Throwback Thursday: Walter Dean Myers

November 3, 2016


Very recently, a nephew came to live with me.  He’s quiet, stays in his room, and basically comes downstairs to eat and hang out in the backyard.  Most of the time, his earbuds are in, and therefore I believed he didn’t want to have a face-to-face conversation.  One day, he was sitting at the counter in my kitchen, eating lunch, when I noticed him staring at something.  He took his earbuds out, picked up a book and asked,

“You read Walter Dean Myers?”

I just shrugged, stuck in stupid, totally surprised on so many levels.

He grinned, “I’ve read all the books in my school library written by him.  SLAM, FALLEN ANGELS, SCORPIONS.  Have you read MONSTER?  Everybody says that’s really good.  I can’t believe he’s gone.  You have any more of his books?”

And so, our conversations began.  Thank you, Walter Dean Myers.

He has reached thousands of young people through his writings and teachings.  And in honor of his contributions to children’s literature, I would like to kick off our “Throwback Thursday” with The Brown Bookshelf’s 2008  28 Days Later spotlight of one of the most prolific writers of all time. — C.A.

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Walter Dean Myers has had the type of career that most authors can only dream of. Since becoming first published in 1969, Myers has won five Coretta Scott King Awards, two Newbery Honors, and was awarded the first American Library Association Michael L. Printz Award for Monster. In 1994, Myers received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for “lifetime contribution to young adult literature,” and in 2008, the American Library Association chose Myers to present the 2009 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture–an honor given yearly to an individual of distinction in the field of children’s literature.

Street LoveNot one to limit himself to strictly novels, Myers has also excelled at both short stories and poetry. His novel  Lovein verse, Street Love (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2006), was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a Kirkus Editor’s Choice, and was named to the Horn Book Fanfare List for 2006. Likewise, his most recent collection of short stories, What They Found: Love on 145th Street (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2007), was also hailed by critics, receiving starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Known for capturing the emotional and physical heart of Harlem in his novels, Myers returns to a familiar topic, basketball, in his new novel Game (HarperTeen, 2008). From the HarperTeen website: “Drew Lawson knows basketball is taking him places. It has to, because his grades certainly aren’t. But lately his plan has run squarely into a pick. Coach’s new offense has made another player a star, and Drew won’t let anyone disrespect his game. Just as his team makes the playoffs, Drew must come up with something big to save his fading college prospects. It’s all up to Drew to find out just how deep his game really is.”

GameKLIATT gave Game a starred review, saying, “Myers…clearly knows basketball, and he nails the court action… A great choice for sports fans.” School Library Journal adds, “As always, Myers eschews easy answers, and readers are left with the question of whether or not Drew is prepared to deal with the challenges that life will inevitably hand him.”

Day 29: Edi Campbell

February 29, 2016

This year, we get a little extra. On Day 29, we are delighted to have the opportunity to welcome Edi Campbell, an academic librarian who blogs at Crazy Quilts. Edi “works to improve the literacy of teens of color and am a strong ally for all marginalized young people. As part of this effort, I also work to promote authors of color. Reading multiple varieties of text is the basis for all literacies and in becoming literate, we learn how to navigate the world around us.” Thank you, Edi, and again, welcome:

It is an honor to be part of the 28 Days celebration. As I’ve read about works of such outstanding authors and artists over the years, I never even imagined that I’d be part of it; still cannot believe it. I started blogging about marginalized teens almost ten years ago and when I began, I was pretty much on my own. I hadn’t discovered people like Hannah Gomez, Nathalie Mvondo, Ari, Karen Lemmons, KC Boyd or Vanessa Irvin who are as active online for our children as they are in person. And I certainly hadn’t read the fine, important works by Rudine Sims Bishop, Claudette McLinn, Violet Harris, Jonda McNair, Nancy Tolson, Virginia Hamilton and so many, many others. Ten years ago I knew there weren’t enough books published for the Black and Latinx students in the school where I worked and even though I’ve grown to understand the immensity of the issue, I still simply want to put one more book in one more child’s hand and turn one more child into a reader.

If you consider that the whitest industries in America continue to be information industries (publishing, technology, libraries and movies) you should begin to question why that’s so.
I’m not into conspiracy theories, so I don’t believe it’s intentionally about mind control, but there does seem to be a very controlled, very white message being perpetrated upon our children. And all I want is one more brown book. One more Jerry Craft, Bil Wright, Brian Walker, L. Divine, Kelli London, NiNi Simone, Nnedi Okorafor, Dia Reeves and Zetta Elliott. One more mirror, one more door. One more Tim Tingle, Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo, Eric Gansworth, Y.S. Lee, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Juan Filipe Herrera, Alex Sanchez and Sheela Chari.

