The Brown Bookshelf at TLA

April 19, 2017

We’ve taken our 10th anniversary celebration on the road. Please join us today at 2:45 p.m. for our Texas Library Association session, Celebrating Diversity: The Brown Bookshelf Salutes Great Books for Kids (Room 303ABC, Ballroom level). The presenters are Gwendolyn Hooks and Kelly Starling Lyons.

Here are the session hand-outs which include book lists and resources:

BBS Booklist TLA

TLA Handout – BBS

Our Brown Bookshelf signing will be at the Overlooked Books booth #1917 at 6 p.m. this evening. We’d love to see you. Come by and say hi to Don Tate, Crystal Allen, Gwendolyn Hooks and Kelly Starling Lyons and pick up a book or a few to share with kids back home.

Several of us will also be presenting other sessions throughout the conference and signing with our publishers. Our full schedule is below. Thanks so much for your support.


12:15 p.m. Room 221CD, Panel: What’s New with Texas Children’s Authors and Illustrators?
Crystal Allen and Don Tate among featured authors.

2:45-3:45 p.m. Celebrating Diversity: The Brown Bookshelf Salutes Great Books for Kids. Presenters are Gwendolyn Hooks and Kelly Starling Lyons.
Room 303ABC, Ballroom level

3:00 p.m. Room 302AB Texas Bluebonnet Speed Dating
Crystal Allen and Don Tate  among featured authors

6:00 p.m. Brown Bookshelf signing at Overlooked Books booth #1917 , Exhibit Hall
Don Tate, Crystal Allen, Gwendolyn Hooks and Kelly Starling Lyons


10:30 a.m, Don Tate Signing STRONG AS SANDOW with Charlesbridge
Autographing Area Aisle 3

11:00 a.m. Gwendolyn Hooks signing TINY STITCHES, Lee & Low booth #2724 (Hall 4, Aisle 7)

11:00 a.m. Kelly Starling Lyons signing ONE MORE DINO ON THE FLOOR, Albert Whitman booth #2024

Noon Don Tate Signining WHOOSH! with Chris Barton, Charlesbridge
Autographing Area Aisle 3

1:00 p.m. Don Tate Signing AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH with Chris Barton, Eerdmans
Booth #2722

2:00 p.m. Don Tate Signing WHOOSH! with Chris Barton, Mackin

3:30 p.m. Don Tate Signing POET, Peachtree
Booth #2716

FRIDAY, April 21

9:00 a.m., Don Tate Signing with Chris Barton, Jennifer Ziegler,
Author Area, Aisle 5

9:45 a.m. Room 301BC, Panel, Do Author Visits Make a Difference?
Don Tate is one of the featured authors. (Ballroom Level)

9:45-10:45 a.m. Discover the Spirit of Middle School Reading Program                          Crystal Allen is a featured author.

2:00 p.m. Crystal Allen Signing The Magnificent Mya Tibbs, HarperCollins booth


Running Into Faith

April 17, 2017
Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold

I seem to keep running into Faith Ringgold. Not literally. I have never driven a car in New York. Her books seem to find their way into my hands and I saw one of her quilts in all its glory. Then I stumbled onto a fascinating article written by her daughter.

I attended the American Library Association (ALA) conference in 2016. One of the best parts of conferences like that is the exhibit hall. You can spend days wandering up and down the aisles browsing through the new books, meeting authors and illustrators and collecting autographs. I’m not sure if Faith was there, in any case I never met her in person. I only know her through her work.

As I waited to meet up with a fellow author, I saw the Banned Book Booth. Curious, I stopped to see why people were in a line. Ahh. They volunteered to read a short section of a banned book. “Would you like to read? We’re producing a video for YouTube.” Okay. Sure.

I looked through the banned books and Tar Beach caught my eye. Banned? Why? I must have missed that conversation. I loved the book. I chose it to read. As soon as I got in line, doubts kicked in. What if I stumbled over the words? Did her last name have a long I or short I sound? What if my voice started cracking? Thankfully, after a minute or two, the director stopped each reader. I hoped she wouldn’t get so mesmerized by my melodious voice, she would forget to stop me. None of the above happened. Here I am on YouTube 

Tar Beach

Tar Beach

Later, I investigated its banned tag. Beer and fried chicken! I see. Sometimes we overthink things to the point of missing the point. I love the book. It’s as beautiful today as it was when I first read it.

