Voices of Change: A Parent Speaks

October 16, 2017

Blackness
by Brenda Payne Whiteman

I love my blackness
Good to know who I am
Hailing from my parents’ and ancestors’
Collective womb
Nurturing, strong and proud

I face a cold world
When pain is inflicted
With words that cut into my heart
Sharp as a knife
By looks that burn a hole in my soul

I feel invisible at times in a sea of whiteness
By those encaged in bold, cocky entitlement
Basking in their reality

I have news
The world does not revolve
Around you
It revolves around us all

We all share this planet
As human beings
Who laugh, cry, and bleed the same red
No one is more supreme than you or me
We all have something to give

Brenda Payne Whiteman is an aspiring children’s picture book writer and a member of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is a parent, age 58.

Read about Voices of Change on The Brown Bookshelf.

The Brown Bookshelf opens up this space to you — to young readers, to parents and caregivers, to educators, and all who work directly with children and teens. See previous entries here.

What are you thinking? How are you feeling about what is happening in our towns and cities, our world? Where do we go from here? What would you like to see happen? What do you want to do? How can we offer our support?

Please feel free to share your words and/or images with us, by sending them to teambrownbookshelf@gmail.com. And we will post them here. Posts with profanity, explicit imagery, etc will not be accepted or published. Unless a contributor requests otherwise, we will share first initials, age and/or position only.

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Call for Submissions – 28 Days Later

October 11, 2017

28dayslaterlogoIt’s that time. The submissions window has officially opened for the 11th annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of black children’s book creators. We will take nominations today through November 10th.

Over the past decade, we have proudly saluted more than 250 authors and illustrators through our signature initiative. But there are so many more who deserve to be showcased.

That’s where you come in. Help us identify under-the-radar and vanguard black children’s book creators we should consider featuring. Let us know who we should check out so we can give them the praise they’ve earned.

After the submissions window closes, we’ll research the names you’ve submitted and our internal nominations. Then, we’ll choose the stand-outs who will be the next class of 28 Days Later honorees. The celebration of their work begins February 1.

Too often, the work of black authors and illustrators goes unsung. With 28 Days Later, we put these talents in front of the folks who can get their books into the hands of kids – librarians, teachers, parents and booksellers among others.

Nominate your favorites in the comments section. Please note that due to the limited resources of the team, we can only take nominations of traditionally published books. We may highlight a small number of self-published children’s book creators for the 28 Days Later campaign, but these authors and illustrators will be internally nominated.

You can check out past honorees in the 28 Days Later pull-down tab in the menu above. If you could make sure your nominee hasn’t already been featured, that would be a great help.

Spread the word and nominate often. With your support, we can make a difference. Thank you.


Voices of Change: Youth Speak

October 2, 2017

 

strongerthanhate

Artwork by JGL, 13

 

 

Untitled

-by A, 13

Strove through strife
A motto for Black children
Blackness is excellence
We are not too dark to be noticed
It is not a reason for abuse
Blackness is beauty
Community
Magic
Love
Hardships
Strength.
They tried to shape our hands
To fit only chains
We made a fist.
To show love
In our community
To hold a pen
Mightier than a sword
To hold a microphone
That ensures we will be heard–
Say it loud
Be it loud
Black and proud.

 

 

 

 

What are you thinking? How are you feeling about what is happening in our towns and cities, our world? Where do we go from here? What would you like to see happen? What do you want to do? How can we offer our support?

 

Your lives matter. The Brown Bookshelf opens up this space to you — to young readers, to parents and caregivers, to educators, and all who work directly with children and teens.

Send your submission to teambrownbookshelf@gmail.com

 

Please feel free to share your words and/or images with us, by sending them to teambrownbookshelf@gmail.com. And we will post them here (Unless a contributor requests otherwise, we will share first initials, age and/or position only.)

Read this for more about Voices of Change on The Brown Bookshelf.

