Making Our Own Market: Reading is Fundamental

June 18, 2014

PrintThe Making Our Own Market series has been about empowering children’s book creators of color with new ways to tell our stories and get them into children’s hands. Luckily, we don’t have to do that last part alone. Wonderful organizations like Reading is Fundamental (RIF), First Book, Teaching for Change and others support our work in important and enduring ways. We’re blessed to wrap up this series (occasional posts may follow) by hearing from RIF which sends, with the support of Macy’s, thousands of copies of its annual multicultural collection of children’s books to schools and libraries around the country. A big thank you to Carol H. Rasco, Judy Blankenship Cheatham, Cheryl Clark, Teri Wright and the entire RIF team for their support of The Brown Bookshelf and books that celebrate the beautiful diversity of our world.

Here’s the message from RIF:

Greetings friends of The Brown Bookshelf! Reading Is Fundamental is honored to connect with you. RIF is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the Unites States. We’ve been in this critical business for a long time. Forty-seven years working to inspire a love of reading and provide ownership of books among children least likely to have access to this essential resource and providing families and educators with the knowledge and materials to support children in their journey towards literacy.

But we realized that we had to do more. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has shown us our nation’s African American, Latino, and American Indian children lag far behind those of white children. This disparity, known as the achievement gap, is the core reason we introduced our Multicultural Literacy Campaign in 2007, a multi-year effort in partnership with Macy’s to promote and support early childhood literacy in African American, Hispanic, and American Indian communities. The centerpiece of the campaign is the release of our annual Multicultural Book Collection for grade K-5. Each year, our team of literacy experts selects books with engaging stories and enriching themes for children, that also offer them windows into the lives of people unlike themselves and mirrors in which they’ll see their own experiences reflected. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote over two decades ago, “When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what make us all human.” The sentiment is no less true than it was when it was written, and the charge to bring that full spectrum of stories to all children no less important.

Selecting good multicultural children’s books begins with the same criteria as that for selecting any good children’s books – the literary elements of plot, characterization, setting, style, theme and point of view must be interwoven to provide an interesting story. In addition, good multicultural children’s books will challenge stereotypes and promote an accurate, realistic glimpse into the lives of diverse groups of people.

Here are some guidelines for choosing multicultural books:

·         Look for stories that include a variety of cultures and different family compositions – for example, single parents, families that involve grandparents, and extended families

·         Look for accuracy in modern-day stories, historical fiction, and all non-fiction

·         Choose books with minority characters who are good role models, independent thinkers, and problem solvers

·         Illustrations should suitably convey skin color and facial details, rather than using stereotypical caricatures

·         Books should have photographs that accurately portray present-day events, and any and all captions should be specific and correct (e.g. “Harare, Zimbabwe,” rather than the general “Africa”).

You can check out our full library of Multicultural Book Collections online. In the spirit it of “it takes a village”, we have also developed free, downloaded activity sheets for each book in the collection to help parents, educators, and volunteers deepen children’s understanding of the multicultural themes.

Surely, we all agree that every child is a precious resource. With an educated mind and without ignorance and prejudices inhibiting them, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. Let’s continue this dialogue until everyone gets this message. Book People Unite.


Making Our Own Market: Charlesbridge Publishing on marketing diverse titles

June 13, 2014

603526_495373203869993_2116115699_nEarlier this year at a reading conference, I signed my picture book, The Cart That Carried Martin, written by Eve Bunting. The book was published by Charlesbridge Publishing. Before my signing, I nervously wandered around the Charlesbridge booth. Signings can be a scary thing, especially as a book creator of color, in an exhibit hall filled with people who don’t look like you. Would anyone come to my signing? Would anyone want my book featuring mostly people who look like me? To pass time, I flipped through the Charlesbridge catalog. I was put at ease with what I saw—many brown faces looking back at me. I saw the names of authors and illustrators who I knew to be people of color, or whose names suggested they might be. Charlesbridge—not really marketed as a multicultural publisher—has a nicely diverse list. I felt proud. And my signing went great!

I asked the marketing department at Charlesbridge to contribute to our discussion on marketing titles by and about people of color.

Donna Spurlock, Director of Marketing, Charlesbridge Publishing

Recently there was an online campaign called #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Everyone—publishers, authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, readers, etc.—were joining in with pictures of themselves with their favorite books or with signs that said “We need diverse books because. . . .” People filled in the blank with responses, such as “. . . because people are not the same;” “. . .  so that someday all good “multicultural” stories can just be called good stories;” “. . . because I want to be the hero, too;” and so many more.95507

As a marketer, I love these opportunities to join the conversation. I think this would be my number one piece of advice to any author or illustrator just starting out in the industry:  Join the conversation! 

