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.

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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.”

Countdown to our Tenth Campaign

October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween! At The Brown Bookshelf, we have another reason to feel festive. February will kick off the 10th campaign of 28 Days Later, our annual Black History Month celebration of 28dayslogounder-the-radar and vanguard black children’s book creators. To mark that milestone, we’re starting throwback Thursdays this week where we share a profile from our archive of more than 200 28 Days Later spotlights. Stay tuned for more special features and news throughout 2017.

Today, to begin our countdown, we’re reposting the first ever Brown Bookshelf blog entry. On October 31, 2007, Varian Johnson discussed why he and Paula Chase-Hyman started The Brown Bookshelf.

Our team has grown since its founding. The Brown Bookshelf began with five members. We’re now 10 strong. We’ve watched with pride as new voices have entered the field and books by black children’s book creators have won inspiring accolades. But nearly a decade later, we still have a long way to go.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s multicultural publishing statistics from 2006, for instance, showed that 153 out of about 3000 children’s books received at CCBC had significant African or African American content. As Varian shared in his post below, 87 of those books were by black authors and illustrators.

In stats from 2015, the CCBC reported that out of 3,400 children’s books received, “261 had significant African or African American content.” That gain may seem like reason to celebrate until you realize that just 86 of those were by Black authors and illustrators, almost the same number as in 2006.*

* The overall number of books by Black children’s book creators increased slightly. The CCBC noted that an additional 14 books by black authors and illustrators in 2015 did not relate to their cultural or ethnic background.

Nearly a decade later, some of the same questions linger:

Why are more children’s books being published about African Americans and Africans by creators from other cultures than by black children’s book creators?  Why do books by black authors and illustrators still struggle to get noticed? Why do some of our authors find it tough to get published even with a track record of honors and awards?

As Varian states in his post sometimes an author must be an advocate. We will continue to push for publishing parity alongside allies like The African American Children’s Book Project, Just Us Books, Lee & Low Books, We Need Diverse Books, American Indians in Children’s Literature, Cynsations, Latinxs in Kid Lit, Teaching for Change, AALBC and many more.

Nearly a decade later, we’re still here, shining a spotlight on voices that deserve to be heard.

Why The Brown Bookshelf?

by Varian Johnson

While speaking at a predominately African-American high school a few years ago, I asked the students to name some of their favorite books. I varianexpected the students to name novels by some of my favorite YA authors—perhaps Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson, or Virginia Hamilton. Instead, the students named authors such as Eric Jerome Dickey and Zane. Don’t get me wrong–I like Eric Jerome Dickey a lot, and both he and Zane have worked hard to achieve their much deserved success. However, for some reason I just didn’t feel comfortable discussing the works of Zane or EJ Dickey with a bunch of tenth graders. I found myself thinking about this again as I reviewed the statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. According to the CCBC, out of the approximately 5000 trade children’s books published in the United States in 2006, 87 were written by African Americans. 87 out of 5000. That’s 2%, if you’re generous with the rounding.

2% isn’t a lot by any means, but if we could somehow highlight a few of these books—help readers to see that good book by good authors are out there—perhaps the publishing and book selling industry would take notice. Perhaps that 2% could grow to 3%. And then to 4%. And so on and so on.

Sometimes, being a writer means that you have to put your own books down so you can cheer for someone else. Sometimes, you have to be an advocate instead of an author.


You Can Fly: Guest Post by Jeffery Weatherford

August 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is some art from the book. Enjoy!

















About Illustrator Jeffery Weatherford

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



Preserving Langston’s Legacy

August 9, 2016

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

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

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

Guest Post by Renée Watson

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

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

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

But there is also sadness.

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

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

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

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

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

I Look at the World

I look at the world

From awakening eyes in a black face—

And this is what I see:

This fenced-off narrow space

Assigned to me.

I look then at the silly walls

Through dark eyes in a dark face—

And this is what I know:

That all these walls oppression builds

Will have to go!

I look at my own body

With eyes no longer blind—

And I see that my own hands can make

The world that’s in my mind.

Then let us hurry, comrades,

The road to find.

—Langston Hughes, 1930

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

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

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

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

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

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

About I, Too, Arts Collective

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

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


Celebrating Diversity at ALA: Recommended Titles

June 25, 2016

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

Below are the links to the book lists we promised:

BBS Nonfiction

BBS Fiction

BBS “Celebrating Diversity” Book Recommendations

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


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

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


Call for Submissions

June 21, 2016

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

Here’s what I wrote about Plum Street Press:

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

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

Here are the submission guidelines:

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

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

Here’s the call for submissions:

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

Get those portfolios and stories ready.

The Brown Bookshelf at ALA

June 21, 2016

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

Here’s a schedule of our events:

Friday, June 24

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

Saturday, June 25

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 26

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

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

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

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