In October 2016, the Rogers Public Library in Rogers, Arkansas invited me to speak to all the third – fifth graders in the district. What eager readers! What inquisitive minds! I loved all four days.

My sister traveled with me and after my presentations we explored the area. I fell in love with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. That’s where I saw Faith’s Maya’s Quilt of Life, 1989. Oprah Winfrey commissioned it for Maya Angelou’s 61st birthday. Isn’t it wonderful we can all enjoy it now?

Then, as I browsed the Lit Hub Weekly newsletter, I clicked on Michele Faith Wallace’s article about the two primes of her life.  It got me to thinking about the primes of my life. But what really caught my attention was a tidbit in her bio, “She is currently working on a collection of essays on her mother, the artist, Faith Ringgold, titled Faith Ringgold: My Mother, My Muse, My Mentor.”

Faith, the author and illustrator and quilter is her mother! Maybe one day, I might run into Faith, not literarily. I’ll settle for meeting her in person.

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks

Writing Through 45

April 3, 2017

My left arm for a time before 45 when I could get on Twitter or write a blog post for BBS and talk about books.  Yes, that 45 – our current President. He’s changed everything, right down to how I function as an author. Anyone else with me?

I hope so. Because some days I feel quite lonely thinking I’m by myself worrying how my writing could or should be impacted by the world swirling around me. And swirling it is.

My Twitter feed used to be packed with news of my author friends book releases, events, writing advice, and the typical requisite cyber hugs for someone having an off-writing day. Now? Well, now I have to carefully pick and choose when I go on Twitter because it makes me ranty. And not the productive type of ranting either.

But last I looked, I was still a writer.  At least that’s what the folks at Greenwillow think, because they just contracted me for two middle grade books.

Title Placeholder

Some years ago that would have scared me for the usual reasons being contracted to deliver “the words” would – can I do it? Will I meet my deadline? How long can my family go without food while I focus on these books for awhile? Now, it frightens me for totally different reasons – primarily, do my books matter at a time when the world seems like it’s on fire?

How on earth can we expect kids to read when we need to prepare them for the apocalypse that is the current administration? One that has made permanent sound bites of things like “alternative facts” and “don’t take the tweet literally.”  It’s a world where the Chief Executive of the United States calls anyone who disagrees with him a liar, while constantly spewing lies himself. If  I’m writing, shouldn’t I be trying to find a way to cover the current world to help young readers navigate it?

*deep breath*

Those are the thoughts that creep into my mind, sometimes. Then I remember that the whole point of literature is escape. And not just for the reader.

I know there will be more authors like Angie Thomas, who take the frustration of the world out on the words and come up with masterful stories. And I look forward to seeing more YA like THUG and even MG that finds ways to help young readers see the current world through their lens. It’s what kid lit is about.

Meanwhile, I’m going to stay in my lane. Partly because I’m still trying to figure out how to digest where we are. But also, because, when I allow myself to go into my bubble, I see so many stories that still need to be told to young readers beyond what’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania.

For some of us, the world is truly on fire. From healthcare to human rights we’re being threatened to fall in line with an ideology, that supposedly defines us all as Americans, or else. But that can’t stop us from fighting to ensure kids of color see themselves represented in literature.

Some of those stories will most definitely be about the fragile relationship between law enforcement and Black communities; crooked and uncaring politicians; or a bogeyman running the nation. And some of them will be about friendships and how they shape us into young adults; growing into our ambition, or falling in love for the first time. No single story is more important than the other.

Once I take a few deep breaths, I realize that some elements of my stories may change to include little pieces of today’s world but ultimately who I am as a writer hasn’t changed nor will it.

I’m renewed in that thought and look forward to diving head first back into the writing and library communities where raging against the machine is done one page at a time.

Throwback Thursday: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

March 23, 2017

Since we’re on the subject of boys and books from our Monday post, here’s some information about boys and reading:

From The Guardian UK: The truth about boys and books: they read less — and skip pages.
The Nation’s Report Card on student reading scores in 4th and 8th grade show that black children, and boys in particular lag behind other groups.

In light of this, I’d like to throw it back to a February 2015 post by Tameka Brown about an author with loads of boy appeal (though plenty of girls like hoops too).


