance and Arna felt a connection with the writers, artists, and musicians who were making their presence known. One of those writers was Langston Hughes. Arna and Langston became lifelong friends and literary collaborators. Langston described Arna as:

“one of America’s simplest yet most eloquent writers dealing in historical materials, as his historical novels and his “The Story of the Negro” prove. His prose is…readable, …yet rich in poetic overtones and the magic of word music…. I have known Arna Bontemps for more than twenty years and have collaborated with him on children’s books, plays, and the editorship of a recent anthology, The Poetry of the Negro. I know him to be a very thorough and conscientious worker, methodical, giving a certain number of hours every day to his writing, and a fine literary craftsman. His factual prose is not dry, but full of warmth and poetry. And he has both tolerance and humor.”

Vanguard Middle Grade Author Arna Bontemps’ books were filled with the “magic of word music”. He won many awards including a Newbery Honor for The Story of the Negro in 1949. It also won the Jane Addams Children’s Book award.

Story of the Negro

Arna married in 1926 and had six children. Undoubtedly, they served as inspiration for his many children’s books. He continued to write books, poetry, and edit anthologies throughout his life. He also worked at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. Then he became Head Librarian at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He also taught creative writing classes.

In 1966, Arna left for the University of Illinois to teach American Literature. But a stroke forced him to return to Nashville. After he regained his health, he taught at Yale University for two years. He became Writer-In-Residence at Fisk in 1971 and began an autobiographic research project. Sadly, he never wrote it before his death of a heart attack in 1973.

Arna and Langston Hughes were literary collaborators as well as close friends. One  collaboration was Boy of the Border, a coming of age story about a young boy’s horse-drive journey from Mexico to Los Angeles. The adventure story, filled with compassion and curiosity about life is just as relevant today as it was when first published.

Arna wrote Bubba Goes to Heaven in the 1930s, but it wasn’t published until after his death.

Of Lonesome Boy Arna wrote to his friend Langston, “This is the book I enjoyed writing, perhaps because I did it impulsively for myself, while editors hounded me for my misdeeds and threatened me if I did not deliver manuscripts I contracted for. So I closed the door for two days and had myself a time.” Upon publication Langston replied, “It is a perfectly charming and unusual book.”

Boy on the BorderBubber Goes to Heaven

pasteboard bandit

Popo and FI
God Sends SundaysA

Lonesome Boy C

Sad-Faced Boy

mr. kelso's lion











































































During his teaching and writing carrer, Arna recieved Carnegie and Guggenheim research grants and a brilliant list of awards. More impressive than that, in each of his literary works, Arna Bontemps has left us with  “the magic of word music”.

More Literary Awards

  • Alexander Pushkin Poetry Prize, Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, 1926, for “Golgotha Is a Mountain”
  • Alexander Pushkin Poetry Prize, Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, 1927, for “The Return”
  • First Prize, Poetry, The Crisis, 1927, for “Nocturne at Bethesda”
  • First Prize, Fiction, Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, 1933, for “A Summer Tragedy”
  • Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Jane Addams Peace Association, 1956, for The Story of the Negro, 1955 edition

Samples of Arna’s poetry are available on his Facebook page.

Watch this You Tube video to learn more about Arna Bontemps and his role in the Harlem Renaissance.

His Birthplace home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a museum. 

Kirkland C. Westport wrote his biography, Renaissance Man From Llouisiana: A Biography of Arna Wendell Bontemps (Greenwood Press, 1992).

Day 16: Tololwa M. Mollel

February 16, 2013

Option Two for Visual Image 2 (Photo of Tololwa)Tololwa M. Mollel describes on his website the first time he had a new book to call his own. He stared at it. He smelled the pages. He cherished the words that transported him into different lives and worlds.”When I finally began school and to enjoy access to books, like a parched throat thirsts for water, I couldn’t get enough,” he wrote.

Reading and two special mentors – his paternal grandfather and uncle – put him on the path to writing and storytelling. Today, he’s an award-winning author of more than 16 children’s books including Coretta Scott King Honor book My Rows and Piles of Coins, illustrated by E.B. rowsandpilesLewis, and Parents’ Choice honoree The Orphan Boy, illustrated by Paul Morin. Mollel’s stories have won praise for drawing on his African heritage, exploring family and folklore and focusing on universal themes.

Along with being an author, Mollel is a dramatist and performer. His stories beg to be read aloud. Some even have songs. Mollel, who lives in Canada, enjoys sharing his work at schools and libraries: “I aim to provide a feast of words –written and spoken – for the eye, the ear and the mind; as well as for the creative imagination, and for performance.”

The idea of “feasting” on words came from the culture of his Massai-speaking grandfather who filled Tanzania-born Mollel with appreciation for the spoken word. He celebrates that spirit everywhere he goes. His books and performances captivate young readers and take them to magical places. He hopes through his work to share “the gift of story” that was given to him.

The Buzz:

My Rows and Piles of Coins

“A warm family story set in Tanzania in the 1960s . . . The
first-person story contains several universal childhood experiences: the pride
in persevering and gaining a new skill and in making an unselfish contribution
to the family. Since the narrative focus is on the boy’s own goals, the story is
natural and never excessively moralistic. The fluid, light-splashed watercolor
illustrations lend a sense of place and authenticity. Watching Saruni’s savings
mount visually is a nice touch. A short glossary gives the meaning and
pronunciation of frequently used words. Deft and effective.”

— School Library Journal

Big Boy

“Buoyed by exceptional illustrations, Mollel (The Flying Tortoise) spins a tale of universal appeal from a scrap of Tanzanian folklore . . . Mollel’s story is an engaging fantasy for little ones with big aspirations, but it is Lewis’s (Fire on the Mountain) crisp, understated watercolors that steal the show. His pleasing compositions, with their surprising perspectives, incorporate details particular to the Tanzanian setting even as they evoke a sense of boundless space.”

— Publishers Weekly

Rhinos for Lunch and Elephants for Supper!

elephantsrhinos” . . . Mollel, whose retelling of another story from his Maasai heritage, The Orphan Boy, is a Notable Children’s Book for 1992, tells this amusing cumulative tale with a verve that especially recommends it for oral sharing; Spurll sets her wonderfully expressive animal characters in a carefully composed jungle attractively bordered with a lively geometric design, adding such delightful touches as a bespectacled leopard reading to her wide-eyed cubs. Delightful.”

— Kirkus

Find out more about Tololwa M. Mollel here.

Day 15: Lyah B. LeFlore

February 15, 2013

Lyah B. LeFlore

Lyah B. LeFlore is the author of the young adult novels, The World Is Mine and Can’t Hold Me Down in the Come Up series. Both are published by Simon & Schuster. In a video interview on Simon & Schuster’s website, Lyah said the Come Up books are about a group of multi-ethnic kids “taking their dreams to the next level by any means necessary”. Her inspiration was her big sisters going to New York to “go for their dreams”.

Booklist says of The World Is Mine, “The Come Up series has nailed a strong opener.”

Read the complete review at Booklist Review

To find out more about Lyah including a video interview, visit her Simon & Schuster author page.


The World Is Mine

Can't Hold Me Down