The Brown Bookshelf at ALA

June 21, 2016

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

Here’s a schedule of our events:

Friday, June 24

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

Saturday, June 25

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 26

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

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

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

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



Expanding Our Family: New BBS Members

May 17, 2016

We’re thrilled to share that our family has grown. Please join us in welcoming two stand-outs in the kidlit world to our Brown Bookshelf team – author and editor Tracey Baptiste and author/illustrator Jerry Craft.

Tracey announced a new book deal last month. She’s writing a sequel to her award-winning novel The Jumbies. Yesterday, Jerry was one of four featured children’s book creators for the Young Males Reading Challenge in Jackson, MS. He, Eric Velasquez, David Miller and Kenneth Braswell talked to third-fifth grade boys about the power of literacy and signed 900 books.

We’re excited about the new ideas, energy and expertise Tracey and Jerry will bring to The Brown Bookshelf. Next year marks the 10th anniversary of 28 Days Later, our Black History Month celebration of black children’s book creators. We look forward to saluting that milestone and finding more ways to raise awareness about black children’s book authors and illustrators and inspire and empower all kids. Thank you, Tracey and Jerry, for joining us in that mission.

Here’s more about them from the About Us section of our site:

Tracey Baptiste, M. Ed, is the author of the MG novel The Jumbies, which was a New York Public Libraries Staff Pick and included in the Bank Street Best Books of 2016, among other accoladScreen Shot 2016-03-25 at 8.51.58 AMes. She’s also the author of the YA novel, Angel’s Grace, and several nonfiction books for children. Her latest is The Totally Gross History of Ancient Egypt. Tracey is on the faculty at Lesley University’s MFA program in Creative Writing, and works as a freelance editor for various publishing companies as well as running her own editorial company, Fairy Godauthor. Find out more about her at


Jerry Craft has illustrated and/or written close to two dozen children’s books and board games. His latestimages middle-grade novels are The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! — an action / adventure story co-written with his two teenage sons that is designed to teach kids about the negative effects of bullying and The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, written by Patrik Henry Bass. His work has appeared in national publications such as Essence Magazine, Ebony, and two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Jerry is also the creator of Mama’s Boyz, an award-winning comic strip that has been distributed by King Features Syndicate to almost 900 publications since 1995. Jerry has won five African American Literary Awards. Find out more about Jerry at



“We’re the People” releases 2016 Summer Reading List

March 25, 2016

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We’re the People, a collaboration of authors, bloggers, academics, and librarians who share a passion for children, literacy, and diversity, has released their 2016 Summer Reading List! The focus of the list are books that are written or illustrated by Native Americans or writers/illustrators of color that have withstood a critical review. You can find the full annotated 2016 list here. 

Thank you, Edith Campbell, Sarah Park Dahlen, Sujei Lugo, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Nathalie Mvondo, Debbie Reese, and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas.

Guest post: Nadia Hohn’s selfie interview on “Malaika’s Costume”

March 1, 2016

Luscious Carnival queenWhen author/illustrator Don Tate invited me to write a blogpost about Malaika’s Costume, I thought.  Of course.  Why not?  Why don’t I take this opportunity to ask all of the questions, the sorts of questions I get asked all the time, the sorts of questions I wished I was asked about this book?  Ladies and gentleman.  I present to you, the selfie-interview.  Here it goes.

Interviewer Nadia:  Today, you launch your very first picture book Malaika’s Costume.  Congratulations. 

Nadia L. Hohn: Thank you.

IN: But I am trying to get the record straight.  I heard a rumour that you launched two other books less than two weeks ago.

NLH: Yes, that’s right.

IN:  Wow!  And those were your first books?

NLH: Yes.  Music and Media books in the Sankofa Series.  They’re for the educational market.

IN: Well, it must be a very busy and exciting time for you.  Why don’t you tell us more about Malaika’s Costume?Malaika's Costume cover version 1

NLH:   Malaika’s Costume is the story about a little girl who lives with her Grandmother in the Caribbean.  Plus, it’s Carnival season, the first Carnival since Malaika’s mother has moved to Canada for work, to send money home to support the family.  When the money doesn’t arrive in the mail to pay for Malaika’s kiddie Carnival costume, she has to figure out what to do. 

IN:  What inspired you to write the book?

NLH:  I used to write stories and make books as a child.  One of the few books I still have that I wrote and illustrated for a Grade 5 project is called “The Greatest Carnival Ever”.  So I always loved the idea of a book culminating with a Carnival.  Years later in the winter of 2010, I took a writing course at George Brown College with author Ted Staunton.  He gave us a picture book assignment and this is when I wrote Malaika’s Costume.   I remember getting very excited as I worked on the details of the story.  I have also played Mas’– which means I wore a costume and danced– in the Caribana parade a few times, Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival and loved the experience


IN: We noticed that Malaika’s mother does not live with her, in fact, she lives in Canada.  Why did you choose that location?  How common is it for parents, especially mothers, to live in other countries than their children? 

NLH:  One parent immigrating, usually the mother, to work and send money home to support their loved ones is a very common experience, especially in the immigration of Caribbean peoples to the UK, US, and Canada in the 1950s to 1980s.  They sometimes called them “barrel children”.  Parents and relatives abroad would send money and fill the barrels with clothing, toys, and items and ship them back home for their families.  Canada is my home so naturally I chose it although I have many relatives in the US. This is a common story of immigration within my family.  It still happens today with Caribbean and other ethnic groups and communities.

IN:  And suspense ensues.  Exciting.  Nadia, you’re from Toronto, Canada.  I am sure many people have said to you, Wow.  There are Black people in Canada?  So I am not going to ask you that but how big is the Black community in Canada?

NLH: Other than Drake, there are around a million people.

IN:  LOL.  Really?  Please educate our audience.

NLH:  The African-Canadian or Black community in Canada lives mostly in big cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver but there are Black people living throughout the country in smaller communities.  Black people have lived in Canada for hundreds of years and are the descendants of enslaved Africans, Black Loyalists, and escapees in the Underground Railroad.  Today we are mostly Caribbean and African immigrants or “first gens” like myself.

IN:  From where?

NLH:  Jamaica. 

IN:  Island in the sun… Well, your book has definitely got the Caribbean flavour.  A lot of our readers are of Caribbean descent, on what island does Malaika’s Costume take place?

NLH:  I leave it unnamed purposely.  I want my Caribbean readers to see a little of their own island it.  Yet, I wanted to honour the traditions and culture of the islands whose features I name so there is a glossary at the front.

IN: Malaika’s Costume was illustrated by Irene Luxbacher and published by Groundwood Books.   I know this is a story close to your heart and it must have taken a lot of trust to work with your publisher. 

NLH: This is true.

IN: What was it like working with Groundwood? 

NLH:    I think the experience has been a very positive one. I had a lot of input and at the same time learned to trust the professional judgements of the publisher and illustrator.  I learned to share the telling of my story. 

IN:  The bond between Malaika and her grandmother is very strong.  Were you close to your grandmother and what inspired you to make their relationship a central part of the story?

NLH: Intergenerational bonds are so important.  My grandmothers each immigrated to and lived in New York City and Florida so I didn’t get to always see them.  I did visit them from time to time and they both have passed away but I wish I got to know them more.  I also have grandparents that I have never met, nor seen photos.  Perhaps there is a bit of longing and liberty with those relationships in the book.  I also show how grandparents often “step in” when a parent or parent(s) are away.  This is so common in the Caribbean and in other places.

IN: And where is Malaika’s father?

NLH: I can’t giveaway all of my secrets but you may find out in another book.

IN: You write this book in a lyrical style… patois… Creole.  We don’t see that very often in picture books.  To have a book written in the spoken language… Caribbean-English or Ebonics… that’s rare.  How have the reviewers and critics responded?  How open was your publisher receptive, open to you writing in this way?

NLH: I wrote this book in what I call “patois lite”.  I don’t use alternate spellings, the phonetic spellings you can often see on signs in the Caribbean.  Instead, I use certain language that often happen in the English-speaking Caribbean and when I do read-aloud, I use my “Caribbean voice”.  So far critics have called the way I write “colloquial” and one reviewer said she found it “jarring “ on the first read but by the second read, she liked it and found it the charm of the book.

IN:  Who do you think will like this book?

NLH:  I think children ages 3 to 7 will definitely like it.  I tested it out on my own students and a New York City school I visited in February.  I also think folks of Caribbean background and immigrants will identify with the story.  Teachers and librarians will love it for the diverse content.  And children’s book lovers will love that it is a “fresh” voice— a patois-speaking little girl— a story told from her perspective.  It’s a window to another culture and way of being.

IN:   I also know you started a group called Sankofa’s Pen.  Can you tell us about it?

NLH:  I originally called this group African-Canadian Writers for Children and Young Adults (ACWCYA) when I found myself signing my book contracts in 2014.  At the time I belonged to other associations but really wanted to find a community of Black authors who might write about similar topics as I do.  The Black children’s and young adult author community in Canada is very small but it does exist.  We meet face-to-face a few times a year and have an active facebook group.  You don’t need to be Canadian to join.

IN: What’s next for you?

NLH:  Currently, I am promoting Malaika’s Costume.  My launch is in Toronto this Saturday, March 5 however I am also planning a tour and hope to do signings and readings in a few cities both north and south of the border.  The sequel of the picture book will be out in 2017.  I am also working on a few other writing projects and still teaching full-time.   

IN:  Well, you definitely keep busy.  Thank you for your interview.

NLH:  It was a pleasure.

IN:  We just had an interview with our guest, Nadia L. Hohn, who is the author of a picture book Malaika’s Costume which will be in stores and on sale March 1, 2016.  For more information on Nadia Hohn and her books, please visit:

Day 29: Edi Campbell

February 29, 2016

This year, we get a little extra. On Day 29, we are delighted to have the opportunity to welcome Edi Campbell, an academic librarian who blogs at Crazy Quilts. Edi “works to improve the literacy of teens of color and am a strong ally for all marginalized young people. As part of this effort, I also work to promote authors of color. Reading multiple varieties of text is the basis for all literacies and in becoming literate, we learn how to navigate the world around us.” Thank you, Edi, and again, welcome:

It is an honor to be part of the 28 Days celebration. As I’ve read about works of such outstanding authors and artists over the years, I never even imagined that I’d be part of it; still cannot believe it. I started blogging about marginalized teens almost ten years ago and when I began, I was pretty much on my own. I hadn’t discovered people like Hannah Gomez, Nathalie Mvondo, Ari, Karen Lemmons, KC Boyd or Vanessa Irvin who are as active online for our children as they are in person. And I certainly hadn’t read the fine, important works by Rudine Sims Bishop, Claudette McLinn, Violet Harris, Jonda McNair, Nancy Tolson, Virginia Hamilton and so many, many others. Ten years ago I knew there weren’t enough books published for the Black and Latinx students in the school where I worked and even though I’ve grown to understand the immensity of the issue, I still simply want to put one more book in one more child’s hand and turn one more child into a reader.

If you consider that the whitest industries in America continue to be information industries (publishing, technology, libraries and movies) you should begin to question why that’s so.
I’m not into conspiracy theories, so I don’t believe it’s intentionally about mind control, but there does seem to be a very controlled, very white message being perpetrated upon our children. And all I want is one more brown book. One more Jerry Craft, Bil Wright, Brian Walker, L. Divine, Kelli London, NiNi Simone, Nnedi Okorafor, Dia Reeves and Zetta Elliott. One more mirror, one more door. One more Tim Tingle, Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo, Eric Gansworth, Y.S. Lee, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Juan Filipe Herrera, Alex Sanchez and Sheela Chari.

I feel like the next ten years will not look like the past ten years in children’s publishing. Libraries are embracing (even creating) self-published books. Twitter, Vine, Instagram and Tumblr are giving voice to the masses allowing us to voice concerns, to announce agendas and to connect directly with those who had been hidden from us. These platforms help us find debut authors and promote their books, to immediately questions portrayals of people and histories and they’ve created #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

What I’ve learned over the past 10 years is that I’m not alone, we’re not alone and it takes all of us to get that one more book.


February 28, 2016

NicolaYoonAuthorPhoto (2)Nicola Yoon is a hopeless romantic.  She says so on her website.  As a matter of fact, Nicola shares many things in her bio that are…well…I’m just going to give you the address and encourage you to read one of the best bios ever!

She grew up in Jamaica (the island) and Brooklyn (part of Long Island), and currently resides in Los Angeles, CA with her husband and daughter, both of whom she loves beyond all reason.

Nicola is a proud member of We Need Diverse Books, and we are just as proud to honor her during our 28 Days Later Program.

So, on this, the 28th Day of February, The Brown Bookshelf presents:     NICOLA YOON

The Journey

I had a kind of a long and roundabout journey to publishing. I was a math nerd in high school and majored in Electrical Engineering in college. It wasn’t until my senior year when I took a Creative Writing elective course that I re-discovered my love of writing. After college, I worked for a couple of years and then went to graduate school for creative writing. After that I still needed to make a living, so I worked as a database programmer/analyst for financial firms. I wrote on and off on the side for 22 years before getting my first book deal for EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING.

The Process:

I write from 4 – 6 AM and then again from 9 AM – 2 PM Monday – Friday. I hand write my first drafts into Moleskine notebooks. Every few days I type what I’ve written into my computer, revising as I go. I generally do a basic outline in a three-act structure, with bullet points for the important events in each act. For me, every book is different. Sometimes I hear the voice first. Other times I get the concept/plot first. The only thing I find useful for drafting is simply showing up at my desk everyday. Some days are wonderful. Other days are miserable, but eventually the first draft gets done and I have something to work with and shape. I work from my home office or a café in Los Angeles.

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The State of the Industry

I’m an optimistic person, and I’m really encouraged by the strides made by organizations like We Need Diverse Books. They’ve definitely helped to move the conversation forward about the need for more diversity in kidlit. They’ve also implemented some practical programs ranging the gamut from internships to scholarships to help tackle this problem. I do think that there’s still lots more work to be done, especially in getting more diverse agents, editors, assistants, etc. into the publishing industry. If we can improve diversity there, then I think we’ll get many more diverse books on the shelves.


You can find out more about Nicola Yoon by visiting her website:

Thank you, Nicola, for all of your hard work for children’s literacy!


Day 27: Aaron Philip

February 27, 2016

kidflycoverHave you ever felt your spirit soar just watching someone on screen? Aaron Philip’s infectious laugh, can-do attitude, talent and faith radiate and lift everyone he touches. Check out this video of him speaking to the folks at Tumblr for a bit of his magic.

Fourteen-year-old Aaron has already won fans around the world with Aaronverse, his Tumblr blog, that chronicles his life creating art, coping and thriving with cerebral palsy and achieving his dreams.

Now, he will move and motivate even more with his inspiring memoir, This Kid Can Fly: It’s About Ability (NOT Disability) (Balzer+Bray),  that debuted on February 16. Written with award-winner Tonya Bolden and featuring photos and Aaron’s illustrations, it takes you through his amazing life from his homeland of Antigua to New York City. An open and heartfelt look at his struggles and successes, this debut title is a winner that will empower kids and adults to take flight too.

We’re blessed to talk to both Tonya and Aaron about This Kid Can Fly. Here Tonya shares what it was like working with Aaron:

Collaborating with Aaron was a remarkable experience. I learned so much about what people with disabilities have to contend with—sometimes EVERY SINGLE DAY!  It’s my hope that Aaron’s book will make us all more considerate and compassionate.

Why was his story one that needed to be told?

Aaron’s story needed to be told because, as far as I know, a story like his isn’t out there. How many black boys have an opportunity to give people a front-row seat into their lives. How many people hear stories about brave black boys. How many young people with disabilities have we heard from? We so need to hear from young people first-hand if we are going to implement sound policies that affect them.

Aaron’s story also needed to be told because his father, a black man, is his primary caregiver. There are millions of black men who go above and beyond for their families, but they are rarely written about. Mostly we get the stereotype of the Dad who cuts and runs when the going gets tough.

What would you like people to know about Aaron?

I would like people to know that Aaron is more than conqueror.  We worked on the book while he was interviewing for high school. We worked on the book when he was getting over a cold. We worked on it before he received his new wheelchair and other equipment that helps reduce physical discomfort and pain.  There were times we had to break from a session because he was exhausted, but he never complained, never once wimped  out.  I also want people to know that Aaron has a heart of gold and is the soul of patience.

Thank you, Tonya. We are proud to celebrate Aaron Phillip as our honoree for Day 27. Here he talks about his wonderful new book. You’re incredible, Aaron. We look forward to seeing many more:

You have a super new book out and a wonderful Tumblr blog called Aaronverse. What inspired you to write your memoir and your blog?

As you know, I have cerebral palsy, a physical disability that requires someone to help me with everyday things like bathing, getting dressed, going to the bathroom, and getting my books and computer out of my backpack when I’m in school. My book and Tumblr blog can help people understand more about what I go through and what families like mine go through. In my case, we’re immigrants who struggle greatly to make ends meet, and on top of that my family must manage my physical care 24/7.  My parents must stay positive, focused and believe in me despite my physical challenges.  My words share those triumphs and challenges with my readers.

Why did you write this book?

I wrote this book to help people understand that just because you have to use a wheelchair to get around or have a physical disability, it doesn’t mean you can’t  dream like other kids. You still have talents and desires. This chair that I use to get around doesn’t define me or what I do in life.

Who are your heroes?

Malala Yousafzai is one of my heroes for sure. I get from her that if it looks like the cards are stacked up against you and still you rise, that’s something special, inspirational. She is one person who motivates me to be the best I can be and to keep on trying. I hope to meet her someday. Give her my number!

Fred Seibert is also one of my heroes. He really took genuine interest in me and built me up in the process. I’ve never met someone as disarming and kindhearted as he is. Fred Seibert is someone who really sees me for ME, not my disability. I remember him telling me what he told Tumblr creator and CEO David Karp (also one of my heroes due to the fact that he created my biggest creative outlet, not to mention that he is incredibly sweet himself) as I left Frederator’s NYC headquarters for the first time, “Aaron, you can come visit me as many times as you’d like, as often as you’d like, until you’re bored!” I’m bored a lot.

What are your challenges?

Obviously needing someone to help support me throughout the day. I can’t do many things by myself as my arms and hands don’t work very well. Also, pain management is hard. I don’t talk about my pain a lot. If you focus on the negative, nothing will get done. And for sure, combatting loneliness and isolation. Kids my age have tons of energy and run around. That’s not really my life, though I would love it to be.

I work hard to find meaning and purpose in my life and use my strengths to stay positive.

Finding a support system is key here. As the saying goes, “It takes a village.” All the things I wrote of in my book, the art classes at Children’s Museum of Arts where they have built a program around true inclusivity with the rights supports so that kids can socialize and learn how to make art and combat loneliness all at same time. Like going to an inclusive summer camp at Frost Valley. Like having opportltunities to speak at places like tumblr and Mercy College where I can share my story about what it’s like to be a kid with big dreams who also has major physical challenges that will be with me forever. Like sharing things about my life on my blog Aaronverse.

All these things give my life meaning and purpose.

What’s next for you? What’s your dream?

I recognize, as Malala does, that education is key. I work hard in school because my dream is to attend a great university, study whatever it is that interests me at that time, and hopefully get a great paying job as I will need to earn a solid salary if I am to maintain my independence and help my family remain out of poverty.  I hope to keep writing and making art.

Please tell us about your creative process.  What was the toughest part?

Revisiting painful and frightening moments in my life was hard. Going back mentally to the homeless shelter my dad and I had to stay in for a while. Revisiting my dad’s had his heart attack and my wondering who would take care of me physically and what would happen to me and my brother if Dad passed away. Those were hard times to remember and share.

What do you want kids to take away from your story?

That if people like me, kids like me, are given the right supports, we can be productive members of society. If we don’t get those just right supports, our talents will go to waste.

The Buzz About This Kid Can Fly:

“At once beautiful and heartbreaking, Aaron Philip found a way to make me laugh even as I choked up, found a way to bring on my empathy without ever allowing me to feel sorry for him. An eye-opening debut.”

—Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award winner and Newbery Honor author of Brown Girl Dreaming

“This inspiring glimpse into the life of a real kid goes beyond disability to celebrate his remarkable ability.”

— Booklist

“Philip’s simple, chatty account of both physical and societal challenges…will motivate readers with and without disabilities to support accessibility and inclusion.”

— Kirkus Reviews