The “Hole” in KidLit

May 22, 2017

For years I worked as an anthology editor for McGraw-Hill and other educational publishing houses. My job was choosing literature for elementary schools, pairing fiction with nonfiction, commissioning new pieces to work with published works, and balancing a very long list of authors and illustrators to ensure that we had even numbers between sexes and ethnicities. Finding authors and illustrators of color was always a challenge as a result of a lack of diversity in the KidLit industry, but the one area that always remained a huge problem was finding science or technical texts written by authors of color.

For every educational publishing company I worked with as an in-house editor, or as a consultant/freelancer, this was a problem. It’s been a long time since I left school and library publishing, so I hadn’t thought about this problem in a while, but it all came back to me while having a conversation with Preeti Chhibber, who works for Scholastic on the Reading Club selections. When The Jumbies (my MG novel) was chosen as a Scholastic Reading Club book, it was featured in a We Need Diverse Books special edition flyer. As Pretti and I cooed over the pages of the flyer, she confessed that they had a very difficult time finding science books written by authors of color. There were plenty of biographies of scientists, but that’s not exactly what they were looking for. The writer they were able to feature was Neil deGrasse Tyson. A great choice, but surely he couldn’t be the only one.

I racked my brain trying to think of a nonwhite equivalent of someone like Seymour Simon, who was a go-to author for science nonfiction, and came up empty.

Hence, the hole in KidLit that authors of color need to fill. The school and library market is very interested in diversifying their offerings, and having a book selected for an anthology means kids all over the country will read your work. It’s a big deal. And I know there are authors of color who also like science topics. So, what are you waiting for? There’s a hole you need to plug.


Where Do We Go From Here? Continuing the Conversation With Pat Cummings

May 9, 2017

Here at the Brown Bookshelf, we’ve spoken often and long on the issues and ideas expressed in the Open Declaration. We do this work to lift up our young readers and show them how they can survive, thrive, and soar in this world. For many of us, the way forward might be clear, for others, not so much. We may sign on to petitions and open declarations, forward emails, RT, and “like”, and these can all be good and powerful things. But we believe that it’s important to reflect on how we will hold ourselves accountable, how we will act, and reflect; how we will “live out commitment to using our talents and varied forms of artistic expression to help eliminate the fear that takes root in the human heart amid lack of familiarity and understanding of others; the type of fear that feeds stereotypes, bitterness, racism and hatred; the type of fear that so often leads to tragic violence and senseless death.” We’ll present a series of those posts here; signatories asking, wondering, and doing an essential question: Where do we go from here?

I’m especially honoured to share thoughts from award-winning author, artist, educator, and activist Pat Cummings. As a literacy educator and freshman college student, I carried JUST US WOMEN, illustrated by Ms. Cummings, on all of my summer home visits to families — it was a favourite in every one of the Harlem and Washington Heights homes I visited, as inspired young children and parents shared their own stories and photos of family road trips and vacations. Two of my own daughter’s ABSOLUTE first favourite books were Cummings’ MY AUNT CAME BACK and CLEAN YOUR ROOM, HARVEY MOON — even before she could read, she was enthralled by the wordplay and the joyful Brown faces on the pages.

I’m more than thrilled to welcome Pat Cummings back to The Brown Bookshelf.

Why did you sign the declaration?
A book is personal. Through words and pictures I have a chance to talk directly to more children than I’ll ever meet. Children who may take what’s in the pages of the book to heart. I’ve heard that personalities are formed by the time a child reaches six years of age. So, knowing that this is a window, an opportunity to express positive, open and humane ways of interacting with others on the planet, I feel children’s books can be more effective, more subversive even, than trying to get through to adults who are inexplicably locked in their prejudices, fears and arrogance. I signed the declaration because every point and sentiment in it aligns with my own beliefs.