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Voices of Change: A New Series on the Brown Bookshelf

October 2, 2017

illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

“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.”

Those were the words of the Brown Bookshelf’s Declaration in Support of Children in November of 2016, and we reaffirm that commitment. In the wake of continued violence, bigotry, and state-sanctioned expressions of hate across the country, we are thinking of you, our readers, every day. It takes love and courage to stand up for what’s right. There is only one side in the fight against evil. One of our promises was to listen, and that promise stands stronger than ever.

Your lives matter. The Brown Bookshelf opens up this space to you — to young readers, to parents and caregivers, to educators, and all who work directly with children and teens.

What are you thinking? How are you feeling about what is happening in our towns and cities, our world? Where do we go from here? What would you like to see happen? What do you want to do? How can we offer our support?

Please feel free to share your words and/or images with us, by sending them to teambrownbookshelf@gmail.com. And we will post them here (Unless a contributor requests otherwise, we will share first initials, age and/or position only.)

We begin with reflections from two young people, a poem and work of illustration.

Educators are using the hashtags #CharlottesvilleCurriculum, #CharlottesvilleSyllabus, #TeachResistance, #ImmigrationSyllabus on Twitter to share resources related to these issues. Scholars, writers, artists, and activists have begun to collect resources that can be helpful in your classroom, library, and home. In the wake of the hate crimes in Charlottesville, VA, there are a number of “Charlottesville Syllabi” available free online, such as The University of Virginia Graduate Student Coalition’s zine that continues to be updated and revised, and the jstor compendium. The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility offers a number of free classroom resources, including this one on DACA, this on responding to violence like a mass shooting, and another to foster a sense of connection between young people, their communities, their world. Teaching for Change shares a bibliography and other resources on Puerto Rico’s past and present. Teaching Tolerance also offers some tips on discussing the crises in places like Puerto Rico, and Rethinking Schools shares the stories of student activism.

We continue to “plant seeds of empathy, fairness and empowerment through words and pictures.” In keeping with the Brown Bookshelf’s mission to celebrate Black creators of children’s literature, we’d like to share a few titles that we think can promote justice during these times: please feel free to share your recommendations in the comments.

Touch, by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

    Picture Books

 

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation
By Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub

Tiny Stitches
By Gwendolyn Hooks

If You Were a Kid During the Civil Rights Movement
By Gwendolyn Hooks

Milo’s Museum
By Zetta Elliott

We March
By Shane W. Evans

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton
By Don Tate

One Million Men and Me
Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Peter Ambush

Afro-Bets Book of Black Heroes
By Wade Hudson, Valerie Wilson Wesley

The Great Migration: Journey to the North
By Eloise Greenfield

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer
By Carole Boston Weatherford

White Socks Only
By Evelyn Coleman

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Be Malcolm X
By Ilyasah Shabazz

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World
By Christine King Farris

Preaching to the Chickens
By Jabari Asim

As Fast As Words Could Fly
By Pamela M. Tuck

Goin’ Someplace Special
By Patricia C. McKissack

Freedom on the Menu
By Carole Boston Weatherford

The Other Side
By Jacqueline Woodson

Freedom Train
By Evelyn Coleman

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down
By Andrea Davis Pinkney

Child of the Civil Rights Movement
By Paula Young Shelton

Rosa
By Nikki Giovanni

Coretta Scott
By Ntozake Shange

Sweet Smell of Roses
By Angela Johnson

    Middle Grade

 

The Watsons Go to Birmingham
By Christopher Paul Curtis

The Laura Line
By Crystal Allen

Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales
By Virginia Hamilton

One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven, Gone Crazy in Alabama (Gaither Sisters Trilogy)
By Rita Williams Garcia

Let It Shine! Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters
By Andrea Davis Pinkney

Through My Eyes
By Ruby Bridges

Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls
By Tonya Bolden

Maritcha: A 19th Century American Girl
By Tonya Bolden

Midnight Without a Moon
By Linda Williams Jackson

 

