Tag Archives: interview

The Brown Bookshelf: An Interview with Author Kelly Starling Lyons

As Laurie Edwards promised in her February 3 post, Daring to be Different, today we welcome Kelly Starling Lyons. She is here to talk about The Brown Bookshelf, a website dedicated to highlighting African American children’s authors and illustrators..

Kelly Starling Lyons is a children’s book author whose mission is to transform moments, memories and history into stories of discovery. Her books include chapter book, NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal; CCBC Choices-honored picture book, One Million Men and Me; Ellen’s Broom, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book, Junior Library Guild and Bank Street Best selection and Tea Cakes for Tosh and Hope’s Gift, Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Her latest picture book is One More Dino on the Floor.  Jada Jones, her new chapter book series, debuts in September.

How did The Brown Bookshelf come about?

The Brown Bookshelf was founded by young adult authors Paula Chase-Hyman and Varian Johnson. As they launched their kidlit careers, they noticed a disturbing reality – many people had never heard of the wonderful books by black children’s book creators that were available. Paula and Varian wanted to start an initiative that would celebrate authors of color and be a resource for children, parents, teachers and librarians. Inspired by Readergirlz, they created The Brown Bookshelf to “push awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers.”

How did you get involved?

Paula invited me and author Carla Sarratt. Varian invited author/illustrator Don Tate. I was thrilled to join a team dedicated to saluting black children’s book creators. Together, we kicked off the inaugural 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of under-the-radar and vanguard authors and illustrators.

Who are the current members? 

They are: Varian JohnsonPaula Chase-HymanDon TateKelly Starling LyonsTameka Fryer BrownGwendolyn HooksOlugbemisola Rhuday-PerkovichCrystal AllenTracey Baptiste, and Jerry Craft.

 How did the 28 Days Later campaign start?

Paula and Varian came up with the idea for the campaign. We invited the public and publishers to submit nominations of black authors and illustrators with new books or those that had flown under the radar. We researched those suggestions, made internal recommendations and voted on the first class of honorees. Over the years, we’ve generally followed that model as we search for outstanding authors and illustrators to feature. The goal is to give parents, librarians and teachers a month of spotlights celebrating stand-outs in the kidlit world. We want to draw attention to black children’s book authors and illustrators and get their great books into the hands of kids.

What has been the response?

Every year, the response inspires us to keep going. Many people share our posts and use them as a resource for making sure their school, library and home children’s book collections match our diverse world. We hear from parents who longed to buy books that reflected their kids but had no idea how many existed until they found our site. We’ve received notes from students who have used our profiles for research for school projects. Sometimes our spotlights are the main source for information about a black children’s book creator outside of that person’s website. It’s heartwarming and affirming to know we’re making a difference. It’s also a challenge to keep pushing and giving back.

This is the tenth year for 28 Days. How will it be different this year?

In celebration of our tenth campaign, we’re doing a different format. In past years, we’ve honored eight picture book authors, eight middle-grade authors, eight young adult authors and four illustrators. This year, we’ve arranged our spotlights around themed weeks. The campaign opened with books for younger readers, featuring debut and under-the-radar picture book creators. The second week, we focused on books for older readers – middle-grade and YA authors. The third week, our theme was social justice. The last week of our campaign is inspiration week where we interview or pay tribute to children’s book creators who have paved the way for us.

How have the careers of your featured authors progressed?

One of the beautiful parts of being a member of The Brown Bookshelf is seeing the careers of black children’s book creators flourish and bloom. We featured Kwame Alexander before the Newbery, Jacqueline Woodson before the National Book Award, Javaka Steptoe before the Caldecott, Jason Reynolds back when Kirkus called him “an author worth watching.” It fills us with pride to see authors like these and others soar. Every award they win, every starred review, every accolade, is a lift for all and reminder that our books matter.

