You Can Fly: Guest Post by Jeffery Weatherford

August 16, 2016

jefferyYou Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen follows the training, trials and triumphs of the U.S. military’s first African American pilots. Set during World War II, the book pairs my scratchboard illustrations with poems by my mother, award-winning author Carole Boston Weatherford. The title is our first collaboration and my publication debut. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen.

I first heard about the Tuskegee Airmen when I was a young boy. Perhaps it was during a visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington. Later, Iflycover saw an exhibit about the airmen during a family vacation to Tuskegee, Institute Alabama.

I brought to this project a lifetime fascination with flight. I have always had dreams where I was flying like a bird. On my first airplane ride at age four or five, I had a window seat. As the plane sped down the runway and lifted its nose from the ground, I said, “We’re blasting off!” I doodled my way through elementary and middle school, creating drawings of aircraft and weapons in my notebooks. I also played scores of video games featuring aircraft in futuristic, intergalactic battles.

For inspiration and historical accuracy, I researched documentary photographs from the Library of Congress, National Archives and military museums. I also watched the movie Red Tails. In some cases, I created digital collages as studies for my sketches. While researching picture references, I had some dreams of meeting Tuskegee Airmen.

flysonmom.jpgAfter I found picture references and chose the subject matter of a piece, I drew a graphite study to layout the composition. Once that was completed and approved by the publisher, I refined the image and transferred it to scratchboard. I used various nibs for different effects. I believe that scratchboard creates a graphic novel feel.

These illustrations reflect my gratitude for the veterans in my family. My great great great grandfather fought in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War. My great grandfather was a mule skinner in the Army and my grandfather served in the Army in World War II. I’d like to think that my ancestors would be proud.

Like my mother, I am also a poet, although I lean more toward rap and spoken word. My two favorite poems in You Can Fly are “Head to the Sky,” which opens the book, and “Fight Song,” which was the actual fight song of the 99th Fighter Squadron.

I hope that young readers will embrace the book’s central message–YOU CAN FLY. Likewise, I hope that parents and teachers will convey high expectations to propel children’s dreams.

Here is some art from the book. Enjoy!

















About Illustrator Jeffery Weatherford

Jeffery Boston Weatherford is a multitalented artist, designer and poet. The son of a poet and a preacher, he was born in High Point, North Carolina with hands so large that his grandmother predicted that he would one day do important work. That turned out to be art. He earned a B.A. in Art and Design from Winston-Salem State University, where he was a Chancellor’s Scholar. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Howard University where he received the Romare Bearden Scholarship and received a presidential send-off from commencement speaker Barack Obama. Jeffery’s work has shown at galleries in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.



Preserving Langston’s Legacy

August 9, 2016

It’s always a pleasure to feature award-winning author Renée Watson. Her powerful books include This Side of Home, Harlem’s Little Blackbird, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen, What Watson HeadshotMomma Left Me and the forthcoming Piecing Me Together. Today, we’re honored to share another side of her – visionary and advocate.

Renée’s dream is to lease and renovate the Harlem brownstone where Langston Hughes lived and transform it into a place for emerging and established artists. She has launched a crowd-funding campaign to help. Please spread the word and give if you can. There are lots of cool perks for donating including signed books – among the gems is a basket of books by members of our team – critiques and skip-the-slush pile passes, Skype author visits and more. By donating, you can help Renée give back to the community, preserve and build on Langston’s legacy and celebrate the arts.

Below, she writes about her inspiring mission. You can also see her and other artists talk about why the project matters in the I, Too, Arts Collective video here. Thank you for your support.

Guest Post by Renée Watson

In This Side of Home everything for Maya Younger is changing. The neighborhood she’s always called home is morphing into a place where she feels like a stranger. Abandoned storefronts are being renovated, houses are getting facelifts and new faces—white faces—are showing up more and more in her community. Maya isn’t so sure these changes are for the best but her twin, Nikki, is all for the urban renewal that’s taking place.

