Book Party – Minecraft: The Crash

July 9, 2018

Resized Balloons

Any time is a good time for a book party. Add gaming into it and you’re about to add joy to a young reader’s life when you join us in celebrating the latest from BBS’s own Tracey Baptiste.

Minecraft Cover

When Bianca Marshall, an avid Minecraft enthusiast wakes in the hospital, almost paralyzed by injuries from a car crash, she finds herself drawn into a new VR version of Minecraft which promises her control over  a world at the very moment she’s lost control over the real one. Is her best friend Lonnie in there with her too? And can Bianca help him to return to reality with her? The road to recovery may not be without its own dangers! (High Middle Grade/Young Adult)

Tracey, what was the best part about writing this book?

The best thing about writing this book was working with my son, who was 10 when I started doing the outline. He’d come home from school and look at the wall in my office where I plot. We had a system using sticky notes. The red ones were questions for him. So he’d take a look at the wall, tell me if I was going okay, and answer the questions. When I started drafting, he’d get home from school and read two chapters and give me handwritten notes on the manuscript. I got him credit as a consultant on the copyright page. He earned it.

Read this mini-cerpt:

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I was getting used to moving around in the game. There was one thing that I really wanted to try. Flying. From the top of the hill, I jumped twice, expecting my avatar to soar into the sky. Instead, I tumbled down a few blocks. Must be survival mode and not creative, I thought. I climbed back up and looked around. On the other side of the hill, in the distance, was a eld of brown. A desert biome, I guessed. There didn’t seem to be any villagers or buildings, so I turned and went north, following the curve of the river. I ran past mobs of pigs and sheep, clumps of trees, and elds of owers. Much farther away, things turned green. Swampy. I’d have time to explore all of that later. What I wanted was to check out the village on the other side of the river. So I turned my gaze, and the entire world turned beneath me, pointing me in the di‐ rection of the village near my home base.

Running in the game felt amazing. The world whizzed by me, and the exhilaration of being able to sprint around was intoxicating. I could almost pretend that they were really my legs pumping beneath me, sending me ying through the Technicolor scenery. “Optical illusion,” I said out loud. I knew I was really lying in bed in a hospital room, and the entire world around me was a projection of light that extended only as far as the goggles did. It wasn’t real. None of it.

Buy Minecraft: The Crash

Barnes & Noble


Direct from the publisher: Penguin Random House


Want to know more? Check out this podcast

Day 2: Kheryn Callender

February 2, 2018

As a Trinidadian-American writer, it’s particularly thrilling to see children’s books set in the Caribbean. The moment I saw the cover for HURRICANE CHILD, I was excited. Then the starred reviews started coming in. Kirkus wrote, “Callender draws readers in and makes them identify with Caroline’s angst and sorrow and joy and pain,” and School Library Journal called the story “an excellent and nuanced coming-of-age tale.”

Kheryn’s post about their process and their particular take on the industry from the inside–they are an associate editor at Hachette–gives you the full scoop on where African-American kidlit is now and where Kheryn thinks it needs to go in the future.

Below, Kheryn talks about their journey to publication, gives us a taste of what we can expect from HURRICANE CHILD, touts one of their own authors, and has helpful information about the industry.


KC author photoMy mother has had poetry published and was an English teacher for over fifteen years, before she became an assistant principal, so I’ve always been surrounded by books. Reading together at night (RAMONA, HARRY POTTER, ANIMORPHS) was our favorite pastime. But I, like many marginalized authors, had difficulty finding myself in stories. Cassie from the Animorphs series was the first I’d seen a black main character.

I started my personal mission to create more diversity in children’s books in college, and my mom was supportive of my many years of attempting to write manuscripts and attempting to find an agent. I queried two full novels before I attended The New School’s MFA Writing for Children program, which helped me find an internship at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, which became a full-time job. Somehow, the added stress of a 9-5 sparked even more motivation in me, and I began a rigorous schedule of waking up in the early hours to write. My busiest and most productive months were when I woke up at 4am to write. (I’m trying to return to that schedule!)

