Nicola Yoon on #BlackGirlMagic, How Love Changes Everything, and Showing the Possibilities

June 6, 2017

credit: Sonya Sones

Nicola Yoon is the #1 NYT bestselling author of Everything, Everything, which is now a major motion picture, and The Sun Is Also a Star, a National Book Award finalist, Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King New Talent Award winner. She grew up in Jamaica and Brooklyn, and lives in Los Angeles with her family.

We featured Nicola back in 2016; a LOT has happened since. We caught up with her for an update. Welcome back, Nicola!

You’ve mentioned that you wrote Everything, Everything because you wanted your daughter to see herself reflected in media. Can you share some of the responses you’ve gotten from readers, and now from those who’ve seen the film?

The response from readers has just been incredible and, not gonna lie, some of them have made me cry. Every day — every single day — I get at least one email from a reader or a viewer telling me how much it means to them at Maddy is a person of color. When my little girl first met Amandla Stenberg on the set of the movie, the first thing she said to me is “she looks just like me.” She said it again when she saw the movie at the Los Angeles premiere. I’ll never be able to put into words how much those moments have meant to me.

In an interview about Everything, Everything, you said that “I didn’t want her to be in a prison as much as yearning for something more, something different.” Why was that important to you? What was the process of getting that concept on paper?

One of the themes I was exploring with the book was the ways in which love changes you. Love is a force. Sometimes it changes you for the better. Sometimes for the worse. In the book, Maddy is very happy with her life before she meets Olly. After she meets and falls in love Olly, she begins to look at the world anew. I think one of the things that love does is open you up to the world and make you more vulnerable. The ways in which we respond to that vulnerability is something I was interested in exploring.

What were some of the challenges for you in the process of seeing the story move from the page to the screen? What surprised you? And what was your cameo experience like?

In the beginning it’s a little hard to let go of your characters, but that went away quickly for me. One of the best moments I had was when I was reading a revision of the script that had a scene that wasn’t in the book. I loved the scene so much that I wished I’d written it. That moment made me happy because both the script and the movie are new pieces of art. Now there are more stories about Maddy and Olly out in the world.

The cameo experience was so great! We are “family on the beach” in one of the Hawaii scenes. It’s about three seconds of me, my husband, and my daughter splashing in the waves in the background. Funnily, the scene took 45 minutes to film because my daughter kept pointing at the drone camera that filmed it so we had to do take after take :)

Congratulations on the success of The Sun is Also A Star! Where did that story start? How was the writing process similar to or different from working on Everything, Everything? What did you feel that you learned and incorporated into Sun? Now that you’re a page-to-screen vet, what are you most looking forward to in the filmmaking process?

Thank you so much! It really started for me from the Carl Sagan quote -— “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” I wanted to tell a love story about two people, but I wanted to include the universe of things that made it possible for the two people to fall in love. I’m really looking forward to the adaptation process. Tracy Oliver is writing the script as we speak!

What does the phrase #BlackGirlMagic mean to you? Where do you see or use that idea in your own work?

It means that black girls are allowed the full range of the human experience. In our current media we see so many stereotyped notions what it means to be black. One of the things I want to do in my work is to push back against those ideas. Black girls can be anyone and love anyone. We are allowed to be the main character.

We are allowed to be smart and beautiful and funny and soft and strong and vulnerable and geeky. We are allowed to be.

In The Sun Is Also A Star, you incorporate issues surrounding immigration, and mentioned in an interview that you’d love to see the immigration conversation “start from a place of empathy.” How do you think your readers can make that happen? How do you think that reading can promote empathy?

I think that books promote empathy. It’s hard to spend 400 pages in the lives of characters without seeing their humanity and coming to a place of understanding.

Like those who’ve come before us, our children, our readers, we’re living in challenging times. Do you think that’s reflected in the work that you do? In the stories that you tell? In the way that you work? How?

I think the times have always been challenging. One of the most powerful things that books can do is give us hope show us what is possible not only for ourselves, but for other people.

What do you think are the keys to writing successful YA romance? What are some of your favorites?

I love when characters fall in love with each other’s ideas of the world. I love when you can see that they are making each other grow and think and explore the world in new ways. Also, a good kissing scene is not to be underestimated. :) One of my all time favorites is I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

Thanks so much, Nicola! We can’t wait to see what’s next. Visit Nicola Yoon online for news and updates.

Thank You

November 23, 2016

Touch, by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

The Brown Bookshelf Team would like to thank everyone who signed on to, shared, and supported our Open Declaration in Support of Children.

As we move toward the celebration of our tenth 28 Days Later campaign, we are including plans to, as the Declaration states,

“create…empower children, affirm their lives, and stand up for change.”

Here on the Brown Bookshelf site and on our upcoming YouTube channel, we will begin to share conversations among many of those who signed on, creating a space to share specific ideas and plans to move forward as we “promote understanding and justice through our art…bolster every child’s visceral belief that his or her life shall always be infinitely valuable.” Please do continue to share and sign on to the Declaration via our Facebook page:
We can also be found on Twitter at @brownbookshelf and Instagram at @brownbookshelfteam.

We have a lot planned, and again, invite you to join us as we “continue to press toward the goals of equality, justice, and peace.” Our voices have power, our work is meaningful. As Walter Dean Myers wrote, “There is work to be done.”

We look forward to continuing this work, together. Thank you.

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