Book Party – Naomis Too

September 12, 2018

What do you do after launching a successful MG novel about blending families? Why follow it with a sequel, of course. Help us celebrate our Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and the book birthday of Naomi’s Too. Co-authored by Audrey Vernick, Naomi’s Too follows Naomi E. and Naomi Marie as they try to navigate their new lives as step sisters.

In this sequel to Two Naomis, now that Naomi Marie’s mom and Naomi E.’s dad are married, the girls have learned to do a lot of things together, like All-Family Sunday dinners, sixth-grade homework, navigating the subway system by themselves, and visiting their favorite bakeries. Until sixth grade in a new school presents a whole new set of surprises and challenges.

As the girls deal with the ups and downs of middle school and the mysteries of family dynamics, they learn that even when life and school try to drive you apart, it’s ultimately easier to face everything together.

Naomis Too

The Buzz on Naomi’s Too

“A sequel that packs as much heart, humor, and understanding as the first.” Kirkus Reviews

 

Buy Naomi’s Too

Indiebound

Direct from HarperCollins

Amazon

Barnes and Noble


We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices

September 4, 2018

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Today is the book birthday for a special anthology. Edited by Wade and Cheryl Hudson and published by Crown Books for Young Readers in cooperation with the Hudsons’ company, Just Us Books, We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices is a treasury of poems, prose and art that offers hope and encouragement to children in these challenging times.

The collection, which has won multiple starred reviews, features the work of more than 50 diverse, award-winning children’s book authors and illustrators including Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Ellen Oh, Jason Reynolds, Margarita Engle, Tony Medina, Sharon G. Flake, Javaka Steptoe, Innosanto Nagara and three on the The Brown Bookshelf team – Tameka Fryer Brown, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and me.

riseauthorsillosI received my hardcover and boxed CD set last week. Every time I read or listen to the words, I’m moved and filled with pride. I hope that every classroom from elementary to high school gets a copy of We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices and it becomes a valued part of home and library collections. It’s the book we need.

Wade and Cheryl Hudson have been doing this work of encouraging, mobilizing and giving back for decades. Just Us Books, their pioneering company, turns 30 next month. The Hudsons are warriors for justice, equity, empowerment and visibility. They do it for the culture, for the children. Let’s give a gift to them and to the kids who will see themselves in this book. Let’s make We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices a bestseller.

Buy a copy today and spread the word. This is a day of celebration and action. Post a review. Share the cover and tag friends. Download the educators’ guide. Use the hashtag #RiseResistRaise and share how the book makes you and children you know feel.

To learn more about how this powerful project was created, watch the Hudsons here. At The Brown Bookshelf, we salute them, editor Phoebe Yeh, the Crown team, the amazing contributors and our future and inspiration – the children. Below, the Hudsons share why we must stand up for change and spread hope:

“Today, our democracy is under attack and much of the progress to make us more just, fair and inclusive that has been achieved through fierce and dedicated struggle, is in peril. There are those who would make us an even more uncivil and less moral country. They view and use meanness and power to get their way, to try to recreate a world from a bygone era where too many of us were victims and not citizens. In a time such as this, we must rise, resist and raise our voices.

hudsonsraiseOur young people are not only watching, they are impacted as well by this onslaught.  We need to rise, resist and raise our voice not only for ourselves, we need to do it for the future of our young people. That is why this anthology is so important. In it, fifty-two creators of books for children and young adults share their voices to offer wisdom, encouragement, love, support and HOPE!

We are so proud to be a part of an outstanding team of diverse authors and illustrators to produce a book for this time.” 

 


Book Party – So Done

August 13, 2018

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We know you don’t want to admit it, but summer is almost over. *heavy sigh* Let’s have one more book party before fall swoops in. Help us celebrate BBS’s Paula Chase and her MG debut, So Done.

