Day 23: Deloris Jordan

February 23, 2018

Deloris Jordan, the mother of basketball star Michael Jordan and four other children, once worked as a bank teller, but is now known as an inspirational author and speaker. Jordan is regarded as an advocate for children and families with her work through the James Jordan Foundation in Chicago, Illinois, as well as the Jordan Institute for Families at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her book, Family First, highlights the seven principles of parenting and what it takes to raise an accomplished family in a challenging world.

Deloris Jordan has also devoted much of her time to being an acclaimed children’s author. Many of her children’s books are collaborations with her daughter, Roslyn, providing insights into motivated, driven attitude of the Jordan family. Her inspirational books encourage children to overcome obstacles, strive to achieve their goals and work hard! Dream Big is a picture book that follows the life of a young Michael Jordan as he turns his dreams of becoming a basketball star into reality.

True testaments of patience, hard work and determination from the perspective of the Jordan family make up Salt in His Shoes. It’s a heartwarming story about how any family that works together can help a child accomplish his or her goals. 

Michael’s Golden Rules teaches children the value of teamwork, doing your best and friendship while relaying to children that winning is not the only thing that makes a champion!

The power of a mother’s love is celebrated in Jordan’s reassuring book, Did I Tell You I Love You Today? Children are encouraged to remember that there are many ways to cherish those we love, whether they’re near or far.

Deloris Jordan’s books also reflect her faith and beliefs, as well as an openness to celebrate the faiths and beliefs of others. The touching story, Baby Blessings: A Prayer for the Day You Are Born, emphasizes the bonds of family and the blessings new parents wish for their children throughout their lives. A Child’s Book of Prayers and Blessings: From Faiths and Cultures Around the World motivates children to reflect on the larger world around them and to remember the joys of life.


Day 22: Junot Díaz

February 22, 2018

junotdiazBefore I read his moving words, I saw his actions. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot Díaz was a keynote presenter at a state literary festival. In an article, he was asked to share some authors whose work he appreciated. Out of the more than 100 who were appearing, his mention included me. I’ve never met Junot. The festival roster included blockbuster names. His kind gesture told me everything I needed to know.

Junot believes in celebrating and empowering people of color. Co-founder of Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA), an organization dedicated to supporting diverse voices, he champions those whose tales have been unsung. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey, Junot’s powerful stories center the experiences of Dominican immigrants.  What a blessing that he is now writing for the picture book audience.

From the moment I saw the cocoa cutie with the puff on the cover of his forthcoming book, Islandborn (illustrated by Leo Espinosa, published by Dial), I couldn’t wait to read it. I opened the book and was captivated by the beautiful story. When Lola, who left the Island as a baby, is asked to draw memoriesislandborn from home, she comes up empty. But as she walks around her loving neighborhood, she collects heartwarming and chilling recollections. Just as Junot uplifts writers of color around the world, he empowers his heroine Lola to draw her story and cherish the home that lives in her.

Islandborn will be released March 13 and a Spanish edition titled Lola will publish simultaneously. It has already earned three starred reviews.  A concern raised by Teaching for Change resulted in a new version of the first edition book being printed in time for the debut. I can’t wait to share it and hope many more stories for young readers will follow. Please join us in celebrating the important work of Junot Díaz on Day 22.

The Buzz About Islandborn:

“A sensitive and beautiful story of culture, identity and belonging–a superb picture book outing for Díaz and one to be shared broadly in a variety of settings.”

–  School Library Journal, starred review

“With his tenacious, curious heroine and a voice that’s chatty, passionate, wise and loving, Díaz entices readers to think about a fundamental human question: what does it mean to belong?”

– Publishers Weekly, starred review

Learn more about Junot Díaz here.


Day 21: Craig Robinson

February 21, 2018

Craig Robinson is a comedian, actor, and musician whose middle grade JAKE THE FAKE books are described as perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate. Jake the Fake Keeps It Real, the first in the series, was written with #1 New York Times bestselling author Adam Mansbach, and NAACP History Maker recipient and cartoonist Keith Knight, draw on Robinson’s own life, including his “most hilarious moments and his experience attending Chicago’s first public magnet school.”

Robinson says that he wrote JAKE because “I wanted to write a book that was fun…inspirational…about finding a talent.” You can see Robinson talk about this and more with Jake himself, in conversation on Youtube:

Learn more about JAKE THE FAKE from Penguin Random House.


Day 20: Liara Tamani

February 20, 2018

When Liara Tamani says she follows her heart, she means it!

She follows her heart when her favorite “jam” comes on, and she’s not ashamed to sing it out loud in public.

She follows her heart by traveling the globe to places some only dream of visiting.

She followed her heart by leaving Harvard Law School, realizing the legal field was not her heart’s desire.

And lucky for us, she followed her heart to create an award-winning, outstanding young adult novel, Calling My Name.

But for those of us who’ve had the pleasure of meeting Liara, it is clear that her heart, and beautiful personality, are huge.

The children’s world of literature is better because of quality writing by this talented author. It is my honor to present:

 

LIARA TAMANI

 

The Journey

Even though I’ve always loved writing, I didn’t always realize becoming a writer was a possibility. Growing up, I was determined to become a lawyer, like my father. It was his dream for me and I adopted it as my own. And I made it all the way to Harvard Law School. But when I got there, the realness of being trapped in a life I didn’t want for myself set in and I was like, Get me out of here! I left after my first year.
Before finding my way back to writing, I went on a winding path through the sports and entertainment industry and the interior design field. And then one night, when I was living in Los Angeles running my own design company, I sat with my laptop at my drafting table and started writing. It felt like home. Soon after, I started taking writing classes at UCLA Extension and then went on to get my Masters in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I wrote Calling My Name.
I finished Calling My Name in 2010, but it took years to get it published. Years of sending it out to agents and getting rejected. Years of revising based on the feedback from agents. Years of doubt and frustration at not liking my revisions. Years when life took over and the book just sat on my computer. Then, in October of 2015, I started sending my original book, the book I loved, out again. This time, I signed with my agent, Jennifer Carlson, the same month. And within the first week of Jennifer sending out Calling My Name, I received a two-book deal from Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins. I don’t know what the difference was. Timing? Different eyes looking at it? Whatever the reason, I’m happy I kept pushing and that my book is now out in the world.

The Inspiration

I seek inspiration anywhere I can find it. I love so many children’s book authors for so many different reasons. It’s impossible to list them all here. But since lyricism gives me so much life, I will say the works of writers like Reneé Watson, Erika Sanchez, Rita Williams Garcia, Jason Reynolds, Elizabeth Acevedo, Jacqueline Woodson, Nicola Yoon, and Kwame Alexander are a big inspiration to me.
In terms of musicians, I’m from Houston so you already know Beyoncé and Solange are going to be at the top of my list. They’re fly and fierce, and their work brims with soul. But I also have to name Khalid, Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Chance the Rapper, Erykah Badu, N.E.R.D., Cardi B, and Kayne. Yes, Kayne. Even with all of the missteps on his journey, he is still a great artist.
In film and television, I’m a huge fan of Issa Rae. I love her realness. I love the way she brings the black experience to the screen. I also love Yara Shahidi, Tracee Ellis Ross, Mara Brock Akil (I was a PA on her hit show My Girlfriends), Zoë Kravitz, Joy Bryant, Gina Rodriguez, Ava Duvernay, and of course mama Oprah.

The Process:

I always start with something that has made an emotional impression on me, something that has touched me deeply. I recall these moments, how they made me feel, and begin constructing fiction around them. This construction process starts by filling Moleskin notebooks with a ton of handwritten notes. Bits of dialogue, maybe a whole scene, thoughts on setting and characterization—essentially anything that will help me dive into the world I want to create, into the minds and hearts of my characters. From there, the writing process can vary greatly.
With Calling My Name, I wrote the chapters out of order and rearranged them many times. The process wasn’t linear and I didn’t outline at all. But the book doesn’t have a traditional plot. Being more episodic, it lends itself to that type of process.
The second novel (also written in short chapters), has a traditional plot. So, the process is more orderly. I have a very rough, handwritten outline to keep me on track, and I’m writing the novel piece by piece in chronological order.
Overall, I’m a slow writer. It’s hard for me to move on from a paragraph until it’s just right. And every day, before I start writing new words, I go back and work on the previous days’ words a little more. I know it’s not the most efficient way to work, but it’s the only way my brain allows me to keep putting words on the page.
I work from home, usually on my sofa. Sitting in a chair too long kills my back.