How do you describe the intersection between art and activism? Who/what has influenced you in that area?
The arts, any art really, is an expression of your core beliefs. It’s like your handwriting or accent: your belief system is distinctly your own. And art provides an avenue for us to express what we think, love, believe. I’m not sure what would happen if we existed in an utopian society. But, faced with the disturbing attitudes and actions around us today and, knowing that vulnerable, open children are taking their cues from what they’re seeing, I think artists have to be activists. Who has influenced me? My mother and father. They are the ones who taught me to use critical thinking, to not only observe what is but to structure a pathway to what can be.

What next steps do you plan to take to carry out your pledge?

My goal is to ensure that readers find positive imagery and healthy relationships in the pages of my books.

In this business, we all try to suggest creative, positive resolutions to any situation. I’m committed to getting at the humaness of my characters…a colorless, genderless, ageless humanity that prevails regardless of nationalities, creeds or isms. Most of my characters are Black. And while that’s partially to address our underrepresentation in children’s literature, it’s also because I’m sick and disheartened about the widespread hostility and misunderstanding that has such negative effects. Walter Dean Myers once told me that he wanted to see his books in the hands of white kids who didn’t actually know anyone Black. And that’s been a big motivator for me: trying to remove the ignorance some readers have. Not ignorance in the sense of stupidity, but ignorance, literally: an ability to ignore anyone who looks, believes, or acts ‘different’. So, writing. Talking to kids. Working with college students and workshop attendees to encourage a more inclusive attitude. My plan is very much based on tossing a stone in the pond to create widening ripples.


How would you like to see the children’s publishing industry do its best to support our children?

I’ve seen improvements so I’m actually encouraged.

The Brown Bookshelf, We Need Diverse Books and even Black Lives Matter have had a significant impact on publishers.

Hiring editors, art directors, and marketing people of color will make a huge difference and I’ve seen initiatives to do just that. But one of the HUGEST things publishers could do is to widen the focus in their marketing. More authors, illustrators and publishing employees of color is a great start. But until books featuring diverse characters are actively marketed to mainstream audiences, diverse books will stay a niche section of the bookstore and a niche in publishers’ marketing plans. There still doesn’t seem to be a push to market books to EVERYONE, regardless of who is on the cover.


What’s New with The Brown Bookshelf

May 1, 2017

bbsteam

The Brown Bookshelf presented at the Texas Library Association conference. Thank you to the Black Caucus of TLA who sponsored our session, Overlooked Books who hosted our signing and amazing librarians like the ones from Houston in the picture who showed us lots of love.

Thank you to everyone who supports the work we do. Completing our 10th 28 Days Later campaign was a special milestone for us. We appreciated the shares, comments and kudos. It’s an honor to raise awareness of the wonderful black children’s book creators that give kids stories that showcase their experiences, history, adventures and dreams.

Last month, we took our show on the road, presenting at the Texas Library Association conference. We received such a warm reception from librarians who said they plan to add books by authors and illustrators we highlighted to their collections. In November, we’ll present at the American Association of School Librarians conference in Phoenix. Our mission is to celebrate others, so we don’t often talk about ourselves. But so many exciting things are happening that we wanted to give you a peek into what’s new in our world. We are grateful for the commitment of people like you who help push for change. All kids deserve to see themselves as the stars of stories and as book creators.

TeachingBooks.net

Special thanks to Nick Glass and Carin Bringelson for helping our work reach more readers and creating such an important resource.

28dayslogoTeachingBooks.net has created a list that showcases our 10 years of 28 Days Later features and additional resources they’ve compiled for our honorees. Here’s the full list which is available without subscription to their service this year and will be accessible without subscription every February in perpetuity. In addition, each year they will make a list for our new class of 28 Days Later honorees with links to our spotlights and extra resources which will remain free until the end of that year. Here’s the list for the authors and illustrators celebrated in our 2017 campaign. Want resources for members of our team? TeachingBooks.net has a list for that too.

Note: Our 28 Days Later spotlights are always available on our blog. You can use the 28 Days Later tab on our menu bar for links to author and illustrators featured each year or the search box in the right column to find a post about a particular children’s book creator.

Highlights Foundation Scholarship

Special thanks to Kent Brown and Alison Myers for the chance to help make a difference. Here’s the announcement from Alison:

Congratulations, Andrea Loney! Andrea (and her sweet Bunnybear) were bunnybearpicnominated by The Brown Bookshelf to attend Crafting Successful Author Visits next month at the Highlights Foundation. During the workshop Andrea will present to a local school. To have Andrea visit your school please go to: http://andreajloney.com/school-visits/ 

The Brown Bookshelf will nominate a children’s book author or illustrator for a 2018 Highlights Foundation workshop of the honoree’s choosing. Look for details about this exciting opportunity in the near future.

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Here’s the skinny on members of our team:

Gwendolyn Hooks

civilrightsMy latest book is If You Were A Kid During The Civil Rights Movement illustrated by Kelly Kennedy (Scholastic Library). Later this spring, Music Time and Block Party will be released by Lee & Low Books. Both are illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez and Block Party is a Junior Library Guild Section. Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas won the NAACP IMAGE Award for Outstanding Literary Work-Children. Illustrator, Colin Bootman and I are honored to have our collaboration recognized. Now, it’s a new year and I’m re-reading The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days Later 2017 campaign for inspiration. Those authors and illustrators inspire me to re-think some projects and move forward on others. A writer’s work is never done!

To learn more about Gwendolyn, visit http://www.gwendolynhooks.com.

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

I’m working on And Two Naomis Too (Balzer and Bray/HarperCollins) with Audrey TwoNaomis_jkt-193x300Vernick, which will be out in 2018. I’ll be appearing at nerdCampNJ in May, the Maplewood-South Orange Book Festival in June, and NCTE in November. This summer, I’ll be working on some new manuscripts; I’m looking forward to participating in Teachers Write again, meeting and working with the new class of WNDB Internship Grant Award recipients, and finishing some languishing craft projects.

To learn more about Olugbemisola, visit http://www.olugbemisolabooks.com.

Don Tate
My forthcoming project is a picture book biography about Victorian strongman Eugen Sandow, also known as the “Father of Bodybuilding.” STRONG AS SANDOW: HOW EUGEN SANDOW BECAME THE STRONGEST MAN ON EARTH (Charlesbridge, Aug. 2017).

sandowInspired by my own experiences in the sport of body-building, I tell the story of how Eugen Sandow changed the way people think about exercise and physical fitness. I will be signing STRONG AS SANDOW at BookExpo America on June 2nd, 2017, Booth 2905 from 2:00 to 3pm.

WHOOSH! LONNIE JOHNSON’S SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS (Charlesbridge, 2016), written by Chris Barton and illustrated by me is a 2017 Children’s and Teen Choice Book Award Finalist.  Children’s Choice winners will be announced at BookExpo America, and I will be in attendance to sign books.
To learn more about Don, visit http://www.dontate.com.

Kelly Starling Lyons

jadajonesrockstarI had a wonderful time sharing at TLA. In August, I present at the National Conference of African American Librarians in Atlanta. In September, I launch my Jada Jones chapter book series – Jada Jones: Rock Star and Jada Jones: Class Act, published by Penguin Workshop and illustrated by the amazing Vanessa Brantley Newton. We’re having launch parties in Raleigh and Charlotte. Here are  Quail Ridge Books party details and Park Road Books party details. We’ll have a virtual launch too so everyone can be part of the fun.
One More Dino on the Floor is still grooving strong. Illustrator Luke Flowers and I were delighted that it was chosen for Scholastic Book Club and called a great readaloud. I’m working on new projects and enjoying meeting amazing kids and educators during author visits. Thank you for supporting my work.

To learn more about Kelly, visit http://www.kellystarlinglyons.com.

