Day 28: Varian Johnson

Co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf with Paula Chase, Varian Johnson helped create something amazing. Tired of hearing that people couldn’t find books by Black children’s book creators, he and Paula formed a team that would shine a light on the incredible Black authors and illustrators creating great reads for babies to teens every day. What a difference they made.

In the press release announcing the formation of The Brown Bookshelf, Varian said, “We’re in it for the long haul.” Talk about vision. We’re celebrating our 17th anniversary this year.

An award-winning author of YA and middle-grade, Varian’s books have inspired and affirmed countless children around the globe. Among the accolades his books have received are a Coretta Scott King Author Honor and Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, Junior Library Guild selections, Best Books of the Year, starred reviews and more.

Check out his website and support his inspiring work:

About Playing the Cards You’re Dealt (from Varian’s website)

Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin has made it to double digits! Which means he’s finally old enough to play in the spades tournament every Joplin Man before him seems to have won. So while Ant’s friends are stressing about fifth grade homework and girls, Ant only has one thing on his mind: how he’ll measure up to his father’s expectations at the card table.

Then Ant’s best friend gets grounded, and he’s forced to find another spades partner. And Shirley, the new girl in his class, isn’t exactly who he has in mind. She talks a whole lot of trash — way more than his old partner. Plus, he’s not sure that his father wants him playing with a girl. But she’s smart and tough and pretty, and knows every card trick in the book. So Ant decides to join forces with Shirley — and keep his plans a secret.

Only it turns out secrets are another Joplin Man tradition. And his father is hiding one so big it may tear their family apart…

“A story about showing great courage and perseverance when life gets shuffled.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The ever-present game of spades is a clever thread that binds the story together … a compelling story of cards, courage, and compassion.” — Booklist, starred review

“Johnson addresses themes of toxic masculinity, family, and legacy in this vividly told novel … (and) deftly and realistically portrays family, friend, and classroom dynamics alongside lively descriptions of the beloved game (of spades).” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A first-rate contemporary realistic fiction title that centers a Black boy and his community, and offers expansive notions of masculinity.” — School Library Journal, starred review

About Varian

Varian Johnson is the author of several novels for children and young adults, including Playing the Cards You’re Dealt, which earned four starred reviews and was a Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Best Book;  The Parker Inheritance, which won both Coretta Scott King Author Honor and Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor awards; The Great Greene Heist, an ALA Notable Children’s book and Kirkus Reviews Best Book; and the graphic novel Twins, illustrated by Shannon Wright, an NPR Best Book.

Varian was born in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. He later received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is honored to now be a member of the faculty. Varian lives outside of Austin, TX with his family.

Follow him

Instagram @mrvarianjohnson


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