    Young Adult

 

March Trilogy
By Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Piecing Me Together
By Renée Watson

This Side of Home
By Renée Watson

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas

Dear Martin
Nic Stone

Parable of the Sower
By Octavia Butler

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom
By Lynda Blackmon Lowery

Brown Girl Dreaming
By Jacqueline Woodson

The Rock And The River
By Kekla Magoon

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Grown Too Soon

August 7, 2017

Too many times we’ve heard the refrain “gone too soon” to allude to a life cut short. A wistful phrase lamenting the potential of one who has earned their wings prematurely. Sadly, the sentiment can also be applied to children of color and the premature death of their innocence.  But I’ll call it grown too soon, instead.

In Black culture, being “grown” is never confused with being a “grown up.”  Being a grown up means to reach adulthood and join the rat race, no matter how reluctantly.  To be grown, is to adopt adult mannerisms. This can be a sharp/sassy tongue, acting out or promiscuous behavior. If someone tells you you’re too grown, it ain’t nothing good. And it’s usually followed by a reprimand or worse.  Tressie McMillian Cottom (@tressiemcphd) covers the promiscuity aspect in an excellent NY Times Op-ed.

Few parents allow children to get away with being grown. Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, very few children of color have the luxury of maintaining child-like innocence beyond the age of 8. Both in my childhood experience and in raising my daughters, I’d say eight was about the time the world reached into our lives and dictated that it could no longer be sugar coated.

Sometimes the experience is a world event (9/11, school shootings, a certain Presidential campaign) and other times it’s more personal – like dealing with overt racism by a classmate. Whatever the situation, it requires the adult to shoot straight with the only thing that’s left, the ugly truth. They’re the conversations no parent likes to have because you know, at its end, you’ve stripped one more layer of innocence from your child.

We’re foolish to think we can keep chipping those layers away without it leading to a little grownness. At the very least, our children come away with a wary world-view made worse as incident after incident shows them how tough things can be when your skin has a tint.

Unless society changes drastically, this is simply the way things are for brown children. Luckily, many parents find ways to balance preparation for the real world with plenty of opportunities to let kids be kids.  And here, I applaud the authors of color who naturally portray this sticky wicket in our fiction. No heavy-handed lessons, just life as it is.

This matter hit home, recently, as I journey closer to the publication of my first MG novel, So Done. My wonderful editor sent over a sample book cover. I loved it. But the sample featured two young girls who looked years older than my 13-year-old characters. Despite the vivid color and fun lettering, the girls’ age was the first thing I noticed. The only, to be honest.

All I could think was – I don’t want these girls portrayed too grown. So Done’s underlying story showcases the adult issues facing the girls. I didn’t want them to look too mature lest anyone begin the age-old cycle of solely blaming young Black people for their grownness. You know the phrase  – “Well no wonder [fill in some offense that’s their fault], look how grown they look.”

I outlined these concerns and after quickly assuring me it was only a mock-up to squarely identify the artistic style and direction, my editor said something else important – that she understood my concerns. That they were noted.

I’d like more people to start there – understand and note the concern. Remember why so many Black kids and other children of color exude an air of seriousness or level of maturity that leans dangerously close to being grown. It’s not an act. And in most cases, the kid isn’t being disrespectful on purpose. They simply can’t unsee the world around them.

Being grown too soon is the reality of far too many of our kids. In order to provide well-rounded depictions of our children, authors of color must be at the table to show exactly how kids are still able to be kids in spite of the grownness thrust upon them.