Tracey Baptiste

riseofjumbiesI’m looking forward to the release of The Jumbies sequel, Rise of the Jumbies on September 19th. In the meantime I’m working on two new book projects that have not been announced yet and a group chapter book project with some really awesome authors. I’ve also just sent in a proposal for a new nonfiction history book. Unfortunately it’s the nature of the business that I can’t be specific until all deals are finalized, so I’m going to have to be cagey for a bit!
To learn more about Tracey, visit http://www.traceybaptiste.com.

Jerry Craft

livingcolorI recently visited Jackson, Mississippi to help promote literacy among boys. With the support of COSEBOC and The Kellogg Foundation, I was joined by fellow authors David Miller, Mark C Booker, Kenneth Braswell and Ronnie Sidney II as we provided 300 eager middle school boys with 900 free books!

From there, we spoke to kids at a juvenile detention facility and addressed a crowded room at a family literacy event.

It was one of the most powerful trips I’ve even done. I signed 350 copies of my new graphic novel, Mama’s Boyz: In Living Color!

To learn more about Jerry, visit http://www.jerrycraft.net.

Crystal Allen
fame.jpgI have been extremely busy with my new series, The Magnificent Mya Tibbs!  Book one The Magnificent Mya Tibbs – Spirit Week Showdown, is on the Texas Bluebonnet list, the Grand Canyon list, Chicago Libraries best books of 2016, and Kirkus’ Best Books of 2016.  Book two, The Magnificent Mya Tibbs – The Wall of Fame Game, launched in January of this year!  I am  already scheduling author visits for the next school year, while working on my next novel titled, Between Two Brothers.
To learn more about Crystal, visit http://www.crystalallenbooks.com.

 

Tameka Fryer Brown
tamekanewbookThis past year has been filled with new literary adventures! In addition to all of the wonderful happenings occuring with BBS in this, our 10th year, I signed on with Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency, to be represented by the fierce Marietta Zacker! Almost immediately, we sold a new picture book to Joy Peskin at FSG/Macmillan (BROWN BABY LULLABY, to published in early 2019 and illustrated by AG Ford), and I finally got to meet Gwendolyn Hooks and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich in person at ALA! And I’m expecting more good news to break over the coming months. Exclamation points are abounding in my world!
To learn more about Tameka, visit http://www.tamekafryerbrown.com.

sodone

Paula Chase Hyman
Brown Bookshelf co-founder Paula has a two-book middle-grade deal with Greenwillow Books. Yay! The first is So Done which will debut summer 2018. She wrote this poignant post that gave an update on her writing life.

To learn more about Paula, visit http://www.paulachasehyman.com.

Varian Johnson
Brown Bookshelf co-founder Varian Johnson’s middle-grade series continue to soar. The first novel in the series, The Great Greene Heist, received two starred reviews and was named an cheatpicALA Notable Children’s Book Selection, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, and a Texas Library Association Lonestar List selection among other accolades. His latest caper, To Catch A Cheat, was released last year. Kirkus praised the novel in a starred review, calling it, “A satisfying stand-alone sequel; new readers and old friends will be hoping for further adventures.” Varian has also written for the Spirit Animals middle-grade fantasy series as well as novels and short stories for YA audiences.
To learn more about Varian, visit http://www.varianjohnson.com.

The Brown Bookshelf at TLA

April 19, 2017

We’ve taken our 10th anniversary celebration on the road. Please join us today at 2:45 p.m. for our Texas Library Association session, Celebrating Diversity: The Brown Bookshelf Salutes Great Books for Kids (Room 303ABC, Ballroom level). The presenters are Gwendolyn Hooks and Kelly Starling Lyons.

Here are the session hand-outs which include book lists and resources:

BBS Booklist TLA

TLA Handout – BBS

Our Brown Bookshelf signing will be at the Overlooked Books booth #1917 at 6 p.m. this evening. We’d love to see you. Come by and say hi to Don Tate, Crystal Allen, Gwendolyn Hooks and Kelly Starling Lyons and pick up a book or a few to share with kids back home.

Several of us will also be presenting other sessions throughout the conference and signing with our publishers. Our full schedule is below. Thanks so much for your support.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19

12:15 p.m. Room 221CD, Panel: What’s New with Texas Children’s Authors and Illustrators?
Crystal Allen and Don Tate among featured authors.

2:45-3:45 p.m. Celebrating Diversity: The Brown Bookshelf Salutes Great Books for Kids. Presenters are Gwendolyn Hooks and Kelly Starling Lyons.
Room 303ABC, Ballroom level

3:00 p.m. Room 302AB Texas Bluebonnet Speed Dating
Crystal Allen and Don Tate  among featured authors

6:00 p.m. Brown Bookshelf signing at Overlooked Books booth #1917 , Exhibit Hall
Don Tate, Crystal Allen, Gwendolyn Hooks and Kelly Starling Lyons

THURSDAY, APRIL 20

10:30 a.m, Don Tate Signing STRONG AS SANDOW with Charlesbridge
Autographing Area Aisle 3

11:00 a.m. Gwendolyn Hooks signing TINY STITCHES, Lee & Low booth #2724 (Hall 4, Aisle 7)

11:00 a.m. Kelly Starling Lyons signing ONE MORE DINO ON THE FLOOR, Albert Whitman booth #2024

Noon Don Tate Signining WHOOSH! with Chris Barton, Charlesbridge
Autographing Area Aisle 3

1:00 p.m. Don Tate Signing AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH with Chris Barton, Eerdmans
Booth #2722

2:00 p.m. Don Tate Signing WHOOSH! with Chris Barton, Mackin

3:30 p.m. Don Tate Signing POET, Peachtree
Booth #2716

FRIDAY, April 21

9:00 a.m., Don Tate Signing with Chris Barton, Jennifer Ziegler,
Author Area, Aisle 5

9:45 a.m. Room 301BC, Panel, Do Author Visits Make a Difference?
Don Tate is one of the featured authors. (Ballroom Level)

9:45-10:45 a.m. Discover the Spirit of Middle School Reading Program                          Crystal Allen is a featured author.

2:00 p.m. Crystal Allen Signing The Magnificent Mya Tibbs, HarperCollins booth


Running Into Faith

April 17, 2017
Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold

I seem to keep running into Faith Ringgold. Not literally. I have never driven a car in New York. Her books seem to find their way into my hands and I saw one of her quilts in all its glory. Then I stumbled onto a fascinating article written by her daughter.

I attended the American Library Association (ALA) conference in 2016. One of the best parts of conferences like that is the exhibit hall. You can spend days wandering up and down the aisles browsing through the new books, meeting authors and illustrators and collecting autographs. I’m not sure if Faith was there, in any case I never met her in person. I only know her through her work.

As I waited to meet up with a fellow author, I saw the Banned Book Booth. Curious, I stopped to see why people were in a line. Ahh. They volunteered to read a short section of a banned book. “Would you like to read? We’re producing a video for YouTube.” Okay. Sure.

I looked through the banned books and Tar Beach caught my eye. Banned? Why? I must have missed that conversation. I loved the book. I chose it to read. As soon as I got in line, doubts kicked in. What if I stumbled over the words? Did her last name have a long I or short I sound? What if my voice started cracking? Thankfully, after a minute or two, the director stopped each reader. I hoped she wouldn’t get so mesmerized by my melodious voice, she would forget to stop me. None of the above happened. Here I am on YouTube 

Tar Beach

Tar Beach

Later, I investigated its banned tag. Beer and fried chicken! I see. Sometimes we overthink things to the point of missing the point. I love the book. It’s as beautiful today as it was when I first read it.

