Tell us about your most recent
book and how you came to write/illustrate it.
My debut novel is Children of Blood and Bone and it comes
out on March 6th, 2018. From a creative standpoint, I came to write
it by discovering the orisha—West African deities—through a stroke of luck while
on a fellowship in Brazil. This gave me the idea for CBB after I discovered a
digital painting two years later that gave me the inspiration for the
characters and events in the story. From a professional standpoint, I came to
write CBB after the first book I tried to get published went nowhere, but
solidified for me that I would be most happy writing full-time. Additionally, I
was heavily influenced by the tragedy of police brutality and felt compelled to
say something about it through my work.
Do you think of yourself as a
Yes because I’m black and
Nigerian-American, and my diverse background has a big impact on what I write,
why I write, and the way I write.
VP & Publisher of Crown Books for Young Readers, Random House
Senior Year. Second Semester. It started with a Children’s Literature class
I took with Jane Yolen. I admit, I
hadn’t read any children’s books…since middle school, seventh grade, back in my
day. And I had definitely never heard of
Natalie Babbitt and Steven Kellogg, part of the course reading. I read TUCK EVERLASTING and was profoundly
moved – and horrified that I had missed out on Natalie Babbitt because I was
“too old” when she started writing children’s books. (Then I binge read everything else by Natalie
Babbitt.) Same with Steven Kellogg, only
I was able to read all of Steven’s picture books in one day.
Fast forward. I’ve graduated from college. I’m in Taiwan, teaching English as a second
language and loathing it. Teaching is
not my avocation. For solace, I reread
and reread the three books I brought with me: RAMONA THE PEST, PIPPI
LONGSTOCKING (remember, second semester course reading) and THE JOURNALS OF
SYLVIA PLATH (Remember, I’m all of twenty one, full of recent college graduate
Upon my return to the States, I
have a new career plan. I’m from New
York City. That’s where most all the
publishers are: I should get a job in publishing, children’s publishing. My Chinese immigrant parents are aghast. Odd enough to choose publishing as a career
choice; why am I making it even harder by choosing a niche like children’s
books? I won’t be swayed. Even though I know nothing about the business
(Remember, this is the mid 80s.) out of my newly discovered passion for
children’s books, I’m determined to work in children’s publishing only. And since I’m an English major, a job in the
editorial department makes the most sense.
It doesn’t really occur to me that there are a myriad of jobs in the
publishing sector and I don’t have to limit myself to one department. (Today, I tell students and interns: Don’t do
it this way!)
MCBBD Feature: Family and Food: A Multicultural list for Preschool through 3rd Grade
JaNay Brown-Wood, author of Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story, shares her book list “Family and Food: A Multicultural list for Preschool through 3rd Grade” Check out the preview below and the full list & 3 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Storyby JaNay Brown-Wood
This is a cozy counting picture book about the relatives visiting Grandma and eating until they are all stuffed. It’s a sweet, rhyming counting book introduces young readers to numbers one through ﬁfteen. [picture book, for ages 2 and up]
2. Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park
This story is written in rhyme, showing the preparation of a popular Korean dish and the excitement of a hungry, young child. All the family members come together at the end to eat. The lines are rhythmic and the illustrations are fun. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
3. Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell
This book is an oldie but goodie. It follows an African American family as they get ready for a dinner with loved ones. It actually counts to ten twice, and is also written in rhyme. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
first diversity question today is how do you self identify?
am a black American woman.
did your background influence your early reading and writing habits, if at all?
I grew up in a family
where education was of utmost importance. Reading, writing, and all things
academic were as normal and mandatory as breathing. I am thankful for how much
my parents valued education. They read to us each night and exposed us to different
texts ranging from poetry and children’s literature to newspapers and
encyclopedias. I still remember when my dad ordered a collection of
Encyclopedia Britannica that filled an entire bookshelf in our living room. I
do admit that I initially didn’t like reading for fun, but I thoroughly enjoyed
writing my own stories, poetry, and songs. Reading grew on me, and, to this day,
both reading and writing are integral parts of my life.
up, did you see and/or envision yourself in the stories you read?
I didn’t see myself in
many stories that I read, but two do come to mind: Vera B. Williams’s Cherries and Cherry Pits and John
Steptoe’s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters.
I don’t remember loving those books, but they do stick out in my mind—possibly
because they had black girls in them. As a teenager I remember reading Mildred
D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,
and while the protagonist was black, I didn’t feel like I connected to her that
much. I think I insulated myself from not being represented in books because I wrote
my own stories where I was the main
character. I wrote a bunch of stories starring Detective JaNay Brown where I’d
go on adventures and solve mysteries. I also remember writing stories with
black girls that were similar to me, even if they didn’t have my name. So
although I didn’t really feel myself connecting to published books, I
definitely connected to my own work since I was the one solving all the
MCCBD Feature: 10 Native Books to Inspire the Young Ones and Young at Heart!
