“Don’t give yourself an option to fail.”* Chrystal Giles
Born, raised and still living in North Carolina Chrystal Giles has come full circle with children’s literacy. Even as a child, she always had a love for books. Roaming up and down the aisles at the library, coming home with a tall stack of books, and reading them as quickly as she could, was a constant joy for her.
But like many of us, having a child of her own, and reading stories to him, re-ignited a desire to write her own adventures. That is exactly what she did!
Chrystal was a 2018 We Need Diverse Books mentee, and her poem “Dimples” appears in the poetry anthology Thanku: Poems of Gratitude (Millbrook). And now her debut, Take Back The Block is receiving wonderful reviews. We are so happy that Chrystal took the steps to advance her love of books into a career of her own.
On behalf of The Brown Bookshelf, I am thrilled to present to you our honoree of this twelfth day of February:
I wouldn’t consider my path to publication a traditional one. In fact, I never even considered writing professionally as a path for myself until just several years ago. That said, I have always been a lover of books and the art of storytelling, so maybe my real journey starts with my childhood.
As a young child, I was happiest in a corner by myself reading. One of my favorite things was returning from the local public library with a stack of books; I’d spend hours sinking into a new world. Books were my first friends. I even tried my hand at writing stories myself and then begged my siblings to act them out with me as my mom cheered from the couch.
That love of books did continue throughout my teenage years but I ultimately chose a career in accounting and finance and books took a backseat to my job, my family, and life in general.
That love of books did come rushing back when my husband and I started preparations for my son’s birth in 2015. We began collecting books for his library; we bought all the classics and some cute new stories. Then I started looking for very specific books—books that reflected my Black family—stories of us just living, playing, and being champions of our own worlds.
I was saddened that those books didn’t exist in the way I pictured them in my mind. After doing some research, I was even more saddened by the statistics on diversity in children’s literature and I set out on a path to write stories with Black children at the center.
The Back Story
After writing, editing, querying, and receiving rejections on several picture books, I decided to take a topic from a story I was working on and expand it into a middle-grade novel. That topic was gentrification and the displacement of people from marginalized communities. My hometown of Charlotte, NC (like many other American cities) is experiencing rapid gentrification and I wanted to provide an up close view of a community fighting to remain whole.
By late 2017, I had a decent draft of Take Back the Block. I had a really good feeling about the story but I wanted to approach querying agents in a more strategic way than when I’d queried before. I started by pitching to agents during DVPIT, a Twitter pitch event for diverse voices, created by Beth Phelan. I got several requests and I started querying, again.
At the same time, I also applied for PitchWars, a mentorship program, and was soon accepted into that program as well. During PW, the book underwent a re-write and lots of character development. After the PW agent showcase was over I signed with an agent! I was on submission a few weeks later, and at auction a couple weeks after that. The book was ultimately acquired by an editor who’d liked my pitch during DVPIT, over a year earlier.
The submission part of the process was fast-paced and exciting but I know for sure all the revisions and previous rejections prepared me for it.
My biggest inspiration in the children’s book world comes from the all the authors and movements who came before me to create space for underrepresented voices in children’s literature.
I so admire the work of #DisruptTexts and its founders, Tricia Ebarvia, Lorena German, Dr. Kim Parker, and Julia E. Torres, who started “a movement to rebuild the literary canon using an antibias, antiracist critical literary lens.”
I also love the work of We Need Diverse Books, a program with a vision of “a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.” I’m so proud to have been a 2018 mentee with the lovely, Gwendolyn Hooks as my mentor.
Take Back the Block is just making its entrance into the world but I am happy it has made several “most anticipated” lists. I’m also very honored that lots of teachers, librarians, bloggers, reviewers, and authors have shown it so much love!
Official early honors for Take Back the Block include:
Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Kids’ Indie Next Pick, Winter 2020-2021
Amazon Editors’ Pick: Best Books of the Month, January 2021
“This impressive debut is notable…a first purchase for any collection. Giles has crafted an outstanding depiction of the nuances of gentrification as well as the struggle and joys of working-class Black families and communities.” — School Library Journal, starred review
Here’s how you can reach out to Chrystal Giles:
Twitter @creativelychrys ;
*Quote taken from Meet The Author Interview with Blogger, Melissa Rourke.
The Brown Bookshelf thanks you, Chrystal Giles, for your important contributions to children’s literacy!