Honoring The Nominees

December 12, 2012

Congratulations to those authors and illustrators that received a nomination for the 2013 NAACP Image Awards.

It’s no surprise that many are previous 28 Days Later spotlights. The Brown Bookshelf prides itself on being among the first to honor these, in some cases unsung, creative artists.


Literary Work – Children

Fifty Cents and a Dream – Jabari Asim (Author), Bryan Collier (Illustrator) (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Harlem’s Little Blackbird – Renee Watson (Author), Christian Robinson (Illustrator) (Random House Books for Young Readers)
In the Land of Milk and Honey – Joyce Carol Thomas (Author), Floyd Cooper (Illustrator) (HarperCollins / Amistad)
Indigo Blume and the Garden City – Kwame Alexander (Word of Mouth Books)
What Color is My World? – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Author), Raymons Obstfeld (Author), A.G. Ford (Illustrator) (Candlewick Press)

Literary Work – Youth/Teens

Fire in the Streets – Kekla Magoon (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)
Obama Talks Back: Global Lessons – A Dialogue With America’s Young Leaders – Gregory Reed (Amber Books)
Pinned – Sharon G. Flake (Scholastic Press)
The Diary of B. B. Bright, Possible Princess – Alice Randall (Author), Caroline Williams (Author), Shadra Strickland (Illustrator) (Turner Publishing Company)
The Mighty Miss Malone – Christopher Paul Curtis (Wendy Lamb Books)

News announcement courtesy of The Children’s Book Council

Literary Awards: The Best Books of 2008

December 12, 2008

It’s that time of year again to recognize the best and brightest in books for 2008 according to various giants in the publishing industry.

First up, The New York Times announced its Notable Children’s Books of 2008 which includes Walter Dean Myers’ Sunrise Over Fallujah on its list.

Publishers Weekly joined in the praise for Sunrise Over Fallujah and included Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship:  The Story of Negro League Baseball in its list of Best Books for 2008 under children’s non-fiction.

School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2008 includes Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship:  The Story of Negro League Baseball, Walter Dean Myers’ Sunrise Over Fallujah, Hope Anita Smith’s Keeping the Night Watch, and Carole Boston Weatherford’s Becoming Billie Holiday.

Amazon has joined the Best Books recognition as well with three separate lists for picture books, middle grade, and young adult.

This week, the Cybils announced the nominees for this year’s competition.  The lists are extensive and I don’t envy the committee for the work that they have to do in choosing a winner for each of the eleven categories next year.

Finally, the National Book Foundation announced their winners for the 2008 National Book Awards.

Congratulations to all of the winners and best wishes to the Cybils nominees!

28 & Beyond: The Making of Dr. Truelove

March 24, 2008


I dislike controversy.

I’m drawn to controversy.

In between my two realities lies the author of young adult fiction. While the conscious side of me never wants to piss off the literary influencers by writing something they’d deem censor-worthy, when I’m writing (my unconscious side) I’m not thinking about anyone except the characters at hand. 

That means I very well may piss off some people or at the very least make some unhappy with my books’ content.  The “author” in me may worry about that after the fact, but the writer in me never does nor is the writer willing to change a word simply to appease potential critics.

I bet Derrick Barnes was the same way when he wrote The Making of Dr. Truelove, the tale of Diego, a smitten, “premature ejaculator,” on a quest to win his crush’s heart. 

If you’re still absorbing the words premature ejaculator, gazing upwards at The Brown Bookshelf’s wonderfully colorful banner depicting two children reading and wondering how those words dare grace our pages, you’re probably not alone.  As I mentioned in my 28 & Beyond feature of It Girls, some people simply aren’t comfortable with the frank tone of young adult fiction.

Perhaps because YA is a sub-genre of children’s literature…and maybe it shouldn’t be.  But that’s a post for another day.

YA which graphically depicts making-out is not for everyone and certainly not for the tween set. School Library Journal sets the appropriate reading age for The Making of Dr. Truelove as tenth grade and up. With that in mind, any discussion of the honest sexual talk within the book becomes a non-issue, in my opinion.

