Day 22: Sharon Dennis Wyeth

February 22, 2011

I was in my 20s when I received a book that would change my life — Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. That was my first time seeing an African-American girl on the cover of a picture book.  Entranced, I read page after page until I reached the end. Then, I smiled, stroked the cover and read it again.

That book sent me through so many emotions — wonder, sadness, delight and finally contentment. The story was told with such economy and grace. It touched my heart and lingered long after I put it down. I decided right then that I had to write for children too.

So I am thrilled to honor Sharon Dennis Wyeth as one of our vanguard authors. She has written nearly 50 books and inspired not just me, but children and adults around the globe. Parents Magazine, Reading Rainbow and the Children’s Book Council, to name a few, have all honored her work. But her ultimate measure of success is character: ” . . . I believe that if a person is able to embody their work with something of themselves, they’re making a mark in this world.”

Her stories, filled with heart, integrity and lyricism, have left an indelible impression. Whether picture books, middle-grade or YA, they come from a special part of her and touch a special part of us.

Please join us in celebrating Sharon Dennis Wyeth on Day 22:

What did reading mean to you as a child? How did it inspire your dream of becoming a children’s book author?

Reading was a refuge during a period when there was violence in my home. When I was reading fairy tales I was able to experience the terror I had to keep under wraps. Fairy tales told me that a child could make it through horrible times and yet survive. Laura Ingalls Wilder sparked my interest in history and reminded me of the good times I had on my grandparents’ farm where cooking was done on a wood burning stove and farming was accomplished with a horse drawn plough. Reading was also the one sure way I had to please my youthful parents who, in spite of their stormy relationship, offered up all they had to their children. I have a memory of my father and mother teaching me how to write my name before I was even three. I knew how to read well before kindergarten because they taught me. I associate reading and storytelling (along with listening to records) with love.  

It would have been impossible for me to conceive that I would one day write books. The library was a palace to me. Since I owned very few books, those shelves were lined with treasures. In spite of my advanced vocabulary, I doubt I even knew the word author when I was young. Yet when I left D.C. to go to school at Harvard, I announced in a dorm room at Radcliffe that I was going to “write books for children.” I shocked myself and felt ashamed of lying–it was the first time I’d ever articulated such an ambition even to myself. I guess my intuition was speaking up for me because a few years down the road I had become just that, a person “who writes books for children.”

Please tell us about your road to publication. How did you get your break?

Oh, please. There was no road. I bush wacked. Having made a false start in the New York theater…well, not false….I made a genuine attempt to become an actor at a time when it was very hard for people of color to get roles. Now, you might think because I have so little melanin in my skin I would have had it easy. But I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. In other words, I wasn’t about to “pass” and that’s what it would have felt like accepting a white role without revealing my authentic identity as a black woman to the producer who hired me or the agent who might represent me. And taking on a role written for a woman of color, well, it was absurd to think the audience would buy that. The one part I played that was tailor made for me was that of the half white sister in Langston Hughes’ play Mulatto.

In the small theater I started with some friends in Chelsea (that’s a whole ‘nother saga!), I performed Strindberg and Chekhov and wrote and directed an adaptation of Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, the guy whose famous line is “I prefer not to.” That started me writing in earnest. I wrote a play called Room, a one woman show I also performed. (By the way, all of this is my road to publication.) Then I wrote Tapper a full length play.  By then my partners and I had closed our little theater because the landlord had tripled our rent.

I was ecstatic when Sam Barton of Amistad World Theater in New York (neither Sam or the theater are around anymore except in some folks’ memories) did a staged reading of Tapper  a play that was in so many ways my own story—a light skinned black woman obsessed with the disappearance of her father. At that time I was teaching speaking voice to support myself. I’d soon marry Sims Wyeth whom I’d met in acting school and had been one of my partners in the little theater.

Though I was still getting work as an actress here and there, more and more writing took me over. Every morning I hopped up, sometimes before dawn, to sit with my work at the dining room table. I could get four hours of writing in before going off to teach speaking voice or whatever.

When Sims and I got married and I became pregnant, I decided that I wanted to stop acting and I needed a way to make more money. A friend told me about a job writing mass market books based on soap opera story lines. I was over persistent and finally got a shot. I wound up writing nine of those, one each month. That work gave me experience in structuring a story. I also found out that if need be I could write real fast.

I kept my ears open and heard about a packager who was looking for people to create proposals for books series for younger readers. They paid a small fee for the proposal but promised the writer that if the idea sold, she’d get to write the books in the series. Parachute Press was the company and I’ll always remain grateful to them. I wrote a proposal fleshing out an idea they had for a group of girls in boarding school who had boy pen pals. I created the characters, setting and plots for six books in the course of a weekend. Two weeks later I got the news that Delacorte has bought the series. 

Another series (Annie K.’s Theater) quickly followed based on an idea of my own about kids who put on plays. At that point I had a deep desire to write a novel using some of the material from my childhood. Since I’m a person of color, this decision planted me squarely in the multicultural genre. My first single title novel of this kind, also published by Delacorte, was The World of Daughter McGuire. My first picture book Always My Dad  soon followed. After that I just kept going.

Each of my books has been a challenge not only because I’m a self taught writer, but because I use emotionally charged material taken from my own experiences. The Pen Pals series was something I could write quickly. Books dealing with the issues I knew from the inside–divorce, bullying, racial identity–took much longer because they were so painful to probe. I see now that through my writing I’ve been healing myself.

While we’re on it, I can’t omit the fact that so many people reached out to me in the beginning. If Mary Pope Osborne hadn’t handed on my picture book Always My Dad to her editor Anne Schwartz, I’m not sure it would have ever been published. Michelle Poploff, my editor at Delacorte, exercised extraordinary patience when I struggled to complete the novel that became Orphea Proud. Arthur Levine offered me a two book contract at the beginning of my career on the basis of proposals. Though he moved on before I completed those books, the promise of continued publication guaranteed me a career.

You write on your website that: All of my experiences have contributed to my work as a children’s author.” You’ve had many jobs from being an actress and television writer to family counselor and playwright. How does that rich background help inform your stories?

My love of drama feeds my story telling. I have a good ear for dialogue which I developed writing plays. Acting requires flexibility and emotional responsiveness. When I put characters on the page I write them as if they are actors engaged in improvisation. I allow them to speak through me. That kind of experience doesn’t always occur, but once I’m on the track my characters show me what they’re made of.

My challenge at times is letting go and allowing things to happen on the page, to resist self-editing in early drafts. The time I spent as a family counselor deepened my understanding of family relationships and lent a perspective to what my own family had been through when I was a child. It was a job that let me give freely. An author of children’s books is also a counselor in some way. My audience is so impressionable; I’m aware of the responsibility. In difficult moments when I’ve questioned why I became a writer (generally when my income is uneven), I try to convince myself that the some of the books I’ve written help people. That makes me feel like I’m giving something back, that I’ve done something worthwhile with my life.  A lot of teachers and family members and fellow writers have sustained me over the years. My former agent Robin Rue was extremely supportive.

Your picture books, Always My Dad (illustrated by Raul Colon, published by Knopf) and Something Beautiful (illustrated by Chris Soentpiet, published by Doubleday), were inspired by parts of your life. What did it mean to you to see those books in print?

I felt so grateful! Writing Always My Dad was a painful process because the relationship with my father was so complicated. But putting down the loving memories I had of him released me from ambivalence. The book with its stunning illustrations by Raul Colon is still a balm to me when I read it. It reminds me that my father did love me even though he wasn’t around much. Even at my age, that’s important somehow.  

Something Beautiful is a book about my old neighborhood Anacostia in Southeast Washington, D.C. It’s also about my mother’s love, a steady force in my life. She was always there for me and my brothers in every way. My mother also loved beauty, visual art, music, theater, fashion. When I read that book out loud, I imagine how delighted she would be if she were in the audience. In some way it is a testimony to her sensibility.

You recently read Something Beautiful to children in Cameroon. What was that experience like? Why do you think that book continues to resonate with so many people?

First of all you have to understand that I was in a highly emotional state when I was in Cameroon during the end of December and early January. I’d had my DNA analyzed in 2006 along with the DNA of several family members and received the news that I had ancestral ties to the Tikar tribe in Cameroon as well as the Hausa and Fulani. That was huge for me. Then when I was invited to tour the country recently it was a dream come true. All my life I’ve wanted to know the story of my ancestors from Africa.  It was the missing piece in my personal narrative. Truly, not knowing the location or any of the particulars of my African ancestry left me feeling incomplete as a person. So when I was in Cameroon it was as if a vital piece of the puzzle that had been missing for years was finally in place.

 When the group I was with visited the school in Kribi, Cameroon, I was so moved by the children all of whom are orphans. They performed for our group, reciting both in French and English, singing and dancing. Though I’ve read Something Beautiful before hundreds of audiences, reading for the first time in a place that my ancestor once called home touched me to the core. At one point I could scarcely hold back my tears. It felt as if I had come home. The book was my offering. I am sending one hundred copies to the school.

True, Something Beautiful has resonated for a lot of people. I’m so grateful it has remained in print. What can I say? The concept of beauty has captured human beings since the beginning of time. As a child it captured me when I learned to spell the word in kindergarten. For years and years it was an inner mantra. I spelled beautiful  to myself walking down the street. When I decided to write the book, it took so many drafts not only to get to the real story but to grapple with the quality inherent in an object or person that made a human being regard that person or thing as beautiful.  I’ m not a philosopher after all, so it took months and months of pondering.  It’s an intriguing question for many people. Maybe that’s why the book has engaged so many readers. It prompts them to ask themselves:  what is beautiful to me? Another reason for the success of the book is Chris Soentpiet’s extraordinary illustrations. He renders everyday objects as luminous. What we view as ordinary becomes sacred.  I’d have to add that beauty brings hope. I believe that firmly. Artists have the ability to create beauty,  to find beauty in unexpected places and to reveal it to others.  

How did your Corey’s Underground Railroad Diary (Scholastic) trilogy come to be? Why is it important to write history stories for children? What do you say to people who think children don’t connect with tales from the past?

I was contacted by an editor at Scholastic and invited to submit a proposal for My America using the theme of the Underground Railroad. I was ecstatic. The ideas for the characters, the title of the series, even the voice came to me immediately. Within an hour of speaking to the editor, I had the pages I would submit. My character Corey leapt off the page and into my arms. I knew right away that my story would take his family to Canada where they’d live free lives.

