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    The Sowing Circle: Getting Up Close and Personal with 4 of Your Favorite Black Female Kid Lit Authors + A Giveaway!

    Today I am THRILLED to share The Sowing Circle with you and support four of your favorite Black female kid lit authors: Tameka Fryer Brown, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Kelly Starling Lyons and Alice Faye Duncan.

    The Sowing Circle formed by Alice, Vanessa, Kelly and myself, was born of a collective desire to “sow words and images into the hearts of children that will reap a generation that is inquisitive, empathetic, and enlightened.” And the fact that all four women have books coming out on January 14th. What a beautiful way to “sow seeds” and support one another. I’m in love with the concept of their initiative!

    I had the pleasure to interview these talented women and ask them a series of bookish questions. Check out the interview below for your reading pleasure. Oh, and there’s a GIVEAWAY at the end where U.S. residents can enter to win a bundle of ALL FOUR BOOKS!

    Tell me about your new book. What inspired the story? What do you hope children take away?

    TAMEKA: BROWN BABY LULLABY (illustrated by AG Ford and published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux) is a love letter to brown-skinned babies everywhere. In the story, two parents attentively care for and affirm their sweet brown baby while going through their evening routine—which on this day includes clanging pots, a messy mealtime, and some dancing to Coltrane before reading a book and going to bed. I was inspired to write it during a moment of nostalgic reflection about the bond I shared with my children when they were infants and toddlers. The love between parent and child is so pure and uncomplicated at that stage. I think that’s a sentiment many can relate to, so I wanted to capture that emotional truth in a book that could be appreciated and shared by others.

    When parents, caregivers, and others share Brown Baby Lullaby with children, I hope the words and images of the book will make Black and brown children feel seen, valued, and loved. I hope children who aren’t Black or brown receive the message—from the earliest age possible—how much Black and brown children are cherished by their families and how equally valuable Black and brown lives are in relation to their own. If we intentionally work to make these heart beliefs (as opposed to just head beliefs) for the next generation, we have a real shot at drastically reducing racial bias. Which would mean the world for all of us.

    ALICEJUST LIKE A MAMA (illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow, published by Denene Millner Books) is a lyrical book, spare and heartfelt like a poem. My mother inspired the story. She adopted her little sister, when my grandmother died in1966. Mama was 28 years old.  Her little sister, Pat, was 10. Mama “mothered” her sister, raised her up, and sent both of us to college. Ultimately, I want JUST LIKE A MAMA to affirm children, who do not reside with their biological parents. As for children who do, I want them to hear or read the book and be inspired with empathy and warm feelings of compassion.

    VANESSA: It is called JUST LIKE ME (Knopf Books for Young Readers) and it is a book of poetry that I wrote for children. The main characters are all girls, but it really is about all children. I was inspired by listening to the conversations of little girls, by the things that they share with each other while playing and talking–their joys, dreams, desires, and hopes. With JUST LIKE ME, I want to say to them, “You are not alone. There is someone else in this world that feels the way that you do.” I want to show them that they matter and that I, Ms. V, see them and get them. Lastly, I want children to know that while we are different in many ways, there is so much more that makes us all the same, especially in a lot of emotional ways.

    KELLY: DREAM BUILDER (illustrated by Laura Freeman and published by Lee & Low) celebrates a kind of Black hero we don’t see celebrated enough. The story explores the journey of Phil Freelon from his beginnings as a young artist in Philadelphia to being the architect of record for a museum a century in the making – the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

    I hope kids take away that setbacks can turn into successes. In the story, Phil struggled with reading until he learned the special way his mind works. That became his strength and led him to the pinnacle of his career – being lead architect for the National Museum of African American History & Culture.

    I hope they learn how much community matters. Phil was inspired by his proud, middle-class Black family. Along with his parents and grandfather, Phil found role models in his neighbors. Love for his culture and history was instilled in him as a child through the example of people around him and the music of the times.

    I hope they learn the power they hold inside. DREAM BUILDER shows how hard work, vision and a heart for goodness can lead you to not just realize your dreams but inspire others.

    Besides your own, what were some of your favorite children’s picture, or chapter books you’ve read or come across within the past year?

    TAMEKA: There were many wonderful picture and chapter books published in 2019, so it’s really hard to narrow down my favorites list. But to name a few: Kelly Starling Lyons and Keith Mallett’s beautiful SING A SONG holds a special place in my heart because as a student at Florida A&M’s School of Business and Industry, we sang all three verses of Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing every Friday before Forum. As soon as the book came out, I shared it with my fellow SBIans. Many of them purchased a copy for sentimental reasons, as did I, and also to share with the young people in their lives.

    I love BRAVE BALLERINA by Michelle Meadows and Ebony Glenn because of its perfect rhyme, gorgeous illustrations, and kid-centric introduction to an important Black trailblazer. MY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLEMY MOMMY MEDICINE, SULWETHE KING OF KINDERGARTEN, and THE UNDEFEATED are some of the other wonderful titles I fell in love with this past year.