The Making of Dr. Truelove is a funny story about one guy’s mission to win back his crush’s affection from the resident jock. The fact that he attempts to do so by creating an alter ego, Dr. Truelove, who dispenses advice to the lovelorn is not only endearing but ballsy, pardon the pun.

Society dictates that there are inherently girl behaviors and inherently boy behaviors. What we’re supposed to do when those behaviors cross genders is a gray area for someone smarter than me to debate. All I know is, when fiction tackles the story of a guy chasing a girl, dedicated more to winning her affection than bedding her, I love it.

Us ladies aren’t the only ones struck by Cupid’s arrow and prone to getting ourselves into trouble in our attempts to get our guy’s attention. In Dr. Truelove, the romance shoe is on the other foot and Diego – with the help of his confident pal, J-Love, is a well-meaning but bumbling teen boy with his heart on his sleeve for Roxy.

Derrick Barnes depicts a side of teen males that’s often glossed over in fiction. We’re hard wired to believe that guys only want to read about blood, guts and sci-fi or that hooking up without committment is their primary goal.

True enough the characters in Dr. Truelove are all about the hook up, but it’s Roxy’s heart that Diego is after and Barnes’ debut is a tickling peek into the mind of a sincere but slightly overzealous horn dog.

If you’re still unable to recomend this book because the entire premise revolves around teen sex, just say to yourself “YA reflects teen life,” ten times slow, take a deep breath then gift the book to your nearest teen reader. Who knows, they may actually think you’re the coolest auntie, uncle, mom, dad or librarian they know.

The Buzz on The Making of Dr. Truelove

An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers

“The youthful high school humor keeps it from veering too far into Zane territory, and romance and urban-fiction fans will no doubt love the saucy comebacks, sexy language, and sheer ridiculousness that befalls Diego and J on their Cyrano-like journey to love.”— School Library Journal

“Barnes holds nothing back here, so in case the previous summary isn’t enough, beware of some racy content. However, if you’re comfortable with that, you will love this book! ” – Teens Read Too

28 & Beyond: The Divine Series

March 21, 2008

Known for her Christian fiction titles written for adults, it was a delight last year to encounter Jacquelin Thomas’ debut YA title Simply Divine which is the first title in a series of books about fifteen year old Divine Matthews-Hardison.  After turmoil erupts with her parents, she is forced to go live with a family she’s never met in Georgia.  As I read Simply Divine, I pictured in my mind Bobbi Kristina, the daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.

Readers who are avid fans of celebrity gossip will enjoy the Divine titles but understand that there is substance to these stories.  In Georgia, Divine lives with her uncle who is a pastor, his strict wife, and their two children.  Divine Confidential deals with teenage dating, teenage pregnancy as well as online dating.  Divine Secrets tackles teenage relationships again with a look at abusive relationships.  Nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Divine Confidential, Thomas does a wonderful job creating stories that connects with her young adult readers.

The Buzz on the Divine Series
Once again Jacquelin Thomas has brought a very serious issue that teens are facing to the light…online safety. The characters are real. The situations are real, and the book is entertaining from cover to cover. ~ Amazon reviewer

I am really enjoying this new inspirational writing for teens and Simply Divine doesn’t disappoint. My daughter loved the glimpse into the lifestyle of the young, rich and famous. And I loved the message in this book. This should be added to every teens’ library. Great read! ~ Amazon reviewer

Divine Match-Up coming June 17, 2008

Visit Jacquelin at her website or the website dedicated to the Divine series.

28 & Beyond: It Chicks

March 17, 2008


The wild popularity of the Gossip Girl series has resulted in a strange and often contentious divide among those looking for good books for young adult readers and those who read them, regularly.

On one side, you have some influencers who absolutely cannot understand the appeal of a book where girls are catty, fashion rules and illicit behavior such as sex makes an appearance.

On the other, you have readers who have grown up on a healthy dose of Celebreality and don’t know a life before the term “reality TV star” was coined. They not only see nothing wrong with books like GG, but can turn to a decent facsimilie of it pretty much anytime they’re near a television – a plasma flat screen, of course.