I queried Beth Phelan (now of Gallt & Zacker) with an MG sci-fi, and she offered me representation. The novel didn’t sell, but I’d already begun working on the beginnings of what would be HURRICANE CHILD, looking to pieces of many of the old manuscripts that will never see the light of day, pulling the strongest writing to build Caroline’s story.


HCHurricane Child is about twelve-year-old Caroline Murphy’s search for her missing mother in the US Virgin Islands. Caroline thinks that her mother has been taken away to the spirit world by a spirit called “the woman in black.” In Caroline’s search to find her mother, she meets a new classmate named Kalinda, and begins to develop feelings for her. Together they set out to search for Caroline’s mother while a hurricane bears down on the islands.

Hurricane Child was written out of my experiences growing up in St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands. Like Caroline, I’m also a hurricane child—someone who was born within a week or so of a hurricane—and I grew up hearing the same teasing idea that Caroline does: being a hurricane child is unlucky. It felt that way as a child. The islands are paradise, but I’d been lonely and isolated for many years. I decided to write Hurricane Child for anyone else who might be in the islands, lonely and different, so that they would know they’re not alone. Hurricane Child is available for pre-order now and comes out on March 27th.

THIS IS KIND OF AN EPIC LOVE STORY, my debut YA, is about sixteen-year-old Nathan Bird, an aspiring screenwriter who has seen the demise of too many real-life relationships to believe in happy endings (including his own with his best friend and ex-girlfriend), but must confront feelings for his childhood friend, Oliver James Hernández, when Ollie moves back to their neighborhood.

EPIC LOVE STORY is the rom-com I would’ve wanted (and still want to see more of) as a queer teen of color. There will always be a need for coming out stories and difficult stories of adversity because of identity, like HURRICANE CHILD—but especially now, with so much real adversity queer people of color already struggle with, I think there’s now an equal need for reminders that happiness and epic love stories are possible and do exist for people like us as well. THIS IS KIND OF AN EPIC LOVE STORY is available in fall of this year. (Check out the cover reveal on February 14th on Pop! Goes the Reader!)


Tyler Johnson Was HereJay Coles isn’t exactly under the radar these days, but I’m so proud to have acquired and edited his important and necessary novel, TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE, and want to make sure everyone knows his name, and to look out for his book, which comes out March 20th. Here’s a description:

When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.

The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.

The novel is heartbreaking and wholly captures what it feels like as a Black American—the anger, the sadness, and the hope for a better tomorrow.


The state of the industry in regards to African-American kidlit is the best it’s ever been, thanks to incredible writers and activists like Angie Thomas, Dhonielle Clayton, and more—but there’s still work to be done. There need to be more people of color working in publishing, applying for internships and assistant positions, to help acquire stories that might not otherwise be acquired. Just this past weekend, I and another editor realized that, in all of the kidlit publishing industry in the United States, there are only eight black acquiring editors, myself included. This is horrible, and needs to change—but it can only change with your help!

I really encourage people of color hoping to break into the industry to apply for as many publishing internships as possible, to continue adding onto your resume as you apply for assistant positions. If living in a place that is not NYC, I know that this can be difficult, but there are also a lot of remote internships, especially for literary agencies. We Need Diverse Books also features a wonderful Internship Grant—you can learn more about that here:

I would also encourage you to reach out to editors for informational interviews, even if it’s only over the phone. I am always happy to give advice to anyone hoping to break into the industry—feel free to contact me at, and we can set up a phone call, or meet for coffee. I know that most editors are happy to help as well, so please reach out to us—it never hurts to ask!

There also needs to be more intersectionality—more queer and disabled people of color of different economic statuses and different religions, gender identities, and more. There isn’t just one way to be black, and as long as we’re working for more diversity, these intersectional identities and stories need to be found and told.

TB: Thank you so much for all of this information, Kheryn! It’s very generous of you to share your story, and offer your help to up and coming authors. You can find Kheryn online on Twitter @kheryncasey, on Instagram as kheryncasey, or on their website:

Throwback Thursday: Justina Ireland

July 27, 2017

As a follow-up to Tuesday’s Black Kids on Covers post, here’s a look back at one of the authors included as she discusses her first two novels and how music helped her to write them. I wonder what music she wrote to while working on her upcoming Dread Nation!

