In March 2020, Brandy Colbert will release her middle-grade debut, THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN – a powerful story (on Apple Books’ Most Anticipated Middle Grade Reads of 2020 list) about the only two black girls in town who discover a collection of hidden journals revealing shocking secrets of the past. A master at writing literary, contemporary novels with a commercial appeal, Colbert has quickly become a go-to author for stories with strong elements of diversity and intersectionality.
I recently had the pleasure of asking Brandy a series of bookish questions in an interview. Check out the highlights below including all of her book recommendations and upcoming tour dates.
What was the inspiration for your forthcoming book, The Only Black Girls in Town? What messages/lessons do you hope people come away with after reading it?
As a person who grew up as one of very few black kids in their school in a predominantly white town in the Midwest, I think a lot about kids who are going through the same thing now. One day I thought about what would happen if you were pretty much the only black girl in a tiny town, and then suddenly another black girl moved in across the street. I really wrote it for me and people who’ve been in or are going through that experience, because it’s such a specific situation to be in. I was so relieved when I got a bit older and realized I wasn’t the only one who’d grown up like that. I never write books with a message or lesson in mind, but I do hope that people who don’t have that experience will think about what it would be like to feel so isolated, and yet on display at the same time. Family also plays a big part in the story. I hope people will open their minds to all the different types of families that are out there.
Have you always been interested in reading and writing?
Yes, they’ve both been a big part of my life since I can remember. We always had a lot of books around the house when I was growing up, and we took regular trips to the library and bookstore, so I was always surrounded by literature. And I’ve loved storytelling from a young age, too; I’ve been writing since the age of 7.
What were some of your favorite subjects growing up in school?
I loved English and spelling, and I guess I’ve always had the same interests, because I grew up to be a writer, and a copy editor for magazines and books. I also really loved my journalism classes in high school; I worked on the yearbook staff and then went on to earn a journalism degree in college.
What are some of your must-have adult books for a home library?
Anything and everything by Colson Whitehead, Zadie Smith, and Curtis Sittenfeld; Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward; Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X Kendi; The Mothers by Brit Bennett; Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff; The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; An American Marriage by Tayari Jones; A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Besides writing, what are some of your other hobbies or interests?
Like writing, I’ve been tap dancing since I was young, and I still love it. I also enjoy cooking, baking, television and movies, trying to keep my indoor and outdoor plants alive, and spending time with friends.
Do you have a favorite book that you have written? If so, what is it and why?
It’s always hard for me to answer this question, because I truly love all of my books for different reasons. I would say maybe The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, because it was a real joy to work on from beginning to end. Readers seem to really connect with Birdie, and I love that a specific coming-of-age story about a black girl living in Chicago can mean something to so many people.
Any advice for aspiring writers and authors?
Shut out the noise, keep your head down, and do the work. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Remember that publishing is a long game. These are things I still have to remind myself of regularly; publishing is not an easy or predictable business.
What books are on your nightstand or e-reader right now?
Too many! I never used to read multiple books at once, and now I can’t seem to stop. I’m currently reading The Yellow House by Sarah Broom, and the ones on my nightstand right now are Florida by Lauren Groff, Heavy by Kiese Laymon, Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau, Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, and Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
Are you working on any special projects that you want to share with others?
My next book, The Voting Booth, will be out July 7, from Disney-Hyperion. It’s a YA novel set over the course of 12 hours, on Election Day, from the dual points of view of two black first-time teen voters, Duke and Marva. It covers a lot of topics, from grief to voter suppression to activism, and I’m excited for people to read it! I’m also currently working on a few projects that I hope to be able to talk about soon.
How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?
My website, brandycolbert.com, lists all of the different people to contact if someone needs to reach me, or they can fill out a submission form that goes directly to me. I am also on Twitter and Instagram, both at the handle @brandycolbert.
Brandy Colbert’s 2020 Tour Dates
March 7: BAM! Book Festival (West Palm Beach, FL)
March 13-14: Tucson Festival of Books (Tucson, AZ)
March 15-17: Children’s Literature Festival (Warrensburg, MO)
March 21: Skylight Books (1818 N. Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA) at 3:00 pm
In conversation with Nina LaCour (author of We Are Okay and Hold Still)
March 26: Brazos Bookstore (2421 Bissonnet Street, Houston, TX 77005) at 6:30 pm
In conversation with Liara Tamani (author of Calling My Name)
March 29: East City Bookshop (645 Pennsylvania Ave SE #100, Washington, D.C.) at 5:00 pm. Brandy will also be in conversation with Leah Henderson (author of One Shadow on the Wall).