When I went to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s website to get a little background info on him for this post, I discovered a man that has contributed more to our society than I believe most people are aware of. While I don’t have the space to recount all of his accomplishments here, I’ll bullet-point a fraction of them:

  • NBA All-Time Leading Scorer
  • US Cultural Ambassador, 2012
  • California’s STEAM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics) Afterschool Ambassador, 2012
  • Cancer Research Advocate
  • Columnist for TIME Magazine and LA & OC Registers
  • Award-winning Filmaker
  • New York Times Best Selling Author of 9 Titles (including 3 children’s books)
  • Two-time NAACP Image Award Winner (What Color Is My World & On the Shoulders of Giants)

It is his for work as a children’s book author that we celebrate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on this final day of 28 Days Later. The three, well-reviewed children’s titles he has co-authored with Raymond Obstfeld (thus far) are:


Streetball Crew Series, Book Two: Stealing the Game


“Abdul-Jabbar and Obstfeld…team up for another exploration of the intersection of sports and life conduct. Chris is a good, quiet kid who likes to keep his head down. As he says, ‘I was friendly to everyone but friends with no one.’ Still, if the machinery of thought made much noise, Chris would be a one-man band. For a 13-year-old, he does considerable shrewd, high-ground thinking, as do his friends (‘You know,’ one says, ‘not talking about things doesn’t actually make them disappear’). Where it really shows itself is on the basketball court, where he plays a savvy, court-wise game. Enter his brother, Jax, a golden boy who appears to have fallen from the pedestal upon which his well-intentioned parents have placed him, and Chris’ still waters are about to feel a hefty stone break their surface. Add his classmate Brooke, a sharp girl with plenty of her own baggage, and a waterspout is in the making. The authors’ light hand allows readers to inhabit the characters; to taste the value of respect, dignity and vulnerability; and to embrace the elemental joy of sports-all without ever feeling like they are being tube fed. The shifting structure of the story and a clever series of blind alleys keep readers on tenterhooks. A deft, understated sports thriller with a solid moral compass.”Kirkus

“In another exemplary mix of issues and action both on and off the court, the middle-school cast of Sasquatch in the Paint (2013) returns to take on a team of older, bigger, thuggish rivals amidst a rash of local burglaries. Thirteen-year-old Chris is stunned when his golden-boy big brother, Jax, suddenly shows up at home with gambling debts after (he claims) dropping out of law school. With extreme reluctance, Chris agrees to help Jax get out from under-both by enlisting his street-ball buddies against a club team to settle a bet and by helping his brother break into a pawnshop. At the same time, Chris asks his Sherlockian friend Theo to check out Jax’s story, and he also definitely beats the odds by finding common ground with brilliant, acid-tongued classmate Brooke. Along with vividly drawn characters, the coauthors craft a mystery with artfully placed clues that Jax might not be the loser he seems to be, and also inject plenty of exciting, hard-fought basketball in which speed, strategy, and heart play equally strong roles. Flashbacks crank up the tale-s suspense, flashes of humor brighten it, and the end brings both surprise twists and just deserts all round.”Booklist Online


Streetball Crew Series, Book One: Sasquatch in the Paint


“The author team behind What Color Is My World? opens the Streetball Crew series with the story of Theo Rollins who, though only an eighth grader, is already more than six feet tall. A self-proclaimed nerd, Theo gets recruited for the school basketball team, even though he’s terrible at the sport. Additionally, Theo is puzzled by new girl Rain, who’s smart but being threatened by a guy on a motorcycle; his widowed father is unexpectedly interested in dating; and he might be kicked off the school’s Aca-lympics team if he can’t balance his responsibilities. The depth and realism Abdul-Jabbar and Obstfeld bring to the novel keep it from being a run-of-the-mill sports story. Rain, for instance, is Muslim, while Theo is one of only a few black kids at his school; their ostracism doesn’t overshadow the action, but it isn’t ignored, either. Perhaps most refreshing is the fact that the authors allow Theo to gain confidence in basketball without the predictable game-winning shot. Readers will feel a kinship with Theo as he maneuvers through tough but realistic choices.”Publishers Weekly

