A boy and his books

I love to evangelize about books to children. Usually this happens during school visits. I add slides of books I’m excited about in my presentation. And sometimes it happens during signings. But mostly it happens in my house to my children. My daughter is an avid reader, my son is less so. But I keep trying with him. Book by multi-award winning author who also wrote Spider Man? Chapters are too long. This one has an imaginary cat! It’s too sad. Everybody’s talking about this one, and it has Legos on the cover. Nope. Typically, I read aloud to him to get him into the book, and then let him go off on his own to finish. Typically, he abandons the book after a few chapters, then goes back to his old faves: Minecraft How To books or anything by Tom Angleberger. I’m happy he has books he loves but I keep trying to expand that reading palate.

Back in May when Laura Ruby’s YORK came out, my mother, who was staying with us at the time, started reading it. The following week I was at the Queens Book Festival and a kid came to my signing line with his mom. She had a copy of THE JUMBIES clutched in her hand. “She’s right there! She’ll sign the book for you! I’m going to get it. You’re going to like it!” she declared. The kid was not biting. So I asked him what he was interested in. He liked puzzles and games. I mentioned that Karuna Riazi was somewhere around, signing THE GAUNTLET. And then I told him about YORK, which my mother had finished and could not stop talking about. I wrote down the titles so that he could go find those and read them. He was thrilled.

A few days ago I had the chance to start YORK, got a few chapters in and then decided to start over, reading it aloud to my son. Once again, he didn’t seem to be paying attention. But last night, he told me that he was making a puzzle like the Morningstarrs for his sister to solve. He was inspired, he said. I asked if he was ready for me to read some more to him. He said, okay. In the language of this particular eleven year old boy, this is the highest of praise.

Kate Messner’s THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME is next up. The geocaching adventure that Zig undertakes–and that gets him into trouble–might interest my adventure-loving boy. I finished it last week and loved it. But as I’ve learned, what I love and what he loves is often very different. I’ll keep trying, though. Everyone doesn’t have to love every read. There are books out there for every reader even if it takes some searching.

Related: if anyone is interested in slightly-read but otherwise brand new books, let me know. My kid has a pile in his room. They’re all great. Someone out there is going to love them.



Where Do We Go From Here? Continuing the Conversation With Pat Cummings

Here at the Brown Bookshelf, we’ve spoken often and long on the issues and ideas expressed in the Open Declaration. We do this work to lift up our young readers and show them how they can survive, thrive, and soar in this world. For many of us, the way forward might be clear, for others, not so much. We may sign on to petitions and open declarations, forward emails, RT, and “like”, and these can all be good and powerful things. But we believe that it’s important to reflect on how we will hold ourselves accountable, how we will act, and reflect; how we will “live out commitment to using our talents and varied forms of artistic expression to help eliminate the fear that takes root in the human heart amid lack of familiarity and understanding of others; the type of fear that feeds stereotypes, bitterness, racism and hatred; the…

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Queens Book Festival 5/27/17

Hello friends,

I hope you will join me and many, many other authors at the Queens Book Festival on Saturday May 27.

The flyer below is just a small sample of the authors who will be attending.

QBF 2017 Flyer6.jpg

Day 25: Rosa Guy

Most people have never heard of Rosa Guy (rhymes with “key”), but she has been influential in developing the careers of many writers despite her relative obscurity. Guy was born in Trinidad & Tobago and raised in Harlem from age 7. After the death of her father, and because her older sister was ill, Guy left school at age 14 to take on factory work. She studied acting at the American Negro Theater in the 1940s before she turned to writing.

In 1950, she was one of the founders (the only woman) of the Harlem Writer’s Guild. Their mission to develop works by writers of the African diaspora helped literary greats including Ossie Davis, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Sidney Poitier, and Walter Dean Myers. In 1977, the group was honored by the United Nations Society of Writers, and by 1986, founder John Oliver Killens estimated that their members “had produced…

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Day 23: Javaka Steptoe

Javaka Steptoe(c) Gregg Richards.jpgAs a young child, Javaka Steptoe served as a model and was the inspiration behind much of the artwork created by his esteemed father, the late John Steptoe. However, the young model went on to establish himself as an outstanding book creator in his own right.

Javaka Steptoe’s debut picture book,In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers (Lee & Low Books, ), earned him a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, in addition to a nomination for Outstanding Children’s Literature Work at the 1998 NAACP Image Awards. Since that time, Steptoe has illustrated and/or written more than an dozen books for youth readers, collaborating with some of the top names in the business—Walter Dean Myers, Nikki Grimes, Karen English.

This past January, Steptoe won the 2017 Caldecott Medal for his picture book biography Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Little, Brown), more than thirty years after his father won two Caldecott Honors. The…

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DAY 19: Anaya Lee Willabus


As an author / illustrator, there’s nothing like looking back at the books I’ve done to make me feel proud. And when I think that I published my first book way back in 1997, there’s nothing quite like that to make me feel old. With the possible exception of interviewing Anaya Lee Willabus, who is all of 9 years old! Once I got over that, it was indeed a pleasure to share the spotlight on this up-and-coming author.

So without further delay, The Brown Bookshelf would like to introduce you to today’s star of 28 Days Later: Miss Anaya Lee Willabus.


The Process: How do you work? Do you start with a character, a concept, an idea? Do you outline first or just go? Is there a technique or routine for drafting or revising that you find particularly helpful? Do you have an office or other location that works…

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Day 15: Maya Penn

Maya Penn headshot 16 year-old Maya Penn is a CEO, activist, author, illustrator, animator, coder, and so much more. She started her first company at eight years old, has TEDtalked to millions of people across the globe (as the youngest female in history to deliver two back-to back official TED Talks–her 2013 TEDWomen Talk is ranked as one of top 15 TEDWomen talks of all time), and is now sharing her inspirational message with young people around the world with her recent release: YOU GOT THIS!. I’m thrilled to welcome this dynamic young woman to The Brown Bookshelf.

The Journey

I’m a eco-designer, artist, philanthropist, activist, entrepreneur, animated filmmaker, coder, illustrator, writer and author. I’m the author of 3 books, 2 fictional children’s books that I wrote, illustrated, and self published, and 1 nonfiction book which is my latest book called “You Got This! Unleash Your Awesomeness, Find Your Path, and Change…

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Day 13: Ibi Zoboi

I first met Ibi Zoboi at a writing conference in New York City. We were passing each other through a crowd, and she said that an editor had mistaken her for me because we both submitted stories set in Haiti. My novel is more of a mashup between Trinidadian and Haitian cultures, but Ibi’s debut, AMERICAN STREET is an immigrant story that is solidly Haitian and questions how the American dream may be different in our minds than it is in reality. What I found most striking in her work is the juxtaposition of gritty reality with magical realism. Her book debuts tomorrow to rave reviews. Please welcome Ibi to the Brown Bookshelf.

The Journey

Iibiz can clearly remember the actual day I made the decision to be a writer. There was no particular journey or goal. I called myself a writer and that was that. I was in college and…

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Day 12: Margot Lee Shetterly


The world knows Margot Lee Shetterly‘s work. Hidden Figures, the $125 million-grossing movie starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, was based on her New York Times bestselling book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (William Morrow/HC, September 2016). The book pays homage to four trailblazing African American human computers–Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden–who served as an integral part of NASA/NACA at the height of the Space Race between America and Russia. In November 2016, HarperCollins released the Young Readers’ version of Hidden Figures for middle grade readers. It too, of course, became a NYT bestseller.

We are honored to feature Margot Lee Shetterly on Day 12 of 28 Days Later…and we thank her for bringing this essential piece of our collective history to glorious light.

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In reading the articles and interviews about Linda Williams Jackson and her novel, Midnight Without a Moon, it is clear that this is no ordinary book about the Civil Rights movement.  Even though the backdrop of this novel is the Emmitt Till story, Midnight Without A Moon is about so much more. Born and raised in Rosedale, Mississippi she’s given her debut a small-town feel, with normal, everyday characters who must make difficult decisions.

On this the 10th Day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to present:


Tell Us about The Journey

You know how you always hear the story of the writer who knew she wanted to be a writer the minute someone put a crayon in her hand at age two? Well, that wasn’t me. I don’t ever recall wanting to be a writer as a kid. But by the time I…

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