Throwback Thursday: Malaika Rose Stanley

December 8, 2016

Since Malaika Rose Stanley was first featured here in 2013, she has released a memoir, LOOSE CONNECTIONS, and another children’s book, WHILE I AM SLEEPING. The former teacher also compiled a list of books featuring multiracial families, and wrote about her decision to create that resource here. Malaika Rose Stanley’s work offers a glimpse into a window of the global Black experience, and as a child of immigrants, living in the U.S., I especially value her voice in the world of children’s literature.

Malaika Rose Stanley was born in Birmingham – Britain’s ‘second city’ – and now lives in the capital, London. She has been a teacher in Zambia, Uganda, Germany and Switzerland, as well as the UK – and at all levels of education including supporting autistic children in primary schools, teaching adult language, literacy, numeracy and creative writing, one-to-one tutoring, conflict resolution and teacher training. She has also worked as a researcher helping adopted people find their birth parents.

She is now a children’s author, whose books feature strong, positive African, Caribbean and Asian characters and reflect the cultural richness and diversity of family life, friendship groups, schools and society in general. Her work ranges from picture books to young fiction and she has recently had an adult short story included in the US-published anthology For Women – In Tribute to Nina Simone (ed Debra Powell-Wright). Her latest books, all published by Tamarind/Random House include Baby Ruby Bawled, Miss Bubble’s Troubles (2010 World Book Day Recommended Read), Spike and Ali Enson (2010 Book of the Year in The Independent national newspaper) and, most recently, the sequel Spike in Space. Skin Deep, the first novel in her Sugar and Spice series was published in 2011 and the second, Dance Dreams, is due to be published in the USA on 26 March 2013.

Malaika has been a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at London Metropolitan University and the London College of Fashion, a British Council Crossing Borders mentor for writers in Africa and a visiting author and workshop leader at various children’s literature festivals, Black History Month, World Book Day and other events. She has compiled a list of books featuring bi-racial characters published in the UK and the USA, which is available on her blog site.

It is truly a pleasure to kick off this year’s campaign with the very versatile Malaika Rose Stanley!

The Journey:

I first started writing for children when my two grown-up sons were young and I felt that there were too few children’s books with black protagonists published in the UK – especially those that featured and/or appealed to black boys. I have always loved writing, but I only thought about trying to write for children after I went to enroll for an adult education class in French! I was so impressed by a display of covers from books published by authors who had previously attended the Writing for Children class – including Malorie Blackman – that I signed up for both courses (although I have to admit that I ditched French after just one semester).

I progressed from the basic course to a follow-up writing workshop where the one criteria for joining was to have a ‘work-in-progress’. During that time, I wrote my first published book, Man Hunt, very slowly and carefully. My editor did not demand any revisions and made only a few, small editorial changes. It left me with a very distorted and unrealistic view of the publication process. My writing journey since then has been much rockier. After my first three books, I returned to teaching and had a ten-year break from publishing, so I have only been a full-time author for the past four years.

The Inspiration:

I’m giving my age away here, but my favourite books from childhood include
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Heidi by Johanna Spyri and the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton. The love of reading that these authors fostered in me continues to be an inspiration in my own writing.

As an adult, I have always admired and been inspired by the Australian children’s author, Morris Gleitzman, ever since I read one of his early books, Two Weeks with the Queen. I was impressed by his ability to write honestly about serious, challenging subjects but with humour and a lightness of touch. A couple of years ago, I heard him speak to about 6 adults and 60+ teenagers and he told us that the starting point for any story is to identify the biggest problem in the character’s life. He signed my copy of Now with the words, ‘G’day Malaika’ – which confirmed me as a die-hard fan.

All my own books start off based in reality, even when they stretch it to the limits and extend into fantasy, which is exactly what happens in Spike in Space:

Want a story that’s full of ALIENS and MONSTERS, and horrible, out-of-this-world smelly POO?

Then meet Spike! His adoptive family are from another planet, and now they’re taking him to live with them in SPACE!
Can he survive a new school, a horrible bully and a deadly attack from a hairy monster?

I wrote the first draft of Spike and Ali Enson many years before it was actually published. My manuscript went through many re-writes but I believe that tastes and trends within the publishing industry also changed. When I first started writing, the demand seemed to be almost exclusively for ‘issue-based’ books rather than stories that just happened to feature black characters – and there seemed to be little room for ‘genre’ books such as sci-fi or historical fiction. My experiences have certainly helped to cement my belief that authors should write what they know and love, rather than trying to write for the demands of the market which are likely to be inconsistent and difficult to predict.
I have been incredibly lucky to have secured deals directly with the publishers for all my books so far, but just over a year ago, I finally signed up with my first-ever agent, Catherine Pellegrino. The advantages were immediate in terms of the size of my admittedly still-small advance and meagre royalties for Spike in Space, but it’s a complete relief to be able to focus on my writing without diverting my creative energies into negotiations about money or foreign rights.

The Buzz:

“This fast-paced action adventure… designed to appeal to those who like their stories to be tinged with fantasy, thrills and spills, all the drama unfolds in shortish chapters, with a range of galactic vocab and cartoon-like illustrations to add zing.” (Junior Magazine)

“In a hilarious sequel to Spike and Ali Enson, Spike is off to live with his adoptive family on another planet… The combination of everyday things with which all kids are familiar and the excitement of life in space make this a fascinating and enjoyable series, which also carries a strong message about the importance of families and the reassurance they give.” (Parents in Touch)
Skin_DeepDance Dreams Cover

“This touching story of changes, new beginnings and dealing with difference is ideal for sharing with young children facing new experiences or beginning a new school year.” (The Book Trust)

My Brief Thoughts on the Industry:
I strongly believe that the children’s book publishing industry needs to actively challenge and reject the idea that books about black and ethnic minority characters will only appeal to readers from the same background. This view leads to the misconception that their commercial potential is limited and in turn makes it difficult for authors and others from diverse backgrounds to break into publishing.

The industry needs to accept that not all books by or about black people have to focus on the so-called gritty reality of racism or discrimination or identity – but that they should not ignore ‘issues’ if and when they arise in ‘slice of life’ stories – and have a wider approach in terms of ‘genre’, eg magic, sci-fi, thrillers, etc.
To find out more:
Visit Malaika Rose Stanley online at her Web home and on her blog.

Wonderful and inspiring words — thank you so much, Ms. Rose Stanley!

Where Do We Go From Here?

December 6, 2016
illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

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?

Below, some thoughts from five Brown Bookshelf Team members, Kelly Starling Lyons (KSL), Tracey Baptiste (TB), Tameka Fryer Brown (TFB), Crystal Allen (CA), and me, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (ORP).

Why did you sign the Declaration?

I signed because it’s an important statement to make right now, especially as children are dealing with unprecedented racism and xenophobia at their schools since the results of the election. ~ TB

I signed the Declaration because I wanted to express my outrage at the systemic racism, hate and brutality that’s devastating our children. I wanted to transform my feelings of helplessness into a pledge to have kids’ backs, to make sure they are seen and heard. – KSL

My parents taught me that my handshake, and my signature must always mean something to me, and to take both very seriously, because one day, they may be all I have. The Declaration serves as a reminder, and gives me an opportunity to hold myself accountable, through my signature, to use my God-given talent to provide quality stories to empower, embrace, and uplift the youth of today and tomorrow, and continuously remind them that they will always matter. -CA

I signed the declaration because, in the wake of all the injustice and bigotry that people in our community have been experiencing, I felt the need to publicly acknowledge the mental, emotional, and spiritual suffering that has affected us all—including the children. I wanted to publicly affirm that I would use my role as author to foster a predisposition to education, empowerment, and empathy in the next generation. They are always our best hope for enduring change. – TFB

I’m someone who believes in “small, good” acts, and quiet revolutionaries; I admire the people, like Ella Baker, who do the mighty and meaningful work that happens behind the scenes. But I signed on to our Declaration because I believe that sometimes holding oneself accountable in a public sense is necessary, and because I want our children to know that there are adults who value them and their voices, who hold them as precious treasures, who are paying attention. -ORP

How do you describe the intersection between art and activism? Who/what has influenced you in that area?