“A crisp tale of sports, smarts and what it means to be your own man or woman-or boy or girl, if you happen to be 13. It seems to be an embarrassment of riches to be, say, one of the best basketball players in history and also write tightly entertaining novels for kids, but there you have Abdul-Jabbar. Surely Obstfeld added polish and framing, but this obviously is a work of someone intimate with sports and, by extension, how sports can serve as metaphor for a way of being in the world. Here, newly tall eighth-grader Theo Rollins is trying to find his way between the brainiacs and the basketball players. Along the way, he meets Rain-aka Crazy Girl-a sort of ‘girl with the dragon tattoo’ minus the heaviest baggage. Characters, both friend and foe, feel real; there is talk of abandonment as well as serious comments about the skewed vision Americans have of Islam. The deepest running narrative pivots around sports, but the story has much to give. Theo’s cousin’s taxonomy of basketball players is broadly applicable: There are the happy-go-lucky, the self-conscious and ‘those who never want the game to be over, because each minute is like living on some planet where you got no problems….[They are], for that brief time, in a place where everything they thought or did mattered.’ Fearless, caring sports fiction.” —Kirkus


What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors


“Making use of an unusual format, former NBA star Abdul-Jabbar and his On the Shoulders of Giants coauthor Obstfeld offer an upbeat history lesson set within a fictional narrative framework. Siblings Ella and Herbie, whose story unfolds in typeset chapter booklike pages surrounded by warmly lit paintings of their adventures, are less than enthusiastic about their fixer-upper of a new house. But as eccentric handyman Mr. Mital unveils the house’s potential, he also teaches them about contributions made by African-American inventors (‘There’s more to our history than slavery, jazz, sports, and civil rights marches,’ he says). Flaps show lifelike portraits of individuals like Dr. Mark Dean, a v-p at IBM; Dr. Charles Drew, who developed the concept of blood banks; and nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker squirt gun. Ella’s off-the-cuff notes appear inside the flaps, while several spreads provide detailed profiles of other inventors and graphic novel–style passages. The banter between the siblings and, in particular, Ella’s snarky zingers keep things from feeling didactic—it’s an entertaining and often surprising exploration of lesser-known innovators, past and present.” Publishers Weekly

“A fictional story lies at the heart of this unusually formatted collective biography. Twins Herbie and Ella and their parents have just moved into a run-down older home; while they work to fix it up, Mr. R. E. Mital, an eccentric handyman hired by their parents, recounts the contributions of African American scientists and inventors. As the figures are introduced, foldouts on the sides of the pages contain Ella’s notes (full of humor, as well as facts) about each one. More detailed profiles of other inventors fill the spreads, and some are introduced in graphic-novel-style pages. Instead of famous inventors such as George Washington Carver and Benjamin Banneker, readers are introduced to lesser-known individuals, including Alfred L. Cralle (inventor of the ice-cream scoop), Dr. Henry T. Sampson (gamma electric cell), and nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson (Super Soaker). Information about the subjects’ home, lives, and avocations is a welcome addition…the large trim size, numerous illustrations, and unusual format (not to mention the celebrity author) will certainly attract browsers. And a surprise discovery about Mr. Mital’s identity at the end will leave readers with something to ponder.”School Library Journal


For more information on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his work, please visit his website.

11-year-old Starts Book Club for Boys

March 20, 2017

Most 11 year olds are playing Minecraft and into the latest bottle tossing craze. Sidney Keys III however, has recently started a book club for boys focused on helping them find characters who look like themselves.

On a trip to the University City, Missouri bookstore EyeSeeMe, Sidney and his mom found an entire children’s book section dedicated to books that featured characters from the African diaspora. Sidney was thrilled. “Every time I go to the library at my school, there aren’t many African American literature books there,” he told radio program St. Louis on the Air. His mother, Winnie Caldwell, shot a video of him reading which has been viewed more than 60,000 times.

Sidney decided to start a book club for boys like him who wanted to see themselves in books. Books ‘n Bros had their first meeting at EyeSeeMe. The club costs $20, and for that, boys of all races can come together once a month, discuss the book they decided on, enjoy snacks, and play video games on the store’s console.

The first meeting was a success according to his mother, teaching him leadership and speaking skills. Ty Allen Jackson, the author of their inaugural book, DANNY DOLLAR MILLIONAIRE EXTRAORDINAIRE joined the boys via Skype. But more importantly, the club continues to grow.

