Day 21: Shannon Gibney

February 21, 2016

shannongibneyShannon Gibney was adopted as an infant in 1975, and grew up in a multiracial family. From her bio: “When she was 15, her father gave her James Baldwin’s Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, a book that changed her life and made her see the possibilities of the written word. The novel took a long, difficult look at relations between Blacks and Whites, the poor and the rich, gay and straight people, and fused searing honesty with metaphorical beauty. After this experience, Shannon knew that she needed to read everything Baldwin had ever written, and also that she wanted to emulate his strategy of telling the most dangerous, and therefore liberating kind of truth, through writing.” Gibney’s debut YA novel, SEE NO COLOR, was called “an exceptionally accomplished debut” by Kirkus, and School Library Journal points out that “without lecturing readers, Gibney clearly elucidates many issues particular to transracial adoption and biracial identity while also making this a universal story about the need for acceptance.” We are proud to welcome Shannon Gibney to The Brown Bookshelf today.

The Journey/The Back Story

As long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer. I think this is because I have also been an avid reader as long as I can remember. The imagination – mine and that of other writers – has consistently been a refuge and a beacon for me throughout my life, providing a space for me to engage people and questions that would otherwise be absent: How do you protect your children under the tyranny of slavery (Toni Morrison’s Beloved)? What does it mean to survive a civil war (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun)? And who do you turn to if, as a teenager, you are sent to a country you have not lived in since you were a child (the conundrum the protagonist in my new YA novel must confront)?

I started “writing books” when I was in the second grade – pieces of construction paper or cardboard with lined paper inside, in which sibling sleuths solved crimes, or went camping, or visited other worlds. Though the books with my name on them today may look a little different than these early, rather crude objects, their essence remains the same: They are a series of questions I am asking about whatever might be most important to me at the time, and asking the reader to co-create meaning in this endeavor, and perhaps to even attempt to answer them.
My journey to publication was circuitous at best. I tried not to get frustrated by not focusing so much on the publication of a book per se, and more on keeping up my writing habit and developing my craft. I write across genre, and also have multiple projects going at once, so that was where I tried to put my energy when an agent dropped me, a small publishing house folded, or I received yet another rejection. You go back to the reason why you started writing in the first place, and if you are honest, it is not because you were trying to get published.

But a few years ago, Betty Tisel and Swati Avasthi introduced me to Andrew Karre, an exceptional editor who was at that time heading up Lerner’s Carolrhoda Lab imprint (he has since moved to Penguin). He was actively looking for strong manuscripts from writers of color, so I sent him my draft, he loved it, and I signed on. It was so magical to work with someone who gets what you’re trying to do, and at the same time has a real affinity for your work. I felt like my YA novel See No Color got so much stronger: tighter and more layered. Since it has been out in the world, it has been wonderful to engage with folks around it. The book is about a mixed black transracial adoptee searching out her identity, so a lot of adoptees have really responded to seeing themselves represented on the page in a complex, nuanced way. Not to mention family members, friends, and community who can see the power in representation. So that has been particularly moving for me.

The Inspiration

As a person who exists at the intersection of identities, I find myself drawn to those who occupy similar spaces. So, a lot of my work explores the journeys of folks whose lives involve constant negotiation: racially, culturally, or otherwise. In this way, my own experiences are reflected in my work, but the experiences of those I’m close to also find their way in.

Of course, writing from the African diaspora, and the African American canon in particular have been a constant source of inspiration for me. It’s hard to pick just one, but James Baldwin has been my favorite writer since I was 16, with Toni Morrison coming in a close second. Other folks who remain important to me include Paule Marshall, Edouard Glissant, Aime Cesaire, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Claudia Rankine, Sadiya Hartman, Richard Wright, Octavia Butler, Ralph Ellison, Walter Mosley, and many, many others. It’s so gratifying to know that you are just another link in a long, long chain – however small, however nondescript, however strong. That is the Black literary tradition.

Day 20: Cheryl Willis Hudson

February 20, 2016

Cheryl Willis Hudson

The Brown Bookshelf is honored to present Cheryl Willis Hudson to our readers. Not only is she an author, she is also a executive in a publishing company she built with her husband. You will be inspired and uplifted by her amazing story of dedication and passion for African American children’s literature.