In October 2016, the Rogers Public Library in Rogers, Arkansas invited me to speak to all the third – fifth graders in the district. What eager readers! What inquisitive minds! I loved all four days.

My sister traveled with me and after my presentations we explored the area. I fell in love with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. That’s where I saw Faith’s Maya’s Quilt of Life, 1989. Oprah Winfrey commissioned it for Maya Angelou’s 61st birthday. Isn’t it wonderful we can all enjoy it now?

Then, as I browsed the Lit Hub Weekly newsletter, I clicked on Michele Faith Wallace’s article about the two primes of her life.  It got me to thinking about the primes of my life. But what really caught my attention was a tidbit in her bio, “She is currently working on a collection of essays on her mother, the artist, Faith Ringgold, titled Faith Ringgold: My Mother, My Muse, My Mentor.”

Faith, the author and illustrator and quilter is her mother! Maybe one day, I might run into Faith, not literarily. I’ll settle for meeting her in person.

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks


Writing Through 45

April 3, 2017

My left arm for a time before 45 when I could get on Twitter or write a blog post for BBS and talk about books.  Yes, that 45 – our current President. He’s changed everything, right down to how I function as an author. Anyone else with me?

I hope so. Because some days I feel quite lonely thinking I’m by myself worrying how my writing could or should be impacted by the world swirling around me. And swirling it is.

My Twitter feed used to be packed with news of my author friends book releases, events, writing advice, and the typical requisite cyber hugs for someone having an off-writing day. Now? Well, now I have to carefully pick and choose when I go on Twitter because it makes me ranty. And not the productive type of ranting either.

But last I looked, I was still a writer.  At least that’s what the folks at Greenwillow think, because they just contracted me for two middle grade books.

Title Placeholder

Some years ago that would have scared me for the usual reasons being contracted to deliver “the words” would – can I do it? Will I meet my deadline? How long can my family go without food while I focus on these books for awhile? Now, it frightens me for totally different reasons – primarily, do my books matter at a time when the world seems like it’s on fire?

How on earth can we expect kids to read when we need to prepare them for the apocalypse that is the current administration? One that has made permanent sound bites of things like “alternative facts” and “don’t take the tweet literally.”  It’s a world where the Chief Executive of the United States calls anyone who disagrees with him a liar, while constantly spewing lies himself. If  I’m writing, shouldn’t I be trying to find a way to cover the current world to help young readers navigate it?

*deep breath*

Those are the thoughts that creep into my mind, sometimes. Then I remember that the whole point of literature is escape. And not just for the reader.

I know there will be more authors like Angie Thomas, who take the frustration of the world out on the words and come up with masterful stories. And I look forward to seeing more YA like THUG and even MG that finds ways to help young readers see the current world through their lens. It’s what kid lit is about.

Meanwhile, I’m going to stay in my lane. Partly because I’m still trying to figure out how to digest where we are. But also, because, when I allow myself to go into my bubble, I see so many stories that still need to be told to young readers beyond what’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania.

For some of us, the world is truly on fire. From healthcare to human rights we’re being threatened to fall in line with an ideology, that supposedly defines us all as Americans, or else. But that can’t stop us from fighting to ensure kids of color see themselves represented in literature.

Some of those stories will most definitely be about the fragile relationship between law enforcement and Black communities; crooked and uncaring politicians; or a bogeyman running the nation. And some of them will be about friendships and how they shape us into young adults; growing into our ambition, or falling in love for the first time. No single story is more important than the other.

Once I take a few deep breaths, I realize that some elements of my stories may change to include little pieces of today’s world but ultimately who I am as a writer hasn’t changed nor will it.

I’m renewed in that thought and look forward to diving head first back into the writing and library communities where raging against the machine is done one page at a time.


