Day 16: Marley Dias

February 16, 2018

It’s not everyday that one of the authors we spotlight also happens to be a member of the primary audience of the books that those of us Marley Dias 1at BBS creates.  But today, is that day.

The same month that she turned 13 years old, Marley Dias also became a debut author. An impressive milestone on its own, yet only the latest in the young author’s journey that started in November 2015 when she launched the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign.

Famously quoted as rebuking the amount of books out there about White boys and dogs, Marley set out to collect 1,000 books that featured African American female protagonists. The campaign drew national attention and resulted in the donation of over 9,000 books.

Marley Book CoverMarley is now walking the walk by offering her own book, Marley Dias Gets It Done, a do-it-yourself guide to assist young readers with activism and tips on how to become a life long reader.

With readers (and authors) like Marley, literature is in good hands.

The Buzz About Marley & Marley Dias Gets It Done

” It’s not hard to imagine that one day soon Marley…will be the protagonist of one of the books she fought so hard to have represented in her classroom.” — Teen Vogue

“[Marley’s] a dynamic young woman who has a dynamic idea!” — Ava DuVernay

“Talk about black girl magic in a huge, huge way! Oh Marley Dias, we wanna be just like you!” — Hello Giggles

Marley at ALA

Photo courtesy of American Libraries Magazine

Check Marley out with Patrisse Cullors at 2018 ALA Midwinter


Day 13: Fracaswell Hyman

February 13, 2018

fracaswellA veteran TV writer and producer, the talents of Fracaswell Hyman have brought you shows like Ghostwriter, Gullah Gullah, Island, The Famous Jett Jackson, Taina and Romeo. He never planned on writing children’s television programs, Fracaswell’s dream was to be in front of the camera. The lesson: Dream Big. He did it all. As an actor, he appeared in Malcolm X, Ghostwriter, Separate But Equal and Law and Order. He’s in an upcoming stage production of Fences in Wilmington, NC where he lives. His latest leap? Becoming a middle-grade author. His acclaimed novel, Mango Delight, has won a starred review from Booklist and earned praise for its originality, complexity and understanding of the friendship issues tweens face. We look forward to more great work from him.

Please join us in celebrating Fracaswell Hyman on Day 13 of our campaign:

The Journey

I began my career as an actor. Having spent many years touring the country in regional theater productions, I was happy to get a steady job working with the Living Stage Theater Company, the community outreach arm of the Arena Stage of Washington, D.C. Living Stage was mainly an improvisational company that did performances and theater workshops for diverse groups. We performed for kids from preschool to high school, PINS (Persons In Need of Supervision), children with disabilities, and incarcerated men and women, senior citizens and others. I was with the company for five years, and I believe getting up close and personal with such diverse audiences opened my eyes, ears and heart to people from all walks of life.

Returning to New York, I volunteered to work with The 52nd Street Project, where we wrote plays starring the children of the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. A producer from PBS saw my work and thought I had an ear for the way kids speak and think. This lead to my first job writing for television on the literary series, Ghostwriter. From there I went on to create, produce, write and direct television shows for Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Sesame Workshop.

Finding a child’s voice and seeing their point of view has always come naturally to me. I don’t actually look at it as though I have to write down to this audience. I write to them as I would an adult or senior citizen. For me, it’s all about allowing myself to take on the skin of whatever character is before me and striving to understand the world through their experience, emotions and actions. I guess its kind of like being an actor, except this way, I use a keyboard to perform.

The Back Story

When my daughter was in elementary school, I volunteered to work in the school mangodelightlibrary/media center. It was a good way to see what kids were reading and get to know some of her schoolmates. Each year when the book fair would come around, I’d notice how few books there were with characters that looked like my daughter on the covers. Now, my daughter loved Junie B. Jones and the Babysitters Club and other books about girls her age, but it disturbed me that the books with girls that looked like her on the covers were always connected to slavery, the Underground Railroad, civil rights, etc. Believe me, there is nothing wrong with these books, they are important, but the fact that books about contemporary Black girls like my daughter were few to none disturbed me. So, I set out to write one.

