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Archive for the ‘kidlit blogs’ Category

I saw this illustration on Facebook today and just had to share. It’s on illustrator Tina Kugler‘s blog and she created it after discovering the abysmal stats compiled by the CCBC. This really says it all…

diversity_tinakugler

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Last week I interviewed Kelbian Noel, a YA spec fic author that I met while I was up in Toronto. Yesterday Kelbian returned the favor by featuring me on her blog, Diverse Pages. Here’s one of the questions I was asked to consider:

DP: Have you always written about characters of color? What challenges (if any) have you faced in doing so?

ZETTA: When I took a creative writing class in high school, I wrote a picture book that featured white characters. Fortunately, I was failing that class and so wound up dropping it. In college I had my first black professor and he introduced me to the work of Jamaica Kincaid; that changed my academic focus and as I discovered more black authors, I began to write about people of color. I went through a process of “decolonizing my imagination” and it did take some time for me to develop authentic characters that came from the community where I lived. For a while I worried that readers would feel my characters weren’t “black enough,” but the more I traveled and the more widely I read, the easier it became to create credible, diverse black characters.

On Monday I met with a group of amazing young poets at the Brooklyn Public Library and one young writer showed me a picture book she had self-published–all her illustrations showed white children. I hope she finds a “mirror” for her black female self in my books. You can read the entire interview here.

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pulishing perspectivesSummer Edward, Caribbean children’s literature specialist, is running a series on her website called “Publishing Perspectives” and today I’m her featured guest. Summer’s first question had to do with transparency:

As a blogging author, is transparency something deliberate on your part? Or is it just sort of an inherent aspect of who Zetta Elliott is?

I’ve said for years that we need greater transparency in publishing, so I’d better practice what I preach! Mostly I think that’s part of who I am—and why I write. Some people blog just to promote their work or their image as an author; I think I use my blog more as a kind of journal, and friends have warned me about my openness. There are risks, but as Audre Lorde reminds us, “Your silence will not protect you.” I don’t expect to reach a point in my writing career when it’s “safe” for me to speak my mind, so I might as well do it now. Telling the truth doesn’t just help the speaker/writer, it helps those who are unable or unwilling to speak for themselves—and I do get messages from other writers thanking me for saying something their agent warned them against. I want change in the industry and that won’t come from staying silent when I see something unjust.

You can read the entire interview here.

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untitledKelbian Noel was born on a warm June night in Moncton, New Brunswick. From a very young age, she loved to read. She found herself engulfed in novels by Janette Oke and L.M. Montgomery, but never seemed to find herself in the pages. At the age of 11 she declared she would simply have to rewrite them and become the youngest author in history. Decades later, having studied writing in college and pursued it as a career, she rediscovered her hobby. She is excited to introduce The Witchbound Series to the world with hopes readers will love the beginning of this saga as much as she does.

Kelbian lives in Toronto, Ontario with her two children. She is the founder of Diverse Pages and blogs there often in the company of some pretty cool people.

Kelbian’s first two novels are available *now* under special pricing. On April 1, Sprung will be available for $0.99, and Roots will continue to be free until the end of the day! Visit the author’s website for more information.

1. Your Witchbound Series is quite ambitious—can you tell us about the first two books and what we can expect from the other three?
untitledWitchbound tells the story of four very different girls. The five-book series follows each character as she discovers the truth about her magical destiny, how it affects her and the people around her. What I love most about writing this series is that it focuses on people with very different backgrounds and outlines how, despite those variances, they’re exactly the same.

Re-released on March 15, 2013, ROOTS (book one) introduces Baltimore Land, a biracial (African American and Native American) girl who, for the past two years, has lived in Utah with her Wiccan parents. She’s deeply averse to her parents’ religion and believes the only purpose Wicca serves is to make her life miserable.

After she receives a message from her twin brother, who disappeared prior to the move, she runs off to find and ultimately rescue him. But she soon discovers her exile to that small Utah town was the direct result of who she is, what she can do, and the danger it could bring to her and the lives of her family and friends. Baltimore must learn to embrace her identity in order to keep herself safe, but it may mean letting her brother go for good.

untitledSPRUNG (book two) will be released on April 1, 2013. In Solana Beach, California we meet Skye Jackson, a seventeen-year-old girl who believes everything Baltimore never did. Ever since she was introduced to it, magic has come easily to Skye. She uses it for everything from extending her curfew to her personal GPS. But when she decides to teach a guy a lesson in order to avenge her friend, she comes to the realization that there’s a lot more to her powers than she bargained for.

In a race to fix her mistakes, Skye stumbles across a family secret which reveals a twisted destiny that may mean giving up magic forever.

SMOLDER (book three) is set for release this coming August. At least that’s my hope! Currently, there is a contest taking place on my website. Readers can take a stab at guessing the name of the next Elemental. So I won’t reveal it here, but I will tell you a little bit about Elemental #3.