Art is activism. It is always saying something about the state of the world. Of course, there are books that aren’t about activism, but that’s not art, that’s a commercial product. I think I get my cues from artists like James Baldwin and Maya Angelou who understood this intersection better than most. ~TB

In college, I read about the Black Arts Movement. The belief that art should not be for art’s sake, but to make the experiences of black people seen and felt grabbed me and held on. Art is a bullhorn, an amen, a hug and outstretched hand, a pulsing beat that makes you nod and groove, an exultation to rise and soar. Art is action. Reading about how writers became warriors for change through their creativity, connection and daring helped shaped the kind of writer I strive to be. – KSL

In an article published by The Nation, Toni Morrison recounted a conversation in which a friend responded to her despair about the state of our nation by saying, “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!” That sums up my perspective on the intersection between art and activism. If you’re a writer, your words can be written to make people understand more thoroughly the need to change. If you are a visual artist, you can create imagery that impacts the soul of man on such a visceral level that he cannot be satisfied until he changes.

Whether it be through art or not, I think maybe the whole point of life is activism in some form or fashion. I remember reading a quote from Dr. King years ago that said, in essence, if a man had not discovered something he was willing to die for, he wasn’t fit to live. That resonated with me deeply. My greatest influence, though, was probably my grandmother. One of her most tried and true sayings was, “Right is right and wrong is wrong.” If you are raised with that as one of your mantras, you can’t help but stand up to wrong when you are confronted with it. – TFB

As a child, I never had the pleasure of meeting an author or illustrator. So back then, for me, I’d say there was no intersection. But as I began my professional writing journey, I was blessed with a core of strong African American women such as Eileen Robinson, Bernette Ford, Dara Sharif, and Christine-Taylor Butler who helped me understand the importance of staying relevant, and involved. -CA

The act of writing, of producing art, of creating, is such a powerful thing. I believe that art and activism are wholly intertwined, that whatever art we make is “a political statement”, whatever we think we intend. I grew up in a home that celebrated activism in the arts, that viewed it as necessary, as a sign of intellectual rigor, of passion about one’s work and community, of a desire to serve, and think of the gifts that we give instead of what we can take from the world. I was surrounded by books music and film and fine art by and about people like Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, Harry Belafonte, Maya Angelou, Odetta, Pete Seeger, Sweet Honey in the Rock…I could go on forever. We went on marches, and we sang. Our family participated in meetings and gatherings where people of all ages spoke truth to power in song, poetry, dance, and more. I was also so fortunate to have had teachers in middle and high school who took extra time to work with us theatre nerds to explore and produce work like A Raisin in the Sun, which we took “on tour” to a local prison, and who encouraged me to write plays and stories, and to read, read, read about the intersection and power of art and activism. -ORP

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

I’m working on new stories, ones that I hope will do more to open up perspectives, bring people together, and help readers think critically about the messages we’re all bombarded with in the world. I’m also reaching back to my training as a teacher and using those skills to explore the effect of literature, not just on learning, but on empathy. ~TB

I will keep writing stories that center the experiences of black children, raise awareness of children’s book creators of color and Native authors and illustrators and push for publishing and marketing equity. I will listen to the children, fight for their safety, visibility, voice and future through my art and vote. – KSL

As a member of The Brown Bookshelf, I will work with the team to come up with concrete ways to get more books by African American authors and illustrators into the hands of our future leaders. First and foremost, I will pen stories that nurture cultural appreciation and empathy. I commit not only to writing such books, but also to finding effective ways to help those already in the marketplace bypass the myriad obstacles standing between them and their intended audiences. – TFB

I will continue to write stories where African American children are the main characters, but race will never drive my stories. I will continue to put my characters in everyday predicaments, show them doing normal activities, and allow them to tell their stories in an effort to encourage conversation among readers about ‘sameness’ in all races, and demolish the ignorance that drives prejudice and social injustice. -CA

I’m proud to continue working with The Brown Bookshelf to promote Black children’s book creators across the Diaspora, to share our many stories with children everywhere. I’m also especially glad to be working with the Internship Committee of We Need Diverse Books, because I believe that in order to have diverse books we need diverse voices in positions of power in all areas of the industry. As an educator, I plan to continue to do workshops such as “Reading and Writing for Change”, and share strategies for teaching and learning with an eye toward social justice in every area, and am planning a couple of long term projects along those lines. I’ll also continue to encourage and empower young people to tell their own stories, to know and hold dear the value of writing, of documenting their journeys, of creating art, and surrounding themselves with people who believe in that. I’m so grateful for my friends and support group in the children’s lit community; people who inspire and encourage every day, sometimes just by their very existence. And of course, I’m very excited about my own upcoming writing projects and opportunities to tell complex stories of vibrant characters of color. – ORP

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

The industry needs to publish books that are representative of the population of the United States. As it is, children’s literature is disproportionately white. This helps no one. People have been talking about this for a long time, and it’s time for action. Of course, the way to help is not by painting characters brown, but with authentic representations of people and cultures. It’s not a simple task, but the work needs to be done. ~TB

The industry needs to understand where its blind spots and biases are and find ways to correct them. Children deserve to see themselves in stories that show their history, their dreams, their fantastic adventures, their realities. In every level of the industry, we need more representation by people of color and Native people – editors, art directors, publicists, reviewers. Background can shape editorial and marketing sensibilities – what stories you believe will resonate with kids, what you invest in. – KSL

I’d like them to proactively put more marketing dollars into books written by authors of color. And to publish a greater percentage of books by African-Americans that fall outside of the civil rights and civil war time periods, across all genres, including but not limited to contemporary, sci-fi, and fantasy. – TFB

Put more money into marketing books that promote everything the Declaration stands for. I would even love a sticker or a stamp created for books by publishers for parents to know which books will help erase hate, promote unity, and provide religious, ethnic, gender understanding, and include with study guides. -CA

I’d like to see the publishing industry acknowledge the seriousness of these issues, hold itself accountable for perpetuating bias, and take concrete, measurable steps to move toward equity. I would love to see more active encouragement and development of #ownvoices, and a diversification of voices “at the table”, in all sectors of the industry. – ORP

What suggestions do you have for readers who wish to make the same pledge (specific actions, favorite resources, etc.)?

The Brown Bookshelf will be doing curriculum connections with some of the books we have featured on the site. That will be a good resource for teachers who want to promote books that are more representative of the population. There’s also and recommended titles from We Need Diverse Books. ~TB

I urge readers to support books by children’s book creators of color and Native authors and illustrators. When these books are consistently in demand at libraries, bookstores and schools, publishers will respond. There’s power in the dollar. A quote I love is the journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step. What can you do now? Check out books by children’s book creators of color and Native authors and illustrators at the library, request them if they aren’t there, buy them as holiday and birthday presents not just for kids of color but for all children (Take the Birthday Party Pledge –, review them and tell your friends about them, support publishers like Just Us Books, Cinco Puntos Press and Lee & Low. Change begins with each of us. – KSL

In whatever capacity you create or advocate books for children, keep the end goal of a more inclusive, empathetic citizenry at the fore. For example, if you are a media specialist, make sure you (very naturally and without fanfare) offer titles featuring main characters of color to your white students. In addition to offering mirror books to your students of color, offer them window books into other POC cultures as well. Same goes for parents and other adult book buyers. – TFB

Buy books from those authors who have taken the pledge, and tell your friends to do the same. This way, we can flood the world with more love than hate. -CA

In one of my presentations, I always say “Make an effort.” Don’t be complacent. Everyone doesn’t have to do something “big”, but if everyone does *something*, it will be big. If you read and share children’s literature (and you should), make an effort to seek out literature by those who are marginalized, all of the different stories that we tell. Use resources like The Brown Bookshelf, The Pirate Tree, American Indians in Children’s Literature. Read scholars like Edi Campbell, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and Sarah Park Dahlen. Talk with your children about these issues, offer young people the tools to start doing this work themselves, to think critically about their literacies, perhaps using resources like The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, Rethinking Schools, and Teaching Tolerance. I’ve written more about this for parents and educators on sites like Brightly. -ORP

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked “Where do we go from here?” in 1967. He wondered: chaos or community? He went on to note:  “Now, in order to answer the question, ‘Where do we go from here?’ which is our theme, we must first honestly recognize where we are now.” Where do you think we are? Where are you? And where are you planning to go?