I opened myself up to the possibility of creating a character that looked like my daughter, had a diverse group of friends and dealt with the issues, problems and challenges faced by contemporary girls regardless of race. As often happens, one morning, between being asleep and coming awake, a name appeared before me, “Mango Delight.” I was immediately intrigued. Having to contend with an “odd” name my entire life, I felt an quick connection with this girl. As I lie there yawning and stretching, I began to see her, her friends and her family and what kind of dilemmas she might face. It’s not magic, it takes a lot of work to bring it all together, but when a character presents herself to you the best thing you can do is welcome her and be grateful that she’s giving you the opportunity to bring her to the world.

Full circle moment: Mango Delight, has been picked up by Scholastic and will be featured in their Book Clubs and Book Fairs across the country and various territories. Yes!

The Process

Although there are no absolutes for me when it comes to process, most of the time I start with the character. Who is s/he? What does s/he want? What is s/he willing to do to get it? What would make him/her go too far…and how do I chart a course for him/her to get to the place where they “cross the line”? I attempt to put my characters in situations that would cause them to make uncomfortable or maybe even unjustifiable choices that they have to find a way to justify to themselves and others.

I don’t concern myself with how likable a character is in the moment, because I’m not looking to create a role model. First and foremost, I’m looking to create and explore characters that are human, not perfect. Characters that make mistakes that the reader can identify with, understand, and hopefully forgive. I trust that these characters will help us all learn to forgive ourselves and others when needed.

I “try” to put myself on a schedule. (I don’t always succeed, but I set out with the best intentions and it works most of the time.) Fifteen hundred to two thousand words a day, six days a week, whether I feel inspired or not. Normally, I begin by going over what I wrote the day before and then continuing on from there. By the time I finish editing work from the day before I’m all warmed up, back in character and ready to move forward.

I have a nice, private office in my home. Sometimes I work there or sometimes I’ll go to a library or coffee shop to get away from distractions. Right now, I’m seated at the kitchen table, which I’ve taken over for months. Why? I don’t know…I just go with the flow and see where I land.

My process is born from trial and error. What works for me may not work for you at all. Trust yourself, you will find your own way. At some point, my process may shift, evolve and morph into something else. That’s fine. I relish the freedom of the journey and the mystery along the way.

The State of the Industry

First and foremost, I am grateful that my novel, Mango Delight, was picked up by Sterling Publishing. I’m very happy that they chose an illustrator of color, Frank Morrison, to create a cover that is authentic and attractive. With my editor and his team, I have been extremely lucky. Of course, I believe “luck” is at the intersection where opportunity and preparation meet, so I’m proud that I was ready for the opportunity.

That said, I’ve come across some disturbing statistics of late.

–          White authors and illustrators create 88% of all children’s literature.

–          Last year, only 2% of the 3,400 children’s books that were published featured Black characters written by Black authors.

–          In 2013, before the #weneeddiversebooks movement started, 75% of books featuring Black characters were written by Black authors. Now, only 30% of books featuring Black characters are written by Black authors.

[Data Source: Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s Publishing Statistics on Children’s Books about People of Color and First/Native Nations.]

I’ve seen this phenomenon time and time again while working in television. A white writer will create a character/show about a child very much like their own. A network will offer to pick up the show if they make the main character a Latina. They do. The show goes on to huge popularity, makes millions of dollars and has absolutely no connection to the culture they have appropriated whatsoever. There is no compunction to bring in producers, writers or consultants with any real power or influence. And ninety-nine percent of the millions of dollars generated never reach the communities of the children they’ve exploited to make their show relevant.

Illustrators/writers will draw a character, give him a little Afro and an ethnic name with a vowel on the end, and suddenly he’s the darling of the industry. The fact that this character or his experiences have absolutely nothing to do with his culture is irrelevant to those who are making money by diving into the #weneeddiversebooks pool.

