Archive for the ‘libraries’ Category

That’s how I feel. Not because I attended church at 8:30 this morning for the first time in…ages. Not because my aunt keeps the TV tuned to a Christian station, so while eating the delicious black-eyed peas and rice she made especially for me, I actually heard 3 additional sermons. Not because I slept through the night without being woken by a barking dog or crowing rooster. I feel blessed because when I went for a run yesterday morning and wasn’t sure just where I was, I saw a sign that said Craddock Road and instantly oriented myself because I knew that was where my step-grandmother grew up. I feel blessed because when I step out on my terrace, I have a stunning view of Nevis Peak (and a flamboyant tree)—but am not overcome with guilt when I choose to spend the afternoon indoors working on a novel set in Brooklyn. I don’t feel rushed this time around; nothing feels as urgent (because I know I’ll be back soon) and more things seem possible. Last night, after I facilitated an informal workshop for parents at the Prospect Community Center, one of the participants thanked me for coming and concluded her remarks with, “Welcome home!” And I blurted out that this trip has truly made me feel at home here in Nevis—I’m still an outsider, I’m still learning the history and the culture and the customs. But I’m also being myself. And when you can be who you are—your true self—and feel that you are accepted by others, that’s when you know you’re home. In that community center, when I was surrounded by mothers who formed a book club in order to learn how to develop a love of books in their children, I felt like I had something to offer. I brought the books I purchased in NYC and spread them out on two tables; then I asked each person to take no more than one minute to look the books over and select one that jumped out at her. It was so interesting to see their selections—and flattering, too, since three of them selected books I’d written and self-published! We talked about how to extract meaning from a book cover or title in order to attract a child’s attention, and we talked about how to read so that the child’s curiosity is piqued. Then I handed out copies of Ship of Souls and read part of a chapter aloud. The women then voted to make SoS their first book club selection (bumping The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to September)! I think I’m going to start a book drive. I’m hoping all my author-friends out there will be willing to donate a copy of their book to the fledgling children’s library at Prospect Community Center. We need art up on the walls, and shelves installed, and books to put on the shelves…and a few computers couldn’t hurt. Sunday is a day of rest but tomorrow there will be work to do! I’m giving three presentations at the credit union across the street from my guesthouse. Even if only a couple of kids show up, I’ll still feel blessed because I’ve found a way to be useful to my new community. [Photograph of the Nevis Book Fair by Ryan D. Maynard/ Refined Digital Media]

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I’m not a big fan of musical theater and I’ve never actually seen West Side Story, but I caught a glimpse of the film version last month on PBS. And that song just came to mind because today when I was signing books at the BPL, a young woman wearing the hijab came up to me and said, “I really loved this book because everything that Hakeem feels is just what I feel, too! Because he’s Muslim and so am I.” I told her how much that meant to me, but I’m not sure I was able to fully convey my meaning and there was a long line of kids behind her waiting to have their books signed. I won’t start gushing about the Brooklyn Public Library, but this is yet another program that serves the kids in my community—50 kids got a copy of Ship of Souls, and then they came in to hear my author talk and have their books signed. And they were SO ready to talk about the book! I started off with Bird and they kept finding connections to Ship of Souls. There were dozens of hands up in the air by the time I finished my talk, but we only had time for three or four questions. The teachers told me that the entire sixth grade had read the book, and I’ll be going to their school next month to meet everyone else. There’s nothing like seeing kids excited about reading! And, of course, one girl raised her hand and asked, “Will you write a book about us?” I told her that I wrote about Brooklyn and my own neighborhood so that kids like her would see themselves on the page. And half a dozen boys asked when the book will be made into a film. I told them that I had sent the book to Spike Lee (no response so far) and assured them that Nyla’s book was underway…