    ALICE: I was born in 1967. This is two years before John Steptoe, a Black writer and artist, revolutionized mainstream publishing with his Black picture book—STEVIE. I don’t have a favorite book from childhood. What I remember is Mama waking me each day with a lively rendition of the Dunbar poem, “In the Morning.” Dunbar and Eloise Greenfield influence the style and spirit of my writing. “Things” is my favorite Greenfield poem. I recite it for school visits.

    VANESSA: Okay, do you have a couple of days?!? LOL! There are so many! Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, What’s Cooking at 10 Garden Street by Felicita Sala, The Roots Of Rap by Carole Boston Weatherford, Saturday and Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora. And the list could go on and on.

    KELLY: Picture books are my favorite genre. So many stand out. I’ll focus on a few I loved over the past couple years by Black creators:

    The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, Saturday by Oge Mora, Memphis, Martin & the Mountaintop by Alice Faye Duncan and The Women Who Caught the Babies by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Daniel Minter, Freedom Soup by Tami Charles and Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons: An Enslaved Woman Fights for Freedom by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Simone Agoussoye, The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton and Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, illustrated by Jade Johnson and The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome.

    What are some of your must-have children’s books for a home library?

    TAMEKA: I’m claiming 2020 as the year for Black Joy in children’s books. My definition of Black Joy is “the public and unapologetic expression of happiness, humor, pride and/or love by for and among black people.” The Sowing Circle (https://sowing-circle.com/) formed by Alice, Vanessa, Kelly and myself, was born of a collective desire to “sow words and images into the hearts of children that will reap a generation that is inquisitive, empathetic, and enlightened.” And the fact that we all have books coming out on January 14th.

    In the spirit of Black Joy and our Sowing Circle mission, I believe the following to be 2020 must-adds for every young child’s personal library:

    • Sowing Circle Bundle (BROWN BABY LULLABYJUST LIKE A MAMAJUST LIKE MEDREAM BUILDER: THE STORY OF PHILIP FREELON)
    • HEY BLACK CHILD
    • MOMMY’S KHIMAR
    • CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT
    • SULWE
    • DREAMERS
    • WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA
    • JADA JONES CHAPTER BOOK SERIES
    • THE MAGNIFICENT MYA TIBBS CHAPTER BOOK SERIES

    ALICE: Early in my career as a school librarian, I discovered the efficacy and magic of onomatopoeia. Interesting sounds engage the ear and make children fall in love with words. Every child’s home library ought to include onomatopoeia. My favorite “sound word” books include CHARLIE PARKER PLAYED BEBOP and YO! YES! Chris Raschka is the author.

    VANESSA: The Snowy Day, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Ada Twist Scientist, Good Night Moon, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Goggles, Suki’s Kimono, just to name a few.

    KELLY: Celebrating Black children’s books is my joy. Here are some picture book must-haves and an important anthology for collections.

    Coming On Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. LewisI Love My Hair by Natasha Tarpley, illustrated by E.B. LewisBright Eyes, Brown Skin by Cheryl Willis Hudson and Bernette G. Ford, illustrated by George FordCrown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon JamesPoet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don TateAunt Flossie’s Hats and Crabcakes Later by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, illustrated by James E. RansomeMax & the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd CooperHoney, I Love by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey GilchristThe Middle Passage by Tom FeelingsThe Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir NelsonAround Our Way on Neighbors’ Day by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-WebbMoses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelsonand the anthology, We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson.

    Do you have any literacy rituals that you practice in your family or practiced in the past?

    TAMEKA: Parent-child reading time was always a part of our family’s routine. We believed—and still believe—that reading and discussing books with children is foundational in the development of critical thinking skills, which is key to all forms of success. We read books with our kids every night before bedtime and throughout the day as well. The proximity involved in reading together also provided the opportunity for lots of cuddling and bonding. If I had to name our most impactful ritual in raising our children, reading with them daily would be at the top of my list.

    ALICE: I journal in the morning and read some type of poetry every day. I wrote a picture book about Gwendolyn Brooks. Of course, I am partial to her poetry. However, my favorite contemporary poets are Terrance Hayes, Tracy K. Smith and Elizabeth Alexander.  

    VANESSA: Reading out loud to each other is really big in our home. Even when I was a little girl, reading the Bible out loud was very important.  Storytelling is the other. The oral story meant everything and we still do it when we all get together for holidays or special events.

    KELLY: For more than a decade, I’ve led children’s book clubs that celebrate treasures by Black creators of today and the past. It has been a way to share my love of literature with my kids and those of friends. We discuss books, do extension activities such as crafts or carefully curated field trips that tie in. I hope the kids will carry with them an appreciation for books by Black authors and illustrators and feel connected to the friends they’ve made. Here are some of the books we’ve read over the last few years: http://www.kellystarlinglyons.com/content/documents/birdybookclubreads2018.pdf.

    Besides reading, what are some other things parents can do to set their children up for literacy success?

    TAMEKA: Discussing the books your child has read (either on their own or in tandem with you) is paramount for advancing literacy of all kinds. Ask open-ended questions about a given story.  Encourage your child to analyze and draw their own conclusions about what they believe the story is trying to convey.  Validate their perspective even as you discuss alternative viewpoints to create fuller understanding. Expose your child to multiculturally-penned literature that portrays people and cultures they aren’t typically exposed to. Expect your child to observe the world around them and engage honestly when they ask hard questions about what they see. Teach your child to think for themselves and multiple steps ahead. Critical thinking skills are everything.

    ALICE: Parents set the stage for literacy when they make the public library a priority. If families visit the grocery once a week, families should also add a weekly visit to the public library. Parents must demonstrate that the human mind needs nourishment like the human body needs food. Children assign value to what parents like and do. Therefore, let them see you giddy and gushing over books.  

    VANESSA:  Oral Storytelling is one thing. It’s so very important that children know they don’t have to have a whole bunch of books or iPads, et cetera, to enjoy literacy. In the old African way, storytelling brought the community and the family together. It doesn’t require anything but imagination, so get to letting children create their own stories to share with the family. Since I am a writer and illustrator, I love bringing art into the picture as well. A couple of pieces of paper and some crayons and something to fasten the papers with and a child can make a book of their own.  But you can also buy journals. Encourage your children to write or draw something every day.

    KELLY: Start DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time in your home. Everyone find a cozy spot and grab a book. Then, after reading, take turns sharing your thoughts about each story. Reading is not just having fluency, it’s understanding too. Fun family discussions can build comprehension. Another engaging activity you can do is choose a book that’s also a movie. Read it as a family first. Next, watch the movie together. Talk about the differences and which you liked better and why.

    Do you have a favorite book that you have written?  If so, what is it and why?

    TAMEKA: I love all my books for different reasons, but I’m honestly feeling the most intense affection for Brown Baby Lullaby right now because I believe it shows how much I’ve grown as a writer. I also think it’s timely and needed, as our society seems to be regressing in so many ways. Our brown-skinned babies need loving affirmation daily and I am proud to have written a book that gives them just that.

    ALICE: I celebrate all of my books. However, after 15 years in print, HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD is a “Classic Hit.” The book is a mother’s love song to her baby. It sings and swings like a Dunbar poem. HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD demands to be spoken aloud. Be warned. You gotta read it wit’ SOUL!

    VANESSA: Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless The Table would be that book. Actually, Grandma’s Purse, too. These books are about family. Family is so very important to me and it is important to children as well. The relationship that a child has with its grandparents is so special.

    With Grandma’s Purse, I really went back into my childhood to remember what excited me about my Grandma coming over. Her purse was what we bonded over. It held the things that I thought made her “Grandma”, and because she shared those things with me, I felt like I got to know her better. With Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless The Tablethe story was inspired by my own, very diverse family, which had nothing to do with DNA but rather love, food, fun, and fellowship. Just like the book, we are a large group and we have “Auntie Mabels” who take forever to bless the table so the food gets cold and that is just how it is in families sometimes. LOL! But, we love our Auntie Mabels and value the importance of blessing the table before we eat. But it doesn’t have to be a prayer service….

    KELLY: I love all of my books for different reasons.  They each come from some place deep inside. Tea Cakes for Tosh, the Jada Jones series and Going Down Home with Daddy are particularly close to my heart. They were inspired by making tea cakes with my grandma, watching my daughter navigate friendships and find her voice and taking my kids to my husband’s family homeplace, respectively. Family means everything to me.

    If you could give parents one piece of advice about reading with children, what would it be?

    TAMEKA: Do it! Every day! Draw on your inner actor and make books fun by reading them with gusto.

    As often as possible, let your children take the lead in choosing which books to read. If the goal is to instill a love of reading in a child, this is essential.

    ALICE: Here is a tip for parents when sharing bedtime stories. Make sure the text is spare like a poem and contains all the qualities of a Stevie Wonder lyric. Bedtime books ought to include vivid imagery and rhythm. Before anything else, parents should pick titles they enjoy so bedtime stories will be a pleasure to the parent and child.

    VANESSA: Read every day and explore all kinds of books!

    KELLY: Make reading as exciting as going on a trip. Show your children how every turn of the page lets them fly into new worlds.

    Any advice for aspiring writers and authors?

    TAMEKA: Write as long as you love writing. Pursue publication as long as you still want it. If and when your wants and loves change, give yourself permission to change with them.

    If you decide you’re committed to writing for children, actively study the craft of writing for children. Joining SCBWI is a good place to start.

    ALICE: I encourage aspiring writers to purchase one engraved Shinola journal, a box of Palomino Black Wing Pencils (602) and a Palomino pencil sharpener. Why? Fancy writing accessories can help aspiring writers find their flow.