Then we have to “tastemakers.” Bloggers, critics, teachers and librarians who’ve spent years getting advance copies of books so that they can gush over stories that warm their hearts. Stories where characters who look like them come to some great understanding about “the other,” or visa versa. These “tastemakers” may only come in contact with children of color in their classrooms, libraries or what they see on TV and the movies, but they have the gall to insist on whether characters sound “authentic” to them or not. Trust and believe, the image your students represent to you in the classroom can be very different from the image they find comfort in at home on in the streets.

Solutions? Let’s begin with;  #weneeddiverseeditors #weneeddiverseceos #weneeddiversetastemakers! We need diversity in the offices where decisions are made. We need to open our minds and question our own tastes when it comes to what is a valid character or credible way to tell a story. I believe some of the best intentioned people are blind to their own notions of what is authentic as opposed to what they are used to or find culturally palatable.

Sometimes it is not advisable to speak out, or speak truth to power. Throughout my career,  I’ve been warned by well-meaning friends not to let myself get painted by the “angry black man” brush. But I’ve come to believe that there is nothing wrong with anger, as long as it is channeled to bring about positive results–not to hurt. The overwhelming majority of people I’ve worked with throughout my long career have had the best of intentions. Now, it’s time for those intentions to be infused with purpose. We’ve got to be able to step out of our own comfort zones and broaden our own ways of looking at the world as we seek to not only make more room at the table, but build better, larger, sturdier, and more effective tables for the future. 

The Buzz

“Hyman marries traditional tween elements with a fresh and original plot, and his multicultural cast sparkles with individuality and authenticity. Hailey Joanne is much more complex than she originally seems, and Hyman’s supporting characters, both kids and adults, are vivid and dynamic. Mango is as delightful as her middle name indicates, and middle-grade readers will easily recognize their own experiences in her friendship struggles. This is Hyman’s first novel; here’s hoping it’s not his last.”

– Booklist, Starred Review

“The writing is accessible without being trite, and Mango’s inner struggle to be a better person is presented in an interesting and relatable fashion. VERDICT: An appealing addition, featuring an African American protagonist, for all middle grade collections; hand to reader who enjoy friendship drama and gentle realism.”

– School Library Journal

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Day 11: Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

February 11, 2018

photo credit: Paige Louw

“My goal is to focus on crafting stories for global audiences inspired by my Ugandan heritage. Set primarily in East and Southern Africa, my stories aim to illuminate the everyday and diverse experiences of African children, while celebrating human universality.” says Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl on Mater Mea. And with its celebration of both the unique and the universal, SLEEP WELL, SIBA AND SABA reads like a loving literary hug. Please join us in welcoming Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and her children’s literature debut!

The Journey:
I think like many writers, my path to publishing started long ago…as a reader. I read quite a bit as a child and as a young adult, and at some point (about 15 years ago), I recognized that stories that featured an African perspective were missing along the spectrum of fiction from children’s literature to adult literary fiction.  I noticed an even larger absence of African stories written by African writers but wasn’t sure what role I could play. My career path eventually led to work in international development as a writer and editor for specialized UN agencies and international NGOs. I write about a broad range of topics from public health to social protection, education, and other rights-based issues for projects in East and Southern Africa. My family is from Uganda so working in the development context had always been an aspiration.
Over the last decade of working and living in East and Southern Africa, and more recently while living in Johannesburg when I was pregnant with my daughter, I returned to this idea that brown, and more specifically African faces, were missing from the books that I would want to share with her. At the same time, I couldn’t find a children’s book about Uganda that captured how I felt about the country. I also vividly remember so many people struggling to pronounce my Ugandan name while growing up in the US, and very much wanted my daughter to see her own Ugandan name reflected on the bookshelf (Saba is short for Nsaba, which is my daughter’s name).
With all of this as fuel, I decided to take a leap and write a story for my daughter that captured my love of Uganda and that portrayed the many beautiful things that I love about the country. That story was Sleep Well, Siba and Saba and my husband insisted that I try to publish it. Since then, I have not looked back.

