Day 8: Doreen Spicer-Dannelly

February 8, 2018

doreenspicerDoreen Spicer-Dannelly may be a new name in children’s literature, but for a long time she has created wonderful programs for kids. The Proud Family. Her. Jump In! Her again. The Wannabes. You got it.  It’s exciting that she’s now a middle-grade author.

Her debut, Love Double Dutch, is a fast-paced story of sisterhood, collaboration and competition, empowerment, faith and finding your inner shine. It follows Brooklyn girl MaKayla to a summer in Charlotte that becomes a journey of self-discovery. This sweet read hits shelves on April 3 and has already landed on School Library Journal’s list of   18 2018 Middle Grade Books to Have on Your Radar.

The launch of Love Double Dutch will kick off a national tour. Along with having readings, photo ops and signings, Doreen has teamed up with the National Double Dutch League:  “Kids will learn social skills, teamwork and yes, they will learn how to jump Dutch,” she says in a video promo for the kick off at her alma mater, Morgan State University.

Please join us in honoring the great work of Doreen Spicer-Dannelly on Day 8 of our campaign:

The Journey

When I set out to become a writer in entertainment, I thought television and possibly film would be the extent of it.  Never did I fathom becoming an author.  Now, I couldn’t be more excited to see the reception and future of Love Double Dutch.

The idea to pen a middle-grade novel came about when an author friend of mine, L. Divine, Drama High series, introduced me to Regina Brooks, Serendipity Lit Agency.  Regina asked me if I had any stories to which I told her I had a thought to make my favorite childhood past time, Double Dutch, into a feature film one day but it can easily be turned into a novel.  Once I pitched her the story, she liked it and immediately thought of publishers who might be interested since it filled a void of stories about, and for young African American girls.  She had me at “I like it,” then said, “But you’ll have to get me a manuscript before I pitch to anyone.” Ugh.

Having written for television, I’m used to nothing happening over night so I puttered around with the idea because I wasn’t sure I was ready for the manuscript process since I had never written a novel, nor did I fancy myself an author. However adding “author” to my list of accomplishments sounded kind of nice.  And I thought there’s no more profound impact or way of inspiring a child’s imagination than through a cherished novel.  Regina was kind enough to call me off and on for months to gently remind me she was waiting for a completed manuscript.  Even though writing a middle-grade novel was right on purpose for me, I shunned the idea of toiling over a manuscript and moreover, possible rejection.  But once I got start, I couldn’t stop.

The manuscript took about six months to get to ‘the end’ and that was really ‘the

doreen.png

Check out the Love Double Dutch book tour promo, https://youtu.be/q-7F_fnCvds. It was made specifically for her alma mater Morgan State University, but is a window into her vision. Love Double Dutch is not just a book, it’s a movement.

beginning.’  After many rounds of rewrites and several months later, Regina finally felt we were ready to release the baby to publishers. I received two or three rejections, which made me sad until she said, “Random House made an offer!”  I was ecstatic.  More so, because I quickly envisioned girls and boy curled up with the book absorbing the wisdom I tucked in between the lines.

With Random House, it was another few rounds of rewrites and I am so happy for it.  As I was encouraged to finesse the story more and more, I could only feel the novel becoming that much more special, if I may.  And to top it off, the award-winning artist, Vanessa Brantley Newton agreed to grace the cover!  Now with a fully completed middle-grade novel about MaKayla, a young girl who uses Double Dutch as her vice to cope with family issues, has galvanized a community ready to promote the book.  Thus far, it’s exceeding my dreams of becoming a bona fide author of a middle grade novel. My hope is that Love Double Dutch will go down in history as a story the encouraged kids to face their fears with confidence knowing they have the power to grow through any challenge.

The Inspiration

When I think back to the books that influenced my character and psyche, I realized how reading is truly an intimate experience.  I automatically recall several novel for different reasons.  My first introduction to the joy of reading was through the Peanuts gang collection.  Charles Schulz’s stories taught me the importance of friendship and how personalities relate or clash. (Sidebar: My collection was stolen during a move in the 80’s and although I was in high school I was devastated.) I credit Judy Blume for validating that having a spiritual relationship with God was not weird, but very okay in Are You There God It’s Me Margaret.  And The Alchemist further interested me ideologies of universal law and self-discovery. And last but not least, Omar Tyree brought nostalgia regarding my teenage years with Flyy Girl, which I absolutely love to this day.

The Process

As an artist, I only share stories, a slice of life, a script, or a short film based on what I truly feel passionate about or that’s bursting inside of me in hopes that it might resonate and possibly help someone in their journey.  Artistry can be selfish or self-serving, but as an entertainment writer I also create with the audience in mind.  Not trying to please them but to encourage or challenge their point of view.  Once I’ve finally made a decision to realize this idea, to birth this baby, I begin writing a skeleton of the story, a ‘beat sheet’ is what we call in TV writing.  Then, a full outline highlighting the real memorable nuggets, the take-aways if you will.  Sometimes, I mull the story in mind for days maybe even years before I even put it on paper.  And I’ll write when I feel it.

I’ll write in my office, bedroom, at the kitchen table, living room but I love going to coffee shops because there’s life there and great energy in some.  Writing can be a very solitary occupation so being in the mix with strangers does wonders for my spirit.  Then I’ll write and rewrite and be open to the criticisms from others.  All opinions are welcome because it lets me know if I’ve struck a chord or not with readers.  If writers finds themselves on the defensive end too much then either they’re not telling their story clearly or the readers just don’t like what they’re conveying.  It’s the writer’s choice to rethink the story or leave it as is.  The beauty of writing is you can write whatever you want.  What isn’t pretty is when no one cares for your story.  Then you have to ask the question:  Do you want a career in writing or is this a hobby that you don’t care to share?  I want to keep my career so I write from the heart of past and present experiences with the belief that my stories might strike a social or personal chord with many.

The Buzz

…Spicer-Dannelly’s ultimate message—that nobody’s perfect, and that’s more than OK—is important and unimpeachable. Kayla gets all of her great energy by channeling her frustrations and pouring it into her jumping, which is another great lesson for readers of any age. Keep this on the shelf next to other fierce sports novels, like Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl (2015) or Thatcher Heldring’s The Football Girl (2017).”

Booklist

“…Spicer-Dannelly’s debut novel is a fun, well-paced read bubbling with energy and charming, diverse characters. MaKayla’s frustrations and tomboy-tough attitude generate the friction necessary to spark interesting conversations on bullying and self-esteem. Although the brief and singular mention of MaKayla’s faith sounds an odd note, it does not hinder the plot. A sincere story of friendship, camaraderie, and family.”

Kirkus

I equate success with how I’ve positively changed someone’s life.  So when I get fan mail, an email, an Instagram pic, a Facebook message, a tweet from someone who loved one of my projects because it brought them joy or it made them believe in themselves or stopped them from dropping out of school, THAT makes me feel success.  I believe God gave me talent for just that purpose, to inspire and entertain others to create positive change.  So yes, I am very proud of my television career and shows I’ve developed and created and I am super excited about all of my projects going forth.  Love Double Dutch was such an unexpected work that I had no idea would ever happen.  I do have to admit that I always kind of want to make this film idea into a book.  Now, my hope is that some young girl or boy will say some of the same things I’ve said about the author who inspired me.  I’m also crazy excited about my book tour because I’ve teamed up with the National Double Dutch League to introduce kids to the joy of jumping.

I am, of course, very proud to be recognized by Brown Bookshelf especially since I never fancied myself to become an author and to finally have a book, as an African American and Puerto Rican woman, I am happy to be a part of the campaign with Love Double Dutch.  This means the world to me, to be recognized by this force of an organization.

Under The Radar

Author, Kamichi Jackson (K, My Name is Kendall) is an author who I believe is a rising star.  She leads her reader down a subtle yet interesting path luring you into the den of story explosiveness.  Kamichi is a bright individual with a zest for reading and creating.  I am excited about her future as an author.

The State of the Industry

First, when I heard that African American kids aren’t as avid readers as their counterparts, I wasn’t shocked because they don’t have books that speak to them, about their everyday heroes, or some can’t sometimes imagine themselves as the heroes of most of the stories.  Secondly, when I learned there are far less books written for black boys (with black boys on the cover) then even black girls, there’s no wonder there’s low self-esteem and the bar for role models is mostly that of sport players and entertainers. That’s too limiting.  Thirdly, when I learned that the majority of the books for black children are written by white authors again, I was shocked. I am grateful to the white writers who tried to make a difference but I’m happy the secret is out.  Now, other talented writers of color can also contribute to making a difference.  I believe a balance is what is truly needed.  We authors need to speak to the consciousness of today’s child from white to black and every race in between, while keeping inclusiveness in mind.  It is the best way for all children to achieve a healthy moral and social compass, which can only be good for everyone.  That’s my humble opinion.