The Buzz

2018 Golden Kite Honor Book

“An excellent portrayal of African American culture, gorgeous lyrical prose, strong characters, and societal critique make Tamani’s debut a must-read.” — Booklist (starred review)

“Taja deals with the insecurities that most young people feel regarding identity, love, and fitting in. Stylish prose brings home quiet depths.” — Kirkus Reviews

“This lush debut novel is written in distinct prose that reads like poetry. Young adults will connect with this protagonist and this dynamic new voice. Fans of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas will especially love this lyrical novel. A great selection in any library collection.”
— School Library Journal

“Tamani’s debut novel brims with heart and soul, following its African-American protagonist, Taja Brown, as she searches for spirituality, love, and a sense of self. Absorbing.” — Publishers Weekly

“While not quite stream of consciousness, this novel moves dreamily along wayward paths. …Readers willing to be swept along by Tamani’s poetic language and imagery will appreciate the journey. … This debut is reminiscent of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming or Marilyn Hilton’s Full Cicada Moon.” — Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)

“For Taja, the narrator of Liara Tamani’s luminous episodic debut, faith in God is as much a part of her as her long legs and brown skin…a complex portrait of a young woman trying to reconcile what she’s been taught, both in church and out in the world, with what she truly believes.” — Chicago Tribune

 

Thank you Liara for your contribution to children’s literature.

 

Please connect with Liara Tamani:  https://www.liaratamani.com/

Twitter handle:  @liaratamani

https://www.facebook.com/liara.tamani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 19: Jay Coles

February 19, 2018

JayColes

JAY COLES is a young adult and middle grade writer, a composer with ASCAP, and a professional musician residing in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University and holds degrees in English and Liberal Arts. When he’s not writing diverse books, he’s advocating for them, teaching middle school students, and composing music for various music publishers. Jay’s young adult novel TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE is about a boy whose life is torn apart by police brutality when his twin brother goes missing, inspired by events from the author’s life and the Black Lives Matter movement.

THE JOURNEY and THE BACK STORY

I’d been querying and sending out manuscripts to agents since I was in high school. I was pretty ambitious (Ha ha). A lot of those manuscripts were really not good and thank God no agent signed me for them. Then, one day, I thought, “hey, what if I wrote a story inspired by events in my life?” I tried and tried but wasn’t really getting anywhere with that story. After Trayvon Martin lost his life, something inside me clicked. I was filled with rage and tears and anger and also lots and lots of words.  It reminded me of what I saw happening in neighborhoods like mine growing up. Innocent black and brown kids getting their lives taken by white folks and even police officers. Years before Trayvon, a cousin of mine was shot and killed by the police. Eventually, I started plotting a story based on actual events and felt like I had so much to say and wanted to get my feelings out there, make my voice heard, make so many kids’ voices in my neighborhood heard through what would become TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE.

THE PROCESS:

As I mentioned above, I had many other manuscripts (finished and unfinished) before TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE (TJWH). I didn’t outline for any of those, but I did for TJWH. Weird, right? For whatever reason, there were specific moments that I wanted to highlight as like “the most important scenes” and wanted to be really intentional about that as this is a story that’s super vulnerable, having been inspired by events in my own life. I’m currently finishing up outlining for my next couple books and am halfway done writing my next YA. Outlining has been super helpful and I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I have. I used to think about it as a very tedious, unnecessary thing. But it’s actually really important for me.