Teen books of the popular fiction variety don’t dictate what teens do, say, wear or how they act, 90% of the time they’re simply reflecting it. And sometimes the authors willing to go out on a limb and portray/admit that teens can be catty, sometimes engage in sexual intercourse, or may even drink illegally are forced to defend their books to those who forget reading is about escape.

It Chicks, by Tia Williams could easily be labeled a Gossip Girl copy cat and readers could make up their own minds whether they’d like to take a cruise through its pages. But to call it that would do the book and the author a disservice.

The author’s comment, when asked about writing about black girls keeping up with the Jonses, strikes me as perfect, “the black girls I know were the joneses.”

In other words, the mainstream doesn’t have the market cornered on the antics of students of privilege.  What It Chicks does is give readers a peek into a world they’ve likely never been a part of and likely never will be beyond literature or television.

For readers who love the pure drama of teen life – either because it’s so far from their own, it’s like voyeurism or because they need escape from their own trials – It Chicks is a fresh take on a topic as old as time.

If for some of us, the brand name dropping within It Chicks is too much, remember that for every reader who will be turned off by it, there’s four more who 1) may not even notice the brand names and 2) won’t let mention of them impact how they feel about the story.

A more legit concern, when recommending this book to a young reader, may be its large cast.  There are seven protags in the story.  However, Teens Read Too reviewer said of that element “In the beginning it was hard to tell who was who, but as you keep reading it gets easier. ”

I know well the debate books like It Chicks brings about – my own have been mired in it from time to time, but the fact remains, it’s still new for African American teens to see themselves portrayed outside of problem novels and historical fiction. And if one is looking for a wide variety to put in front of a teen reader who may still be hunting for their cuppa tea, offering It Chicks is a good start.

The Buzz on It Chicks

“Williams, who has an ear for the way teens speak, has created a hip series filled with heart and a lot of sass.” —Essence

“If you enjoyed the movie Fame, you’re sure the dig IT CHICKS!” —American Cheerleader

“The writing and dialogue is lively, and there’s plenty of turmoil to get caught up in…over-the-top and fun!” —Publisher’s Weekly

“It chicks is an entertaining story but could have been so much better if the makeup expert and fashionista would cut back on the name brand dropping or just have a tip section at the end of the chapters. ” — Amazon Reviewer “Nodice”

“THE IT CHICKS is likely to be well-received among young adult readers, however, parents may have reservations. ” — The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers

Thank You For Brown Bookshelving!

February 29, 2008

What a month it’s been.

What started out as a simple exercise in shelf awareness has grown into a full-fledged mission to bring authors and readers of all backgrounds, ethnicities and races together to celebrate books, the authors who write them and the illustrators who make them beautiful.

The support from visitors to our site, influencers in the literary community, the authors who graced us with their presence via Q&A’s and their publishers was tremendous. We hoped, but never imagined that The Brown Bookshelf would be embraced so.

Thank you for visiting us.  We hope that you’ll continue to stop by and read our reflections on the children’s lit industry and discover more great authors.

Now, on to the good stuff.

Book Winners

Grand Prize Winner:  Gift Basket


*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

Next 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

Tonya Bolden

February 16, 2008

Growing up, Tonya Bolden thought one day she would be a teacher. Today, as an award-winning author of more than 20 books for young people and adults, she is just that. Her classroom has no walls. Instead, you just need to pick up one her acclaimed books on topics such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver or Reconstruction to step into the world she creates. History, she has said, is her passion. She passes that rich knowledge of the past on to people around the world.

Along with being a talented researcher, Bolden is known as a gifted storyteller who turns facts into something more — transcendent stories that move, challenge and inspire.

Please join us in celebrating Tonya Bolden on the 16th day of our campaign.

Growing up, what did books mean to you?

Books were my wonders, my transports, my love.

How did your childhood love of writing put you on the path to becoming a children’s book author?

It definitely put me on the path to becoming a writer, but I can’t say it put me on the path to becoming a children’s book author specifically.  My childhood love of writing does make me believe that most of us know what we are called to be/to do as children.  So often, as we get older, we lose our way because of pressures to conform or fulfill other people’s expectations. Of course many people are born into such difficult, even tragic circumstances that they don’t have the option of heeding the call. I don’t take the fact hat I had the option for granted and I’m so grateful to my parents for never denying me books and never dismissing my young scribblings.