Learn more at www.ilovedoubledutch.com.

 


Day 7: Sandra Uwiringiyimana

February 7, 2018

how dare the sun riseSandra Uwiringiyimana’s stunning YA debut HOW DARE THE SUN RISE begins with a massacre in a Burundi refugee camp where she lost her sister. It goes on to detail not only the horrors of her experience as a refugee, but more importantly, the beauty and joy that she has grown up with. This #ownvoices story is powerful not only because it’s direct, but also because it is raw and beautifully depicted.

From the book: “As a kid, I was never afraid of monsters at night: All the monsters I knew walked in daylight and carried big guns.”

Kirkus called it a “touching memoir” and a “hard-hitting autobiography [that] will have readers reeling.”

You can see Sandra in a 2017 CBS interview here.

From the interview: “I wrote this so that hopefully we can all contribute to building a better world, especially a better America, for all of us. You just don’t know what your neighbor is going through and to clear up some of the misconceptions about refugees, you know about people who aren’t from this country. We come here and we become part of this society and we love being here, but we are also unique and we have our stories and…we have the right to tell them…. It’s telling our stories–all of us–that helps us live together better. So I want everybody to go out and listen to each other’s stories and also tell your own stories so that we can all understand each other better.”

Sandra has given several other interviews and appearances which you can find at the links below.

Women in the World Conference 2016

ALA Annual Conference 2017

ALA Annual Conference 2017 “Raising Awareness”

You can follow Sandra on Twitter.


Day 6: Baptiste Paul

February 6, 2018

baptiste_headshotToday we honor new author Baptiste Paul and his forthcoming picture book, The Field, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, to be released by NorthSouth Books/S&S on March 6, 2018. In his debut title, Paul pays homage to his childhood home (the beautiful island of St. Lucia), his native language (Creole), and the internationally-beloved game of soccer. Themes of teamwork, leadership, diversity, and acceptance make it a relevant read for all children, and a valuable addition to classrooms and libraries everywhere.

In addition to The Field, Paul and his wife, author Miranda Paul, have co-written the forthcoming picture books: Adventures to School: Real-Life Journeys of Students from Around the World and I Am Farmer.

On day 6, learn about Baptiste Paul and his journey to publication in his own words:

 

The Journey

As a child, I enjoyed reading. I walked 12 miles round trip to the library. I cherished moments where I was an active listener of storytelling. The elders of my village told us elaborate stories about witches, magic, mythical creatures and distant lands. I was captivated. Their ability to keep everyone’s attention for a long time stuck with me to this day. Though I’d been journaling or writing poems on and off for decades, my degrees in college were in environmental and political sciences. My official path to publishing started about six years ago, after sharing a few stories from my childhood with my wife, children’s author Miranda Paul. She encouraged me to write them down. We even sat down and wrote a couple of other stories together. After a rejection in 2013 for a co-written story, I felt deflated. Her message to me was keep writing…and so I did. I’m still working on growing that “thick skin” though.

The field_cover_3MB

The Back Story

Usually, I don’t believe in a perfect storm, but this was basically one of them. I was informed that NorthSouth was looking for unique stories. I emailed my agent the manuscript for The Field and her reaction was, “Wow the words are jumping off the page!” It just so happened that the editor who acquired The Field loves soccer, played soccer, and her parent company is European—which I suppose means soccer runs through their blood. If that weren’t enough, the timeline just seemed a natural fit—The Field releases just before the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Right after submitting the manuscript, I got an “official unofficial” email. Editor Beth Terrill stated that she liked the story but her superiors in Europe would have to agree as well. I kept writing while I waited. As fortune would have it, on the day I received the official yes, I was back home on the island. I sat on the rooftop of my parents house overlooking the very field where the story took place nearly 30 years ago.

 

The Inspiration

There’s a reggae artist from Dominica named Nasio Fontaine who inspires me. The messages in his music keep me thinking all the time. His lyrics and musical arrangements are genius. Each time I think I understand the meaning in his songs, another possibility pops in my mind. His songs have the power to take me on amazing journeys.

Adventures-to-School-400x307

The Process

I mostly start with a memory, feeling, or idea. And I’m a big fan of outlines before drafting. During the day I walk around with a pencil tucked above my ear and a memo book in my pocket. I like jotting down thoughts as soon as they come to mind. After I have the idea documented, I ask questions: who, what, why, where, when, how—and then I repeat the whole process. A lot. I’m not a fast writer. And I talk out loud. I have conversations with myself. There’s no shame in that.

Although I grew up speaking both Creole and English, I still struggle from time to time with grammar as I switch between the two languages. For me, having a critique group is an important part of the writing process. Their job is to make me a better writer and my job is to accept the critique, whether I like it or not. Having a wife who’s a writer and a former English teacher helps, too.

As for my writing space, I go to my basement. I enjoy it there because I can be a true introvert where me and my thoughts coexist. I have kids, so that quiet time sometimes gets interrupted by distractions. (Most recently, my son built a sprawling fort over my writing space.) But I’ve trained myself to be a “to be continued” writer. When I get interrupted, I can leave a sentence incomplete and pick it back up another time. Writing is the kind of work that’s never really done anyway. A story could go on forever if there was no one to stop you….

 

The Buzz

“Gather around for a boisterous game of futbol in Paul and Alcántara’s excellent picture-book debut…Readers see a diverse cast of mostly dark-skinned characters often gendered in implicit ways…Paul weaves in italicized Creole phrases and words alongside their English counterparts in such a way that the text bursts with infectious joy…Irresistible fun.” (Starred Review, Kirkus)

“The excitement of the game overflows from the pages and the children, from the beautiful greenery that surrounds them and the brightness of their clothing, to the dynamic movement in Alcántara’s artwork…Staccato phrases match high energy of the impromptu game.” (Starred Review, Booklist)

To learn more about Baptiste Paul, visit his website: BaptistePaul.net .


Day 5: Ray Anthony Shepard

February 5, 2018

 

Ray Anthony Shepard’s Now or Never-Fifty-Fourth Massachsetts Infantry’s War to End Slavery has earned two starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal. His meticulously researched book is riveting and lands you squarely on the battlefield.

The Journey
I was born in Missouri, a state that benchmarked the path to Civil War, in a family whose grandparents and great-grandparents were enslaved. I grew up on the flat Nebraska prairie, the state from which Stephen Douglas notched another benchmark toward bloody disunion. I attended a junior high school named after the abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier and graduated from high school in a town reluctantly named after the slain president. It’s not surprising that after years of teaching American history and developing history textbooks at Houghton Mifflin I have launched an encore career writing stories about the lives of littleknown but extraordinary African Americans who tipped the scales toward justice and equality.

The Inspiration

My list of writers that inspired me reads like a Who’s Who of authors for young readers. It started by being encouraged many years ago by Dorothy Sterling, Sharon Bell Mathis, Walter Dean Myers and Mildred Taylor. And it continues today as I eagerly read new works by Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, Steve Sheinkin, Kathryn Erskine, Candace Fleming, Padma Venkatraman, and M.T. Anderson. Like I said it’s a Who’s Who list.

The Back Story

There is an old saying attributed to the golfer Ben Hogan, that best characterizes what led to my book contract: “The more I practice the luckier I get.” I believe there are plenty of editors and agents looking for stories that appeal to young readers. The only way to become a published author is to keep your butt in a chair and strive every day to write a well-told story. * The Buzz (lists reviews/honors, trailers, etc. for that book)
My book, Now or Never! 54th Massachusetts Infantry’s War to End Slavery, received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Connection and a place on Kirkus and the New York Public Library’s “Best Books for Teens 2017” lists.

The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The State of the Industry
At the risk of repeating myself —Write! You can create opportunities for yourself and other writers of color by writing stories that appeal to a wide range of children and young adult readers.

Corporal James Gooding’s letter to President Lincoln requesting equal pay for Black soldiers like him.

 

 

For more information, follow Ray on Twitter @rayanthonyshep5 and  visit his website.

Now or Never is a School Library Journal 33  Titles to Jump-Start Black History Month.

 

Read the rest of this entry »


Day 4: Katura J. Hudson

February 4, 2018

katuraThere’s something special about celebrating family. And that’s what you become when you publish with Just Us Books. Katura J. Hudson is the director of marketing for the company her parents founded three decades ago. She has lovingly edited and promoted countless titles by Black children’s book creators including mine. It’s a joy to honor her.

An original AFRO-BETS kid, Katura created literary treasures like AFRO-BETS Quotes for Kids and Langston’s Legacy, an activity book written with her mom Cheryl honoring the contributions of the Harlem Renaissance poet. But last year, she added something new to her resume – picture book author. Her debut, I’m a Big Brother Now (illustrated by Sylvia Walker), is a sweet story that salutes the new role a little boy plays in the family. From helping prepare for the baby to learning the ropes of being a big brother, this story shines with warmth, charm and pride. The motto for Just Us Books is “Good Books Make a Difference.” I would like to add that good people make a difference.

Please join us in celebrating Katura’s outstanding work and commitment to Black children’s literature.

The Journey

I think the biggest surprise is that I actually wanted to write a picture book. I always loved reading and I grew up in the industry. My first job outside of babysitting was with Just Us Books, the publishing company my parents founded. I started out doing administrative work after school, then graduated to larger roles in editorial and marketing. I was always behind the scenes – helping to select manuscripts, working with authors to develop them, then promoting the final books. I edited a number of books, and partnered with my mom to create an activity book about Langston Hughes called Langston’s Legacy. But one day, I had an idea for a picture book and fast forward several years to the publication of I’m A Big Brother Now.

The Backstory

bigbrotherMy friends Kim and Crystal, and their families inspired me to write I’m A Big Brother Now. They both had boys and were having their second children. It made me think about what an important role the oldest sibling plays in the family. Full disclosure, I am the older sibling in my family.

In writing the manuscript, I drew a bit from my experience, but even more from what I remember seeing in other family interactions: first born children getting used to their new role in the family, learning to share their parents’ attention, discovering that being the oldest can be a lot of work. Sylvia Walker illustrated the book and I think she did a fantastic job of capturing those special moments and bringing the story to life.

The Inspiration

It might be easier for me to take a photo of my bookshelves. I’m inspired by so many gifted creators – in kidlit and beyond. As a kid, my favorite books were Cornrows by Camille Yarbrough, Stevie by John Steptoe, and The Best Time of Day by Valerie Flournoy, illustrated by George Ford. I’m a words person – but the images he crafted in that book – I can picture them to this day and I haven’t opened that book in years.

katurasbooks

Katura’s haul from the Well Read Black Girl Festival.

 

I think Mildred Taylor was the first author I claimed as “favorite.” Two of my favorite writers today aren’t in children’s publishing: Tayari Jones and Aliya King. Their writing makes me want to write – right there in the middle of reading their words on the page.

Beyond people who create books, I’m inspired by people who love books. I went to the first Well Read Black Girl Festival in September 2017 and the energy was amazing. People who use the written word to empower, uplift, challenge – and people who allow words to do those things for them – they’re my kind of people.

The Process

I have an office with a nice cherry wood desk and several special notebooks. And of course, I don’t use any of that for writing. I write when words strike – no special location, no outline, no character sketch, no planning. “No planning” is weird for me, because I’m a planner in most other areas of life. But sitting down with the goal to write doesn’t work for me. Ideas come to me when I feel free – or when I’m supposed to be doing something else.

With I’m A Big Brother Now, the title came to me first. I don’t remember what I was doing at the time, but jotted down the title and didn’t write the manuscript until weeks later. I knew once I had the title, the manuscript would flow. And it did. My biggest challenge in writing is capturing ideas while they’re still fresh, and making sure I revisit them and develop them. I have lots of random sentences and ideas stashed in my Notes app and saved in drafts in my e-mail. There might be some good books there.

The State of the Industry

I was fortunate that as a young reader, I had parents who knew how and where to get

hudsonfamily.jpg

Katura, with her parents Wade and Cheryl Hudson, at the 26th annual African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia. She has come many times to promote Just Us Books titles. This time, the spotlight was on her.

books that celebrated me as a Black girl, books that did more than skim the surface of Black history, books that were authentic and diverse in their representation of Black culture. They weren’t always easy to find, and there weren’t rows and rows of them at bookstores, but they bought all the great books they could – and eventually went on to create great books of their own.

 

The landscape of publishing has changed some since then. CCBC research shows that the number of diverse books has increased over the years. However, the number of diverse children’s book creators really hasn’t. So, we’re seeing more diverse books make it to bookstores, libraries, and schools — but we’re not seeing enough of an increase in the writers and illustrators of color who are creating books that make it to the marketplace.  It seems like the issue of diversity in children’s book publishing resurfaces as a hot topic every few years. For some of us, it never stops being headline news. The most recent cycle focuses more on “own voices” – creators from underrepresented groups telling their own stories. We need more of that, and we need to do more to support writers and illustrators of color who are sharing their stories and the book sellers of color who are helping to get those books into our children’s hands.

The Buzz

 

“This book is great for boys who are about to become big brothers. Although there are some unpleasant things about babies, like ‘stinky diapers,’ nothing beats the love and affection you feel towards a new little bundle of joy. I adore this loving middle-class Black family, especially the responsible older brother and how he welcomes his new sibling into the family.”

– Read Brightly (Black Boy Joy by Charnaie Gordon)

“There’s plenty of room on the new-baby shelf for this sturdy big brother.”

– Kirkus

Learn more at www.katurajhudson.com.

 


Day 1: Useni Eugene Perkins

February 1, 2018

Poet, playwright, and youth development professional Useni Eugene Perkins has a long history of distinguished work; it was some time before one of his most well-known poems was publicly known to be his, even though “if you were a black child in a Black classroom anywhere in the United States since 1975, there is a chance you recited Perkins.”

HEY BLACK CHILD, illustrated by Bryan Collier, was reintroduced to the world in 2017. School Library Journal calls it “a rousing celebration and call to action, this book is a great choice for every library.” The Brown Bookshelf is honoured to welcome Useni Eugene Perkins.

    The Journey

My journey as a writer began when I was in grade school. Having been reared in an artistic environment, I was exposed to many of the writers who were participants in Chicago’s Black Arts Renaissance in the early forties. My father Marion Perkins, a self-taught sculptor, was a central figure in this movement which included Black writers like Margaret G. Burroughs, Theodore Ward, Margaret Walker, Willard Motley and Gwendolyn Brooks. He also knew Richard Wright , Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes. I read the works of all these writers but was primarily influenced by Langston Hughes and Richard Wright.

When the Black Arts Movement began to emerge in the early sixties, my first book of poems AN APOLOGY TO MY AFRICAN BROTHER was published by Free Black Press in 1965. This volume was followed by BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL, SILHOUETTE, and MEMORIES AND IMAGES. However, my writings were not confined to poetry and in 1975 Third World Press published HOME IS A DIRTY STREET: THE SOCIAL OPPRESSION OF BLACK CHILDREN, a sociological analysis of Black children growing up in Chicago. The imminent historian Lerone Bennett Jr., cited the book as “… one of the important on the sociology of streets since the publication of BLACK METROPOLIS” by Dr. Sinclair Drake and Horace Cayton. In keeping with my interest in the social development of Black children, Third World Press published HARVESTING NEW GENERATIONS: THE POSTIVE DEVELOPMENT OF BLACK YOUTH in 1986.

    Back Story

Although I had never seriously thought about writing books for children, I was familiar with and admired the works of Julius Lester, Tom Feelings, Toni Cade Bambara and Virginia Hamilton. However, I also was interested in playwriting and in 1975 wrote a musical for children entitled BLACK FAIRY, which was a play about a young boy who lacked self-esteem. My motivation for writing Black Fairy was because I felt there were few plays that emphasized Black history and culture to inspire Black children. The musical included twelve songs and Hey Black Child was one of the lyrics. It was performed in many venues throughout the Midwest and awarded a citation of merit after it was performed at St Mary College in Detroit by the late mayor Coleman Young. Hey Black Child became an instant favorite of the thousands of children who saw the production. Because of its popularity, Third World Press published Black Fairy in 1986 , in a volume bearing the same name. The book also included two other children’s musicals, Young John Henry and the Legend of Deadwood Dick.

Despite being written as a lyric, Hey Black Child was being recited as a poem by many children and some teachers had their students recite it each day before classes.

    The Process


Mistakenly, over the years, Hey Black Child was being attributed to Countee Cullen or Maya Angelou.

What may have given greater creditability to this belief was when three year old Pe’Tehn Raighn-Kem recited the poem on Val Warner’s television show in Chicago. Later, on Steve Harvey’s nationally televised Little Big Shots, she recited it again but identified me as the author.

However, even though it had been verified that I was the author of Hey Black Child, it continued to be attributed to other poets.

When Little Brown and Company contacted me in 2015 about doing an illustrated book on Hey Black Child, I was pleasantly surprised. To learn that Hey Black Child had received national attention and continued to be an uplifting poem for Black children was extremely inspiring. Also, the fact that the multiple award-winning artist Bryan Collier was to be the illustrator was also gratifying. Unquestionably, his creative images of children have done much to embellish my poem.

    Where Do We Go From Here?

Although some progress has been made in changing the misinformation and stereotypes that have maligned Black history and culture, racism still resonates in every facet of American life. I believe literature, of every genre, can play an important role in correcting this problem. This is particularly true of illustrated books because it is during the formative years that children begin to form their perceptions about race and life in general. The images children are exposed to during this period will have a great influence on them when they become adults.

If given the opportunity, I would like to write illustrated books for middle grade students. Among these books, I would include Paul Robeson, Ida B. Wells, Toussaint L’Ouverture and Kwame Nkrumah. The latter two books have particular relevancy because Black children need to learn that the Black struggle for freedom in America is also linked to Africa and the Black Diaspora. Racial consciousness is critical to Black children who have historically been indoctrinated to perceive their African heritage as a jaded legacy.

Finally, I’m deeply grateful to Little Brown and Company for publishing Hey Black Child and making it possible for thousands of Black children to visualize their God-given talents.

Peace, Harmony and Love.


Celebrating Our Voices: 28 Days Later Honorees

January 22, 2018

28dayslaterlogoWe are proud to announce the honorees for our 11th annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of outstanding children’s book creators. Each day during February, we will showcase an author or illustrator whose work reflects parts of who we are.

It’s more important than ever to raise awareness and support books by children’s book creators from around the African Diaspora. Each year, more books are published about us than by us. That has to change.  Our mission is to raise awareness of the many Black voices writing for young readers. Through our 28 Days Later campaign, we want to empower children, parents, educators, librarians and booksellers with names of authors and illustrators who are too often unsung.

Please spread the word and join us in saluting our honorees. The children’s book creator and the day they will be featured are as follows:

Feb. 1 – Useni Eugene Perkins (PB)

Feb. 2 – Kheryn Callender (MG)

Feb. 3 – Nic Stone (YA)

Feb. 4 – Katura Hudson (PB)

Feb. 5 – Ray Anthony Shepard (MG)

Feb. 6 – Baptiste Paul (PB)

Feb. 7 – Sandra Uwiringiyimana  (YA)

Feb. 8 – Doreen Spicer-Dannelly  (MG)

Feb. 9 – Vashti Harrison (Illustrator)

Feb. 10 – LL McKinney (YA)

Feb. 11 – Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl  (PB)

Feb. 12 – Ebony Glenn (Illustrator)

Feb. 13 – Fracaswell Hyman (MG)

Feb. 14 – Tiffany D. Jackson (YA)

Feb. 15 – Keturah Bobo (Illustrator)

Feb. 16 – Marley Dias (MG)

Feb. 17 – Gordon James (Illustrator)

Feb. 18 – Carmen Bogan (PB)

Feb. 19 – Jay Coles (YA)

Feb. 20 – Liara Tamani (YA)

Feb. 21 Craig Robinson (MG)

Feb. 22 – Junot Díaz (PB)

Feb. 23 – Deloris Jordan (PB)

Feb. 24 – Patrice Lawrence (YA)

Feb. 25 – Tami Charles (MG)

Feb. 26 – Quvenzhané Wallis (PB)

Feb. 27 – Gilbert L. Robertson IV (MG)

Feb. 28 – Dhonielle Clayton, Brandy Colbert & Justina Ireland (State of YA Part I)

March 1 – Dhonielle Clayon, Brandy Colbert & Justina Ireland (State of YA Part II)