Enjoy this throwback post…


What is a purveyor of awesomeness? If you saw one walking down the street would you know? Let me help you out. Just look at the picture to the left. When you write novels about butt-kicking females with a Greek mythology backdrop, you can put “Purveyor of Awesomeness” on your website next to your name because you’re bound to turn heads! She turned ours, and that’s why on this 24th day of February, 2015, The Brown Bookshelf is honored, and excited to spotlight:


The Process

How do you work? Do you start with a character, a concept, an idea? Do you outline first or just go? Is there a technique or routine for drafting or revising that you find particularly helpful? Do you have an office or other location that works best for you?

I am a complete and utter pantser (meaning I don’t outline). So my writing process is deceptively simple and completely insane:

  1. I come up with the basic idea (not a plot, just a general idea). Example: Dexter meets Greek Mythology.
  2. I write the first 30,000 words or so. Generally the entire first act heading into the second (my books are generally between 80,000 and 90,000 words).
  3. I write the ending so I have a direction. Otherwise I would just keep writing with no end in sight.
  4. I fill in the gaps.
  5. Revisions! Smoothing out the plotholes, making sure plot threads make it the entire way through the book, etc.

If the process sounds disorganized, that’s because it is. I see writing as a kind of archeology. The process of uncovering the story is just as important as the story for me, which sounds a lot prettier than it is in reality. There is usually swearing. And lots of swearing. To be honest my process has been different for each story, but there is always swearing.

I think that’s what makes it fun, the spontaneity of it all! Or maddening. Sometimes it is both fun and maddening, which explains the swearing.

I mostly write at home, in the evenings and in the mornings before I head to work (I have a day job that is not writing related). My writing locations are the office I share with my husband within my home and the dining room table. Not sure why I like writing at the dining room table. Maybe because it’s right next to the kitchen and therefore close to the food.

The Inspiration

I actually write a lot of my stories based on music, which sounds weird. But sometimes hearing just the right song will inspire a feeling that drives my story.

Vengeance Bound, my first published story, was sparked by the album American Idiot by Green Day.

Promise of Shadows was pretty much entirely written to three albums: What to Do When You are Dead by Armor for Sleep, Juturna by Circa Survive and On Letting Go by Circa Survive.

My most recent story was inspired by Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire, so you can pretty much imagine what that is like. For me, music is a huge part of my process. I listen to music when I write, and I actually find it pretty hard to write without it.

As for writers who inspire me, I love Courtney Summers, Jenny Han, Justina Chen, Nova Ren Suma, and Alaya Dawn Johnson.

Under The Radar

Brandy Colbert’s Pointe is a book that I think has not gotten nearly enough love. Theo’s journey is just plain heartbreaking, and I hope lots of good things happen for that book in 2015.

I’m also a huge fan of LR Giles, Stephanie Kuehn, Elsie Chapman, Lydia Kang, and Maurene Goo. I hope all of them continue to write fantastic books. And I hope people continue to read them.


The State of the Industry

I honestly think that the industry is really at a pretty important decision point. The We Need Diverse Books campaign has done a good job of shining a light on the challenges within the publishing industry with regards to diversity and how we can all do better. There’s a lot of talk about increasing diversity, not just with regards to the books being published but also with regards to the staff at the publishing houses. But right now I feel it’s more lip service than reality. Everyone thinks diversity is important, but it seems like few people are actually challenging themselves to make it a reality. If the big publishing houses want to cater to people of color they need to make a commitment to doing just that. And they need to publish books that reflect diversity across the board, not just a couple of issue books every season or diverse books ghettoized under a specific imprint. Where are my black Katnisses? Or my Latino Harry Potters? I’d love to see more books that really push the envelope and break out of the old models, books like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Love is the Drug, which is a book that talks about race and class but also has a pretty amazing storyline as well.

Of course, there are publishers like Lee and Low that have always been committed to diversity and that probably don’t get nearly enough credit for what they do. But in an ideal world I’d really like to see publishers like Lee and Low rendered obsolete. I’d like it to be easier to find a book with a character of color than a talking animal or some mythological creature, but I think right now we’re a few years away from that goal.

Thank you, Justina, for your contributions to Young Adult books!

Learn more about Justina Ireland by visiting her website: