Day 26: Eloise Greenfield

February 26, 2017

I knew that Eloise Greenfield loved me. As a child, I pored over HONEY, I LOVE over and over again, and could hear the words of her poems just as if she were right next to me, speaking to me, chatting with my mother and grandmother, reminding me that I was special, powerful, beautiful, and fully LOVED.

We featured Ms. Greenfield back in 2008; she was born in 1929, in segregated North Carolina. She studied piano as a child, trained as a teacher and worked in civil service at the U.S. Patent Office. She had her first poem published in the Hartford Times in 1962 and her first book (a biography of Rosa Parks) was published in 1972. Her bio notes that she’s won the Coretta Scott King Award for Africa Dream, and a CSK Honor for The Great Migration: Journey to the North (which was also an ALA 2012 Notable Children’s Book.) honeyilove“She received the Carter G. Woodson Award for Rosa Parks. For Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems, she received the 1990 Recognition of Merit Award, presented by the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books. She received the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir, written with her mother, Lessie Jones Little….On February 23, 2013, she was one of twenty African American women who received the Living Legacy Award from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), an organization founded by Carter G. Woodson…the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, given for a body of work to a living American poet; the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award; the Hurston/Wright Foundation’s North Star Award for lifetime achievement…In 1999, Ms Greenfield was inducted into the National Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. For her body of work, she also received the 2007 Wheatley Book Award, sponsored by Quarterly Black Books Review as part of the Harlem Book Fair.”

(And yes, the ellipses mean more awards.)

The author of more than 40 books of poetry, fiction, and biography, Ms. Greenfield’s work celebrates “love and the simple joys of everyday life”, the rich heritage of the African Diaspora, family, and childhood. In her 1979 biographical work Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir, she wrote:

“People are a part of their time. They are affected, during the time that they live by the things that happen in their world. Big things and small things. A war, an invention such as radio or television, a birthday party, a kiss. All of these help to shape the present and the future. If we could know more about our ancestors, about the experiences they had when they were children, and after they had grown up, too, we would know much more about what has shaped us and our world.”

Eloise Greenfield’s loving work nurtured me and my creative self; my mother read the poems aloud, I finger-traced Leo and Diane Dillon’s illustrations of cornrows and braids like mine and my sister’s. I read her words and they helped teach me that language was music, rich with flavour and history and hope. Though she often wrote about an African American experience that was not quite my own, I read her mentions of cousins who lived “down South” and a way of life that resonated with this child of immigrants. “I want to make them laugh, I want to give them ideas, I want them to see how beautiful they are,” says Greenfield in this talk at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 40th Annual Legislative Conference in 2010. When I occupied spaces that made me feel as though I did not belong, Ms. Greenfield whispered to me that I did. “I relate to the human experience, whenever and wherever it occurs. Over the many years of my life, I have witnessed the strength of children and I am inspired by it,” she said in an interview.

Thank you, Ms. Greenfield. I remain inspired by you.

For more about Eloise Greenfield:


The Poetry Foundation

Balkin Buddies profile

Day 26: Jacqueline Woodson

February 26, 2017

jackiejpegI remember the first time I read Jacqueline Woodson’s Visiting Day. Early in my publishing journey, I was exploring the magic of picture books when I spotted one with a black father and daughter embracing on the cover. James Ransome’s beautiful illustration and the title called to me, saying, “This is something special.” The opening  delivered on that promise: “Only on Visiting Day is there chicken frying in the kitchen at 6 a.m. and Grandma, humming soft and low, smiling her secret just-for-Daddy-and-me smile . . . ”

I was there.

Jackie’s words transported me into the world of a little girl who loved and missed her father. I felt her longing, her anticipation. I rode the bus with her and Grandma to visitingdayvisit Daddy. Then I learned he was away because he was “doing a little time.” The page became blurry as I blinked away tears. This. Was. A. Story. I felt the child’s joy at being reunited with her father. I felt the pride Daddy showed in seeing his baby girl. I felt their love that knows no bounds. Real. Resonant. Rich. What a gift to create a masterpiece like that.

