Throwback Thursday: Fredrick McKissack

May 25, 2017

Today we go back to a great contributor to children’s literature, Fredrick McKissack, who with his wife wrote more than 100 books for children about the African-American experience. On the Scholastic website the McKissacks talked about their process:

“There is no magic formula,” Fred says. “Pat and I talk all the time.” “After talking through a project,” Pat continues, “We outline it. Then Fred does most of the digging and the research, and I write it up on the computer and run off a hard copy. Fred fact-checks and refines it, and then gives it back to me to make his changes and any more of my own.” “Then we run off another hard copy and keep doing that until it satisfies us both,” Fred adds. (More here: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/authors/fredrick-l–mckissack/)

They made a winning team. Beside winning two Coretta Scott King Awards, four of their collaborations were runners-up, or Coretta Scott King Honor Books. In 2014, the year after his death, the McKissacks were both honored with the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement by the American Library Association.

Below is the original post that appeared about Fredrick McKissack on the Brown Bookshelf blog in 2015.

In the summer of 2005, I had the pleasure of meeting Fredrick McKissack. He and his wife, author Patricia McKissack, were teaching and sharing their experiences on how to write for children at a Highlights workshop.  He had a fascinating personality and was a gracious host. His work as a researcher was outstanding and informative.

Mr. McKissack discussed his research for Black Hands, White Sails.

He was meticulous, checking and rechecking the finest detail, and traveling to the east coast from their home in St. Louis to visit whaling museums. That book written by his wife won a Coretta Scott King Honor award. It told the story of black sailors on whaling ships. And it showed me the possibilities of writing nonfiction. It remains one of my favorites.

The writing and researching duo published over 100 books. Many won awards including the Coretta Scott King Award, the NAACP Image Award, the Newbery, the C.S. Lewis Medal, the Caldecott Award, the Jane Addams Peace Award, and the Regina Medal.

Mr. McKissack died on April 28, 2013.


The “Hole” in KidLit

May 22, 2017

For years I worked as an anthology editor for McGraw-Hill and other educational publishing houses. My job was choosing literature for elementary schools, pairing fiction with nonfiction, commissioning new pieces to work with published works, and balancing a very long list of authors and illustrators to ensure that we had even numbers between sexes and ethnicities. Finding authors and illustrators of color was always a challenge as a result of a lack of diversity in the KidLit industry, but the one area that always remained a huge problem was finding science or technical texts written by authors of color.

For every educational publishing company I worked with as an in-house editor, or as a consultant/freelancer, this was a problem. It’s been a long time since I left school and library publishing, so I hadn’t thought about this problem in a while, but it all came back to me while having a conversation with Preeti Chhibber, who works for Scholastic on the Reading Club selections. When The Jumbies (my MG novel) was chosen as a Scholastic Reading Club book, it was featured in a We Need Diverse Books special edition flyer. As Pretti and I cooed over the pages of the flyer, she confessed that they had a very difficult time finding science books written by authors of color. There were plenty of biographies of scientists, but that’s not exactly what they were looking for. The writer they were able to feature was Neil deGrasse Tyson. A great choice, but surely he couldn’t be the only one.

I racked my brain trying to think of a nonwhite equivalent of someone like Seymour Simon, who was a go-to author for science nonfiction, and came up empty.

Hence, the hole in KidLit that authors of color need to fill. The school and library market is very interested in diversifying their offerings, and having a book selected for an anthology means kids all over the country will read your work. It’s a big deal. And I know there are authors of color who also like science topics. So, what are you waiting for? There’s a hole you need to plug.


Where Do We Go From Here? Continuing the Conversation With Pat Cummings

May 9, 2017

Here at the Brown Bookshelf, we’ve spoken often and long on the issues and ideas expressed in the Open Declaration. We do this work to lift up our young readers and show them how they can survive, thrive, and soar in this world. For many of us, the way forward might be clear, for others, not so much. We may sign on to petitions and open declarations, forward emails, RT, and “like”, and these can all be good and powerful things. But we believe that it’s important to reflect on how we will hold ourselves accountable, how we will act, and reflect; how we will “live out commitment to using our talents and varied forms of artistic expression to help eliminate the fear that takes root in the human heart amid lack of familiarity and understanding of others; the type of fear that feeds stereotypes, bitterness, racism and hatred; the type of fear that so often leads to tragic violence and senseless death.” We’ll present a series of those posts here; signatories asking, wondering, and doing an essential question: Where do we go from here?