Throwback Thursday: Margaree King Mitchell

December 1, 2016

The tagline of Margaree King Mitchell’s website is “Creating Stories that Inspire.” Indeed her moving titles, from picture books to YA, touch children and adults and show the potential for greatness that lies within each of us. Her Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winning book, Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, debuted in 1993 and became a classic featured in classrooms and libraries, Reading Rainbow and theaters. Is it any wonder that people eagerly awaited a second collaboration by Margaree and acclaimed illustrator James E. Ransome? We featured Margaree as a 28 Days Later honoree the year that stirring book, When Grandmama Sings, debuted. It was  another  intergenerational  treasure, rooted in black history, that stayed with you long after you put it down.

Enjoy Margaree from February 28, 2012

– Kelly

margareeIf you are at all familiar with the picture book genre, you’ve likely heard of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, the much heralded, 1994 Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Margaree King Mitchell is the author of that still-popular title, as well as Granddaddy’s Gift (1996).

Her latest book, When Grandmama Sings, was released last month to wonderful reviews. As we wind down this year’s campaign, it is an honor to feature the words and work of Margaree King Mitchell.

The Journey

When my son was in kindergarten, his school had Grandparents Day. Students could invite their grandparents to spend the whole day with them. We lived in Memphis, TN at the time and my son’s grandmothers lived in Atlanta and Kansas City, so he had no one to invite to school. When he arrived at school, not only had students brought their grandmothers, some had also brought their grandfathers. When my son got home he unclejedwas very sad. “I don’t have any grandfathers,” he said. I explained to him that both of his grandfathers had died before he was born. But he didn’t understand. Every day he came home from school sad because he had no grandfathers. I searched the public library for books that would show what life was like for his ancestors. I couldn’t find any. Then I went to all the bookstores in town. I still couldn’t find any. Therefore, I decided to write the books myself.

I wanted the books to be set in the rural South because that is where I’m from. I grew up on my grandfather’s farm in Holly Springs, Mississippi. I wanted each book to focus on an ordinary person who does extraordinary things for the time period in which they lived. I patterned the Uncle Jed character in my first book, UNCLE JED’S BARBERSHOP, after my grandfather. My grandfather owned his own farm during a time of segregation and racial discrimination. And he showed me that a person can rise above their surroundings and make their dreams come true.

I wanted to show the same things in my books. As I was thinking about my first book, I remembered my grandfather telling me about a barber who went house to house cutting hair. I made Uncle Jed a barber because I wanted all children to identify with the character whether they lived in the city or a small town. By the time I began writing the book we had moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. One day my son’s first grade teacher asked me to help out with some of the kids in her class who were behind the other kids academically. I started volunteering three days a week and worked with five students. Those three days turned into four days, then five days. I really cared about the students and wanted them to do well in school. When the end of the school year came, I wondered what would become of students who had no one to believe in them. Then I realized that the book I was writing to teach my son about his ancestors could also inspire children to dream big dreams for their lives.

After submitting my story for two years I received nothing but rejection letters. However, they were personal rejection letters from editors telling me that they loved my story but it didn’t fit in with their publishing plans. Finally, frustrated that those editors could love my story and not publish it, I decided to submit it directly to the publisher of Simon & Schuster. Within a month I had a contract.

When UNCLE JED’S BARBERSHOP was published, I was asked to read the story during Story Time at the main branch of the Little Rock Public Library. This was the first time kids other than my son had heard the story so I was anxious to see their reaction. After I finished reading the book, parents who were fascinated by the historical aspects of the story dominated the question and answer period. And I didn’t get any comments from children. But as I was leaving a little girl was waiting for me by the door. She said, “I liked your story about Uncle Jed. I want to be a doctor when I grow up but my grandmama keeps telling me I’ll never be one. Now I know I can be a doctor.”

I knew then I had achieved my goal in writing UNCLE JED’S BARBERSHOP. Since that day I have received many letters from children all across the country telling me their dreams. They also tell me who says they can’t achieve their dreams and why. But because of Uncle Jed’s story, they now know they can be anything they want to be if they just don’t give up.

The Inspiration

I get ideas for my stories on my morning walks. When my mind is quiet and I’m surrounded by nature ideas come to me. If I’m stuck at a certain part in a story I put it aside until the next day. I know that the next morning while I’m walking and appreciating nature the right solution will come.

I’m inspired by stories that are populated by families and friends, the stuff of life. I especially love the books of Mildred D. Taylor, whose stories are inspired by her family and their experiences. She heard about many of these stories at family gatherings in Mississippi. Her book ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY, is set in 1933 Mississippi during the Great Depression and deals with racial injustice. Her stories are filled with characters who find a way to right wrongs done to them.

The Back Story

My agent placed WHEN GRANDMAMA SINGS with Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, a division of William Morrow and Company. WHEN GRANDMAMA SINGS was the third book she had placed with them. However, before the first book came out, HarperCollins grandmamapurchased William Morrow and Company. Therefore, HarperCollins inherited all three books. After a review of my books, it was decided that WHEN GRANDMAMA SINGS would be published first. So I have waited over ten years for WHEN GRANDMAMA SINGS to be published.

However, during those ten years lots of great things happened with UNCLE JED’S BARBERSHOP. They are too numerous to name. I’ll just mention a few. An award winning musical featuring Broadway veteran Ken Prymus has been adapted from UNCLE JED’S BARBERSHOP. The most recent performances were in Denver last year. Plans are being made to take it to additional theaters.

The Federal Reserve Bank has developed lesson plans using UNCLE JED’S BARBERSHOP to teach students about saving, savings goals, opportunity cost, and entrepreneurship.

The Library of Congress has developed a lesson plan connecting events in history to the story in UNCLE JED’S BARBERSHOP.

The Buzz

From School Library Journal:

Gr-2-4 – Set in the segregated South of the 1950s, Mitchell’s poignant story features eight-year old Belle and her loving, stalwart African-American family. When Grandmama, who can’t read but whose singing voice captures the hearts of all who hear her, joins a jazz band for a tour of the South, Belle pleads to go along. Thrilled to expand her world beyond Pecan Flats, MS, she experiences firsthand the difficulties her people face: hotels marked “White Only,” diners that refuse them service, police who search their cars and luggage for no reason. Through it all, Grandmama sings to growing crowds, believing in the power of music to bring people together. When, at the story’s end, a recording contract beckons her “up north,” Grandmama tells Belle to believe in herself and “sing her own song.” Ransome’s full-page images, rich in color and feeling, portray the landscape of the South and the individual emotions of the characters with equal aplomb. Placed in the past, the message is still relevant for children today.” (Barbara Elleman, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA

From Kirkus Reviews:

Belle joins her beloved grandmother, a jazz singer, on a summer tour of Southern towns and sees that segregation is everywhere—not just at home in Mississippi.

Holding tight to her uncle’s lucky rabbit’s foot, Belle watches as Grandmama and the musicians face the ugliness of Jim Crow in diners and theaters and on the road. In Alabama, the police dump their belongings on the roadside, a state’s welcome. She also listens as her grandmother shares her dreams for an integrated society and thrills to her resounding performance on stage in Atlanta, one that leads to an offer to make recordings for a company up North. It’s a moment that inspires Belle to dream, because “the promise of her song helped me believe in myself.” As in Uncle Jed’s Barbershop (1993), for which Ransome won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, Mitchell has crafted another compelling story of an African-American family both strong and determined despite the all-powerful clamp of racism. Ransome uses watercolors in warm tones of yellows and browns to reveal nuances of expression and the warmth of family and community.

A gentle story that shows the everyday realities of segregation through the observant eye of a child. (Picture book. 5-9)

From Publishers Weekly:

“Mitchell and Ransome, the team behind Coretta Scott King Honor–winner Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, reunite for another story set in the early 20th century, in which intimate family relationships are set against a backdrop of racial segregation. Eight-year-old narrator Belle lives with her parents and Grandmama in the fictional town of Pecan Flats, Miss. Grandmama’s singing voice has earned her local fame, and when a man offers to “book her and a band on a small singing tour of the South,” she agrees, bringing Belle along for the ride. Written in the past tense, Belle’s narration has an elegiac quality, but while the band encounters plenty of discrimination on the road, triumphs outweigh setbacks (and Grandmama doesn’t come to any serious harm). Ransome’s lovely, naturalistic watercolors draw out a wealth of emotions from the characters, particularly Grandmama, whose expressions range from weariness to passion while she’s singing, and determination, such as when she slams money on the counter of a restaurant that won’t serve them. It’s a stirring reminder that it’s never too late to chase one’s dreams, no matter the obstacles. Ages 5–9. (Jan.)”