Sweet Blackberry: Karyn Parsons Is Sharing Stories We All Need Now

June 29, 2017

It seems like Karyn Parsons was born to start Sweet Blackberry, the non-profit organization dedicated to bringing little known stories of African American achievement to light. Her mother was a librarian, and “I did grow up in libraries,” says the star of the long-running hit show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. “The advantage of having a mother who worked there was that you could check books out way over the limit. I grew up with books around the house too, and with a strong love of books and reading.” Parsons mother also made sure to share with her the stories and information about African American culture that she’d been told as a child growing up in the South. “From time to time she was surprised by the things that I wasn’t being taught in school,” says Parsons.

Parsons began dreaming of Sweet Blackberry while her mother worked at the Black Resource Center in South Central Los Angeles. She was playing Hilary Banks on the Fresh Prince and her mother would call to share stories of people she found fascinating. “She told me stories in ways that made them come alive.” And one of the first was the story of Henry Box Brown.
“I had never heard his story before,” she remembers. “I was fascinated! I wasn’t a big history person in school — I couldn’t stand history! It was always presented to me in this very dry and abstract way… ‘Memorize these dates, do a report.’ Nobody was bringing it to you where you lived.” The tale of the enslaved man who literally mailed himself to freedom in a box “still feels like a fable, it’s amazing! Such a magnificent story,” she says. Parsons in turn shared Brown’s story with friends.

“I would tell my friends about it and no one had heard this story, it was so incredible. I became so determined that I was going to share this story with kids.”

But starring on a television show took precedence for a while. Parsons kept Henry Brown’s story in the back of her mind and heart, and would occasionally scribble notes, etc. It was when she was pregnant with her first child that she started thinking about ways to supplement her daughter’s education. “What do they teach the kids in schools these days? What can I expect her to learn? What can I give her?” Motherhood brought with it new responsibilities and opportunities. “My daughter’s watching.” And Sweet Blackberry was born.

Parsons points out that it’s important that we go beyond the usual MLK and Harriet Tubman stories, as important and beautiful as they are. “There’s so much more…I have to get these out.” As she wondered how she’d go about sharing stories like Brown’s, her husband, an independent filmmaker, encouraged her to “just do it.”

Parsons started with the idea to write books, but indie publishing was not as accessible as it is now. She had studied filmmaking, and knew the industry. “I knew I could make a film. And I could press it, make DVDs.” Parsons started talking to friends and acquaintances in the business, and the positive response was encouraging. “There was so much goodwill,” she remembers.

As Sweet Blackberry kicks off a Kickstarter campaign that will bring the story of aviator Bessie Coleman to the screen, Parsons says that she’s more than ready to share Coleman’s story with kids and families. “I love the way Bessie Coleman’s life can show kids that all of us have opportunities for greatness despite the obstacles in our lives,” she says.

And Sweet Blackberry has had its challenges – bringing high-quality animated stories to the screen is not easy work. Some are surprised that a television star is using a crowdfunding campaign. “Everybody thinks you have money because of Fresh Prince,” she says, laughing. “It’s hard to get people to understand that we really need your help,” points out Parsons. “We have this short window of time to raise all of this money or else we don’t keep any of it. We need people to respond now, any way they can – even a dollar. Every little bit matters.”

Choosing and crafting the stories is no easy feat either. “When you sit down to write the story, and consider your young audience, you really have to consider the story you’re trying to tell,” says Parsons.

“It’s not just a person and their achievements, but how you’ll bring this story to young people in a way that they can understand it.”

Though she’d dreamed of sharing the story of Henry “Box” Brown for years, sitting down to write a children’s story of a family that was broken up by this country’s brutal system of slavery was difficult. “The narrative was heart-wrenching…but I didn’t want to sugarcoat things.” Parsons saw that using animals to ask questions in The Journey of Henry Box Brown, narrated by Alfre Woodard, offered a child with some distance from the experience of slavery “An opportunity to understand why one might go to such lengths to escape it.”

Sweet Blackberry went on to tell the story of accomplished inventor Garrett Morgan in Garrett’s Gift, narrated by Queen Latifah. She started looking for an angle that children could connect with. “As I researched, I tapped into his young life, his having so much energy, and how he had a creative mind and how children can get labeled negatively because of that.”