The Journey
My path in publishing has been one that emerged from my adventures as a grade school doodler and teacher’s helper to that of professional children’s book publisher. As a child, I loved doing book reports where I could embellish book summaries by adding my own drawings, speech balloons and illustrated book jackets. I also helped my mom, who was a teacher, create bulletin boards and posters and correct her students’ homework. I loved making my own greeting cards for friends, cutting and pasting photographs in scrapbooks, reading poetry and nonfiction and doing things with my hands, so finding a career in publishing—specifically children’s book publishing, was a natural progression for me.

I’m basically self-taught. My first job was art-editor trainee at a textbook company. The discipline and structure I experienced through that job actually helped me find my own creative voice and express my own vision of what books for children should be. I had a lot of help along the way in terms of personal mentors and some formal classes in typography, graphic design, printmaking and life drawing, and I advanced in my career via a series of jobs in textbook publishing, encyclopedia publishing, trade book packaging and an extended stint as a freelance designer. Years of working in the industry equipped me with the skills to recognize talents in others and to merge them through creative editorial and design direction. Doodling and storyboarding via thumbnails helped to visualize concepts and stories in picture book form for young readers.

The Inspiration

JUB Name Plates...JAMALA powerful awareness of what was missing in books was the impetus for Just Us Books, the publishing company my husband Wade and I started together. When we were unsuccessful and frustrated by not getting our African-American centered stories accepted by major commercial publishers, we had an epiphany. Why not publish the work ourselves? We had voice, a vision, skills and a little bit of savings. I had done dozens of line drawings of African-American kids spelling out their names by bending their bodies in the shapes of letters. We had already made t-shirts and posters featuring these drawings and sold hundreds of them to parents and daycare centers. So in 1987, we took a leap of faith, and self-published my doodle-inspired AFRO-BETS ABC Book. This was followed by AFRO-BETS 123 Book and Book of Black Heroes from A to Z. The rest is history!

Kaylan & stephan_afro-bets kids_1985.crop or 1986
AFRO-BETS-Kids---ABC-Book__08883_1304903543_1280_500Wade and I came of age during the volatile and fertile period of the 60s and 70s. Many of our friends were writers and artists and musicians. During our college years in the late 60s, the Black Arts movement informed our perspective of literature. I met Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal and was inspired by their work as writers and critics. I listened to the poetry of Sonia Sanchez and Haki Madhubuti and was inspired by his cultural work and collaborative publishing via Third World Press with Pulitzer-prize winning poet, Gwendolyn Brooks. Wade had worked in SCLC and SNCC with southern voter registration drives and had written plays performed by Black theaters. He had worked as a sports writer during his college years. During the late 60s activist-scholar Barbara Smith and I forged a decades-long friendship through our love of books. When she co-founded Kitchen Table Press, it was a validation that we could do it too.

During the summer of 1970, I connected with a few other Black women via the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Program. That fall, in my first job as a novice art editor, in Boston I met Jerry Pinkney, whose incredible illustrations absolutely floored me. Soon after, Wade and I met in Cambridge, we began to collaborate on children’s story ideas where I designed graphics for poems and stories that Wade wrote. In New York, I took a class with Bank Street educator, Beryl Banfield, a member of the Council on Interracial Books for Children who was looking critically at the lack of diversity in textbooks and actively seeking Black writers to author authentic stories for and about Black children.

By 1976, Caldecott illustrator Tom Feelings, Coretta Scott King Award Illustrator George Ford, Watoto_1Golden Books editor Bernette Goldsen Ford and others were great influences through their organization, Black Creators for Children. When I joined them, they had established and printed issues of WATOTO, a newsletter for children and had established guidelines/criteria for art and articles by African-American book creators who were just starting to be published by a few commercial presses. At the same time, through another professional organization, Black Women in Publishing, I connected with other peers who were attempting similar goals.

Ebony Jr!_1976_6a32b8c672342266a52526914baf8094 copySeveral of my poems, stories and doodles were published by EBONY JR! Magazine and Wee Wisdom Magazine during the late 70s and this kind of encouragement fueled my desire to have more of my work published in trade book form for a larger audience.

As a new parent, I loved the work of Virginia Hamilton (Zeely was profound), Eloise Greenfield (Honey I Love), Lucille Clifton (Everett Anderson), Tom Feelings (Jambo Means Hello and Mojo Means One), Walter Dean Myers (Fast Clyde, Cool Sam and Stuff), Leo and Diane Dillon (Ashanti to Zulu), John Steptoe (Stevie) and of course, Langston Hughes (The Big Sea). There just wasn’t enough of it! There needed to be much, much more!

Moving from “Inspiration” to “Mission”
The birth of our children, Katura and Stephan fueled our desire to create and produce more books with positive Black children at their core. We wanted vibrant, stories for them that we had never had when we were children. Wade and I realized that in our work we had embraced the philosophy of Black newspaper editors John Russworm and Samuel Cornish who in the inaugural 1827 issue of Freedom’s Journal stated:

“We wish to plead our own cause…Too long have others spoken for us, too long has the publick been deceived by misrepresentations, in the things that concern us dearly….”
When we established Just Us Books in 1988, we made it our policy to hire Black authors and illustrators and editors and designers. We did this to establish a solid, unified, authentic voice and vision. The philosophy of our personal work extended into a corporate mission similar to the creators of The Brownies Book, which was published during the Harlem Renaissance, over 60 years before.

early counting graphic design

Early conceptual graphic for a counting book.

While we published a number of other individual authors and illustrators, Wade and I collaborated on a few titles as editors, including Kids Book of Wisdom and an anthology, In Praise of Our Fathers and Our Mothers, a tribute to the many Black authors and illustrators whose work we respected and admired. This volume was truly a labor of love and it fulfilled a continuing mission of showcasing wonderful work of African-American book creators all in one volume.

EPSON scanner Image

Being a Black Creator for Children
Although I’ve written over two dozen books for children that have been published over the past 30 years, some of my personal creative work has necessarily taken second place to the business of publishing other authors’ works via Just Us Books and later Marimba Books, our multicultural, sister imprint. Dual roles as “Author” and “Creative Director/Publisher” sometimes do battle and fight for attention with one another. As “Author” most of my stories are simply slices of Black life—realistic depictions of children simply going about their daily activities, at school, during play time, or just day dreaming. Some stories have been published by Just Us Books and Marimba Books, which we founded with our children Katura and Stephan, but Wade and I have also partnered with larger publishing companies such as Scholastic and Zondervan/HarperCollins to package other projects.

Perhaps my most popular book is Bright Eyes, Brown Skin, a collaboration between myself, Bernette G. Ford and her husband, George Ford, who illustrated the text. This book was published in 1991, but it has become a favorite read aloud book and one of Just Us Books’ best sellers.

Bright-Eyes-Brown-Skin__61941_1304420290_1280_500Pre-School visit with CWH_Little Rock 2014
Hands Can, published by Candlewick Press and illustrated with photos by John-Francis Bourke, is also very popular with pre-schoolers. My most recent book, Songs I Love to Sing, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is the fourth title in the “I Love to…” series, which Wade and I created and via a joint venture with our children Katura and Stephan via Marimba Books. My Friend Maya Loves to Dance, published in 2010 by Abrams and illustrated by Eric Velasquez, continues to gain larger and larger audiences of readers who love seeing expressions of that art form.

Pages from COVER_Songs I love To Sing (INGRASPARK)_no cropshands can do all kinds
One of my personal favorites is the text I wrote for Construction Zone, because it is nonfiction—a departure from my normal work. It involved quite a bit of research (which I loved) and required a tremendous focus to create a storyline from hundreds and hundreds of images taken by award-winning photographer, Richard Sobol. Distilling simple and informational text from a complex subject into picture book form was a real challenge!

As “Creative Director/Publisher” my role is to nurture talent and guide that talent through the publication process, ultimately helping to inspire, engage and empower young readers through final published books.

construction zone workers







So going full circle, my “doodler” self continues to inform and have conversations with my “director” self and vice versa. I continue to enjoy the process of putting words and pictures together and seeing the creative process emerge in a final concrete product. During recent years, I have been making art and telling stories via my new passion, quilt-making. In the future, I would love to create a book for children using quilts as the illustrations. So I have started translating some of my doodles into larger fabric based story quilts.

sketch_get on board lil children

Vernacular - Quilts






The State of the Industry


Although there has been some good progress during the 45 plus years I’ve worked in publishing and the almost 30 years of Just Us Books’ existence, there is still so much work to do. (See statistics on diversity in publishing from CCBC in Madison, WI) Just Us Books is one of the few Black-owned and operated publishing companies publishing for children. We need more independent presses like Just Us Books, Lee and Low and Cinco Puntos Press — that prioritize diversity and inclusion. Larger commercial houses can do a much better job acquiring and publishing works by people of color. They can do a much better job hiring diverse staff on the editorial and creative sides, but also in marketing and sales and in all areas of the business including distribution. Reviewers, journals, bloggers, scholars, schools, libraries, literacy organizations, book fairs and educators also need to be more inclusive and expansive.


