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    Author Interview: Up Close and Personal with Brandy Colbert

    Have you read any of Brandy Colbert’s books yet?

    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.

    Name an adult book that:

    a) Inspired you 

    Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

    b) Made you laugh out loud 

    Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

    c) You recommend to others often

    Dominicana by Angie Cruz

    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 AM The Center for Fiction 15 Lafayette Ave. Brooklyn, NY

    In conversation with Renée Watson (author of Ways to Make Sunshine)

    June 7 3:00 PM Bank Street Bookstore 2780 Broadway New York, NY

    In conversation with Renée Watson (author of Ways to Make Sunshine)

    About Brandy Colbert

    Brandy Colbert
    Photo Credit: Little Brown Books for Young Readers

    Brandy Colbert is the critically acclaimed author of the novels PointeFinding YvonneThe Revolution of Birdie Randolph, and Stonewall Award winner Little & Lion. Born and raised in Springfield, Missouri, she now lives and writes in Los Angeles.

    Author Interview with Brandy Colbert
    Author interview with Brandy Colbert
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    Author Interview: Up Close and Personal with Tonya Bolden + Saving Savannah

     

    Tonya Bolden is one of my favorite writers for historical fiction for both children and adults.  It was such a treat to have the opportunity to interview her to chat books.  Her forthcoming novel, Saving Savannah will be published January 14, 2020 and I’m so excited to read it since I thoroughly enjoyed Inventing Victoria

    Check out the publisher’s synopsis for Saving Savannah:

    Savannah Riddle is lucky. As a daughter of an upper class African American family in Washington D.C., she attends one of the most rigorous public schools in the nation–black or white–and has her pick among the young men in her set. But lately the structure of her society–the fancy parties, the Sunday teas, the pretentious men, and shallow young women–has started to suffocate her.  Then Savannah meets Lloyd, a young West Indian man from the working class who opens Savannah’s eyes to how the other half lives. Inspired to fight for change, Savannah starts attending suffragist lectures and socialist meetings, finding herself drawn more and more to Lloyd’s world.  Set against the backdrop of the press for women’s rights, the Red Summer, and anarchist bombings, Saving Savannah is the story of a girl and the risks she must take to be the change in a world on the brink of dramatic transformation.

    Author Interview

    How did you come up with the characters for Inventing Victoria and Saving Savannah?
    Characters come to me in shadow, in outline. Then I ask questions. What does she want? What are her fears? And so forth. With Crossing Ebenezer Creek and Saving Savannah I was very much driven/led by an antique photograph of a young black woman that said to me, “This is Mariah!” and another one that said to me, “This is Savannah!”

    Do you enjoy writing children’s books or adult books more?
    Don’t make a choose, please! (smile). Given that the majority of the forty-something books I’ve authored/co-authored/edited are for young people . . . Yes, my first love is writing for children. History is my passion and I believe that if we hook our young people on history—if we make history come alive for them—we really put them on the path of lifelong learning, critical thinking, curiosity, and making some sense of the world.  Without history you have no context for your life, for your present era.

    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?
    Yuyi Morales’s Dreamers. My “to-read” list includes Jennifer Swanson’s Spies, Lies, and Disguise: The Daring Tricks and Deeds that Won World War II and Nikki Grimes’s memoir Ordinary Hazards.

    What are some of your must-have children’s books for a home library?
    That’s a tough one!  I really believe that each home library should be tailor-made for a particular family’s interests and needs. The only must-have I can think of is range: books about the present and the  past, books about people familiar and not familiar. In this global village of a world of ours, to borrow from the eminent Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, all our young people need mirrors, windows, and sliding doors.

    Do you have any literacy rituals that you practice in your family or practiced in the past?
    Not really. Growing up I was crazy about books. Couldn’t get enough of books! And I have my parents to thank for that. My mother, who only had a sixth grade education and my father who only had a ninth grade education, were avid readers. There is a lost picture of me, maybe I was about two or three. And there I was propped up in my parents’ bed. I had my mother’s glasses sprawled on my face. I had a book in my hands. Upside down. I was imitating my parents. There is also a photograph of the living room of our apartment in East Harlem. We had recently moved in. The furniture was the old furniture we had in Brooklyn. There was no carpeting on the floor (at a time when carpeting was pretty much de rigueur). Front and center in this photograph is our family’s bookcase.