The Back Story:
Once I conceived of Siba and Saba, I had to think about where the best literary home for the story would be. Not knowing any published authors personally, or anything about the publishing world for that matter, I reached out to some friends for their contacts and did quite a bit of research online. I also realized that with my story, the illustrations the way in which Uganda would be represented mattered just as much as the story. Through the book, I wanted to create a space for the beauty of Uganda to be celebrated in the world, and by global audiences. From my research, however, it seemed that an author had very little input on the selection of an illustrator or the illustration style at larger publishing houses. Based on that alone, I thought it would be a good idea to focus on a smaller, independent publisher. I spent several months searching online for publishers that focused on diverse stories, and when I found Lantana, I had a gut feeling that they were the one. I sent my story out once, only to them as an exclusive submission, and the rest is………

The Inspiration:
My first inspiration can be found very close to home from my family. I am internally motivated to honor my lineage and culture, as I believe my grandfather would have wanted it. I have witnessed such unsung nobility and grace in African families. I feel obligated to share these storiesif even through the lens of a story for children.
I also draw a lot of inspiration these days from contemporary African visual artists, like Njideka Akunyili Crosby (Nigeria) and Billy Zangewa (Malawi/South Africa). I’m also a fan of the British-born, Ghanaian Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. All three of these women have an amazing, textured brilliance to their artworks that inspires me to create their works are worlds and stories unto themselves. I am also currently absolutely inspired by the prolific Japanese author-illustrator Tarō Gomi, who has written hundreds of books for readers of all ages. I find the simplicity of his illustrations stunning.

The Process:
I usually start with a concept or an idea, a niggling feeling really, that turns into an idea. And then I take it from there. I write it out, as bad as it may be. And then I refine and refine over months (and sometimes years). I just write…and re-write.
* Where Do We Go From Here? (What are your ideas for next steps, for artists, young people — toward a more just world. And: what projects do you have coming up next?)
I have set my personal sights on Africa. Many efforts from business and development to art and storytelling have emerged in recent years to help shift the African narrative. I include myself in that process largely through African-inspired children’s books, but also as a champion of contemporary African art and other projects that focus on the beauty that is black and African culture. I think given the current climate, this has considerable value if we want to raise children that are considerate, empathetic, and have a more global outlook.
In terms of upcoming projects, I have another children’s book coming out with Lantana in the fall and several more stories in progress. I also recently launched an art consultancy, Africa Facing Art, with my husband. Africa Facing Art’s mission is to connect U.S. public and private spaces, and collections, with the contemporary art of Africa.
For any author, artist, or young person looking to make a change, start in any way you can. Just start. I deferred so many dreams when I was younger. I encourage everyone to take that leap. Now.

Day 9: Vashti Harrison

February 9, 2018

Vashti HarrisonChances are you’re already familiar with Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, given it had already earned best-seller status before its official release date. But how familiar are you with its creator, Vashti Harrison? In today’s 28 Days Later spotlight, Harrison shares her path from art student to New York Times instant bestselling author-illustrator—a path paved by intentionality, industry, and determination. Read her spotlight below and join us as we celebrate her wonderful work and success story!


The Journey:

Children’s books were never a part of my plan. Even though I loved drawing as a child, I would never have guessed this is where I would end up. Only a few years ago, my only goal was to make films. I studied Studio Art and Media Studies at the University of Virginia (c/o 2010), where I had a focus in cinematography. I later went to CalArts to get my MFA in Film (c/o 2014). CalArts is pretty famous for being the “Disney School” of animation, but I was in an entirely different department.

While I was finishing my thesis film in my final year, I decided to take a drawing class for fun. I drew a lot as a child, through high school and into college, but once I started making films, I stopped entirely. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t keep up with the harrison cover little leadersundergrads in that program that I made it a personal goal to draw every day. I continued making films, showing them at film festivals, and I got a job in television. But everything changed when I got laid-off and I couldn’t find more work.