While I was writing scenes detailing the hardship and danger of their lives as enslaved people, I knew, as the author, that by the end of the book this family would experience freedom. Though the characters are fictitious, the act of taking them to freedom in the story gave me a sense of power and extraordinary joy.

I’ve visited many schools where the series is featured and the kids love these books. They enjoy learning about history through a narrative and are often prompted to begin their own research. So, I’m not sure who’s spreading it around that children don’t like historical stories. A good story is a good story. And children need to know where they came from. The past informs the present, right? So much of our behavior, our attitudes towards ourselves and others has to do with past behavior and attitudes. Bringing personal history and social history to light provides possible explanations for why things are the way they are, giving us a chance to make a change for the better if it’s needed.

Some people would like to forget the past. But the past teaches us lessons. As my understanding of the experience of enslavement deepened, my regard and admiration for my ancestors deepened as well. Surviving that kind of life required faith, resilience, and ability to endure. That’s a legacy I want to own and to tap into. If I cut off the past, I cut off the people who lived then. Those people need to be honored. Disparaging history is dangerous. Ignoring where you came from can get you lost. Like it or not, personal history roots us just as social history gives us the lay of the land. Children deserve as much clarity as we can give them about these things.

What inspired your young adult novel, Orphea Proud. Will you write more for that age level?

Orphea was very hard for me to write. The book was originally inspired by the setting, a place I call Proud Road in the novel. I modeled it on the small town in Virginia where I spent time with my father’s parents. There was such a sense of security and unconditional love there. When I was younger, at times I felt like an outcast, maybe because I was bullied. So, I wanted to write a book about a girl who felt cast out and alone and who discovered healing through art.

The character Orphea is a poet and I’ve always loved poetry. After writing that novel, I began to write my own poetry and I haven’t stopped doing that. The theatrical frame of the book comes from own experience in the small theater I described.  I’m not sure when I’ll write another young adult novel. It’s my way to let the work dictate its form and genre. I have to say I feel very identified with characters that are a bit younger. Sometimes I wonder if I’m still eleven years old.

You’ve written books in several middle-grade series including the Pen Pals series and Annie K.’s Theater. What are the demands of that work? How can someone interested in that genre get a foot in the door?

The demands of writing for middle-grade are the same demands I’ve experienced in all my projects. One of those is finding the right voice. By that I mean the voice that the reader will identify with, the voice that the reader you have in mind will be able to hear. I have voices in my head nearly twenty-four hours a day. When I wake up in the middle of the night I’m talking to myself in poetry or I’m making up the words to a song or I’m inventing a dialogue between two characters. I’m not talking out loud, don’t get me wrong. But the voice inside my head is very loud and insistent and has great clarity most of the time. It’s a story teller’s voice and the same one I use when I’m writing.

When a story teller writes, she’s talking to somebody, keeping their attention, making them think, making them laugh, comforting them, so many things….Think about that middle grade reader while you’re writing and I believe it’ll help you find the voice that he or she can hear as well as the story that he or she can identify with and want to follow.

Getting your foot in the door? Well, stick it in when you get a chance. If I had started out to become a children’s author, it wouldn’t have happened because I didn’t know the route. And there’s still no clear route as far as I can see. But if you have a fever to write and a vision of what you’d like to produce, you will find the way. Writers find one another and create groups and networks. And believe it, there are people out there, editors, who need fresh ideas, fresh voices. They are waiting to get excited. Just get yourself there. But first you’ve got to write and that is hard work. Writing children’s books isn’t simple.  

You’ve written nearly 50 books and won many honors from places like Parent’s Magazine, Reading Rainbow and the Children’s Book Council. What writing accomplishments make you most proud? How do you measure success?

I’m proud of all my work. I respect my books once they’re independent of me. I don’t sit around telling myself how I could have done it differently. As for the honors, it was so wonderful when Always My Dad made Reading Rainbow. I went on the set and that doesn’t always happen and I’m a real fan of Levar Burton’s. I’ve also been keenly aware of the honor bestowed upon me when I was asked to be a keynote speaker for a group like NTCE or IRA. I love teachers and librarians.

 How do I measure success? It’s clear to me that material wealth is not number one on my list. Not that I’ve given up on that score. But I believe that if a person is able to embody their work with something of themselves, they’re making a mark in this world. I believe that honesty with one self is huge and a lifelong endeavor of mine. I also value compassion. In feeling compassion for others we have to be compassionate with ourselves, to own our weaknesses and to accept our strengths with gratitude.

I guess I measure success in terms of character. Having the personal security that allows generosity is a trait that I admire. I also value gratitude and humility. I feel sorry for know-it-alls. There’s so much I don’t know which means there’s so much more to learn. I think giving to others and being true to yourself are marks of a person I would regard as successful. I also think there’s a lot to be said for finishing projects you start and having the courage to get them out there. I admire people who stand up for what they believe in, too.

What was the racial landscape of the children’s book industry like when you entered the field? What gains have you made you proud? What do you hope the future brings?

When I entered the industry there was a new excitement about books featuring protagonists of color. The timing was fortunate for me.  After Pen Pals I wanted to write something that sprang from my own experience and there was space for that. I am proud to be a small part of that changed landscape in children’s literature that has promoted harmony, provided comfort and allowed for a broadened perspective in young minds and in the minds of their teachers and parents. There are so many great books out there by writers and artists of color. I hope that it continues and that the  market one day perceives a good book as simply that and not written for someone particular. I write for all children. Laura Ingalls Wilder was writing for me, wasn’t she? As far as I’m concerned, she was.

What have been some of the most meaningful moments of your writing career? What have been the most challenging?

I think I’ve covered some meaningful moments. A real challenge was one of my first middle grade series novels. Not one of my own series but a series that had been established where I was contracted to write a single book.  I had to revise over and over and get it in quite quickly. Though I gave it my all,  I never could please the editor. But I learned a lot.

For people of color hoping to turn their writing dream into a career, what’s your advice? How do you become an author with staying power?

I would say the door is wide open for people of color, much wider open than before. That said, it’s a difficult world to break into. So often people phone me or write to me to say that have “a children’s book” they’ve written or have always wanted to write and they want to know how to get it published. Those facts are readily available. Write, revise, submit, expect rejections, keep on going.  

The person I respond to is the one who wants to make a life’s work out of writing for children, because that’s what I’ve done and that’s what I know. If my ambition had been to simply get a publisher for one story that I thought might be good for children, I wouldn’t have had anything published. I have written children’s books because I am compelled to do so. It takes that kind of motivation and motivation is the source of my “staying power.” Before I showed Always My Dad to an editor, I had revised it on my own without showing anyone at least twenty times. In my desk drawer are ten manuscripts that never reached anyone’s desk because it wasn’t their time.

There’s no great big pay check guaranteed in this business. For some of us it truly is a calling. I also write poetry now and memoir, hoping for publication but with the knowledge that there is no guarantee. But I’ve got to write it and I’ve got to get it out there and all that takes time. So I make additional income in other ways by teaching and coaching, hoping for bigger book sales.

What keeps me going is temperament. I am persistent, stubborn and rely upon common sense and native intelligence. I maintain an interest in what makes people tick. I connect with people wherever and whenever I’m able. This isn’t always easy for me because as a writer I require solitude and I am not thick skinned socially.  But I watched my mother work to raise four children while putting herself through school at night. I come from people who often faltered but knew how to pick themselves up and keep moving.

Bottom line is that unless you’re a celebrity and have built in marketability, in order to get work published you’ve got to produce the work and believe in it enough to get it into the right hands.  I’m a creative artist and that’s what creative artists do. I don’t write because it’s a glamorous sounding profession. I write out of necessity and a sense of obligation to my family, my community, to myself and, yes, to the past.  

Do you have other books in the works? What can we look forward to next?

My next picture book is The Granddaughter Necklace published by Arthur A. Levine Books.  I’m  hoping for a 2012 pub date or early 2013. I’m extremely excited about the book. The illustrator is Bagram Ibatoulline . I’m also completing a memoir at the moment. I have a collection of poems as well. I have an idea for a middle grade novel. While I’m working on one project, I’m often sketching out others.

What’s your greatest joy?

My greatest joy is family. That has to be the answer. I also love my standard poodle Little Bear.  He’s part of my family too.

 The Buzz on  Corey’s Underground Railroad Diary series:

“Secretly taught by his father to read and write, a nine-year-old slave keeps a diary but knows that he must hide it from his owner. Corey’s spelling and grammar improve over time as he learns from others and from observation. In addition to recording life on a Kentucky farm in 1857, the journal traces the boy’s flight to freedom by way of the Underground Railroad. The writing is sparse but compelling, pulling readers along every dangerous step of the way. Wyeth infuses the narrative with historic references to people like Frederick Douglass but also acknowledges the nameless men and women who believed in freedom enough to risk their lives to help others. The historical note and photographs strengthen the link between fact and fiction.”

— School Library Journal (Review of Book 1: Freedom’s Wings)

“In 1858, nine-year-old Corey Birdsong and his family flee Kentucky and their lives as slaves. With the aid of the Underground Railroad, the Birdsongs arrive in Amherstburg, Canada. There, an entire community of people of color welcomes them and helps the family build new lives in freedom. Children need not be familiar with book one of Corey’s diary, Freedom’s Wings (2001), to take up this continuation. Through Corey’s entries and the informative notes, children find out about African Canadians, like those in Corey’s new home, who owned land and businesses, had their own churches and schools, and eagerly helped newcomers like the Birdsongs get on their feet. In the course of his diary, Corey escapes a slave catcher and helps a friend steal away from Kentucky to freedom–episodes that add excitement as well as historic relevancy. A solid addition to the My America series.”

— Booklist (Review of Book 2: Flying Free)  

For more about Sharon Dennis Wyeth, please visit: www.sharondenniswyeth.com.



Shining the Spotlight: The Brown Bookshelf Salutes Great Books for Kids

November 11, 2017

If you’re attending AASL, please join us for our Shining the Spotlight program today in Room North 124A from 10:40 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. The BBS team will be represented by Gwendolyn Hooks, Kelly Starling Lyons, Tameka Fryer Brown and Crystal Allen.

Following the session, Crystal will sign at booth 223 from 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Tameka will read in Authorpalooza at 12:15 p.m.

Tameka and Kelly will sign in Authorpalooza at 12:30 p.m.-1 p.m.