On the other side though, there are amazing black authors and illustrators whose stories are still not receiving the audience they deserve. There are veteran black children’s book creators who struggle to land deals, whose books lack the marketing support to grow a large audience, whose important books are overlooked and eventually go out of print. Our mission is to raise awareness of their work and make sure they’re honored too. We need equity in the children’s book publishing world. We have a long way to go.

What prompted the Declaration in Support of Children?

We had been trying to find a way to collectively express our outrage at the systemic racism and brutality that was devastating our kids and affirm our commitment to standing with them and for them. One of the ideas we brainstormed was an open letter. Team member Tameka Fryer Brown did an amazing job with the draft. We revised and added our thoughts. The election gave our letter even more urgency. It became an open declaration  letting kids know we have their backs.

“ . . . The stakes are too high for us to be silent. The stakes are too high for us to wait for someone else to take the lead. The stakes are too high for us to just hope things will get better. Each day, we see attempts to disenfranchise and dehumanize marginalized people and to dismiss the violence that we face. As children’s book creators, we feel a special connection and responsibility to amplify the young voices that too often go unheard . . .”

We invited others to join us in our mission to “to promote understanding and justice through our art; to bolster every child’s visceral belief that his or her life shall always be infinitely valuable.”

Illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

What has been the response?

The outpouring of support we received was incredible. Nearly 700 people signed the initial declaration with hundreds more signing the living document on our Facebook page. Our declaration was covered by School Library Journal, The Guardian and more. We’re inspired and thrilled at the hundreds of people who pledged to stand again hate and stand up for kids.

Brown Bookshelf member Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich has been leading important roundtable discussions called Where Do We Go From Here? about how to put our declaration into action. You can see them here  and here. Stay tuned for more.

 

What does the future hold for the Brown Bookshelf?

The future is limitless. We are always thinking of ways to amplify the work of black children’s book creators, support and honor the voices of children and be of service to parents librarians and teachers.

Our 28 Days Later spotlights are always available on our website. But our most recent project was working with TeachingBooks.net to showcase our features and their additional resources for our 28 Days Later honorees (Links here and here).

Another new project was expanding our social media presence. You can find us on FacebookTwitter, Instagram,  and YouTube.

We’ll have more news to share in coming months. We’re honored to be featured here. Thank you for spreading the word about what we do. That we’ve been around for a decade is a testament to the support of great people like you.

 

 

Jacqueline Houtman is the author of the middle-grade novel The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press 2010) and coauthor, with Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long, of the biography for young (and not-so-young) readers, Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist (Quaker Press 2014).

Interview with Caroline Starr Rose

Today we welcome to the blog Caroline Starr Rose, whose rollicking adventure story, Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine, comes out tomorrow!

Desperate to get away from their drunkard of a father, eleven-year-old Jasper and his older brother Melvin often talk of running away, of heading north to Alaska to chase riches beyond their wildest dreams. The Klondike Gold Rush is calling, and Melvin has finally decided the time to go is now—even if that means leaving Jasper behind. But Jasper has other plans and follows his brother aboard a steamer as a stowaway.

Onboard the ship, Jasper hears a rumor about One-Eyed Riley, an old coot who’s long since gone, but is said to have left clues to the location of his stake, which still has plenty of gold left. The first person to unravel the clues and find the mine can stake the claim and become filthy rich. Jasper is quick to catch gold fever and knows he and Melvin can find the mine—all they have to do is survive the rough Alaskan terrain, along with the steep competition from the unscrupulous and dangerous people they encounter along the way.

In an endearing, funny, pitch-perfect middle grade voice, Caroline Starr Rose tells another stellar historical adventure young readers will long remember.

Why do you write historical fiction? Why do you think kids like to read it?

I always enjoyed history in school, but never felt particularly smart when it came to “knowing” history. There was just too much to master. Historical fiction was my true entry point into understanding the past. It went deeper and wider than a handful of paragraphs in a textbook and made history come alive for me. I’d like to think it does the same for young readers today!

I had never heard of the Klondike gold rush before reading this book. How did you first learn of it, and where did you go to research it?

I didn’t know much about it myself, honestly. When I was researching frontier women for my novel, May B., my mom loaned me a book called Women of the Klondike. My interest was piqued. News that gold had been discovered in this far-off corner of Canada inspired 100,000 people from around the world to try and make the treacherous journey to the goldfields. Somehow, my only school memory connected to this piece of history was Jack London’s short story, “To Build a Fire.”

I start all my historical research by checking out children’s non-fiction on a particular subject. These books provide a quick overview and often point me to more detailed reads through their bibliographies. Jasper represents the very first time I’ve visited a place connected with my fiction. My husband and I took an Alaskan cruise during the summer of 2015. My only request was that we stop in Skagway, a town which is featured in the story. We were able to take a tour around town led by a Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park ranger. Talk about a meaningful moment!

How cool! What are some fun stories or facts you found in your research that you weren’t able to include?

Oh, man. There were so many. I included a good number of real Klondike nicknames in the book, but I collected a whole lot more: Snake Hips Lulu, Limejuice Lil, Billy the Horse, Hamgrease Jimmy, and the Evaporated Kid, who was “so small he looked like a bottle with hips.” Cannibal was the nickname of a man who ate raw moose meat. Old Maiden carried fifty pounds of old newspapers with him because “they were handy to refer to when you get into an argument.”

Swiftwater Bill Gates was so rich he occasionally bathed in wine and presented a dance hall girl with her weight in gold. It’s also been said Swiftwater Bill had only one shirt and had to go to bed while it was being washed. (I’m sure Jasper would have had an opinion on that!)

Those names are fantastic! There are a few scary scenes in this book, and I’m sure in your research you uncovered some tales of violence. How did you decide what was appropriate to include in a middle grade novel?

I can say I wanted to be truthful to Jasper’s experience while also being aware of my audience — what I felt would be appropriate. I know at one point my editor asked me how “dark” I wanted to go, that it would shape the tone of the story, but that I needed to go deeper, whatever direction I chose. My intention was to be truthful but to use a light touch and to always, always end with hope. I hope I’ve accomplished that.

You have written two beautiful novels in verse, Blue Birds and May B., and a poetic picture book, Over in the Wetlands. Jasper is a rollicking, voice-driven prose story. Why did you choose to tell this story in this way?  

I’ve kindly heard people describe my books as beautiful (thank you, by the way!), though this made me chuckle while writing Jasper. This book is decidedly not pretty, but homespun. While the specifics of the story were murky and changed over many drafts, Jasper’s voice was loud and clear. He’s based on Huckleberry Finn, so I knew I wanted to reflect Huck’s colloquial speech, his sharp observations, sweet gullibility, and tendency to speak his mind.

I knew from the beginning verse wasn’t the right fit. The book also wasn’t meant to be epistolary, as I first thought it would be. Jasper didn’t go in much for schooling, so having him write long letters to communicate the story just didn’t feel right. A traditional prose structure felt best.

How was writing this book different from writing your previous books? And how the same?

There are so many ways I could answer this! I’ll keep it simple by saying writing prose was like learning a new language, one I didn’t know very well. Scenes in prose have limitless space. I felt a little at loose ends until my editor reminded me not to rush through the story but to stay present in each moment so the reader could do the same. There was a steep learning curve with this one, and I’m so grateful for the way my editor helped direct my work.

Similarities would be my desire to make the past feel relevant, real, and interesting and to create everyday characters who are nevertheless brave. And full of heart. I love heart.

Did you have a general writing routine for this book?

My general routine for Jasper could be summed up as “write and destroy.” No writing is efficient, and this is the least efficient book I’ve ever written. I tossed two-thirds of it twice and added fifty pages right at the end. Unfortunately, my writing process seems to include understanding the story in the eleventh hour of the eleventh hour. This doesn’t make for easy work, but if I can remember I will connect the dots at the end, it keeps me believing it’s possible!

The voice here, with that striking dialect, is so strong. How did you maintain that?