Throwback Thursday: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

March 23, 2017

Since we’re on the subject of boys and books from our Monday post, here’s some information about boys and reading:

From The Guardian UK: The truth about boys and books: they read less — and skip pages.
The Nation’s Report Card on student reading scores in 4th and 8th grade show that black children, and boys in particular lag behind other groups.

In light of this, I’d like to throw it back to a February 2015 post by Tameka Brown about an author with loads of boy appeal (though plenty of girls like hoops too).

 

When I went to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s website to get a little background info on him for this post, I discovered a man that has contributed more to our society than I believe most people are aware of. While I don’t have the space to recount all of his accomplishments here, I’ll bullet-point a fraction of them:

  • NBA All-Time Leading Scorer
  • US Cultural Ambassador, 2012
  • California’s STEAM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics) Afterschool Ambassador, 2012
  • Cancer Research Advocate
  • Columnist for TIME Magazine and LA & OC Registers
  • Award-winning Filmaker
  • New York Times Best Selling Author of 9 Titles (including 3 children’s books)
  • Two-time NAACP Image Award Winner (What Color Is My World & On the Shoulders of Giants)

It is his for work as a children’s book author that we celebrate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on this final day of 28 Days Later. The three, well-reviewed children’s titles he has co-authored with Raymond Obstfeld (thus far) are:

 

Streetball Crew Series, Book Two: Stealing the Game

 

“Abdul-Jabbar and Obstfeld…team up for another exploration of the intersection of sports and life conduct. Chris is a good, quiet kid who likes to keep his head down. As he says, ‘I was friendly to everyone but friends with no one.’ Still, if the machinery of thought made much noise, Chris would be a one-man band. For a 13-year-old, he does considerable shrewd, high-ground thinking, as do his friends (‘You know,’ one says, ‘not talking about things doesn’t actually make them disappear’). Where it really shows itself is on the basketball court, where he plays a savvy, court-wise game. Enter his brother, Jax, a golden boy who appears to have fallen from the pedestal upon which his well-intentioned parents have placed him, and Chris’ still waters are about to feel a hefty stone break their surface. Add his classmate Brooke, a sharp girl with plenty of her own baggage, and a waterspout is in the making. The authors’ light hand allows readers to inhabit the characters; to taste the value of respect, dignity and vulnerability; and to embrace the elemental joy of sports-all without ever feeling like they are being tube fed. The shifting structure of the story and a clever series of blind alleys keep readers on tenterhooks. A deft, understated sports thriller with a solid moral compass.”Kirkus

“In another exemplary mix of issues and action both on and off the court, the middle-school cast of Sasquatch in the Paint (2013) returns to take on a team of older, bigger, thuggish rivals amidst a rash of local burglaries. Thirteen-year-old Chris is stunned when his golden-boy big brother, Jax, suddenly shows up at home with gambling debts after (he claims) dropping out of law school. With extreme reluctance, Chris agrees to help Jax get out from under-both by enlisting his street-ball buddies against a club team to settle a bet and by helping his brother break into a pawnshop. At the same time, Chris asks his Sherlockian friend Theo to check out Jax’s story, and he also definitely beats the odds by finding common ground with brilliant, acid-tongued classmate Brooke. Along with vividly drawn characters, the coauthors craft a mystery with artfully placed clues that Jax might not be the loser he seems to be, and also inject plenty of exciting, hard-fought basketball in which speed, strategy, and heart play equally strong roles. Flashbacks crank up the tale-s suspense, flashes of humor brighten it, and the end brings both surprise twists and just deserts all round.”Booklist Online

 

Streetball Crew Series, Book One: Sasquatch in the Paint

 