    Besides reading, what are some other things parents can do to set their children up for literacy success?
    Engage them in critical thinking, early and often.  Encourage them to create stories of their own. And while you’re at it, tell your children family stories. 

    Do you have a favorite book that you have written?  If so, what is it and why?
    My favorite book of mine is always the one that is just about to come out or the one that has just come out. So right now Saving Savannah is dearest to my heart. But really it’s like a family with many children. Each is unique and you love them all equally (we hope) though each child has something in particular that endears you to her or him.  With Saving Savannah I think Savannah Riddle is the character most like me. I didn’t realize this at first. My sister pointed this out after she read part of an early draft. As  she gave me feedback, I shared with her that compared to Mariah in Crossing Ebenezer  Creek and Victoria in Inventing Victoria, I found Savannah the easier character to write. My sister snickered, then said something like, “That’s because Savannah is you!” 

    If you could give parents one piece of advice about reading with children, what would it be?
    Discussions of books is vital. What did the young reader learn? What puzzled her or him? Is there anything the reader misunderstood? And don’t stop reading aloud!  Whether your child is five or fifteen—or fifty—always make some time for gathering around a book and reading aloud. I don’t think we ever lose our love for being read to. I know it may be difficult to do read-alouds with teens, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

    Any advice for aspiring writers and authors?
    Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t be precious. Consider trying to get into the business as a writer for hire. That’s how I began. If you have a big hit out of the gate, save your money.  You never know. Some careers do nothing but skyrocket. Others have peaks and valleys.  Once you get your foot in the door consider diversifying. Being able to write for different ages, different genres can come in handy when there are shifts in the industry. On year picture books are hot! Two years later not so much. Have many arrows in your quiver—especially if you don’t have a day job.

    Hardcover, Paperback or e-book (when reading a book on your own)?
    I like e-books for research because when traveling I can take so much research with me and still travel light. 

    Fiction, non-fiction or some other genre (when reading a book on your own)?
    Nonfiction tops the list. But really as my fiction and nonfiction require so much research, books I pick up just for pure pleasure are few and far between.

    Name an adult book that:

    1. a) Inspired you Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Paula Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones, Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, Charles’s Johnson’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Oxherding Tale, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories, Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov, probably every Anton Chekhov short story I read, Eugene O’Neill’s plays, Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Majorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling, W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Toni Cade Bambara’s  Gorilla, My Love, Toni Morrison’s Sula.
    2. b) Made you laugh out loud  Several stories in Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love and in Naylor’s Brewster Place. 
    3. c) You recommend to others often
      To be honest, I don’t often have the occasion to recommend books to others.

    What books are on your nightstand or e-reader right now? Charles Johnson’s The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling.  

    Are you working on any special projects that you want to share with others?
    I’m brainstorming on the fourth linked novel that began with Crossing Ebenezer Creek. So next up after Saving Savannah is an as yet unnamed novel about the daughter of a character in Saving Savannah. I have the main character’s name (I think) and I have a photograph that says to me, “This is her!”

    How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?
    Please visit tonyaboldenbooks.com!

    Tonya Bolden is a critically acclaimed award-winning author/co-author/editor of more than two dozen books for young people. They include Inventing VictoriaCrossing Ebenezer Creek, which received five starred reviews; Finding Family, which received two starred reviews and was a Kirkus Reviews and Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year; Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl, a Coretta Scott King honor book and James Madison Book Award winner; MLK: Journey of a King, winner of a National Council of Teachers of English Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children; Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty, an ALSC Notable Children’s Book, CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, and winner of the NCSS Carter G. Woodson Middle Level Book Award.

    Tonya also received the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC’s Nonfiction Award. A Princeton University magna cum laude baccalaureate with a master’s degree from Columbia University, Tonya lives in New York City.

    Your turn: Have you ever read any of Tonya Bolden’s books?  Feel free to share some of your favorite Tonya Bolden books in the comments below.