When I do author visits, students often ask me which twin is most like me. I cheat by thissidesaying that I see myself in both twins. I started noticing changes in my Portland, Oregon neighborhood my junior year in high school. Gentrification was not a word I knew at fifteen but I felt the effects of it. There was a knowing, even if unspoken, that the changes being made weren’t for the people who already lived in the neighborhood but for the people who were coming. Yet, even with that feeling, I still wanted to go out and enjoy these new places. So for me, I have both of their perspectives—I want the change, appreciate it even, but I question the push out that often comes with it.

Twenty years later, the Portland I grew up in no longer exists. Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon. And maybe that’s the problem. This happens time and time again—people of color being pushed out of their neighborhoods, losing pieces of their collective history. As I tour the nation visiting young people in schools, community organizations, and libraries, I’ve learned that gentrification is happening everywhere—Austin, DC, Boston. As an author of young adult literature, I am moved by the real-life stories from young people who see themselves in the pages of my novels. To know the circumstances my characters are going through resonate with the reader is a gratifying experience.

But there is also sadness.

Part of the problem with gentrification is that it often erases a people’s history. Places hold stories and when we lose sacred places like churches, theaters, and the homes of black legends, we lose pieces of our collective story.

That is one of the reasons I am launching I, Too, Arts Collective. Harlem, like so many other neighborhoods in America, is changing. And once again I find myself feeling like both Maya and Nikki, loving all the new trendy restaurants and coffee shops but also feeling nervous about who will be able to stay and enjoy these new places.

langstonI see I, Too, Arts Collective as a space that will not only preserve the legacy of Langston Hughes but build on it. Our name, is inspired by one of Langston’s poem where he declares, “I, too, am America”, and talks about taking his place at the table. It is a statement that declares, “I, too, deserve a space, a voice, to be seen.”

We hope participants in our programs feel like they have a seat at the artistic table—that their existence is worthy of being showcased and remembered. Our offerings will have opportunities for beginning, emerging, and professional writers and artists to be involved. We will offer poetry workshops and creative writing courses for youth and adults. The space will also host creative conversations for the community, where guest artists (of all disciplines) will share works-in-progress and engage with the audience through discussions. One thing I am very excited about is our Artist-in-Residence program, which will be open to writers and artists across the country to apply to stay at Langston’s home so they can create and work in New York City. This is ideal for authors on a book tour, an artist who needs to be in NYC to work on a special project, or a visiting professor. Our Artist-in-Residence program will provide affordable space for visiting artists. What excites me most about this program is that it widens Langston’s home beyond New York City. Artists from the south, the west coast—even international artists—can be a part of this.

As I pursue this dream I keep at my desk a few of Langston’s poems. I have been holding on to this one, especially:

I Look at the World

I look at the world

From awakening eyes in a black face—

And this is what I see:

This fenced-off narrow space

Assigned to me.

I look then at the silly walls

Through dark eyes in a dark face—

And this is what I know:

That all these walls oppression builds

Will have to go!

I look at my own body

With eyes no longer blind—

And I see that my own hands can make

The world that’s in my mind.

Then let us hurry, comrades,

The road to find.

—Langston Hughes, 1930

I, Too, Arts Collective is committed to making; with our own hands, our own voices, the world that’s in our mind.

Renée Watson is the executive director of I, Too, Arts Collective and the author of This Side of Home (Bloomsbury 2015), which was nominated for the Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Her picture book, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills (Random House 2012), received several honors including an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature. Her novel, What Momma Left Me, (Bloomsbury 2010), debuted as the New Voice for 2010 in middle grade fiction. Her one woman show, Roses are Red Women are Blue, debuted at the Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists.

One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma and discuss social issues. Her picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (Random House, 2010), is based on poetry workshops she facilitated with children in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and was featured on NBC Nightly News.

Renée has worked as a writer in residence for several years teaching creative writing and theater in public schools and community centers through out the nation. Her articles on teaching and arts education have been published in Rethinking Schools and Oregon English Journal. She is on the Council of Writers for the National Writing Project and is a team member of We Need Diverse Books. She currently teaches courses on writing for children at University of New Haven and Pine Manor College.