Sandy Tharp-Thee, author of
The Apple Tree, shares her book list “10 Native Books to Inspire the Young Ones and Young at Heart!” Check out the preview below and the full list & 25 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Buffalo Song by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
The story of how the buffalo nearly became extinct, but because people cared enough and worked together we can still enjoy the American buffalo today. It offers insight to the meaning and importance of the buffalo to Native people from yesteryear to today. Based on true events, it reveals the consequences of one small buffalo being rescued by a boy and his father.
I believe the author said he spent sixteen years researching this true story. When I read it, I like to have the children sing with me. As a tribal librarian, this story allowed me to share the past, present, and future of buffalo. Today, the buffalo are no longer in danger, and we can enjoy them in the wild but also purchase the healthier bison meat. It is because of people coming together that this is possible.
Before reading this story with the children, I would share: Imagine if I could give you a gift and that gift gave you the shoes that you are wearing. Now imagine if that same gift provided your clothes, food, and even your shelter or home. What might you say to the creator that gave you such a gift? How would you care for such a gift? [picture book, ages 7 and up]
2. The Story of Jumping Mouse by John Steptoe
One of the smallest creatures—the mouse—is drawn to the sound of the river and the idea of reaching the top of a mountain. His journey gives him a new name, “Jumping Mouse.” Along the way he discovers that he can help those in great need. The sacrifice is huge, but he freely gives, and his award in the end is life changing.
This story is precious to me because the mouse while being so small is nonetheless unafraid. Even when a buffalo and a wolf cross his path, the mouse doesn’t let his feelings of awe overcome him; instead, he humbly revels in the realization that a little mouse like he might be able to help them. Indeed, he helps the two strangers freely without question. If only we could be like the tiny mouse. One of my favorite sayings is to remember whatever we do is not wasted, and, of, course everything we do does come back. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
3. Welcome Song for Baby by Richard Van Camp
This board book is true to its title—a song to welcome a baby. Every child deserves to hear how dear, loved, cherished, and beautiful they are and how they are making the world a better place. A promise and thank you sung to the gift: the baby.
This book is a song, and I have found that babies will stop crying to listen to it sung softly. But more than that, babies need to hear the sweet words of welcome that are in this book. Siblings could easily learn the words to sing to a new brother or sister. The photographs are excellent, and I found even the youngest of children enjoy looking at real photographs. (One of my younger patrons with autism especially enjoyed books that included photographs with faces.) [picture book, ages infant and up]
MCCBD Feature: Diverse Books about Inclusion that Make the World a Better Place
Jo Meserve Mach, Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier, and Mary Birdsell, authors of
Claire Wants a Boxing Name, share their book list “Books Making the World Better Through Inclusion.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Emanuel’s Dream by Lauri Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls
I love true stories and this true story of Emmanual Ofos Yeboah is so inspiring! Because his mother believes he can teach himself how to gain the skills he does just that. The fact he is missing part of one leg doesn’t limit him. Emmanuels quote at the end of the book says it all: “In this world, we are not perfect. We can only do our best.” [picture book, ages 4 and up]
2. My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
This is a fun story that takes place at school. It portrays inclusion in a wonderful way. Zulay becomes just another child participating in Field Day. At first she seems different because she is blind but then she is like every other child competing at school. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
3. Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale and Alexandra Strick, illustrated by Ros Asquith
I like this story because it’s about following your passion. Max loves sports and he and other children with all types of abilities enjoy playing together. The fact that Max has a hearing aid doesn’t interfere with his inclusion in the sports he loves. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
MCCBD Feature: Books for Teens Featuring African-American Protagonists
Mike Mullin, author of Surface Tension, shares his book list “Books for Teens Featuring African-American Protagonists.” Check out the preview below and the full list & 5 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
I first read this novel the same year I first saw Star Wars, when I was ten or eleven. Both experiences linger in my memory nearly 40 years later. It wasn’t the first time I’d read books with Black protagonists (that would be Ezra Jack Keats’ brilliant picture books), but it was the first time I’d read about the brutality of racism. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry is set in 1930’s Mississippi—Taylor sets the scene so well that by the time you’re done reading you’ll be able to taste the rust-colored dust of the dirt roads.
Cassie is an indomitable heroine. Every time I read her story, I alternate between feeling terror and elation as she confronts everything from racist insults to horrific threats against her person. But the true brilliance of the novel is the theme of fire running throughout it, beginning with the horribly burnt body of Mr. Berry and ending with a forest fire—it serves as a stark metaphor for the all-consuming nature of racism. [chapter book, ages 11 and up]
2. M.C. Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton
I think I loved this book because I identified so strongly with the protagonist: Mayo Cornelius Higgins, a brainy, disaffected young man who watches the world from atop a 40’ steel pole. Like M.C., I climbed everything in sight. (Trees, buildings… I never had a 40’ pole, but I have no doubt I would have tried to climb it. My favorite place was a tree covered in vines—I could climb up, stick my head out the top, and gaze over what looked like a leafy meadow suspended 60’ above the ground.) I also identified with the alliance M.C. builds with his neighbors, the light-skinned, red-headed Killburns. I never tried to build a wall with the Black kids who lived next door to me—Mark, Todd, and Glen—but we did build some wicked BMX ramps together! Years after I first read M.C. Higgins the Great, I met Virginia Hamilton and she signed a copy for me. I wish I’d bought a hardcover, but at that point I was in college and nearly broke. I also wish my handwriting were half as lovely as hers:
If you enjoy M.C. Higgins the Great, don’t miss The Planet of Junior Brown and The House of Dies Drear, my other favorite Hamilton novels. [chapter book, ages 11 and up]
3. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
I could have put lots of Myers books on this list, but this is the one that haunted my dreams for months after I read it. The protagonist, Steve, is facing 25-years to life for a crime he didn’t commit. Myers tells the story entirely through diary entries and a screenplay Steve is writing. But the real story here is Steve’s inner battle, as he struggles to reject the label society has already branded him with: Monster. [young adult, ages 13 and up]
MCCBD Feature: 8 Picture Books About Feeling Different But Finding Your Place
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, author of Splatypus shares her book list “8 Picture Books About Feeling Different But Finding Your Place.” Check out the preview below and the full list & 5 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Flight School by Lita Judge
Little Penguin wants to fly — no matter what anyone says about aeronautical deficiencies of the penguin body. He perseveres, relying more on willpower than talent. Eventually, adding an encouraging teacher and a dash of teamwork allows Little Penguin to soar to new heights. I love how this story makes you believe in miracles — even if they need a little assistance. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
2. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Chrysanthemum loves the uniqueness of her name until she realizes at school that unique means different and that different isn’t always accepted. Her self-esteem is deeply affected by her classmates making her feel out of place. But Chrysanthemum finds a kindred spirit and learns a lesson I myself have struggled with often — that even things (and people) that don’t seem to belong do actually belong somewhere. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
3. Unlike Other Monsters by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Colin Jack
Everyone knows monsters don’t have friends, so Zander (himself a monster) isn’t surprised by his friendless state. But while he is unsurprised, he is also disappointed. Unlike other monsters, Zander longs for friendship — which he thinks he may have found in the form of a little red bird. Before Zander can truly bond with his new friend he has to learn to let go of other people’s (or other monsters’) expectations and give himself permission to be himself. A sweet story of finding new friends and also of finding yourself. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
MCCBD Feature: Eight Picture Books with Diverse Family Constellations
Megan Dowd Lambert, author of Real Sisters Pretend, shares her book list “Eight Picture Books with Diverse Family Constellations.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Fred Stays with Me by Nancy Coffelt, illustrated by Tricia Tusa
A little girl whose parents are divorced splits her time between her mom’s house and her dad’s. Her dog, the eponymous Fred, also moves between homes, which gives her a sense of stability and consistency in her co-parenting, joint-custody family arrangement. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
2. Stella Brings the Family by Miriam Schiffer Baker, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
Stella has two dads and isn’t quite sure what to do for her class’s Mother’s Day celebration. Ultimately, she decides to bring both of her parents, as well as other family members who nurture her, and they are all affirmed and welcomed by everyone at school. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
3. Real Sisters Pretend by Megan Dowd Lambert, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell
Inspired by two of the author’s daughters, this is a story about adoptive sisters, Mia (who is multiracial) and Tayja (who is Back), who affirm their bonds with one another after a stranger questions whether they are “real sisters” since they don’t look alike. They punctuate their pretend play with conversation about their adoption stories, and it all culminates in a warm family hug with their two moms. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
MCCBD Feature: Sexual Violence Diversity Books for Young Adults
Sonia Patel, author of Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story, shares her book list “Sexual Violence Diversity Books for Young Adults.” Check out the preview below and the full list & 5 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Rani Patel In Full Effect by Sonia Patel
My debut novel is about how a Gujarati Indian American teen growing up on the rural Hawaiian island of Molokai uses her love for hip hop and rap to navigate the emotional and interpersonal sequalae of incest and rape. The main character, Rani, is based on a mix of my experiences, those of patients I’ve treated and girls/women I’ve known. [young adult, ages 13 and up]
2. Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story by Sonia Patel
My second novel is about the love the grows between a transgender Gujarati Indian boy and a sex trafficked mixed ethnicity girl after their chance meeting on a mountain trail in Hawaii. Both characters are based on amalgams of real patients I’ve treated and their experiences. [young adult, ages 13 and up]
3. Push by Sapphire
I love the main character in this book, a black teenager growing up in Harlem. Her story is brutal and realistic. I’ve heard similar stories in my work as a child & adolescent psychiatrist. [young adult, ages 13 and up]
Read the full list and enter the 5 book giveaway here.