At Charlesbridge we publish a very diverse list of books. Our trade book publishing program started twenty-five years ago with five nature books by Jerry Pallotta and we have continued introducing the natural world to young readers ever since, including books about a strange little species known as Human. What those critters get up to is strange, hilarious, inspiring, sometimes shocking, and always interesting. 

At Charlesbridge we are privileged and proud to publish books by authors and illustrators of all stripes—established authors and illustrators, new voices, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. Many of the people we work with are people of color including the awesome Don Tate, the wonderful Grace Lin, the incomparable Mitali Perkins, and so many more. One of the best reasons to work in publishing is to bring stories to people—ALL people. And all people are different. Stories aren’t about a race or a gender or a religion. And while stories may be born in a particular culture, aren’t they all really about being human and living in the world? Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 7.46.34 AM

When I read The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Don Tate, I didn’t feel that this was an African American story that I couldn’t relate to. Nor was it a piece of history that I’ll need to know about for an upcoming test. This was a story about a man, about the people his life touched, and also about the world we live in today. I didn’t need to approach this book differently than I do any other book as a marketer. I had a beautiful book on my hands with a story that still touches everyone’s lives. All I had to do was join the conversation. 

In this day and age we have so many opportunities to talk to people about books:  via a slew of social networks, at conferences and trade shows, through the media, and one-on-one with our friends and neighbors. The main purpose of marketing is to gain word of mouth for your book. How do you do that? By telling people, not so much about the book, but about the story. And by listening to their stories and telling someone else about the story you just heard. It’s like that old shampoo commercial: You tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and so on and so on. When you join the conversation in a campaign like #WeNeedDiverseBooks you are telling thousands of people that you hear them and you are interested in what they have to tell you. And they are telling you the same thing. 92421

Don Tate asked me to contribute to this blog as a marketer to speak about how I approach marketing books by and about people of color. I don’t think I do anything differently than I do for a book about life under the sea or man’s journey to the Moon.  I find my audience and I tell them about the story I have to share. Authors and illustrators can do this with a minimal of effort: have a Twitter account and follow the authors and illustrators who interest and inspire you, have a Facebook page and like booksellers and libraries, visit schools and share the passion you have for your subject with students who have the potential to be passionate about everything, or whatever else you can think to do. Do what you can conceivably keep up with. Many authors and illustrators have a hard time putting themselves out in the world as a marketer, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to be a salesperson. Just be yourself, tell your story, share your passion and people will join your conversation. duke ellington nutcracker

Making Our Own Market: Jackie Wellington and Leila Monaghan

June 12, 2014

Facebook can be what you make it. Want to reconnect with family and friends? Got you covered. Want to use it as a way to unite with other kidlit folks? Got your back there too. That latter reason brought writer Jackie Wellington and publisher Leila Monaghan together. Rallying around the cause of pushing for more diverse books, they found each other. They’ve come up with inventive ideas including a Read Same Read Different campaign  and an initiative to promote wonderful middle-grade novels like The Laura Line by our own Crystal Allen. Here’s an inspiring conversation between these two FB friends and advocates dedicated to helping writers of color and multicultural children’s books succeed:

Reaching the World through Facebook

By Jackie Wellington and Leila Monaghan

Jackie:  I write books for 4 -12 year olds. For years, I struggled to find books for my students. I taught in four different states and worked with students with worlddisabilities.  When the states adopted alternative assessments for these students, I was forced to create reading materials. My students had one request, “Miss, make sure that it is not boring. And make sure they (the characters) look like us.” So I started writing stories and assigning my students’ names to the characters based on their personalities. It was then that I developed a love for writing. Especially since my students would say, “Miss, you should write books.” So now I am on a writing journey.

I read the Walter Dean Myers article in the New York Times and smiled. “Finally,” I thought. “Someone is seeing what I am seeing and they are talking about it.”

So when I was finished reading the article, I left a comment. A few days later, Leila Monaghan contacted me via Facebook. We chatted about the need to see all children represented in books. I joined Kids of Color Children Books. And since then we have been brainstorming different ways to get the word out about our mission. And that is to promote books written by people of color. To advocate for more books with children of color.  And equal marketing strategies for authors of color.

Leila:  Just like Jackie, I was very excited to see Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Meyers talking about the lack of books for children of color.  I used to teach second grade in West Philadelphia and there were no middle grade books I could find that reflected my students’ experiences.  I was excited that a lot of them read Harry Potter but really frustrated that there was nothing like the Potter books set in West Philly or a similar urban neighborhood.  It led me to write stories set in West Philly under the name of Lee Mullins.  As I am a PhD in linguistic anthropology, I left grade school teaching to go back to college teaching but the importance of diverse children’s literature stuck with me.  Since then, I have also started a small publishing company, Elm Books.