I feel like the next ten years will not look like the past ten years in children’s publishing. Libraries are embracing (even creating) self-published books. Twitter, Vine, Instagram and Tumblr are giving voice to the masses allowing us to voice concerns, to announce agendas and to connect directly with those who had been hidden from us. These platforms help us find debut authors and promote their books, to immediately questions portrayals of people and histories and they’ve created #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

What I’ve learned over the past 10 years is that I’m not alone, we’re not alone and it takes all of us to get that one more book.

Day 22: Edwidge Danticat

February 22, 2016

mamasnightingale In MAMA’S NIGHTINGALE, award-winning author Edwidge Danticat, who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and grew up in New York, tells a timely and finely wrought tale in English and Kreyol of a daughter who is empowered to become an advocate on her mother’s behalf. From the publisher: “After Saya’s mother is sent to an immigration detention center, Saya finds comfort in listening to her mother’s warm greeting on their answering machine. To ease the distance between them while she’s in jail, Mama begins sending Saya bedtime stories inspired by Haitian folklore on cassette tape. Moved by her mother’s tales and her father’s attempts to reunite their family, Saya writes a story of her own—one that just might bring her mother home for good.”

School Library Journal, in a starred review, notes that “Danticat, who was born in Haiti, was separated from her parents until she was 12 years old and beautifully conveys a story about loss and grief and hope and joy.” Kirkus, in naming it a Best Book of 2015, called MAMA’s NIGHTINGALE a “must-read”, writes that “this picture book sheds light on an important reality rarely portrayed in children’s books.”

The International Literacy Association shares ideas for classroom use, and Teaching Latin America Through Literacy offers an extensive analysis of the text and imagery as well as a wealth of resources for lessons and more.

Day 21: Shannon Gibney

February 21, 2016

shannongibneyShannon Gibney was adopted as an infant in 1975, and grew up in a multiracial family. From her bio: “When she was 15, her father gave her James Baldwin’s Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, a book that changed her life and made her see the possibilities of the written word. The novel took a long, difficult look at relations between Blacks and Whites, the poor and the rich, gay and straight people, and fused searing honesty with metaphorical beauty. After this experience, Shannon knew that she needed to read everything Baldwin had ever written, and also that she wanted to emulate his strategy of telling the most dangerous, and therefore liberating kind of truth, through writing.” Gibney’s debut YA novel, SEE NO COLOR, was called “an exceptionally accomplished debut” by Kirkus, and School Library Journal points out that “without lecturing readers, Gibney clearly elucidates many issues particular to transracial adoption and biracial identity while also making this a universal story about the need for acceptance.” We are proud to welcome Shannon Gibney to The Brown Bookshelf today.

The Journey/The Back Story

As long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer. I think this is because I have also been an avid reader as long as I can remember. The imagination – mine and that of other writers – has consistently been a refuge and a beacon for me throughout my life, providing a space for me to engage people and questions that would otherwise be absent: How do you protect your children under the tyranny of slavery (Toni Morrison’s Beloved)? What does it mean to survive a civil war (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun)? And who do you turn to if, as a teenager, you are sent to a country you have not lived in since you were a child (the conundrum the protagonist in my new YA novel must confront)?

I started “writing books” when I was in the second grade – pieces of construction paper or cardboard with lined paper inside, in which sibling sleuths solved crimes, or went camping, or visited other worlds. Though the books with my name on them today may look a little different than these early, rather crude objects, their essence remains the same: They are a series of questions I am asking about whatever might be most important to me at the time, and asking the reader to co-create meaning in this endeavor, and perhaps to even attempt to answer them.
My journey to publication was circuitous at best. I tried not to get frustrated by not focusing so much on the publication of a book per se, and more on keeping up my writing habit and developing my craft. I write across genre, and also have multiple projects going at once, so that was where I tried to put my energy when an agent dropped me, a small publishing house folded, or I received yet another rejection. You go back to the reason why you started writing in the first place, and if you are honest, it is not because you were trying to get published.

But a few years ago, Betty Tisel and Swati Avasthi introduced me to Andrew Karre, an exceptional editor who was at that time heading up Lerner’s Carolrhoda Lab imprint (he has since moved to Penguin). He was actively looking for strong manuscripts from writers of color, so I sent him my draft, he loved it, and I signed on. It was so magical to work with someone who gets what you’re trying to do, and at the same time has a real affinity for your work. I felt like my YA novel See No Color got so much stronger: tighter and more layered. Since it has been out in the world, it has been wonderful to engage with folks around it. The book is about a mixed black transracial adoptee searching out her identity, so a lot of adoptees have really responded to seeing themselves represented on the page in a complex, nuanced way. Not to mention family members, friends, and community who can see the power in representation. So that has been particularly moving for me.