From The Horn Book:

From the author and the illustrator of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop (rev. 11/93) comes another picture book about life in the segregated South. The narrator recounts her grandmother’s story—she couldn’t read but “always had a song to sing”—which centers on Grandmama’s singing tour with her eight-year-old granddaughter there to keenly observe everything. Grandmama and her musicians initially draw small crowds, and Belle nervously points out the “whites only” signs wherever they go, but Grandmama is undeterred. Gradually word spreads about Grandmama’s talent as the tour continues, but the group still must contend with suspicion from Alabama police. The narration is calm and matter-of-fact, like Grandmama, who remains focused on what’s right, while in contrast Ransome’s paintings show the shame, sadness, and anger the characters feel. Mitchell’s latest picture book gives modern-day children a realistic depiction of the small humiliations and frightening moments African American travelers went through in their daily lives during the Jim Crow era, and it makes an excellent book for discussion. – Susan Dove Lempke

From Elizabeth Bird’s Librarian Preview:

Remember Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell, and illustrated by James Ransome? I sure as heck do because that book ends up on a lot of school lists of required reading. Well, that book came out in 1993 and is still in print to this day. Now Mitchell and Ransome have reunited at long last in When Grandmama Sings. In this picture book (historical) a girl can read and her grandma can’t. When her grandmother’s singing gives her a chance to go on tour she does so with her granddaughter. The trouble? They’re touring the segregated south. This is a book that covers both a meaningful relationship and history. A good companion to last year’s The Green Book by Calvin Ramsey and Floyd Cooper, don’t you think?

The State of the Industry

Publishers should remember that there is a whole market of underserved readers who are interested in stories of the South and other stories featuring the African American experience. There are a myriad of stories about African American life waiting to be told but if traditional publishers are not interested in these stories the literary record will be incomplete. The South is filled with rich history of how African Americans overcame racial obstacles to not only survive but thrive and be successful under unbearable conditions. This is why ordinary people are at the center of my stories. By telling those stories students will realize that they, too, can make a difference in the world.

Regardless of how well previous books by authors of color are received, there is still someone who says no one will read your book. Or the book has to be about a famous African American. Or the person reading the story has no grasp of history and doesn’t believe that ordinary African Americans could be resourceful and create their own destiny. Therefore, it is hard for new books to be published. And it will continue to be so unless there is an advocate in publishing companies who is committed to being sure that all stories are told.

Throwback Thursday- Vanessa Brantley Newton

November 26, 2016

For my throwback Thursday, I chose one of my favorite illustrators, Vanessa Brantley Newton. Although I’m also a big fan of more realistic illustrators / painters such as Eric Velasquez and E.B. Lewis, there’s something about her cartoony style that always makes me smile. The drawings are super cute, and I can always imagine them on a T-shirt or lunch box. And the few times I’ve spoken with her, her personality has matched her art. In my ideal publishing world, she’d never get a vacation because she’d be producing book after book. Sorry Vanessa. Now if you’re reading this, get back to work!

Enjoy Vanessa’s interview from 2011.

Jerry Craft

For this interview, I studied Vanessa’s website and sorted through her artwork, looking for just the right words to use in an introduction. I failed, big-time. Words like “charming,” “fresh,” and “retro” came to mind—boring words that didn’t do her art justice.

I fretted for days. I care about my work here, and I wanted to give Vanessa her due props. But then, over the weekend, Vanessa emailed answers to her interview questions, along with her wonderful artwork. That’s when I realized that I didn’t need to say a word. Vanessa’s words and art say it all. They made me smile, laugh, think, cheer. And her art!—you’ll want to gobble it up!

Vanessa describes herself as a full-time mom, and a freelance illustrator and writer, who loves to craft, cook, and collect vintage children’s books. She lives in East Orange, NJ with her husband and daughter, and a very fat cat named Kirby who thinks he is dog.

Vanessa, in your own words, please tell us about your most recent book Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table

What happens when everyone is invited to Auntie Mabel’s house for Sunday Dinner? Craziness that’s what. Auntie Mabel just doesn’t know how to stop her snowballing grace over dinner. Her family loves her, but they are hungry and Auntie wants to pray this long prayer and the food gets cold and everyone is upset. I wanted to show what my family was like. I come from a very multicultural family and they are funny and wonderful, and there are so many magical stories to tell about them. Auntie Mabel is just one of them.

Tell us about  your path of publication, from spark of inspiration to printed book

I had written this story many, many years ago, almost 15 years or more. I put it away. I read it to a couple of members of my family and they seem to like it well enough, but I wasn’t sure. I took some classes at the School of Visual Arts in NYC and I showed it to my teachers, some said it was way too much and others said that it wasn’t enough and so I got even more confused. So I secretly worked on my characters and I let them tell me where they wanted the story to go.  I showed it to my agent about a year ago and she told me to work on it some more and this frustrated me. I then took it with me to one of my publishers. Harriet Ziegert over at Blue Apple  Books. She read it and fell instantly in love with it!! She actually took the script out of my hands and started editing it. She told me, “everything you need is in here already and you just need to move some words around and shorten the dang thing!!!” No need to add another thing. Now draw some pictures.”  I laugh now when I think about it.  Harriet is brilliant. I think that stories are fresh and brilliant when they come from your life experiences .  What you have been through. The people you know.  Harriet shortened the story quite a bit but it works.

Can you talk about your transformation from artist to writer

I have always been writing. I am a musician, singer and songwriter. I love to write songs. They are stories to be “Sungtold.”  It’s a word that I made up.  My mom was a great storyteller and singer.  She weaved words and music together to tell fabulous stories or create word pictures.  Writing is a muscle that has to be worked everyday just as illustration is a muscle.  People tend to think that writing for children is easy, but it’s not.  Good writers make it look easy.  It’s hard work. It takes thinking outside of the box. It’s using the gray matter between the eyes.  It’s the art of telling a story that wants to be told over and over and over again in less than an hour.  It’s the art of telling a story with a few delicious words.  I am being stretched even more now as I am asked to create and share my own stories.  Sometimes I have a clue as how to do it and sometimes I clueless.  I keep a notebook by my bedside to write in and keep notes.  I listen to children.  I watch them and I record them.  I reach back into my childhood to find stories and things that want to be put onto paper.  There is no magic formula that I try to follow.  I am still trying to find my voice in writing.  I am currently working on several stories with my sister Coy Curry who is also a singer and songwriter.  We are country girls from the Low Country. That’s Beaufort , SC and the islands of SC.  We are Geechee people. Or Gullah. These are the sea island people who were enslaved from Serra Leone.  Our Gullah culture is dying and we want to tell the stories that we have carried for years to others.  We want to keep it alive.  We want to share what it was like growing up in a Geechee Gullah household with songs, stories, food, crafts and language.

What kinds of stories inspire you?

Stories of the old. Oral tales and accounts. These things inspire me as a writer.

I love your illustrations on the covers of the popular Ruby and the Booker Boys series. How did you come to be a part of this project?

My good friend Karen Proctor asked me to bring my portfolio over to the city.  She wanted to share it with Andrea Pinkney.  I was so honored to meet someone of the Pinkney family!  That made my day right there!  Andrea graciously looked at my portfolio and told me what I needed to do to make it more workable. She was honest and upfront about it and I liked that about her. She saw a piece that I did called “Ghetto Boy in da Hood” and she loved it.  She loved it so much that she took it out of the portfolio with several other pieces.  She told me that she would give me a call in a couple of months.  A couple of months rolled by and I didn’t hear from her. I was a little disappointed and just when I wasn’t expecting a call I got one from her.  She wanted me to create a girl character.  I did some sketches and a finished piece and sent them too her. She called me back told me that they wanted me to work on a new project called, “Ruby and the Booker Boys” I jumped at the chance and Ruby was born.

Please talk about your training, education. What led you to a career in art?