She’s a Latino orphan from Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from high school, she decides to spend the summer learning more about her family. Her magical journey leads her to a historical building, a long-lost family member, and a destiny that makes her more than she ever believed she could be.

The fourth book in the series is entitled SURFACE, and takes place in Hawaii. The fourth Elemental is a bit of a know-it-all. Well versed in the girls’ destiny and purpose, she leads them to their final battle.

The fifth book is still untitled but recaps the first four stories from the point of view of Ramon, a character readers will come to know well throughout the series.

2. Tell us about your childhood in the Maritimes. How did you evolve into the writer you are today?

I like to think of the story of my life as both unusual and interesting. I was born in Moncton, New Brunswick to Guyanese immigrants. My father was a Baptist minister who first settled in New Brunswick to study at St. Thomas University and what is now known as Crandall University. We lived there for the first few years of my life.

I fondly remember, and still visit, the tiny town of McKee’s Mills, but vaguely remember time spent in Turtle Creek, New Brunswick and then on Ben Jackson Road in Nova Scotia. One of my earliest memories is when we lived in Scot’s Bay, Nova Scotia. I can still recall that little house on the hill, with a mile long driveway, tire swing, and cows in the pasture beside it. I was four or five when we moved.

LockeportWe ended up in Lockeport, Nova Scotia after that, where Dad was called to serve at the Baptist church in the middle of town. We were the only black family in Lockeport, as far as I knew. Those were some formidable years, but still filled with great memories. Our house overlooked the harbor and had a huge forest of bamboo-like plants we called Roman Sailors in the back yard. We’d go crashing through those in the summertime, playing “scouts” after hours of riding our bikes around town. It was that time (mid-eighties) and that kind of town where kids could pretty much roam free.

Memories of Lockeport are still firmly engrained in my mind: the “haunted” house just up the street, my first teacher (Ms. Nickerson), first best friends (Sarah and Gina), the beach, the waves, the smell of the salt water. Of course,those are accompanied with some less desirable ones. Like the first time I was told I was different from the other kids. My lips were bigger, my skin darker, and my parents talked funny. I was called the “N” word on the first day of school. I was five and didn’t even know what it meant.

Like most ministers’ kids, I had to learn to adjust and adapt to new surroundings very quickly. The years from age eight to fifteen were spent in rural Nova Scotia. In the small town of Morristown in the Annapolis Valley we were again the only black family around for miles. And there were still formidable experiences to be had. But, for the most part, the people in that town were accepting and I felt like I belonged. This is where I first discovered my love of writing. I spent hours in a cow pasture adjacent to our house, behind the church and right next to a graveyard. There was an oak tree in the middle of the field and I’d sit under it with a blue writing folder, loose leaf paper, and a pen.

untitledMy mother had been selling Christian books through one of those mail order companies. That’s when I discovered Janette Oke “Christian” romance novels. My sister introduced me to L.M. Montgomery. Every Anne of Green Gables book she brought home, I read too. I also read The Babysitter’s Club and R.L. Stine (my first intro to Speculative Fiction). But in all of those series, except for one (thank you for Jessi, Ann M. Martin!), there was no one who looked like me. I decided I’d just have to write those kinds of stories myself.

After we moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, I was excited to finally be around people like me. Only after years of living like and amongst “the other half,” I didn’t fit in. I was the Black girl who acted like she was white. That was fun. But I didn’t let it get me down. I was who I was and I liked it.

My first job was in the Halifax North Memorial Public Library where my love of books was fed on a weekly basis. I couldn’t get enough. But for years I forgot about my writing endeavors until I started studying it in college. In my first year, I was introduced to the works of Octavia E. Butler (who quickly became my favorite author) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Still, it wasn’t until my final year during a Literary Theory class that I picked up a pen again and started writing a story, based on a dream, about werewolves in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve never stopped.

ABOUT KELBIAN

Name: Kelbian Noel

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Education: B.A. Professional Writing & Communications Studies

School: York University

Major: Professional Writing

Minor: Communications

Occupation: Author & Freelance Writer/Editor

FAVORITE THINGS

Books: Kindred, Blood and Chocolate

Writers: Octavia E. Butler

Quote: There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou

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GreedySparrowCoverHiresThere are two fantastic reports on our diversity panel at the NYPL. You can read Mahnaz Dar’s article over at School Library Journal (which includes a great photo of all of us) and Lucine Kasbarian has written a thorough summary for the We Love Children’s Books blog. Lucine is an author and advocate for greater diversity in children’s literature and she’ll be continuing the conversation next month at the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown, MA. You can find details about the April 2 event featuring Lucine in dialogue with Library Journal editor Wilda Williams on ALMA’s calendar.