“The author team behind What Color Is My World? opens the Streetball Crew series with the story of Theo Rollins who, though only an eighth grader, is already more than six feet tall. A self-proclaimed nerd, Theo gets recruited for the school basketball team, even though he’s terrible at the sport. Additionally, Theo is puzzled by new girl Rain, who’s smart but being threatened by a guy on a motorcycle; his widowed father is unexpectedly interested in dating; and he might be kicked off the school’s Aca-lympics team if he can’t balance his responsibilities. The depth and realism Abdul-Jabbar and Obstfeld bring to the novel keep it from being a run-of-the-mill sports story. Rain, for instance, is Muslim, while Theo is one of only a few black kids at his school; their ostracism doesn’t overshadow the action, but it isn’t ignored, either. Perhaps most refreshing is the fact that the authors allow Theo to gain confidence in basketball without the predictable game-winning shot. Readers will feel a kinship with Theo as he maneuvers through tough but realistic choices.”Publishers Weekly

“A crisp tale of sports, smarts and what it means to be your own man or woman-or boy or girl, if you happen to be 13. It seems to be an embarrassment of riches to be, say, one of the best basketball players in history and also write tightly entertaining novels for kids, but there you have Abdul-Jabbar. Surely Obstfeld added polish and framing, but this obviously is a work of someone intimate with sports and, by extension, how sports can serve as metaphor for a way of being in the world. Here, newly tall eighth-grader Theo Rollins is trying to find his way between the brainiacs and the basketball players. Along the way, he meets Rain-aka Crazy Girl-a sort of ‘girl with the dragon tattoo’ minus the heaviest baggage. Characters, both friend and foe, feel real; there is talk of abandonment as well as serious comments about the skewed vision Americans have of Islam. The deepest running narrative pivots around sports, but the story has much to give. Theo’s cousin’s taxonomy of basketball players is broadly applicable: There are the happy-go-lucky, the self-conscious and ‘those who never want the game to be over, because each minute is like living on some planet where you got no problems….[They are], for that brief time, in a place where everything they thought or did mattered.’ Fearless, caring sports fiction.” —Kirkus

 

What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors

 

“Making use of an unusual format, former NBA star Abdul-Jabbar and his On the Shoulders of Giants coauthor Obstfeld offer an upbeat history lesson set within a fictional narrative framework. Siblings Ella and Herbie, whose story unfolds in typeset chapter booklike pages surrounded by warmly lit paintings of their adventures, are less than enthusiastic about their fixer-upper of a new house. But as eccentric handyman Mr. Mital unveils the house’s potential, he also teaches them about contributions made by African-American inventors (‘There’s more to our history than slavery, jazz, sports, and civil rights marches,’ he says). Flaps show lifelike portraits of individuals like Dr. Mark Dean, a v-p at IBM; Dr. Charles Drew, who developed the concept of blood banks; and nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker squirt gun. Ella’s off-the-cuff notes appear inside the flaps, while several spreads provide detailed profiles of other inventors and graphic novel–style passages. The banter between the siblings and, in particular, Ella’s snarky zingers keep things from feeling didactic—it’s an entertaining and often surprising exploration of lesser-known innovators, past and present.” Publishers Weekly

“A fictional story lies at the heart of this unusually formatted collective biography. Twins Herbie and Ella and their parents have just moved into a run-down older home; while they work to fix it up, Mr. R. E. Mital, an eccentric handyman hired by their parents, recounts the contributions of African American scientists and inventors. As the figures are introduced, foldouts on the sides of the pages contain Ella’s notes (full of humor, as well as facts) about each one. More detailed profiles of other inventors fill the spreads, and some are introduced in graphic-novel-style pages. Instead of famous inventors such as George Washington Carver and Benjamin Banneker, readers are introduced to lesser-known individuals, including Alfred L. Cralle (inventor of the ice-cream scoop), Dr. Henry T. Sampson (gamma electric cell), and nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson (Super Soaker). Information about the subjects’ home, lives, and avocations is a welcome addition…the large trim size, numerous illustrations, and unusual format (not to mention the celebrity author) will certainly attract browsers. And a surprise discovery about Mr. Mital’s identity at the end will leave readers with something to ponder.”School Library Journal

 

For more information on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his work, please visit his website.