I wanted to be a doctor, but my grades said otherwise.  I am dyslexic, meaning I have a learning difference.  Drawing was my way to express myself.  I am mainly self-taught.  While I attended FIT and the SVA of NYC, I never got my degree. I had run out of money and I had to get a job fast so I worked as a phlebotomist.  I did side jobs in illustration. I did some greeting cards and fine art work. I worked as a phlebotomist for over 25 years before I started doing children’s book illustration.  I knew that I needed to hone my gift in illustration, but I didn’t have the money to go back to school so I started reading books and taking course here and there to hone my craft.  I hope to get my degree soon, but if I don’t I have found expression and it has found me and we work together.

Do you have any thoughts on why so many black illustrators are male yet so many authors are female? Who are  female illustrators who inspired you?

I believe there are not many female black illustrators, because they are not encouraged to step into the arena of illustration and they are not encouraged to learn the technical side of art.  I also feel, unfortunately, I believe that the culture is divided in thinking women are better storytellers, because we are more verbal by nature and that men are more visual.  It is definitely something I feel needs to change.  I don’t know many black female illustrators, but the ones I do know are award winning and exceptional artist and I am proud to be among them, such as Shadra Strickland, Cozbi and Patricia Cummings are a few that come to mind.

In all honesty I have not been inspired by many black female illustrators, mainly, because at the time of my development there were no known black children’s book illustrators, except for Tom Feelings and the Dillions, let alone female black illustrators.  I hope to dispel this truth with my own work and inspire other up and coming illustrators. 

What is your mission as an artist?

To create illustrations and word pictures that are indelibly printed on the brain.  Images, that restore and heal the inner child in all of us.

Your artwork has a very appealing retro look about it. What inspired this?

There is something so beautiful to me about old children’s books. They are traditional done.  No magic tricks, just the magic of imagination.  The colors and hand work of these books are amazing to me.  I collect tons of children’s books from the 1950’s and 60’s along with Old Humpty Dumpty Magazines and Golden Books.  It takes me back to my childhood.  Ezra Jack Keats is one of my greatest mentors.  He inspires me most in my artwork.  I love his collage work.  I never got to meet him, but he has been one of my greatest teachers ever. The others are Mary Blair, Fiep Westendorp, The Provensen’s Tom O’Louglin, Tommy Unger, David Catrow, Mo Williems and Adrian Johnson.

What inspires you as an illustrator?

People!!!! Oh my goodness PEOPLE!!! I people watch all the time. We are the funniest things on the dang plant Man! I am a lover of people good, bad, ugly, pretty, happy, sad I love to look at people, because they inspire and then, of course, anything retro comes next.  Being a child of the 60’s I got to watch Bugs Bunny, Felix the Cat, the Jetsons and the Flintstones. These cartoons formed a lot of my desire to become and illustrator.  The colors and patterns and subject matter appealed to me. It was without computers, bells and whistles. You had to make your own magic. I love technology, but I am inspired by the old and tattered.  I love to laugh!  I am always looking to find the funny.  It’s major and important to me to find the funny.  So you will see it in my characters that I illustrate and in the situations I put them in.  I want people to see themselves and not take themselves so seriously.

What are you doing when You’re not creating children’s books?

Singing, laughing and spending time with my husband of 16 years and our daughter who is 10.  I love to craft so I spend any couple of minutes I have creating he he he he!!

Can you talk about some of your works in progress, what’s on the horizon?

Children’s books, comics, etc. I just finished a book with Cedella Marley called, ” One Love” A song written by her father, the great Bob Marley and adapted by his daughter. I have been working on my first traditional collage book called, “Magic Trash “The story of Tyree Guyton.  My sister Coy and I are working on a Gullah Geechee children’s book as well as a series of books of Fractured Fairytales from the Hood.  Things like “Lil’ Red in the Hood” is one that will be published soon. All I can say is “HILARIOUS!”

What advice can you offer to aspiring writers and illustrators of children’s books?

Hone, hone, and hone your writing and illustration skills.  Get around people who support your dreams and visions.  Don’t be too eager to share your dreams and visions with everyone, because everyone is not cheering for you.  You can’t put an 18×24 vision in a 3×5 card mind!  If it comes to you right then, write it down NOW!!  Don’t wait to do it later.  A great story could be right there at your fingertips.  Listen to children. Write down what they say and how they say it.  Read other peoples books.  Go to the bookstores and check out what is on the shelf.  See a need and fill it.  If there  are no books that you like, try writing one that you would like to see.  Take classes in illustration and writing often to stay current and fresh.  Visit other people’s blogs on writing and illustration.  Know the business of publishing.  Be true to yourself. Stop measuring your gifts and talents by other people, its hard enough being you as it is.  Search for things to put around you to keep you inspired.  Collect the books of the authors and illustrators that you adore and study them.  You can be mentored from a far.  Find time for yourself. I am working on this myself.  Find time for you and care for YOU.  Start today saying good things and thinking good thoughts about where you want to be as an illustrator or writer or both.  See yourself doing it and go for it!

Who are your cheerleaders?

My hubby, Ray, my daughter, Zoe, my sister Coy, my sisterfriend Loredan, my brother from another mother, Eric Barclay and my agent Lori Nowicki

See. Aren’t you inspired? Told ya so.

Throwback Thursday – Nikki Grimes

November 17, 2016


My Throwback Thursday landed on Nikki Grimes and I’m delighted it did. What a talent! If only . . .
I love her Dyamonde Daniel chapter book series. I featured it in my afterschool book club. I sent copies to my teacher-daughter to use in her classroom. Her students loved it, too. I only wish some of the concerns she discussed in 2010 were not issues we still discuss in 2016.

Enjoy Nikki Grimes from February 24, 2010.


I love drawing the long straw and getting to profile a trailblazer during 28 Days Later. And somehow, Varian let me get away with profiling both of the YA vanguards. Shh…he may not realize.

But these are the authors who have been in the industry long enough to truly say where publishing has been and where it needs to go. How they endure the business-side of writing while still producing great work is among life’s greatest mysteries for me.

Nikki Grimes has been writing children’s books since the 1970’s. She’s a best selling author and several times over Coretta Scott King winner or honoree. Often, during Brown Bookshelf discussions, we talk about our heavy hitters, the names that people instantly recognize when talking about children’s books by authors of color and Nikki’s name is always among them.

What hasn’t a long-time author answered in an interview? What haven’t they already divulged about themselves? I’d venture to guess, not much. Still Nikki was game to indulge me. We talked about the industry and her latest baby, the Dyamonde Daniel series – chapter books about an inquisitive, up and coming, young poet.

BBS: Your bio page lists what life as an author is like. It had me in stitches because it’s so true. Ironically, writing is only a small part of a writer’s life, yet you’ve written so much. How do you hear the voices of your characters with so many other things competing for your attention?

NG: Not to worry! My characers are both loud and demanding. I couldn’t miss hearing their voices if I tried. And when I attempt to ignore them, they simply do me the courtesy of waking me in the middle of the night!

BBS: Selling fiction is tough enough, what special challenges are associated with being a working i.e. selling poet? How do you stay competitive in a field that seems to offer so few opportunities?

NG: I don’t wait for opportunities I make my own. Since I’m driven by character and story—not genre—I concentrate on creating story narratives that are relevant, narratives that I believe will speak to the young readers of today. Poetry is my first love, though, and so many of my narratives take that form.

BBS: Share, with us, one change you’ve seen in publishing since your first children’s book that you never thought you’d see?

NG: The growing popularity of e-books! Never saw that coming. I was autographing at the National Book Festival this past September, and a young reader brought me a Kindle to sign! I nearly fell out of my chair. It’s a brand new day!

BBS: Share one thing you have yet to see but would like to see change about children’s book publishing.

NG: I would love to see more diversity in editorial and management positions. That would, quite literally, change the face of children’s poetry.

BBS: Your latest books are the Dyamonde Daniel series. Dyamonde reminds me of my childhood fave chapter book character, Ramona. What inspired the series? How many books are planned in the series?

NG: Over the years, several publishers have approached me about creating a series, but I simply wasn’t interested. Then, about two years ago, I began to wonder: if I were to create a series, what would that look like? The question bored into my psyche and wouldn’t stop until I answered the question. As for the length of my little experiment, Dyamonde is an open-ended series. I’ve no idea how long, or short, the series will end up being. Stay tuned!

