To celebrate the release of One Step Further by Katherine Johnson and her daughters Joylette Hylick and Katherine Moore, and illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow on January 5th, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive photos and stories from the life of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson, plus 5 chances to win a hardcover copy!
Music and Math
A never-before-seen interview with Katherine and her daughters that didn’t end up in the final book
Joylette and Kathy in 1954
Joylette: Our whole family was also very musical. We played instruments: piano, organ, violin, cello. Music is a lot like math. One beat, two beats, three beats, four.
Kathy: Our home was full of music. Music and math.
Katherine: We found joy with each other and in music.
Joylette: Mom directed the church choir and each of us sang in one choir or another. I also joined and played piano for the glee club at school. In 8th grade, I learned the violin. Our school orchestra conductor warned the other kids not to laugh when—
Kathy: At first, their orchestra sounded like cats!
Joylette: Did you snicker?
Kathy: I smiled.
Katherine: In the meantime, Jimmie started getting hammering headaches. The doctors said he needed surgery.
Joylette: Daddy kept getting weaker and weaker while I was in high school.
Kathy: His sickness was scary. “Lower your voices. Try to help.”
Joylette: Playing music comforted me. Four beats to a measure. Half notes. Quarter notes. I understood music’s symphonies and rhythms, unlike life’s. I conducted the student choir, performed Handel’s “Messiah” and learned the organ.
Kathy: Taking care of Daddy made me dream of being a physical therapist.
Joylette: That summer we spent our days with him at the hospital.
Katherine: Every generation pushes the next one forward, just as each note propels the next.
Some of the family’s sheet music
Joylette: My parents’ passion for music had helped me find mine.
Kathy: Their love of education made our brilliant minds shine.
Joylette: In 1958, Hampton University offered me a partial music scholarship. I majored in math, but played piano and organ, sang, and helped conduct the choir.
Kathy: In high school, I sang and played piano. Since Joylette and Connie had played violin, I moved to my own rhythm. I found the cello mellow and soothing.
Joylette: Eventually, I played the 9-foot grand piano and the big organ in Hampton’s Ogden Hall.
This inspirational picture book reveals what is was like for a young black mother of three to navigate the difficult world of the 1950s and 60s and to succeed in an unwelcoming industry to become one of the now legendary “hidden figures” of NASA computing and space research.
Johnson’s own empowering narrative is complemented by the recollections of her two daughters about their mother’s work and insights about how she illuminated their paths, including one daughter’s fight for civil rights and another’s journey to become a NASA mathematician herself. The narrative gracefully weaves together Johnson’s personal story, her influence on her daughters’ formative years, her and her daughters’ fight for civil rights, and her lasting impact on NASA and space exploration. Filled with personal reflections, exclusive family archival photos, and striking illustrations, readers will be immersed in this deeply personal portrayal of female empowerment, women in STEM, and the breaking down of race barriers across generations. Historical notes, photo/illustration notes, and a time line put the story into historical and modern-day context.
The inspirational tale of Johnson’s perseverance is both intimate and global, showcasing the drive of each generation to push one step further than the last. With its evocative family album-style format and novel approach to storytelling, One Step Further is sure to inspire the next generation of rising stars.
“Engaging, collage-style art augments the text, with speech bubbles, archival family photographs, and Barlow’s child-friendly illustrations. Concurrently accessible and intimate, this book will both inform readers and inspire them to reach for the stars.”
“A concise, engaging story of a Black family in the South during the Civil Rights era.”
“The blend of Johnson’s and her daughters’ voices is intimate and inspiring.”
Joylette (L), Kathy (R), Katherine (F)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. She calculated and analyzed the flight paths of many spacecraft during her more than three decades with the U.S. space program, and her work helped send astronauts to the moon. She died on February 24, 2020.
ABOUT THE CO-AUTHORS:Joylette Goble Hylick and Katherine “Kathy” Goble Moore grew up during the space race of the 1960s but never fully grasped their mother’s role in it until years later. Hylick graduated from Hampton University and received a Master’s at Drexel University. She followed in her mother’s footsteps, working at NASA as a mathematician before taking a job with Lockheed Martin as a Senior Requirements Engineer. She lives today in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. After attending Bennett College and Hampton University, and receiving a Masters of Science in Information Systems from Montclair State University (formerly Montclair State College), Moore spent 33 years working in public education as an educator and guidance counselor in New Jersey. She currently resides in Greensboro, North Carolina.
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Charnelle Pinkney Barlow, granddaughter of Caldecott-winning illustrator Jerry Pinkney, was surrounded by art as a child. Her passion for illustration grew after being introduced to the world of watercolors. She received her BFA in Illustration from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and her MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Welcome to the Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad Blog Tour!
To celebrate the release of Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: Absolute Hero by Valerie Tripp (author of the American Girl book series) on September 8th, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive, original content from Valerie, plus 5 chances to win a SIGNED copy of Izzy Newton!
D.I.Y. STEM Experiments
By Valerie Tripp
The S.M.A.R.T. Squad girls, Izzy, Charlie, Allie, Gina, and Marie love to experiment. You probably do, too! So here are some D.I.Y. S.T.E.M. experiments you can try.
Marie’s “Do You Dare? Hair-dye Solution”
Want a winning streak in your hair? S.M.A.R.T. Squad’s chemist, Marie, has concocted the perfect solution. Use Kool Aid! Your new color won’t be permanent, and the dye will be easy to apply.
First, put on rubber gloves so that your fingers won’t be dyed and slip on an old tee shirt to protect your good clothes. It’s a good idea to have a small, clean paintbrush on hand to use, too.
1. Next, mix warm water, your favorite hair conditioner, and unsweetened Kool Aid in a disposable cup. Experiment with different colors (flavors) and amounts of Kool Aid until you’ve made the color of your choice.
2. Make a gooey paste.
3. Use the paintbrush to apply the paste all over your head if you want to dye all of your hair. Or paint the dye on in streaks to achieve the look that Marie is sporting.
4.Let dry, and let fly!
Here are two other ways to dye your hair temporarily, too:
Math-loving Allie’s nickname is “Allie Oops,” because sometimes her projects just don’t add up. Once she mistakenly dyed all her clothes blue. But maybe you’re dying to try dyeing. So here’s . . .
Allie’s “Do-or-Die Tee Tie-Dye (This time, on purpose!)”
It’s best to do this outside, wearing one old tee shirt while you’re tie-dying another tee shirt that is clean, white, and cotton. Wear rubber gloves if you don’t want to dye your hands.
1. Put your tee shirt in a large plastic bowl. Pour ½ cup white vinegar
and ½ cup of warm water on the shirt and let the shirt soak for half an hour or so.
2. Wring the tee shirt so it’s just damp, not soaking wet. Roll it into the shape of a tube and slip three or four rubber bands around it, spaced out. Or, if you prefer, tie knots in the tee shirt.
3. Put ½ cup cold water in an old squeeze bottle and drop in about eight drops of food coloring. Screw the cap back onto the bottle securely, and shake it to mix the water and dye together thoroughly.
4. Squirt the food coloring and water mixture onto your tee shirt. Do all sides.
5. Mix up other food coloring colors with water and squirt those colors onto your tee shirt in different areas for each color.
6. Put your tee shirt in a plastic bag, seal it up, and let it sit overnight.
7. The next day, be sure you’re wearing that old tee shirt again. Take the wet tee shirt out of the plastic bag, take off the rubber bands, and plunge the tee shirt into a bowl that has ½ cup water and ½ cup salt in it to set the dye. Then wring the shirt out.
8. Dump out the salt water, fill the bowl with clean, cold water, and rinse your tee shirt over and over again until the water is clear. Wring out the tee shirt one last time and hang it up to dry.
9. Wear your tie-dye shirt and look cool. Remember: The first three or four times you wash your shirt, wash it separately in cold water or you will end up with unintended dyed clothes—just like Allie did!
Naturalist Charlie eats all natural foods, naturally! Chomp on . . .
Charlie’s Chewy Chickpea Chow
1. Sprinkle as much feta cheese as you want over a big handful of raw spinach. Drain a can of chickpeas and toss them on the spinach, too.
2. In a separate small bowl, mix 3 teaspoons of honey with 4 tablespoons of olive oil, ½ tablespoon of lemon juice, and a small handful of raisins. Add a teaspoon of cumin, a pinch of salt, and ½ teaspoon chili flakes. Mix it all up really well.
3. Toss both parts of the salad together in a nice big bowl and chow down!
Here are more ideas for very varied vegetarian lunches:
When middle school mishaps happen, five friends form the S.M.A.R.T. Squad and use their collective skills and the power of science to bring order to their school.
Science reigns supreme with this squad of young brainiacs. Join Izzy Newton and her friends in the first adventure of this fun new middle-grade fiction series from National Geographic Kids.
A crowded new school and a crazy class schedule is enough to make Izzy feel dizzy. It may be the first day of middle school, but as long as her best friends Allie Einstein and Charlie Darwin are by her side, Izzy knows it’ll all be okay. However, first-day jitters take an icy turn when Izzy’s old pal Marie Curie comes back to town. Instead of a warm welcome, Marie gives her former pal the cold shoulder. The problems pile up when the school’s air-conditioning goes on the fritz and the temperature suddenly drops to near freezing. The adults don’t seem to have a clue how to thaw out the school. Cold temperatures and a frigid friendship? Izzy has had enough of feeling like an absolute zero. She rallies the girls to use their brainpower and science smarts to tackle the school’s chilly mystery … and hopefully to fix a certain frozen friendship along the way. Will the girls succeed and become the heroes of Atom Middle School?
About the Author: Part of the creative team behind the American Girl series, Valerie Tripp has written many of the American Girl books about Felicity, Josefina, Samantha, Kit, Molly, and Maryellen. She also wrote American Girl’s Welliewisher and Hopscotch Hill School books. Tripp has also written numerous levled readers, songs, stories, skills book pages, poems, and plays for educational publishers and is the editorial director of the Boys Camp series. She is a frequent speaker at schools and libraries.
One (1) winner will receive a finished copy of Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: Absolute Hero SIGNED by Valerie Tripp
Check out the other four stops for more chances to win
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.
ALICE: JUST 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 calledJUST 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.
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.
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 LULLABY, JUST
LIKE A MAMA, JUST LIKE ME, DREAM BUILDER: THE STORY OF
HEY BLACK CHILD
CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT
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 Soonby Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, I Love My Hairby Natasha Tarpley, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, Bright Eyes, Brown Skinby Cheryl Willis Hudson and Bernette G. Ford, illustrated by George Ford, Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cutby Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon James, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Hortonby Don Tate, Aunt Flossie’s Hats and Crabcakes Laterby Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, illustrated by James E. Ransome, Max & the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper, Honey, I Loveby Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist, The Middle Passageby Tom Feelings, The Undefeatedby Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedomby 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 Table, the 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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–ASONG 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 Fits, To the Sea, Off 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.
Published byPenguin KidsFormat: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
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, Messand 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, Messfor 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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