circle of truth

6419_3I watched About a Boy again last night and chuckled at the single moms support group sharing their stories in the “circle of truth.” The film plays up all the stereotypes about bitter feminists and the inability of shallow men to understand or participate in critiques of patriarchy. It’s Father’s Day and last weekend in Berkeley I witnessed some outstanding parenting by Maya Gonzalez‘ partner Matthew. After making small talk and enjoying the potluck brunch, we gathered in Laura’s sunny living room and formed our own circle of truth. And while we stood and discussed the issue of diversity in children’s literature, during that time Matthew was the ultimate dad, playing with, feeding, and minding baby Sky so that Maya could more fully focus on and engage in the conversation. This was my first time in California and I’ve always known there was something different about west coast folks, but I came home thinking they really are a unique breed with very different energy. Compared to New Yorkers they’re more relaxed but every bit as engaged and passionate about ethics and equity. The people I met in Berkeley were daring (to me) but they didn’t seem to see themselves that way. I’m not a particularly open person so maybe I was just struck by how open they were—to me, my books, and the plea we were making for greater inclusion of indie authors. I wish all librarians were as progressive as the ones I met last weekend. I owe a great deal to librarians and have definitely met some radical ones here on the east coast who are committed to change. But when you’re part of a larger system it can be difficult to think beyond the rules that have been in place for decades. I think it’s hard for many people to acknowledge that the diversity gap in children’s publishing is deliberate—not accidental. It’s not about merit (there just aren’t enough good writers of color out there!), and it’s not about money (we just have to prove that the industry can make a profit off books by writers of color). It’s about POWER. As Léonicka Valcius points out in her recent article over at The Toast,

The lack of diversity and equity in the publishing industry is not a theoretical issue for us to intellectualize over coffee. It is an injustice. The destruction of libraries and burning of books has historically been used to strip peoples of their history and culture.  Those in power continue to limit the ability of those they have subjugated to share their stories. They retain ultimate control of the narrative and their power.The publishing industry creates and disseminates stories. The fact that the industry neither includes marginalized people in those stories nor gives marginalized people enough access to share their own stories makes the industry itself oppressive.

So what do you do when you realize you’re part of a system that actively and deliberately disadvantages others? Most of us aren’t prepared to divest completely. We want to believe we can remain within the system and try to work against the policies and practices and attitudes that are oppressive. So many people are caught up in the excitement of the World Cup and yet almost all of those people are aware of the appalling poverty in host country Brazil. The corruption of FIFA is also well documented and there are allegations of games being rigged. But the overwhelming majority of football fans aren’t boycotting the World Cup. Black players endure racist chants and bananas being tossed onto the pitch throughout Europe but they haven’t pulled out of the league. It’s hard to create change when people find pleasure in the system—despite its flaws, limitations, and the very real damage it does to others. I’m watching a Game of Thrones marathon right now and eagerly await tonight’s season finale, even though the show is sexist and racist and problematic in other ways. I publish with Amazon and don’t feel much sympathy for a corporate publisher like Hachette that feels bullied by the online giant. My choices disappoint others just as the decisions of others disappoint me. So how do we create change? I don’t have all the answers. But I think one way to start is by standing together in a circle as equals and speaking honestly about our needs and fears. And perhaps we also have to admit our sometimes shameful investment in the systems we seek to change.


munecas_front_covercorrectedIndie authors often find doors are closed to them so I’m very thankful that Cindy Rodriguez and her team of Latina authors over at Latin@s in Kid Lit let me have my say on their blog. Here’s a bit of what I wrote about immigration, intersectionality, and my decision to self-publish Max Loves Muñecas!

Immigration is a charged issue here, and though Canadians aren’t generally mentioned in the national debate, there’s still a pretty good chance I could run into trouble in Arizona. As a mixed-race woman of African descent, I often get read as Latina. Here, in New York City, I walk with my driver’s license, my passport, and my green card at all times because my Afro-Caribbean father taught me that some protections are reserved for citizens only (and only those citizens who aren’t brown like me). My father also urged me not to get involved in social justice movements, but I chose to disregard that advice.