I’m especially honoured to share thoughts from award-winning author, artist, educator, and activist Pat Cummings. As a literacy educator and freshman college student, I carried JUST US WOMEN, illustrated by Ms. Cummings, on all of my summer home visits to families — it was a favourite in every one of the Harlem and Washington Heights homes I visited, as inspired young children and parents shared their own stories and photos of family road trips and vacations. Two of my own daughter’s ABSOLUTE first favourite books were Cummings’ MY AUNT CAME BACK and CLEAN YOUR ROOM, HARVEY MOON — even before she could read, she was enthralled by the wordplay and the joyful Brown faces on the pages.

I’m more than thrilled to welcome Pat Cummings back to The Brown Bookshelf.

Why did you sign the declaration?
A book is personal. Through words and pictures I have a chance to talk directly to more children than I’ll ever meet. Children who may take what’s in the pages of the book to heart. I’ve heard that personalities are formed by the time a child reaches six years of age. So, knowing that this is a window, an opportunity to express positive, open and humane ways of interacting with others on the planet, I feel children’s books can be more effective, more subversive even, than trying to get through to adults who are inexplicably locked in their prejudices, fears and arrogance. I signed the declaration because every point and sentiment in it aligns with my own beliefs.

How do you describe the intersection between art and activism? Who/what has influenced you in that area?
The arts, any art really, is an expression of your core beliefs. It’s like your handwriting or accent: your belief system is distinctly your own. And art provides an avenue for us to express what we think, love, believe. I’m not sure what would happen if we existed in an utopian society. But, faced with the disturbing attitudes and actions around us today and, knowing that vulnerable, open children are taking their cues from what they’re seeing, I think artists have to be activists. Who has influenced me? My mother and father. They are the ones who taught me to use critical thinking, to not only observe what is but to structure a pathway to what can be.

What next steps do you plan to take to carry out your pledge?

My goal is to ensure that readers find positive imagery and healthy relationships in the pages of my books.

In this business, we all try to suggest creative, positive resolutions to any situation. I’m committed to getting at the humaness of my characters…a colorless, genderless, ageless humanity that prevails regardless of nationalities, creeds or isms. Most of my characters are Black. And while that’s partially to address our underrepresentation in children’s literature, it’s also because I’m sick and disheartened about the widespread hostility and misunderstanding that has such negative effects. Walter Dean Myers once told me that he wanted to see his books in the hands of white kids who didn’t actually know anyone Black. And that’s been a big motivator for me: trying to remove the ignorance some readers have. Not ignorance in the sense of stupidity, but ignorance, literally: an ability to ignore anyone who looks, believes, or acts ‘different’. So, writing. Talking to kids. Working with college students and workshop attendees to encourage a more inclusive attitude. My plan is very much based on tossing a stone in the pond to create widening ripples.


How would you like to see the children’s publishing industry do its best to support our children?

I’ve seen improvements so I’m actually encouraged.

The Brown Bookshelf, We Need Diverse Books and even Black Lives Matter have had a significant impact on publishers.

Hiring editors, art directors, and marketing people of color will make a huge difference and I’ve seen initiatives to do just that. But one of the HUGEST things publishers could do is to widen the focus in their marketing. More authors, illustrators and publishing employees of color is a great start. But until books featuring diverse characters are actively marketed to mainstream audiences, diverse books will stay a niche section of the bookstore and a niche in publishers’ marketing plans. There still doesn’t seem to be a push to market books to EVERYONE, regardless of who is on the cover.


What’s New with The Brown Bookshelf

May 1, 2017

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The Brown Bookshelf presented at the Texas Library Association conference. Thank you to the Black Caucus of TLA who sponsored our session, Overlooked Books who hosted our signing and amazing librarians like the ones from Houston in the picture who showed us lots of love.

Thank you to everyone who supports the work we do. Completing our 10th 28 Days Later campaign was a special milestone for us. We appreciated the shares, comments and kudos. It’s an honor to raise awareness of the wonderful black children’s book creators that give kids stories that showcase their experiences, history, adventures and dreams.