Here’s the list of books we featured in our book talk:

A Night Out With Mama by Quvenzhane Wallis, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe

One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson

American Ace by Marilyn Nelson

Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Crown by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon James

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet

My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Tiny Stitches by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Colin Bootman

Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown and The Wall of Fame Game by Crystal Allen, illustrated by Eda Kaban

In Your Hands by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

The Ring Bearer written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Thank you for your support.


28 Days Later – 2011

November 2, 2016

Rally Cry For Reading
The Brown Bookshelf Announces 2011 Spotlight Authors & Illustrators

Today, The Brown Bookshelf announced the twenty-four authors and four illustrators to be spotlighted in the group’s fourth annual 28 Days Later initiative, a month-long celebration of veteran and emerging children’s authors of color. “Four years in and spotlighting authors of color is as important as ever,” said Brown Bookshelf member, Paula Chase Hyman. “It was especially heartening to see so many young adult authors submitted this year. This is the first time that we had more YA authors submitted than Picture Books. As much as we want to see balance, no doubt it’s progress that a category that averaged a handful of submissions was the top submission getter.”

Spotlight suggestions from faithful Brown Bookshelf visitors began rolling in soon after the submissions window opened in September.  Readers, librarians, teachers and writers of children’s literature stepped up to suggest names of African American authors they felt were not getting enough exposure. “There’s always a question of how ‘under the radar’ an author or illustrator is, but those submitting are passionate about their suggestions,” said member, Kelly Starling-Lyons. “Whether it’s a brand-new author or someone who has been toiling in the trenches, it feels good to see so many worthy nominees.”

The authors and the day they will be featured are as follows:
Vanguard authors in bold.
Illustrators in italics.

Feb. 1 – Ebony Joy Wilkins (YA)
Feb. 2 – Randy DuBurke– (Illustrator)
Feb. 3 – Toyomi Igus – (PB)
Feb. 4 – Hope Anita Smith – (MG)
Feb. 5 – Renee Watson — (PB)
Feb. 6 – Wade and Cheryl Hudson – (PB)
Feb. 7 – Christopher Grant – (YA)
Feb. 8 – Crystal Allen – (MG)
Feb. 9 – Artist Arthur – (YA)
Feb. 10 – Vanessa Brantly Newton – (Illustrator)
Feb. 11 – Marie Bradby – (PB)
Feb. 12 – Torrey Maldonado – (MG)
Feb. 13 – Reshonda Tate Billingsley – (YA )
Feb. 14 – Ernest Hill – (YA)
Feb. 15 – Lynn Joseph – (MG)
Feb. 16 – Kevin Lewis – (PB)
Feb. 17 – E.B. Lewis – (Illustrator)
Feb. 18 – Joyce Carol Thomas – (PB)
Feb. 19 – Rachel Renee Russell – (MG)
Feb. 20 – Frank Morrison – (Illustrator)
Feb. 21 – Adwoa Badoe – (YA)
Feb. 22- Sharon Dennis Wyeth – (MG)
Feb. 23 – Dia Reeves – (YA)
Feb. 24 – Gwendolyn Hooks – (PB)
Feb. 25 – Harriet Robinet – (MG)
Feb. 26 – Jewell Parker Rhodes – (MG)
Feb. 27 – Dimitrea Tokunbo- (PB)
Feb. 28 – Lori Aurelia Williams – (YA)


The African American Children’s Book Fair

February 5, 2015

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Each year, the African American Children’s Book Fair shows the beauty of books for kids made by black authors and illustrators. Saturday marks the 23rd annual event. Held at the Community College of Philadelphia, thousands will stream through the gymnasium from 1-3 p.m. for a chance to buy books and meet acclaimed children’s book creators. It’s a free event, full of meaning, that people look forward to all year.

Here founder Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati talks about the upcoming fair, diversity in children’s books, her mission and dream for the future:

There’s been a lot of media attention lately about diversity in children’s books. That’s something you’ve been working on for decades. What are your thoughts about the current children’s book industry landscape? What do you think it will take to turn things around?

Decade after decade, we’ve had this discussion about diversity in children’s books. Walter Dean Myers, Wade Hudson and Cheryl Hudson (owners of Just Us Books for 25 years) kicked it off and made some in-roads. But social media has been a game changer. We Need Diverse Books uses that tool to jump-start a new focus on the topic.

The industry and the media are talking, but we need to make sure that after the dance, the movement continues. The conversation must include all consumers and their responsibility to buying multicultural children’s books.

I’m holding the fort down for African American Children’s Books. The current supply in the marketplace is just outstanding. From fiction to non-fiction, these books hit home runs. Is there enough? From my point of view, for every Eric Velasquez, Tonya Bolden, Carole Boston Weatherford, Floyd Cooper, and E.B. Lewis there are hundreds waiting in the wings who can’t get published by a major publisher or go the difficult self-published route. We need more.

The publishing industry needs to try new marketing strategies. My company, The Literary Media and Publishing Consultants, has been involved in publishing for over two decades. The company was created in response to the Literary Renaissance that took this country by storm 25 years ago. We went to the consumer’s backyard and utilized our resources in the urban marketplace to get the attention of the book buyers. It worked, but the downturn in the economy slowed it down, and the industry went into a different direction.

However, the African American community — churches, social groups and civic organizations –always thrive. The children’s book industry needs to reach out to these groups. These relationships have helped to make The African American Children’s Book Fair a success. Twenty-three years with an average attendance of over 3,500 people who come to BUY books should be acknowledged. We sell more books in three hours than any other African American retailer in the country.

Even with this success, I feel an urgency to get the train moving faster. That’s why I’m stepping up my game with “Preserve a legacy, Buy a Book.” campaign. 

How has your mission for the African American Children’s Book Project and book fair grown and changed over the years?

The need is greater than ever before. When I first started this journey 23 years ago, I just wanted a book fair that featured African American children literature. My first event was a Black History Month event in a major department store. The public relations representative of the store wanted a low-cost event that would drive traffic to the store during a slow season. Tonya Bolden, E.B. Lewis and Jacqueline Woodson were a part of those early events….These three are still producing great books, but, sadly, so many others are no longer a part of the children’s book industry. I am grateful that Tonya and E.B. continue to use my book fair to showcase their books. The attendees come looking for them and their books year after year. Children who attended in those earlier years are now bringing their children.

I’m also feeling urgency because there are so many media platforms that expose our children to negative images of themselves. We have to make sure that they are surrounded by literature that reflects positive images of themselves, books that empower, enlighten and enrich their lives –. books that make a child boast about his or her history.

When kids read a children’s book about Leontyne Price, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, they’re not only learning about a person who came from their own community who overcame obstacles, but this type of book also introduces them to elements that might be out of their comfort zone. Leontyne Price is an opera singer. Take that book and put on an opera CD – show how the seeds of greatness are sown.

Another issue on my mind is that we teach our children how to read, but we don’t teach them how to love reading. If I wanted you to read for pleasure, my first question would be what type of books do you like to read? What are your interests? So if you told me you like romance books, I’d pile your plate with romance books. Rarely do we ask a child, especially reluctant readers, what are their interests. If the child likes cars, give them books about cars, not birds. Put books back into the home.

When I was a kid, we had duck-and-cover drills because the Russians where coming from Moscow. After a number of these drills hiding underneath my desk, I asked my teacher, “Who are the Russians, why are they coming for ME?” I lived in a rural community outside of Philadelphia – Elmwood. My teacher didn’t understand who they were and why these Russians could find their way to our neighborhood. She told me to go to the library to read about the Russians.

We didn’t have a library in my school, but a weekly book mobile would come around. My dad would take my sisters and me to the book mobile. I requested two books on Moscow. The kids laughed at me and said it was stupid to read about something I was never going to see. My dad said, “Never mind, keep reading.”

Five years ago, I did go to Moscow. I was standing in Red Square identifying all of the monuments surrounding me. The tour guide asks me how I knew so much about his country. I told him I read about it in a book. Throughout the afternoon, I was introduced as the American who knew something about their country. It seemed to break the ice. Books do open up a world of opportunities.

What’s new this year? What can people expect? How can they get the most out of the fair?

The book fair is a platform for our literacy initiative “Preserve A Legacy, Buy A Book.”

Let’s get books back into our homes. You can’t tell a child to read at home if there aren’t books in the home. I remembered as a child – in the home of George and Helen Lloyd and their brood of eight children, we had a reading corner. We didn’t have African American books, but my favorite was the Time Life travel pictorial books. I spent hours looking at the pictures and reading the text, imagining the day I would travel. And travel I’ve done. I’ve taken my literary message to Europe, the Caribbean and Africa. Those books in my home opened a world outside of my world.

Engaging cooperate America has also helped the book fair to grow. This year, the NBC10 Telemundo62 Reading Circle will kick off the afternoon by giving away brand new books of the authors/illustrators to youth attendees (while supplies last). PECO is sponsoring a workshop with syndicated cartoonist Jerry Craft. Karen Thompson’s crocheting workshops are another hit at the event. All of the workshops will offer hands-on opportunities to learn these skills. Participants will also receive a book written by these authors. An African American scientist will share his book and present an insider’s look at how science works in our day-to-day lives.

More sponsors = more books. The Educators/Parents Book-giveaway is sponsored by Wells Fargo, Comcast, Health Partners Foundation, Health Partners Plan, McDonald’s, Always Best Care Senior Services and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. These sponsors purchase books of our guest authors/illustrators to give to teachers/librarians to use in their schools. Community College of Philadelphia and The Literary Media and Publishing Consultants are also community partners

One of the key elements that keep it fresh is having the authors/illustrators. Truly this is the best and the brightest of the crop. Every year these talents bring their A-game. This year, there’s a book illustrated by Eric Velasquez called New Shoes. It’s about two girls during the era of Jim Crow who couldn’t buy shoes because of the color of their skins, but they didn’t let this stop them from creating their own shoe store.

With all the buzz about “Selma,” the movie, these types of books are a great way of explaining to a child through the eyes of another child how people coped with Jim Crow – a horrible period in American History. It’s a conversation kids are having with parents now. How did you get through this? How did you feel? Books help with these tough questions.

What’s your dream for the future?

I lived in Italy for well over a decade and often was amazed about how their perception – definitive perception – of black people was based solely on what they saw on the small and big screen. The printed word can sometimes change that. I do believe that books have the power to change minds, and we need to use this power to help shape positive images of Black people. We need to have more of our books translated into foreign languages.

I’m having conversation with a representative from the Bologna (Italy) Children’s Book Fair to put the conversation of “Why diverse books?” on their agenda this spring. Diversity in books is a global discussion.

Taking the book fair on the road is an important step in getting books into the homes of our children. I hear this over and over: I’d buy it if they sold it. Getting corporate America on the literary train is vital to achieving this goal. They are masters at promoting their brand. – successfully. Having them involved can help to raise the bar to getting books into the homes of our children.

Another goal is to work with bookstores around the country on servicing the needs of multicultural consumers. Somebody has to take the first step in getting books on the shelves and into the homes of consumers. Sadly, there is a generation of readers who have never been inside a bookstore.

Finally, Our White House has celebrated music, dance, and art. It is time to put African American Children’s Books on that stage. Let’s celebrate reading. After all, a book opens up a world of opportunities.

Here are the authors and illustrators who will be featured Saturday:

Patrik Henry Bass

Tonya Bolden

Floyd Cooper

Jerry Craft

Monique Curry

Nancy Devard

Shanequa Davis

Zetta Elliott

Christopher John Farley

AG Ford

Joel Christian Gill

E.B. Lewis

Sheila P. Moses

David Miller

Jerdine Nolen

Gloria Pinkney

Jerry Pinkney

Nicole Tadgell

Pamela Tuck

Eric Velasquez

Valerie Wilson Wesley

Carole Boston Weatherford

Sharon Dennis Wyeth

JaNay Brown-Wood

Find out more at The African American Children’s Book Project.

 


Justice on The Lesson Plan

September 22, 2014

By Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

 

we_march_JPG_210x1000_q85In addition to the excitement and apprehension about tests, read alouds, and recess, there was tension as the school year got underway in many cities and educators wondered if and how to address the police killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the civil unrest that followed. Do we have one conversation and then “move on”? Schedule a town meeting and then get on with the business of learning? As a parent and children’s author who regularly visits with children in a variety of school communities, I firmly believe that schools should take on the responsibility of engaging students around this story, and do so on an ongoing basis; it’s necessary, it’s relevant, it’s learning.

 
aroundway
Some might disagree, with understandable concerns about escalating conflict, and fanning flames of prejudice and fear. It was reported that middle and high school educators in Missouri’s Edwardsville school district were initially advised to “change the subject and refocus the students” if Ferguson was brought up. The Superintendent later clarified his position via a letter to parents, as reported by the Edwardsville Intelligencer, writing “It was not our intent to ignore the educational relevance of these events. However, we felt it was important to take the time to calm a potential situation at the high school and to prepare administrators and teachers to approach this critical issue in an objective, fact-based manner.”
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Please, let’s take the time to engage our children in ongoing conversations about race, justice, and power. The reality of the 24-hour news cycle and the ubiquity of social media most likely mean that children and teens know something of these stories. And what we know, we can unpack and discuss. Even if they are not aware of the specific events in Ferguson, what are we educating children for, if not to engage productively with the world they live in? And when that world goes horribly wrong, how do we help them move toward making things right?
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Teachers can play a positive role by helping students gain a better understanding of troubling events, creating a safe environment where students can think critically about difficult issues, engage in respectful conversation, and think about what they can do to address the problems they see in the world,” write Laura McClure and Tom Roderick of the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, via email. The Ferguson story offers “…an opportunity for them to learn history, better understand current political realities, consider multiple points of view, think about possible ways to address problems and injustices, and perhaps become more aware of their own biases. It’s a chance for students to develop the ability to express their views and listen respectfully and open-heartedly while others share theirs. It’s part of educating young people for participating in a democratic society.”
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In a blog post, Dr Shaun Harper wrote “Most school-age children in Ferguson are Black. They and Black youth across the U.S. need supportive spaces in which to process what happened. Likewise, youth from other racial groups (including Whites) deserve opportunities to talk about Ferguson, particularly what the implications of this tragedy are for their lives and our nation. Young people need to know the truth: Ferguson wasn’t an isolated incident, but instead is connected to a longstanding, more systemic set of structural problems and judicial errors.”

Of course we want teachers doing their best to ensure that all students are educated in a welcoming and safe environment. I’d suggest that that includes demonstrating to students that they, and their ideas and opinions matter. “To keep conversations productive, we encourage teachers to work with students to develop some ‘community agreements,’ starting at the very beginning of the year,” add Roderick and McClure. “This can set the stage for a more caring classroom where it is safe to discuss difficult issues, and safe to disagree.” These agreements include a ‘one mic’ policy (speak one at a time), agreeing to disagree, speaking from one’s own experience, and avoiding sweeping generalizations.

“You may not live in Ferguson, but we all must live with what has happened in Ferguson. Let’s find ways to talk about this,” wrote Dr. Marcia Chatelain in an August 20 Twitter post. Dr. Chatelain, a writer, historian and assistant professor of history at Georgetown University created the #FergusonSyllabus hashtag and initiative, and saw immediately that these conversations can happen in all kinds of communities. “It’s never too early or too late to help a student grapple with the issues that also trouble us…At all ages, students will have questions about why people are so tense and why they are so upset,” she points out in an email. “The best way to respond is to be honest that some people are upset, hurt and frustrated and engage them on how they can prevent making others feel this way through being honest and fair to others.  You don’t have to get mired in the murky details of the killing of Michael Brown if you don’t believe you can handle it.  Rather, you can talk about the range of emotions, the societal challenges, and the questions this moment elicits.” #FergusonSyllabus has become a compendium of resources across disciplines for early childhood to college classrooms, with contributions from educators, artists, activists, librarians, parents, writers and more.

And then there are books. Literature one of the richest, most productive ways of all to frame these conversations. By helping our children understand that Black Youth Matter and we need diverse books, we teach and learn in critical and transformative ways. Books like
Rita Williams-Garcia’s ONE CRAZY SUMMER and P.S. BE ELEVEN,
Kekla Magoon’s THE ROCK AND THE RIVER and HOW IT WENT DOWN,
Tanita S. Davis’ MARE’S WAR,
Sharon Dennis Wyeth’s SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL,
Jaqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING,
Zetta Elliott’s BIRD, and A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT
MARCH: Book One by John Robert Lewis and Andrew Aydin with artist Nate Powell,
Julius Lester’s LET’S TALK ABOUT RACE,
Shane Evans’ WE MARCH,

and our own Crystal Allen’s THE LAURA LINE and Don Tate’s IT JES’ HAPPENED share the stories of struggle, triumph, creativity, beauty, and more that make up our past, present, and future. Even when not explicitly focused on “big” events, stories can be a vehicle for examination of our culture, values, and systems.Eight Grade Superzero Widget
In my own 8th GRADE SUPERZERO, essentially a contemporary ‘school story’ that involves a middle school election, puking, and Dora the Explorer, characters are challenged by the questions of who and what they stand for, and what they will do about it. Resources like Notable Books for A Global Society, RIF, Sarah Park’s Social Justice in Children’s/YA Reading List, Mitali Perkins, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Just Us Books, The Pirate Tree, American Indians in Children’s Literature, and of course The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days Later campaigns offer a wealth of ideas and titles to add to classrooms and libraries. Studies suggest that reading fiction can cultivate empathy, helping us to understand and respect each other. By connecting our students with a variety of rich, vibrant stories of and about justice, we can educate to empower and inspire.
bright eyes cover

Clearly, these conversations won’t be easy and will likely be, at the very least, uncomfortable. But we don’t educate simply for comfort. Discomfort can mean that there is authentic teaching and learning going on. As students examine not only the events but also the narratives that are presented to them, they can learn to think and act responsibly in many areas of their lives. “One lesson is to beware of misinformation coming through social media about upsetting world events, especially as those events are unfolding,” write Roderick and McClure. “Students need to learn how to evaluate the information they are getting and avoid jumping to conclusions.”
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If we claim to be preparing our children for that real world “out there,” let’s recognize that ‘out there’ is our homes, our classrooms, our lives. And these conversations need to continue, need to grow and evolve along with our students during the school year — this is not a “one and done” situation. Let’s give students room to reflect on and navigate many stories in it. Just as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” wove a fascinating narrative of the links between slavery, Jim Crow, and public policies of the past and present, we can use our classrooms to examine how and why Michael Brown is part of the same larger, complex story of race, power, and privilege in America. We can work with our students to look at what we’ve done, and work toward doing better. It’s a matter of life and death.

Additional Resources

“How To Talk To Students About Ferguson” by Dr. Marcia Chatelain

“What Happened in Ferguson and Why” from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility

“Challenging Stereotypes: Michael Brown and If They Gunned Me Down”, from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility

#dontshoot, from
Teaching Tolerance

 

Ferguson: Response and Resources compiled by Philip Nelmy teacher cover 2


Day 29: Meet the BBS — Kelly Starling Lyons

February 29, 2012

The Journey

I still remember the book that called me to write for children — Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. Looking at that sweet cover of a smiling girl with the same kind of pigtails I used to wear moved me. I was an adult and that was my first time seeing a picture book featuring an African-American child.

Right then, I knew that I wanted to create stories that shared every-day moments and history that put African-American children in the center instead of the margins. I’m so grateful for editors at Just Us Books believing in me. They guided me and published my first two books, NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal and One Million Men and Me.

I wasn’t looking for a story when I came across the cohabitation register that inspired my latest picture book, Ellen’s Broom (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), illustrated by Daniel Minter. I was researching family history in a North Carolina library. But maybe the story was looking for me.

I don’t believe it was chance that after telling a mentor at the Writers Workshop at Chautauqua about the record I found and the jumping the broom tradition, he encouraged me to find the story within. I think some stories are waiting to be told. I feel so blessed that this story chose me.  

Like Just Us Books, agents at Dwyer & O’Grady and then editors at G.P. Putnam’s Sons believed in me too. Putnam published Ellen’s Broom and bought two more of my stories. In December, Tea Cakes for Tosh, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, will debut. Shortly after, my picture book with BBS member Don Tate will hit shelves. So grateful for everyone who has helped me along this journey.

Being part of The Brown Bookshelf is one way I give back. I love shining a light on the wonderful authors and illustrators of color creating stories for kids. They inspire me to keep writing and pushing.

The Buzz on Ellen’s Broom

A Junior Library Guild selection

“Lyons’s homespun and heartfelt dialogue combine with Minter’s exquisite use of line, color, and composition to produce a story that radiates deep faith and strong family bonds.”

— School Library Journal

 “A spirited story filled with the warmth of a close family celebrating a marriage before God and the law.”