I am encouraged by the recent attention “We Need Diverse Books” has focused on the important work that we all need to do. Authors like Zetta Elliott have added greatly to the canon and conversation concerning equity. Book fair organizers such as Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati and her African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia have successfully demonstrated and addressed the need and hunger parents and children have for books that are not readily available in many bookstores. Librarian-educators like Debbie Reese have been diligent in lifting up authentic American Indian stories and dispelling “historical” lies and stereotypes about Native American history. “Reading While White” bloggers have engaged audiences in a paradigm shift. Individual authors and illustrators consistently present their work to audiences of children and young adults who are affirmed by seeing themselves reflected in the literature. Just Us Books, in cooperation with other authors, educators and librarians have created lists of outstanding multicultural books that often are missed on the radar of traditional “best books lists.” (see Multicultural Gems of 2015 and Multicultural Books to Make Your Season Bright) and Wade and I always advocate for inclusion and diversity whenever we speak at schools, libraries and literary conferences. And of course, The Brown Bookshelf has brought tremendous awareness to readers and the industry about the wealth of talented contemporary Black book creators working today.
All children have a right to see themselves positively reflected in children’s literature—in all their diversity—free from harmful stereotypes and marginalization. This is not a new concept but one that needs to be recognized and actualized.

My hope is that authors, illustrators, book creators and members of the children’s book community will find more collaborative ways of supporting each other and create alternate avenues for publishing diverse stories and voices that need to be heard.


Contact information for Cheryl Willis Hudson

Just Us Books

Just Us Books Facebook

Cheryl Willis Hudson’s website


Day 19: Lynda Blackmon Lowery

February 19, 2016
Lynda Blackmon Lowery2014©Robin Cooper

Photo Credit: Robin Cooper


On March 7, 1965, hundreds gathered at Selma’s Brown Chapel A.M.E. to push for voting rights and protest the state trooper killing of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson. They united for a days-long march to Montgomery, Alabama. But at the end of Selma’s Edmund Pettus bridge, they faced terror and violence. A wall of troopers, deputies and others rained blows on the peaceful marchers and flooded them with tear gas. That horrific day was called Bloody Sunday. Lynda Blackmon Lowery was the youngest person there. Her memoir, Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March (Dial, 2015), is her testimony.

The oldest of four children, Lowery grew up in a loving, close-knit black community where everyone helped and looked out for each other. But though she felt safe at George Washington Carver Homes, the ugliness of racism was all around her hometown of Selma. “When my mother died,” she recounts in the book, “I heard the older people say, ‘If she wasn’t colored, she could have been saved.’ But the hospital was for whites only. My mother died as a result of her skin color. I just believe that.” Lowery was just seven years old.

Raised by her father and grandmother, she heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak at church. His impassioned speech for voting rights called Lowery to devote herself to fighting nonviolently for the cause. Before her indelible 15th turning15birthday, Lowery had been jailed nine times.

Her powerful story, as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley and illustrated by PJ Loughran, shows how young people stood up for what they believed, faced brutality and daily injustices and made a difference by putting their lives on the line. It presents living history on the page. Winning starred reviews, numerous best book accolades and the 2016 Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book Award, Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom gives an incredible window into a  pivotal historical event and shows kids that they can be heroes too. We are proud to feature Lynda Blackmon Lowery as our honoree for Day 19.

The Buzz About Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom:

“Vivid details and the immediacy of Lowery’s voice make this a valuable primary document as well as a pleasure to read.” —Kirkus, starred review

“One of those rare books that is genuinely accessible to a brad audience.” —BCCB, starred review

“This inspiring personal story illuminates pivotal events in America’s history.”—Booklist, starred review



Day 18: Tom Feelings

February 18, 2016

tomfeelings[1]As a child, Tom Feelings’ aunt, a soldier of the 1960s Black Arts Movement, supplied him with a steady stream of books written by Black authors that featured characters that looked like him. The hope was that these books would end her nephew’s fixation with Christopher Robin (of Winnie The Pooh), and other white characters in all of the books he loved. She wanted Feelings to see positive images of Black people. She wanted him to love himself. In studying Feeling’s work as an adult, it quickly becomes apparent that his aunt’s plan worked.

fca74ac702ec2ebd5a44371367732b16[1]Feelings was born in Brooklyn, NY, and studied at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York and later at the School of Visual Arts. While there, he noticed that all of the artists being studied in school, the so-called great masters, were white. Feelings asked his professor why. He was told that African art was seen as “primitive.” Feelings refused to accept this notion and set out to create wonderful art that celebrated and revered the African experience.