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Having a quiet morning in Toronto—as usual, it’s freezing outside but it IS sunny and I’ve been having a pretty great visit so far. I had to run through the airport to catch my flight on Thursday, but my cousin’s wedding was lovely and I got a chance to catch up with relatives I haven’t seen in a while. The next day I had a full-day visit at North Kipling Junior Middle School and it was absolutely fantastic—I gave six presentations to 18 classes, and had a pizza lunch in the library with 8 students and three educators. I even had three boys who shadowed me all day and solved any technical glitches that came up. I’m always a little anxious when I present before Canadian students because I’m never sure whether my presentation will resonate with them—I write about the US and I know NYC kids really well, but the kids in Toronto are different (only two students raised their hands when I asked who Coretta Scott King was). My first presentation was to a cafeteria filled with seven classes of 7th and 8th grade students. They were SO quiet, maybe even a little timid. I finished the presentation thinking that I’d bombed, but as I walked through the halls later, many of the students waved and smiled and said hello. One senior student in my lunch group said she had been really inspired by my talk, and the other classes were responsive and engaged. And the teachers! I always say that being around teachers feels like being around family; I was raised by two teachers and I’m an educator myself, and I have SO much respect for the men and women who get up every day with a mission to change kids’ lives. I met the district superintendent (who’s a big fan of BIRD) and she recalled sharing Ezra Jack Keats’ books with her own children when they were young because she wanted them to be exposed to children of color. The school principal is determined to integrate the curriculum instead of only inviting black authors during the month of February (YES!). And I owe the entire experience to the vice-principal, Ms. Reid, who “met” me online a couple of years ago and didn’t give up when her efforts to bring me into her previous school didn’t work out. ONE determined educator can make such a difference…

The audio edition of Ship of Souls will be released in May, and I’ve been given permission to share this photo of Benjamin L. Darcie—the man responsible for giving D, Nyla, and Hakeem a voice! I admit that I’m a little anxious—and jealous. I’m used to reading the book to kids myself and I’ve learned how to add certain dramatic flourishes to keep them on the edge of their seat. But Mr. Darcie is a professional actor, so I’m going to trust that he’s better able than I am to bring these characters to life. It would have been cool to hear actual teens reading the book, but maybe that’s a project teachers can develop in their classrooms. I still haven’t done a trailer for Ship of Souls, and goodness knows I’ve got enough on my plate already without taking that on, too. Yet spending the day in Etobicoke made me want to come “home” for a while—just for a few weeks so I can get to know these kids and then write a book just for them. A book set in *their* city, with a cast that reflects the incredible diversity of Toronto. I read Nalo Hopkinson’s The Chaos last week and would love to hear what other folks think of it. It’s great to finally have a spec fic novel for teens that’s set in contemporary Canada and features an all-black cast…

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Today was EXCELLENT! I thought I might be late, and since I demand punctuality of my students, I was horrified at the thought of being late for class myself. But the insanity on the train subsided, there was no mile-long line for the elevators at school, and all three of my classes were fantastic. I love students who show up ready to learn—and to share! We discussed Wish in my neo-slave narratives class and the students had some really interesting insights. In between classes I checked my email and found a request to republish my essay on African Canadian writers. I also found I had been cc’d on this lovely message from the awesome librarian at yesterday’s school. Here’s some of what she said:
THANK YOU for bringing Zetta Elliott to our school yesterday!
The program was a huge success. We had over 200 students from both campus schools…in the auditorium together. Zetta kept them engaged for 45 minutes with her interactive presentation.
After the official program ended, she stayed and interacted informally with students in the auditorium and then accepted an invitation to visit their classroom on the 3rd floor, where I found her reading aloud from her new book to a group of enthralled 6th grade students.
Today, students have been coming into the library all morning requesting her books.
I highly recommend her presentation. I hope you are able to bring her to other schools.
I would also welcome the opportunity to have her return to our school to work on other projects with our students. Please keep us in mind.
Thank you again for providing our students with this valuable experience.
Tomorrow I go to a school in Bed-Stuy that I’ve visited several times before, and then I spend the weekend planning our launch party! I’ve made a flyer, which you can view here: launchflyer. More details to come…