    VANESSA: Write every day. Whether in a notebook or in a blog post, it must be done often in order to get better and develop your writer’s voice. Write without correcting. Just get it all out on paper or your computer. You can always go back and correct it. Sometimes an idea is just waiting to be birthed and it needs to know that it is enough with being corrected every second. Just let it flow out of you with all of your senses.  Write with your senses.

    KELLY:  I’ll share advice I received early in my journey as a children’s book author – write the story only you can tell. Dig from the well of who you are and let what you know and feel deeply inform the stories you create.

    Name an adult book that Inspired you

    TAMEKA: When I need personal inspiration, I always read Ecclesiastes and Proverbs from the Bible.  They never fail to center me and provide me with clearer vision. 

    I recently read Shirley Chisholm’s UNBOUGHT AND UNBOSSED. Not only was I reminded how numerous her trailblazing accomplishments were, but I also discovered how much her perspective on life aligns with my own.

    ALICE: Sometimes an adult book comes along that is so texturized and terrific, it forces me to refine my execution of setting scenes, wielding rhythm, and writing metaphor. Sarah Broom’s THE YELLOW HOUSE did that for me in 2019. Reflections of her Louisiana family surviving Hurricane Katrina also made me celebrate the conquering courage and faith of my own ordinary family.  

    VANESSA: The Game Of Life and How To Play It by Florence Scovel Shinn.

    KELLY: Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr.

    Name a book that Made you laugh out loud

    TAMEKA: To my recollection, I’ve never laughed out loud at an adult book. The first book I ever remember laughing out loud at was Crystal Allen’s HOW LAMAR’S BAD PRANK WON A BUBBA-SIZED TROPHY.

    The peanut scene. That’s all I’m going to say.

    KELLY: Like Tameka, I mostly read children’s books nowadays. One that always makes me smile and laugh is The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Shelley Jackson. Love that book.

    Name a book You recommend to others often

    TAMEKA: I spend more time recommending children’s books than I do adult books. Occupational reality.

    VANESSA: The Game Of Life and How To Play It by Florence Scovel Shinn.

    KELLY: I recommend Redemption Song by Bertice Berry. Many people remember her as a talk show host, but she’s a sociologist, educator and gifted author too. Redemption Song is a moving love story that’s rich with history.

    What books are on your nightstand or e-reader right now?

    TAMEKA: A book about a subject I’m researching for an upcoming project, and two award-winning books I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read yet so I won’t name them.

    ALICE: At this time there are three books on my nightstand. (1) A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL (Marilyn Nelson) (2) THE SWEET FLYPAPER OF LIFE (Langston Hughes) and (3) WRITING PICTURE BOOKS (Ann Paul)

    VANESSA: My Bible

    KELLY: I’m re-reading Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes. It’s a master work.

    Are you working on any special projects that you want to share with others?

    TAMEKA:  While I don’t publicly discuss my works in progress, I am pleased to share the title of what will be my fourth published picture book, TWELVE DINGING DOORBELLS. It’s about Black family gatherings and written to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas…with a contemporary flair. The publisher is Kokila, the new Penguin Random House imprint that is already making significant waves in children’s book publishing. The phenomenally talented Ebony Glenn will illustrate.

    ALICE: While I am busy these days drafting stories about Black musicians and social activists, a part of my time is also spent promoting my picture book–A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS. Parents must be intentional about shaping a child’s creative interests and permitting children agency to direct their own path. Gwendolyn Brooks points the way for children and parents.

    VANESSA: I am writing and illustrating a new picture book with Random House called Becoming Vanessa, and another book with Nancy Paulsen Books called Shake It Off.

    KELLY: I’m working on the third book in my Ty’s Travels easy reader series (illustrated by Nina Mata and published by HarperCollins). The first two debut on September 1. I can’t wait to share this series with readers. It centers an imaginative African-American boy who turns every-day experiences into unforgettable adventures. He’s surrounded by his loving family. I’m also gearing up for the launch celebration of DREAM BUILDER on Saturday, January 18. Hosted by Liberation Station Bookstore (https://www.liberationstations.com/), it will take place at NorthStar Church of the Arts founded by Phil and Nnenna Freelon. It will be an honor to share the book in that sacred space. RSVP for the free event and pre-order your signed copy here – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/liberation-station-presents-book-launch-w-kelly-tickets-85338629137.

    How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?

    TAMEKA: The best way to contact me is through my website, tamekafryerbrown.com, but I’m also reachable through my public Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tamekafryerbrown.author/

    Twitter: https://twitter.com/teebrownkidlit

    Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tamekafryerbrown/

    ALICE: My live interviews and FREE lesson plans are listed on my website. Please visit www.alicefayeduncan.com.

    VANESSA: Through my blog Oohlaladesigstudio.blogspot.com, or my website vanessabrantleynewton.com, on Facebook at Vanessa Newton, and on Instagram at Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

    KELLY: People can reach me on social media:

    FB: www.facebook.com/kellystarlinglyons

    Twitter: @kelstarly

    They can also contact me through my website: www.kellystarlinglyons.com.