So Done Cover Art

They had always been best friends. Until that summer…

Jamila Phillips and Tai Johnson have been inseparable since they were toddlers. In Pirates Cove – a low-income housing project – Mila’s single father does everything he can to support his kids and his community. Tai lives across the street with her grandmother, who is the only family she needs.

When they are reunited after a summer apart, their friendship threatens to combust from the pressure of secrets, middle school, and the dance auditions for a new talented-and-gifted program.

Paula, which character gave you trouble as you wrote So Done?

Tai’s father, Bryant. Honestly, it’s tricky writing adults in kidlit period.  You risk either giving too much backstory and weight or having them too conveniently absent. But, Bryant’s disruptive presence is also why Tai has so much anger inside. How she interacts with her friends and the world around her are linked to that relationship. Portraying him and his effect on her challenged the balance of just how much adult presence to insert.

The Buzz on So Done

A 2018 Fall Junior Library Guild Selection 

“Chase’s Middle Grade debut dazzles,” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Chase vividly conjures the triumphs, tensions and worries percolating in the girls’ low income neighborhood,” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Buy So Done

IndieBound

Barnes & Noble

Direct from the publisher: Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins


Book Party – Minecraft: The Crash

July 9, 2018

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Any time is a good time for a book party. Add gaming into it and you’re about to add joy to a young reader’s life when you join us in celebrating the latest from BBS’s own Tracey Baptiste.

Minecraft Cover

When Bianca Marshall, an avid Minecraft enthusiast wakes in the hospital, almost paralyzed by injuries from a car crash, she finds herself drawn into a new VR version of Minecraft which promises her control over  a world at the very moment she’s lost control over the real one. Is her best friend Lonnie in there with her too? And can Bianca help him to return to reality with her? The road to recovery may not be without its own dangers! (High Middle Grade/Young Adult)

Tracey, what was the best part about writing this book?

The best thing about writing this book was working with my son, who was 10 when I started doing the outline. He’d come home from school and look at the wall in my office where I plot. We had a system using sticky notes. The red ones were questions for him. So he’d take a look at the wall, tell me if I was going okay, and answer the questions. When I started drafting, he’d get home from school and read two chapters and give me handwritten notes on the manuscript. I got him credit as a consultant on the copyright page. He earned it.

Read this mini-cerpt:

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I was getting used to moving around in the game. There was one thing that I really wanted to try. Flying. From the top of the hill, I jumped twice, expecting my avatar to soar into the sky. Instead, I tumbled down a few blocks. Must be survival mode and not creative, I thought. I climbed back up and looked around. On the other side of the hill, in the distance, was a eld of brown. A desert biome, I guessed. There didn’t seem to be any villagers or buildings, so I turned and went north, following the curve of the river. I ran past mobs of pigs and sheep, clumps of trees, and elds of owers. Much farther away, things turned green. Swampy. I’d have time to explore all of that later. What I wanted was to check out the village on the other side of the river. So I turned my gaze, and the entire world turned beneath me, pointing me in the di‐ rection of the village near my home base.

Running in the game felt amazing. The world whizzed by me, and the exhilaration of being able to sprint around was intoxicating. I could almost pretend that they were really my legs pumping beneath me, sending me ying through the Technicolor scenery. “Optical illusion,” I said out loud. I knew I was really lying in bed in a hospital room, and the entire world around me was a projection of light that extended only as far as the goggles did. It wasn’t real. None of it.

Buy Minecraft: The Crash

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Direct from the publisher: Penguin Random House

 

Want to know more? Check out this podcast


Check Your Respect

May 7, 2018

I’ve never understood how people can cheer for adults playing professional sports and still form their mouths to question why someone would pursue the creative arts professionally. Athletes literally play a game for a living, but we question dancers? Artists? Writers?

Has capitalism gotten us so twisted that we only covet careers that bring us riches?

Maybe it’s not for me to understand. But, so it’s clear, in my house we respect the Arts as a profession.