Kirkus

“A heartwarming story . . . Daniel Minter’s vividly colored block prints are brilliant.”

— USA Today

“Set during Reconstruction, this story bursts with one family’s joy as Mama and Papa, both former slaves, legalize their marriage . . . Minter’s vibrant, hand-painted block prints, filled with period detail, nicely enhance this testament to remembering the trials of the past and celebrating hardwon freedom.”

— Booklist

“Ellen’s Broom is entertaining and delightful. Enriched with amazing illustrations . . . this book celebrates the meaningful history of weddings for the African American community. This articulate, bright and cheerful story is a must for all families to read.”

— Black Bride and Groom magazine


Why We Write Kid Lit

October 20, 2011

As promised, in honor of National Day On Writing, the BBS family shares why we write for the kiddies and teens.

WHY I WRITE
by Tameka Fryer Brown
Author of Around Our Way (PB)

I write to express my thoughts, my feelings, my beliefs—
Poignant or not,
Sleeve-worn or not,
Endorsed by the general masses
Or not.

I write because I have something to say
And a right to say it.

I write because my muse has infused my literary tongue
With brilliance unparalleled;
And because she’s abandoned me so
I’m trying desperately to coax her back.

I write because I can.

I write to avoid mopping, dusting, vacuuming,
Tubs, toilets, tile,
Dirty windows, dirty laundry, and dirty dishes…
Because a writer has a good excuse to avoid these things,
But a stay-at-home mom
With kids in school all day
Does not.

I write toward self-actualization.

I write to keep my wits sharp.

I write to show insecure Girl-Me that I can,
To show other self-doubters that they can, too.

I write because words are beautiful things
That I cherish…
And I pray, someday,
Some child will cherish mine.
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It’s Bigger Than Me
By Paula Chase-Hyman,
Author of The Del Rio Bay Series (YA)

I write, because I’ve always expressed myself best that way. There’s nothing like taking emotion and putting it into words that make sense to someone besides yourself. Writing is how I make myself understood.

I write for teens because I relate well to them. I think a higher being ordained some of us to be children’s authors because of that. I just “get” teens.

I get that they’re neither as fragile as some adults make them out to be or as tough as they want to come off. I get that being caught between two bickering friends IS as big a deal as mom and dad having a bad day at the office. I get that the world is confusing because so many messages are coming from so many sources, yet they also happen to have an opinion within all those voices.

I write for them, because:
* A lot of times it’s not about the message, but how it’s told. No offense to authors who say they want to teach a lesson, but when I was a teen I didn’t read to learn lessons, even when I walked away from the story with one.

* Some spiritual muse tapped me on the head when I was younger and said – everybody wants to feel like somebody gets them, tell stories and make it so.

* My writing is about more than me. It’s something bigger than me, but a piece of me I don’t mind sharing with the world.

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Gwendolyn Hooks
Author of The Pet Club Stories (Easy Readers)
Why I Write . . .
Because I’m a reader, I write. Reading about relationships between family members, best friends, a child and a pet, or the tug of enemies pulls me to my laptop. I want to create stories about how people connect with each other. I want them to say, “I know what she’s feeling, because I felt that way when . . .”

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Kelly Starling-Lyons
Author of One Million Men and Me (PB)

I still remember the book that inspired me to write for children, Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. It was the first time I saw an African-American girl featured on the cover of a picture book. As I read the story, I was touched in a special way.

Growing up, I rarely saw kids who looked like me as the main characters of children’s books. I loved books and treasured every story I read. But after reading Something Beautiful, I knew I had missed something important. Right then, I decided to add my voice.

My mission as a children’s book author is to transform moments, memories and history into stories of discovery. I write stories that are often rooted in African-American history and culture, but also show the ways we are more alike than different. At their core, my stories are about relationships between family members, siblings and friends.

I know how it feels to long for stories that reflect your life and history and come up empty. I write to help make sure kids today have a different reality.
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Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Author of, Eighth-Grade Superzero (MG)

I write to move from, as bell hooks says, from “silence into speech”. I write to make meaning and listen between the lines. Stories give us room to ask the questions that have more than one answer, or no answers at all. I write because I have faith, and because I have doubts. I write because life is itchy and often excruciating but writing keeps me listening for the joy beyond happiness and the justice beyond what’s fair. I write to really listen to your story, and mine.The poet Wendell Berry wrote “In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter, war spreading, families dying, the world in danger, I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.” In writing, I try to sow clover, to be one of the helpers, to collaborate with readers on our collective story because I believe that we each and we all have a story that’s beautiful and precious and full of possibilities.
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Don Tate
Author of It Jes Happened (PB) and Illustrator of over 40 books for children.

I write because I like to talk. I like to connect with others. I like being the life of the party. People who know me will read this and giggle to themselves, Don Tate, talk? Life of the party? Really?

Yes, really, I do.

Problem is, I’ve always been an introvert to the Nth degree. Shy, big-time. Given an opportunity to talk, I would clam up and not say a word. Talking made me apprehensive. But writing allowed me to verbalize myself freely.

When I wrote, I could be brave. I could make you laugh. I could make you mad. For better or worse, I’ve made a few of you cry. Writing is powerful.

I started writing about 6 or 7 years ago, a late bloomer. Writing opened me up, it got me out of my shell. I became more confident. Eventually, I could deliver a speech, or make a presentation in front of hundreds of people and feel comfortable in my skin.

So to this day, I talk. I connect. And I’m the life of the party . . . when I write.


Rally Cry For Reading

January 19, 2011

 

Rally Cry For Reading
The Brown Bookshelf Announces 2011 Spotlight Authors & Illustrators

Today, The Brown Bookshelf announced the twenty-four authors and four illustrators to be spotlighted in the group’s fourth annual 28 Days Later initiative, a month-long celebration of veteran and emerging children’s authors of color. “Four years in and spotlighting authors of color is as important as ever,” said Brown Bookshelf member, Paula Chase Hyman. “It was especially heartening to see so many young adult authors submitted this year. This is the first time that we had more YA authors submitted than Picture Books. As much as we want to see balance, no doubt it’s progress that a category that averaged a handful of submissions was the top submission getter.”

Spotlight suggestions from faithful Brown Bookshelf visitors began rolling in soon after the submissions window opened in September.  Readers, librarians, teachers and writers of children’s literature stepped up to suggest names of African American authors they felt were not getting enough exposure. “There’s always a question of how ‘under the radar’ an author or illustrator is, but those submitting are passionate about their suggestions,” said member, Kelly Starling-Lyons. “Whether it’s a brand-new author or someone who has been toiling in the trenches, it feels good to see so many worthy nominees.”

The authors and the day they will be featured are as follows:
Vanguard authors in bold.
Illustrators in italics.

Feb. 1 – Ebony Joy Wilkins (YA)
Feb. 2 – Randy DuBurke– (Illustrator)
Feb. 3 – Toyomi Igus – (PB)
Feb. 4 – Hope Anita Smith – (MG)
Feb. 5 – Renee Watson – (PB)
Feb. 6 – Wade and Cheryl Hudson – (PB)
Feb. 7 – Christopher Grant – (YA)
Feb. 8 – Crystal Allen – (MG)
Feb. 9 – Artist Arthur – (YA)
Feb. 10 – Vanessa Brantly Newton – (Illustrator)
Feb. 11 – Marie Bradby – (PB)
Feb. 12 – Torrey Maldonado – (MG)
Feb. 13 – Reshonda Tate Billingsley – (YA )
Feb. 14 – Ernest Hill – (YA)
Feb. 15 – Lynn Joseph – (MG)
Feb. 16 – Kevin Lewis – (PB)
Feb. 17 – E.B. Lewis – (Illustrator)
Feb. 18 – Joyce Carol Thomas – (PB)
Feb. 19 – Rachel Renee Russell – (MG)
Feb. 20 – Frank Morrison – (Illustrator)
Feb. 21 – Adwoa Badoe – (YA)
Feb. 22- Sharon Dennis Wyeth – (MG)
Feb. 23 – Dia Reeves – (YA)
Feb. 24 – Gwendolyn Hooks – (PB)
Feb. 25 – Harriet Robinet – (MG)
Feb. 26 – Jewell Parker Rhodes – (MG)
Feb. 27 – Dimitrea Tokunbo- (PB)
Feb. 28 – Lori Aurelia Williams – (YA)


Press

September 14, 2007

November 2016

“The Brown Bookshelf’s Open Declaration Garners 691 Signatures.” School Library Journal. November 18, 2016. Web.

Flood, Alison. “Hundreds of US Children’s Authors Sign Pledge to Tackle Racism and Xenophobia.” The Guardian. November 16, 2016. Web.

Lynch, Grace Hwang. “After Election, Librarians, Book Creators Vow To Support Children.”School Library Journal. November 11, 2016. Web.

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November 14, 2016

A Declaration in Support of Children* (Reposted)

Children’s literature may be the most influential literary genre of all. Picture books, chapter books, middle-grade and young-adult novels all serve the most noble of purposes: to satisfy the need for information, to entertain curious imaginations, to encourage critical thinking skills, to move and inspire. Within their pages, seeds of wisdom and possibility are sown.

Therefore we, the undersigned children’s book authors and illustrators*, do publicly affirm our 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.

Our country is deeply divided. The recent election is a clear indication of the bigotry that is entrenched in this nation, of the prevalence of systems that threaten to destroy the very fabric of society, and has exposed the fault lines that continue to polarize us. As we struggle to bridge the chasm and search for common ground, we must remember our strength, show our resilience and think of the children. Now is the time to raise our voices for them, for our future.

The stakes are too high for us to be silent. The stakes are too high for us to wait for someone else to take the lead. The stakes are too high for us to just hope things will get better. Each day, we see attempts to disenfranchise and dehumanize marginalized people and to dismiss the violence that we face. As children’s book creators, we feel a special connection and responsibility to amplify the young voices that too often go unheard. When the headlines fade, the impact on children’s lives remains. They are left feeling confused, afraid, angry, hurt. We believe it is our duty to not just create, but also to empower children, affirm their lives and stand up for change.

For our young readers, we will create stories that offer authentic and recognizable reflections of themselves, as well as relatable insight into experiences which on the surface appear markedly different. We will use our books to affect a world brimming with too many instances of hostility and injustice. We will plant seeds of empathy, fairness and empowerment through words and pictures. We will do so with candor and honesty, but also in the spirit of hope and love.