The articles by Myers and Myers and comments like Jackie’s inspired me start a children’s division and to reach out to others who also cared deeply about diverse children’s books.  I feel it is a civil rights issue.  Children need books with which to identify so they may develop a love of reading, which will eventually lead to strong literacy skills.  Without solid skills in reading and writing, so much of the world is closed off to young people, particularly in today’s high tech age.  But the social media of today also allows people who share a vision to get together in ways that just weren’t possible before.

Jackie: At this time, we are still brainstorming networking strategies. However, we cannot deny that we are blessed to be in an era where social media speaks volumes. Facebook, Tumbler, Twitter, and blogs have the potential to reach thousands even millions. Within the next few months, we will be using these medium to get our message out.  One campaign we will be promoting is Read Same Read Different” (#ReadSameReadDifferent). The idea is to get all children to read books that reflect their experiences (Read Same) and those quite different from their experiences (Read Different).  Michelle Obama recently spoke about the resegregation of America and we all need to reach across lines including the lines of the publishing industry. For example, even if libraries have diverse books on their shelves, people are not necessarily taking them out so they get taken off shelves.  Our goal is to reach out to the publishing industry, libraries, schools, music industry and Hollywood. I know it seem like a stretch, but we can do it. It is about reaching the right people at the right time and making sure diverse books get a fair chance at being read.

Leila: For me, this is a time for experimenting in networking, for trying to build bridges that support diverse children’s books. We are still trying to understand LauraLinehow it works ourselves.  Some of the ways that we have been working on this have been launching the #ReadSameReadDifferent campaign, building the Kids of Color Children’s Books group on Facebook, and promoting specific diverse children’s books such as Crystal Allen’s lovely The Laura LineWe now have almost 400 members in the KoCCB group and 400 likes for the Facebook page we set up for The Laura Line.  This is just a small first step but at least it is a step in the right direction.

Some ways we came up with to support diversity in children’s books:    

–Write diverse children’s books

–Read diverse children’s books

–Get everyone you know to read and buy diverse children’s books

–Support the diverse books you love like The Laura Line on social media including Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.

–Go to Facebook, like the author’s page, and encourage friends and families to do the same.

–Write reviews and give stars to books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other sites.

–Tweet about what you are reading.  Take a picture of it and tweet why you like it.

–Blog about diverse books and review the books you read.

–Start a book club and emphasize diverse books.

–Make connections in the media or at conferences and workshops with other people who care about diversity.

A Few Media Starting Places:

Kids of Color Children’s Books

The Laura Line on Facebook

The Laura Line on Goodreads

Read Same Read Different Blog


MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: Kirsten Cappy on marketing African American titles

June 9, 2014
Don Tate, Kirsten Cappy

Don Tate, Kirsten Cappy


For our series, MAKING OUR OWN MARKET, Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, a book consulting company, tackles the subject of marketing books created by or about African Americans.


Books Image

 Taking Book Marketing Off the Page, Out of the Park

by Kirsten Cappy of Curious City

For me, children’s book marketing on the Brown Bookshelf or off has never been about social media, press,  coverage, or other perils of “self-promotion.” For me, marketing has always been about storytelling and discovery.  The best marketing finds ways to:

  • retell a story beyond the framework of the book
  • engage readers deeper in the story
  • create partners for the book by finding commonalities
  • exhibit the book in unlikely locations

A bulleted list is meaningless, of course, without stories. Let me tell you a few. Let’s go out of the park and off the page to show how my small firm, Curious City used these marketing methods on a group of exceptional African American titles.

Beyond the Framework: Book Trailers

A book trailer is not a must in releasing a book. Yet, when we look at the challenges of getting a book stocked by a  bookseller or the challenges of a reader walking into a store and saying, “that book is for me,” book trailers can be a way to bring the book to where readers are. A book trailer can “retell a story beyond the framework of the book” to a targeted online community, classroom, or a lone librarian or book buyer—all outside the confines of the traditional browsing experience.

How could I not want to open Don Tate’s illustrations for She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story (HarperCollins) by Audrey Vernick to a wide audience? The day Don sent us the original scans of the art (complete with splashes of paint on the edges) was more than memorable. We choose to weave Don’s work with the narration of actor Dion Graham. Graham is known for TV roles including regular spots on The Wire and Law & Order, but for those in the book world, he is known as the voice of Kadir Nelson’s audio for We Are the Ship. Dion Graham’s is the kidlit voice of the Negro Leagues.