After Visiting Day, I read everything I could by Jackie, eagerly awaiting her next release. I longed to make music on the page, breathe life into characters and make readers feel like she did. Books like Sweet, Sweet Memory, The Other Side, Coming On Home Soon and Show Way became my friends, my teachers.

Wade and Cheryl Hudson of Just Us Books published my first two books, lovingly guidingcomingonhomejpeg me and welcoming me to the world of writing for kids. Then, Ellen’s Broom was acquired by Nancy Paulsen, Jackie’s editor. I marveled at how God moves. I kept growing, helped by brilliant editors like Stacey Barney, Nancy and Wade and Cheryl. And though I hadn’t met Jackie, her work kept teaching me too. I devoured her moving middle-grade and YA novels like Locomotion, Feathers, After Tupac and D Foster and Miracle’s Boys, celebrated as she won award after award.

Then Daniel Minter won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Ellen’s Broom. My editor Stacey invited me to attend the ALA events and who did I meet – Jackie – just as wonderful ankellyandjackied encouraging as I imagined. At the CSK breakfast, Jackie’s speech, steeped in activism, spoke to me, reminding me to always use my gifts to give back.

Since then, Jackie has become a friend. Along with the countless kids she inspires, she shows authors like me how to dig deep, put our hearts on the page and tell stories of children who are too often unsung. She shows us how to stand for justice through our books and actions. She shows us what it means to be humble.

Jackie has won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, National Book Award, Coretta Scott browngirljpegKing Book Awards, Newbery Honor Medals and she’s still beautifully, authentically herself. She’s that sister who gives you hugs that make you feel seen and loved, offers words that build you up and challenge you to rise even higher and quietly helps you get there.

Thank you, Jackie, for showing me the kind of author I can be.

Love, Kelly

Day 24: Andrea Davis Pinkney

February 24, 2017

adp-photoIn the 1990s, I was new to the art and business of writing. I dappled in adult magazine articles, then articles for young readers. I discovered early readers and found editors who thought they were worthy of publication. Then, I decided to write something else, something different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it or the words on paper even if I knew what I wanted to write. Not until I discovered picture book biographies. Not until I discovered Andrea Davis Pinkney’s BILL PICKET: RODEO – RIDIN’ COWBOY at my local library.



I live in Oklahoma and knew about bulldogging Bill Pickett and the 101 Ranch. I never saw his story presented quite like hers. Reading it gave me permission to try something new with fun words like yip-yapping. It showed me how to tell a fascinating story with words and pictures. Pinkney’s book opened a world of possibilities.                                                                                             bill-picket


Of course, the path from discovering picture book biographies to writing and publishing one was not fast or easy for me. I kept studying, especially Pinkney’s work.






I followed her career with books like Martin & Mahalia. It was like a home study course on how to write about the relationship between two iconic people.


One day as I read how two other people collaborated throughout their careers, I thought back on her book. Maybe, because Andrea Davis Pinkney showed me the way, their story will become a picture book biography.





A Poem for Peter

A Poem for Peter




For more information about her books including her latest, A Poem for Peter, visit her website: Andrea Davis Pinkney.

In an interview on the blog Understood Pinkney shares how she writes to motivate kids to read.

By Gwendolyn Hooks

Day 23: Javaka Steptoe

February 23, 2017

Javaka Steptoe(c) Gregg Richards.jpgAs a young child, Javaka Steptoe served as a model and was the inspiration behind much of the artwork created by his esteemed father, the late John Steptoe. However, the young model went on to establish himself as an outstanding book creator in his own right.

Javaka Steptoe’s debut picture book, In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers (Lee & Low Books, ), earned him a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, in addition to a nomination for Outstanding Children’s Literature Work at the 1998 NAACP Image Awards. Since that time, Steptoe has illustrated and/or written more than an dozen books for youth readers, collaborating with some of the top names in the business—Walter Dean Myers, Nikki Grimes, Karen English.

This past January, Steptoe won the 2017 Caldecott Medal for his picture book biography Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Little, Brown), more than thirty years after his father won two Caldecott Honors. The book won many other honors, too, including the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, and multiple starred reviews.