The values of adults can often be traced back to early influences. It is our collective mission, therefore, to promote understanding and justice through our art; to bolster every child’s visceral belief that his or her life shall always be infinitely valuable. This is a matter of life and death.

With paintbrushes and pens in hand, we, the undersigned, will continue to press toward the goals of equality, justice, and peace. We will write. We will draw. We will listen to the children. We invite you to join us.

In the words of Ella Baker, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

*List of signatories found here

 

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January 19, 2011

Rally Cry For Reading
The Brown Bookshelf Announces 2011 Spotlight Authors & Illustrators

Today, The Brown Bookshelf announced the twenty-four authors and four illustrators to be spotlighted in the group’s fourth annual 28 Days Later initiative, a month-long celebration of veteran and emerging children’s authors of color. “Four years in and spotlighting authors of color is as important as ever,” said Brown Bookshelf member, Paula Chase Hyman. “It was especially heartening to see so many young adult authors submitted this year. This is the first time that we had more YA authors submitted than Picture Books. As much as we want to see balance, no doubt it’s progress that a category that averaged a handful of submissions was the top submission getter.”

Spotlight suggestions from faithful Brown Bookshelf visitors began rolling in soon after the submissions window opened in September.  Readers, librarians, teachers and writers of children’s literature stepped up to suggest names of African American authors they felt were not getting enough exposure. “There’s always a question of how ‘under the radar’ an author or illustrator is, but those submitting are passionate about their suggestions,” said member, Kelly Starling-Lyons. “Whether it’s a brand-new author or someone who has been toiling in the trenches, it feels good to see so many worthy nominees.”

The authors and the day they will be featured are as follows:
Vanguard authors in bold.
Illustrators in italics.

Feb. 1 – Ebony Joy Wilkins (YA)
Feb. 2 – Randy DuBurke– (Illustrator)
Feb. 3 – Toyomi Igus – (PB)
Feb. 4 – Hope Anita Smith – (MG)
Feb. 5 – Renee Watson – (PB)
Feb. 6 – Wade and Cheryl Hudson – (PB)
Feb. 7 – Christopher Grant – (YA)
Feb. 8 – Crystal Allen – (MG)
Feb. 9 – Artist Arthur – (YA)
Feb. 10 – Vanessa Brantly Newton – (Illustrator)
Feb. 11 – Marie Bradby – (PB)
Feb. 12 – Torrey Maldonado – (MG)
Feb. 13 – Reshonda Tate Billingsley – (YA )
Feb. 14 – Ernest Hill – (YA)
Feb. 15 – Lynn Joseph – (MG)
Feb. 16 – Kevin Lewis – (PB)
Feb. 17 – E.B. Lewis – (Illustrator)
Feb. 18 – Joyce Carol Thomas – (PB)
Feb. 19 – Rachel Renee Russell – (MG)
Feb. 20 – Frank Morrison – (Illustrator)
Feb. 21 – Adwoa Badoe – (YA)
Feb. 22- Sharon Dennis Wyeth – (MG)
Feb. 23 – Dia Reeves – (YA)
Feb. 24 – Gwendolyn Hooks – (PB)
Feb. 25 – Harriet Robinet – (MG)
Feb. 26 – Jewell Parker Rhodes – (MG)
Feb. 27 – Dimitrea Tokunbo- (PB)
Feb. 28 – Lori Aurelia Williams – (YA)

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January 18, 2010

Saluting The Unsung
The Brown Bookshelf Announces 2010 Spotlight Authors & Illustrators

Today, The Brown Bookshelf announced the twenty-four authors and four illustrators to be spotlighted in the groups’ third annual 28 Days Later initiative, a month-long celebration of veteran and emerging children’s authors of color. “Recognizing these authors and illustrators is as important now as it was when we began the initiative in 2007,” said Brown Bookshelf member, Varian Johnson. “Like many industries, publishing has felt the recession’s crunch. So it’s no surprise that it would also adversely affect authors of color. We remain committed to beating the drum so word spreads about African American authors that focus their work on children’s literature.”

When submissions opened in September, readers and writers of children’s literature stepped up to suggest names of African American authors they felt were flying under the radar of librarians, teachers and parents. “Although a percentage of nominees are repeats or have already been honored in our last two campaigns, we’re discovering a handful of gems that few readers know about, every year,” said member, Don Tate. “I have mixed feelings every time I see a name I’m unfamiliar with. On one hand it’s wonderful to know there are that many folks out there published in the children’s lit arena. On the other, you wonder – why hadn’t I heard of them?”

Once the Brown Bookshelf membership (now six strong with the addition of Middle Grade author, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Picture Book author, Tameka Fryer Brown) received the names, it was no easy task to cull them down to only four illustrators and eight authors per category. “There’s so much talent among the candidates nominated. It’s a struggle to not give in and say, let’s showcase all of them,” said new member, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. “I’ve followed 28 Days Later annually, and I can honestly say this year’s selections are as deserving as previous years. I’m honored to have been part of the process.”

Member Don Tate will once again design a 28 Days Later poster featuring the honorees. It will be available for download at http://www.thebrownbookshelf.com.

This year, a copy of each featured author/illustrator’s work will be donated to Color Online, a community organization dedicated to empowering young women. Color Online operates a library and offers support to young girls at local non-profits in Detroit.

The authors, their most current book and the day they will be featured are as follows:
Vanguard authors in bold.
Illustrators in italics.

Feb. 1 – Marguerite Abouet (YA) AYA: The Secrets Come Out
Feb. 2 – AG Ford – (PB) Michelle
Feb. 3 – Kekla Magoon – (MG) The Rock & The River
Feb. 4 – Sharon Flake – (YA) Begging For Change
Feb. 5 – Natasha Tarpley – (PB) The Princess and the Frog: Princess Tiana and the Royal Ball
Feb. 6 – Dwayne Ferguson – (MG) Kid Caramel Series
Feb. 7 – Bernette Ford – (PB) Ballet Kitty: Play Book
Feb. 8 – Yasmin Shiraz – (YA) Retaliation
Feb. 9 – Shadra Strickland – (PB) A Place Where Hurricanes Happen
Feb. 10 – Sandra Belton – (MG) The Tallest Tree
Feb. 11 – Debbie Rigaud – (YA) Perfect Shot
Feb. 12 – Tony Medina – (PB) I and I, Bob Marley
Feb. 13 – Sharon Bell Mathis – (MG ) The Hundred Penny Box
Feb. 14 – Christine Taylor-Butler – (MG) Sacred Mountain
Feb. 15 – Tonya Hegamin – (YA) Pemba’s Song: A Love Story
Feb. 16 – Eric Velasquez – (PB) My Friend Maya Loves to Dance
Feb. 17 – Dinah Johnson – (PB) Black Magic
Feb. 18 – M. LaVora Perry – (MG) Taneesha Never Disparaging
Feb. 19 – Freddi Williams Evans – (PB) Hush Harbor
Feb. 20 – Janet McDonald – (YA) Off-Color
Feb. 21 – Jerdine Nolen – (PB) Pitching in for Eubie
Feb. 22- Jaimee Adoff – (YA) The Death of Jayson Porter
Feb. 23 – Cozbi Cabrera – (PB) Most Loved in all the World
Feb. 24 – Nikki Grimes– (MG) Rich: A Dyamonde Daniel Book
Feb. 25 – Martin Mordecai – (MG) Blue Mountain Trouble
Feb. 26 – Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard – (PB) Virgie Goes to School With Us Boys
Feb. 27 – Denene Millner & Mitzi Miller- (YA) Hotlanta Series
Feb. 28 – Charles R. Smith, Jr. – (PB) Dance With Me

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November 11, 2009

Meet The New “Kids” On Our Block
Brown Bookshelf Expands Membership

There comes a time in every organization’s existence where it must take inventory and ask what could it do to operate more effectively? The time for The Brown Bookshelf arrived several weeks ago, when inaugural member Carla Sarratt resigned from the group due to time constraints. “Losing Carla was a real blow because she was a go-to member when it came to juggling the details and legwork,” says founding member, Paula Chase Hyman. “And The Brown Bookshelf is a lot of details and legwork. But we’d been thinking about expanding for a year now, so Carla’s departure was the impetus to consider it more seriously.”

Rounding out membership meant identifying authors of color who were not only actively writing and publishing children’s works, but willing to take on the group’s volunteer efforts to showcase other children’s authors of color. “It’s a double-edged sword because you’re recruiting an author while they’re immersed in writing new books and/or promoting them,” says founding member, Varian Johnson. “You’re asking them to add one more, very time consuming, thing onto their plates. There are plenty of viable candidates, but only a select few are willing to manage the additional workload.”

The select few who answered the call were debut middle grade author, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and debut Picture Book author, Tameka F. Brown, two very active members of The Association of Children’s Authors and Illustrators of Color (ACAIC). “Sometimes things work out picture perfect. We’ve needed another dedicated middle grade writer on the team for some time now,” says founding member, Kelly Starling-Lyons. “And the insight of another Picture Book author is essential because the bulk of our submissions for 28 Days Later are picture books. Olugbemisola and Tameka’s backgrounds matched our needs and, fortunate for us, they believed in our mission enough to join us.”

A long-time mentor and advisor to youth, Rhuday-Perkovich’s debut, Eighth-Grade Superzero (Arthur A. Levine) will debut January 1, 2010. She’s also written for a variety of lifestyle and pop culture magazines including American Baby and Word Up! “In a short time, The Brown Bookshelf established itself as a precious and dynamic force in the publishing world. From the beginning, they were unstoppable,” says, Rhuday-Perkovich. “They’ve maintained a commitment to quality and education that I have long admired and am so grateful for. I’m truly honored to be offered this opportunity to join them in highlighting the diverse array of work by Black authors and illustrators across the Diaspora.”

Brown also has an extensive background mentoring young people, both professionally as a Teacher’s assistant and through her church as Sunday School Teacher and Youth Counselor. While she awaits her Fall 2010 debut of, Around Our Way (Abrams Books for Young Readers), she’s been busy with AuthorsNow, a marketing co-op of children’s authors debuting in 2010. Of being a part of the group, Brown says, “It was an honor to receive the invitation from The Brown Bookshelf. In the two years of its existence, BBS has done a phenomenal job of enhancing the visibility of many prolific authors and illustrators. I’m excited about making my contribution to this important endeavor.”