You can find out more about the Books ‘n Bros club at their Instagram page or at their website.

Additional resources: Sidney’s interview on St. Louis Public Radio.


Throwback Thursday: Lamar Giles

March 16, 2017

overturned cover lamar gilesThere is something extremely satisfying about being present at the start of a good thing. The beginning of Lamar Giles‘ career as a critically-acclaimed YA author was that good thing, and we at the The Brown Bookshelf are happy to have been there to celebrate it.

Since our original feature on Giles and his first traditionally published YA novel, Fake ID (HarperCollins, 2014) , Giles has gone on to publish Endangered (HarperCollins, 2015), and the soon to be released Overturned (Scholastic Press, March 28, 2017). Another YA novel with HarperCollins, as yet untitled, is forthcoming. Giles is also a founding member of We Need Diverse Books.

Please enjoy today’s Throwback Thursday spotlight on 28 Days Later honoree, Lamar Giles.


*      *     *


Lamar Giles grew up in a small, riverfront city in Virginia called Hopewell.  It is a diverse community known for its busy ports.  Like most towns in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Hopewell is highly decorated with American history.  Mr. Giles later moved to Chesapeake, Virginia, another city rich with history and natural wonders, where he currently resides with his wife.  

A love for comic book heroes and sci-fi novels started Mr. Giles on his path to publication.  Although his debut, FAKE ID (Harper Collins) is the first book he published through traditional methods, this is not his first novel.  From the blurbs sited on his website, he also has a flair for writing dark fantasy thrillers!

 On this 8th day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to highlight young adult author, Lamar Giles.


 The Journey  

My journey to publication began with a radioactive spider bite. I was drawn to comic books as a child (Spider-man in particular) and would beg my mom to buy them off the convenience store rack even before I fully grasped the English language. As I became a more competent reader, and learned to care about the captions and speech bubbles as much as the four-color action panels, it occurred to me that someone had to decide what happened in the stories each month. To a 6 year old, that seemed like power on par with the Hulk and Superman. Not that I craved power, but I was curious. Could I make up a character? Could I put him in danger and pull him out again? I got my chance a few years later when my elementary school held a Young Author’s Contest.  

I wrote a story called “Giant Dinosaur Inside” about a boy who roots through his breakfast cereal box for the toy at the bottom only to unleash a Godzilla-like reptile on the city. The story took 1st place and my questions were answered. I could make up a character. I could control the danger. I had a superpower. With great power comes great…well, you know. From that point, I felt compelled to tell stories.  

Though comics were my first love, I began to gravitate towards long-form prose when I discovered Stephen King at the wise old age of 11. Specifically, the novel IT, which, if you squint, COULD be considered 50% MG/YA. I started my first novel when I was 14, finished it when I was 17, then decided it was best for me and the world to never show it to anyone. I stand by that decision.  

I spent more than a decade after that writing stories and novels, mostly dark fantasy and horror. There were small successes, many rejections, and an infinite well of doubt. But I never gave up. Spider-man would be proud.



 The Back Story  

I started FAKE ID in early 2009. Before then, I’d been writing stories for adults, and my intent was that FAKE ID would be an adult book, too. However, the story just wasn’t coming together. Around that time, I was reading some really great YA books and I thought about ways to shake up my stalling novel. I decided to change the age and gender of my protagonist, and I ended up with 15 year old Nick Pearson. The change offered fresh perspective and challenges that were really fun. I swear, the book just about wrote itself. I had a clean draft by the end of that year, but a number of setbacks followed. 

Even though seven out of ten agents queried requested my entire manuscript, I ended up with no offers for representation. Back to the drawing board. One agent offered a critical piece of feedback along with her rejection. I altered a major plot point based on her feedback, and queried a small number of agents in Summer 2010. Within two weeks I had an awesome agent, and we were out on submission by Fall of that year. Though FAKE ID received near universal praise from each house and imprint we submitted to, many editors seemed reluctant to take a chance on a “boy book.” One editor’s note even said, “YA thrillers aimed primarily at boys are often dead in the water.”  