    Anything else you’d like to share?

    Please visit our Sowing Circle website – https://sowing-circle.com/. We’re four Black women writers sowing words and images into the hearts of children. We’d love for you to join our mission to grow young minds and reap a harvest through literacy. You can purchase a bundle of our four books for a discounted price through Novel Bookstore, Main Street Books and Quail Ridge Books. The books are available to purchase online as well as in the brick-and-mortar stores. Visit our website for link and more information. Thank you for your support.

    THE GIVEAWAY!

    The Sowing Circle Book Bundle Giveaway
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    blog tours, children's books, diverse books

    You’re Strong With Me by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry (Blog Tour)

    Published by Lantana Publishing Pages: 40
    Format: Hardcover
    Source: Lantana Publishing
    Buy on Amazon
    four-half-stars

    The rain clouds are long gone and the dry season scorches the land. Everything is new for the baby giraffe. As she bounds ahead and lags behind, her mother patiently explains the ways of the grasslands. And until she grows a little taller, older, and wiser, her mother reminds her: “You’re strong with me.”


    Disclaimer: I received a free advanced copy of You’re Strong With Me from the publisher to review and enjoy with our family in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Reflection

    Throughout human and animal history, mothers and their babies have been known to be connected in beneficial ways. By staying close to their mothers, infants receives protection, warmth, emotional reassurance, and breast milk – in just the forms and quantities that nature intended.

    In the book, You’re Strong With Me, readers are introduced to a mother and baby giraffe.  The baby giraffe questions different things like an oxpecker that flies onto her mother’s back and birds flying towards a fire in the tall grass.  Each time baby giraffe asks a question, her mother says, “Until then, you’re strong with me.”  This reassures the baby giraffe and seems to give her the confidence to keep exploring and learning from her mother.

    After reading this book, I immediately thought about a video I recently saw that featured a mother giraffe giving birth.  It was unlike any birth I had ever seen!  The baby giraffe fell from its mother’s womb, about 5-8 feet above the ground.  The baby was shriveled up lying still on the ground, still too weak to move.  Then the mother giraffe lovingly lowered her neck as if to kiss the baby giraffe. And then something incredible happened!  She lifted her long leg and kicked the baby giraffe, sending it flying up in the air and tumbling down on the ground. The mother continued to do this over and over again until the baby giraffe learned to stand on its feet.  Baby giraffes must learn quickly to stand and run with the pack.  Otherwise, they will have no chance of survival.  Most humans are not quite as lucky as baby giraffes. No one teaches us to stand up every time we fall. When we fail, when we are down, we just give up. No one kicks us out of our comfort zone to remind us that to survive and succeed, we need to learn to get back on our feet.


    You’re Strong With Me is a beautifully illustrated story about mother giraffe teaching her daughter about having instincts for survival in the wild.   Under her mother’s guidance, the baby giraffe begins to understand she must learn to be kind to certain animals, how to handle forest fires and how to pay attention to noises and quiet in their environment.  Ages 4-8 and up.

    A Word from the Illustrator Poonam Mistry + FREE Coloring Sheets to Download!

    Creating the artwork for ‘You’re Strong With Me’ was actually the hardest of the three to illustrate. The first two books from the series were very different.  I really wanted to create something that almost was a combination of the two: something that showcased how incredibly beautiful the African Savanna is, but also focused on the closeness of the relationship of the calf and her mother.

    Patterns and Research
    My Dad was born in Kenya and so around my parent’s house they have a lot of ornaments and wall art inspired by Africa. This really helped at the beginning stages of the book when I first received the manuscript for the story.  For this book in the series, I researched a lot of patterns found on African textiles and art. I really wanted to make sure (like I had done with the previous two books) that the patterns I was using reflected the origins of where the story was set. I used a lot of zigzags, diamonds, triangles and squares in the artwork, adding finer details later on in PhotoShop.

    Process
    This book involved at lot more drawing and sketching at the planning stage.  After the initial sketches, I drew out the final images in pencil around 1/3 larger than the actual size. I transferred these onto thicker cartridge paper and began to draw the final designs using ink pens (0.5mm minimum). I prefer using ball tip pens just because I find the ink glides on better and creates more pigmented lines. Then, using the bank of patterns I had researched, I selected the patterns I thought would work best and applied them to the drawing.  After these were completed, I scanned them onto the computer and used PhotoShop to apply colour and adjust the composition.  It took a long time to get the shape and proportions of the giraffe correct. Originally, I was going to cover them in giraffe print, but I wanted to do something a little different with them. In the end, I decided on creating individual patterns for the giraffe and her calf using triangles.

    Colours
    Usually I pick a small palette of colours to work on throughout the whole book before I have even begun drawing. For ‘You’re Strong With Me’, I really wanted to make sure the palette was warm with lots of golden oranges, yellows and browns to reflect and capture the hot climate there. As the story features a creek I selected a small set of tortoise blues too but only added accents of them throughout the book where needed.