In 1961, Feelings traveled to the south, where he drew pictures of the people of Black rural communities. Then in 1964, he traveled abroad, to Ghana, where he taught illustration and studied the people and culture there. Inspired and exalted, he returned to the states with a new life mission: He would create books with positive images for Black children.

As an author and illustrator,  Feelings was best known for his book ”The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo,” which, using no words pictures only, told the story of the long and horrific journey that bought Africans to the Americas and enslaved them. The book published to high praise winning a Coretta Scott King Award and special commendation at the 1996 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award ceremony.

A short sampling of his awards include a Newbery Honor, 1969, for To Be a Slave. It was Moja-Means-One-Feelings-Muriel-L-9780808525103[1]also an ALA Notable Book, the School Library Journals Best Book of the Year, and the Smithsonian Best Book of the Year. It was given a 1970 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

In 1972, Feelings was the recipient of a Caldecott Honor for Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book; and in  1974 he received a  Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for his picture book Jambo Means Hello: A Swahili Alphabet Book, also a 1975 Caldecott Medal Honor recipient.

In a 1985 interview with Horn Book Magazine, Tom Feelings (1933-2003),  described his work by saying:  “I bring to my work a quality which is rooted in the culture of Africa and expanded by the experience of being black in America.” Feelings was a trailblazing artist, cartoonist, children’s book illustrator, author, teacher, and activist, whose work epitomized the “black is beautiful” cultural movement.

Selected books:

(Illustrator) Bola and the Oba’s Drummers, McGraw , 1967.9780142403860_p0_v1_s260x420[1]

(Illustrator) To Be A Slave, Dial, 1968.

(Illustrator) Zamani Goes to Market, Seabury, 1970.

(Illustrator) Jam bo Means Hello, Dial, 1971.

Black Pilgrimage, Lothrop, 1972.

(Illustrator) Moja Means One: A Swahili Counting Book, Dial, 1974.

(Illustrator) Something on My Mind, Dial, 1978.

(Illustrator) Daydreamers, Dial, 1981.

(Illustrator) Now Sheba Sings the Song, Dial, 1987.

Tommy Traveler in the World of Negro History, Black Butterfly Books, 1991.

Soul Looks Back in Wonder , Dial, 1993.

The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo, Dial , 1995.
















Feelings in his own words:

“When I am asked what kind of work I do, my answer is that I am a storyteller, in picture form, who tries to reflect and interpret the lives and experiences of the people that gave me life. When I am asked who I am, I say, I am an African who was born in America. Both answers connect me specifically with my past and present … therefore I bring to my art a quality which is rooted in the culture of Africa … and expanded by the experience of being in America. I use the vehicle of ‘fine art’ and ‘illustration’ as a viable expression of form, yet striving always to do this from an African perspective, an African world view, and above all to tell the African story … this is my content. The struggle to create artwork as well as to live creatively under any conditions and survive (like my ancestors), embodies my particular heritage in America.”

“I feel blessed to work on something that I love doing, that is central to my life, but that serves a collective purpose. I can’t think of anything more important than that…. That you can reach other people with it, connect with it? That just turns me on!”

Day 17: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

February 17, 2016


In 2012, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson won a Coretta Scott King Author Honor award for No Crystal Stair (Carolrhoda, 2012), a young adult “documentary novel” based on the life and work of her great-uncle and Harlem bookseller, Lewis H. Michaux. In The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore (Carolrhoda, 2015), Nelson introduces a younger audience to the owner of the historic National Memorial African Bookstore. The story is told from the perspective of his son, Lewis Michaux, Jr., and emphasizes his father’s role as a literacy pioneer in the civil rights movement–one who established a refuge and creative think-space for other activists, scholars, and anyone interested in literature by or about people of the African diaspora. Michaux’s bookstore held over 200,000 such titles, making it the largest “black bookstore” in the country at the time.


book itch


The Book Itch is a 2016 CSK Illustrator Honor book. A description from the publisher reads:

“In the 1930s, Lewis’s dad, Lewis Michaux Sr., had an itch he needed to scratch—a book itch. How to scratch it? He started a bookstore in Harlem and named it the National Memorial African Bookstore.