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    The Men of Bookstagram: Up Close and Personal with Ryan from @DadSuggests



    Have you ever noticed Instagram is flooded with female bookstagrammers?  I wanted to find out who some of the men are who also share and read books on Instagram.  This ongoing series will feature some of the most well read men on Instagram who also share a passion for all things BOOKS.  Let’s get up close and personal with: Ryan from Dad Suggests.

    What is your name and Instagram handle?

    My name is Ryan Billingsley and I’m the dad behind @dadsuggests on Instagram.

    When did you start your Instagram account and what was your motivation for starting it?

    We actually started DadSuggests and our Instagram page in the summer of 2018, so we just celebrated our 1 year anniversary. Basically, I really just wanted a way to share with other parents and teachers the things that our family loves. I wanted to help people find really high-quality content for some meaningful family time.

    After writing about a few of our favorite books and games and putting up pictures of them on Instagram, I realized how much I love advocating for things like empathy and imagination – and how important it is to read and play with your kids. My articles and my posts often drift into reflections on parenting and our role in providing a magical childhood for our kids. I might be writing about books and board games – but in my head I’m often contemplating how to make happy kids and other bits of the meaning of life.

    Have you always enjoyed reading?

    Yes! I was lucky enough to have parents who sat by the side of my bed at night and read me stories that I’ll never forget – like classic tales from the Brothers Grimm. And I had a very cool bunk bed growing up with a built-in bookshelf. It was the perfect size to store all of my Goosebumps books – which I very often stayed up late reading.

    And, of course, I was tremendously lucky to grow up during the era of Harry Potter – basically being the same age as Harry through the whole series. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be a kid during that craze – attending the midnight releases and trying to read the whole book before the sun came up.

    Where do you currently live?

    I have lived in beautiful Fayetteville, AR for my entire life.

    Name 1-2 recent books you’ve really enjoyed reading this year.

    For picture books, I’ve already shortlisted Imagine That by Jonathan D. Voss and All the Ways to Be Smart by Davina Bell as favorites for 2019. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Both books do a tremendous job celebrating the child’s imagination – and that is of course a real soft spot for me.

    Imagine That leaves me with the same happy feelings I get when I read Winnie the Pooh, and I’m actually tempted to label All the Ways to Be Smart the most important, if not the very best, picture book ever made. (Sidenote: Wow, I need to check this one out ASAP since we haven’t read it yet!)

     

    Are you currently in a relationship? It’s okay to plead the 5th if you prefer not to answer!

    Haha! No need for mysteries here! My wife and I just celebrated our 8th anniversary!

    Do you have children? If so, do they love to read as well?

    We have a 6-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl. They’ve been read to literally every single day of their lives – particularly at bedtime. Reading has always been cherished family time and a part of our soothing going-to-sleep process. Books have simply always been a part of the routine since day one.

    After all that exposure to stories – our son has caught on with independent reading really nicely, and he really loves reading fantasy books. Some of his favorites early chapter books are The Kingdom of Wrenly and Moongobble and Me. And we really love doing interactive books and Choose Your Own Adventure together.

    What advice would you give to parents of children who may have reluctant readers or kids who don’t enjoy reading?

    The best case scenario is that you’re able to start early and make reading a part of the family routine from day one. There’s no better predictor for growing up to love reading than spending your childhood on Mom and Dad’s lap reading picture books together every night.

    But assuming it’s too late for that and we’re talking about older kids now – it’s still important to note that it’s never too late to discover a love for stories. Step one as a parent is to ensure that you’re being a reading role model. If all children see is their parents watching TV or looking at their phone, odds are pretty good that’s what they’ll choose to do too.

    And, speaking as a teacher, don’t forget that turning reading into a chore is the absolute kiss of death. Avoid that at all costs. Instead, expose them to a wide variety of materials they might like – graphic novels, magazines about video games, Choose Your Own Adventure, scary stories, audio books, etc.

    In my experience, reluctant reading often has strong correlations with reading struggles. And their struggles feed their reluctance, and their lack of practice makes it harder to grow. So you have to start somewhere to start building vocabulary, prosody, and a positive relationship with stories – and even the most reluctant readers still really love relaxing and being read to.

    What books are on your nightstand right now?