Eric and Natalie Yoder, authors of Short Mysteries You Solve With Math, share their book list “
Middle Grade Spanish/English Bilingual Books.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. One Minute Mysteries: Short Mysteries You Solve With Math/Misterios de un Minuto: Misterios Cortos Que Resuelves con Matematicas by Eric Yoder & Natalie Yoder
Now you can solve mysteries in English, Spanish or both! This award-winning title is now available as a bilingual book. Use it to expand your language and math skills at the same time. Each math mystery takes just one minute to read, and challenges a child’s knowledge in essential, age-appropriate math topics. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
2. Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States edited by Lori Marie Carlson
Growing up Latino in America means speaking two languages, living two lives, learning the rules of two cultures. This book of poetry celebrates the tones, rhythms, sounds, and experiences of that double life. Here are poems about families and parties, insults and sad memories, hot dogs and mangos. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
3. In My Family/En mi familia by Carmen Lomas Garza
This book is a tribute to the family and community that shaped the author’s childhood and life. Lomas Garza’s vibrant paintings and warm personal stories depict memories of growing up in the traditional Mexican-American community of her hometown of Kingsville, Texas. [chapter book, ages 6 and up]
MCCBD Feature: 8 Australian Multicultural YA Books
Melissa Keil, author of The Secret Science of Magic, shares her book list “8 Australian Multicultural YA Books.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
Josie Alibrandi navigates life with her wealthy Catholic school peers and her Italian-Australian family, while dealing with the reappearance of her estranged father, and the complexities of romance. With a wonderfully realized protagonist and heartfelt prose, Alibrandi is a modern Australian YA classic. [young adult, ages 13 and up]
2. Laurinda (published in the US as Lucy and Linh) by Alice Pung
At an exclusive private school for girls, Lucy Lam enrolls as a scholarship student, finding herself tangling with a group of girls known as the Cabinet, who wield extraordinary influence over their peers and teachers. Timely and relevant YA that tackles the thorny issues of power, privilege, class and race. [young adult, ages 14 and up]
3. Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Sixteen-year-old Amal decides to adopt the hijab full time, and deals with the repercussions from her schoolmates, parents and friends. With a great voice in the character of Amal, this book is a funny and moving look at confronting stereotypes and staying true to yourself. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
MCCBD Feature: Diverse Books with Food (and Recipe)
Aram Kim, author of No Kimchi for Me!, shares her picture book list of “Diverse Books with Food (and Recipe).” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia, llustrated by Ken Min
Aneel enjoys his grandparents’ visit, especially his grandpa’s fairytale-like old stories from India. This book intertwines contemporary Indian-American life, traditional Indian lifestyle, great storytelling, and intergenerational bond over stories and food. It is a great mixture of everything! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
2. Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant
Cora is the youngest and always stuck doing a “kid’s job” in the kitchen while her big brothers and sisters do a cool job. When Cora is in the kitchen with her mom alone, she finally gets to do a grownup job and plays a big part in cooking a delicious Filipino noodle dish pancit! Readers can feel the excitement of little Cora and follow her delightful journey. *Recipe included. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
3. Jalapeño Bagels by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Robert Casilla
Pablo helps out in the family bakery and picks an item to bring to his International Day at school. The bakery carries his mom’s various Mexican sweet bread and his dad’s Jewish bagels and challah bread. All kinds look delicious to Pablo, but he finally picks jalapeño bagels that seem to represent himself. The story carries multicultural fare effectively and deliciously. *Recipes included. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
MCCBD Feature: Bold, Creative Girls and Women in Picture Books
Duncan Tonatiuh, author of Danza!: Amalia Hernandez and Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet, shares his picture book list of “Bold, Creative Girls and Women.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
This book is based on the story of Millo Castro, a young girl who pursued her dream of playing the drums at a time when girls in Cuba where not supposed to. Engles verses and López’s illustrations add magic to this inspirational story. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
2. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
This fun book in rhymes is about a young girl who gets into a bit of trouble investigating the cause of a mysterious pungent smell. Ada does not give up on her inquiry though because she has the mind and determination of a scientist. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
3. Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin
This fun book about two Chinese-American twin sisters is broken up into six short stories that connect at the end. It is a great read for beginning readers. [easy reader, ages 5 and up]
Yehudi Mercado, author of Sci-Fu, shares a graphic novel list recommended by characters from his book Sci-Fu. Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Wax’s pick
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 3: Stardust Crusaders by Hirohiko Araki
Wax is all about music. It’s the life force that flows through him. I imagine he would really tear into an action-packed manga about a troubled kid who thinks he’s possessed with a demon, but it turns out to be a superpower called “A Stand.” Many characters are named after famous musicians like Ronnie James Dio, Iggy Pop and Terrence Trent Darby. [graphic novel, ages 14 and up]
2. Pirate Polly’s pick
A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Madeleine L’Engle and Hope Larson
Pirate Polly would have resisted reading A Wrinkle in Time, thinking was for too cool for it, but as soon she opened this dimension-bending epic about a troubled tween searching for her scientist father through space and time, she was hooked. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
3. Cooky P’s pick
Jake the Fake Keeps it Real Hardcover by Craig Robinson and Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Keith Knight
Cooky P knows he’s not the smartest (like D), or the coolest (like Pirate Polly), or the most talented (like Wax), so he would relate to the middle-grader who fakes his way into an elite music and arts magnet school. [notebook novel, ages 8 and up]
MCCBD Feature: 8 Diverse Picture Books for Next-Generation Change Makers
Jamia Wilson, author of Young Gifted and Black, shares her own diverse picture book list on Next-Generation Change Makers. Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website!