I’m a black feminist—or what my father would call “a troublemaker.” I began to write for children over a decade ago because I couldn’t find culturally relevant material to use with my black students. I came to the US to attend graduate school, and there I developed a deeper understanding of intersectionality and invisibility. The title of one black feminist anthology encapsulates this perfectly: All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave. Black women too often find themselves erased from discussions of racism and sexism, and when it comes to children’s literature, it can be just as easy for Afro-Latin@ kids to fall through the cracks.

Published by Skyscape, 2010

In 2000, I started a book club for the girls in my building. They were all black and we had been meeting for weeks before I realized that half the girls in the group were Panamanian. When they were with me, they spoke the black vernacular of their African American peers, but at home they spoke Spanish. When I wrote my YA time-travel novel A Wish After Midnight, I decided to give my protagonist a hybrid identity—Genna Colon’s mother is African American but her father is an Afro-Panamanian immigrant. When her father leaves the family to return to Panama, Genna yearns for a connection to her Latino heritage, but her jaded mother insists that race trumps ethnicity: “in America, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what language you speak. Black is black and you might as well get used to it.”



10420243_10152444502507209_9157900705948005980_nThere’s something magical about watching a child read—especially if s/he happens to be reading a book that you wrote! I saw this mural on Facebook last week; I believe it’s by French artist Jef Aérosol. Somehow this image captures my feelings about my Berkeley trip. I don’t spend a lot of time with kids aside from my school visits, so it was nice to hang out with Laura and her seven-year-old daughter. Cassy made pancakes for us on Saturday morning but first she reached for The Boy in the Bubble and impressed me with her reading skills. The next day we had the brunch and I got to meet Equal Read CEO Taun Wright and her daughter Ella. Taun asked if I was selling books because her daughter was sitting on the couch, already absorbed in The Boy in the Bubble. On Monday I had a chance to present before a combined group of first and fourth graders; during my slideshow I asked the kids to predict what would happen to the boy once his bubble broke and then withheld the answer: “You’ll have to read the book and find out!” A fourth grade girl saw the copy I had donated to the class on a nearby easel and quietly reached up to pull it into her lap. She opened the book and read it while I talked about my other titles. Afterward we met Janine Macbeth for tea in downtown Berkeley and she said her Bubblecovercorrectedsix-year-old son was already several pages into The Boy in the Bubble, which she had just shown him the day before. I’m not a perfect writer and I learned a lot this past weekend about other ways to self-publish (check out Robert Trujillo‘s Kickstarter campaign for Furqan’s First Flat Top). But there’s something to be said for quickly and quietly creating a book that immediately draws kids in. I’m heading to Toronto tomorrow and unfortunately I’m out of books for the moment. I have one order to deliver to a middle school principal and one set of books for my cousin who has three kids. I don’t have a lot of energy either but hope a day of rest will help me to recover from this bad cold. Time for tea…

beautiful Berkeley

jpeg605I unplugged this weekend and without my laptop I wasn’t able to blog while visiting Berkeley. I also managed to step off the plane with a cold so I’m stuffed up, achy, and weary tonight. This post will be short—I just want to share some of the beautiful encounters that marked my first trip to sunny California. My awesome host Laura Atkins (below, left) opened her lovely home not only to me but to a group of librarians, artists, and advocates who share our commitment to creating greater diversity and equity in children’s literature. Just as I met Janine Macbeth (below, right) and saw her beautiful picture book Oh, Oh, Baby Boy (left), I heard librarian/artist Amy Martin say that she had seen the book in a store in San Jose and planned to consider it for the Oakland Public Library’s children’s collection. Yes, you heard me correctly—there are librarians in the world (or in Oakland, at least) who are actively seeking out books by indie authors! Amy posted the OPL’s submission policy on her blog—do check it out if you have a self-published book that could help to address the diversity gap in children’s literature. And if you’re looking for a beautiful gift to give for Father’s Day, get a copy of Janine’s book—it’s a wonderful celebration of engaged fathers. The image above is actually the end-paper and you can’t quite see the silver stars embedded in the mother’s hair…




Dear Friend,

The 2014 Golden Baobab Prizes are making their final call for submissions. With about three weeks more to end the call, writers and illustrators are being encouraged to enter their story and illustration submissions, because this year’s prizes have more to offer.