After four months of similar reactions from the major publishing houses, I got fed up and decided to experiment with self-publishing, putting some of my adult horror and dark fantasy work out in the world. I had some modest success and, frankly, forgot about FAKE ID. My self-pubbed work got the attention of the GoOnGirl! Book Club, a huge national organization that was holding their annual conference in Washington, D.C. in May 2011. They invited me to come hang out and speak about my work. It was on the train ride to that conference that I received a call from my agent about an incredible offer for FAKE ID from HarperCollins Children’s books. Nine months after going on submission, one of America’s biggest publishers wanted my high school murder mystery. It was exciting and I tell the story that way to make a point. I truly believe part of that offer coming when it did was because I’d decided not to leave my hopes and dreams in the hands of strangers. If no one wanted to publish FAKE ID, I was laying the foundation to publish it myself. I think the universe rewards preparation. 

Not only that, I feel like all those previous rejections were for the best. After all, I didn’t want to be with an editor/publisher who had lukewarm feelings about my work. I’m with a publisher who GETS me. HarperCollins has shown great faith and we’ll be doing at least two more books together. I never thought my work was “dead in the water” and I’m happy to be with a publisher who feels the same.  


The Inspiration 

Well, as I mentioned, there was Stephen King. IT, followed shortly after by THE STAND and THE SHINING. Once that fuse was lit, well, let’s just say I learned to hide my paperbacks in my backpack because I was reading at a level that seemed to frighten my 6th and 7th grade teachers. King wasn’t all I read at that time, though. I had an appreciation for the Charlie books (Chocolate Factory/Great Glass Elevator) by Roald Dahl, probably because I read them like horror stories. There were others, but it was discovering the work of Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes in my late teens that really put me on the path of pursuing a publishing career. Those writers were like me, and wrote the kinds of stories I liked to write. They’ve published two YA zombie novels recently, DEVIL’S WAKE and DOMINO FALLS that really appealed to my sensibilities. Some people find it strange that I now write YA Thrillers when I have such strong ties to darker work, but I don’t see a huge difference. In my thrillers, my heroes still face off against monsters, they’re just human monsters.


 The Buzz 

FAKE ID has received some lovely reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist. And, it’s been selected as a spring pick by the Junior Library Guild. Here’s what folks are saying:


Kirkus: “Fast action, judicious plot twists, and sufficiently evil teens and adults should keep thrill-seeking readers awake long into the night. ”

PW: “This engrossing thriller blends gritty crime storytelling with solid, realistic family drama.”

Booklist: “Conspiracy theorists and thriller fans alike will be guessing right up to the end of this exciting debut.”


For more information on Lamar Giles, his blog, and his books, please visit his website at


Thank you, Mr. Giles, for your contributions to the world of YA novels!

(originally posted by Crystal Allen)

Throwback Thursday: Alice Randall and Caroline Williams

March 9, 2017

We first featured Alice Randall and Caroline Williams in 2013, after the publication of the joint debut middle grade novel, The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess, with illustrations by Shadra Strickland. Kirkus offered high praise: “Sweet, sassy and mystical, this novel deftly melds an old-fashioned story of princess preparation with the modern twist of body image and self-esteem. Young readers will respond to the voice as well as the predicament, while grown-ups will appreciate the values.” The duo went on to publish Soul Food Love, a book that “relates the authors’ fascinating family history (which mirrors that of much of black America in the twentieth century), explores the often fraught relationship African-American women have had with food, and forges a powerful new way forward that honors their cultural and culinary heritage.”

For Throwback Thursday, here’s our 2013 profile.

My daughter was immediately enchanted by The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess, big time. From the moment she saw the luminous cover to her nonstop read of the lyrical, lovely tale, she was hooked. And no wonder. AliceandCarolineCookbookCaseThis mother-daughter team packs a powerhouse punch.

At Vanderbilt University Alice Randall teaches Bedtime in the Briarpatch: African American Children’s Literature. Briarpatch is an intensive examination of African-American children’s literature from the 17th century to the present. In her course and in her writing Randall is concerned with how African-American children’s literature can be used to reflect and challenge the larger society. Some of the books her students read include: Peeny Butter Fudge, by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison, Please, Baby, Please, by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lewis, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, by Kadir Nelson; Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt, by Patricia McKissack; Zeely, The House of Dies Drear, and M.C. Higgins, the Great all by Virginia Hamilton, Monster and All the Right Stuff, both by Walter Dean Myers;
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor, The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 , by Christopher Paul Curtis, Tar Beach Faith Ringgold, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou and Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Caroline Randall Williams is the great-grand daughter of the man many consider to be the father of African-American children’s literature, Arna Bontemps. Like Bontemps, Williams is poet and a children’s author.