By sharing the trailer with bloggers who cared about female sports leaders or the Negro Leagues, we were able to “create partners for the book by finding commonalities.” Their blog posts would have been decent coverage for the book, but NJ author Audrey Vernick thought an additional partner might be the city of Newark where Effa Manley is still known. Audrey took the book and trailer to the firm that does publicity for Newark. Before we knew it, the city and minor league team based in Newark decided to honor Effa Manley with a special day at the ballpark that Effa and her husband had founded.


On a summer afternoon, cases and cases of the book were given away at the gate (courtesy of HarperCollins) and the book trailer played on the jumbotron. Dion Graham’s voice filled the stadium and Don Tate’s illustrations filled the screens. The team management liked the trailer so much, they played it in a free advertising jumbotron slot for the rest of the season, exposing the book to 1000’s of baseball fans. This was indeed an “unlikely location for an exhibit” of Don Tate’s work.

The book trailer can also be used to give voice to an African American character or subject when the author wants to be back stage, especially when the author of an African American title is White.  We used the trailer for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (FSG) to allow author Phillip Hoose to introduce Civil Rights heroine Claudette Colvin. After the intro, however, Phillip takes a step back (both in the visuals and the audio), clearly indicating that this is Claudette’s story, not his book.

Deep Reader Engagement: Reader Expression

Author Terry Farish had the privilege of becoming close to an extended family of Sudanese refugee girls and women in Portland, Maine. The mothers, worried about their daughters, welcomed Terry to write about their daughter’s struggle of being African and trying too quickly to become American.  The Good Braider (Amazon Children’s Publishing) was vetted and blessed by the community before publication. After publication, however, Terry was hyper-aware of her whiteness. “Please, please do not put me behind an author table,” she said in our first meeting, “I do not want to be the face of this book.  It is not my story.”

OD Bonny Photo

In “creating partners for the book by finding commonalities,” I reached out to a young Sudanese hip hop artist and shared a galley of the book with him.  A few months later OD Bonny told me the book reminded him of his flight out of South Sudan alongside his brothers.  I asked if we could pay to use one of his songs as the audio for a book trailer.  He responded, “Why wouldn’t you want a song of your own? I’ll write it. Tonight.”

When I heard his song, “Girl From Juba,” I realized that it was not just marketing, but a reader’s genuine tribute to a work of fiction. An author can have no greater gift.  I also realized that I did not need to be the one to produce this trailer. I transferred the book trailer funds to OD and the music video/book trailer was created with an all Sudanese American cast (save one Irish kid), crew, and director. The video had 1000 hits within a week, not of book professionals, but of Sudanese and African American young adults that follow OD’s music.

Getting  a reader or a small group of readers deeply engaged can lead to a product which can become an incredible discovery tool for your book. A group of middle school students were the first ones to read Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. Using photocopied galleys, librarian Kelley McDaniel led students in a discussion of Claudette’s life.

While Kelley was doing this, I was reading the book with a group of college Art Education majors. Together we designed a way for the middle school students to express their thoughts about Claudette in art. Because 14-year-old Claudette refused to give up her bus seat nine months before Rosa Parks became famous for doing the same, and because Claudette testified as a teenager in the court case that rang the death knell for transportation segregation, I proposed we exhibit the student’s art on a public bus.

CCTTJ Art Photo

Imagine the conversation I had with the bus company! They listened carefully and responded, “You want to talk about the abuse of African Americans onboard buses…on my bus system??” The NAACP representative who had planned to attend with me could not come at the last minute, so I had to figure out how to answer on my own. By the time I left, the bus company had not only said “yes,” but had given me old bus advertising signs to use as our canvasses.

Using a combination of small grant funds, school partnerships, and community sponsors like the NAACP, we launched the exhibit by flying Claudette Colvin in for a preview. After a lifetime of silence and before publication would make Claudette’s story national, this was the first time she had seen her words in print.  The effect was breathtaking. This exhibit in an “unlikely location” toured the city for a month, introducing riders to a story they had never heard. You can read more about the reproducible Understanding Courage Project here and see more photos here.

CCTTJ Bus Exhibit Photo

Create Partners: Interns, Education, & WordPress

I have buckets of examples of how blogging on WordPress about the content of your title leads to discovery. When you take the non-fiction elements of your book (yes, even your novel) and explore them deeper in blog posts, you are creating delicious fodder for the search engines.