Brown and Rhuday-Perkovich join as the group burrows deep into submissions for the third annual 28 Days Later. “It’s akin to baptism by fire,” says founding member, Don Tate. “The best way to understand what the Brown Bookshelf is about is to jump right in and get your hands dirty. They’ll feel like they’ve run a marathon, come March, but we’re excited to have Tameka and Olugbemisola in the trenches with us.”

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September 21, 2009

On The Troll Again

Brown Bookshelf Opens Submissions for 2010 28 Days Later Campaign

“Third one’s the charm,” the old saying goes. So The Brown Bookshelf (BBS), a website designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers, will open submissions for its third annual 28 Days Later Campaign on September 28, 2009 with hopes for its deepest candidate pool, yet. “I go into each year thinking, who’s left that we haven’t highlighted – because the number of African Americans writing for children isn’t huge,” says BBS member and author/illustrator, Don Tate. “And then I’m happily baffled to see the submissions stream in with names of authors I’m unfamilar with.”

Although the first two 28 Days Later campaigns, Black History Month spotlights of 24 authors and four illustrators of color, succeeded in highlighting illustrators such as London Ladd and Nicole Tadgell, trailblazing authors such as Patricia McKissack and Rita Williams-Garcia and rising talents like Tanita S. Davis and Coe Booth, submissions were down. “We had two hundred submissions our first year. But only about half that in ’09,” says BBS member and Picture Book author, Kelly Starling Lyons. “I believe there are many out there who need and deserve the spotlight. We just need them brought to our attention.”

Created just two years ago to inform librarians, teachers and parents of books written by African American authors, The Brown Bookshelf has featured nearly eighty authors and illustrators. The primary focus of 28 Days Later is on African American authors. But from its inception, members of The Brown Bookshelf have joined forces with other authors of color and members of the children’s literature community to advocate for both more diverse literature and an increase in marketing for books by authors of color. “The Liar book cover controversy reinforces that there are still plenty of systemic challenges when it comes to books centered on a person of color,” says BBS Co-founder and Young Adult author, Varian Johnson. “The Brown Bookshelf is dedicated to being a voice that doesn’t shy away from those challenges.”

To stay abreast of the state of authors of color, members of The Brown Bookshelf steep themselves in the children’s literature community and current publishing industry events. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s annual study, of the 3,000 books submitted for the survey, 83 books were by African Americans and 172 about them. While those numbers are still low, they indicate a slight increase, from 2007, in both categories. “A seven percent increase isn’t necessarily a victory, considering the number of books by Black authors hovered in the high 90’s between 1994 and 2001,” says BBS member and Young Adult author, Carla Sarratt. “But the numbers didn’t decrease, this year. We want to continue to see the numbers increase and visibility of the books availab le may help with that.”

The Brown Bookshelf’s mission remains to make more people aware of the rich selection of children’s books by and about African Americans. The annual 28 Days Later initiative will feature under-promoted and little-known black authors and illustrators alongside vanguard African American authors. To successfully fulfill that mission, the group is calling for submissions for the 2010 28 Days Later campaign. Submissions can be submitted through the website www.Thebrownbookshelf.com or at thebrownbookshelf at gmail dot com from September 28 through November 1, 2009.

Guidelines from previous years remain intact:
– Seeking authors and illustrators of African or African-American descent
– Only one submission per author necessary.
– Submissions are accepted from individuals, librarians and teachers and are encouraged from publishers.
– Traditionally-published authors may nominate themselves.
– Self-published spotlights are by invitation only.

The Brown Bookshelf is designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers. Their flagship initiative, 28 Days Later, is a month-long showcase of some of the best Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels written by African American authors.

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February 9, 2009

The Cobblers Children Have Shoes

Brown Bookshelf Members Talk A Little Bit About…Themselves

Although dedicated to uplifting African American creators of children’s lit, twenty-eight authors at a time, the members of the Brown Bookshelf are about to give loyal visitors to the site a peek “behind the curtain.”

“When you dedicate four months to researching authors and illustrators and another month to interviewing them, it’s easy to fall victim to the cliche, the cobblers children have no shoes,” says BBS member, Paula Chase Hyman. “As we prepare for 28 Days Later we don’t give much thought to talking about ourselves…so we wanted to have a little fun with it.”

March second, the Monday immediately following the 28 Days Later campaign, the blog will launch a week-long feature, Meet The Brown Bookshelf, highlighting factoids about the members, their books and their publishing experience.

“We’ve had folks nominate us for the 28 Days Later campaign, which is an honor we choose not to accept,” says member, Carla Sarratt. “We’d rather keep the focus on the many other authors out there in need of good word-of-mouth. Meet The Brown Bookshelf is a good way to share more about ourselves, once our flagship initiative ends.”

Commenters at the blog during the week of March first will be eligible for a drawing to receive books by Brown Bookshelf members.

(end)
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January 19, 2009

Arming The Gatekeepers
The Brown Bookshelf Announces 2009 Spotlight Authors & Illustrators

The Brown Bookshelf, today, announced the twenty-four authors and four illustrators to be spotlighted in the groups’ second annual 28 Days Later initiative, a month-long celebration of veteran and emerging children’s authors of color. “Spotlighting these authors is like giving a big gift to the readers of the world,” said Brown Bookshelf member, Paula Chase Hyman. “There’s a palpable excitement when we talk about showcasing authors, some who are potentially unknown or not well known among librarians, teachers and parents.”

Once again writers, publishers and readers of children’s literature answered the groups’ call to present African American authors who may be flying under the radar of librarians and teachers. Close to one hundred names of Picture Book, Middle Grade and Young Adult authors were submitted at the Brown Bookshelf website. “Admittedly the submission pool was not as deep as this year,” said Brown Bookshelf member, Varian Johnson. “That was disappointing. But it only meant we had to dig deeper this year to identify who was out there that needed to be put in front of readers and influencers.”

The five members — Hyman, Johnson, Carla Sarratt, Don Tate and Kelly Starling Lyons — culled submitted names down to eight authors per literary category via research, speaking to booksellers and librarians and using circulation and library inventory data. “There’s something momentous about unveiling this year’s roster at the same time that we’re about to welcome an African American president who also happens to be an author,” said member Sarratt. “The time is ripe for people to embrace authors of color. So we’re excited to put these talented authors and illustrators in front of potential readers of all races.”

Member Tate will design a color 28 Days Later poster featuring the honorees. It will be available for download at http://www.thebrownbookshelf.com.

The authors, their most current book and the day they will be featured are as follows:

Authors in bold are veteran authors
Illustrators are in italics

Feb. 1 Sharon Draper
Feb.2 Crystal Hubbard
Feb.3 Nicole Tagdell
Feb.4 Tia Williams
Feb.5 Julius Lester
Feb.6 Philana Marie Boles
Feb.7 Zetta Elliott
Feb.8 Angela Johnson
Feb.9 Pat Cummings
Feb.10 Floyd Cooper
Feb.11 Tanita S. Davis
Feb.12 Derrick Barnes
Feb.13 Brenda Woods
Feb.14 Greg Foley
Feb.15 Joyce Hansen
Feb.16 Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Feb.17 London Ladd
Feb.18 Marilyn Nelson
Feb.19 Andrea Davis Pinkney
Feb.20 Deborah Gregory
Feb.21 Evelyn Coleman
Feb.22 Jacqueline Woodson
Feb.23 Lesa Cline-Ransome
Feb.24 Cornelius Van Wright
Feb.25 Sherri Winston
Feb.26 Shelia P. Moses
Feb.27 Monalisa DeGross
Feb.28 Monica McKayhan

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September 23, 2008

In the Trenches Trolling for Gems
Brown Bookshelf Opens Submissions for 2009 28 Days Later Campaign

When The Brown Bookshelf (BBS), a website designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers, launched last Fall, the founders knew they were filling a void. But the authors, Varian Johnson, Paula Chase, Carla Sarratt, and Kelly Starling Lyons and author/illustrator, Don Tate had no idea the void’s magnitude, until they were already knee deep in submissions. “Nearly two hundred author names were submitted in a thirty-day window,” says BBS Co-founder and Young Adult author, Paula Chase. “I don’t think I’ve ever been able to name two hundred African American children’s authors and, no surprise, many of them were authors I’d never heard of.”

The five-member Brown Bookshelf went on to cull those two hundred names down to twenty-eight authors and four illustrators, which they spotlighted through interviews in February, as a complement to Black History Month. The site has drawn over 44,000 views since it launched and has fast become a source for librarians and parents seeking diverse literature for their young readers – and not a second too soon. “The numbers of books published by people of African descent remains stagnant, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s annual study,” says Co-founder and Young Adult author, Varian Johnson. “Of the 3,000 books submitted for the survey, only seventy-seven were by African Americans, down 12% from their 2006 numbers. So either CCBC is not receiving the titles upon calling for books or the numbers are truly decreasing.”

The Brown Bookshelf’s mission to make more people aware of the rich selection of children’s books by and about African Americans remains on course. 28 Days Later will feature under-promoted and little known authors and illustrators alongside vanguard authors. With steady web traffic and a loyal following of librarians, the group is calling for submissions for the 2009 28 Days Later campaign. Submissions can be submitted through the website The Brown Bookshelf dot com or at thebrownbookshelf@gmail.com from September 29 through November 1, 2008.

Guidelines from 2007 remain intact:
– Seeking authors and illustrators of African or African-American descent
– Only one submission per author necessary.
– Submissions are accepted from individuals, librarians and teachers and are encouraged from publishers.
– Traditionally-published authors may nominate themselves.
– Self-published spotlights are by invitation only.

“It was amazing to see the breadth and depth of African American children’s literature through last year’s submissions,” says, Co-founder and Author/Illustrator, Don Tate. “If five authors were rocked by being exposed to so many great books, imagine how a reader feels having these new doors opened to them. We’re ready to shine the light on more deserving authors and illustrators.”

The Brown Bookshelf is designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers. Their flagship initiative, 28 Days Later, is a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels written by African American authors.

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March 1, 2008

February’s Over…But We’re Not Done

We hope we’ve armed readers and influencers alike with an arsenal of choices for reading recommendations. We look forward to making 28 Days Later an annual initiative. But we’re not stopping at Black History Month. Next, on the horizon for The Brown Bookshelf…

28 & Beyond

While the BBS wholly supports Black History Month and felt it was the best time to bring attention to under-the-radar authors – we don’t want readers thinking they can forget about authors of color until next year. Plus, it would be a shame to not share some of the great candidates submitted for the 28 Days campaign, who didn’t make our final cut.