Today we present Javaka Steptoe:Radiant Child_CVR_FRNT_medal3.jpg

Guest Post by Javaka Steptoe

The Journey

I am a second-generation artist, author illustrator.  Not sure if talent is something that gets passed down through the bones to one, or more child, or if it skips a generation but somehow the baton was passed to me. As a child I sat at my parents feet drawing and painting and asking questions on how to put the thoughts inside my head into physical form. This was just a part of me.  It was not something I just did when I was mad and had to get my feelings out, it was just how I breathed.  

On a spring day in 1992 at the behest of family friend Pat Cummings, I found myself at Lee & Low books with a very unprofessional portfolio.  In it, amidst a mountain of artwork were several drawings of children with men.  These included, a principal escorting two children to the office, a young child being carried on his fathers shoulders, and an adolescent looking back at his neighborhood in front of a car loaded with his family’s possessions. I believe these drawings became the inspiration for what was to become my first book “In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall.”   

The Back Story

My latest book Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michele Basquiat was a force that created itself. I first had thoughts of creating a Basquiat book during a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum in 2005.  Fast forward 5 years to 2010 my excitement about jean Michel was renewed after watching “Radiant Child” A documentary by Tamara Davis. Centered around unearthed Basquiat footage intersperse with interviews of collectors, historians, and artist; I was able to gain new knowledge of the politics and inner workings of his life. It also gave me greater clarity on how his mother influenced his art.  Their relationship became the focal point of the story.

Once I figured that out I then spoke to my agent about the idea and he got excited. Then he was having dinner with Cindy Egan who at the time was an editor at Little, Brown.  She recently saw Radiant Child so the subject of Basquiat came up.  In the middle of their conversation she said, “someone should do a children’s book about Basquiat.”  I could not have made up a better story.

The Inspiration


Jean-Michael Basquiat

“I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life.” Jean-Michel Basquiat

Life inspires me, when I illustrate I think about life. I use my memory and if i have no context I seek encounters and situations that will  help me understand. I think about the myriad stories that are happening at any moment in time in any illustration.  Those are the things that make a good piece of art great. If you are only creating the words of the author when your illustrating then you are doing a disservice to the story.

The Process

My process is step by step. I start with an idea, then I research and brainstorm to see what I can discover.  With Radiant Child I had the initial idea of creating a book about Basquiat.  I knew I wanted to focus on his childhood but I had to find what I call the meat of the story.  This was the thing that the story could not do without. The meat came when I found the quote “my mother gave me the primary things my artwork came from her.” It explained so much about Basquiat and his actions. You could never say you knew Basquiat if you did not know this.  At this point I created a lose outline then wrote and edited and wrote until I had something to show. 

The Buzz 

d2aa618fd2258305d7bfe46d3280a1e8.jpgThe response to the new book has been incredible.  Winning both the CSK and the Caldecott Medal is mind blowing.  I’m still figuring out what this means for my life, but I do know that this will give me more access and the ability to create the projects that I am passionate about.   


Day 23: Jason Reynolds

February 23, 2017

403685768_th.jpgAward-winning author and poet Jason Reynold offers a plan for “people, young, old, and in-between, who hate reading.” His plan: NOT WRITE BORING BOOKS. Since entering the field of youth literature in 2014, he has kept to his plan.

Reynolds is the author of critically acclaimed When I Was the Greatest, for which he won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent; the Coretta Scott King Honor books Boy in the Black Suit and All American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely, also the winner of the Walter Dean Myers Award); As Brave As You, his stunning middle grade debut that was a Time Book of the Year and winner of the Kirkus Award; and Ghost, the first book in his middle grade Track series, which was also a National Book Award finalist.

He lives in Brooklyn, New York and is working harder than ever to make good “bad gifts” for young people.

Day 22: Salva Dut

February 22, 2017

More than two decades of civil war in Sudan caused much trauma, displacement, and destruction. Children were forced to flee the country, and many of the boys became known as “The Lost Boys of Sudan”. In the midst of the pain, stories like Salva Dut’s shone. From the Water for South Sudan website: “As an 11-year old Dinka from Tonj in southwest Sudan, Salva fled first to Ethiopia. Then later, as a teenager, he led 1500 ‘Lost Boys’ hundreds of miles through the Southern Sudan desert to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. That courage and heroic perseverance continue to this day. Relocated to the United States in 1996, he now leads Water for South Sudan, Inc., the non-profit organization he founded in 2003.”

Salva’s story was told in Linda Sue Park’s bestselling and award-winning 2010 novel, A Long Walk To Water. Park combines Salva’s true story with the story of the fictional Nya, who walks for hours each day to get water for her family. Working from research, Salva’s own writing, and finally, interviews with Salva himself, Park worked with Salva Dut to tell his remarkable story. Though she’d never been to Sudan, Park believed in shining a light on Salva’s story: “One of my biggest hurdles was writing about a place I’d never visited myself. That had always been a deal-breaker for me in the past, and it remains so today. It was a tough decision to make, but I decided that if I stuck *like glue* to the information that Salva had given me, I could break that ironclad rule JUST THIS ONCE.”

Salva Dut now leads Water for South Sudan, Inc., the non-profit organization he founded in 2003. Today, on the Brown Bookshelf, he reflects on the impact of sharing his story and the phenomenon the book has become. (BBS Note: Check out some of the thrilling “Success Stories” from readers who were inspired by Salva’s work — it’s wonderful what sharing a story can do.)

What has surprised you most since the book’s release?
The number of copies sold! And how much the book impacts people. The story touches people so deeply. People sometimes cry when they meet me.

Water for South Sudan is headquartered in both South Sudan and New York State. How are people involved at each location? How can young people get involved in this work? What advice do you have for young readers who want to engage in activism?
Water for South Sudan is headquartered in Rochester, New York, and we have our Operations Center in Wau, South Sudan. The Rochester office handles all of the fundraising, and a lot of the administrative details. All donations come through our Rochester office. We also handle all the communications, including our website, social media and mailings.
Our Operations Center handles the hard work! They have a compound in Wau, where we store our vehicles and equipment during the rainy season. Our operations center handles all of the drilling, hygiene and rehabilitation work, and have begun researching how we might do sanitation work. Our team has an office there, and communicates with our Rochester office from there.
Young people can spread the word about our work! Follow us on social media, tell your friends and family about us, and suggest that people read A Long Walk to Water.
For readers who want to engage in activism I say Do it! This is your world. You can make a difference.
My message to all children is to stay calm when things are hard or not going right for you. You can overcome those things if you have hope, faith, and perseverance. You will find people who will help you succeed. Also, value your education and do whatever you can to make life better for others.

What have been some challenges in the work that you do? How have they changed (or remained the same) over time?
It is always a challenge to work in Africa, and specifically in South Sudan. The temperature is very hot. There is also very little infrastructure in South Sudan- very few roads, and no places to buy supplies or have our equipment and vehicles repaired. Our team members have to be very resourceful.
Tell us a bit about your day-to-day work. As an entrepreneur and activist, what kinds of habits have you cultivated? What are your routines? Do you have an office or other location that works best for you?
My day to day work varies based on where I am. Sometimes I am in Wau with our team, helping them to plan and brainstorm. Sometimes I am in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and meet with government officials to help Water for South Sudan get the permits and customs clearances to do our work, and sometimes I am in Kampala, Uganda, where we do our banking and buy our major supplies.
I must always be patient, and always be ready to operate on “African time.” Things often take much longer than they would in the US. I must always be thinking of different ways to get things done, or of working with different people who can help me. I must often be a good problem solver.
I come to the US about two times a year. I do not like it when it’s cold, which, for me would be below 70 degrees! I also do not like the snow. I like it when the weather is hot—over 90 degrees is very nice for me.

Are there any books, stories, or people that inspire you and your work?
I like to watch documentaries, and like to learn about people doing good work in our world.
One person I have admired in my life is John Garang de Mabior. He was a leader in the Sudan Liberation Army and also served as First Vice President of Sudan for a very short time before he died.

What else would you like us to know about you and your work?
I am so grateful to all the people who have helped me in my life. My family in South Sudan, my American family and friends, and all the people who have donated money and raised funds for Water for South Sudan. My team members in South Sudan are now doing the hard work of drilling and rehabilitating wells and I am so grateful for their commitment to Water for South Sudan. I could not have done any of this alone.

How can educators best share your work and message with their students and families? Are there resources you’d recommend that they use?

I think Linda Sue Park’s book has been such a wonderful gift for Water for South Sudan. It has taken our story across the US and around the world. I think it’s an excellent way for people to learn about our work. I think teachers and students and families can also learn more about Africa. It’s a very big place! South Sudan is just one of 54 countries on the continent of Africa.
I also think it’s important for people to learn more about water in our world. Water is becoming such an important resource, and I think the current generation should be paying attention to how we use water in our world.

Where Do We Go From Here?
I think that the people of our world, particularly young people, need to learn how to get along. This is not just a phrase or saying. We need peace in our world, and peace begins at home, and in our hearts. If young people can learn how to solve disagreements, and learn how to get along with people who are different, then I think we have a hopeful future.
I am very hopeful when I meet so many young people who are inspired by A Long Walk to Water, and want to help others.

Don’t miss Salva’s powerful TED talk, “I Kept Walking.”

Resources for Educators and Families from Water for South Sudan.

Thank you for sharing your story and inspiring so many, Salva!

Day 21: Rita Williams-Garcia

February 21, 2017

rita-hcFor my 28 Days Later post this year, I decided to change things up a bit and make this a little more personal. Our first inspiration post is focused on Rita Williams-Garcia. I’ve known Rita for ten years–she is an author, a teacher, a mentor, a big sister, and a wise and valued friend. She has been an inspiration to many writers, including myself. She is the reason that so many of us are authors today.

Rita Williams-Garcia had been writing for over 30 years, with titles that range from picture books to young adult novels. Personal favorites include Every Time a Rainbow Dies (HarperCollins, 2001), a lyrical love story about a boy named one-crazy-summerThulani and a girl named Ysa–both of whom have seen their fair share of challenges yet still rise to overcome them. And, of course, there is Rita’s more recent Gaither Sisters Book Series, beginning with One Crazy Summer (HarperCollins, 2010). The three novels,
featuring Delphine, Vonetta and Fern, have won multiple awards among them, including a Newbery Honor, a Scott O’Dell Award, and multiple Coretta Scott King Author Awards.

What I most admire about Rita’s work is her ability to cross genres. You never know that you’re getting from Rita next–a fun picture book, a gritty love story, a humorous historical novel–whatever it is, Rita can write it. Yet with each story, Rita embodies the text with a truth and realism that is lacking from many other novels. Rita writes about real people in the real word. When I see the Gaither girls, I see my sister. My cousins. My daughters. Rita creates characters–Black characters–that showcase who we are and who we can be.

clayton-byrdI’m excited about the new Rita Williams-Gacria novel coming this summer, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground (HarperCollins, 2017). From the publisher’s website:

Clayton feels most alive when he’s with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen—he can’t wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then the unthinkable happens. Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that’s no way to live.

Armed with his grandfather’s brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him.

I leave you all with this note that I sent to Rita’s long-time editor, Rosemary Brosnan, about my time working with Rita:

I had been a big fan of Rita’s for years (EVERY TIME A RAINBOW DIES is one of my favorite books), so I was thrilled when I learned I’d be working with her during my second semester at Vermont College. She was the queen of contemporary YA, and I couldn’t wait to dive into my latest YA manuscript with her, the novel that eventually became SAVING MADDIE (Delacote Press/Random House, 2010).

Rita was happy to work on the novel with me—with her help I greatly fleshed out the secondary characters in the novel—but surprise, surprise: my YA manuscript wasn’t the only project I’d be working on that semester.

Rita told me that it was time for me to grow. To stretch. To try something new.

Rita told me that I was going to write a picture book.

And I did. Word by word. Page by painful page. And another surprise–I liked it.

Of course, she didn’t teach me how to write *just* a picture book. She helped me think about the economy of words, the importance of word choice, the balance between poetry and prose, and one hundred other things I won’t try to list here. One hundred other things that will enhance every future novel (and picture book) I write.

That’s Rita for you—a genius in commoner’s clothing.

What I failed to mention in the note was that I started one other project with Rita–a fun caper novel about a crew of teenage con artists. That book, The Great Greene Heist, would not have existing without Rita.

Rita Williams-Garcia is one of the greats. She is my inspiration. I am privileged and honored to call her my friend.