    Hidden gems
    The African Savanna is full of the most amazing wildlife and insects. I really wanted to highlight this in the book so many of the pages have hidden birds or insects in them. With this specific book they are particularly camouflaged with their surroundings. I hope this will give further opportunities for little ones to spend more time exploring the art and discovering something new.

    Download the FREE giraffe coloring sheets designed by illustrator Poonam Mistry HERE and HERE!

    You’re Strong With Me’ is available for purchase in North American bookshops on October 1, 2019 and in UK bookshops on October 3, 2019.  For every book purchased on the website, Lantana Publishing donates a book to children’s hospitals via Read for Good UK.

     

     

    four-half-stars
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    The Pirate Tree by Brigita Orel (Blog Tour)

    Published by Lantana Publishing on September 3, 2019
    Format: Hardcover
    Source: Lantana Publishing
    Buy on Amazon
    four-half-stars

    The gnarled tree on the hill sometimes turns into a pirate ship. A rope serves as an anchor, a sheet as a sail, and Sam is its fearless captain. But one day another sailor approaches, and he's not from Sam's street. Can they find something more precious than diamonds and gold? Can they find . . . friendship?


    the pirate tree

    Disclaimer: I received a free advanced copy of The Pirate Tree from the publisher to review and enjoy with our family in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Friends are an important part of everyone’s life. For children who recently arrive in a new country, state or town, making friends is even more significant. Friendship can help ease a child’s transition and enhance their learning and social development.

    As beautifully demonstrated in the book The Pirate Tree, making new friends can sometimes be a challenging and uncomfortable experience.  When newcomer Agu tries to make friends with Sam, Agu doesn’t immediately feel welcome after asking if he can play pirate ship with her.

    I don’t know you.  You’re not from my street.  Agu’s face falls.  He watches her struggle with a thick rope.  No one wants to play with him because he’s a newcomer.

    Initially, Sam is unsure about Agu, but then she finds out he’s from Nigeria and that he sailed on a ship before.  Once Sam begins to open up and get to know a little more about Agu, she invites him aboard her make believe pirate ship and they embark on a journey towards friendship.

    The Pirate Tree teaches readers to encourage inclusions among new friends and connect through conversations.  Sam and Agu were quickly able to establish things they had in common which led to an invitation to play together.  A delightful story about finding a kindred spirit and discovering a new friend.  Available for purchase now from Lantana Publishing.  Ages 5 – 8.

    four-half-stars
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    Unicorns 101 by Cale Atkinson Blog Tour

    Unicorns 101 on September 3, 2019
    Pages: 32
    Format: Hardcover
    Buy on Amazon

    Unicorns! You love them, but how much do you really know about them? Join Professors Glitter Pants, Sprinkle Steed, Star Hoof, and Sugar Beard, plus their trusty lab assistant, Pete, as they reveal mind-blowing unicorn facts never before available to the public! Full of eye-popping illustrations and nonstop, sidesplitting laughs—plus a removable Unicorn Scientist diploma at the end of the book—Unicorns 101 will have children eager to enroll, time and time again!


    Unicorns continue to remain popular magical creatures among kids and readers of all ages.  With their magic powers, glitter and sparkles, it’s no surprise that people continue to be obsessed with unicorns year after year.

    We enjoyed reading this funny and engaging book to help spark imagination and get a crash course in all things unicorn.  If you have a unicorn lover check this one out!  Recommended for ages 3-7 and up.

    View the Book Trailer

     

    About the Author

    CALE ATKINSON is an author-illustrator and animator whose titles include Where Oliver FitsTo the SeaOff and Away, and Sir Simon: Super Scarer. He lives lakeside with his family in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. See more of Cale’s work at Cale.ca, and follow him on Twitter.

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    Llama Llama Mess, Mess, Mess by Anna Dewdney Blog Tour

    Published by Penguin Kids Format: Hardcover
    Source: Penguin Kids

    Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    About the Book
    Age Range:
     2 – 5 years
    Grade Level: Preschool – Kindergarten
    Hardcover: 40 pages
    Publication Date: August 27, 2019

    ORDER LINK
    Click here!

    Synopsis
    Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama is growing up, but he still loves to play with all his toys! When Mama Llama says it’s time to clean up, Llama responds like any child more interested in playing than cleaning . . . by ignoring her! But Mama has an imaginative response of her own. What if she never cleaned? What would happen then? Well, Llama Llama is going to find out! Here is a truly funny take on a childhood chore that all children will relate to and laugh at! And it is sure to be helpful to get kids cleaning up!

    Reflection
    I’ve always loved cleanliness and organization ever since I was a kid.  I guess today I would be categorized as having a bit of OCD and I’m totally okay with that.  I was taught that “there is a place for everything, and everything should be in its place.”  I still believe this today and teach it to my kids now that they’re older.