    Right now I have an awesome stack of picture books that I’m writing about for our next article on DadSuggests.com – The Best Picture Books About Imagination. The stack includes This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary and Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers. I have twelve of our favorite picture books here for this list, and they all do a great job celebrating creativity and promoting a magical childhood. I also have the new novelization of Pan’s Labyrinth from Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke sitting on my nightstand. It’s amazing!

    Why do you think it’s important to read either on your own or with children?

    Quite frankly, reading to your kids is the second-best gift you can give them – finishing in a close second place to your unconditional love. Reading to your kids will obviously prepare them for a better life academically, but it’s so much more than that. Reading grows imagination and empathy as well – along with a plethora of other social skills. Books open up a window into the world, and they have the ability to impart invaluable wisdom. On the deepest level, exposing your kids to that art and that wisdom will help them find meaning in life.

    And you can never be too old to benefit from stretching your imagination and widening your understanding of the world. Whether you’re reading to educate yourself or just to escape for a little while – the benefits to the brain are numerous. Personally, I find that reading a good novel clears my mind the same way that meditating or playing chess does – and my brain always appreciates those calm moments.

    Hard cover, paperback, or e-book when reading a book on your own?

    I’ve always preferred hardcover editions. With picture books that’s always important because it ensures that they will include the often beautiful end papers. And hardcovers may not always be the most convenient choice for reading or traveling with novels – but they’re certainly my favorite.

    Name 1-2 of your favorite authors.

    One or two is too hard! But I can give you a very condensed version of just some of our favorites: Bruce Coville, Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen, Sara O’Leary, Trudy Ludwig, Philip C. Stead, Shel Silverstein, Chris Van Allsburg, and Ben Hatke.

    Does your family have any story time or reading rituals to share?

    After dinner time and shower time comes book time – every single night. And we never miss a night. We take books on vacations with us, and nothing about the ritual changes. Typically the reading consists of a stack of picture books, but sometimes that’s replaced with a longer reading from a chapter book. It’s a beloved ritual, and I plan on reading aloud with the family indefinitely.

    How do you choose which books to share on your Instagram page?

    We only write about books that we love on DadSuggests.com, and we put a lot of thought into books that we put onto any of our lists. Typically, those are the books that we take pictures of and share on Instagram as well, and occasionally we’ll throw in some new purchases or library finds that we’re really excited about too. And I try to get into the spirit of Throwback Thursday and pull out books from my childhood. Basically, if we love it, we’ll recommend it to others.

    It’s important to me that our social media accounts and our website always remain a source for our personal recommendations. That’s why we make it a point to inform publishers and authors that we only recommend the things we love, and we simply have no interest in doing negative reviews.

    Anything else you’d like to share?

    I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to interview me. It was a lot of fun, and I appreciate you and what you do on Here Wee Read.

    I also wanted to say thank you to every single person who took the time to read this interview. I hope that you found a few new interesting picture books to look up – and I hope that I’ve been able to inspire you to help me spread this message to others: it’s so incredibly important to read and play with your kids! It’s our noble duty and it’s our privilege as parents to build a magical childhood for our kids – full of imagination and creativity and wonder.

    You can follow me at @DadSuggests on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest – and you can catch all of my new fatherly thoughts on picture books, board games, and more on DadSuggests.com.

    Connect with Ryan!

    Instagram

    Your turn: Did you enjoy this feature?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments.  Also, please let me know what other men of Bookstagram I should feature in this series.

    If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read: 10 Male Bookstagrammers to Follow on Instagram If You Love Books.
    Also, be sure to check out our other interviews with Rod Kelly and Reggie Reads.

    Find all of the men we feature in this series by searching the hashtag #themenofbookstagram on Instagram!

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    The Men of Bookstagram: Up Close and Personal With Reggie Bailey (@ReggieReads)

    Have you ever noticed Instagram is flooded with female bookstagrammers?  I wanted to find out who some of the men are who also share and read books on Instagram.  This ongoing series will feature some of the most well read men on Instagram who also share a passion for all things BOOKS.  Today we’re getting up close and personal with: Reggie Bailey.

    What is your name and Instagram handle?
    My name is Reggie Bailey and my Instagram handle is @reggiereads.

    When did you start your Instagram account and what was your motivation for starting it?
    I started my Instagram account in 2011 when I was a big sneakerhead. One who was on top of all the Nike and Jordan Brand releases specifically. Originally my account was used for communicating with other sneakerheads, while showing off my latest and greatest in footwear.

    Eventually I fell off of sneakers as a hobby and fell into book reading as a hobby. I didn’t officially join Bookstagram until 2017. Before 2017 I would show books on my page because they were making an impact on me, but 2017 is when I realized there was an entire “underworld” on Instagram, called Bookstagram, and my reading life hasn’t been the same since my encounter with said “underworld.”

    Have you always enjoyed reading?
    I’ve always enjoyed reading, although I haven’t always been a recreational reader. That’s largely because when I was younger I wasn’t reading enough books that interested me, especially in grade school. Whether it was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Beowulf, the Odyssey… I was just bored. I’d probably be able to get into those now, but it’d be dishonest of me to call books those books top priority as far as my reading list is concerned.

    Why do you think we don’t see more men, (specifically Black men), reading or sharing about books they read?  Do you think reading is perceived to be “uncool” in the Black community?
    I’ll answer the latter question first. In the Black community reading is considered cool for sure. I’ve never had anyone Black criticize me for being an active reader, and I don’t foresee that happening. In fact, according to a 2014 study, which I found on the Atlantic, College educated Black women are the demographic that is most likely to read a book. Based off of that information I would estimate that not reading would be considered “uncool” in the Black community, although myself, nor anyone else, should pass any judgment on anyone who cannot, will not or does not read books.

    I can’t think of any specific reason why we don’t see more Black men reading and/or sharing thoughts on the books they’ve read. I have seen more Black men reading and sharing thoughts on Goodreads than I have on Instagram, but I’m not sure why the numbers are so skewed in favor of women reading books, and sharing their thoughts on the web.

    Maybe that’s the part that certain Black men think is uncool. Making a page on Instagram dedicated to the books they read, or maybe it’s something they aren’t confident in doing, don’t want to do or simply just don’t care to do. Who knows?

    Hopefully we’ll get those numbers up over time though!

    Name 1-2 recent books you’ve really enjoyed reading this year.
    I read The Bluest Eye for the first time and reread Sula and Song of Solomon earlier in the year. All of those spectacular novels were authored by the late and perpetually great Toni Morrison.

    Song of Solomon and Sula were even better the second time around, which is expected when someone as magnificent as Toni Morrison authors a book, and Song of Solomon is the best novel I’ve ever read. A fact I don’t being altered anytime soon.

    Are you currently in a relationship?  It’s okay to plead the 5thif you prefer not to answer!
    If I pled the 5th, my girlfriend wouldn’t be happy. Lol.

    Do you have children?  If so, do they love to read as well?
    I do not have any children, but I would hope they would love to read if I had any.

    What advice would you give to parents of children, (specifically parents with boys), who may have reluctant readers or kids who don’t enjoy reading?
    Although I am hesitant to propose any advice to a parent, considering I am a) Not a parent & b) Not even in a profession that deals with children, the best advice I would give, if I felt inclined, is to try and show children themselves through literature. Obviously this answer is geared more towards Black and Brown children, but it is important for these children to see themselves inside of books and on book covers, so they know that their stories are important and are worth being told.

    What books are on your nightstand right now?
    Too many! But some current standouts on my nightstand are Survival Math by Mitchell Jackson, American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson, and Red Now and Laters by Marcus Guillory.

    Do you think male bookstagrammers are perceived differently than female bookstagrammers?  If so, in what way(s)?
    Yes and no. Yes because there aren’t as many of us so we are somewhat of a novelty (I suppose), but no because we’re readers just like all of the women of Bookstagram and we are all ultimately reading to enlighten and better ourselves while being entertained, amongst other motivations.

    Hard cover, paperback, or e-book when reading a book on your own?
    Hardcover is my preference without question. I’ll do paperback as well, but I do not e-read.

    Name 1-2 of your favorite authors.
    Toni Morrison is my absolute favorite. Long Live the Queen! I will not count her as my 1-2 though, because that is too easy.  1-2 of my favorite contemporary authors are Tayari Jones and Jamel Brinkley. Both authors made a lot of noise in 2018 with their classic works An American Marriage, and A Lucky Man, respectively.

    How do you choose which books to feature on your Instagram account?
    I’d be lying to you if I said I had a method, especially when it comes to my stories. In my stories I will showcase any book that comes to my mind. Whether those are books that I bought, books that I am highly anticipating, or literally a book that ran across my mind for a few minutes.

    For posts I choose books that motivate me to write reviews that I feel reach a substantial length. I wouldn’t want to post a review on a book I read where I only said “This book was great… 5 stars!” or something short like that. I always do my best to add a unique & informed, if not passionate, perspective to the conversation around a book I read.

    Anything else you’d like to share?
    Thank you so much for having me on your platform. I am humbled and privileged to have this opportunity.

    Thank you to anyone who takes the time to read this interview. I am grateful for your time, because we live in a world that has more information and content than we can imagine, and you could literally be consuming ANYTHING, but you are here, and I do not take that for granted.

    Participate in #2BooksUnder50Reviews Challenge if you get the chance. This is a challenge I created in the beginning of 2019 to influence readers to search for, read and review more obscure works.  The rules are simple: Find a book published in 2017 or earlier that has less than 50 reviews (not ratings) on Goodreads, read it, and review it on Goodreads, but also on Instagram and make sure to use the hashtag #2BooksUnder50Reviews. We are going to build a library full of obscure works and finally give some authors some well-deserved roses!

    Read books! Books are amazing; they are mind-altering, life-changing pieces of art that also entertain.  Read and think critically about the content in these books. Think critically about the plot, the structure, the wordplay, how the events in the book correlate to things happening in the world, etc.

    Read with a buddy or a book club so you can discuss these books and learn from one another. During these discussions share popular opinions, unpopular opinions, and controversial opinions, but be genuine and respectful while doing such.

    Last but not least, follow me on Instagram @reggiereads. Send me a friend request on Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/reggieread), and let’s discuss books. Send me a message, comment on a post, or whatever you feel inclined to do. I’m always up for discussions centering books and literature, and it’s something I’m more passionate about than I’d ever thought I’d be.

    Your turn: Did you enjoy this feature?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments.  Also, please let me know what other men of Bookstagram I should feature in this series.

    If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read: 10 Male Bookstagrammers to Follow on Instagram If You Love Books.

    Also, be sure to check out our first interview with Rod Kelly.

    Find all of the men we feature in this series by searching the hashtag #themenofbookstagram on Instagram!

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    adult books, interviews, men of bookstagram

    The Men of Bookstagram: Up Close and Personal with @Read_by_RodKelly


    Have you ever noticed Instagram is flooded with female bookstagrammers?  I wanted to find out who some of the men are who also share and read books on Instagram.  This ongoing series will feature some of the most well read men on Instagram who also share a passion for all things BOOKS.  Let’s get up close and personal with: Rod Kelly.

    What is your name and Instagram handle?
    Hello! My name is Rod Kelly, aka @read_by_rodkelly on Insta-, excuse me, Bookstagram.

    When did you start your Instagram account and what was your motivation for starting it?
    I had a standard-issue Instagram account for years, but I properly entered the Bookstagram sphere in January of 2018.

    Have you always enjoyed reading?
    I would say yes, absolutely! However, I can’t say I was a reader, a serious one, until around five years ago. I had no discernible taste in books, it was a total dart-throwing activity until I finally hit bull’s eye with Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. That was my true literary baptism and I haven’t looked back since!

    Why do you think we don’t see more men, (specifically Black men), reading or sharing about books they read?  Do you think reading is perceived to be “uncool” in the Black community?
    I can’t say for sure why that is. Black men, in my generation especially, are most certainly reading. Living in New York, being on the subways, I’ve shared many a cramped space with other chocolate men, head buried in the pages of our myriad lit. I think, perhaps, that hybridizing the activity into a social media platform could be seen as pointless and/or tiresome to many black men, and men in general, perhaps. I cannot speak for a whole community of men. It is, after all, a hobby, and quite the time-consuming one, when you think about the quintessential features of booksta accounts: reviews, lists, tags, hauls, giveaways, etc. What about the pleasure of simply reading?

    Perhaps instead of posting daily, hourly, and by-the-minute, they’re actually holding a book rather than a phone. (The same could probably be said for many women as well, but because women dominate bookstagram, the question isn’t very relevant.) And sure, it was probably once considered to be “uncool”, but I don’t think that’s at all true today. I think black men and women of my generation and younger now want to be educated, want to be well-read and well-rounded. And anyway, I cannot imagine a grown ass man (bleep me if there are no curses allowed haha), in this day and age, in the times we’re living in, to criticize another for reading. This isn’t a time to sit around being stupid, or, I’ll be nicer, mentally lazy. Pick up a book!

    Name 1-2 recent books you’ve really enjoyed reading this year.
    This is hard, because it’s been an incredible reading year so far. Off the top of my head I’m going to shout out The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead and Lot by Bryan Washington. Both are five-star, top-tier literary works from formidably talented, and imaginatively soulful writers.

    Are you currently in a relationship?  It’s okay to plead the 5th if you prefer not to answer!
    Okay, that went left, haha! But, no… I am happily single.

    Do you have children?  If so, do they love to read as well?
    N/A

    What advice would you give to parents of children, (specifically parents with boys), who may have reluctant readers or kids who don’t enjoy reading?
    I’m not a parent, but my mother, grandmother, and other elders placed books in front of me from a very early age. It’s important for kids to know that there is power in language, in the written word. Children will understand and receive that if it’s taught very early on in their development.

    What books are on your nightstand right now?
    The books on my figurative nightstand: Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s forthcoming novel, The Water Dancerand The Source of Self-Regard by our dearly departed God of literature, Toni Morrison.

    Do you think male bookstagrammers are perceived differently than female bookstagrammers?  If so, in what way(s)?
    I don’t think there’s any conspicuous difference in perception. Bookstagram is obviously a more woman-centered space, but within my own community of followers and followed, though women dominate, it is a variegated, prismatic mix of people of all colors, gay, straight, cis, trans, non-binary, old, young, trash readers, high-brow snobs, etc. I accept that most people’s flocks may be mostly white, mostly female, which, fine for them, but I like a multiplicity of voices and views in my own space. I think I answered a question you didn’t ask, but my point is that I don’t believe male/female perception is really a thing at all.

    Hard cover, paperback, or e-book when reading a book on your own?
    Paperback preferably, but I’ve become less snobby about these things the more I read; whatever I have on hand when I’m ready to read a certain book is what I go with. For big, long books, sometimes it’s convenient to have both the digital and hard copy.

    Name 1-2 of your favorite authors.
    Easy: Toni Morrison & James Baldwin. No one better. And for a younger pair: Zadie Smith & Marlon James.

    How do you choose which books to feature on your Instagram account?

    I don’t make a huge to-do out of it, I simply share the things that give me pleasure. I review when I’m moved to review, I post when I feel I have something to say. Otherwise, I like to keep things very random and organic, mostly located within the stories feature, which is my favorite thing about IG.

    Anything else you’d like to share?

    I just want to thank you for thinking of me for this series! I can’t wait to read about all of the other lovely booksta-men that you feature! Much love!

    Connect with Rod Kelly!

    Instagram

    Your turn: Did you enjoy this feature?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments.  Also, please let me know what other men of Bookstagram I should feature in this series.

    If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read: 10 Male Bookstagrammers to Follow on Instagram If You Love Books.

     

    Find all of the men we feature in this series by searching the hashtag #themenofbookstagram on Instagram!

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    children's books, diverse books, interviews, middle grade

    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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    children's books, interviews

    Author Interview with Anna McQuinn

    Last month I had the pleasure of reviewing Anna McQuinn’s latest book entitled Lola Gets a Cat.  You can read my review here.  Lola Gets a Cat will be released on February 14, 2017 (Valentine’s Day & International Book Giving Day), but it’s available for pre-order now.

    I also had the opportunity to interview Anna McQuinn and ask her a few questions.  Check it out!

    How did you come up with the characters Lola and Leo?

    The characters kind of developed organically. With Lola I sent out to write about a little girl having some new experiences and the first story I wrote had her go to the library. Well, in the course of writing (and also based on readers’ reactions to her) I realized she’d developed into a little book-loving girl.