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This introvert is taking a much-needed day of silence…yet as I walked around the park this morning, baseball cap tipped against the blowing snow, I marveled at the kindness of others. I did three “meet the author” presentations this week, and every time I left a school, I said a prayer of thanks for the Brooklyn Public Library. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to share my work with so many students and educators—eight schools altogether, with one hundred students in the audience each time. On Monday the assistant principal in Sunset Park worked tirelessly to get me the equipment I needed for my powerpoint presentation, and then sat at the laptop herself and advanced the slides so I was free to interact with the students. On Wednesday I arrived at the school in Spring Creek and two members of the book club were waiting at the door, cameras poised to capture the moment. After my talk the librarian and parent coordinators hosted a nice reception that included *quite* a spread—and I got a call later asking me about how to order books for the school. Yesterday I was in a new school with a stunning auditorium, and the librarian filled it with a range of students—some top performing classes, some special ed. classes, some kids with special needs–and she, too, sat at the laptop so I was free to move around. Afterward as many teachers as students came up to thank me for my talk and to express interest in Ship of Souls. Those kind of moments always make me thankful for my early years in Canada—the warmth and openness of Americans wouldn’t mean so much to me if I didn’t come from a culture that’s markedly different.

Back at my job, my students were understanding when I had to rearrange our class schedule on Tuesday to accommodate a radio interview with Pia Lindstrom; I’m not sure whether we taped a twenty- or thirty-minute segment because the time flew by and I got to talk about SoS, my belief in magic, my love of history, and I even squeezed in a quote by Audre Lorde (whose essay I’d taught earlier that morning).

Now I have to turn my attention back to my conference paper for France. I found a grant that might help to pay for some of the expenses, but I need to submit the conference program and I can’t ask for that when the organizers are still waiting on my overdue paper…time to make the most of this day of silence—time to write.

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We got some very good news yesterday: BIRD has won the West Virginia Children’s Choice Award! Last year Diary of a Wimpy Kid won, so I’m really honored that the children found merit in our book. The competition is open to books published within the past three years that meet the literary standards adopted by the Children’s Services Division of the American Library Association for Notable Books:

  1. Have high literary merit.
  2. Have qualities of originality, imagination, and vitality.
  3. Have an element of timelessness.
  4. Reflect the sincerity of the author.
  5. Have sound values.
  6. Have a theme of subject worth imparting to and of interest to children.
  7. Have factual accuracy.
  8. Have clarity and readability.
  9. Be appropriate in subject, treatment and format to the age group for which it is intended.

Then I looked on Amazon and noticed that a new review of WISH had been added. It’s actually from a teacher who allowed her two students to post these evaluations of my novel:

Review 1: A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot was an interesting book. It is about a girl, Genna, and how she is in a bad neighborhood and she wants out. She gets more than she bargained for when a wish sends her back to 1863. This book gives you a good look at some of the things that happened around the Civil War-era.

When Genna is in the world of 1863, she has to learn to fit in, work, not say what is on her mind, and find a way out. In the book, it shows you how everyone who was not white was treated.

This book has good information about the Civil War and a good story!

Review 2: A Wish After Midnight was an eye-opening book. Even though some parts in the beginning were a little intense, the historical part gives a great view on the start of the Civil War. The main character, Genna, shines a light on the difficulty of being a black girl in the 1800s while continuing to hope and work toward a positive and educated life for herself. This book has so many twists and turns that it keeps you on your toes as you await the next turn of events. A Wish After Midnight is a great segue into thinking about the Civil War because the number of perspectives you get from people with very different backgrounds and ideas. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone 13 or older who is looking for a book that really brings out the tensions and worries of people during the Civil War. From: Books R. Cool

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…AND the head.  Many book donation programs don’t take into consideration the racial and ethnic make-up of the group receiving the books.  That’s why I was so excited about the GuysLitWire donation project last year (where Native American teens chose the books they wanted in their library), and now Ari at Reading in Color has come up with something just as great—read below and GIVE!