The Inspiration

As a person who exists at the intersection of identities, I find myself drawn to those who occupy similar spaces. So, a lot of my work explores the journeys of folks whose lives involve constant negotiation: racially, culturally, or otherwise. In this way, my own experiences are reflected in my work, but the experiences of those I’m close to also find their way in.

Of course, writing from the African diaspora, and the African American canon in particular have been a constant source of inspiration for me. It’s hard to pick just one, but James Baldwin has been my favorite writer since I was 16, with Toni Morrison coming in a close second. Other folks who remain important to me include Paule Marshall, Edouard Glissant, Aime Cesaire, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Claudia Rankine, Sadiya Hartman, Richard Wright, Octavia Butler, Ralph Ellison, Walter Mosley, and many, many others. It’s so gratifying to know that you are just another link in a long, long chain – however small, however nondescript, however strong. That is the Black literary tradition.


February 16, 2016



From football to fun books, our spotlight shines on an author who retired from one action-packed job, and took on another!  The Brown Bookshelf is honored to present to you on this 16th Day of February:



In 1997, Trevor Pryce was selected by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the NFL Draft. He made his presence known through his NFL career with numerous tackles and sacks, and ultimately, was on back-to-back winning Super Bowl teams.

After retiring, Trevor Pryce decided to tackle a different opportunity. In his interview with Purpose to Play, he states that after retirement, he tried to write movie scores, but ended up creating a trilogy of children’s books, the first being An Army of Frogs, an adventure where frogs and turtles defend their homeland against spiders and scorpions set in the Australia.

Since An Army of the Frogs released in 2014, Trevor Pryce has penned two more books in the series: Amphibian’s End, and The Rainbow Serpent, both debuting last year in October.

There’s a fun, animated website connected to his trilogy.

trevor pryce book 2trevor pryce book 3

trevor pryce book 3





Thank you, Trevor Pryce, for your contribution to children’s literature!

Day 15: Sharee Miller

February 15, 2016

Here at The Brown Bookshelf, it’s a special treat to share the work of those who make their mark in both the traditional and independent publishing worlds. This year we’re delighted to shine a light on Sharee Miller’s work. Her vibrant, colorful style is immediately eye-catching, and the joyfulness in her work is contagious. Welcome to The Brown Bookshelf, Sharee! We’re glad to have you.Sharee
The Journey

I began drawing and writing in elementary school. I had so many stories I wanted to share, so much to the point that before I could even write I would give my mom a pen and paper and dictate my stories to her. I took every art class available to a young girl in St. Thomas and though I got older I always loved illustrated stories. This took the form of comic books I created while in Jr. High, but in High school I was drawn back to my first love, picture books.

When it came time to decide what I would study in college illustration was an easy fit. Then when I found out Pratt Institute had picture book courses; they seemed like an easy fit as well. I studied with published illustrators and I learned so much about the publishing industry. From there I joined SCBWI and began going to conferences and panels to learn as much as I could about the picture book world. cov


After college I began designing kids t-shirt graphics, but my passion was still telling stories. To fuel my creativity outside of work I created a blog where I created natural hair illustrations geared toward young girls. I also wrote, illustrated and self published two books: Nighttime Routine and Princess Hair. These books as well as the blog were made to inspire black girls to love and care for their natural hair. I feel that representation is very important based on my own experiences and created most of my illustrations with this in mind.

I aim to show the world with the diversity it actually has, filling the void of inspiring black characters that I longed for as a child.

Through my agent I was able to get the attention of Quvenzhané Wallis (a very talented young woman) and I am currently illustrating her chapter book trilogy which will be published by Simon and Schuster, the first of which is scheduled to come out in Spring 2017. The main character is a talented young black girl who I feel many young girls will relate to, and I hope my work in this series helps girls see themselves in the protagonist. It continues to be an exciting journey and I look forward to new opportunities to get my work out there for all eyes to see.

The Inspiration

I love picture books so I own a lot but I do have a few favorites. Sophie Blackall is one I have followed since we went to visit her once for a class trip to the Pencil Factory, a shared art space in Brooklyn. Sophie has illustrated and written many wonderful books. Another favorite is Scott Campbell writer and illustrator of Zombie in Love which is one of my favorites. I also love Scott’s lost showdown series. And my favorite duo is Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri. I love the creative and fresh stories they tell together.
The Back Story

I began with self publishing through Amazon which is a great and easy tool for anyone to use. There is no need to deal with storing books because they are print to order and they have easy to follow templates.

Through an SCBWI agents’ panel I was able to sign with Shannon Associates who got me my first traditional publishing job with Simon and Schuster.

The Buzz

Princess Hair has been featured on Little black books giveaway and my books were also reviewed by YouTuber Jenell B Stewart:

The State of the Industry

I like that there is a focus on diversity in the industry right now. I hope this is a good sign of things to come. Representation has been lacking for a long time and children of color have been waiting for too long to see themselves in everyday stories. We don’t only exist in fables. We have experiences that should be represented.
Check out Sharee Miller and her work online.