My great uncle, Bernard Addison, was a professional jazz musician. He, like many musicians, made a living playing music. That was his real job. Because you don’t recognize his name like you might Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong, means little. Do you know many doctors beyond your own? Doubtful. Yet, many physicians are out there curing and caring for folks every day. Fame has nothing to do with success.

I am a professional writer. J.K. Rowling I’m not. But with six books under my belt, I think it’s fair to say I could quit my “day” job if I wanted. In time! Despite the number of folks who may not have heard of me, my books are in bookstores and libraries across the nation. Their existence proves my ability to actually make money from this discipline. And I think both my agent and editor would be quite perplexed by those who don’t see writing as a viable career. As would my many author friends who rely on writing as their sole income.

Side Note: Of the Arts, writing seems to be the only one that everyone waves off as easy. Anyone with that belief, come holler at me for a little lesson in “Fear of the Blank Page.” Healthy fear. Respectful fear. But still, fear. If you’re absent of that, good luck writing for a living.

But I digress.

Here’s the crux of my annoyance with people’s utter disrespect for the professional arts:

My teen daughter wants to be a professional Ballet dancer, one day. This is something she’s made clear was her aspiration since about age 10. It is neither a passing fancy or a frivolous dream that her father and I are indulging until she settles on a “real” career.  The reaction people have when they hear that usually verges immediately on – poor dear, let me tell you why that’s such a bad idea.  Or – it’s such a long shot, I hope she has a back up plan.

Okay. Here’s what you should not do when talking to her or me about her desired career:

  • Tell her how hard it is

She knows this. Have you ever danced on your toes for six hours a day all summer while your friends sleep in? Well, she has. Pursuing Ballet is a grind. Technique is key and Ballet teachers are dedicated to the body form being classically correct. When she’s not studying for school or sneaking in a little social time for friends, she’s at dance. She and our entire family sacrifice for her to study Ballet. She knows hard.

  • Remind her how competitive it is

Is pursuing any job not? Are there not often hundreds of applicants seeking a single open position in a company? Ballet is no different. There are hundreds of Ballet companies out there. Just because you may know of only the bigs – American Ballet Company or New York City Ballet – doesn’t mean the others don’t exist. If she can’t find a single position within the many Ballet companies here in the U.S. or abroad – EVER- that would be an amazing feat.

  • Go on about how little dancers make

If she wanted to be rich she would have never chosen Ballet. If she’s okay with a life with little to no frills, then you should be okay with it too.

  • Justify your comments as if you’re just trying to make sure she knows what she’s in for

You’re assuming neither she, I or her father understand what’s involved with pursuing a career where subjectivity reigns. That’s insulting. You’re assuming she’s not doing her own homework by talking to her teachers or reading resources on life in that profession. You’re assuming your comments will somehow deter what’s in her heart.

My daughter is a beautiful dancer with a mother who continues to actively navigate the subjectivity of publishing. It’s not easy, but it’s damned sure not impossible. Don’t think we don’t have conversations about this all the time. She has a mentor who is clear on the rejection ahead. But also, a staunch cheerleader who knows what it’s like to have Art in you that you’re compelled to put out in the world.

Understand, we do this because we have to. Art is breathing for the artist. Please stop smothering us with your fears and concerns. Negative energy is the artist’s natural enemy. We have enough self doubt to fill a stadium. Don’t push yours on us.

Root for us.

Support our work.

Tell others about the artists you know.

We put beauty into the world. That’s never a bad thing.


Day 28.5: YA Panel Part 2

March 1, 2018

We’re pretending that it’s Leap Year by offering day two of our YA Panel with authors Justina Ireland (Dread Nation), Brandy Colbert (Little & Lion) and Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles). Check out the convo as they discuss being vocal on social media and getting on their soap boxes.

BBS: All of you are active on social media. Is anyone ever afraid to be as honest as they are about publishing, politics and culture because it may impact their relationship with publishers, gatekeepers or readers?

littlelion_brandycolbert__spanBrandy: I’m definitely the least outspoken online from this group. But everyone who’s met me knows I will say anything in person.