1. Young Gifted and Black by Jamia Wilson, illustrated by Andrea Pippins
This our love letter to the next-generation of black leaders doers, thinkers, dreamers and creators. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
2. How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald, illustrated by Elise Peterson
Celebrate the variety of ways diverse mothers support their children through labor and love. It also happens to be published by the Feminist Press, where I work. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
3. Thunderboy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
This gorgeous relationship between a father and son also explores the meaning of names and how they shape who we are. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
CBC Diversity/The Children’s Book Council is once again partnering up with Multicultural Children’s Book Day this year. Though this national celebration officially takes place on January 27th, we will be featuring diverse book lists from the Multicultural Book Day blog throughout the entire month of January!
Authors have come up with their own fantastic diversity lists that you can explore for new diverse books recommendations and there will be many giveaways throughout the month. Check this space throughout January and be sure not to miss out!
More information about Multicultural Children’s Book Day is in the press release below.
My mission as an author is to mine the past for family
stories, fading traditions and forgotten struggles. Add to that unsung heroes.
When my friend and frequent collaborator Eric Velasquez pitched the idea of a
Schomburg biography to me, I was intrigued. Like Schomburg, Eric has roots in
Africa and Puerto Rico. I detected Eric’s passion for the project and I could
not refuse. I believe this is the book that Eric was born to create. Even
though the book had a ten year gestation, I am honored that Eric asked me to
collaborate. This is our fifth book together.
When did you first learn about Schomburg?
I knew of the Schomburg Center before I knew about the
man behind it. I did picture research there in the early 1980s. That was long
before there were digital archives online. Back then, I had to wear white
gloves to handle vintage photographs. I recall being in awe of the Center’s
vast holdings. What I did not know is that Schomburg the man was a bibliophile
and a leading light of the Harlem Renaissance, a period I first wrote about in Sugar
Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood. That picture book isillustrated
by Gregory Christie.
you only write stories from your own cultural background?
For a long time before I was published, I
wrote only western stories – stories set in western families about children
with western names and their rituals of growing up. This is because subconsciously
I was writing what I was reading. As a child and as an adult, I read mostly
western narratives and that seeped into my writing. But my heart wasn’t in
those stories. It wasn’t my truth. And when I did write stories from India,
either set there or about India and Indian characters, I started getting lesser
rejections (or at least more personalised ones) because my stories now had the
secret ingredient that makes magic – authenticity. For me more than setting the
stories in India or in its culture, it is about personal connection. Why do I
want to tell this story? Why me? Am I the right person to tell this story? If
so, then I would attempt to bring it to life.
Conversely, do you feel restricted in the subjects and settings you can choose?
I’m a nomad. Although I was brought up in
India, I have lived in Singapore and now in the UK. I travel a lot and I gather
stories where I go. But I always remember that all the stories filter through
my own experiences – of what I know and what I don’t. I have fallen in love
with folktales from Antwerp and Prague but I worry about retelling them because
I’m not sure I would have the depth of the cultural context. Even to retell a
small story, I would need tremendous amount of research and understanding. So I
pick and choose projects I can actually invest time and energy into. On a side
note, India is a big country with language, ethnic and other diversities and I
research a lot even to tell Indian stories.
Diversity in Our Digital World: Visual Literacy Across Borders
By Susan Polos and Janet Wong
The CBC program “Diversity in Our
Digital World: Visual Literacy Across Borders” was a great success at the
International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) regional conference
sponsored by USBBY (usbby.org) at the University of Washington in Seattle,
October 20 - 22. The CBC session featured two illustrators, Suzy Lee and Keith
Negley, as well as a publishing professional, Tucker Stone.