How did you land your first deal?

It landed me might be a better way to put it.  Marie Brown, my agent at the time, pitched me to Vy Higginsen and to Scholastic for working with Vy on turning her gospel musical Mama, I Want to Sing into a young adult novel.  After that book was done, the editor talked about my doing another book for her. Result: And Not Afraid to Dare: The Stories of Ten African-American Women (Scholastic Press, 1998).  So writing for the young found me and I found myself loving it more and more, but never thinking I couldn’t also do books for adults.

Your books showcase the power of graceful storytelling and meticulous research. What tips would you offer aspiring authors who want to write biography or historical fiction?

Surrender to the subject.  Be open to flashes of the spirit.

You’ve written about so many topics – African-American artists and heroes, all-girl bands, Reconstruction. Where do your ideas spring from?

Some ideas spring from my curiosity. Others represent some unfinished business. (Example: the little bit I was taught in school about Reconstruction left me feeling bad about black folks. Thus, my book Cause: Reconstruction America (Knopf, 2005). Sometimes an editor comes to me with an idea.  With The Champ (Knopf, 2004), illustrator Greg Christie was very keen on doing a book about Ali.  I was very keen on working with Greg again after the art he created for Rock of Ages: A Tribute to the Black Church (Random House, 2001).  At the outset, I really wasn’t all that passionate about Ali, but, oh, how that changed after I did the research and discovered for myself why he was “the greatest” and thought, He was no mere boxer; he was an artist!

If you could go back and whisper in your ear when you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself about the children’s book industry?

I doubt 20-something-year-old me would listen to 40-somethng-year old me.  Also, I agree with Soren Kierkegaard that “Life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards,” and with Sigourney Weaver that “the crooked path has its dividends.”

How has the landscape changed for African-American children’s book authors over the years? What gains have made you proud? What do you hope the future brings?

I was recently told that there are fewer children’s books by black authors being published now as opposed to a few years ago. If this is true, I wonder, Why?  Are black writers losing interest in writing for the young? Are black writers having trouble getting a contract for books for the young with black subject matter?  If the latter, I truly hope that people who care, who think there should be more such books will commit to buying what’s out there, understanding that publishing is a business, that sales in large part determine what and who gets published.  So even if you don’t have children-buy books!  Give them to libraries, schools, hospitals, youth detention centers, youth organizations, and to the young people in your immediate and non-immediate family, to the young people on the corner, to young people anywhere you find them.    

What have been some of the proudest moments of your writing career?

Receiving a letter from a girl or boy telling me that she or he was moved by or learned something from one of my books. 

What have been some of the toughest?

Starting the next book.  The way I can get you’d think it was the first one.

What’s your mission as an author?

Overall, to teach and enlighten.

What do you hope young people take away from your books?

The specifics vary from book to book, but in general, I hope young people take away inspiration to live a productive life.

What inspires your work?

I suppose the eight-/nine-/ten-year-old Tonya who said that when she grew up she wanted to be a teacher.

I read that your passion is history. What do you say to young people who question how history is relevant to them today?

I say to them, “I hear you.” I hated history when I was young. It was all dates and facts and not a lot of my people in the mix and no soul-stirring/thought-provoking or even interesting language.  The only kind of “history” I enjoyed was what I got from the TV or big screen.  I remember liking Little House on the Prairie for example.  Probably for the props. I’ve always been fascinated by “old-timey” things.

What I came to understand as an adult is that there is power in the past. Knowing history can be a powerful antidote to shame/self-hatred/identity-confusion.

Last thing: I think we must acknowledge that part of the reason many young people feel history is irrelevant is because most adults feel the same way.

How do you balance the creative side of writing with the business side?

I don’t. I lack the “business gene.”  I took a break from being agented for a few years, but I now have an agent again.   

Your wonderful book, George Washington Carver (Abrams, 2008), debuted last month. What can we look forward to next?

The New Deal.