Coalition Of Librarians and Online Readers

Online readers being those of us who lurk around book blogs. The librarians (as of right now) are all librarians who blog. The end goal being to donate at least 25 books in two months to a library that could use a little extra TLC. I have four libraries as of right now and depending on the success of the project, more librarians and libraries will be added.

How it works: I provide the link to the wishlist. You buy the books. You are welcome to donate multiple copies of books on the wishlist. If you wish to donate a book of your own, please email the respective librarian or myself first (if possible). To start off, we are using the Book Depository so that international readers have no excuse not to participate 😉 (unless they happen to be in one of the few countries the Book Depository does not mail to).

Why?: Budget cuts for libraries are increasing. Many of us love libraries and I want to help by sending books to libraries that have been hit hard by the budget cuts. A bonus is that I would like to only send books by/about people of color for children and teenagers, both fiction and non fiction. For now I am focusing on middle schools (6th-8th) and high schools in the U.S. The ideal scenario is to send books about Asians/Black people/Latinos and Native Americans to the library, but to have the majority of the books match the ethnicity of the students.

First up is Edi from Crazy Quilts (I highly recommend you check out her blog first, you won’t be able to resist wanting to help this warm and informative librarian). Read my blogger spotlight with Edi.

Edi is a librarian at Arlington Community High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. The majority of her students (90%) are Black. To learn more about the school (including a matchup of Arlington Community High School students who pass their grades versus the state average, which is depressing to say the least) go here.

Project for Arlington Community High School begins: February 11, 2011
Ends: April 11, 2011

Now that I’ve gotten you all eager to help out, go to the wishlist I made for The Book Depository; from there you can easily buy the book and mail it out, easy peasy.

For your convenience I’ve included the wishlist titles below:

A Year in Japan by Kate T Williamson

Tales of Otori (1,2,3) by Lian Hearn

Zaharah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okarafor

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans

Dragon Road by Laurence Yep

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld

Asleep by Wendy Raven McNair

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea; Burma Chronices by Guy Delisle

Aya: The secret comes out vol 3

Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans by Roland Laird, Taneshia Nash Laird, Elihu , “Adofo” Bey, and Charles Johnson

Greatest Stars of the NBA Volume 1: Shaquille O’Neal by Tokyopop and Nba

Michelle Obama (Female Force) by Neal Bailey and Joshua LaBell

The Civil Rights Freedom Train (Comix With Content) by Bentley Boyd

All the Rage: The Boondocks Past and Present by Aaron McGruder

Nat Turner by Kyle Baker

Miss Emily the Yellow Rose of Texas by Ben Durr

Yellow Rose the Myth of Emily Morgan by Douglas Brode

Bessie Coleman: Daring Stunt Pilot (Graphic Biographies) by Robbins, Trina, Steacy, and Ken

Captain America: Truth by Robert Morales and Kyle Bake

Fist stick knife gun a personal history of violence by Geoffrey Canada (graphic novel)

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in the Old West by Lillian Schlissel

Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein

Buffalo Soldiers and the American West (Graphic Library, Graphic History) by Glaser, Jason, Smith, and Tod

Booker T. Washington: Great American Educator (Graphic Library: Graphic Biographies) [Paperback]by Braun (Author), Eric (Author), Martin (Illustrator), Cynthia (Illustrator)

Graphic Myths and Legends: Sinbad: Sailing into Peril: an Arabian Tale (Graphic Universe) by Marie P. Croalland Clint Hilinski

Beowulf: Monster Slayer (A British Legend) (Graphic Universe) [Paperback] by Paul D. Storrie (Author), Ron Randall (Illustrator)

Isis & Osiris: To the Ends of the Earth (Graphic Myths and Legends) [Paperback] by Jeff Limke (Author), David Witt (Illustrator)

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That *was* the title of the article I submitted to School Library Journal; it’s now called “A Storied Past,” but I’m still happy with how it turned out.  It’s hard having your words edited when you’re used to blogging!  But I’m grateful for the opportunity to write about my commitment to the past and the future.  These book covers were also cut (from the online version, anyway).  I can still remember seeing them in my small public library as a child in Toronto—I remember that poor librarian who tried to get me to read The House of Dies Drear and I refused because of that awful cover…Anyway, this has been a very long day and we’re expecting SNOW in the morning.  When does spring arrive?