    When the kids were younger it was hard to keep up with having the house as tidy as I usually like it to be.  It wasn’t worth it for me to keep picking up after the kids when it would get messy again within minutes.  I learned to just let things go.  However, now the kids are old enough to know better and understand what it means to have a messy house or a messy room just like Llama Llama.

    It’s cleaning day in the book Llama Llama Mess, Mess, Mess and all Llama wants to do is play with his toys instead of helping his mom clean up.  In order to teach Llama good cleaning habits Mama Llama shows him what would happen if she stopped cleaning the house.  Llama sees his mother taking the clean clothes out of the dryer and throwing them in the air, wearing blankets on her head, and making forts with mops and brooms.  Pretty soon, everything’s in disarray and Llama has no place to play.  That’s when he decides to work together with Mama Llama to clean up the mess.

    I love how Mama Llama taught Llama the importance of keeping the place where you live clean by pretending to have bad habits herself.  It wasn’t until Llama witnessed his mother’s messiness that he understood there was no space left for him to play.  Mama Llama did a great job teaching Llama the basic concept of “everything in its place” and working together as a team.

    I believe once children can see everything in its place they are able to understand where something belongs.  Llama quickly understood this which helped get one step closer to keeping his own room clean. Half the battle for a child is not understanding where things should go and how to keep them organized without having it demonstrated for them.

    If you’re having trouble teaching your kids how to keep their rooms clean, be sure to check out Llama Llama Mess, Mess, Mess for some inspiration.  Ages 2-5.

    About the Author
    Anna Dewdey passed away in September 2016, at the age of fifty from cancer. A teacher, mother, and enthusiastic proponent of reading aloud to children, she continually honed her skills as an artist and writer and published her first Llama Llama book in 2005. Her passion for creating extended to home and garden and she lovingly restored an 18th century farmhouse in southern Vermont. She wrote, painted, gardened, and lived there with her partner, Reed, her two daughters, two wirehaired pointing griffons, and one bulldog. Anna was a warm-hearted, wonderful, wise soul who will be forever missed, but whose spirit lives on in her books.

    Your turn: What are some of your tips to teach children to keep their room clean?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team by Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran


    Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team by Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran, Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
    Publisher: HarperCollins
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 48
    Age Range: 4 – 8

    Synopsis
    One afternoon, eleven-year-old Titan, his friends from the Wild Boars soccer team, and their coach rode their bikes to explore local caves. They crawled through the narrow tunnels in the dark to reach the center of the cave. When they turned to go home, heavy rains had flooded the tunnel. They were trapped!

    With rising waters and monsoon season upon them, time and oxygen were running out. The world watched with bated breath as rescuers from around the globe joined forces to try to free the boys. After eighteen harrowing days, in an unprecedented effort of international teamwork, they were finally saved.

    Reflection
    Eleven-year-old Chanin grew up being obsessed with soccer.  At the age of six he started playing and joined the Wild Boars soccer team a few short years later.  Nicknamed “Titan” by his family after the powerful giants of Greek mythology, he was known for his strength which made him an asset to the team.

    On June 23, 2018 Titan and eleven of his teammates entered the Tham Luang Nang Non Caves along with their soccer coach in search of adventure. The storied “hidden city” within the cave excited the boys so they went in search of it.  Little did they know they’d be spending 18 days trapped (June 23 – July 10) there underground surrounded by stone cold water and little oxygen with no food.

    While reading this book I felt a range of different emotions from sadness to nervousness to sheer excitement!  This story is not only captivating, but it’s informative too.  It’s so interesting to read the details about how the team members all made it out alive.  What an incredible journey for the soccer team, their coach and all of the rescuers/volunteers involved!  This is an amazing story of bravery, perseverance, teamwork and community.  The illustrations by Dow Phumiruk are so vivid will take your breath away.  Each illustration really helps to bring the story to life.

    The back matter has more information about the cave rescue including a timeline and other fascinating facts.  For example: while being trapped in the cave, four of the boys missed their birthdays.  There is also a brief interview with British divers Chris Jewell and Jason Mallinson.  An inspiring non-fiction book not to be missed this year.

    Watch the Book Trailer!

    About the Authors
    Susan Hood is the award-winning author of many books for young readers, including Ada’s Violin, Shaking Things Up, and Lifeboat 12. She is the recipient of the 2017 E.B. White Honor Award, the 2017 Christopher Award, the 2017 Américas Award, and the 2017 Bank Street Flora Steiglitz Straus Award, given annually to “a distinguished work of nonfiction which serves as an inspiration to young people.” Visit susanhoodbooks.com.

    Pathana Sornhiran was born in Bangkok, Thailand, where she attended the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University with a major in English and French. She later completed her master’s degree in journalism in London, UK and now works as a journalist in Asia, traveling across the region to find and tell stories that matter.