Working again with the local arts college, I designed a semester-long course of study on Bill Traylor, the outside artist brilliantly profiled in Don Tate’s book It Jes’ Happened (Lee & Low). An intern, Morgan Cremins, studied not only Taylor, but the illustration of Don Tate and R. Gregory Christie. Together Morgan and I built a website  in support of the book where she blogged about all she had studied.

IT JES Curric

Paired with that site was an art curriculum created out of the same college’s Art Education department. The curriculum allows children to recognize, experience, and create with Bill Traylor’s visual lexicon. That curriculum served as an opening for Don Tate, R. Gregory Christie, the art educator Kelly McConnell, and myself to be the first outside educators to work at the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Tate and Christie appeared at the museum in conjunction with a Traylor exhibit.  You can see photos of the appearance and art project here.

At the event, children created amazing art inspired by Bill Traylor. One of the most powerful moments came when Don Tate stepped forward to talk with kids about the depiction of African Americans in Bill Traylor’s work and in R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations. When a white 9-year-old raised his hand and asked the white staff educator why the Bill Traylor figure’s had the “bump on their back,” the educator became flustered and tried to move on. Don stood and explained that Bill Traylor emphasized the large “backends” of African Americans seen from his street corner in Montgomery, AL.

IT JES Exhibit

“As an African American man,” Tate said, “I am proud to have bigger lips, a bigger nose, and yes, maybe a bigger butt than my white friends. It is what makes me unique and I am proud of it.”  The children, wide-eyed and smiling, accepted this as an uncomplicated and intriguing truth. And the program rolled on.

Books on the Brown Bookshelf share the same marketing challenges as any children’s book published, but they offer more opportunities to retell stories that break out of the framework of the book, pull children of all races deeper into the story, build crucial partnerships between different sides of the race equation, and have the freedom to exhibit themselves beyond the traditional confines of children’s publishing outlets. Let’s go off page, out of the park. and show kids the essential stories they have been missing.

Making Our Own Market with Irene Smalls

June 4, 2014









Irene Smalls is an award winning children’s book author with publishers like Scholastic, Simon and Schuster, and Little Brown. Not only that, she has presented programs at the White House Easter Egg Hunt, toured internationally and most impressively taken her career into her own hand. Study her website and you’ll realize that her motto must be “I am the master of my fate.”

My Nana






Determining My Fate  Two books, My Nana and Me and Pop Pop and Me and A Recipe, from a major publisher went out of print. The publisher gave the books no real support or marketing. They ignored my suggestions on how to promote the books. I suggested ebook and Spanish versions, but they did not agree. I feel strongly that I don’t want someone else determining my level of income. I decided to put the books back into print. My first thought was as a self-publisher but the inherent credibility issues and lack of marketing muscle behind self-publishing made that a last choice. Luckily I was able to find a small ebook/print on demand publisher who was interested in republishing my titles.     I negotiated a contract that gave very limited rights to the publisher.

Pop Pop






That is the major reason I am exhibiting at the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt, Germany in October of 2014. At the Frankfurt Book Fair I can present my books to publishers from 120 countries to sell translation rights, etc. When I went to the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair I negotiated two international contracts for two of my titles.

Marketing My Books Authors have much more flexibility now than they did in the past. I have signed up for Apple’s ebook publishing program and a few others. The key element is the marketing effort you put into your products. Make contact with any celebrities you know. The celebrity angle helps. The challenges are time and money to support your book. You have to make marketing your books a semi-full time job. You have to allocate the money to support your books either to hire someone to help or to design, print and promote yourself. Some authors are not salespeople. To be effective you must sell, sell, sell. Authors have to wear a character, if necessary, to sell their books.

Rewarding Myself The rewards are clear. It is better to be “captain of your fate” versus letting people who really don’t care about you or your books determine what happens. When you are successful you maximize income from your efforts. But, it is not an easy thing to do. Authors must look at their books through market lenses. I recast Pop Pop and Me and A Recipe as a cookbook for kids and grandparents. I wrote an etiquette guide for kids to accompany My Nana and Me. The illustrator and I put together Spanish versions of the titles. Grandparents are very important in Latino culture. What is important is not what the books mean to me but what they mean to the market.

Also, as people of color, we have to go global. United States publishing as Walter Dean Myers and his son, Christopher Myers  noted in the NYT has such a limited and narrow view of books by authors of color for children of color. We have to move beyond the US.  Technology can save us if we learn how to use it effectively. The market is not good or bad, it just is. We have to learn how to use the market and market forces to our advantage.

Irene Smalls and the Frankfurt Book Fair: Join us at the Frankfurt Bookfair, the world’s largest, in October of 2014 Details at See our Frankfurt video

Click on for more about Irene Smalls’ fascinating career.

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks