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.



Throwback Thursday: Shadra Strickland

November 10, 2016

We’ve highlighted many illustrators during our 28 Days Later campaign, and Shadra Strickland‘s interview has always been a personal favorite. Since our interview in  2009, Ms. Strickland went on to illustrate many more books, including White Water (Candlewick Press, 2011); Please, Louise (Simon & Schuster, 2014); and Sunday Shopping (Lee & Low Books, 2014). A forthcoming book, Loving Vs. Virginia, written by Patricia Hruby Powell, has already garnered a starred review from Kirkus and is currently featured in the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show.



The title of her blog says it all: LIVING THE DREAM. A dream born many years ago, when she was just a child. A dream nourished by a supportive mother. A dream guided through instruction at Syracuse University. Polished at the School of Visual Arts. But Shadra Strickland’s dream didn’t end there.

Soon after graduation, she was offered an opportunity to illustrate her first book, an emergent reader called BIG OR LITTLE, written by Fonda Bell Miller. It was published by Lee & Low Books in 2002.

Her second book, BIRD, written by Zetta Elliott, published with Lee & Low Books in 2008. Following the success of BIRD, the dream began to collect awards.

In 2009, Shadra became the recipient of the American Library Association’s John Steptoe Award for New Talent, given by the Coretta Scott King Task Force, and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award.

Shadra was a contributor to the book Our Children Can Soar: A Celebration of Rosa, Barack, and the Pioneers of Change, published by BloomsbuyUSA in 2009, which has also received major accolades, including an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Literary Work for Children. With Our Children Can Soar, she paid tribute to Ruby Bridges, who became the first African American child to attend an all-white school in the South. Her illustrations are full of emotion and successfully capture the quiet strength of Ruby Bridges, using soft colors and delicate line work.

Please note: I interviewed Shadra about a year ago, and I just realized that most of my questions here are repeat (same photo and everything). My apologies, but don’t go away. New things are a-poppin’ in the land of the dream. Check it out:

Please talk about your most recent book.

My next book is called A PLACE WHERE HURRICANES HAPPEN. It’s the story of Hurricane Katrina told through the voices of four neighborhood friends.  “Hurricanes” was challenging for me for a couple of reasons. First, it featured four main characters, and second it was the story of Hurricane Katrina. I had never been to New Orleans before working on the book. I tried to be very careful not to make the images journalistic.

What is the primary medium used in your work?

Right now I primarily use watercolor and gouache. I studied illustration at Syracuse University where I experimented with a few different mediums, mainly oil and acrylic, but I didn’t learn how to “play” until years later in graduate school at SVA.

The next few spreads are from her upcoming book A PLACE WHERE HURRICANES HAPPEN:

Why did you choose to illustrate for children?

Storytelling comes naturally to me. When I was young my family (grandma, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.) would sit around my grandmother’s kitchen table and tell stories for hours on end.

Making picture books just made the most sense—I get to read great stories and create world for the characters in which to exist. I also need my work to function in some way. The idea of people learning from my work and living with the images for years and years amazes and excited me.

Are there any particular illustrators or fine artist who have inspired you, past or present?

I am a fan of many many artists. If I could visit anyone’s studio, I think I’d like to watch William Kentridge work on a film, Jerry Pinkney draw, Tom Feelings do anything, Pat Cummings paint, Jon Muth compose, and Walton Ford paint.

From Bird, written by Zetta Elliot, Lee and Low Books October 2008

With BIRD, you’ve collected many accolades, including the Coretta Scott King /  Johnsteptoe New Talent Award, and the Ezra Jack Keats (New illustrator award). What was the biggest change, unexpected result, or interesting observation you’ve noted since receiving the awards?

For me winning the John Steptoe and Ezra Jack Keats Awards for BIRD was surreal. The most interesting and unexpected result was the amount of work that came flooding in. I also underestimated the amount of celebratory cupcakes I could consume.

As an illustrator who happens to be African American, do you ever feel any special pressures, or unique challenges?

I try to pick projects that I connect to emotionally and that align with the way I see the world or wish the world could be. For BIRD I loved how Zetta portrayed her male characters. They were supportive and loving to each other so I just added to that in the imagery. I also try to be careful not to villanize people, even if they are making bad choices for themselves and the people around them.

I love painting different shades of African-American people. My family is made up of many different shades of black and I feel that’s important and true to life in painting pictures.

So, I guess, no, I don’t really feel any “special” pressure. I just try and make the work as sincere as I can and as strong as I can. The rest will fall in place.

From Our Children Can Soar, BloomsburyUSA April 2009

Please talk about your process of illustrating a book.

I start with an 8.5 x 11 “Cheap Pad”. As I read, I fill up the sketchbook with many many possibilities for the story. As I thumbnail, I scan each image, blow them up, and drop them into a mechanical. Once I am happy with the look of the rough dummy, I make a pdf and e-mail it to my editor and art director with any notes I may have embedded in the file. This is the most I do with a computer in making the books. Once the dummy is okayed, I print out the sketches to size and refine the drawing.

Unfortunately, my finishing process is never cut and dry. Each story is different and requires something different from me. For example, BIRD’s world was ballpoint pen and charcoal against some airier skies. HURRICANES paired the brightness and energy of New Orleans against an impending storm. In OUR CHILDREN CAN SOAR I needed to go back in time and make things look aged and bare.

I try and go straight to finish if I have a strong vision for a piece. Because I experiment a lot; sometimes…most times I have to do a piece many times before it’s right. For Bird’s rooftop scene I had to paint it eight times before I got what I wanted out of it.

If you could wave a magic wand and completely change professions, what would you be doing today?

I’d be Beyonce.

(Don, waving magic wand…zing!)

For our aspiring children’s book illustrators, talk about your path to publication.

My road, like my work process, was long and crooked. I stumbled many times, but I never gave up.

I finished my first emergent reader book with Lee and Low right after college. I was teaching with Atlanta Public Schools then. After the first project I worked on some smaller e-books and some projects with local authors. After three years of teaching art I applied to SVA. While in grad school I befriended three other illustrators and we showed our work to as many art directors and editors who would see us.

During that time I also worked at an after school program in Chinatown and interned as a design assistant with Penguin for a semester. After graduation all of my friends landed book deals, but I still kept getting close but no cookie. My graduate advisor, Pat Cummings, recommended me to Chris Myers and I became his assistant for a year. She also introduced me to an old student of hers who was leaving Bloomsbury and that connection turned into a four year freelance design position at the company. That first year after grad school I illustrated a book with a Korean publishing house, Tantani Media. I kept making work and sending it out to people who liked my work via e-mails and postcards and one night at the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Show I ran into my very first editor at Lee and Low, Jen Frantz. She asked me in for a meeting and the rest is….history.

If you could do it all again, what would you do different?

I can honestly say that every experience I’ve had has contributed to the work I do now. I wouldn’t change a thing (except win the lottery).

From The Dancing Shoeshine Boy, written by Hae-Da Lee, Yeowon Media June 2008

What do you find most challenging about the book creation process?

The biggest challenge for me is balancing truth and fantasy. For a book like HURRICANES, I needed to stay true to the look and feel of New Orleans, but I also had to make art out of it. Learning how and when to take artistic license is a challenge.

What was your favorite book as a child?

I had a bunch of educational books and books with play along records that I’d read and listen to over and over again. My favorite “high art” picture book was THE SNOWY DAY. I can still remember the smell of the paper.

How do you find balance in your busy schedule?

I’m still learning how to balance everything. I recently moved back home to Atlanta for a few months after leaving my job at Bloomsbury and that has given me great peace of mind with more time to work. I go through cycles of getting everything done and not sleeping and getting very little done and not sleeping. Eventually I will clone myself so one of me can get some shut eye.

Do you visit schools? Is there any particular message you like to leave with children when you speak?

I love visiting schools. I try to give kids as much positive energy as I can about life. My main message for kids is that it’s okay to make mistakes. If you believe in yourself and what you want to do in life you can do it in spite of the small missteps along the way.

What would be your dream manuscript?

This may sound like a cop out, but my dreams are already coming true. I am a part of some truly phenomenal projects (that I hope I can live up to). My wish for the future is that I continue bringing outstanding stories to life alongside some of my own.

Who are your cheerleaders, those who encourage you?

My mom is my biggest cheerleader. She works in education so she gets to have bragging rights in her school. In addition to her are my friends, librarians, kids, and people who love art and books!

What’s on the horizon, what can your fans expect?

Ha! Fans. There are so many books in the works, which is amazing, but wow, I need to start taking my vitamins! My next book is with Candlewick, called WHITE WATER. It’s a story of segregation in 1950s Alabama.

********* Just For Fun **********

Favorite M&M color: blue

Favorite TV show: The big bang theory (when I get to watch it)

Favorite food: spinach

Favorite sport: football

Favorite ice cream flavor: rocky road

Favorite American Idol winner: *crickets*

Favorite Pop culture personality: Sheldon Cooper

Favorite Day of the week: the day after a great night’s sleep

Favorite social network:the book

Favorite genre of book: magical realism

***********GIVE AWAY***********

Here’s the thing: I have an ARC of Shadra’s newest book, A PLACE WHERE HURRICANES HAPPEN. I’d planned to keep it all to myself, but then realized it wouldn’t do Shadra much good buried here in my studio. So, I’d like to give it away. If you’re a librarian or teacher who’d like a sneak peek of Shadra’s newest work, and wouldn’t mind posting some nice comments (Twitter, Facebook, blog) after you receive it, then post a comment in today’s highlight. I’ll close my eyes and draw a name, then send you the copy.

Throwback Thursday: Walter Dean Myers

November 3, 2016


Very recently, a nephew came to live with me.  He’s quiet, stays in his room, and basically comes downstairs to eat and hang out in the backyard.  Most of the time, his earbuds are in, and therefore I believed he didn’t want to have a face-to-face conversation.  One day, he was sitting at the counter in my kitchen, eating lunch, when I noticed him staring at something.  He took his earbuds out, picked up a book and asked,

“You read Walter Dean Myers?”

I just shrugged, stuck in stupid, totally surprised on so many levels.

He grinned, “I’ve read all the books in my school library written by him.  SLAM, FALLEN ANGELS, SCORPIONS.  Have you read MONSTER?  Everybody says that’s really good.  I can’t believe he’s gone.  You have any more of his books?”

And so, our conversations began.  Thank you, Walter Dean Myers.

He has reached thousands of young people through his writings and teachings.  And in honor of his contributions to children’s literature, I would like to kick off our “Throwback Thursday” with The Brown Bookshelf’s 2008  28 Days Later spotlight of one of the most prolific writers of all time. — C.A.

*         *         *

Walter Dean Myers has had the type of career that most authors can only dream of. Since becoming first published in 1969, Myers has won five Coretta Scott King Awards, two Newbery Honors, and was awarded the first American Library Association Michael L. Printz Award for Monster. In 1994, Myers received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for “lifetime contribution to young adult literature,” and in 2008, the American Library Association chose Myers to present the 2009 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture–an honor given yearly to an individual of distinction in the field of children’s literature.

Street LoveNot one to limit himself to strictly novels, Myers has also excelled at both short stories and poetry. His novel  Lovein verse, Street Love (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2006), was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a Kirkus Editor’s Choice, and was named to the Horn Book Fanfare List for 2006. Likewise, his most recent collection of short stories, What They Found: Love on 145th Street (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2007), was also hailed by critics, receiving starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Known for capturing the emotional and physical heart of Harlem in his novels, Myers returns to a familiar topic, basketball, in his new novel Game (HarperTeen, 2008). From the HarperTeen website: “Drew Lawson knows basketball is taking him places. It has to, because his grades certainly aren’t. But lately his plan has run squarely into a pick. Coach’s new offense has made another player a star, and Drew won’t let anyone disrespect his game. Just as his team makes the playoffs, Drew must come up with something big to save his fading college prospects. It’s all up to Drew to find out just how deep his game really is.”

GameKLIATT gave Game a starred review, saying, “Myers…clearly knows basketball, and he nails the court action… A great choice for sports fans.” School Library Journal adds, “As always, Myers eschews easy answers, and readers are left with the question of whether or not Drew is prepared to deal with the challenges that life will inevitably hand him.”