The Prizes were earlier launched in February, 2014 and the deadline for submissions of all entries is Sunday, June 29th at exactly 23: 59 GMT. 

This year, Golden Baobab will award six prizes worth $20,000. These six prizes are:

  • The $5,000 Golden Baobab Prize for Picture Book
  • The $5,000 Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Book
  • The $2,500 Golden Baobab Prize for Rising Writers
  • The $5,000 Golden Baobab Prize for Illustrators
  • The $2,500 Golden Baobab Prize for Rising Illustrators
  • The Golden Baobab Lifetime Achievement in Children’s Literature Award

The prize packages also include the opportunity to publish with and receive royalties from Golden Baobab and/or Golden Baobab’s top tier African and international publishing partners, the benefit of increased publicity that comes with being named a Golden Baobab Prize winner, and the opportunity to attend a Golden Baobab award ceremony and workshops.

Golden Baobab has been running three literature prizes for six consecutive years. These prizes invite entries of unpublished stories for children written by African citizens irrespective of age, race, or country of origin.  This year, it introduced two new prizes for illustrations. This is to discover, nurture and celebrate talent, passion and contribution to the African children’s literature space. Entrants will submit illustrations as per Golden Baobab specifications. The rules and regulations for the Illustration prizes have been translated to French, Portuguese and Arabic.

Entry information for the prizes can be found on the organization’s website, http://www.goldenbaobab.org. Entrants should note that the copyright of each entry submitted to the Golden Baobab Prizes remains vested in them. However, by submitting an entry, entrants declare that they are legally entitled to do so and give Golden Baobab permission to make their entry available for exclusive worldwide royalty-free usage, reproduction and distribution.

For information on how to enter the 2014 Golden Baobab Prizes, visit Golden Baobab’s website or contact the coordinator, Nanama B. Acheampong at info@goldenbaobab.org.

indexI’m ready to write this novel. I don’t leave for Senegal until July 1, but I’ve started the research process, reached out to some folks in Dakar, and I’ve had Nyla on the brain for the past few weeks. Watching the latest X-Men movie helped, even though women had only minor roles. All the more reason to get busy and write The Return! This poem will serve as the epigraph:


Closed Path

I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,—-that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.
But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

© Rabindranath Tagore

time to grow

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000046_00045]Well, I had an opportunity today to test the elementary waters I wrote about yesterday. I went to Bushwick to drop off a book order at a school that I love—I’ve worked with this charter school for years and they always roll out the red carpet for me. Today I wasn’t expecting to stay long but the librarian wanted me to speak with the principal so I took a seat and watched as 25 first grade students buzzed about the room. There were a lot of small fires to put out but the librarian was up to the task. One boy came up to me and asked, “Are you Marshawn’s mom?” I explained that I was a visiting author and then pulled out the new books—within seconds I had a small cluster of kids around me and little hands reaching for the four books. They stroked the covers—“Oooh! They’re so soft!”—and then one girl opened Room in My Heart and declared, “I can read this!” I said something like “prove it” and we spent the remaining minutes of the period reading together. Another girl grabbed Max Loves Muñecas! and opened the cover: “So many words!” I held out my hand to take it back and she asked, “Can I keep it here next to me?” Oh, the little ones. I haven’t worked with six-year-olds since I was a camp counselor back in 1989, but I’m excited about meeting with teachers in the coming week to talk about how my books can be used in their classrooms. I met one teacher who looked at me and said, “I saw you on TV on The Debrief—I taped it!” I need to read up on the Common Core. Initially I wanted these books to be “just for fun,” but if teachers want to use them in the classroom then I need to provide some type of guide or lesson plan. Time to grow!