Renée has given readings and lectures at many renowned places, including the United Nations Headquarters and the Library of Congress. In 2015 she was honored with the STEAM award for her work in arts education by Inner City Foundation of New York, Inc.

Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently lives in New York City. To learn more about Renée and her work, visit her at

About I, Too, Arts Collective

I, Too, Arts Collective is a nonprofit organization committed to nurturing voices from underrepresented communities in the creative arts. Our first major project is to provide a space for emerging and established artists in Harlem to create, connect, and showcase work. Our goal is to lease and renovate the brownstone where Langston Hughes lived in Harlem as a way to not only preserve his legacy but to build on it and impact young poets and artists.

For more information & to donate, please visit us here:


Celebrating Diversity at ALA: Recommended Titles

June 25, 2016

Party People
Our sincere thanks to all of the ALA participants who joined The Brown Bookshelf in paying tribute to our favorite children’s books created for and by African Americans (and those of the African diaspora).

Below are the links to the book lists we promised:

BBS Nonfiction

BBS Fiction

BBS “Celebrating Diversity” Book Recommendations

Thanks again for all you do to support the mental, social, and emotional growth of our children. LIBRARIANS ROCK!


CORRECTION: During the statistics portion of the presentation, I erroneously stated that the percentage of children’s books in 2015 that contained significant multicultural content was 7.9%. That percentage actually referred to titles with significant African/African American content. The percentage of titles with significant multicultural content in 2015 was actually 14.9% of those received by the CCBC.  Using the same metrics (which exclude books by people of color with no discernible cultural content) this actually represents an increase over the prior year of 3.6 percentage points! Likewise, the 7.9% statistic for books with significant African/African American content represents an increase of 2.8 percentage points over 2014.

While there is still much work to do, our collective advocacy is making a difference! Let’s keep it going!


Call for Submissions

June 21, 2016

jadenA Brown Bookshelf reader let me know  that there are two Plum Street publishing companies – Plum Street Press, based in New Orleans, and Plum Street Publishers, based in Arkansas, which issued the call for submissions. So sorry for the mix-up. Lucky for us, both are open to new work:

Here’s what I wrote about Plum Street Press:

When I saw the cover for Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest, written by Marti Dumas, I was intrigued. Fly fro, ready for action, cool sub-title: The Quest for Screen Time. Loved it. Who gave that story a home? New Orleans boutique publisher Plum Street Press.

Along with the Jaden Toussaint series, they publish the Swift Walker science and geography series.

Here are the submission guidelines:

All our stories feature children of color as the protagonist, although race need not figure prominently in the story or at all. We are particularly interested in middle grade manuscripts (approximately 10,000-30,000 words targeting 8-12 year olds) but will also be accepting submissions for picture books and YA. Queries can be sent to:

plumstreetPlum Street Publishers, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, was the company that asked us to spread the word that they’re looking for authors and illustrators. It was founded by award-winner Liz Smith Russell. For almost three decades, she was Publisher at August House. She continues her commitment to multicultural children’s books at her new company.

Here’s the call for submissions:

Plum Street Publishers is seeking submissions for children’s, middle grade, and YA titles. We are also interested in viewing artists’ portfolio samples for our forthcoming picture book line. We are committed to publishing diverse voices and experiences and promote tolerance and understanding through books for young readers. Our submission guidelines can be found at

Get those portfolios and stories ready.

The Brown Bookshelf at ALA

June 21, 2016

We’re taking our show on the road. Several of us will be at ALA for panels, programs and signings. We’d love to see you. Please join us if you’re free and spread the word.