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imagesIf you’re a member of the children’s literature community then you know Betsy Bird, Fuse8 blogger and Youth Materials Specialist at the NYPL. You probably also know that Betsy runs a monthly Children’s Literature Salon and on March 2nd the focus will be on diversity (learn more here). I hope you’ll join me, Betsy, Sofia Quintero, Connie Hsu, and Jacqueline Woodson as we discuss the challenge of creating equity in the children’s publishing industry. I’ve just joined the diversity committee at my job and it’s fascinating to see firsthand how the college gathers data in order to assess the progress it has or hasn’t made in meeting its diversity goals. Why can’t the publishing industry do the same?

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It’s Thanksgiving weekend up in Canada, which usually makes me crave Stove Top stuffing and pumpkin pie. This year I actually haven’t thought of holiday food, in part because I have some Canadian friends in town and instead we’ve been catching up on politics. I realize that one way to minimize job stress is to spend a couple of days NOT grading, NOT developing lesson plans, and NOT attending work-related events. The latter is especially hard to do—on Saturday I went to the Brooklyn Museum with friends to see the Mickalene Thomas exhibit, which is phenomenal. I saw one of my students, which I expected, since I offered extra credit to my Black Women in the Americas class. I walked out of the gallery feeling an overwhelming sense of pride—Thomas is brilliant and I’m sure my students will be blown away by her glittering portraits of black women.

I haven’t managed to do any writing this month, which is disappointing. But I was heartened to learn that Teaching for Change has a fantastic post on Banned Books Week and the OTHER barriers to equal expression:

Government censorship, of course, is just one element that determines what we can and cannot read. People often overlook another cultural phenomenon that can have a similar effect: publishing industry censorship. Each year there is a scarcity of excellent children’s picture books published. Missing are titles that reflect the realities of students’ lives and communities while encouraging children to think beyond the headlines.

The data bears out our suspicion: Researchers at the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center find the number of books by and about people of color fluctuating and decreasing slightly, at the same time that children in the United States increasingly come from families of color. This doesn’t mean that those books aren’t being written—rather publishers refuse to seek them out or reject them, fearing they lack universal appeal, or as one frustrated former editor laments, fail to speak to “the lowest common denominator.” Zetta Elliott, author of the award-winning children’s book Bird, writes on her blog that she is fighting to find publishers for her many children’s book manuscripts. Some are “slice of life stories.” Others, like Bird, speak sensitively to childhood trauma.

The post concludes with a list of wonderful books that have since gone out of print. It’s a wonderful resource for teachers and parents seeking books that truly reflect the diversity of our society.

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This past summer I had the chance to share my beloved Brooklyn with the amazing educator/blogger/author Ed Spicer. Filming in Prospect Park was a bit of a challenge (we’re in the flight path of 2 major airports) but Ed still managed to make a great short film—take a look!

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Turns out Booklist is *not* the only kidlit review journal to pay attention to Ship of Souls. We got a “sneak peak” at the upcoming School Library Journal review, and it’s great! Here’s are the concluding lines—the complete review will run in May:

This succinct tale brings well-researched historical background to a compelling urban fantasy. Dmitri’s magical journey through the city’s burial grounds leads him along a deeper emotional one, forcing him to face his grief and acknowledge that more in life is waiting for him. With a suspenseful story that will leave readers feeling inspired, this is a quick and intriguing read.

Thanks, SLJ! You can also watch a video interview with me conducted by Amy Bodden Bowllan, a blogger at the School Library Journal website. Amy runs the Writers Against Racism series and is an outspoken supporter of diversity in children’s literature.

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The only good thing about bigots is that they usually hang themselves if you give them enough rope. That’s just what happened on The Daily Show when Al Madrigal traveled to Arizona to interview a school board member who voted to ban Mexican American Studies in Tucson schools (based on “hearsay,” not facts). If you haven’t seen the segment, you can watch it here. Debbie Reese has also transcribed the interview and you can find that on her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature. You want to laugh because it’s so ridiculous, but the ramifications of this kind of ignorance are very real—and harmful to our youth and the future of the country. This week Amy Bodden Bowllan is featuring Matt de la Peña on her School Library Journal blog; Matt recently visited AZ after his novel, Mexican Whiteboy, was pulled from the shelves. Amy also gave me a chance to reflect on the Trayvon Martin case and its impact on young readers. THIS is what I’m talking about when I say that “the lack of books for children in our communities IS A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.

Yesterday I told my students that I never used to talk in class; they were amazed to learn that I used to sit in class in college and even in graduate school with my lips sealed shut. And even at the conference in France last month—the keynote speaker was making some really problematic statements, and I sat there hoping someone else would speak up. But no one did, so that’s when I raised my hand and tried to keep my voice from shaking with rage…most days I’d rather disappear, but we don’t only speak for ourselves. We speak for those who have been silenced. We speak because we’ve been given a platform and so many others have not.

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