IMG_6331Sunday was a glorious spring day and I had a great time hanging out with Jacqueline Woodson (right), Kwame Alexander, and Bryan Collier (center) at the Studio Museum in Harlem book festival (photo by Andre Ware). My presentation wasn’t fantastic, but I’m learning to be more flexible—if you expected to present before a group of kids and instead you have an audience of adults, what do you do? Improvisation isn’t one of my strengths so I need to work on that. I’m heading to California in a few days and will have a chance to speak to a class of 3rd graders while I’m in Berkeley. Last week I presented before two fifth grade classes and they were amazing—lots of energy, lots of questions, and before I even began the principal handed me this letter:

jpeg603Not every class will have that reaction so I have to learn to feel out the kids and respond accordingly. I don’t work much with young children and watching Jackie and Kwame present to the under-7s made me realize I’ll need an entirely different approach if I move into the elementary market. Right now I’m talking to two editors about some of my picture books. I always thought I’d work with little kids but then moved into the YA market and have been there ever since. Flexibility isn’t easy for Scorpios but I’m going to give it a try…

You are invited

To the 2014 Children’s Book Festival at the Studio Museum in Harlem

Featuring Kwame Alexander, Bryan Collier, Zetta Elliott, and Jacqueline Woodson

Follow the link, learn more about the event and rsvp: http://www.studiomuseum.org/event-calendar/event/childrens-book-festival-2014-06-01


Gallery tours, Face painting, fun art workshops, readings, book signings, raffles and a performance.

Please spread the word…


WORD! – A Caribbean Book Fest

Sunday, June 8, 2014.  2:00 – 8:00pm

Medgar Evers College, 1650 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11225
718-783-8345 / 718-270-6917 / 718-270-6218 /
WORD! (5x7) Front - NandiWORD! – Business
Getting published.  Getting noticed.
Avril Ashton – Secret Cravings Publishing, Ashton Franklin – Franklin & Franklin Publishing; Johanna Ingalls – Akashic Books; Ron Kavanaugh, Mosaic Literary Magazine
WORD! – Youth
Books and stories for all ages from tots to teens; and Open Mic
Chen Chin (Jamaica), Joanne Skerrett (Dominica), CJ Farley (Jamaica), Kellie Magnus (Jamaica), Carol Ottley-Mitchell (St. Kitts – Nevis), Clyde Viechweg (Grenada); Ibi Zoboi (Haiti)
WORD! –  Art
Writer as visual artist/illustrator
Ricardo Cortes (Mexico), Anna Ruth Henriques (Jamaica), Deborah Jack (St. Marteen/St. Martin), Laura James (Antigua), Iyaba Mandingo (Antigua & Barbuda), Michèle Voltaire Marcellin (Haiti),
WORD! – Fiction
New Books.  New Voices.              
D C Campbell (Grenada), Lloyd Crooks (Trinidad & Tobago), Hubert Guscott (Jamaica), Nyasha Laing (US/Belize), Petra Lewis (Trinidad & Tobago), Adam Mansbach (USA), Idrissa Simmonds (Canada/Haiti/Jamaica), Monique Simón (Antigua & Barbuda), Katia Ulysse (Haiti); Annette Vendryes Leach (Panama)
WORD! – Poetry
Poets & Passion 
Negus Tehuti Adeyemi (US/Barbados), AJA (Barbados), Arielle John (Trinidad & Tobago), Hermina Marcellin (St. Lucia), David Mills (US/Jamaica), Ras Osagyefo (Jamaica), Anthony Polanco (Panama), Jason Price (Belize), Maria Rodriguez (Puerto Rico), Yolaine St. Fort (Haiti), Mervyn Taylor (Trinidad & Tobago); Ras Yah Yah (St. Lucia)
WORD! – You
DONATION: $10 – adults.  $5.00 – children