Dhonielle: I used to be afraid and I never really go in unless you make me BIG MAD. Now, I don’t care as much. I’m like…I’m little and y ‘all think I’m cute and that you can come at me – so nah, sometimes you need a reminder. I will clap back!

Brandy: I just feel like conversations online lose a lot of nuance and it can be hard to read tone and intention.

Justina: I think we need both types, though. I mean, Brandy is going to get invited to places I won’t because people won’t see her as a threat and then she can let me know what’s what when she’s there.

Brandy: Ooh, good point! And I don’t do it purposely to avoid publisher/gatekeeper backlash. But I know I’m better in person.

BBS:  Dhonielle, your clap backs always make me smile because you definitely don’t look like you’d come for someone. Then you do and it’s like – yessss!

Justina: My editor and publisher know what I’m about and I told them that nothing was going to change.  I do give my editor a courtesy heads up when I’m about to go in on a Harper book, though. Just so he knows to expect the hate mail.

Brandy: I think it’s ultimately good to be outspoken, but then I always say that whatever you need to know about my thoughts is in my books. And if you need to know more, catch me on a panel or in person somewhere.

Justina: Great point.

BBS: How about the flip side…do you believe being vocal is something readers are going to come to expect from authors, particularly YA authors? Are the days where keeping your own views separate from your body of work gone?

Justina: Oh, most definitely.

Brandy: That’s a great question. I do at least try to re-tweet people I respect and admire who are more eloquent or educated about a topic. So then anyone who comes to my feed knows, for example, that I fully support Colin Kaepernick and his protests.

Dread nationJustina: I think that with social media such an integral part of life, people assume you are for the same things they are for unless you speak up. For better or worse. So, I fully expect young readers to reach out to their favorite authors when they read something that offends them and go “WTF?” And I think that is the changing face of critique.

There’s a section of the population that wants the media they consume to be from people who uphold their values. Authors are going to have to learn to cocoon themselves or accept being more involved in reader response.

Brandy: But then my question is if you cover these topics thoroughly and make your opinion known in your books, is it okay to let other people have the mic online? I do struggle with that as an intensely private person. But I still want it known what I’m about.

Justina: Oh, definitely. It think it takes all kinds.

BBS:  Where your book topics are concerned, I can see that.  But I’ve seen both Justina and Dhonielle speak out on other topics that wouldn’t necessarily be anything related to what they write. Many authors, now, are so vocal about the political climate. Or feminism.  Things that are controversial and have clear “sides.”

Brandy: Those are the conversations I’m having with friends and colleagues but sometimes it just seems like an echo chamber. And I wonder, do we *really* need my voice added to this right now?

Justina: Yeah, I struggle with this because even though I’m vocal online, I’m also very private.  I never name my kid or husband, and I mostly talk about stuff that has little to do with my day to day life. But I also think it’s important to look at something and say “That’s not okay, and here’s why.” In publishing, that does tend to be an echo chamber.

I mostly am there to make sure the well meaning white liberals in publishing don’t get too comfortable.

Brandy: And we love ya for it.

BBS: What “soap box” are you on related to publishing, the YA community, librarianship/teachers or anything else connected to getting more of our books out there and recognized?

The-Belles-High-Res (1)Dhonielle: I wanna be on the Tell The Truth soap box.

Justina: Go in!

Dhonielle: We have spent so much time catering to white folks feelings and I’m done with that part of the program.

Brandy: I’m on the All of our Stories Matter soapbox.  That’s All of our BLACK Stories Matter, in case that wasn’t clear. I sometimes feel the YA community gets a little too comfortable with *only* promoting stories of black pain. And that makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Dhonielle: Preach!

BBS: Someone else said that recently and it just really hit me that a lot of our books ARE about pain.

Brandy: Yes! And my books fit that mold, to some degree. But it seems like some gatekeepers and readers are only comfortable reading books about black people that take them completely out of their neighborhood or comfort zone instead of confronting, say, the liberal racism in their own backyards.

Dhonielle: Preach, Brandy!

BBS: There’s a difference in exploiting that narrative and trying to help kids find a way through what are real experiences in a community. Yes?

Brandy: Exactly. The exploitation is the key difference.

Justina: I’m on the For Us By Us soap box.

Brandy: FUBU!!

Justina: BRINGING IT BACK!  That includes promoting and supporting younger Black authors and aspiring Black authors. I would also like to see less stories about Black pain and how awful it is to be Black in general, but I think it’s going to be a while before we get there.

BBS: Well here’s hoping that’s not the case! It was my pleasure to bring these ladies to this year’s 28 Days Later spotlights. If anything said here can help make the publishing journey and overall publishing experience better for writers of color, then I’ve done my job.


Day 28: YA Panel

February 28, 2018

As the sole resident YA author on the BBS team, I’m often consulted about potential candidates to cover for 28 Days Later.  Having returned to the campaign after a very long hiatus, the sound my colleagues heard when asking that question was akin to *crickets.* Not because I’m unaware of the authors out there, but because there aren’t nearly as many as there should be 10 years after somewhat of an explosion of Black YA authors. Nearly everyone I suggested, BBS had already covered.  Why hadn’t the explosion continued? How could I not find five solidly under-the-radar YA authors?

As I looked around, I realized a few things 1) Those of us who debuted 10 years ago are now writing MG and 2) Today’s YA is a bit edgier, a true reflection of our fragile social times, and so…go back to number one.

Out of this conundrum, a fantastic idea presented itself – chat with YA authors who were 28 Days Later “Alum” and put publishing under the microscope. On top of the chat being more fun than I’ve had in a long time, it was insightful. Treat yourself to today’s spotlight: an industry chat with authors Justina Ireland (Dread Nation), Brandy Colbert (Little & Lion) and Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles).

BBS: Finish this thought – “Before I was published, I thought YA was missing…”

brandy_n5d7247Brandy:  Before I was published, I thought YA was missing black people, in general. But especially black people with agency, who weren’t reduced to stereotypes by authors who were writing outside of their experience.

I grew up in a very white community and probably 100% of the books on my shelf were by and about white people, so I’m not sure I noticed. Which is sad to think about now. I started writing when I was seven years old, and that also affected my stories, which were all about white people. I felt that I was meant to be a writer but I didn’t think anyone wanted to read about black people.

Justina:  Like Brandy, I didn’t really notice how white books were, because I kind of thought it was just that all of the Black kids were in books I didn’t want to read (Like Sounder, Roll of Thunder). It was until I got older that I realized Black characters existed, just in a very narrow range. As I scooted over to the adult section I found books about Black people…in the African American literature section.

BBS:  The narrow range is important to note because not existing was issue one and then existing only in one frame was the other.  

Brandy Yes, exactly! I remember the first time I saw the African American section in a bookstore. It was a very strange feeling. Like, yay! But also—why do we have to be shelved in a different section entirely?

Dhonielle: Before I was published, I thought YA was missing stories of brown kids and magic, Brown kids falling in love, fantasies that featured non-western worlds.

BBS:  So, now what? Because whether it’s sexuality, mental illness, racism and zombies, or the power of beauty in society – looking at today’s landscape, through the three of your books alone, makes it clear that a broad variety of books featuring characters of color are here. 

Justina: Exactly, and that’s awesome. And now we need people to show up and buy them.

Brandy: Yes, indeed. And we need to allow Black/POC creators to publish a wide range of books and not pigeonhole us into certain categories or celebrate a certain type of narrative over another.

DhonielleDhonielle:  Now, it’s times for marginalized and black content creators to get the same roll outs that white women have gotten for decades for their books. Tours, big marketing campaigns. Our books deserve a shot at big audiences.

Justina: Seriously though: THUG by Angie Thomas has opened the door for a lot of other authors also writing gritty contemporary YA. Imagine what Dhonielle’s book could do for Fantasy or Brandy to do for intersectional contemporary or mine for whatever Dread Nation is this week.  I think it’s horror this week. And of course I’m talking about Black authors, since this isn’t a problem for white authors.

BBS: My next question came about specifically because Dhonielle is a sensitivity reader (SR). In the Vulture article about her work as a SR, she hit on a lot of great points.  One being that the most important piece of the conversation revolves around the number of white authors writing about characters of color.  Are we reaching a point where publishers are starting to overthink sensitivity reads? How do we refocus the discussion on what Dhonielle believes is the important piece of the conversation?

Brandy: I’m not actively doing sensitivity reads but I find the whole topic fascinating. I had a LOT of reads from friends on Little & Lion because I wrote outside of my experience for so much of it.

Justina: So, I do sensitivity reads and I had to back away for awhile because of everything D said in that article. But I stopped doing the reads because I started to feel like I was helping other folks tell my story and that pissed me off.

Dhonielle: Sensitivity reads are a bandaid.

Brandy: Yup. I just wish there were more of our stories being told by us so there was less of a need for sensitivity reads to begin with.

Justina IrelandJustina: Exactly! Because if there was, editors would know what a good story looks like because they’ve had a sampling, instead of the one or two books from the prior year. But we also need ownvoices books that meet the basic elements of craft. There are a lot of ownvoices books that are getting rushed through editorial that are just not going to help, and that’s unfortunate.

Dhonielle: I agree, Justina.

BBS: Own voices shouldn’t be a fad. My concern is this type of thing becomes a campaign. We have far too much catching up to do for it to be that.

Justina: Exactly.

Brandy: Yes!

Dhonielle: We can have mediocrity from every group, because gods knows so many mediocre white folks get published every day, but we need marginalized folks to win the marathon and not the sprint.

Justina: My fear is that if they finish poorly in the sprint they’ll never even get to run in the marathon.

Brandy: And a lot of it seems like back-patting, so publishers can feel like they’re doing their part to participate in the “diversity movement” instead of seeking out stories they actually believe in and authors they want to nurture through a successful career.

BBS:  But what’s great about right now – with just the three of you – finally we’re in a moment where more than one of us is winning!  That’s a big step.

Brandy:  It is! I still remember getting my first contract and being like, But they’re just gonna let me publish this book about a black girl who looks and acts a lot like me? And that’s it??

BBS:  Pay it forward – shout out two or three YA authors who are either an up and coming author, someone unsung or someone who has been dormant and deserves a fresh look by readers. Extra points if that author hasn’t already been covered by BBS.

Justina: There’s a lot of exciting YA by Black authors this year. [Goes on to name authors being covered in 2018 28 Days Later and those we’ve already covered. The struggle was real!] Kosoko Jackson will have a book out here in a minute. His book is slated for late 2019, I think.

Brandy: I’m a big fan of Tiffany Jackson’s work. And I’ve been reading Janice Lynn Mather’s Learning to Breathe, which is an extraordinary debut that comes out in June, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it.

Dhonielle: Sarah RaughleyRebecca Barrow. JA Reynolds – not to be confused with Jason. *laughter* I dropped in non-US based Black authors. They need a little shine. Sarah Raughley is from Canada. Rebecca Barrow is in the UK.

Brandy: It is interesting seeing how much the landscape has changed since we were first published a few years ago. I think black-authored debuts are much more accepted and celebrated. Oh and I just saw a cover reveal for a new debut: Dana L. Davis, Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now.

Justina: Yes! That’s a great cover.

Dhonielle: I need them [Kosoko and Dana] on my radar.

BBS: Good stuff. The fact that I’m able to only get a few names new to me shows that it’s not as many of us out there doing YA as it should be. 

 


Come back, tomorrow, for part two of our chat where the authors discuss author social media etiquette in the age of outrage and tell us what soap box they’re on.