March 30: Loyalty Bookstore (823 Ellsworth Drive, Silver Spring, MD) at 5:00 pm. Brandy will also be in conversation with bookstagrammer @SpinesVines.
March 31: Books of Wonder (217 W 84th St, New York, NY) at 6:00 pm
In conversation with Karyn Parsons (author of How High the Moon)
April 16: Vroman’s Bookstore (695 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA) at 7:00 pm
In conversation with Mary Cecilia Jackson (author of Sparrow)
April 18-19: The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (Los Angeles, CA)
June 6: Bronx Book Festival (The Bronx, NY)
June 7 | 10:30 AMThe Center for Fiction 15 Lafayette Ave. Brooklyn, NY
In conversation with Renée Watson (author of Ways to Make Sunshine)
June 7 3:00 PMBank Street Bookstore 2780 Broadway New York, NY
In conversation with Renée Watson (author of Ways to Make Sunshine)
About Brandy Colbert
Brandy Colbert is the critically acclaimed author of the novels Pointe, Finding Yvonne, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, and Stonewall Award winner Little & Lion. Born and raised in Springfield, Missouri, she now lives and writes in Los Angeles.
February 12, 2020 marks the 120th anniversary of the song Lift Every Voice and Sing. Often called “The Black National Anthem”, Lift Every Voice and Sing was written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and then set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1899. The song was first performed in public in the Johnsons’ hometown of Jacksonville, Florida as part of a celebration of Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 by a choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal.
Lift Every Voice and Sing has been a staple musical celebration of Black excellence and pride for the past 120 years. Our family adores the picture book entitled Sing a Song written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Keith Mallett. Accompanied by gorgeous illustrations and song lyrics, the book is a beautiful reminder that each generation has had to “lift” their own voices to demand and protect their rights.
You can also download the Sing a Song activity sheet that goes along with the book written by Kelly Starling Lyons. Click here to download.
Watch a video about the song like this one shown below.
Lift Every Voice and Sing
Lift ev’ry voice and sing, ‘Til earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise High as the list’ning skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on ’til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chastening rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? We have come over a way that with tears has been watered, We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, ‘Til now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path, we pray. Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee; Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land.
We are so excited to share that @mangoandmarigoldpress has launched its fifteenth book Bindiya in India which is perfect for ages 3-99. Bindiya in India chronicles Bindiya’s visit to India as she experiences the grandeur of an Indian wedding for the first time while playfully weaving in Hindi words and rhyme. The story is masterfully told by debut author Monique Chheda, MD and beautifully illustrated by veteran illustrator Debsmita Dasgupta.
With this launch, @mangoandmarigoldpress is also continuing our #1001DiverseBooks program, to help us not only bridge the diversity gap but also the accessibility gap in children’s literature. With each new book launch, Mango and Marigold Press is committed to also raise the funds to donate 1001 books to literacy and advocacy nonprofits that are working across the country to help children in need.
We need your help to make our vision a reality. Will you be a part of the change to end the diversity gap AND accessibility gap? When you pre-order your copy of Bindiya in India, you can also sponsor a copy for our nonprofit partner for only $10! The pre-order link is here!
For all orders placed between February 11th, 2020 through February 18th, 2020 will be signed by author Monique Chheda, MD.
Expected Ship Date: October 2020
Want to know more about this book? Synopsis below!
Bindiya in Indiais the story of a young girl’s trip to India for a wedding. Weaving together Hindi and English, the children’s illustrated book set in the 1990s follows Bindiya as she takes in the glorious sights of India.
Monique Chheda, MD (Author): Monique Chheda is a dermatologist living in Maryland. She has been married for four years and has two young children. Becoming a mother inspired her to revive one of her hobbies, writing. Wanting to pass on her Indian culture to her children, she found a scarcity of children’s books that allowed Indian-American children to connect with their heritage. This prompted her to write her own children’s book, Bindiya in India. Her hope is that through literature, she can share India’s rich culture and language with the next generation.
