It’s All About The Line

May 28, 2013

the laura line coverTHE LAURA LINE is a new middle grade novel written by BBS contributor, Crystal Allen. It’s funny (ding!), affecting (ding, ding!), and full of heart (ding, ding, ding!) Yes—you do have to read the story to be up on the “ding”.

With themes of body image and self-acceptance, it’s a timely tale that also contains a prominent historical subplot…seemingly disparate elements that Crystal connects with skill. Publisher HarperCollins calls it a “touching and funny story of one girl’s path to figuring out where she came from, and the unlimited possibilities of who she can become.”

I’m such a fan of Laura Eboni Dyson (and all the other Lauras) that I used my insider status to get the scoop from Crystal on how THE LAURA LINE came to be:

First, let’s talk about some of the backstory. How did the idea for this book first come to you? And which came first: Laura’s character or the plot? 

The scenery for The Laura Line was taken from my grandmother’s farm.  There was a small “shack-like” house in a wooded section on the property, very close to the family cemetery.  I later found out that my mother raised my oldest brother and oldest sister in that little shack-like house.

I never ventured inside and to this day, I regret it.  Later, my grandmother sold the farm to the city.  Everything was torn down to make room for a freeway.  However, in my grandmother’s contract with the city, she specifically requested the cemetery be preserved, and it was.  But now that my grandparents and all of my older ancestors are gone, no one knows who’s actually buried in that cemetery, other than the fact that they are relatives since there were no names on the crosses or headstones.

I began to put several “what ifs” together concerning the little shack-like house, the cemetery, and my own personal actions. Soon thereafter, Laura visited my thoughts and the journey began to The Laura Line!

Laura Dyson is truly a piece of work…and I say that in the best way possible. She’s both larger than life and totally identifiable. Strong yet vulnerable. Confident but insecure. That’s who she is to me…who is Laura to you?

Laura represents every young girl from yesterday and today, who was or is:

  1. Unsure about her talents or abilities;
  2. Insecure about her personal features; and
  3. Vulnerable to what others say about who she is or what she is.

My goal was to encourage Laura to love herself right now, and learn to believe in the possibilities of her future.

Other than Laura, who is your favorite character? Why?

My favorite character is Grandma because she was so flexible in how she helped Laura, yet never once veered from her love of “The Line.”

In HOW LAMAR’S BAD PRANK WON A BUBBA-SIZED TROPHY, you incorporated one of your favorite activities, bowling. Is baseball another favorite sport of yours—or did it require a lot of research on your part?

My sons played baseball and my oldest one is still very much involved in the sport.  I read an article about a young woman who pitched during professional baseball’s spring training, so I thought it would be a great addition to a story about pursuing dreams.

Speaking of research, what kind of research was involved in the historical elements of your story, particularly those concerning The Amistad revolt?

Not only did I do a lot of online research, I was lucky enough to actually embark the replica of the Amistad when it docked in Boston a few years ago.  It was difficult being on that schooner, seeing the shackles, seeing machetes and knowing they were used during the revolt.  A black and white profile photo of each captive was on display and a short story of what was known about their life was written underneath the photo.  But there was an emotion that I couldn’t place.  It wasn’t anger, and I’d already eaten lunch so it wasn’t a hunger pain.  But standing on that schooner and having a clear understanding of what happened on it, made me ill.  I actually “abandoned ship” because I couldn’t handle it.  I began crying uncontrollably and had to leave the shipyard.

Did you originally set out to write a story with such a prominent historical element? 

Actually I had planned to fill the story with lots of prominent African American historical elements.  But after I began writing The Laura Line, the focus soon settled on one particular historical element:  The Amistad Revolt.

What do you hope readers take away from THE LAURA LINE?  

Love yourself, Love your “Line”, Live your dreams.

In my own writing, I find that each of my characters usually are an extension of myself in some form or fashion.  In what way are these characters a reflection of you (present or past)?

  1. Grandma:  I love to cook.
  2. Momma:  I’m very independent and have a great relationship with my mom.
  3. Daddy:  I try to be involved in the things my sons like to do
  4. Troy:  There was a boy I was “sick, crazy, couldn’t live without”  in love with in fourth grade, but I loved him from a distance and never let him know.
  5.  Sunny:  Doesn’t everybody have a Sunny Rasmussen in their life?
  6. London:  London represents the caterpillar to butterfly effect all of us girls experience at some point in our lives.
  7. Sage:   Sage represents that best friend who always has an abundance of drama that eventually involves you.
  8. Laura:  Laura represents my reluctance, my secrets, and eventually my confidence and strength.

And you know how I like to end an interview—Almond Joy or crackers and cream cheese? 

Almond Joy, no doubt.

Astros game or Ebony Fashion Fair Exhibit?

Actually, I’d choose the Ebony Fashion Fair Exhibit any day over an Astros game. I’ve never been to the Ebony Fashion Fair Exhibit, but I’ve been to at least six Astros games.  The power of free tickets.  :)

A gabfest with the girls or going down memory lane with grandma?

This one is tough because I don’t see my “girlfriends” much anymore because of working schedule conflicts, but I would never turn down a Memory Lane stroll with Grandma, either.  :)

For more information on author Crystal Allen and  THE LAURA LINE, visit her website.

QBR Wheatley Book Awards: Call for Submissions

May 26, 2013

wheatleyThis year, the Harlem Book Fair celebrates its 15th anniversary. A new award – QBR Wheatley Book Awards – will debut there too.

In past years, the Phillis Wheatley Award was given as an honor to authors like Maya Angelou, Gordon Parks and Terry McMillan for their body of work. Categories for the new award include debut novel, children’s books and more. There is no entry fee for submissions for this year’s awards. Winners will be announced at the QBR Book Awards Show at the Harlem Book Fair in New York City.

If you have a 2012 title and would like to apply, you can get a submission form here. From the release: “Submission forms may be mailed with books or emailed in advance of books to Please include the category name and category number on each submission form. You may submit more than one title per category. A separate entry form must be completed for each submission.”

Please spread the word about this new award. You can also nominate authors for consideration here. Submissions deadline is June 15.

Children’s Book Week 2013: Send Us Your Shout-Outs!

May 13, 2013

CBW-Poster-400The annual celebration of the children’s books, Children’s Book Week is here. Sponsored by the Children’s Book Council and Every Child A Reader, includes events across the U.S., downloadable resources for kids and educators, and a Gala honoring the year’s Children’s and Teen Choice Book Award winners. This year, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Walter Dean Myers will present the Impact Award to author and journalist Michele Norris, whose work at National Public Radio is “creatively and significantly advancing our collective mission of instilling a lifelong love of reading in children.” From the CBC: “Ms. Norris conceived of NPR’s Backseat Book Club, a book club for children ages 9-14 that encourages them to read along with the monthly selection and to send their questions in to NPR. At month’s end, some of those questions are put to the book’s author during a segment on All Things Considered. Programs like this promote the joy of reading, a necessary element in instilling a lifelong love of reading in children.”

In honor of Children’s Book Week, we invite you to post your favorite new titles (within the past two years) from Black authors and illustrators in the comments below. At the end of the week, we will compile the list for your summer reading enjoyment.

Thank you.

The Brown Bookshelf Team

Award-Winning Author Fredrick McKissack Dies at 73

May 5, 2013

mckissacksBeloved children’s author Fredrick L. McKissack died on Sunday, April 28, at the age of 73. With his wife and longtime writing partner Patricia, McKissack was the author of more than 100 books for children, including the award-winning DAYS OF JUBILEE (Coretta Scott King Honor, 2003), BLACK HANDS, WHITE SAILS: The Story of African-American Whalers (Coretta Scott King Honor, 2000), CHRISTMAS IN THE215959.Sch_XmasBigHouse_0.tif BIG HOUSE, CHRISTMAS IN THE QUARTERS (Coretta Scott King Author Award, 1995), GREAT AFRICAN-AMERICANS (Enslow series), THE DARK THIRTY: Southern Tales of the Supernatural. (Newbery Honor, 1993), and NEVER FORGOTTEN (PEN/Steven Kroll Award, 2012 and Coretta Scott King Author Honor, 2012). From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “…their work has won everything from the Newbery Honor and Caldecott Honor to the Coretta Scott King Award, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, the Jane Addams Peace Award, and more.”

McKissack was born in Nashville, Tennessee and worked as a civil engineer and served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He and Patricia lived and worked in St. Louis, Missouri, where they built their company, All-Writing Services. And they did write it all–collaborating on projects from picture book to nonfiction biographies to young adult, timeless tales across genres.

As authors everywhere reacted to the news of McKissack’s death, many echoed the sentiment of author and neverforgottenpublisher Cheryl Willis Hudson, who wrote: “Fredrick McKissack was such a generous and caring spirit. His research was impeccable and in his partnership with Patricia, he made a great contribution to children’s literature and African American history.”

Thank you, Mr. McKissack!

For more:

Check out this video interview with the McKissacks on Reading Rockets, this lovely tribute at Crazy Quilts, and School Library Journal’s obituary.