And as far as Lewis Michaux Jr. could tell, his father’s bookstore was one of a kind. People from all over came to visit the store, even famous people—Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Langston Hughes, to name a few. In his father’s bookstore people bought and read books, and they also learned from each other. People swapped and traded ideas and talked about how things could change. They came together here all because of his father’s book itch. Read the story of how Lewis Michaux Sr. and his bookstore fostered new ideas and helped people stand up for what they believed in.”

Nelson’s three other CSK Award-winning books are: Almost to Freedom, Bad News for Outlaws, and No Crystal Stair. We are pleased to spotlight Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and her latest award-winner, The Book Itchon day 17 of 28 Days Later.


Buzz on The Book Itch:

“A man with a mission leaves a memorable mark in Harlem.

The National Memorial African Bookstore and its owner, Lewis Michaux, were vibrant Harlem fixtures for many years. Nelson, who told her great-uncle’s story for teen readers in the award-winning No Crystal Stair, also illustrated by Christie (2012), now turns to the voice of Michaux’s son as narrator in this version for a younger audience. The son is an enthusiastic and proud witness to history as he talks about visits to the bookstore by Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Michaux’s commitments to reading, knowledge, and African-American history shine brightly through the liberal use of boldface and large type for his pithy and wise sayings, as in “Knowledge is power. You need it every hour. READ A BOOK!” Christie’s richly textured and complex paintings, created with broad strokes of color, showcase full bookcases and avid readers. His use of a billboard motif to frame both scenes and text evokes a troubled but strong neighborhood. Faces in browns and grays are set against yellow and orange backgrounds and depict intense emotions in both famous and ordinary folk. The Michaux family’s deeply felt sorrow at the assassination of Malcolm X will resonate with all readers.

From the author’s heart to America’s readers: a tribute to a man who believed in and lived black pride.”Kirkus, Starred Review

“Taking an imaginative leap into the past, Nelson describes the role of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem, which opened in the 1930s and became a place where all kinds of people came to read, talk, and buy books about African American history. Told from the point of view of Lewis Michaux Jr.—the bookstore owner’s son and the author’s relative—this title clearly explains what made this bookstore unique. Lewis Michaux Sr. had a passion for sharing books with others, which was reflected in his words “Knowledge is power./You need it every hour./READ A BOOK!” He welcomed his customers and allowed them to stay as long as they wanted to and made a platform available outside the store so that people could speak their minds; among the speakers were Malcolm X and Michaux himself. Christie’s bold, colorful paintings help readers envision this landmark bookstore and the surrounding neighborhood. Back matter includes additional information about Lewis Michaux Sr. and an author’s note in which Nelson describes her interest in the subject, the sources she used for her research, and her use of perspective. Nelson and Christie’s Coretta Scott King Honor No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller (Carolrhoda, 2012) is aimed at older readers; this picture book explores Michaux for a slightly younger audience. VERDICT A strong endorsement of the power of books and reading, an excellent choice for history and biography collections, and a strong choice for educators emphasizing the importance of community.”School Library Journal



Day 15: Sharee Miller

February 15, 2016

Here at The Brown Bookshelf, it’s a special treat to share the work of those who make their mark in both the traditional and independent publishing worlds. This year we’re delighted to shine a light on Sharee Miller’s work. Her vibrant, colorful style is immediately eye-catching, and the joyfulness in her work is contagious. Welcome to The Brown Bookshelf, Sharee! We’re glad to have you.Sharee
The Journey

I began drawing and writing in elementary school. I had so many stories I wanted to share, so much to the point that before I could even write I would give my mom a pen and paper and dictate my stories to her. I took every art class available to a young girl in St. Thomas and though I got older I always loved illustrated stories. This took the form of comic books I created while in Jr. High, but in High school I was drawn back to my first love, picture books.

When it came time to decide what I would study in college illustration was an easy fit. Then when I found out Pratt Institute had picture book courses; they seemed like an easy fit as well. I studied with published illustrators and I learned so much about the publishing industry. From there I joined SCBWI and began going to conferences and panels to learn as much as I could about the picture book world. cov


After college I began designing kids t-shirt graphics, but my passion was still telling stories. To fuel my creativity outside of work I created a blog where I created natural hair illustrations geared toward young girls. I also wrote, illustrated and self published two books: Nighttime Routine and Princess Hair. These books as well as the blog were made to inspire black girls to love and care for their natural hair. I feel that representation is very important based on my own experiences and created most of my illustrations with this in mind.

I aim to show the world with the diversity it actually has, filling the void of inspiring black characters that I longed for as a child.

Through my agent I was able to get the attention of Quvenzhané Wallis (a very talented young woman) and I am currently illustrating her chapter book trilogy which will be published by Simon and Schuster, the first of which is scheduled to come out in Spring 2017. The main character is a talented young black girl who I feel many young girls will relate to, and I hope my work in this series helps girls see themselves in the protagonist. It continues to be an exciting journey and I look forward to new opportunities to get my work out there for all eyes to see.

The Inspiration

I love picture books so I own a lot but I do have a few favorites. Sophie Blackall is one I have followed since we went to visit her once for a class trip to the Pencil Factory, a shared art space in Brooklyn. Sophie has illustrated and written many wonderful books. Another favorite is Scott Campbell writer and illustrator of Zombie in Love which is one of my favorites. I also love Scott’s lost showdown series. And my favorite duo is Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri. I love the creative and fresh stories they tell together.
The Back Story

I began with self publishing through Amazon which is a great and easy tool for anyone to use. There is no need to deal with storing books because they are print to order and they have easy to follow templates.

Through an SCBWI agents’ panel I was able to sign with Shannon Associates who got me my first traditional publishing job with Simon and Schuster.

The Buzz

Princess Hair has been featured on Little black books giveaway and my books were also reviewed by YouTuber Jenell B Stewart:

The State of the Industry

I like that there is a focus on diversity in the industry right now. I hope this is a good sign of things to come. Representation has been lacking for a long time and children of color have been waiting for too long to see themselves in everyday stories. We don’t only exist in fables. We have experiences that should be represented.
Check out Sharee Miller and her work online.

Also at Coily and Cute.

On Instagram.
Her blog.

Thank you so much, Sharee — and congratulations! We can’t wait to hear and see what’s next.

Day 14: Dr. Lorenzo Pace

February 14, 2016
Photo by Cindy Reiman

Photo by Cindy Reiman

Renowned artist and storyteller, Dr. Lorenzo Pace created a series of poignant picture books – the African American Quartet –  that pay homage to black history and the power of the human spirit. Pace’s debut, Jalani and the Lock (Rosen), was inspired by the lock that bound his enslaved great-great grandfather and was handed down to him. The three others –  Marching With Martin, Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilts and Frederick Douglass and the North Star – explore the lives of these pivotal historic figures Dr. Pace, whose monument Triumph of the Human Spirit in New York City’s Foley Square honors the enslaved Africans originally buried there, uses words and mixed media artwork in his children’s books to bring to life stories from the past.

We are proud to celebrate Dr. Lorenzo Pace on Day 14.

Journey to Publishing

It began with a lock. A cold, hard, more than 150-year-old iron lock. A legacy of man’s inhumanity to man. When my father passed away in Birmingham, Alabama in 1991, I left New York and went South to bury him. My Uncle Julius shocked me and the rest of my family by giving me a lock that had shackled my great-great grandfather Steve Pace in chains. Steve Pace had passed down the lock to other Pace men. I accepted the lock but really didn’t want it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I put it in my closet in Brooklyn.

Not long after that, my daughter, who was about 8, came home and said, “Daddy, kids are making fun of me because of my hair, my nose, and my lips.” I asked why. She said they told her it was because she was from slaves. I said, “Wow, baby. You don’t have to be ashamed of your looks.” I told her she came from beautiful people, strong, creative, and resourceful people.

Our conversation inspired me to explore the lock. The lock was calling out, “Hey, come deal with lockbookme.” So I explored the lock and my great-great-grandfather’s story. Turns out, after emancipation, Steve Pace purchased more than 500 acres of land and shared it with his family. His third eldest son was in the first class at the Tuskegee Institute. He was a minster and the church he founded still exists and will soon be on the National Register of Historic Places. Soon, I found myself writing Jalani and the Lock, to explain to my daughter and other children our history and the triumphs that are the essence of it.

I finished writing and illustrating and shopped for a publisher for five long years. One day a buddy in Chicago referred me to Rosen Publishing. I met with the publisher. He loved the content. He loved the illustrations. He agreed to publish it. It came out in 2000.

I’ve traveled the world with Jalani and the Lock and the book has been translated into Spanish, French, and Dutch. Last year, Jalani and the Lock was re-printed as part of a series I wrote and illustrated called the African American Quartet. The Quartet includes: Marching with Martin, Frederick Douglass and the North Star, and Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilts. The Quartet came about after the publisher and I began talking about ways to build on Jalani’s story and bring it into the 21st century.

Art from Marching with Martin

Art from Marching with Martin

All of the books relate to my personal experiences. I marched with Dr. King in Chicago when I was a teenager. I grew up seeing Frederick Douglass on my grade school walls. I grew up hearing about Harriet Tubman from my grandmother. She and my mom were quilters. I learned that quilts sometimes had anti-slavery sayings woven into them, and there is a legend that the enslaved put Underground Railroad symbols and routes in their quilts. There’s also an Underground Railroad station in my Brooklyn, NY neighborhood. For all these reasons, I wove photos of my family’s quilts into the book’s illustrations.


The inspiration for my books has come first from my personal history. It occurred to me that if these stories are in my family, they’re probably in most African American families. I’m inspired by John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. I listen to them as I write and create. They are such innovators, constantly bringing out new ways of thinking in their music. They make we want to go to a higher plane as an artist. Alex Haley inspires me because of his groundbreaking research on our history. He made me want to dig deeper and deeper. The artist and author Faith Ringgold also inspires me. I love Maya Angelou’s books, period. Her gift for playing with language is second-to-none. There are so many great writers, but those who tell our stories –new stories, uplifting stories –inspire me most. I’ve also gotten motivated by the books of Caroline Brewer. She’s been under the radar because of her focus on literacy, but is about to come into greater recognition. She has some very intense and motivational books on the African American experience, like a fun but educational picture book on President Obama’s 2008 election, Barack Obama: A Hip Hop Tale of King’s Dream Come True. And the next book, a middle grade novel, is intense, fun, and motivational, too.


I just go. If I have a character or concept, I just begin to feel the energy that goes into how to tell a

Art from Marching with Martin

Art from Marching with Martin

complete a story and how to illustrate it. I go out and get all kinds of materials that I think can help. I go to the art store. I look for materials in the street, in my environment, and just go.

I’ve illustrated my Quartet books using mixed media and collage. I will use an old dress from a thrift store with a particular pattern or color, beads, paper sacks, kente cloth, animal print, newspaper print. I also use acrylic paint, watercolors, colored pencils, markers, glitter, whatever makes a page pop. I let everything around me speak to me and then I put the pieces together.

The most important thing that I do as I work is have fun. I also know I can get kids on color. They love color and so do I. I approach my art in the same way I approach living: be sure to have some fun and add lots of color.

The Buzz

tubmanpacePublisher’s Weekly called the first edition of Jalani and the Lock “a stunning debut.” NBC News cited Harriet Tubman as one of the top 14 books to read in February 2015. The School Library Journal met me at my Brooklyn studio last year to do a piece on the art I created for the books. Booklist offered these words below about the new quartet.

“Perhaps the most personal entry in celebrated sculptor Pace’s ambitious African

American Quartet is this first-person remembrance of what Martin Luther King Jr. meant to Pace while growing up in Alabama and Chicago. The design of the book, and indeed the entire quartet, features two-page spreads of wild, almost Basquiat-like art incorporating paint, jewelry, paper, plastics, and anything else that captures Pace’s fancy. On the left-hand page goes the prose, which, though simple, is packed with restrained emotion: “Many years ago, in 1949, to be exact, when I was a little boy in Alabama, I saw signs that I did not understand.”

State of the Industry

Walter Dean Myers and Chris Myers said it best in their New York Times pieces a couple of years ago. The publishing industry is not doing enough to reflect the rich and deep and vibrant diversity of this country. There are so many children who need to see themselves in books. Books are game-changers. And yet, authors of color can’t depend on the industry to do it all. The efforts of sites like are critical to helping put the spotlight on authors and illustrators of color. Whatever we can do to support one another makes us more powerful.

Find out more about Dr. Lorenzo Pace here.



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