Many thanks to both for their wonderful and wise words (and a fabulous bit of history below!):

    A Gift To You

“First, we want to wish all the readers out there a very, very happy Valentine’s Day and an inspiring Black History Month. Because it is Valentine’s week and Black History month we have a cyber Valentine for you made possible by the Library of Congress—a link that will allow you to peruse one of the great treasure troves of Black Kid Lit—The Brownies Book.

Edited by W.E.B. DuBois and Jesse Redmon Fauset , The Brownies’ Book was a
“Monthly Magazine for the Children of the Sun.”According to the cover The Brownies’ Book was “designed for all children but especially for ours. “ We love the Brownies’ book. And we think you’ll love it too. What reader of the Brown Bookshelf wouldn’t love a magazine that states on its cover that “it aims to be a thing of Joy and Beauty, dealing in Happiness, Laughter and Emulation, and designed especially for Kiddies from Six to Sixteen.”

There’s poetry, and short stories, there’s history, and letters. And there are wonderful photographs and drawings. Page after page of brilliance by and for African-American children. Elegant and amusing The Brownie’s Book was a kind New Yorker for children.”

    The Journey

Our journey to publishing was a bit circuitous. Though we have a big New York agent for this book, Conrad Rippy, we ultimately chose to publish with a distinguished independent publisher, Turner Books located in our hometown, Nashville.

    The Inspiration

Working on the creation of a Black Fairytale Princess, B. B. Bright, we were very, very inspired by The Brownies’ Book which was only published for a year or two starting about January 1920. The Brownies’ Book celebrates the writing of Black children by publishing their letters. That was part of our inspiration to narrate our novel in the forms of letters written into a diary. The Brownies’ Book assumed that the child reader was sophisticated and curious and recognized that adults often peer over the shoulder of the children reading in the house. Like The Brownies’ Book our novel is written for children, and for folks who once were children. Other writers who have influenced us significantly that we love include Virginia Hamilton and Patricia McKissack. Both of these writers bring beauty and grace to the page—are willing to summon a kind of archetypical elegance—and they always tell a good story in a voice that is at once feminine and universal. That’s hard. But they do it and do it well. Creating a girl’s voice that boys would listen to was something we were seeking to do. But we were most strongly committed to writing to empower girls to be their full authentic selves and to know when they are being fully and finally themselves—they are royal. No matter who their parents are or what the situation into which they are born or live.

    The Back Story

This story began in a doctor’s office over twenty years ago. Caroline got bored and Alice started telling her a story—about a fairytale princess that looked like young Caroline with beautiful brown skin and brown eyes. Immediately Caroline started changing and adding to the story. Twenty years later we had a book—and a contract for seven more.

    The Buzz

We were so excited that The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess was nominated for a NAACP Image Award; that was a big honor. Making it better we got to sit next to a hero of ours, Christopher Paul Curtis (The Watson’s Go to Birmingham) at the awards! We were also excited that The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess was nominated for a Cybils Award in MG Fantasy. We’re even more excited that there’s been some talk of turning The Diary of B.B. Bright Possible Princess into a movie. We’ve begun talks with an Oscar nominated producer about optioning the rights.

    The State of the Industry

It has always been hard to get African American children’s books published and hard to get the word out about them once they are published. There are precious few of us working as agents booksellers, editors, publishers, or publicists. And precious few writing and illustrating. But our children read. There is a growing audience that gets larger by the day. Children are profoundly influenced by the books they read and don’t read. This keeps us writing, to close gaps. There are still far too many aspects of ourselves not reflected on published pages.

We take heart from our history from knowing what our foremothers and forefathers endured to get published and read. The history of African American Children’s literature (something Alice teaches at Vanderbilt) is a history of writers who manage to triumph over obstacles and land in homes and schools, and set up residence in the hearts and heads of children of color.

Many thanks for your amazing work!

Visit Alice Randall online at her Web site.