BBS: Any chances we might see Dyamonde on the big or little screen in time for my five year old to enjoy? Although I’m serious, the true question is, what do you believe it will take to draw more film/TVinterest in books featuring characters of color? Surely it’s not for a lack of intriguing characters. Your books alone offer a myriad of possibilities.

NG: I’m not sure how to crack that particular nut. I’ve certainly wondered about it, and I get no end of letters from fans asking the same question. Unfortunately, the people of power in those industries still seem to operate under the false notion that stories featuring characters of color are incapable of appealing to a broader audience. Nothing could be further from the truth. My own readership crosses all boundaries of race, nationality, age, and gender. There most definitely is an audience for these stories. However, it may take a Tyler Perry, or an Oprah Winfrey, or some other industry person of color to bring these stories to the screen. Perhaps BET someone at BET could step into the void. We’ll have to see what happens down the road.

BBS: Choose a side in this debate and give us your closing argument on the point: Should brown books fight to be mainstreamed or should people of color “be happy” with just making sure other people of color know about their books?

NG: Mainstream, definitely. Good stories should be read by all children. Books are one of the chief ways we learn about other cultures, other ways of seeing the world. Stories also teach us that we are all the same beneath the skin. We do reaeders a great disservice by isolating the stories of any one culture from all the rest.
The Buzz on Nikki’s Work

Rich: A Dyamonde Daniel Book

“Young readers will wish they had a friend like Dyamonde.” —Kirkus Reviews

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel

“Meet Dyamonde Daniel. You’ll be happy that you did.” —Betsy Bird, A Fuse #8 Production

“A welcome addition to the steadily growing list of beginning chapter books with African American protagonists, this is a promising start for the Dyamonde Daniel series.” Grades 2-4. —Booklist

Bronx Masquerade

“The book…succeeds because it makes us want the best for these voices so clearly heard.” Horn Book

“As always, Grimes gives young people exactly what they’re looking for—real characters who show them they are not alone.” School Library Journal

*2003 Coretta Scott King Author Award
*Best Book for Young Adults
*Children’s Literature Choice
*Quick Pick for Young Adult Reluctant Readers

Road to Paris

“In clear short chapters, Grimes tells a beautiful story of family, friendship, and faith from the viewpoint of a child in search of home in a harsh world.” – Booklist

*Nominated for the 2009-2010 Nebraska Golden Sower Award, Intermediate divison
*Coretta Scott King Honor Book

A Declaration in Support of Children

November 14, 2016

Illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Children’s literature may be the most influential literary genre of all. Picture books, chapter books, middle-grade and young-adult novels all serve the most noble of purposes: to satisfy the need for information, to entertain curious imaginations, to encourage critical thinking skills, to move and inspire. Within their pages, seeds of wisdom and possibility are sown.

Therefore we, the undersigned children’s book authors and illustrators*, do publicly affirm our 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.

Our country is deeply divided. The recent election is a clear indication of the bigotry that is entrenched in this nation, of the prevalence of systems that threaten to destroy the very fabric of society, and has exposed the fault lines that continue to polarize us. 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. Now is the time to raise our voices for them, for our future.

The stakes are too high for us to be silent. The stakes are too high for us to wait for someone else to take the lead. The stakes are too high for us to just hope things will get better. Each day, we see attempts to disenfranchise and dehumanize marginalized people and to dismiss the violence that we face. As children’s book creators, we feel a special connection and responsibility to amplify the young voices that too often go unheard. When the headlines fade, the impact on children’s lives remains. They are left feeling confused, afraid, angry, hurt. We believe it is our duty to not just create, but also to empower children, affirm their lives and stand up for change.

For our young readers, we will create stories that offer authentic and recognizable reflections of themselves, as well as relatable insight into experiences which on the surface appear markedly different. We will use our books to affect a world brimming with too many instances of hostility and injustice. We will plant seeds of empathy, fairness and empowerment through words and pictures. We will do so with candor and honesty, but also in the spirit of hope and love.

The values of adults can often be traced back to early influences. It is our collective mission, therefore, to promote understanding and justice through our art; to bolster every child’s visceral belief that his or her life shall always be infinitely valuable. This is a matter of life and death.

With paintbrushes and pens in hand, we, the undersigned, will continue to press toward the goals of equality, justice, and peace. We will write. We will draw. We will listen to the children. We invite you to join us.

In the words of Ella Baker, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

Signed by:

Kelly Starling Lyons 
Tameka Fryer Brown
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Don Tate
Gwendolyn Hooks
Tracey Baptiste
Crystal Allen
Paula Chase-Hyman
Varian Johnson
Jerry Craft
Jacqueline Woodson
Denene Millner
Jabari Asim
Mo Willems
Sam Bloom
Katherine Roy
Zetta Elliott
Carole Boston Weatherford
Dinah Johnson
Joyce Hansen
Lin Oliver
Bruce Coville
Linda Sue Park
Pat Cummings 
Jane Yolen
Deborah Underwood
Anne Marie Pace
Derrick Barnes
Kristy Dempsey
Pat Zietlow Miller
Laurent Linn
Charles R. Smith, Jr.
Stephen Messer
Kurtis Scaletta 
Anne Ursu 
Kelly Barnhill
Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Mitali Perkins 
JJ Johnson
John Bemis 
Lamar Giles
Renée Watson
Mike Jung 
Kate Messner
Jo Knowles
Martha Brockenbrough
Laurie Thompson
Audrey Vernick
Laurel Snyder
Sarah Darer Littman
Eileen Heyes 
Clay Carmichael
Chris Barton
Christine Taylor-Butler
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Daniel Minter
Alice Faye Duncan
Wade Hudson
Cheryl Willis Hudson
L. Divine
Kekla Magoon
Margaree Mitchell
Tonya Cherie Hegamin
Jacqueline K. Ogburn 
Jay Asher
Megan E. Bryant
Evelyn Coleman
Kim Turrisi
Kathleen Ahrens
Karen Sandler
London Ladd
Kathryn Erskine
Padma Venkatraman
Ellen Oh
Eleanora E. Tate
Dhonielle Clayton
Jennifer Ziegler 
Tonya Bolden
Tony Medina
Sharon G. Flake
Melanie Conklin
Sayantani DasGupta
Johnny Ray Moore
Danette Vigilante
Laura Pegram
Sona Charaipotra
Uma Krishnaswami
Phil Bildner
Elana K. Arnold 
Jewell Parker Rhodes
Shadra Strickland 
Ki-Wing Merlin
Yamile Saied Mendez
Neesha Meminger
Carmen Oliver
NH Senzai 
Kami Kinard
Mark Holtzen
Dana Alison Levy
Ibi Zoboi
Joyce Moyer Hostetter
Judy Carey Nevin
Raychelle Muhammad
Anika Denise
Stephanie Ruble
Ann Eisenstein
Kristine Carlson Asselin
Tommy Hays
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
Judy Allen Dodson
Marilyn Nelson
Kell Andrews
Stephanie Kuehn
Margarita Engle
Laurie Halse Anderson
Katie Bayerl
Gae Polisner
JaNay Brown-Wood
Philip Nel
Sarah Park Dahlen
Rebecca Petruck
Donna Welch Earnhardt
Joyce Wan
Minh Lê
Megan Dowd Lambert
Lorraine Currelley
Brittany J. Thurman
Lauren McLaughlin
Soraya Jean-Louis McElroy
Saranyan Vigraham
Eboni Jean Darnell
Vincent Desjardins
Katrina Damkoehler
Nick Bruel
LaKeshia N. Darden
Erica Perl
Michelle Cusolito
Russ Cox
Sarah DelGrosso
Amy Lee-Tai
Cindy L. Rodriguez
Tanita S. Davis
Katie L. Carroll
Catherine Thimmesh
Dow Phumiruk
Edi Campbell
Monica Brown
Erin E. Moulton
Lisa McMann
Jesse Ediger
Kim Baker
Mike Hays
Jane Kohuth
Jessixa Bagley
Julie Fogliano
Mario Garnsworthy
Ryan T. Higgins
Laurenne Sala
Becky Bloom
Kate Milford
Molly Burnham
Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Chadwick Gillenwater
Deborah Freedman
Robin Yardi
Lisa Mantchev
Cory Putnam Oakes
Ann Manheimer
Emily Wayne
Patricia Harrison Easton
Lee Hallison
Shirley Ng-Benitez
Vera Lisa Smetzer
Bonnie J. Doerr
Victoria Lindstrom
Marti Dumas
Celeste Lim
Michael Kress-Russick
Jennifer Thermes
Emma D. Dryden
Marietta B. Zacker
Mike Grosso
Dee Garretson
Angie Karcher
Rita Antoinette Borg
Sandy Brehl
Bev Katz Rosenbaum
Anne Mazer
Larissa Brown Marantz
Jacqueline West
Dahlia Adler
Teri Sloat
Kris Dinnison
Katey Howes
Susanna Reich
Scott Day
Jake Gosselin
Priscilla Alpaugh
Catherine S. Snodgrass
Gary Golio
Trisha Speed Shaskan
Lauren Eldridge
Bobbi Miller
Josh Funk
Sage Blackwood
Stella Ormai
Susan VanHecke
Gayle Pitman
Meg Sodano
Holly Thompson
Marie Harris
Ruth King Meeker
Gaia Cornwall
Tracey M. Cox
Hyewon Yum
Eileen Beha
Sonya Mukherjee
Sharlee Glenn
Patrice Kindl
Cathleen Thole-Daniels
Veronica Rossi
Adam Gustavson
Kristy Acevedo
Christina Weigand
Rita Crayon Huang
Caron Levis
Leslie Bulion
Maria Padian
Megan Frazer Blakemore
Anne Nesbet
David Bernardy
John Schumacher
Sharon Darrow
Tamara Ellis Smith
Kimberly Pauley
Judy Palermo
Lauren Collier Swindler
Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Dan Poblocki
Cynthia Levinson
Annie Silvestro
Gerry Renert
Mark Scott Ricketts
Shauna LaVoy Reynolds
Tamisha Finley-Mitchell
Catherine Egan
Ruth Chan
Karen Romano Young
Sarah Kettles
Florence Minor
Molly Beth Griffin
Wendell Minor
Alexis York Lumbard
Elisa Kleven
Heidi Ayarbe
Melina Mangal
Erica Silverman
Doreen Cronin
Rorie Still
Maurie J. Manning
Dianne Danzig
Nadine Takvorian
Curtis Manley
Lynn Plourde
Rachel Goldstein
Rachel Ruiz
Gauri Manglik
Monette Pangan
Laura Murray
Mae Respicio
Mimi Cross
Robyn Arend
Jennifer Sommersby
Fatima Shaik
Stephanie Graegin
Tracy Barrett
Innosanto Nagara
Nancy Werlin
Jan Carr
Anna Shinoda
Ruth E. Quiroa
Erin Soderberg Downing
Christopher Silas Neal
Carin Bramsen
Sylvia H. Little
Emily L. Harris
Nilah Magruder
Jolie Stekly
Renée Kurilla
Nilah Magruder
Anne Catharine Blake
David Huyck
Mary Winn Heider
Maple Lam
Carolyn Crimi
Kate Feiffer
Jenna Grodzicki
Kimbra Power
Ruth McNally Barshaw
Howie McAuley
Meg Medina
Stacie Ramey
Kevan J. Atteberry
Lisa Rusczyk
Anne Bustard
Cathie Wright-Lewis
Rob Sanders
Susan Vaught
Brandy Colbert
Kristen Schwartz
Ann Haywood Leal
Susan Rankin-Pollard
Debbi Michiko Florence
Joyce Shor Johnson
J. Elizabeth Mills
Kathy MacMillan
Sara K. Joiner
Nikki Loftin
Robin Newman 
Debbie Palen
Robin Lowe
Tammi Sauer
Mary Rork-Watson
Christy Lenzi
Gretchen V. Hansen
Lauri Fortino
Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Stacy Gray
Lori Taylor
Erin Frankel
Melissa Iwai
Jody Feldman
Trisha Leaver
Cindy Cornwall
Deb Johnson
Saxton Freynann
Beverly Snawder
Kristine Lombardi
Wen Baragrey
Annette Simon
Patti Kurtz
Elizabeth Briggs
Lorian Tu-Dean
Maria Ferrari
Karina Glaser
Lisa Robinson
Brandon Marie Miller
Keila V. Dawson
Cynthia Lord
Abby Cooper
Dede Fox
Leslie Leibhardt Goodman
Stacy Barnett Mozer
William Alexander
Debbie Reed Fischer
Natalie Hansen Pawlak
Alison Ashley Formento
Elle Evans
Kathryn Williams
Fiona Robinson
Jennifer J. Stewart
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Marilyn Hilton
Cassie Bentley
Liz Starin
Deborah Heiligman
Denise Wilcox
Lisa Braithwaite
Tamra Wight
Miranda Paul
Jean Ryan
Cordelia Jensen
Troy Cummings
Barbara Dee
Sarah Hamburg
Rebecca Donnelly
Todd Parr
Elizabeth Wheeler
Suzanne Slade
Jama Rattigan
Katie Mazeika
Paulis Waber
Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Liz Goulet Dubois
Navjot Kaur
Roberta Baird
Denise Alfeld
Carella Herberger
Emily Jiang
Sara Nickerson
Carmen T. Bernier-Grand
Elizabeth Zunon
Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs
Greg Pincus
Anne Griffin
Laurie Wallmark
Lois Sepahban
Edna Cabcabin Moran
Diana Toledano
MicKenzie Fasteland
Ann Malaspina
Laura Gosselin
Beth O’Conner
Heather Lang
Laura A. Woollett
K. Imani Tennyson
Jeffrey Canton
Jennifer K. Mann
Cynthia Reeg
Jacque Estill Summers
Wendy Wahman
Kathleen Churchyard
Linda Dalal Sawaya
Nikki Shannon Smith
Sheila Berenson
Jesse Klausmeier
Claire Wrenn Bobrow
Emma Otheguy
Harold Underdown
Rosemary Stimola
Nancy Bo Flood
Anne Sibley O’Brien
Beth Fehlbaum
Jonathan Roth
Liza Ketchum
Denise Dowling Mortensen
Dr. Winmilawe
Patrick Downey
Linda Trice
Lynne Kelly
Agatha Rodi
Shoshana Flax
Pamela Zagarenski
Ellen Krupa
Leslie Muir
Ginger Wadsworth
Carrie Jones
Denise Fleming
Brenda Maier
Renee Frances
Xavier Garza
Traci Sorell
Kathy Frye
Matt Phelan
Clara Kensie
Erin Fry
Chris Robertson
Tracy Smiles
Diane Magras
Paula Buie
Beth Black
Alexia Andoni
Daniel José Older
Katia Novet Saint-Lot
Samantha R. Vamos
Shane W. Evans
Jamie Hogan
Samantha Berger
Wendy McLeod MacKnight 
Kate Lynch
Dashka Slater
Bryan Langdo
Chérie Stihler
Kimberly Sabatini
Kathleen Brown
Joyce Clark Hicks
Diane Zahler
Kristi Selby
Kellye Crocker
Paulette Duggins
Andrea J. Loney
Erin Dionne
Amber Nieves
Carolyn Flores
Lisa Corner 
Dia L. Jones
Nancy Tandon
Stephen Perepeluk
Courtney Pippin-Mathur
Sheila Turnage
Nikki Fragala Barnes
Liz Garton Scanlon
Monique Fields
Melissa Roske
Kristy Cunningham
Lynne Kelly
Michelle Lord
Meghan Daniels
Elizabeth Allen
Carole Lindstrom
Chaz Harris
Adam Reynolds
Christine Luiten
Bo Moore
Dorina Lazo Gilmore
Hannah Barnaby
K. L. Hallam
Christine Peymani
Margaret LaRaia 
Brian Lies
Kerri Kokias
Amy Novesky
Ann Angel
Diane Foote
Julie Williams
Ed Shems
Taryn Rabin
Arlene Robillard
Kimberly Wilson
Kim Culbertson
Kate Elliott
Charlie Eve Ryan
JoAnn Early Macken
Ana Crespo
Sheila Sweeny Higginson
Cary Larson-McKay
Lisa Ann Sandell
Lindsay Hanson Metcalf
Joy Steuerwald
Jeanne Moran
Julia Collard
Joy Steuerwald
Elizabeth Brown
Amanda Hosch
Corey R. Tabor
Betsy Thompson
Diandra Mae
Cheryl Blackford
Samantha Smith
Maggie Moris
Jessica Lopez
Annette Curtis Klause
Megan Maynor
Scott Magoon
Nancy Silverrod
Crystal L. Roget
Lorie Ann Grover
Kathleen Krull
Kate Schatz
Liddie Ull 
Karen Grencik 
Marie Lamba
Crystal Perkins
Angela Matteson
Mary Jane Begin
Shannon Delany
Jane Bahk
Gabrielle Prendergast
Nanci Turner Steveson
Leslie Helakoski
Marie Rutkoski
Loni Edwards
Jessica Freeburg
Henry Herz
Gigi Amateau
Emma Lesko
Nancy Tupper Ling
Jennifer Kam
Jama Rattigan
Melissa Wiley
Willow Dawson
Claire Annette Noland
Kim Purcell
John Parra
Lonna Hardin
Alex Gino
Diane Mayr
Linda Ashman
Jo Lena Johnson
Cathryn Falwell
Corina St. Martin
Akiko White
Christy Stallop
Bethany Hegedus
Shalene Onyango
Melissa Roske
Sharon J Wilson
Latay Taylor
A.H. Taylor
Kristin L. Gray
Leslie Colin Tribble
Morgan Young
Jenn Bishop
Sara O’Leary
Jacqueline Houtman
Shari Swanson
Carol Weston
Marsha Qualey
Meera Sriram
Zach Helm
J.M. Lee
Melissa Thomson
Crystal Hubbard
Lisa Schroeder
Traci Bold
Kelly Light
Karen Morss
Amanda Hosch
Julie Fortenberry
Juana Martinez-Neal
Barry Wolverton
Charlene Chua
Hilary Leung
Thao Lam
George Ford
Bernette Ford
Rayah Jaymes
A.J. Richards
Natalie C. Anderson
Christa Desir
Lena Coakley
Melanie Crowder
Wanda Jones
Brian McLachlan
Nina Victor Crittenden
Kate Hosford
Linda Crotta Brennan
LeVar Burton
Wade Albert White
Christy Yaros
Ally Condie
Bob McLeod
Tracy Deebs
Courtney Alameda
Sonya Sones
Greg Neri
Kat Yeh
Lori Degman
Timothy Young
Tawni Waters
Frances Sackett
John Shelley
Erin Murphy
Laurie Calkhoven
Heidi Schulz
Abi Cushman
Cathy Camper
Raul the Third
Barb Rosenstock
Deborah Halverson
Liz Wong
Kamla Millwood
Tricia Lawrence
Suzanne Bloom
Kathleen Glasgow
Crystal Hubbard
JoAnn Early Macken
Lori Nichols
Cheryl Johnson
Erin Smith
Marcus Ewert
Alison Green Myers
Hazel Mitchell
Meera T. Sriram
Marina Budhos
Ellen Mayer
Tasslyn Magnusson
Diane King
Kara LaReau
Sarah Cannon
Anne Broyles
Tami Charles
Laura Shovan
Debra Driza
Siri Weber Feeney
Paula Yoo
Andrea Beaty
Buffy Silverman
Eve Aldridge
Patricia W. Fischer
Diane Mayr
Fiona Robinson
Elizabeth Rose Stanton
JD Lester
Audrey Maynard
Mikela Prevost
Caryn Wiseman
Dr. Pauletta Brown Bracy
Kelly Sonnack
Kathleen Rushall
Jamie Weiss Chilton
Lara Perkins
Laura Rennert
Jennifer Laughran
Jennifer March Soloway
Jennifer Mattson
Jennifer Rofe
Patricia Nelson
Arnold Adoff
Ashley Hope Pérez 
Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati

Thanks so much for your support of our declaration. We closed the comments late Monday evening with more than 400 signatures…then re-opened them for another 24 hours because of the many, moving requests we received.  As a result, we now have a total of 691 names – *children’s book authors, illustrators, editors, agents, librarians and other children’s literature professionals and supporters! Thank you for standing with us against hate and standing up for kids.

Although the comment section on this post is now closed, those who would still like to express their support can do so on the “living” version of this document located on our FaceBook page . Let’s continue to show our commitment to kids by creating, promoting, sharing and pushing for books that accurately reflect their lives.  Here, award-winning author, scholar and advocate Zetta Elliott shares her perspective on how the publishing industry can help to “stem the tide of hate.”

What do we tell the children?

November 11, 2016

On election night, CNN commentator Van Jones shared what many parents around the nation were feeling. “. .  You tell your kids, ‘Don’t be a bully.’ You tell your kids, ‘Don’t be a bigot.’ You tell your kids, ‘Do your homework and be prepared.’ And then you have this outcome. And you have people putting children to bed tonight and they’re afraid of breakfast. They’re afraid of, ‘How do I explain this to my children?’ . . .”

It’s a tough time in America. Our kids are angry, scared, hurt and confused. They long to talk and ask questions. They need us now more than ever. Around the country, authors, illustrators, librarians, parents and teachers are finding ways to make a difference. Read about some of the efforts in this School Library Journal article. On Monday, we’ll post a declaration signed by dozens of children’s book creators in support of the beautiful young people we serve.

Here, three of our members share what we told our kids:

By Tracey Baptiste

The morning was hard: waking them up, looking into their sleepy faces. When they went to bed, they were so sure what the future would hold. I was about to break their hearts. I traceyheld my son close and told him the election results. The realization dawned on him slowly. He looked shocked and then sad. My daughter, who is older, was angry. “I’m so disappointed in America,” she said. She felt “betrayed.” I let them be upset. They needed it. It was a quiet car ride to their schools. All day I thought about what I would tell them when they got home. But at dismissal, my son cheerfully waved goodbye to the classmate whose family voted differently than we did. My daughter checked the results and happily informed me that Hillary had won the popular vote. They were both optimistic. They already know: be kind; be considerate; use your head; use your words; speak politely; stick to the facts. I was looking for a way to tell them that the world was not over, that they needed to choose love over hate. But they already knew. And they showed me.

By Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

I told my daughter first and foremost that I love her, no matter what. That I support her and am committed to raising her in a manner that honours our ancestors and family, by biology and by choice, all across the Diaspora, and offers her the tools and resources she olugbemisolaneeds to be a part of creating a more just world. That her voice is precious, and it matters. To be an upstander, to amplify the voices of the oppressed and marginalized. That sometimes silence speaks loudly, and is powerful. That speaking truth to power in love is never worthless. To love and cherish and care for herself. That she is a child of God, and no one can take that away from her.

I’ll tell her that I love her, no matter what. I will tell her to read, and read widely. To ask questions, and never assume she has all of the answers. To continue to create, to make art, to tell her story. I’ll tell her that no one else can define her. To use her voice in the way she sees fit, and not in the way that others, including me, tell her is the only way to do it. That she has every right to smile, and enjoy who she is. To know that she is not responsible for others’ ignorance or hate, that she can always be respectful without worrying about being nice. That she doesn’t have to smile. To listen, and listen again. I’ll tell her that I love her, no matter what. I will tell her to read, and read widely. To ask questions, and never assume she has all of the answers.

I’ll tell her that I love her, no matter what.

And to the children that I write for, that I meet on book journeys and school visits, I will tell them that I strive to love, honour, and respect them and their stories in my work. I will tell them to read and read widely, that their voices are precious, to tell their stories, to ask questions, to pay attention and to listen, and that I love them too.

By Kelly Starling Lyons

ksl-authorpicWhat do we tell the children? I wrestled with that election night into the morning. I heard my daughter get up and stayed in bed a few minutes longer, trying to collect my thoughts. I walked downstairs, looked into her eyes, full of hurt and questions, and told her that our people survived slavery, the rise of the Klan, Jim Crow and grandfather clauses, lynchings and we will survive this. Our strength and resilience, our hope and faith, our intelligence and ingenuity are legendary. It’s okay to mourn. But then, we mobilize. She said, “Kinda makes me think about that Langston Hughes poem about ‘life ain’t been no crystal stair.’” Made me smile. She gets it. Think about what our folks have been through. It’s not the time to give up. It’s time to stand up, keep climbing and fight.”

Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.