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
In creating the Ty’s Travels series, author Kelly Starling Lyons wanted to make something that in her words “embodied Black Boy Joy.”
This is the first I Can Read series that features a Black family. These Guided Reading Level I books are great early readers ages 4 – 8 learning to read. They contain basic language, adorable illustrations, simple sentences and word repetition. Readers will enjoy Ty’s first train adventure and his first race car adventure. I think this is such a delightful series showing kids being everyday kids and having joyful experiences. We’re looking forward to reading the forthcoming books in the series as they are released.
Join Ty on his imaginative adventures in Ty’s Travels: All Aboard!, a My First I Can Read series by acclaimed author and illustrator team Kelly Starling Lyons and Nina Mata. Family time and imagination and play are highlighted in this fun story, perfect for sharing with children 3 to 6.
Ty wishes his family would play with him, but everyone is too busy before dinnertime. Luckily, Ty knows just what to do… Time for fun. Celebrate the power of imagination in All Aboard!
Ty can’t wait to ride his brand-new scooter at the park. Other kids zip and zoom by like race cars, but all Ty can do is wobble! Ty wants to give up, but a new friend helps Ty give it another try.
Celebrate imagination and the power of persistence in Ty’s Travels: Zip, Zoom! by the acclaimed author and illustrator team Kelly Starling Lyons and Nina Mata.
About the Author & Illustrator Kelly Starling Lyons is a founding member of The Brown Bookshelf (thebrownbookshelf.com). Her acclaimed picture books include Ellen’s Broom, Going Down Home with Daddy, and Sing a Song: How “Lift Every Voice and Sing” Inspired Generations.
Nina Mata is a New York Times bestselling illustrator and received her degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She has illustrated many books, including American gymnast Laurie Hernandez’s She’s Got This, NBA superstar LeBron James’s I Promise, and the Ty’s Travels I Can Read series. Nina currently lives in New Jersey with her husband, their daughter, and Tabitha, their cat. Visit her online at beautifique.org.
The Giveaway! One (1) lucky winner will win 1 copy of Ty’s Travels: Zip, Zoom! AND 1 copy of Ty’s Travels: All Aboard!. Must be a US resident age 18 and over to enter. Good Luck!
With the growing accessibility of books and reading materials, bookish accessories are in high demand now more than ever before. But let’s face it, being a bookworm is a lot of work. It takes dedication, concentration and plenty of time. Below I’ve compiled a list of essentials I have found to be essential to ensure a pleasant, stress free reading experience.
Read Everyday. Essential #1: Something to read If you’re going to be a bookworm (or a writer), you’re going to need a lot of books to read. So start by compiling a wish list of books you’d like to read and start reading.
No Dog Eared Pages, Please! Essential #2: Book Darts These magical little bookmarks are invaluable for not only marking your place, but prepping for book club (or blog post writing). Mark not only your page, but the exact line you want to remember. Once you try them you might not want go back to your old bookmarking ways.
Say Goodbye to Flapping Pages. Essential #3 Page Anchor If you’ve ever struggled with pages flapping in your face while reading a physical book, this little accessory may just be your reading BFF. You can read my previous review of the Page Anchor here. BONUS: Use my coupon code HEREWEEREAD15 to get 15% off your Page Anchor! Head over to www.page-anchor.com now!
Let there be light! Essential #4: An LED Book light If you read in bed like I do, you may want to have an LED book light like this one handy. I find portable book lights really useful for reading in bed at night. I also use my book light in the car or while traveling by plane.
Protect your bookish investments. Essential #5: A book sleeve Whether you’re book is in your home, at the bottom of your beach bag or the top of your carry-on, it will be protected from the bumps and bruises of travel inside a cute protective sleeve.
Read while you eat. Essential #6: A wooden book holder Do you love to read books while eating,cooking, drinking tea, having coffee, or while knitting? Do you need a gadget to hold books open while you are reading? Then you might want to invest in a wooden book holder like this one. Bonus: It also doubles as a cookbook recipe holder or a tablet holder.
Set a daily reading timed goal. Essential #7: A reading timer I aim to read for at least 20 – 30 minutes daily in the morning and at night right before bed. I find using a reading timer helps me stay on track with my daily reading goals. Simply set the timer for the allotted period, read until it goes off, then lights out. Both of my kids use this children’s reading timer since they don’t have mobile devices of their own yet.
Bookmark It. Essential #8: Literary Tattoos Ok, so these are not essentials, but they are fun… Literary Tattoos! Just add water: Simple stick, wet, and peel instructions mean easy application for all of these temporary tattoos.
Bookmark It. Essential #9: Bookmarks I’m really picky when it comes to bookmarks. In the past, I have used paper bookmarks, bobby pins, paper clips and index cards to save my place in a book. However, over the years I’ve learned bookmarks have to be functional, easy to use and long-lasting. Today, there are so many types of bookmarks to choose from – even magnetic ones!
Lately, I’ve been loving the durable leather bookmarks from our friends at Ox and Pine. Oh, and did I mention their bookmarks can be personalized? They also sell beautiful journals and a few other bookish items.
And hey, fellow bookworm, have you heard of our diverse summer reading challenge? Although summer is almost over, you can still use this resource all year round. Happy Reading!
Age Range: 5 – 7 years Grade Level: Kindergarten – 2 Hardcover: 32 pages Publisher: Capstone Editions
Synopsis It’s time for the first science lab, and nobody can agree on an experiment. But why pick just one when Bear is around? Bears makes the best science buddies, and Bear proves it by helping each group use the scientific method for its special experiment. This fourth picture book in Carmen Oliver’s Bears Make the Best…series will bring the excitement of science to a new level. One of the four experiments used in the book is detailed in the back matter.
Reflection When you stop and think about it, all kids are natural born scientists. From a very young age, they start experimenting with different things to see what will happen next. Once they are old enough to talk, they start asking, “why?” to everything.
I love that this book allows kids to nurture their spirit of curiosity. Children will see a diverse group of students with faces that match their own and learn the proper way to conduct a science experiment.
In addition to learning all the important safety protocols to conducting a science experiment, kids will also learn the four steps in the scientific method:
1. Observe 2. Make a Hypothesis 3. Experiment 4. Analyze Results
Bears Make the Best Science Buddies is perfect for aspiring scientists and classroom read-alouds. As a fun added bonus, this book also features one of the four science experiments to try on your own in the back matter.
Be sure to check out the other books in the series too!
Carmen Oliver is the author of picture books A Voice for the Spirit Bears: How One Boy Inspired Millions to Save a Rare Animal, a Junior Library Guild spring 2019 pick, Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies and Bears Make the Best Math Buddies. She’s also the author of the forthcoming picture books Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies, Bears Make the Best Science Buddies, The Twilight Library (North-South Books, 2021) and The Favio Chavez Story (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).
Carmen’s work has been shortlisted for the Rainforest of Reading Award, The Writers’ League of Texas Awards and the CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards for Early Literacy. In 2014, she founded the Booking Biz, a boutique style agency that brings award-winning children’s authors and illustrators to schools, libraries, and special events. She also teaches writing at the Writing Barn and The Highlights Foundation and loves speaking at schools, conferences, and festivals.
by Meena Harris, illustrated by Ana Ramírez González
Age Range: 4 – 8 years Grade Level: Preschool – 3 Hardcover: 32 pages Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Meena Harris debuts with an empowering picture book about two sisters who work with their community to effect change, inspired by a true story from the childhood of her aunt, US Senator Kamala Harris, and mother, lawyer, and policy expert Maya Harris.
One day, Kamala and Maya had an idea. A big idea: they would turn their empty apartment courtyard into a playground!
This is the uplifting tale of how the author’s aunt and mother first learned to persevere in the face of disappointment and turned a dream into reality. This is a story of children’s ability to make a difference and of a community coming together to transform their neighborhood.
InKamala and Maya’s Big Idea, two sisters decide they need a playground in the back of their building. They won’t take the landlord’s “no” as an answer and rally all the kids who live in the building to help them find a way. I love how at the girls call themselves the “per-sisters” at the end of the book because they were persistent and didn’t give up. Recommended for ages 4 – 8.
Meena Harris was born into a family of strong women whose legacy continues to inspire her. Her grandmother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a cancer researcher and civil rights activist; her mother, Maya Harris, is a lawyer and policy expert; and her aunt, Kamala Harris, is a United States senator from California. Meena herself is a lawyer and entrepreneur. In 2017 she founded the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, a female-powered organization that brings awareness to social causes. She currently resides in San Francisco with her partner and two daughters.
Ana Ramírez González worked as a visual development artist on Pixar’s Oscar-winning film Coco and illustrated the companion picture book Coco: Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Peña. Ana is also the illustrator of Maybe Tomorrow? by Charlotte Agell. She grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico, and lives in Oakland, California.
Of all the children that ever could be, You are the one made just for me.
From a child’s first uttered “Dada” to his or her first unsteady steps, nothing can adequately convey the joy and awe of watching the birth and growth of a new child. Now releasing as a board book filled with adorable illustrations and the refrain, “You are the one made just for me,” Made for Me is a winning presentation of tender moments that tie a father and his new child together–forever.
This heartwarming story celebrates a father’s love for his child. Told in rhyming couplets with darling illustrations to match, this story follows a father from his child’s birth through toddlerhood. The repeated phrase “Of all children that ever could be, / you are the one made just for me” allows children to participate and engage in the story while anticipating what will happen next.
Made for Me makes a great gift for new fathers, Father’s Day or Grandparent’s Day. It beautifully expresses a love for a child in the most endearing way.
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.
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