Last month, we took our show on the road, presenting at the Texas Library Association conference. We received such a warm reception from librarians who said they plan to add books by authors and illustrators we highlighted to their collections. In November, we’ll present at the American Association of School Librarians conference in Phoenix. Our mission is to celebrate others, so we don’t often talk about ourselves. But so many exciting things are happening that we wanted to give you a peek into what’s new in our world. We are grateful for the commitment of people like you who help push for change. All kids deserve to see themselves as the stars of stories and as book creators.

TeachingBooks.net

Special thanks to Nick Glass and Carin Bringelson for helping our work reach more readers and creating such an important resource.

28dayslogoTeachingBooks.net has created a list that showcases our 10 years of 28 Days Later features and additional resources they’ve compiled for our honorees. Here’s the full list which is available without subscription to their service this year and will be accessible without subscription every February in perpetuity. In addition, each year they will make a list for our new class of 28 Days Later honorees with links to our spotlights and extra resources which will remain free until the end of that year. Here’s the list for the authors and illustrators celebrated in our 2017 campaign. Want resources for members of our team? TeachingBooks.net has a list for that too.

Note: Our 28 Days Later spotlights are always available on our blog. You can use the 28 Days Later tab on our menu bar for links to author and illustrators featured each year or the search box in the right column to find a post about a particular children’s book creator.

Highlights Foundation Scholarship

Special thanks to Kent Brown and Alison Myers for the chance to help make a difference. Here’s the announcement from Alison:

Congratulations, Andrea Loney! Andrea (and her sweet Bunnybear) were bunnybearpicnominated by The Brown Bookshelf to attend Crafting Successful Author Visits next month at the Highlights Foundation. During the workshop Andrea will present to a local school. To have Andrea visit your school please go to: http://andreajloney.com/school-visits/ 

The Brown Bookshelf will nominate a children’s book author or illustrator for a 2018 Highlights Foundation workshop of the honoree’s choosing. Look for details about this exciting opportunity in the near future.

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Here’s the skinny on members of our team:

Gwendolyn Hooks

civilrightsMy latest book is If You Were A Kid During The Civil Rights Movement illustrated by Kelly Kennedy (Scholastic Library). Later this spring, Music Time and Block Party will be released by Lee & Low Books. Both are illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez and Block Party is a Junior Library Guild Section. Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas won the NAACP IMAGE Award for Outstanding Literary Work-Children. Illustrator, Colin Bootman and I are honored to have our collaboration recognized. Now, it’s a new year and I’m re-reading The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days Later 2017 campaign for inspiration. Those authors and illustrators inspire me to re-think some projects and move forward on others. A writer’s work is never done!

To learn more about Gwendolyn, visit http://www.gwendolynhooks.com.

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

I’m working on And Two Naomis Too (Balzer and Bray/HarperCollins) with Audrey TwoNaomis_jkt-193x300Vernick, which will be out in 2018. I’ll be appearing at nerdCampNJ in May, the Maplewood-South Orange Book Festival in June, and NCTE in November. This summer, I’ll be working on some new manuscripts; I’m looking forward to participating in Teachers Write again, meeting and working with the new class of WNDB Internship Grant Award recipients, and finishing some languishing craft projects.

To learn more about Olugbemisola, visit http://www.olugbemisolabooks.com.

Don Tate
My forthcoming project is a picture book biography about Victorian strongman Eugen Sandow, also known as the “Father of Bodybuilding.” STRONG AS SANDOW: HOW EUGEN SANDOW BECAME THE STRONGEST MAN ON EARTH (Charlesbridge, Aug. 2017).

sandowInspired by my own experiences in the sport of body-building, I tell the story of how Eugen Sandow changed the way people think about exercise and physical fitness. I will be signing STRONG AS SANDOW at BookExpo America on June 2nd, 2017, Booth 2905 from 2:00 to 3pm.

WHOOSH! LONNIE JOHNSON’S SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS (Charlesbridge, 2016), written by Chris Barton and illustrated by me is a 2017 Children’s and Teen Choice Book Award Finalist.  Children’s Choice winners will be announced at BookExpo America, and I will be in attendance to sign books.
To learn more about Don, visit http://www.dontate.com.