Also at Coily and Cute.

On Instagram.
Her blog.

Thank you so much, Sharee — and congratulations! We can’t wait to hear and see what’s next.


February 11, 2016

HoodooAuthorPic (1)


How can you not like a character named Hoodoo, who can’t cast a spell? Now that’s what I call creative!  Our spotlight is on an amazing writer, who has written a debut novel that awarded him the 2016 Coretta Scott King, John Steptoe Award for new Talent!  We not only applaud you, but The Brown Bookshelf is honored to spotlight , on this 11th Day of February,

Ronald Smith


Please tell us about “The Journey.”
I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a child. I grew up reading fantasy and sci-fi stories, and loved creating imaginary worlds. As an adult, I found my way into advertising, and became a writer of TV commercials. It was a lot of fun for a long time, and writing fiction fell by the wayside. “At least I’m getting paid for writing,” I often told myself.

Then one day, my younger brother, who was working at a Barnes & Noble at the time, turned me on to some great books for young readers: The His Dark Materials books by Philip Pullman, The Sabriel Trilogy by Garth Nix. Harry Potter, of course. That’s when I realized I wanted to write stories again. There was a period of a few years where I was writing very literary short stories, but seeing these great kid’s books inspired me to write what I loved to read as a kid: tales of adventure and other worlds.

Once I decided to focus on children’s lit, I found my voice. Several years later, I was signed by an agent and got a book deal

How about “The Back Story?”
I was fortunate in that I queried an agent who liked Hoodoo, but felt it needed some work. She told me what she thought wasn’t working, and asked if I’d be open to revise and resubmit. She didn’t have to do this, and most agents don’t. I agreed with her advice, and when I sent the manuscript back months later she signed me.

A few days after going on submission, I had offers from several publishers and the book went to auction, which, well, was pretty awesome, to say the least. I signed with Clarion, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

What does your Writing Process look like?
I write organically, without an outline or scene-by-scene plan. Only once I get a few chapters down, can I really see where the story is going. It takes shape as I write. It’s fun, because I am discovering it along the way, just as a reader would. I’ve tried writing programs like Scrivener but they just confuse me. I do outline a little, once I know where the story is going, but mostly it is all part of what John Gardner called “The Fictive Dream,” that place you go in your subconscious when you are really in the zone. It is a type of fugue-state.

I no longer work in advertising, and write every day in my favorite coffee shop. Some days I write at home, but I like having some background white noise, so the ambience in a coffee shop fuels the creative process. Plus…caffeine.

ron smith's book

The Buzz on “Hoodoo.”

2016 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s 2015 Choices List

“The authenticity of Hoodoo’s voice and this distinctive mashup of genres make Smith one to watch. Seekers of the scary and “something different” need look no further.”

“The chilling supernatural Southern Gothic plot action is enhanced by atmospheric description of rural life in Depression-era Alabama…Readers will particularly enjoy Hoodoo’s authentic and engaging narrative voice.”
School Library Journal

“Hoodoo’s first-person narrative, which flows beautifully, has an appealing and natural cadence…Through his protagonist, Smith demonstrates an eye for detail and a knack for evocative imagery as well as for telling a riveting story with a dollop of southern gothic appeal.”

“Filled with folk and religious symbols, this creepy Southern Gothic ghost story is steeped in time and place. Hoodoo’s earnest first-person narrative reveals a believable innocent who can ’cause deeds great and powerful.'”
Horn Book Magazine

“What a splendid novel. Reader, be prepared to have your foundations shaken: this is a world that is deeper, more wondrous, more spiritually charged than you may have ever imagined.”
Gary D. Schmidt, two-time Newbery Honor medalist and author of The Wednesday Wars

“Oh, wow! Hoodoo may just be the perfect book for a rainy day. Find a dog that will sit with you . . . and read on to your heart’s content. What a fun discovery!”
Nikki Giovanni, poet and award-winning author of Rosa

What are your thoughts on the State of the Industry

Shortly after Hoodoo was accepted by my publisher, the We Need Diverse Books movement took off. I think this is an exciting time to be writing children’s books, especially if you are writing about characters that fall outside the mainstream. I think publishers want these books, and are eager to find those that tell a great story. Has it come too late? Perhaps. But change takes time, and thanks to the voices of a few tireless advocates—booksellers, librarians, authors—diverse books are beginning to really be noticed. Every kid needs to see him or herself reflected in books. It’s simple. Seeing yourself, or someone who looks like you or talks like you or lives where you live, makes reading relatable to kids.

My website is
Twitter: @ronsmithbooks

Thank you, Ronald Smith, for your contributions to children’s literature!