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It’s time to start taking down the Xmas decorations, I guess.  I’ve been putting it off because once I take down all the cards displayed on my bookshelf, I’ll have to do some *serious* dusting…never mind all the pine needles embedded in my rug!  But this card came at the very end of the year and it will be moving to the photo collage on my fridge—I just wrote a scene that starts at the Brooklyn Public Library; had to find a way to work in that golden phoenix that’s on the central branch’s facade.  This beautiful artwork is by Selina Alko who has a forthcoming Brooklyn alphabet book…

And speaking of libraries…*after* you make a generous donation to your local library system, why not print out Ari’s list of 2011 new releases and make sure that books by writers of color are added to your library’s collection?  It’s important to get the word out about these books, especially since many won’t be widely reviewed.  Stay tuned over the next few weeks because I’ll be posting about African American MG/YA releases along with a few author interviews.  I’m anxiously awaiting Arnold Adoff’s latest book of poetry since I got to see Greg Christie’s illustrations a year ago and they were just stunning…

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After my last post, I realized I could do a better job presenting my rationale for this diversity symposium in Canada.  I think I’ll send out the outline again with this additional preamble.  Since no guests have officially been invited, I’ve removed the names of suggested participants.

“Still Searching for Mirrors:

Multicultural Children’s Literature in Canada”

As a black Canadian author who writes and publishes in the US, I have often wondered how the two industries compare when it comes to publishing diverse titles for young readers.  With the help of several other black book bloggers here in the US, I recently compiled a list of the middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) titles published by black authors in 2010; to my surprise, we came up with almost sixty titles and so I decided to compile a similar list for Canada.  Unfortunately, I was only able to find ONE black-authored novel for teen readers published in Canada in 2010.  This is in keeping with statistics I compiled earlier in the year (blog post #1, blog post #2) that show Canadian presses publish only a handful of black authors each year:

Children’s Books By and About Black People

Published in Canada

Number of English-Language Books
at CCBC*

African / Caribbean
African Canadian
By About
2009 500 6 20
2008 500 3 11
2007 500 2 14
2006 500 4 9
2005 500 3 6
2004 500 2 13
2003 500 2 5
2002 500 2 5
2001 500 2 6
2000 500 2 2

*the Canadian Children’s Book Centre

Just as troubling as the low number of published black authors is the fact that in the past ten years, there seem to be no MG/YA novels that feature a black protagonist and take place in contemporary Canada.  These (unscientific) findings led me to ask the following questions:

1. Why are so few black authors being published in a country that claims to value multiculturalism?

2. Are other racial groups better represented in Canadian children’s publishing?  If so, what can we learn from their success?

3. How many people of color are employed in the publishing industry in Canada?

4. What impact does the lack of contemporary black fiction have on young readers in Canada?

5. What can be done to increase the number of authors and the range of stories being told about people of African descent?

To encourage discussion and develop an agenda for change, I am proposing a one-day symposium to address the issue of diversity in Canadian children’s publishing.  My participation in the inspiring conference, A Is for Anansi, at NYU this past fall convinced me that this is a conversation Canadians also need to have.


  • Keynote Address:  Who is the authority on this topic?

  • Panels:

1. Multicultural Children’s Literature in Canada: How Far Have We Come?

2. Responding to Racism in the Canadian Publishing Industry

3. Books at Home/Books at School: Searching for a Mirror

4. How to Write/Publish for Young Readers

  • Concluding remarks: Creating an agenda for change

If you’d like to offer suggestions and/or help in the planning of this event, please leave a comment.

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