DebasmitaDasgupta is a Singapore-based internationally-published picture-book illustrator and graphic novel artist with over a decade of experience in the field of art-for-change. Working with mixed media, marrying ink, paint and digital tools, she creates diverse fiction and non-fiction visual stories for children and young-adults. She is currently working on a number of exciting picture books and a graphic novel releasing soon.
Mango & Marigold Press is an award-winning independent publishing house that shares the sweet and savory stories of the South Asian experience. Sharing every day and extraordinary stories of the South Asian experience, the company has produced fourteen books across four different product categories with features on The Today Show, The New York Times, The Washington Post, US Weekly, People Magazine and so much more. Bindiya in India is the company’s fifteenth book.
The #1001DiverseBooks is an initiative created by Mango and Marigold Press in 2019 to commit 1001 copies of new, diverse, children’s books to underserved populations and communities. Community members can sponsor a copy of a book for $10 to be donated to our #1001DiverseBooks initiative.
Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of these books and cards from the publishers to share my review as part of Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020. As always, all opinions expressed are my own. Thank you to the Multicultural Children’s Book Day Team for selecting me as a reviewer and a co-host!
Publisher: Lee & Low Format: Hardcover Pages: 40 Recommended Age Range: 7 – 10 and up Recommended Grade Level: 2 – 5
“If a man puts something to block your way, the first time you go around it, the second time you go over it, and the third time you go through it.”
Living by these words made inventor and entrepreneur Garrett Morgan unstoppable! Growing up in Claysville, Kentucky, the son of freed enslaved people, young and curious Garrett was eager for life beyond his family’s farm. At age fourteen, he moved north to Cleveland, where his creative mind took flight amidst the city’s booming clothing-manufacturing industry.
Using his ingenuity and tenacity, Garrett overcame racial barriers and forged a career as a successful businessman and inventor. But when a tunnel collapsed, trapping twenty men, the rescue would test both Garrett’s invention — and his courage.
Garrett Morgan referred to himself as “The Black (Thomas) Edison. Do you know his other numerous inventions and talents beyond the traffic signal which he is best known for?
Despite racial barriers that often stood in his way, Garrett still managed to forge a career as a successful businessman and inventor. Whenever Garrett saw a need, he filled it by using his ingenuity and tenacity. He is known for inventing: the three-way traffic signal (which he eventually sold to General Electric), a hair straightening product, the gas mask, the electric hair curling comb, and a revamped sewing machine with a belt tightener. He also had a successful children’s clothing line in partnership with his wife Mary Hasek.
Accompanied by gorgeous illustrations, The Unstoppable Garrett Morgan gives readers a detailed glimpse into the life of Garrett Morgan from his early days to living in a segregated section in Kentucky to his many achievements to his death 1963.
I’d highly recommend this book to learn more about this talented man who helped shape America and blazed the trail for other African-American inventors and entrepreneurs.
Illustrations and rhyming text introduce special days around the world, including the Spring Festvial, Inti Raymi, Eid al-Fitr, Dâia de Muertos, and the New Yam Festival. Includes calendar of special days and notes.
After reading this book, me and my children learned so much about lesser known special days that are celebrated around the world throughout the year.
In this book, readers are introduced to celebrations from thirteen different cultures including: Kodomo no Hi (Japan), Spring Festival (China) Matariki (New Zealand), Inti Raymi (Peru), Carnaval (Brazil), Midsommar (Sweden), Nowruz (Iran), Passover (United States), New Yam Festival (Nigeria), Novy God (Russia), Eid al-Fitr (Egypt), Dia de Muertos (Mexico), and Diwali (India).
Accompanied by simple rhyming text and vivid illustrations featuring a very diverse cast of characters, Let’s Celebrate makes a wonderful addition to a home or school library for those interested in learning about different cultures and celebrations around the world.
Each special day has a pronunciation key to help readers pronounce the names correctly. The back matter also has a visual yearly calendar/timeline along with additional detailed information about each special day like the different types of foods typically eaten or traditions followed by the people.
For an added extension of learning, you can also pair this book with the Global Kids flashcard set. Kids and adults can explore over 50 countries and cultures with easy-to-follow, hands-on activities.
Each card has step-by-step instructions and simple illustrations which makes it easy to re-create on your own. For example: kids can make pretend passports, learn numbers 1 – 10 in Arabic, learn to play kid games from other countries like “Capture the Stones” popular in Egypt, learn different cultural recipes like Jollof Rice (Ghana) (ingredients and steps included), and so much more!
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.
Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.
MCBD 2020 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
I’ve had an idea to create a Black History resource for the past two years. Last year, with the help of a fellow author/illustrator Kathy Ellen Davis I provided you with a fun Black History Bingo game which was quite popular and downloaded over 5,000 times.
This year, I connected with a very talented Black illustrator named Chasity Hampton, founder of Whimsical Designs by CJ, LLC. I hired Chasity to bring my vision to life and I think she did a fantastic job. I’m so excited to share Chasity and her work with you all. She’s the illustrator who created the adorable logo for my kid’s 50 States 50 Books literacy organization.
Shameless plug for my kids and their 50 States 50 Books initiative: They are doing amazing work collecting and donating diverse children’s books to kids across America who don’t have access to diverse literature. Their story was featured in Time Magazine for Kids and The Huffington Post just to make a few. Just like last year, their goal is to collect and donate 2,500 diverse children’s books to each of the 50 United States. If you’d like to donate new or gently used books or monetary gifts to help their cause, please visit their website for details on how you can help. You can also follow their popular Instagram account here.
Ok, back to the printable. My goals for creating this Black History resource for you are twofold:
1) To provide parents, grandparents, educators, librarians, etc. with a fun and engaging resource to use with children either during Black History month or anytime of the year. I hope it gets kids excited to read and learn about Black History year round.
2) To uplift a young and talented illustrator such as Chasity. Let’s face it, this resource would not be possible without her. SHE did this work, not me. I just had the vision and SHE brought it to life.
This is the type of resource I wish I had when I was younger. So now as a parent, I get to live vicariously through my children and through the lives of children across the country and across the world who choose to use and share this resource.
To use this resource, simply follow the suggested list of things to do each day (or make up your own) and color in the corresponding numbers on the paper as you complete them. At the end of the 28 or 29 days you should end up with a fully colored in poster.
If you decide to download or share this resource, please tag me on Instagram @hereweeread so I can see it and share! Also, please tag Chasity too on Instagram @whimsicaldesigns_bycj. You can use the hashtag #hwrblackhistory if you’d like to share your kids or students using this resource. That would be my heart so happy!
If you want to print it on 8.5 x 11 paper, you certainly can. However, the list of things to do each day will be harder to read in smaller font. Whichever size you choose to print this resource is up to you. For a better experience, I’d recommend either the 11 x 17 size or the 18 x 24 if you want a larger poster size. You can also choose the 24 x 36 size if you want a bigger poster, but it will cost more to print. Again, totally your call on the size you choose.
I look forward to seeing images of kids enjoying this resource. Let me know in the comments what you think and if you choose to use it!
P.S.If you enjoy this resource, I’d appreciate it if you subscribed to my email list HERE. I promise, I don’t send spam! One of my social media goals this year is to build up my e-mail list so subscribing would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!
If you need book suggestions, you may want to browse some of my previous blog posts linked below:
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.
I am brown. I am beautiful. I am perfect. I designed this computer. I ran this race. I won this prize. I wrote this book. A joyful celebration of the skin you’re in―of being brown, of being amazing, of being you.
Check out I Am Brown when it publishes in March 2020! It’s one not to be missed for celebrating and embracing the skin you’re in.
Kids and parents are sure to love the vivid colors, simple text and diversity used throughout. It’s an empowering book for all children to read and is a beautiful reminder about self-love, dreaming big, culture and self-acceptance.
About the Author Ashok Banker is the bestselling author of more than 70 books which have sold more than 3.2 million copies in 21 countries and 61 languages. I Am Brown is his debut picture book.
About the Illustrator Sandhya Prabhatis an Independent Animator and Illustrator based in the Bay Area, California and is from Chennai, India. She holds an MFA Degree in Animation and Digital Arts from NYU Tisch School of the Arts Asia, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature from Stella Maris College.