    About the Illustrator 
    Dow Phumiruk was born in Bangkok, Thailand and came to the United States with her family when she was very young. Her mother was a nurse, and her father, a retired Royal Thai Air Force captain. He worked for Thai Airways for many years, which allowed her family many trips back to Thailand when she was younger. Dow currently lives in Colorado with her husband and three daughters. She is an author and illustrator of children’s books and has been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators since 2011. Dow is also a general pediatrician who teaches medical students part time. When she is not creating or teaching, she likes to hike the trails near her home. Visit her at artbydow.blogspot.com

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    Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry (Book Review) + Natural Hair Tips & Techniques


    Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

    Publisher: Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 32
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3

    Synopsis
    It’s up to Daddy to give his daughter an extra-special hair style in this ode to self-confidence and the love between fathers and daughters, from former NFL wide receiver Matthew A. Cherry and New York Times bestselling illustrator Vashti Harrison.

    Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When Daddy steps in to style it for an extra special occasion, he has a lot to learn. But he LOVES his Zuri, and he’ll do anything to make her — and her hair — happy.

    Reflection
    Twist outs. Braid outs. Wash and Gos. Bantu knots. Locs. Afros. Braids. Top Knots. Ponytails.  Today’s natural haired beauties are embracing their kinks, coils and curls more than ever before to express their style.  Just ask little Zuri.  She wants to have the perfect hairstyle to welcome her mother home.  Armed with an iPad, hair products and her dad, she ends up finding the perfect look.

    I adore this book for so many reasons.  First, it showcases a Black father in a positive light bonding with his daughter doing her hair.  We don’t see this enough, especially in the Black community.  I personally think a father caring for his daughter’s hair isn’t a loss of masculinity.  In fact, I think women admire men even more who take the initiative to learn how to do hair.  I love how Zuri’s dad steps up to the plate and figures out what needs to be done to do his daughter’s hair in his wife’s absence.

    With the help of social media, Zuri’s father learns how to comb, part, oil, twist, and style Zuri’s hair.  This experience allowed Zuri to bond with her dad in an entirely new way, and likely instilled a deep pride about the heritage in her hair.

    One thing I notice with my husband is he likes to bond with our kids by playing, roughhousing, teaching them a skill or a sport.  But Hair Love shows that fathers talking to their daughters about their hair is an entirely new way to bond. Just like my daughter, many girls love to see and spend time with their dad.  So when a father actually does a good job on his daughter’s hair she’ll likely respond with, “Yeah, my daddy did my hair!”…now that’s bonding.

    I also love how Zuri’s dad tells her that her hair is beautiful.

    Daddy tells me it is beautiful.  That makes me proud.  I love that my hair lets me be me!

    When I was younger I remember people used to always use the word “nappy” to describe natural Black hair.  That word was thrown around a lot during my childhood by children and grown-ups and I never liked it.  Since becoming an adult and embracing my own natural hair, I no longer use that word to describe my hair or anyone else’s natural hair.  You have to be mindful of the things you say to children and teach them about self-love at an early age like Zuri’s dad.

    I also think Hair Love does a great job showing readers that being a father is much more than being able to provide for a family financially.  Fatherhood sometimes encompasses: cooking, cleaning, AND doing hair.  It may also involve showing your daughter how to love herself completely inside and out, how to appreciate her natural beauty, and love everything about herself. Those are things that sometimes men (and women) really don’t think about as being a father.

    Lastly, the adorable illustrations by Vashti Harrison make this book a ten on the cuteness scale.  Just look at how adorable the front cover is!  As always, Vashti does an outstanding job telling the story through her stunning illustrations.  A winner!

    Hair Tips & Techniques

    • Learn your daughter’s hair type and what will work best in styling her hair.
    • Create or find a regimen that works your daughter’s hair and lifestyle. Once you find what works KEEP DOING IT.  Consistency is key to growing beautiful, natural hair.
    • Find people within your family and friends and talk to them about maintenance if you’re unsure.
    • Utilize social media when necessary.  There is a wealth of information online.  You can find easy, child-friendly tutorials as well as product reviews.
    • Browse the hashtag #naturalhair or #naturalhairkids on any social media platform and all kinds of helpful information will be in the palm of your hand.

    About the Author

    Chicago native Matthew A. Cherry is a former NFL wide receiver turned filmmaker who played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, and the Baltimore Ravens. In 2007 he retired and moved to LA to pursue a career in entertainment. Now, he directs music videos and short films, including “Hair Love,” the animated short film on which this book is based. Matthew was named to Paste Magazine‘s list of Directors to Watch in 2016.

    About the Illustrator

    Vashti Harrison is the author-illustrator of the New York Times bestselling picture book Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, which is also a NAACP Image Award winner. She earned her BA from the University of Virginia with a double major in Media Studies and Studio Art, and received her MFA in Film and Video from CalArts where she snuck into Animation classes to learn from Disney and Dreamworks legends. There she rekindled a love for drawing and painting. Now, utilizing both skill sets, she is passionate about crafting beautiful stories in both the film and picture book worlds.

    Your turn: How do you teach your children to love their hair?  What natural hair tips and techniques would you add to this list?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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