All I can say is Jasper’s voice was my guiding light. I’m thankful that wasn’t subject to change as the story grew and shifted. Sure, I shaped specifics along the way — making rules for his grammar, picking certain Jasper-y expressions to use throughout, borrowing a Huck Finn word or two as a nod to Jasper’s inspiration (“disremember” is my favorite) — but his voice remained largely the same. It’s easy to slip into, like a worn, warm coat.

The relationship between Jasper and his brother Melvin is central to this story and drives much of the action. What made you want to focus on a sibling relationship? Are there sibling stories that you have enjoyed or that influenced you?

My boys, plain and simple. My husband and I are the babies in our families by a lot. I’ve always described myself as a semi-only child. So it has always been special to watch our boys, who are two years apart, interact with each other. Even when they’re annoyed, it doesn’t last long. They’re a team. They’re friends. They’re brothers. It’s a beautiful thing.

Honestly, I can’t think of any sibling books off the top of my head outside of Ramona and Beezus. In one sense, I had to pave my own way. I wanted devotion and commitment to be key to Mel and Jasper’s relationship and wanted these to remain strong, despite the conflict that comes with being siblings. Mel, as the older brother, has a deep sense of obligation for Jasper’s safety. Jasper wants to prove himself to his brother, first as someone deserving to travel to the goldfields but finally as faithful to his word. The Johnson boys are pretty great, if I do say so myself!

We agree! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Caroline!

Caroline Starr Rose is an award-winning middle grade and picture book author whose books have been ALA-ALSC Notable,* Junior Library Guild, ABA New Voices,** Kids’ Indie Next, Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for Kids, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. In addition, her books have been nominated for almost two dozen state awards lists. In 2012 Caroline was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico and taught social studies and English in four different states. Caroline now lives with her husband and two sons in New Mexico.

*American Library Association – Association for Library Service to Children
**American Booksellers Association

Katharine Manning will henceforth be known as “Snake Hips Lulu.” She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and is a 2016 Cybils judge for Poetry and Novels in Verse. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram. Her middle grade book reviews are at Kid Book List.

Indie Spotlight: Parnassus Books, Nashville TN

Ann Patchett, successful award-winning author and passionate promoter of independent bookstores all over the country,

Karen Hayes & Ann Patchett

has joined the growing number of authors who feel strongly about the value of independent bookstores so they open their own, in her case Parnassus Books in Nashville Tennessee (www.parnassusbooks.net), co-founded with publishing veteran Karen Hayes. We’re talking today with Mary Laura Philpott who writes the store’s lively blog “Musings” and has two middle-grade junior booksellers of her own.

Mixed-Up Files: What do you want people to experience at Parnassus? Describe an ideal day in the shop.
Mary Laura
: If you look around the store, you can see the experience that Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes, our owners, have in mind. It’s open and light and clean, but with plenty of interesting nooks and corners, and lots of comfy seating. There’s usually a shop dog or two lounging around, hoping for a reader to snuggle with. And depending on the day, we might set up chairs in front of our stage for a visiting author to come read and sign books. It’s meant to be more than just a store — a real hub for lovers of the written word of all ages.

MUF:With your owners’ experience in the publishing business, your store collection must be well curated. Do you and your community have some special areas of interest?
Mary Laura:
You’re right — curation is key, especially for a small store where there’s no room for filler. Our owners and buyers have gotten to know what local audience is interested in. Of course, new fiction and nonfiction are always popular. Nashville’s full of voracious readers, so customers tend to be aware of the latest literary buzz and come in looking for new titles they’ve read about. Not surprisingly, we have a well-stocked music section. And with the expansion of our shop in 2016, we were able to add not only more elbow room for browsing in all our sections, but also more space for children’s and YA titles.