Janet Wong, poet and publisher at Pomelo
Books, and Susan Polos, school librarian from NY, introduced the panel. Wong
and Polos serve as co-chairs of the American Library Association/Children’s
Book Council (ALA/CBC) Joint Committee. Coincidentally, both are board members
of USBBY, Janet representing the International Literacy Association (ILA) and
Susan, ALA. Tucker Stone is also a member of CBC and represents CBC on the
USBBY board. CBC’s commitment to diversity, evident in its work and its blog,
proved a perfect fit for the conference theme, “Radical Change Beyond
Borders—the Transforming Power of Children’s Literature in a Digital Age,”
inspired by the work of Eliza Dresang.
The CBC breakout session opened with an
introduction to the work of CBC in the area of diversity. Slides showcasing
current CBC Diversity Blog posts made clear to all present that the range of
posts, including a storytime guide, authors’ posts, book guides, book lists,
Q&As, and more, highlight and encourage diversity in all formats and forms
for publishing professionals. Both illustrators selected for this panel, Suzy
Lee and Keith Negley, have been featured on the CBC Diversity Blog. Wong
explained that one goal of this panel was to expand the discussion of diversity
in children’s literature beyond race and ethnicity to feature “diverse
thinking” in the creation of children’s books.
Suzy Lee: “It all depends on the readers”
Suzy Lee (suzyleebooks.com) shared illustrations from her
work and spoke about three of her books, Wave, Shadow, and Lines
(published by Chronicle Books). She mentioned the importance of borders in her
work both through her use of the physical book’s bindings and gutters and as
story tools, taking the reader from a realistic scene to a metaphysical
understanding of the artist’s process. She explained how readers of “silent”
books can see what she, the illustrator, has intended them to see; readers also
bring their own interpretation to the reading. “When there’s no word pointing
out what to read, the readers can read more. It’s because the meaning of the
image is not fixed. It’s always changing. And it all depends on the readers;
they read as they want in their own way.”
One anecdote that Lee shared involved an
autistic boy whose teacher said that when Wave was shared in their
classroom, “the room was silent, and [the boy] could hear [the book] in his
head … he was captivated.” As Lee noted, this is the kind of moment “when
the ‘silent’ picture book shines.”
Keith Negley: “Toxic masculinity has run
Keith Negley (keithnegley.com) worked as an
illustrator and designer for magazines before writing and illustrating
children’s books published by Flying Eye, the children’s imprint of Nobrow, an
international publishing company. Negley’s books, while not wordless, tell
stories primarily through illustration and contain minimal text.
He shared work from two published books, Tough
Guys Don’t Cry and My Dad Used to Be So Cool, as well as a
forthcoming book, Mary Wears What She Wants (Balzer +
Bray/HarperCollins). Negley wants to break barriers of gender expectations,
showing that both boys and girls can resist the stereotypical boxes—and to show
dads who are affectionate and sensitive.
Tucker Stone: “Helping small publishers get
the word out”
Tucker Stone anchored our panel with a
reminder that our real challenge, when it comes to diverse children’s
literature, is with distribution.
Stone spoke both of his former position as
US Sales & Marketing Director with Nobrow US/Flying Eye Books, as well as
his current work as Client Marketing Manager for Children’s and Comic titles for
Ingram’s Consortium Book Sales & Distribution. In this new role, Stone
strives to communicate the interests of international readers to independent
publishers and to promote the titles he represents.
Outstanding International Books (OIB) Lists
Suzy Lee’s first book was signed during a
visit to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. She advises international authors
and illustrators to go to Bologna and to learn from the editors and agents
there, if possible. “Bologna was a real-wonderland … I was amazed at the
various perspectives and styles” of the international books on display. For
advocates of diverse books who are not familiar with international books and
are unable to travel to Bologna, Wong and Polos recommend downloading USBBY’s
annual Outstanding International Books lists for the past decade (http://www.usbby.org/list_oibl.html).
International books provide a valuable glimpse of additional approaches to celebrating
Polos is a School Librarian in the Bedford Central School District. Janet Wong
is a poet and co-founder of Pomelo Books (PomeloBooks.com), a CBC member.
Together, they serve as co-chairs of the ALA-CBC Joint Committee.
1) Why do you think there’s such a dearth of diverse children’s books?
In a couple of words: white supremacy. The
fact that there are more books published about animals than about black kids
says a lot, not only about our
society, but about “Western” sensibilities and colonization on the whole. About
the perception of “race” and the role of literacy in the development of
societal hierarchies. The English staked their claim on land in various places
around the world and forced the people in those places to learn the English
language, but literature and the arts were reserved for members of the highest
social classes. Who were all white.