In case you were wondering about where I do my writing, you can find me writing in your local coffee shop or in a dark room with absolutely no light with my headphones in. It’s easy for me to get distracted, so I force myself into dark rooms sometimes when coffee shops get overwhelming. Also, after I outline a book, I create a playlist for it on Spotify—comprised of songs that highlight some of the important scenes and important themes of the story, and I listen to that playlist over and over again until the book is complete. I have one for TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE that I plan to share closer to the release date! It may be on my website (jaycoleswriter.com).

 

TJWH cover

THE INSPIRATION

So, writing TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE was sooooo hard and soooo emotionally taxing that I had to take lots of breaks and almost didn’t finish it. I almost put it on a shelf and started another book with a much lighter concept. But it was listening to people in my life—close friends and supportive author friends who continually reminded me that my story needed to be heard and deserves to be on a bookshelf someday. All of this in addition to feeling the urgency from Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole and even Tupac, who were (and are) addressing race relations and power structures in our society through their art of music, reminded me that books are also a powerful art that could tackle some of those themes as well. A year after I graduated High School, I signed with my  agent. We did a few rounds of edits together and when I saw THE HATE U GIVE sell and slay the industry, I got so encouraged and was even more excited to see how stories about black and brown kids were so wanted and needed by people all over, especially black and brown kids who desired to see themselves in YA for so long.

UNDER THE RADAR

I am absolutely pleased to see the push for diversity in our industry, particularly in YA. I think there are several sort of “rising stars” that I’ve been keeping my eye on this last year that have been absolutely slaying bestsellers lists and have gotten amazing awards and recognition for the work they’re doing to provide diverse literature. Some names that come to mind right now would be Samira Ahmed (LOVE, HATE AND OTHER FILTERS), Angie Thomas (THE HATE U GIVE & ON THE COME UP), ARVIN AHMADI (DOWN AND ACROSS), DHONIELLE CLAYTON (THE BELLES), S.K. ALI (SAINTS AND MISFITS), IBI ZOBOI (AMERICAN STREET), and L.L. MCKINNEY (A BLADE SO BLACK), among many, many others.

So excited to see them doing the dang thing and really thrilled to see what they’ll do next. Oh my gosh. Chills even thinking about all that representation and all those beautiful black and brown books that will be classics for years and years.

THE STATE OF THE INDUSTRY

On the other hand, I still think our industry has a long, long way to go. I believe that we are getting somewhere and there is progress, but I think the conversation quickly shifts to cater to the white gaze every time we start talking about diversity. I think with this push for diversity (a push started by POC, not white folks), white authors are trying to write diversely, as if it’s trendy and aren’t quite getting it right. We’ve seen this with E.E. Charlton Trujillo’s messy WHEN WE WAS FIERCE and also with even messier Keira Drake and THE CONTINENT. And of course there are several, several others.

I think every day, however, there is still pressure put on publishing from people of color, especially women of color, who are tirelessly putting in work behind the scenes, hoping for some change, hoping to shake the roots of a system deeply rooted in bias and racism so that there can be an actual movement of normalization of diverse stories. Recently, I saw that a WOC got her own imprint focusing on only diverse books from marginalized authors. I think this is good and there is a lot of good that will come out of it, obviously. However, this also reminds me of this kind of “separate but equal” mindset that white folks in publishing still have about diverse stories in the big 5 publishing houses. Again, this is an ideology deeply rooted in our industry.

2018 has been a great year for diverse books and I love that I see quite a few of them being talked about on Twitter, but I think percentage-wise compared to the books releasing in 2018 by white authors, the numbers are very disproportionate and that makes me quite sad. There is still a lot of work to be done, but again, I’m hopeful.


Day 18: Carmen Bogan

February 18, 2018

 

Carrmen Bogan

Carmen Bogan is the award- winning author of the picture books, Where’s Rodney?, Granny, Who is God? and its upcoming sequel Up in God’s House. Carmen also founded Dream On Publishing in 2013. On her website, Carmen explains that the mission of her mulitcultural children’s book publishing company is to respect and free the voices and minds of all children and youth through the journey of reading and writing because literacy gives wings to dreams.