    This shouldn’t have come as a surprise and I devoured books as a little girl myself – but I don’t think you are always conscious of this kind of thing as you write. To be honest, it wasn’t until Charlesbridge Publishing began writing back cover copy, that it dawned on me!

    Leo was a little bit more considered. Of course I wanted him to be a book lover too, but I wanted him to have his own personality. So I thought about his characteristics quite a bit more at the outset. I see him as a little adventurer, having new experiences and being quite fearless.

    Do you plan to start a new series of books with new characters in the future?

    I’m not sure about a series, but I have just begun work on a nursery rhyme book. I must admit that with all the changes in both the US and UK recently, I have found it quite hard to concentrate on writing – though I have been inspired to pull out a story I’d been working on and given up on about a little ferret who is bullied… watch this space!

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

    I was about to say, this is easy – but then you said within the past year. I don’t feel I’m that up to date… I’m a huge fan of Suzanne Bloom and excited about anything new from her; I think the Baby Loves books from Charlesbridge are super cute; and I read Rat Runners by Oisin McGann recently – fabulous story! Did you know that I have a Goodreads page where I review books I read?  You can check it out here. The character Lola also has her own Goodreads page too which can be found here.

    What are some of your must-have children¹s books for a home library?

    Ok, this is easy. Here are my favorites:

    Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse – Kevin Henkes
    Please, Baby, Please – Spike Lee & Kadir Nelson
    Crispin, the Pig Who Had it All–  Ted Dewan
    Whistle for Willie (and anything else by) Ezra Jack Keats
    What About Bear? – Suzanne Bloom
    Feeding Friendsies – Suzanne Bloom
    You Are Not Small – Anna Kang
    It’s a George Thing by David Bedford
    Global Babies (the whole series of books)
    Always and Forever by Alan Durant
    I had a Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn
    One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail

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

    My Dad was a great bed-time storyteller (there’s a nod to that at the end of Lola Loves Stories).  I especially loved his stories about when he was a small boy. However, when he’d told me a few and then I begged for ‘just one more’ he would begin a story “there was once a little girl called Anna” and for some reason I never wanted these – perhaps because it signaled the last story of the night.

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

    Talk! And sing! With very young children, I advise parents to just describe what the child is doing. It feels funny until you get used to it, but it really helps children to learn words to describe what they are doing. You can extend it to emotions too. Sometimes when a child is upset, saying “Oh that really upset you now, didn’t it, you thought it was unfair (or whatever)…” is better than trying to fix something and gives children a vocabulary of words to describe their emotions. Finally I would say READ! Children really notice if a parent encourages them to read, but is never seen reading themselves.

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

    Never give up and never EVER decide ‘this child just isn’t into books’.  By never give up I mean trying – be ready to abandon any book that’s not working or just let go mid-way through if your child is getting wriggly.
    Your child may have enough in 2 pages and that’s OK – there’s no obligation to finish every story in one sitting.
    The Irish Children’s Laureate has a lovely piece of advice here.

    Hardcover, Paperback or e-book (when reading a book on your own)?

    Paperback

    Fiction, non-fiction or some other genre (when reading a book on your own)?

    Oh, I often have one of each on the go. I’m currently reading Silk Roads a non-fiction book by Peter Frankopan, and I’ve just finished The Storyteller by Jodi Piccoult. I often have one ‘deep and meaningful’ book on the go alongside a more pacey thriller so I can read depending on my mood.

    Name an adult book that:

    a) Inspired you Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (Walter Mosley)
    b) Made you laugh out loud We Are all Made of Glue or The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I am
    c) You recommend to others often
    Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (Walter Mosley)
    Room by Emma Donoghue
    Orange Mint and Honey by Carlene Brice
    The Binding Vine by Shashi Deshpande
    A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
    Just Like Tomorrow by Faiza Guene
    The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

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

    Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun , Silk Roads and Swing Time

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

    I’m writing a new Leo book – he goes for a check-up. The illustrator, Ruth Hearson has just sent me the first few rough drafts which is SO exciting!

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

    On my Facebook page or here on my website.

    Your turn: Did you enjoy this interview?  What other authors would you be interested in learning more about?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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