What’s your greatest joy?

The love of God.

 The Buzz on George Washington Carver:

“Bolden follows up M.L.K.: Journey of a King (2007) with this shorter but equally lucid profile of the second-most-well-known African-American. Outfitted with a great array of sharply reproduced contemporary photos and prints (many in color), plus a generous admixture of Carver’s own paintings and botanical illustrations, the narrative takes him from birth (in slavery) to honor-laden old age and death. It focuses particularly on his relentless pursuit of an education, his sense of purpose, his wide range of talents and his ever-more-relevant conviction that all of our basic physical needs can be served by renewable natural resources. Cogently argued, enlivened with unusual details-such as Carver’s ambiguous reference to otherwise unknown “sisters,” or the fact that he was not the inventor of peanut butter-and handsomely packaged, this floats easily atop the ongoing flood of Carver biographies for young readers. Published in conjunction with an exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum.”

— Kirkus Reviews

 The Buzz on M.L.K.: Journey of a King (Abrams, 2007):

Winner, 2008 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children 

“Bolden looks past the public figure to bring the man, and his deeper vision of the ‘beloved community,’ into focus in this eloquent, handsomely designed profile. Familiarly calling him “M.L.” (a nickname his father used) throughout, the author traces King’s life from birth to death, pointing out how reluctantly he assumed the mantle of leadership, then came to espouse Gandhi’s nonviolence as a guiding precept, and finally exhausted himself battling not only for civil rights, but also against the Civil Rights Movement’s later tide of radicalism. Captions paired to the generous array of photos add further detail, and advanced readers will get fuller pictures of the man and his era from the appended multimedia resource list. Passing quickly over his public triumphs (the “I Have a Dream” speech, for instance, is largely relegated to a caption noting that he had used that refrain before), this portrait, rich in personal feeling and well endowed with direct, sometimes extended, quotes, will leave readers with a strong, and perhaps inspiring, sense of the passion and depth of Dr. King’s commitment to peace with justice.”

— School Library Journal, Starred Review 

“Do libraries need another biography of King? Yes, if it’s as good as this one, which will reach a wide audience. Bolden, whose books include the Coretta Scott King Honor Book Maritcha (2005), brings readers close to the great leader and to the civil rights movement through detailed historical analysis and extensive notes. In an author’s note, Bolden says she chose not to detail King’s flaws but rather to focus on the “dream.” The chatty style is accessible . . . and the handsome book design will encourage browsers. Stirring, beautifully reproduced, well-captioned photos (at least one on every double-page spread) accompany the text, supplemented with boxed quotes. Everything is fully documented in notes, and Bolden supplies a bibliography and a very detailed time line. Pair this with Andrew Helfer’s graphic-novel biography Malcolm X (reviewed below) and with other books about great civil rights leaders. Readers older than the target audience will want this, too.”

— Booklist

The Buzz on Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl

Winner, 2006 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award 

Winner, 2006 James Madison Book Award

“Born free in a nation stained by slavery, where free blacks had few rights and rare respect, here was a girl determined to rise, to amount to something.” In this captivating biography, Bolden introduces Maritcha Reymond Lyon, born in the mid-1800s into a family of free blacks in Manhattan. Lyon found fame as a teenager in Providence, Rhode Island, when she sued the state to gain admission to the all-white high school–the only high school in town. Bolden’s succinct text focuses on Lyon’s growing-up, and the attractive spreads feature well-chosen archival photographs and engravings that offer a fascinating glimpse of Lyon’s world of “New York City’s striving class of blacks.” Lyon had a distinguished family, and Bolden shows how its members inspired her to succeed against formidable odds, even when she felt that “the iron had entered my soul.” Bolden supplements quotes from Lyon’s accounts with extensive research and enthralling detail, and the result is both an inspirational portrait of an individual and a piercing history about blacks in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries–subjects rarely covered in books for youth. An author’s note describes Lyon’s adult achievements and lends insight into Bolden’s research. Notes and a selected bibliography conclude this powerful volume.”

— Booklist, Starred Review

For more on Tonya Bolden, please visit www.tonyaboldenbooks.com.

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