Parsons always knew that she’d tell prima ballerina Janet Collins’ extraordinary story of refusing to dance in whiteface then finding success on her own terms — the result is the powerful Dancing in the Light, illustrated by award-winning artist R. Gregory Christie. While there are an abundance of under-the radar stories to tell Parsons remains thoughtful about her work. “There are some I’ve had to shelve for now because I’m not sure yet how to tell those stories to children…I have to figure out the way in.” All three of the Sweet Blackberry award-winning productions were screened on HBO, and are currently streaming on Netflix.

And now, Bessie Coleman. “I’m so inspired by her…envious of her having that spirit, to be such a badass…She was so ahead of her time. If she was happening right now, she’d be all over Facebook. And this was 100 years ago!”

Children get these messages that “Once in a while, a Black person comes along and does something.” It’s important to Parsons that Sweet Blackberry share the stories of all of the African Americans “who were such a part of the building of this country, such a part of the fabric of this country…These stories are for all children. These are American stories that every child should know.”

Parsons is focused on the Bessie Coleman project, and plans to use other media, including books, to share these vital stories. While she can’t tell us what’s after Coleman, she can promise that “It’s gonna be good!”

But first, the campaign must be fully funded for the production to happen. Parsons believes that not only is Coleman’s story exciting and groundbreaking and remarkable in many ways, it’s especially necessary for the times we’re in right now.

“So many children are feeling helpless, and challenged. Bessie Coleman’s story empowers them and reminds them of what they’re capable of.”

To make a donation of any amount to help bring the Bessie Coleman story to the screen, visit the campaign page now. There are only a few days left, and Sweet Blackberry’s work is more important than ever.

Sweet Blackberry Sizzle from karyn parsons on Vimeo.


Leah Henderson and the Release of Her Debut Novel

June 12, 2017

 

On February 8, 2017, Brown Bookshelf member, Tracey Baptiste interviewed Leah Henderson about her upcoming novel, One Shadow on the Wall. Leah discussed the spark that led to the idea, her writing process that led to an agent, an editor and a book soon to be published. Her story was fascinating. Read it here Day 8, 2017 Leah Henderson.

 

Now our readers want to know, what is it like to hold your first book  and share it with readers? One Shadow on the Wall was released on June 8, 2017. Now that she has had time to reflect, Leah is ready to share her feelings.

“When people ask how I’m feeling now that my book is out in the world, they generally assume my first response will be excitement, but right now I am truly in awe. Not just because I have hoped, dreamed, prayed, and wished for this day, but because of the outpouring of love, support, and encouragement I’ve received from the moment I started this project. Today, I am beyond grateful for that.

I am grateful to my family for always striving to show me my possibilities. I am grateful to a young boy in Senegal that through just one glance showed me strength and the makings of a story. I am grateful to my grad school professor for seeing the possibilities in a few short pages when it took me a year to believe and see them myself. I am grateful to my next grad school professor for giving his time to read “more pages of Mor” above and beyond the other work he was already reading from me. 

I am grateful to the amazing writer who stepped on my path the day of my grad school graduation and after asking “What is next for Mor?” offered to help me figure out just that through pages and pages of dead ends and detours. I am grateful to an agent who believed in Mor (and me) when others said they weren’t sure where a story like his would fit in the market. I am grateful to my wonderful editors and for my publisher for bringing Mor’s story into their family. I am grateful to friends and strangers who have kept me going with phone calls, emails, texts, kind words, smiles, hugs and oh yes . . . plenty of chocolate. I am grateful for so much today and every day!
So that is exactly how I am feeling right now.”  

Leah is enjoying life with One Shadow on the Wall. Check out the pictures from her release party and book signings. If you don’t have your copy yet, get it soon! Don’t forget to recommend it to your local library.

Visit Leah’s website for more information.