MUFHow do you help kids select books? We’d like to know what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often these days to readers aged 8-12.
Mary Laura:
Great question! Our manager of books for young readers is Stephanie Appell, who has a masters degree in library science with a focus on youth services and is a former teen librarian. She also just might be the most enthusiastic champion of children’s literature and YA literature I’ve ever met. She regularly meets with publishers to discuss what they’ve got coming up, but she also does a lot of her own research, via trade publications and blogs, to stay on top of the best and brightest new titles. All of our children’s booksellers are great at reading ahead so they can recommend the best new reads the minute the books come out.
You can follow along with our staff picks on Musing, our online magazine. Every month, there are some picks especially for young readers, chosen by our children’s booksellers as well as our junior booksellers — a few kids ranging from elementary to high school who help us out on weekends and holidays. (Two of them are my own kids, and they love choosing their staff picks!) https://parnassusmusing.net/category/staff-picks/

[Looking over these staff picks, we found lots of new or somehow overlooked titles to add to our teetering pile of books-to-read.  Fiction:  Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin, The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly, Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LeFleur,  The Girl Who Could Fly and The Boy Who Knew Everything by Victoria Foster, and Awkward  by Svetlana Chmkova.   Nonfiction: The Courage to Soar by Simone Biles, Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska,  and March by John Lewis.]

MUF: Any events or activities coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Mary Laura: Yes! We are so excited about the launch of Andrew Maraniss’s Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line. This is a middle grade adaptation of Andrew’s New York Times bestselling book of the same title, and it’s an incredible true story of courage and perseverance. Andrew is going to discuss the book with fellow New York Times bestselling author Ruta Sepetys at Parnassus on February 9th. You can check our online calendar for more upcoming events at http://www.parnassusbooks.net/event.

MUF: Many independent bookstores have store pets, but Parnassus has several wonderfully named dogs (Sparkman Vandevender or Sparky, Opie Breman, Belle Rock, Bear Gardner, Mary Todd Lincoln Coffman, and Eleanor Roosevelt Philpott), who not only greet customers but actually perform same-day delivery service?
Mary Laura
: Ha! Yes, that was their April Fool’s Day joke on us all last year. (https://parnassusmusing.net/2016/04/01/announcing-our-new-service-parnassus-on-paws/) Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the dogs could drive and they just showed up at people’s doorsteps? They actually serve a variety of functions in the store, from offering wet-nosed greetings to acting as furry footstools to snuggling anyone who looks like they need a little love. They also have their own blog, “Shop Dog Diaries,” where they share their bookstore adventures. (https://parnassusmusing.net/category/shop-dog-diaries/)

MUF:For those of us who can’t visit and enjoy Parnassus soon, tell us what we can experience online.
Mary Laura:
If you can’t be here in person, make sure you’re subscribed to Musing — it’s almost as good as visiting the store. You’ll get lots of exclusive, free bookish content delivered right to your inbox: author interviews, reading lists, staff reviews of new books, Ann’s blog, the shop dogs’ blog, and more. (www.ParnassusMusing.com) You can also shop directly from our store website, www.ParnassusBooks.net, and we’ll ship your books to you. One other thing far-away readers need to know about is our subscription programs. (http://www.parnassusbooks.net/first-edition-clubs) There are two, actually: the First Editions Club (a signed, hardcover, new adult book every month) and ParnassusNext (a new, signed YA book every month). And if you’re on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram, you can interact with us every day!

MUF: If a family visits your shop from out of town, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or meal? And if they can stay a little longer, are there some unique sites or activities nearby they shouldn’t miss?
Mary Laura
: Oh, Nashville is such a family-friendly town. Depending on the weather, there are lots of places right in the middle of the city to hike and enjoy the outdoors (check out Radnor Lake and Warner Parks). The Parthenon is pretty cool, as are the Nashville Zoo and Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. If you’re into science, the Adventure Science Center is worth checking out. There are some family-friendly activities at Opryland as well. As for food, well, we could go on forever . . . Andy Brennan, our store manager, strongly believes Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint is the best in town. There are several spots right here in our shopping center, too, including Fox’s Donut Den right around the corner. Donuts and books, does it get better than that?

MUF:  Amen!  Thanks for telling us about Parnassus Books.  Readers, have you visited this delightful shop?  If not, wouldn’t you love to go there?

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)