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    Exclusive Book Cover Reveal: For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington + An Interview!

    For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington COVER REVEAL!

    In partnership with Macmillian Children’s Publishing Group, I am thrilled to be revealing the cover for the forthcoming July 2019 book For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington.  The cover is illustrated by Jamea Richmond-Edwards.  I also had the opportunity to ask the author a few questions which you can read below.

    • Total Pages: 336 pages
    • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
    • Publication Date: July 30, 2019
    • Recommended Ages: 8-12 and up
    • Pre-Orders: Available for Pre-Order Now!

    Synopsis

    I am a girl but most days I feel like a question mark.

    Makeda June Kirkland is eleven-years-old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena— the only other adopted black girl she knows— for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one real friend.

    Through it all, Makeda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me?

    Through singing, dreaming, and writing secret messages back and forth with Lena, Makeda might just carve a small place for herself in the world.

    In this lyrical coming-of-age story about family, sisterhood, music, race, and identity, Mariama J. Lockington draws on some of the emotional truths from her own experiences growing up with an adoptive white family. For Black Girls Like Me is for anyone who has ever asked themselves: How do you figure out where you are going if you don’t know where you came from?

    Author Interview

    WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME?
    When I was a kid I was always looking for books that mirrored my experience growing up as a transracial adoptee. I searched library shelves for stories about curious black girls with white parents—black girls with mothers who gave them away, but I never really found them. Instead, I’d find and devour books about spunky orphans like Heidi or Anne (with an E!) of Green Gables because I was able to relate to the resilience and questioning personalities of these characters. I wrote For Black Girls Like Me because it is the book I needed to read as a kid, a book that reflects the kind of family that looks like mine.

    WHAT DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL TAKE AWAY FROM READING YOUR BOOK?
    This is a book about adoption, yes, but more than anything it’s a book about a young black girl searching for her voice. It’s a book about a multiracial American family trying to love one another, despite difference and human flaws. My hope is that adoptees will read this book and see some small part of their experience validated. I also hope that this book will spark conversation about identity, race, and belonging between siblings, parents and their children, teachers and students, and anyone else who has ever asked themselves: Where do I belong? I hope that this book will be a friend to someone who needs it.

    HOW DID THE EXPERIENCE OF WRITING THIS BOOK DIFFER FROM WRITING YOUR PREVIOUS BOOK, THE LUCKY DAUGHTER, OR OTHER THINGS YOU HAVE WRITTEN?
    Well, The Lucky Daughter was a book of individual poems, about varying topics written for an adult audience. In earlier drafts, For Black Girls Like Me was also written for an adult audience. In 2013, I graduated from my MFA program at San Francisco State University with a collection of about sixty prose poems about a nameless adopted pre-teen black girl. The manuscript was much more abstract, and I was having a hard time taking it to the next level. When I published my article “What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew” on Buzzfeed in 2016, my now editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reached out. She asked if I’d ever considered writing a fictional book based on my own experiences as an adoptee, but for a middle grade audience. I was SO excited by this prospect, since my other passion in life is teaching and working with youth. I have a Masters in Education and I have worked with education nonprofits for more than ten years. When I thought about this girl I kept writing poems about, about writing her story more concretely for a younger audience, giving her a name, something just clicked. I was able to dive back into the manuscript and I began to write Makeda’s store in short poem-scenes, with a stronger narrative thread.

    WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BEGIN WRITING AS AN AUTHOR?
    Since I was little, I’ve known I wanted to write books. I used to make my own books out of cardboard, glue, and string. When I was about 12 I saw the movie Harriet the Spy, and I’ve been keeping a journal ever since. At first writing down my daily observations and telling stories was about survival, about creating worlds bigger than the one I sometimes felt confined to. But ultimately it was music that helped me find my path as an author. Both of my parents are classical musicians, and while I did not grow up in a particularly religious household, music is a kind of religion in our family. I played the flute and piano growing up and the practice of music led me to explore the possibilities of other kinds of creative arts. Eventually, music led me to formally studying writing in High School and beyond. Like my main character, Makeda, music helped me find my voice and my discipline. It has always been an anchor for me.

    HOW MUCH OF YOURSELF, OTHER PEOPLE OR YOUR OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCES DO YOU PUT INTO YOUR BOOKS?
    While For Black Girls Like Me is fiction, it’s based on some of the emotional truths of my experience growing up as a transracial adoptee. There are some ways in which I drew from my own memories to write Makeda’s character. For example, I made both of her parents musicians. But then I let my imagination run wild and allowed myself to move past the autobiographical. As I was writing, I found that my characters took on new complex identities and histories that are different from the identities and histories of my actual family.

    WHICH BOOKS HAVE INFLUENCED YOUR LIFE THE MOST?
    This question is so hard for a bookworm like me! As I mentioned, as a kid, it was any story about an orphan— Annie, Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, or any story about a young kid who has to survive on their own in the wild— My Side of the Mountain, Hatchet, Island of the Blue Dolphins. I felt a kinship with these characters, as they struggled to make a way for themselves, without always knowing where they came from or if they belonged.

    As an adult, my all-time favorite book is Sula by Toni Morrison. I re-read it almost every year. To me, it is an epic love story between two best friends who are full of contradictions. I love that it is a story about black girlhood, black womanhood, friendship, and how sometimes we fail to speak the same language as the ones who raise us or come up with us. But we love them fiercely anyway.

    IF YOU COULD GIVE ADULTS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT READING WITH CHILDREN, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
    Don’t gloss over or skip subjects in books you think your child can’t understand, especially when it comes to race and identity. Be OK with being uncomfortable, with not having all the answers. Books help all of us learn about different perspectives and experiences— even adults. You don’t have to be the expert, you just have to be willing to grow alongside your child, ask questions, and listen.

    HARDCOVER, PAPERBACK OR E-BOOK (WHEN READING A BOOK ON YOUR OWN)?
    Team Hardcover all the way! There is nothing more luxurious than the weight of a hardcover book in my lap and a hot cup of tea in hand.

    FICTION, NON-FICTION OR SOME OTHER GENRE (WHEN READING A BOOK ON YOUR OWN)?
    I read anything and everything I can get my hands on. I am a poet at heart, so I read a ton of poetry, but I am also an avid reader of fiction. Lately, I’ve really been enjoying reading short story collections. I can read at least one story before I fall asleep!

    WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND OR E-READER RIGHT NOW?
    If you follow me on Instagram, I periodically post #nightstandselfies which feature an overzealous stack of books I hope to get to. Right now, at the top of my pile, you’ll find: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Other Words for Grief by fellow adoptee, Lisa Marie Rollins, and Ghost by Jason Reynolds.

    ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY SPECIAL PROJECTS THAT YOU WANT TO SHARE WITH OTHERS?
    I work full-time for a youth nonprofit, so this fall I am busy writing curriculum and delivering programs. I’m also excited to be working on a YA project— a queer, black girl love story. It’s very fresh, so that’s all I’ll share for now, but stay tuned! And of course, I’m getting ready to launch For Black Girls Like Me and hopefully go on book tour.

    HOW CAN PEOPLE GET IN TOUCH WITH YOU ON SOCIAL MEDIA OR ON YOUR WEBSITE?
    You can find me on Twitter @marilock, or on Instagram @forblackgirlslikeme (Which frequently features pictures of my sausage dog, Henry!)

    Check out For Black Girls Like Me when it publishes in July 2019!

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    Turning Pages: My Life Story (A Book Review)

    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.

    Turning Pages: My Life Story by by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre

    Publisher: Philomel Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3

    Synopsis
    As the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor has inspired young people around the world to reach for their dreams. But what inspired her? For young Sonia, the answer was books! They were her mirrors, her maps, her friends, and her teachers. They helped her to connect with her family in New York and in Puerto Rico, to deal with her diabetes diagnosis, to cope with her father’s death, to uncover the secrets of the world, and to dream of a future for herself in which anything was possible.

    In Turning Pages, Justice Sotomayor shares that love of books with a new generation of readers, and inspires them to read and puzzle and dream for themselves.

    Reflection
    From the very first sentence right to the very end, this story captured my full attention.  Not only did I learn so much about Justice Sonia Sotomayor and her background, but I also read some of the most poetic and beautiful phrases about books and reading.  It was such a treat to learn how much books played such an important part in her life.

    My story is a story about books – of poems and comics, of law and mystery, of science and science fiction.

    Reading was like lighting candles, each book a flame that lit up the world around me.

    Written words, I discovered, were electrical currents that jolted feelings to life.

    Books, it seemed, were magic potions that could fuel me with the bravery of superheroes.

    Books were my loyal friends.  They made it so I never felt lonely.

    Books were mirrors of my very own universe.

    Throughout Sonia’s life, books brought her comfort in the darkest periods. She talks about being diagnosed with diabetes when she was seven years old and how she found courage by reading comic books.  The illustrations showing her injecting herself with needles are powerful.  Instead of insulin, she imagines injecting herself with a “magic potion” and being a brave superhero.  When she was nine years old her father passed away.  At the time, Sonia found comfort and escape at the nearby Parkchester Library.  Books helped her escape her reality and allowed her precious opportunities to experience wonder.

    Almost every illustration in the book features books or reading in some way.  Sonia is seen reading at home, at the library and in college.  The back matter has a timeline of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s life and there are actual photographs in the end papers.  The thing I love most about this book is that Sonia wrote it on her own and she’s still alive to tell her own story – her own truth.  A delightful and informative book that is sure to inspire a new generation of readers, leaders, aspiring lawyers and social justice activists.

    Your turn: Which book(s) from your childhood played an important part in your life?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    The Ultimate List of African-American Baby Boy Names Inspired by Children’s Books from Alfonso to Ziggy

    There are so many wonderful picture books that feature strong, Black males as the main protagonist. Little boys (or girls) can read about heroes from the past and present who have emerged as role models for all children. They can explore nonfiction books about famous male inventors who have contributed to society. Or they can enjoy stories about everyday kids just being kids. Whatever they’re in the mood to read, either on their own or with a grown-up assisting, the one thing I can bet is they’ll be able to find a book to fit!

    Below I’ve rounded up a list of picture books that feature African-American boy protagonists with first names from A to Z.  Some are popular names that you see often and others are unique like my name.  Is your name or your son’s name listed here?  What other books would you add to this list?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    To see the ultimate list of girl names click HERE!

    A

    AlfonsoArt
    Arturo

    B

    BarackBen
    BobBud

    C

    CastleCharlie
    ClaytonClive
    Cornelius Charles
    Cole

    D

    DaveDavid
    DevonDominic
    Deshawn

    E

    ElijahEmmanuel
    Ernie

    F

    Frank

    G

    GeorgeGordon
    Gregory

    H

    HenryHorace

    J

    JabariJacobJackson
    JadenJamesJameson
    JeremyJeromeJohn

    K

    Kevin

    L

    LennyLeoLewis
    LindenLonnieLuke

    M

    MalcolmMalusiMarcus
    MaxMichaelMiles
    MatthewMuhammad

    N

    NeilNelson

    O

    Olu

    P

    Peter

    R

    RayReginaldRichard
    RodneyRomareRon
    RileyRufus

    S

    Sam

    T

    ToniehToshTravis
    TreyTyrell

    W

    WilliamWillie

    Y

    Yosef

    Z

    Ziggy

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    Cover Reveal: Sing to the Moon

    I’m thrilled to participate in this beautiful book cover reveal in partnership with Lantana Publishing.  From the creators of the book Sleep Well, Siba and Saba, comes this forthcoming picture book featuring a little boy from Uganda who likes to dream big.

    This story was inspired by the rainy days the author spent with her family in Uganda during the rainy season. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated story that shows the precious bond between a grandfather and grandson.

    Available for Sale: October 1, 2018
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: PreK – 2

    Synopsis
    For one little Ugandan boy, no wish is too big. First he dreams of reaching the stars and then of riding a supernova straight to Mars. But on a rainy day at his grandfather’s house, he is brought down to earth with a bump. Do adventures only happen in galaxies far away or can he find magic a little closer to home? A touching story of a grandfather’s love for his grandson and the quiet pleasures of a rainy day.

    About the Author
    Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl was born to Ugandan parents in Cambridge, MA, USA. For over ten years, Nansubuga has worked in international development in East and Southern Africa. In her current role as a technical writer and editor, she produces a range of written work for international organizations such as the UN and the World Bank. Having lived in seven countries across three continents, creative writing has always been her way to re-connect with her cultural heritage. Sleep Well, Siba and Saba is her first children’s book.

    About the Illustrator
    Sandra van Doorn was born in a small medieval town in France and now lives in Australia. She attended art classes at Emily Carr University in Vancouver before embarking on her career as a children’s illustrator. You can find out more about her work at www.sandravandoorn.com.

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    The Ultimate List of African-American Baby Girl Names Inspired by Children’s Books from Abigail to Zulay


    I grew up being embarrassed by my first name until I went to college.  I used to despise the first day of school because it was inevitable the teacher and students would mispronounce my name.  When I got to college I realized I should no longer be ashamed of my name, but be proud of it.  Now I understand that I have a unique and beautiful name that is sometimes difficult to pronounce for some people.  And that’s ok.  I fully accept that.  No longer do I feel “left out” when I don’t see my name engraved on items in a store like I did when I was a child.  It makes me feel special to have such an original name that isn’t so common.

    I love the story of Barack Obama making the decision to tell his family he wanted to be addressed by his given name, Barack back in 1980.  Up until that time, he was known early in life as Barry.  It wasn’t until he was a student at Occidental College, that he decided to make a change and stand up to prejudice associated with his name.  I personally can’t imagine calling him Barry Obama anyway.  I think Barack Obama definitely suits him much better and it asserts a certain power and authority.

    Below I’ve rounded up a list of picture books that feature African-American girl protagonists with first names from A to Z.  Some are popular names that you see often and others are unique like my name.  Is your name or your daughter’s name listed here?  What other books would you add to this list?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    A

    AbigailAda
    AhniAllie
    AnnAnna
    AnnieAria

    B

    BeatriceBella

    Bessie 

    Bidemmi

    C

    CassieCece Clara

    D

    DestiniDestiny

    E

    EfaEffa
    EllaEllen
    ElizabetiEmi

    F

    FaithFaye

    G

    GraceGwendolyn

    H

    HandaHelenHope

    I

    IkennaImaniIvy

    J

    JamaicaJamelaJazmin
    JojoJosephineJune

    K

    KateKatherineKeisha
    KenyaKeyanaKiely

    L

    LenaLillianLily
    LolaLorraineLou

    M

    MackenzieMadisonMaeMakayla
    MariamaMayaMichelleMimi

    N

    Nia 

    O

    OdettaOliviaOprah

    P

    PatriciaPriscilla

    R

    RayeRoseRuth

    S

    SareenSophiaSydney

    T

    TalishaTameka

    V

    VioletVirginnie

    W

    Winifred

    Y

    Yatandou

    Z

    ZazaZoraZulay

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    Grandad Mandela (A Book Review)

    Grandad Mandela by Ambassador Zindzi Mandela, Zazi and Ziwelene Mandela, illustrated by Sean Qualls

    Publisher: Quarto Kids
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 4 and up
    Publication Date: June 28, 2018

    Synopsis
    Nelson Mandela’s two great-grandchildren ask their grandmother, Mandela’s youngest daughter, 15 questions about their grandad – the global icon of peace and forgiveness who spent 27 years in prison. They learn that he was a freedom fighter who put down his weapons for the sake of peace, and who then became the President of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize-winner, and realise that they can continue his legacy in the world today. Seen through a child’s perspective, and authored jointly by Nelson Mandela’s great-grandchildren and daughter, this amazing story is told as never before to celebrate what would have been Nelson’s Mandela 100th birthday.

    Reflection
    Born on July 18, 1918 Nelson Mandela is best known for promoting messages of forgiveness, peace and equality.  He spent 27 long years in prison, but when he was released he became the first Black President of South Africa and eventually won the Nobel Prize for Peace.  In 1994, Mandela successfully brought down the Apartheid government abolishing the original ruling of separating White people from Black people.

    Grandad Mandela is a beautiful and important story told from the perspective of Mandela’s two youngest great-grandchildren and daughter.  The story begins with little Zazi and Ziwelene approaching their grandmother (Mandela’s youngest daughter, Zindzi) to tell them about their great-grandfather after finding a photograph of him around the house.  Mandela’s daughter goes on to her grandchildren the story of why Mandela went to jail when she was just eighteen months old.

    In true childlike fashion, the kids continue to probe asking a series of 15 different questions about their great-grandfather.  They are curious and want to know more like:

    Why did grandad go to jail?
    Why did the white people start making everybody’s lives sad?

    I love how Mandela’s daughter carefully responds to each question in a way that’s easy for smaller children to understand.

    He went to jail because he was fighting against apartheid.  Apartheid was a law in South Africa that separated black people and white people, and said that white people were better.  Grandad was fighting for us all to be equal.

    It’s because white people were taught under colonization and apartheid to hate.  They were taught that they were better than black people.

    I think each question and answer response is well thought out and easily digestible for little readers.  The illustrations beautifully capture each memory and the time period so well.  You’ll see pictures of Winnie Mandela silently celebrating Mandela’s birthday each year he was in prison.  She kept the wedding cake they never had a chance to cut when they got married.  Every year on Mandela’s birthday, she would bring it out, light a candle, and say a prayer for him.  Be still my heart!

    In the end, Mandela is finally released after spending nearly three decades of his life behind bars.  Everyone in South Africa is seen rejoicing, White and Black people.  What an amazing day that must have been for the people in South Africa who spent so many years living under apartheid!

    I remember seeing some of the television coverage on that glorious day back on February 11, 1990.  It seemed like the whole world was rejoicing and celebrating.  It was as if Nelson Mandela’s release set us all free in a way.  His release helped set people free from anything they may have been  struggling with at the time.  His release gave me a renewed sense of hope and optimism.  From that day on, I held Nelson Mandela in such high regard often looking to his words for guidance in coming to grips with the ways—the sometimes brutal ways—in which the world works.

    To say that I am grateful for Nelson Mandela’s example doesn’t suffice.  That’s why I’m so glad this picture book exists so I can keep his legacy alive by reading it with my children and for new generations to come.  His legacy lives on and we can all learn valuable lessons from him and his humanity.  Grandad Mandela is sure to inspire readers to achieve anything they want in life.  It inspires me to keep showing up daily, to keep writing, to keep fighting, to keep forgiving, and to keep loving.

    Your turn: Are you planning to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s upcoming centenary (100th birthday)?  If so, how will you be celebrating?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    For more information about Nelson Mandela’s forthcoming 100th birthday celebration visit The Nelson Mandela Foundation website.

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    Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea by Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Rebecca Green

    Publisher: CitizenKid
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 6 – 9 and up
    Grade Level: 3 –  7
    Pages:
    32
    Publication Date: May 1, 2018

    Synopsis
    It’s monsoon season in Bangladesh, which means Iqbal’s mother must cook the family’s meals indoors, over an open fire. The smoke from the fire makes breathing difficult for his mother and baby sister, and it’s even making them sick. Hearing them coughing at night worries Iqbal. So when he learns that his school’s upcoming science fair has the theme of sustainability, Iqbal comes up with the perfect idea for his entry: he’ll design a stove that doesn’t produce smoke! With help from his teacher, Iqbal learns all about solar energy cooking, which uses heat from the sun to cook — ingenious! Has Iqbal found a way to win first prize in the science fair while providing cleaner air and better health for his family at the same time?

    Reflection
    It’s monsoon season in Bangladesh, which means many families must cook over an open flame. But all of the smoke is making Iqbal’s mother and other family members sick.  Iqbal wants to help, so he enters the district science fair which offers a cash prize for winning first place. Iqbal is determined to win the grand prize so he can buy a gas stove that doesn’t produce harmful fumes.

    I love how creative Iqbal was and how he thoroughly researched his idea to create a solar cooker.  He learned that solar cookers provide many benefits including: protects the environment, reduces health problems, empowers women and girls, increases safety and saves money.

    I also like the special bond between Iqbal and his sister Sadia.  Sadia offers to be Iqbal’s assistant and helps him assemble the solar cooker.  The brother sister duo also receive help from their parents to put the final touches on their invention.  What a great display of family teamwork to accomplish a common goal!  Despite not having much money, they all pulled together and used the little they did have to help Iqbal complete his project.

    Aspiring creatives, engineers, scientists and inventors are likely to enjoy this inspirational story that shows how one child can champion the protection of the environment and help raise awareness about a global health issue.  There are themes of: STEM, creativity, family and solar power.  You truly are never too young or old to make a difference!

    The back matter has additional information about clean cookstoves, a glossary and a neat DIY (do-it-yourself) pizza box solar cooker activity for kids to try.

    Your turn: Have you ever invented anything?  If so, what was it?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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