Illustration, weirdly, was the only thing bringing me any income; a few commissions here and there. Even though it was terrifying and I was super insecure, I was desperate for a creative job. I made a decision to move back home with my parents and give illustrating a real shot. I joined SCBWI so I would have some guidance in the world of publishing. I submitted an illustration in their #DrawThis competition and it won. It was placed in the monthly newsletter which caught the eye of an art director and I got my first offer to illustrate a book. It was equal parts validating and terrifying. Even though I was scared, I had no option but to work as hard as possible! Things really snowballed from there. Later in 2016, I went to the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference where I met my agent. She helped me sign a couple more picture book deals, and in Dec 2016 I moved to New York. Just two months later I had the idea for Little Leaders.


The Backstory:

During Black History Month 2017 I started a drawing project for myself. I wanted to illustrate one black woman from American history every day for the month of February and to post a short biography about her life. I was inspired by other art challenges like Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 10.47.32 AMMerMay and InkTober, but I wanted to be very intentional with this project. When Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week in 1926, he wanted to celebrate the stories that are often neglected. I felt inspired to use it as an opportunity to focus on black women specifically, whose stories have been doubly neglected through history.

I didn’t expect when I started the project how deeply connected I would feel to their stories—stories of hard work, dedication, courage through adversity, love for craft and love for family. By the first one, I knew it was project that would mean a lot to me and other people. The posts became very popular on Instagram, so I asked my agent if she thought there was potential for a book here. We pitched the idea to several publishers, and ended up with a deal from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It all happened very quickly and in order to have it ready for Black History Month 2018 we had to hit the ground running. I finished writing the bios during the summer of 2017 and turned in all of the final artwork in late September! Around then we got an offer to do a UK edition—where we would switch out seven Americans for Brits. That was finished around the end of October and will be released March 1, 2018—in time for Women’s History Month.


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The Inspiration

I get inspired by a lot of things. I walk around with an active eye—perhaps a holdover from cinematography—to find magical moments anywhere. I either make mental notes of how the light is falling or about certain colors on the sidewalk, or I take photos to create a visual library. But since I didn’t study illustration, I look to other artists for inspiration as well. There are a lot of contemporary artists that I love: Pascal Campion and Brittney Lee. Classic Disney artists like Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle. Storybook illustrators Gyo Fujikawa and Miroslav Sasek. I am an active consumer of content, so I’m constantly looking and reading. I especially love going to film festivals to see what’s new on the horizon. One of my favorite things from college would be coming up with ideas for my films while I was in my film history screenings. Melies and German Expressionism will do that to you!


The Buzz

It’s been very exciting to see how much buzz has been stirring around my book. Posts going viral, strangers posting about it, media outlets chatting—it’s so wild! People are very, very supportive and write to me every day thanking me for creating work like this. It’s been an incredible and humbling experience.


Media News

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

NAACP Image Awards

Kirkus Reviews


Author Social Media Links


Day 8: Doreen Spicer-Dannelly

February 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

The Journey

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

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

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

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


Check out the Love Double Dutch book tour promo, It was made specifically for her alma mater Morgan State University, but is a window into her vision. Love Double Dutch is not just a book, it’s a movement.

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

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

The Inspiration

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

The Process

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

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

The Buzz

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


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


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

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

Under The Radar

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

The State of the Industry

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

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Day 7: Sandra Uwiringiyimana

February 7, 2018

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

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

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

You can see Sandra in a 2017 CBS interview here.

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

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

Women in the World Conference 2016

ALA Annual Conference 2017

ALA Annual Conference 2017 “Raising Awareness”

You can follow Sandra on Twitter.

Day 6: Baptiste Paul

February 6, 2018

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

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

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


The Journey

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

The field_cover_3MB

The Back Story

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


The Inspiration

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


The Process

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

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

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


The Buzz

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

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

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