So tune into our site for the 28 & Beyond blog feature, where we’ll discuss books by some of the authors who made our Top 12.

Summer Chat Series

We’re gearing up a forum on Myspace to conduct a series of chats. Summertime is good reading time and since the publishing industry slows down a bit, also the perfect time to talk books, writing and book publishing.

Every Wednesday, June through August, BBS members will host a chat. We’re lining up guests now. Look for chats for young readers, aspiring writers, current authors and influencers.

Examples of the chats we’re putting together include:

*Indies & The Author: Looking at opportunities for indie bookstores and authors to work together in innovative ways.

*Temperature Check: Chat with agents to talk about what’s going on in the kiddie lit industry

*Hype, Hype Hooray: Chat with teen readers to find out what really makes them pick up a book.

-END-

 

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March 1, 2008

And The Winners Are…

Congratulations to all of the winners of our February 29th Book Giveaway. Thank you for supporting The Brown Bookshelf by visiting our site and submitting author names for the 28 Days Later campaign.

Grand Prize Winner: Gift Basket

Lesha*

*Will designate a library to receive a basket containing books by the 2008 28 Days Later spotlight authors and illustrators.

Individual Book Winners

The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County – Diannewrites

Mama’s Window – Sheila K.M.

Chess Rumble – Sabra R.

Jazz Baby – Christal

When Horses Ride By – Hannah

Juneteenth Jamboree – WendieO

How Smart We Are – blbooks

Sweet Land of Liberty – Erin

I Dream for You A World – Ramasay

Tyrell – Joyce H. & Liz B.

Nikki & Deja – Wits & Lesha

Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It – Stephanie I.

Dance Jam Productions – Katia

Elijah of Buxton – Carole Mcd.

Played – Curtis F.

The Shadow Speaker – Hershey Brown

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February 29th is Book Giveaway Day!!

On Friday, February 29, 2008 one big ol’ basket filled with books by our 28 Days Spotlight authors will be donated to the library of one winning person’s choice.

If you’ve ever submitted a comment (and it was published) or sent an email to the Brown Bookshelf, you’re automatically eligible and entered.

Also, we’ll select random winners for the rest of the books so generously donated by the authors or their publishers.

Want to know what the Brown Bookshelf is doing next?  We’re announcing that on the 29th as well.

There’s no better way to end a month that’s been chock full of profiles on some of children’s literatures best and brightest then with free books and new initiatives.

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28 Authors For 28 Days

The Brown Bookshelf Announces Spotlight Authors

(Severna Park, MD) The Brown Bookshelf, today, announced the twenty-eight authors to be spotlighted in the groups’ 28 Days Later initiative, a month-long celebration of vanguard and emerging children’s authors of color starting February first. In addition, the campaign will spotlight four illustrators on the rise. “Since our launch, it’s been sixty intense days of research, reading and relishing the truly talented works out there,” said Brown Bookshelf member, Paula Chase Hyman. “We’re excited to finally unveil some of children’s literatures best kept secrets and jewels.”

Librarians, writers, publishers and readers of children’s literature answered the groups’ November first call to present African American authors flying under the radar of librarians and teachers. Over one hundred names of Picture Book, Middle Grade and Young Adult authors were submitted at the Brown Bookshelf website. “We discovered quickly that the definition of under the radar varies,” said Brown Bookshelf member, Varian Johnson. “Some of the finalists may be recognized among readers, but virtually unknown by a majority of influencers. Or vice versa.”

The five members culled submitted names down to nine authors per literary category via research, speaking to booksellers and librarians and using circulation and library inventory data. The twenty-eight finalists include six vanguard authors – individuals who are the forefront of the genre – and two stand-out, self-published authors.

“The selection represents a nice variety of emerging and popular authors that will surely pique anyone’s interest,” said Karen Lemmons of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. “We need to support these authors by reading, discussing and promoting their works.”

A vibrant poster acknowledging the featured authors and illustrators is live on the Brown Bookshelf home page. It’s available for download.

The authors, their most current book and the day they will be featured are as follows:

Key:

Authors in bold are vanguard authors

Illustrator spotlights are in italics

Feb 1 Christopher Paul Curtis – Elijah of Buxton

Feb 2 Michelle Meadows – The Way The Storm Stops

Feb 3 Dana Davidson – Played

Feb 4 Rita Williams-Garcia – No Laughter Here

Feb 5 G. Neri – Chess Rumble & Sean Qualls – Phillis’s Big Test

Feb 6 Janice N. Harrington – The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

Feb 7 Eleanora E. Tate – Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance

Feb 8 Patricia McKissack – The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll

Feb 9 M. Sindy Felin – Touching Snow

Feb 10 Jabari Asim – Daddy Goes To Work

Feb 11 Mildred D. Taylor – The Road To Memphis

Feb 12 Nina Crews – The Neighborhood Mother Goose & Leonard Jenkins – Sweet Land of Liberty

Feb 13 Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu – The Shadow Speaker

Feb 14 Allison Whittenberg – Sweet Thang

Feb 15 Walter Dean Myers – Game

Feb 16 Tonya Bolden – George Washington Carver

Feb 17 Troy Cle – The Marvelous Effect

Feb 18 Eloise Greenfield – The Friendly Four

Feb 19 Sundee T. Frazier – Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything In It & John Holyfield – Bessie Smith & the Night Riders

Feb 20 Carole Boston Weatherford – I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer

Feb 21 Karen English – Nikki & Deja

Feb 22 Coe Booth – Tyrell

Feb 23 Irene Smalls – My Pop Pop and Me

Feb 24 Stephanie Perry Moore – Prayed Up: Perry Skky Jr. #4

Feb 25 Kyra E. Hicks, Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria

Feb 26 Celise Downs – Dance Jam Productions & Shane Evans- When Harriet Met Sojourner

Feb 27 Valerie Wilson Wesley – Willimena Rules!: 23 Ways to mess up Valentine’s Day

Feb 28 Sherri L. Smith – Sparrow

[END]
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Can You Hear Us, Now?

Co-ed Author Team Works to Highlight African American Children’s Authors

(Severna Park , MD ) YA authors, Paula Chase and Varian Johnson have never met in person. One lives in Maryland, the other in Texas. One is a spokesperson for a small city government, the other designs bridges. But they share two things in common: they write YA fiction and they’re tired of watching themselves and many of their peers fly under the radar. “If I hear ‘There’s no YA out there for African American teens’ one more time I’m going to scream,” says Chase, the author of Dafina’s Del Rio Bay Clique teen lit series. “Granted, it may not be publicized like some of the flashier mainstream YA fiction, but it’s out there.”

After bumping into one another on various children’s writers’ boards, they realized the same issue popped up again and again – the overwhelming lack of awareness to African Americans writing for children, especially YA, outside of the heavy-hitting veteran authors. Determined to launch an initiative that would shine the spotlight on the varied African American voices writing for young readers, Chase and Johnson took a page from Readergirlz, an online community that celebrates strong female characters in YA fiction, and created The Brown Bookshelf. “According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, out of the approximately 5,000 children’s books published in 2006, less than one-hundred were written by people of African decent,” says Johnson, the author of Essence Magazine best-selling novel, A Red Polka Dot in A World Full of Plaid. “If we want those numbers to increase, we have to do a better job of supporting African-American authors and illustrators.”

Chase and Johnson recruited fellow writers Carla Sarratt and Kelly Starling Lyons, and award-winning illustrator, Don Tate, to serve as a research and review team. On February 1st the group will launch the 28 Days Later Campaign, an initiative designed to highlight African-American authors with recently released books or books that have “gone unnoticed.” Each day during Black History Month, a different book and author will be featured at http://www.thebrownbookshelf.com. The campaign will culminate with a day of giveaways and announcements of future programs on February 29th.

“The name is a play off the zombie movie, because it signals the aftermath,” Chase says. “Once we showcase the twenty-eight best voices in African American children’s lit, parents, teachers and librarians will walk away with a full arsenal of recommendations for young readers.”

The committee is already scouring the shelves to identify authors of color offering the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. They will be taking nominations from others in the Children’s Lit Community and requesting publishers to submit authors. “We’re asking for help from all corners of the online Children’s Lit community,” Johnson says. “The more suggestions we get, the better.”

In addition to soliciting suggestions from the online Children’s Lit Community, the authors are partnering with the African American Children’s Book writers and Illustrators (AACBWI) and the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) to ensure the 28 Days Later campaign reaches the intended audience of educators and librarians. Both organizations see merit in The Brown Bookshelf.

“We have been able to grow the African American Read-In through partnerships with those of like interest and commitment. The launching of this new literacy campaign is timely and we are excited that new seeds are being planted at a time when they are needed to reach out and encourage people of all ethnic groups to balance the images of reading failures with images of reading success,” says Jerrie Cobb Scott, Founder and National Director of the African American Read-In Chain. “Another partnership seed is certain to blossom into new readers and new supporters for literacy, the gift that keeps on giving.”

“Our online community boasts many authors and illustrators who are published or on the cusp of being published, and their words and art represent a broad spectrum of experiences and cultures,” says Karen Strong, moderator of the AACBWI forum. “The Brown Bookshelf is a great way to showcase these authors and illustrators and connect with readers.”

The Brown Bookshelf founders emphasize their desire to enhance, not duplicate efforts to increase awareness to books by authors of color. “We weren’t about to recreate the wheel,” Johnson says. “Our partners are in the trenches doing similar work to bring attention to good books. But often the focus is too broadly focused on all books by African Americans. Our focus is solely on books for children. It’s imperative people see there are lots of quality books out there for teens and young readers.”

Johnson and Chase encourage publishers to submit their authors work for consideration. Authors may also self-submit. However, self-published works are by invitation only. “There are so few national venues for under-promoted books to get a boost, authors are hungry for the attention. So we had to set limitations,” Chase says. “But we’ll be showcasing two self-published works in the campaign.”

Chase and Johnson see a life for The Brown Bookshelf beyond the 28 Days Later campaign. There are plans to launch a special initiative targeting book clubs, start a monthly author feature and make 28 Days Later an annual event. “Until people can name more than Walter Dean Meyers and Sharon Draper when asked about African American children’s authors, there’s a need for an initiative like this,” Johnson says. “We’re in it for the long haul.”

The Brown Bookshelf is designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers. Their flagship initiative, 28 Days Later, is a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels written by African American authors.

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(Click here to download press release as a pdf.)