She is a member of the Oakland Literacy Coalition and is a writing coach for children and youth. The recipient of the coveted New Voices Literary Award from Lee & Low Books, Carmen holds BA degrees in journalism and English from Stanford University and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Carmen is a frequent trainer and lecturer to women’s groups, nonprofit professionals, and faith-based organization leaders. Carmen has two daughters and lives in Oakland, California, with her husband.

For more about Carmen, her books, and the illustrators for her book on her website, Dream On Publishing.

 

Here’s a video for a peek at Where’s Rodney

and its Kirkus Review.

You will find Carmen on her Facebook page and an interview on Ronnie’s Awesome List.

Carmen’s Artist Statement


Day 17: Gordon C. James

February 17, 2018

IMG_3215

Well. A lot has happened since the BBS team elected to honor fine artist and breakout children’s book illustrator Gordon C. James in this year’s 28 Days Later campaign. By a lot I mean the blowing up of his beautiful new book, CROWN: An Ode to the Fresh Cut (written by Derrick Barnes, published by Denene Millner Books), which has garnered the following recognition in the five months since its release:

Of James’ artwork in CROWN, Publisher’s Weekly says, “Pride, confidence, and joy radiate from the pages, both in the black and brown faces of men, women, boys, and girls featured in [James’] majestic paintings….” Essence Magazine cites the“…breathtaking visuals by the infinitely creative Gordon C. James….”  And Kirkus asserts, “One of the best reads for young black boys in years, it should be in every library, media center, and, yes, barbershop.”

We concur with all of them.

CROWN: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

On Day 17, we congratulate and welcome one exceptionally talented artist, Gordon C. James!

 

The Journey

I have a BFA in Illustration from School of Visual Arts in New York.  I honestly hadn’t wanted to be an illustrator.  I saw myself as a figurative oil painter and still do.  I was working at Hallmark Cards, Inc. when Shane W. Evans suggested I give children’s books a try.  I said “why not” and that’s when I began working with my agent, Regina Brooks at Serendipity Literary Agency.  I was jumping back and forth between fine art and illustration projects, and I still do.  I try to bring the same level of finish and beauty no matter genre I’m working in.  My books may be a child’s first exposure to art, so I feel the work is important.

 

 

The Back Story

SONY DSC

“Straight Razor”

 

My journey with “Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut” was not typical.  Derrick Barnes, the author, and I have been friends since our Hallmark days.  He reached out to me to ask me if I was interested in the project.  Finally the timing was right.  We had been talking about working together for years but it had never happened.  Most of the time I never meet or even speak to the author on a project.  It’s been nice to work with a friend.

 

 

The Inspiration

I’m a fine artist at heart so my first love is for painters like Thomas Wilmer Dewing and John Singer Sargent, Henry Ossowa Tanner, and Ilya Repin.  Recently I’m getting into modern art.  Anything I can put into my brain helps me to create.  I listen to a lot of music while I work.

Pop Fly

“Pop Fly” from “Campy, the Story of Roy Campanella” by David A. Adler

 

The Process

"Golden Brush"

“Golden Brush”

I start with small, cryptic thumbnails of my ideas.  Then I “cast” the book.  I look for people to play the characters in the book.  For instance, the barber in “Crown” is Reggie.  He’s my son’s barber and the owner of the shop featured in the book.  The main character is one of Derrick Barnes’ sons.  Next, we may go on location and shoot.  Heads Up barber shop is our barber shop.  It’s  a real place, located within walking distance of our home here in Charlotte.  Then I go to the sketch phase, and finally we paint.  I work almost exclusively out of my studio at ClearWater Artist Studios in Concord, NC.  I’m there most weekdays and every second Saturday.  Come by and say hi.  Seriously.  It’s a great place to work and there are lots of talented artists there.  It’s a great creative atmosphere.

CROWN...Full Cover

CROWN…Full Cover

 

The Buzz

“Crown an Ode to the Fresh Cut” has earned four starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kikus, School Library Journal, and The Horn Book.  It is also on 20 “Best of 2017” lists. It’s an Ezra Jack Keats Award nominee and, finally, I am honored to have won a Society of Illustrators Gold Medal for my work on “Crown”.