Kelly Starling Lyons

jadajonesrockstarI had a wonderful time sharing at TLA. In August, I present at the National Conference of African American Librarians in Atlanta. In September, I launch my Jada Jones chapter book series – Jada Jones: Rock Star and Jada Jones: Class Act, published by Penguin Workshop and illustrated by the amazing Vanessa Brantley Newton. We’re having launch parties in Raleigh and Charlotte. Here are  Quail Ridge Books party details and Park Road Books party details. We’ll have a virtual launch too so everyone can be part of the fun.
One More Dino on the Floor is still grooving strong. Illustrator Luke Flowers and I were delighted that it was chosen for Scholastic Book Club and called a great readaloud. I’m working on new projects and enjoying meeting amazing kids and educators during author visits. Thank you for supporting my work.

To learn more about Kelly, visit http://www.kellystarlinglyons.com.

Tracey Baptiste

riseofjumbiesI’m looking forward to the release of The Jumbies sequel, Rise of the Jumbies on September 19th. In the meantime I’m working on two new book projects that have not been announced yet and a group chapter book project with some really awesome authors. I’ve also just sent in a proposal for a new nonfiction history book. Unfortunately it’s the nature of the business that I can’t be specific until all deals are finalized, so I’m going to have to be cagey for a bit!
To learn more about Tracey, visit http://www.traceybaptiste.com.

Jerry Craft

livingcolorI recently visited Jackson, Mississippi to help promote literacy among boys. With the support of COSEBOC and The Kellogg Foundation, I was joined by fellow authors David Miller, Mark C Booker, Kenneth Braswell and Ronnie Sidney II as we provided 300 eager middle school boys with 900 free books!

From there, we spoke to kids at a juvenile detention facility and addressed a crowded room at a family literacy event.

It was one of the most powerful trips I’ve even done. I signed 350 copies of my new graphic novel, Mama’s Boyz: In Living Color!

To learn more about Jerry, visit http://www.jerrycraft.net.

Crystal Allen
fame.jpgI have been extremely busy with my new series, The Magnificent Mya Tibbs!  Book one The Magnificent Mya Tibbs – Spirit Week Showdown, is on the Texas Bluebonnet list, the Grand Canyon list, Chicago Libraries best books of 2016, and Kirkus’ Best Books of 2016.  Book two, The Magnificent Mya Tibbs – The Wall of Fame Game, launched in January of this year!  I am  already scheduling author visits for the next school year, while working on my next novel titled, Between Two Brothers.
To learn more about Crystal, visit http://www.crystalallenbooks.com.

 

Tameka Fryer Brown
tamekanewbookThis past year has been filled with new literary adventures! In addition to all of the wonderful happenings occuring with BBS in this, our 10th year, I signed on with Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency, to be represented by the fierce Marietta Zacker! Almost immediately, we sold a new picture book to Joy Peskin at FSG/Macmillan (BROWN BABY LULLABY, to published in early 2019 and illustrated by AG Ford), and I finally got to meet Gwendolyn Hooks and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich in person at ALA! And I’m expecting more good news to break over the coming months. Exclamation points are abounding in my world!
To learn more about Tameka, visit http://www.tamekafryerbrown.com.

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Paula Chase Hyman
Brown Bookshelf co-founder Paula has a two-book middle-grade deal with Greenwillow Books. Yay! The first is So Done which will debut summer 2018. She wrote this poignant post that gave an update on her writing life.

To learn more about Paula, visit http://www.paulachasehyman.com.

Varian Johnson
Brown Bookshelf co-founder Varian Johnson’s middle-grade series continue to soar. The first novel in the series, The Great Greene Heist, received two starred reviews and was named an cheatpicALA Notable Children’s Book Selection, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, and a Texas Library Association Lonestar List selection among other accolades. His latest caper, To Catch A Cheat, was released last year. Kirkus praised the novel in a starred review, calling it, “A satisfying stand-alone sequel; new readers and old friends will be hoping for further adventures.” Varian has also written for the Spirit Animals middle-grade fantasy series as well as novels and short stories for YA audiences.
To learn more about Varian, visit http://www.varianjohnson.com.