The fact that we’re almost two decades into
the 21st Century and just now
beginning to see books written in English that reflect the realities of the
English-speaking world says a lot about who, historically, has been expected—or
even allowed—to achieve English
literacy. When all the business-related rhetoric is stripped away (“Those types
of books statistically don’t sell well.” “The numbers don’t suggest that this
would be a good investment.”), the implications are that 1) certain groups of
people don’t read and 2) the people who do
read wouldn’t want to read about x-type of people. The marginalized wind up
doubting the validity of their very existence, and the privileged continue to
see themselves as the protagonists of the only stories that matter. I’m sure I
don’t have to explain why this is detrimental to everyone.
We’ve Been Waiting in the Wings Forever: A Queer Theater Story
By Amy Rose Capetta
I discovered the joys of theater in middle school for a sad
but simple reason: I was quitting dance. At the age of twelve, I was told by my
teacher that I couldn’t continue at an advanced level without losing a
significant amount of weight. The issue of body policing in the performing arts
comes up in my YA novel Echo After Echo,
specifically for the main character, Zara, who is not the waifish ingénue
people have come to expect. Fortunately, when I chose to leave dance behind, I
fell into theater, and despite being a different body type than many of my
fellow actresses, I found roles and fell in love with acting.
My new life of green rooms and backstage bonding brought my
first queer friends. It’s no real secret that the theater world, from the
professional stages in NYC to the drama clubs in most schools are havens for
creative and hardworking LGBTQIAP folks. Before I even knew I was queer, I
found my people, and they shared my fervor for story-making, a heady mix of
love and ambition that still drives me. We collected, we rehearsed, we
constructed sets with questionable structural integrity, we held our hearts
outside of our bodies night after night, we threw AMAZING cast parties.
Tell us about your most recent book and how you came to write/illustrate it.
BEAUTY is about queer Latina girls and enchanted, murderous gardens. The
Nomeolvides women, including the youngest generation of five cousins, tend the
grounds of La Pradera, a famously beautiful garden known both for enthralling
visitors and killing those who break its rules. This story grew from my love of
flowers and from wanting to write girls like me and my cousins into the world
of fairy tales.
Do you think of yourself as a diverse author/illustrator?
queer, Latina, and I’m married to a trans guy, so in a way I didn’t set out to
write diverse fiction any more than I set out to live a diverse life. Writing
inclusive stories was a matter of letting the truth I already know have a place
in my work.
Check out our Q&A with Nikki Grimes, author of THE WATCHER (
Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, October 2017)!
What inspired you to write The Watcher?
few years ago, I was invited to write a Golden Shovel poem for The Golden
Shovel Anthology, a collection honoring the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning
Poet, Gwendolyn Brooks. This new poetry form, created by Terence Hayes
specifically for this anthology, was brand new, and so this was my first
introduction to it. I fell immediately in love with the form and could
not wait to use it again, for a project of my own. One of the first two
ideas that came to me was to apply the form to the exploration of a
Psalm. It seemed perfect. The Psalms are poetry, after all, and the
Golden Shovel is all about borrowing lines from existing poems to create new
ones. The question, of course, was which Psalm. I had a picture
book in mind, and in order for this treatment to work for a picture book, the
Psalm had to be relatively short, and so I searched for just the right
one. Psalm 121 is one of my favorite passages of scripture, and the length
seemed exactly right.
My dad—technically a refugee from East Pakistan (now
Bangladesh)—became a harbor engineer, traveled far and wide, stood in the
presence of Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Queen
Elizabeth, and settled his family in California when I was in the seventh grade.
He died this year, and I’m grieving hard, mourning the loss of his humor,
loving company, and joyful spirit. I also miss his stories of Poshora, the
village where seven generations of my family lived on a jute farm. Thanks to
Dad’s deep roots in that particular place, no matter how people saw us, we
didn’t identify ourselves as Asian-Americans, Indian-Americans, or even
Bengali-Americans. I knew as a child that the Bose family was from Poshora in Faridpur, East Bengal.The problem is that now, without Dad’s witty, adept use of
the Bangla language, recitations of Tagore’s poetry, and reminiscences from his
childhood, it feels like the hyphen connecting my identities has taken a blow.
Will it be fatal? My parents’ shift from country to country—something that I
didn’t choose—has already cost me, leaving me to grow up far away from a
supportive network of relatives and grandparents. Dad’s life and stories
provided my particular connection to that faraway village in East Bengal. With
Dad gone, will I tilt even more to the American side?
How to Talk to Kids About Race: Books That Can Helpreadbrightly.com
“While “I don’t see color” may come from a well-meaning place, studies show that it more likely does a great deal of harm. If we look closer, we often find that much of our reluctance to address race directly stems from our tendency to want to avoid discomfort. Yeah, it’s hard to talk about why #BlackLivesMatter has become a rallying cry, the legacy of our government’s relationship with its Native citizens, or why some individuals are called “illegal” and “alien.” Clinical psychologist, author, and professor Beverly Tatum asks us to “Think about these stereotypes, these omissions, these distortions as a kind of environment that surrounds us, like smog in the air. We don’t breathe it because we like it. We don’t breathe it because we think it’s good for us. We breathe it because it’s the only air that’s available.” – Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich in Brightly
Candlewick Press Publicist Jamie Tan, with questions provided by summer
marketing and publicity intern Melissa Lee:
As someone who’s spent
a couple years trying to figure out the right career path, it didn’t dawn on me
to consider publishing until I began blogging and reviewing. What about publishing appealed to you?
My mother says I have been entranced with books as soon as I
learned how to hold objects. The idea of getting to work with them was
tantalizing – almost a privilege more than an occupation. As a kid I had no
idea what kind of publishing jobs were out there, but I knew I wanted to make
books and read to my heart’s content…and somehow get paid for it.
Since high school, I have
been determined to pick a career that wouldn’t have me ending up in a cubicle
feeling miserable. Not everyone is able to do what they love as their career.
Though watching you, you seem to love being a publicist. What about being a
publicist gets you up and out of bed every morning?
Easily, the people. I actually love working in my cubicle
because I’m right next to some of the best people I know – incredibly
intelligent people who can talk about everything from critical theories to
promo items to the proper care of mint plants. I’m a really social person, and
I don’t know what I would do without my co-workers nearby! I also work with
some of the most pleasant authors and illustrators I’ve ever met, so not only
do I want to keep my job, I want to make sure that these people get their work
A Short List of Science Fiction & Fantasy That Celebrates Disabilitybarnesandnoble.com
“I want to discuss the work of disabled genre authors, or authors who celebrate disability in their work. Here’s five of them you’ve definitely heard of—some of them write about disability, some don’t, but ll of them have changed the landscape of SFF.”
Industry Q&A with Assistant Editor Melanie Cordova
Candlewick Press Assistant editor Melanie Cordova, with questions provided by
summer editorial intern Isabella Corletto.
Candlewick has been my first experience in publishing. What made you want to
get into publishing? How did your career begin, and how long have you been
working in the industry? Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in
I didn’t know I wanted to work in publishing until my
freshman year of college. Back then, I desperately needed a job and after many
attempts, my boyfriend (now husband) convinced me to apply to a bookstore.
Luckily, the bookstore I applied to needed a children’s bookseller immediately
and they hired me on the spot. The experience changed everything. At the
bookstore, I rediscovered my love for books, especially children’s books. By
the end of my sophomore year I had changed my major from Journalism to Writing,
Literature, and Publishing. After that, I interned and worked at a couple of
publishing houses until I finally landed at Candlewick. If we count my
bookstore experience, which I obviously do, I’ve been working in publishing for
a decade now.
To be able to work
with a text when it’s in its earliest drafts and then see it published has to
be an incredibly special experience. So much more time, care, and hard work is
put into every single book than I could’ve ever imagined. What is one of the
most rewarding experiences you’ve had during your time in publishing?
When I was a sales assistant at Candlewick, I saw a press
release about Candlewick acquiring Juana and Lucas. The story appealed
to me so much, and I was so excited we had taken it up. After transferring over
to editorial, I found out that my boss was the book’s editor and had just
started working on it. From admiring this project from afar to working with the
incredibly talented Juana Medina to seeing it win the Pura Belpré Award,
working on this book has been one of my most rewarding experiences so far.
Black Stories Matter: On The Whiteness Of Children’s Bookstheestablishment.co
“Children are not just the passive recipients of what they read. They should be seen as active subjects, creating and recreating themselves in relation to the representations that surround them. In this way, literature is an arena in which children can safely play with and develop an understanding of the state, and their role and relationship to it. Children’s literature not only shows how important children have been to black social movements. It also highlights the power of books to rescue childhood from a culture that has dehumanized black children, and denied them healthy and expansive models for growing up.”
From Activist To Author: How 12-Year-Old Marley Dias Is Changing The Face Of Children's Literatureforbes.com
“I had a lot of choices about how I was going to address this problem. Option 1: focus on me, get myself more books; have my dad take me to Barnes and Noble and just be done, live my perfect life in suburban New Jersey. Option 2: find some authors, beg them to write more black girl books so I’d have some of my own, special editions, treat myself a bit,” she said. “Or, option 3: start a campaign that collect books with black girls as the main characters, donate them to communities, develop a resource guide to find those books, talk to educators and legislators about how to increase the pipeline of diverse books, and lastly, write my own book, so that I can see black girl books collected and I can see my story reflected in the books I have to read.”