Here’s a schedule of our events:

Friday, June 24

1:30 – 2:30 p.m.Writer’s Block/Winter Park Public Library (Don Tate and Chris Barton)
Location: Winter Park Public Library
460 E. New England Ave., Winter Park, FL

Saturday, June 25

10-11 a.m. Peachtree Publishers signing for Poet by Don Tate – Booth #2039

12:30-1:30 p.m. Albert Whitman & Company signing for One More Dino on the Floor by Kelly Starling Lyons – Booth #2045

1– 2 p.m. Charlesbridge signing for Whoosh! by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate – Booth #2043

3:30-5 p.m. Celebrating Diversity: The Brown Bookshelf Salutes Great Books for Kids sponsored by BCALA. The program will held in the Hyatt Regency Hotel/ Bayhill 19. BBS participants are Don Tate, Gwendolyn Hooks, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Tameka Fryer Brown, Varian Johnson and Kelly Starling Lyons.

Sunday, June 26

10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Not Your Granny’s Dinner Conversation: Diversity, Race, Sex and Gender moderated by librarian Edi Campbell. The panel will be held in Orange County Convention Center, Room W205. Panelists are Publisher Jason Low, Author Ashley Hope Pérez, Author/lllustrator Dan Santat, Professors Dr. Patricia Enciso and  Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo and BBS members and Authors Varian Johnson and Kelly Starling Lyons.

1-1:45 p.m. Lee & Low signing for Tiny Stitches by Gwendolyn Hooks – Booth #1469

1– 2 p.m. Charlesbridge signing for Don Tate –  Booth #2043

2-3 p.m. Scholastic Book Signing for To Catch a Cheat and The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson – Booth #1236



Expanding Our Family: New BBS Members

May 17, 2016

We’re thrilled to share that our family has grown. Please join us in welcoming two stand-outs in the kidlit world to our Brown Bookshelf team – author and editor Tracey Baptiste and author/illustrator Jerry Craft.

Tracey announced a new book deal last month. She’s writing a sequel to her award-winning novel The Jumbies. Yesterday, Jerry was one of four featured children’s book creators for the Young Males Reading Challenge in Jackson, MS. He, Eric Velasquez, David Miller and Kenneth Braswell talked to third-fifth grade boys about the power of literacy and signed 900 books.

We’re excited about the new ideas, energy and expertise Tracey and Jerry will bring to The Brown Bookshelf. Next year marks the 10th anniversary of 28 Days Later, our Black History Month celebration of black children’s book creators. We look forward to saluting that milestone and finding more ways to raise awareness about black children’s book authors and illustrators and inspire and empower all kids. Thank you, Tracey and Jerry, for joining us in that mission.

Here’s more about them from the About Us section of our site:

Tracey Baptiste, M. Ed, is the author of the MG novel The Jumbies, which was a New York Public Libraries Staff Pick and included in the Bank Street Best Books of 2016, among other accoladScreen Shot 2016-03-25 at 8.51.58 AMes. She’s also the author of the YA novel, Angel’s Grace, and several nonfiction books for children. Her latest is The Totally Gross History of Ancient Egypt. Tracey is on the faculty at Lesley University’s MFA program in Creative Writing, and works as a freelance editor for various publishing companies as well as running her own editorial company, Fairy Godauthor. Find out more about her at


Jerry Craft has illustrated and/or written close to two dozen children’s books and board games. His latestimages middle-grade novels are The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! — an action / adventure story co-written with his two teenage sons that is designed to teach kids about the negative effects of bullying and The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, written by Patrik Henry Bass. His work has appeared in national publications such as Essence Magazine, Ebony, and two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Jerry is also the creator of Mama’s Boyz, an award-winning comic strip that has been distributed by King Features Syndicate to almost 900 publications since 1995. Jerry has won five African American Literary Awards. Find out more about Jerry at



“We’re the People” releases 2016 Summer Reading List

March 25, 2016

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We’re the People, a collaboration of authors, bloggers, academics, and librarians who share a passion for children, literacy, and diversity, has released their 2016 Summer Reading List! The focus of the list are books that are written or illustrated by Native Americans or writers/illustrators of color that have withstood a critical review. You can find the full annotated 2016 list here. 

Thank you, Edith Campbell, Sarah Park Dahlen, Sujei Lugo, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Nathalie Mvondo, Debbie Reese, and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas.