This year marks the 101st anniversary of Children’s Book Week. More than 1,000 bookstores, schools and libraries participate around the nation. The spring celebration kicks off Monday, May 3 and runs through Sunday, May 9. Here are seven ways you can be part of the magic:
The 2021 theme for Children’s Book Week is Reading is a Superpower. Share the Superpower Challenge with kids you know. There are fun activities for children to explore and themed reading lists focused on topics from Science and STEM to Identity and Culture and Social Activism. Cap it off by downloading the superpower certificate for your super kids.
Looking for a free children’s book to read and share? Disney’s Tales of Courage and Kindness, a collection of 14 original stories, debuted April 27. Each one focuses on a Disney princess or queen. It’s available as a free download through the end of August. I was honored to write the story about Princess Tiana. I love the art by Tara Nicole Whitaker.
Shop for children’s books at one of our many wonderful indie bookstores in the Triangle. Congratulations to the newest, Rofhiwa Book Cafe. This Black-owned bookstore in Durham has this as its mission: “We endeavor to foster a spirit of heightened engagement by curating a living, active, and affective collection of books that capture the dexterity of black writers across classic and contemporary works.”
Download the free Children’s Book Week posted designed by acclaimed illustrator Bryan Collier. Don’t forget to download the activity sheets too. They include a checklist, name the superpowers of your favorite character worksheet and a create your own comic strip template.
North Carolina is home to wonderful children’s book authors who are also poets. Their work shines at any time of year. But in honor of National Poetry Month, here are three you should know:
Called the godfather of the poetry slam in the Southeast, acclaimed writer Allan Wolf has been a performer for more than three decades. His outstanding work for young people spans from picture books and poetry to young adult novels. His latest offering, No Buddy Like a Book (Candlewick), is a rhyming tribute to the power of imagination and joy of reading. Check out his fun, musical performance of poems and book excerpts. Visit Allan at his website.
New York Times bestseller Carole Boston Weatherford has been called the dean of the nonfiction picture book biography. Author of dozens of award-winning titles, she uses poetry to illuminate the stories of people and events that belong in the spotlight. Marilyn Monroe. Fannie Lou Hamer. Arturo Schomburg. She has won countless accolades for her work. Her latest honor is having two of her books, Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom (Candlewick), and By and By: Charles Albert Tindley, the Father of Gospel Music (Atheneum) named to NCTE’s list of Notable Poetry Books and Verse Novels. Hear her read excerpts of Box and Beauty Mark, her verse novel about Marilyn Monroe, here. Visit Carole at her website.
An inspiring group of young musicians, the Philharmonic Association’s United Strings of Color, asked me to offer tips on selecting poetry to accompany their Violin Vigils, a series of performances in music and verse “to commemorate Black lives lost and call for equal justice for all.” We discussed figurative language, rhythm, meaning and more. I was moved by the powerful poems and their thoughtful ideas about connecting the themes with their violin pieces. The first Violin Vigil, an outdoor event at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, takes place Saturday, May 1. Space is limited to honor Covid-19 guidelines. You can get a sample of their music here. You can register to attend one of the Vigils here.
Behind the Books: 5 NC Creators Talk Writing & Illustrating for Kids
If you’ve ever thought of writing a children’s book, this event’s for you. Join me for a conversation with nationally acclaimed North Carolina children’s book creators John Claude Bemis, Clay Carmichael, Jacqueline Ogburn, and Donna Washington about the whole children’s book creation process. We will share our publishing journeys, offer tips on creating for children, and provide insight into the children’s literature field.
This event is part of the Piedmont Laureate program, and is co-sponsored by the Orange County Arts Commission, the Chapel Hill Public Library, the Orange County Public Library, and Flyleaf Books.
Carrie Knowles Has First In-Person Quail Ridge Event
Join Carrie J. Knowles, the 2014 Piedmont Laureate in Short Fiction, for Quail Ridge Books’ first in-person event since the pandemic started on Sunday, May 23 at 2 p.m. She will talk about her novels, A Musical Affair and The Inevitable Past. You don’t want to miss it. Details here.
Carrie Jane Knowles has published five novels, a collection of short fiction, a memoir about her mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s, and a writing workbook. She writes a personal perspectives column for Psychology Today: Shifting Forward. Learn more about her work here.
She wrote about the kinds of kids she saw around her. Funny, adventurous, opinionated and brave. Sounds like common sense, but it was ground-breaking. With more than 90 million copies sold, Beverly Cleary‘s books have touched people around the world and influenced generations. National Book Award. Newbery Medal and Honors. The world lost a great when she passed away last week. But the impact of her characters lives on: Ramona Quimby. Beezus. Henry Huggins. Names etched in many hearts and minds, they allow kids to see themselves and each other, to explore, problem solve and celebrate life. Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for your genius, heart for children and vision.
Here are some articles and essays celebrating her incredible contributions:
Want to follow in Beverly Cleary’s footsteps and write for children? Here are a few events, classes and resources.
In celebration of Children’s Book Week, join me in conversation with three acclaimed Black children’s book creators on Thursday, May 6 at 5:30 p.m. Panelists will include author Fracaswell Hyman, author-illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton, and author Carole Boston Weatherford. A Q&A will follow the discussion. The event is sponsored by the Durham Public Library and Durham Arts Council. Details here.
John Claude Bemis. Does his name sound familiar? He’s one of our amazing past Piedmont Laureates and an acclaimed children’s book author. There are a few spots left in his Creating Stories for Young Readers workshop at the Table Rock Writers Workshop. John is generous, talented and has won awards for his teaching. Check out this chance to learn from one of the greats. Learn more here.
Want to learn how to use techniques from cinema to engage readers? Cinda Williams Chima is leading a webinar titled Lights, Camera, Action: Using Cinematic Techniques to Deliver Character and Story on Thursday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. It’s sponsored by SCBWI-Carolinas. Find out more here.
SCBWI – “The international professional organization for authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults.”
The Authors Guild – “. . . the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization of writers.”
Highlights Foundation – ” . . . helps children’s authors and illustrators hone their craft through intimate and inspiring workshops.”
Children’s Book Council (CBC) – ” . . . the nonprofit trade association of children’s book publishers in North America, dedicated to supporting the industry and promoting children’s books and reading.”
The Brown Bookshelf – “ . . . designed to push awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers.”
We Need Diverse Books – ” a 501(c)(3) non-profit and a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”
The African American Children’s Book Project’s “I Read to See Me” program recently invited me to do a virtual author visit with Folk Arts – Cultural Treasures Charter School in Philadelphia. It’s a school dedicated to “equity and justice for Asian American students and immigrant and refugee students of all races.” The principal, Pheng Lim, shared that the kids learn about community organizing and how to be upstanders instead of bystanders. They have a Black Heritage Day each year and sing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice & Sing. They teach kids the importance of having cultural pride, compassion and commitment to creating a loving world. What is an essential component of this learning? Children’s literature.
That wonderful school is not alone in teaching kids to stand against hate and celebrate diversity through reading. Around our state and nation, there are amazing educators, librarians and parents doing the same. Northside Elementary in Chapel Hill. Conn Magnet Elementary in Raleigh. Pearsontown Elementary in Durham. Those are just a few of the outstanding schools making sure the books kids read look like the world around them. Through children’s literature, kids can see themselves and their families, explore each other’s cultures and experiences, find connections and gain new understanding, strength and hope.
There’s so much going on in the world right now that’s heavy and heartbreaking. More children than you realize know about the hate-fueled massacres, domestic terrorism, racist, sexist and homophobic slurs poisoning our country. They talk about it online and in texts. They bring it up during playdates. Some are survivors of verbal or physical attacks themselves. Or have family members who have suffered or even been killed.
In response to the violence against the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) community, Newbery Honor-winning children’s book author Alicia D. Williams posted that we can offer support by reading their stories: “Reading creates understanding,” wrote Williams whose novel Genesis Begins Again explores colorism. “Breaks down barriers. Erases fear of different. Focuses on the similar. Writers write stories from the heart to open doors of our hearts and minds.” I was nodding before I even finished reading her powerful words.
Acclaimed author Kathleen Burkinshaw, who lives in Charlotte like Williams, donated a hardcover copy of her moving novel, The Last Cherry Blossom, for the Kidlit Against Anti-AAPI Racism Auction. The book is based on her mother’s story of being a young Hiroshima survivor and is a United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs Resource for Teachers and Students. The auction is closed, but we can keep making a difference.
Stack your home, school and library shelves with books by creators who represent the rich tapestry of our nation. Read these books to young children. Read them with older ones. Gift them to kids you know. Talk about the stories. Explore the experiences, the joys and the struggles. Discuss how your child(ren) and the characters are alike and different. Advocate for equity. Make sure classroom reading lists are inclusive and that everyone can see themselves and each other.
Where do you find the stories? They’re all around.
Here are some resources to get you started:
KiBooka – A website created by Newbery Medal winner Linda Sue Park that celebrates children’s books by creators from the Korean Diapora.
The Brown Bookshelf – A website that centers and raises awareness of books by Black children’s book creators.
We Need Diverse Books – A nonprofit organization that “that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”
Cynsations – “Blog of award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith.” Smith, is the author-curator of Heartdrum, a new imprint at HarperCollins highlighting the voices of Native creators. Cynsations features resources, articles and insights in the kidlit world and is committed to diversity, inclusion and social justice.
American Indians in Children’s Literature – A website “established in 2006 by Dr. Debbie Reese of Nambé Pueblo, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) provides critical analysis of Indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books.”
Latinxs in Kid Lit – A website that promotes books by Latinx creators and offers important perspectives and resources about Latinx children’s and YA literature.
Asian Author Alliance – “A group to celebrate Asian Kidlit and the diversity of stories that originate from the Asian Continent.”
Las Musas – “A collective of women and non-binary (identifying on the female spectrum) Latinx authors whose mission is to “spotlight the new contributions of Las Musas in the evolving canon of children’s literature and celebrate the diversity of voice, experience, and power in our communities.”
Social Justice Books – “a project of Teaching for Change, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write and change the world.”
The Conscious Kid – “an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to equity and promoting healthy racial identity development in youth.”
On this last day of Black History Month, here’s part III of my round up of Black children’s book creators around the Triangle and state. Their books are moving, funny, lyrical, inspiring. They’re must-reads year round.
Award-winning illustrator and author, Vanessa Brantley-Newton creates magic wherever she goes. As a child, Vanessa saw herself in The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Now, she makes sure all kids know they’re seen and loved. Creator of more than 90 books for kids, celebrating diversity is a hallmark of her work. Kirkus said this of her touching picture book, Just Like Me: “Simple, upbeat, and affirming—a great reminder of what is to be gained when girls appreciate their own uniqueness and that of others. A dynamic, uplifting, and welcoming world of girls.” Learn more about Vanessa at https://www.vanessabrantleynewton.com/.
Dorothy H. Price
A former high school teacher, Dorothy H. Price hopes her picture book debut, Nana’s Favorite Things, sparks diabetes awareness. The poignant story, illustrated by TeMika Grooms, explores the relationship between a girl and her grandma who bond around delicious treats until a diabetes diagnosis brings a new understanding. A 2019 We Need Diverse Books mentee, Dorothy is working hard to create more books. You can read her short story, “Songs of Zion,” and see a video rendition here. Learn more about Dorothy at http://dorothyhprice.com/.
Eleanora E. Tate
Eleanora E. Tate is an award-winning author and difference maker whose books for children celebrate cultural pride, family, identity and much more. Winner of a North Carolina Book Award for Juvenile Literature, her stirring novel Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance is set in Raleigh and Harlem. Another of her literary treasures, Just An Overnight Guest, was turned into a television movie starring Richard Roundtree and Rosalind Cash. Creator of nearly a dozen titles, her work empowers and endures. Learn more about Eleanora at www.eleanoraeatate.com.
A beloved, internationally known storyteller, Donna L. Washington is a talented picture book author too. Her titles include A Pride of African Tales, Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, The Story of Kwanzaa, A Big Spooky House and the forthcoming Boo Stew which originated from a storytelling roundtable game she played with her children. Donna’s stories swing and sway and bring culture to life in inventive ways. Learn more about Donna at https://dlwstoryteller.com/.
Carole Boston Weatherford
A New York Times bestselling author and Newbery Honor winner with more than 50 award-winning books, Carole Boston Weatherford says her mission is to “mine the past for family stories, fading traditions and forgotten struggles.” Her powerful work spans nonfiction, poetry and historical fiction. Carole is known for her stunning biographies that celebrate countless heroes from Oprah Winfrey and Fannie Lou Hamer to John Coltrane and Wendell Scott. Her latest picture book, Unspeakable, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, explores the Tulsa Race Massacre and received six starred reviews. Learn more about Carole at http://www.cbweatherford.com.
Alicia D. Williams
Winner of multiple awards including the Newbery Honor for her debut young adult novel, Genesis Begins Again, Alicia D. Williams is an educator, teaching artist and storyteller whose work is full of purpose and heart. “We write stories that we’re afraid to tell,” she wrote in a post for The Brown Bookshelf. “We write stories that will change us, change others. We write stories that might be deemed uncomfortable. We write stories that require us to be brave.” Alicia’s latest is Jump at the Sun, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, a picture book biography of Zora Neale Hurston that has already earned four starred reviews. Learn more about Alicia at https://www.aliciadwilliams.com/.
Today, I continue my celebration of Black children’s book creators around the Triangle and state. I was planning to make this the final installment. But there are so many outstanding authors and illustrators that I’m creating a part III. Learn about the wonderful creators below, check out their work and stay tuned for one more salute.
Celebrated for her paintings, murals and sculptures, Dare Coulter is shining in a new field – children’s book illustration. She lent her talent to three books including the beautiful My NC from A to Z written by Michelle Lanier, director of NC Division of State Historic Sites. Dare’s mission? “My hope is to leave behind a body of work that accomplished my primary artistic objective, which is to give life to large and unapologetic depictions of black joy.” Learn more about Dare at www.darecoulter.com.
Author of inspiring picture book biographies like TickTock: Banneker’s Clock, named a best STEM book by the Children’s Book Council, and Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story, Shana Keller says she has a passion for history and storytelling. One of her favorite quotes is from Benjamin Banneker: “Every day is an adventure in learning.” Learn more about Shana at www.shanakeller.com.
Award-winning cartoonist, NAACP History Maker recipient and inspiration for the Hulu show Woke, Keith Knight’s art has been featured in publications around the globe including The Washington Post, Ebony and ESPN the Magazine. He is the illustrator of the acclaimed Jake the Fake middle-grade series written by Craig Robinson. Learn more about Keith at www.kchronicles.com
The director of the N.C. Division of State Historic Sites and the first executive director of the NC African American Heritage Commission (NCAAHC), Michelle Lanier is a folklorist, historian, educator and preservationist. Her debut children’s book, My N.C. from A to Z, illustrated by Dare Coulter (see above) showcases the amazing history of our state. “This colorful, sturdy board book celebrates pride of place, creates connections to North Carolina’s rich African American heritage, and teaches children about human equality and social justice,” reads the description on the NCAAHC website. Learn more about Michelle at www.ncdcr.gov/about/leadership/michelle-lanier.
An award-winning young adult author, Christopher Ledbetter says he’s drawn to stories of transformation. He hopes readers feel strength and hope in his books. “I continue to write because I see it as an avenue to inspire and uplift. And, because the stories refuse to stop springing into my mind and demanding to be written.” he says on his website. His imaginative novels include Drawn, Inked, The Sky Throne and his latest, The High Court. Learn more about Chris at www.cdledbetter.com.
Kwame Mbalia hit the scene with a splash. His freshman middle-grade novel, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, won a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award. And that’s not all. He’s a New York Times bestseller whose follow up, Tristan Strong Destroys the World, earned multiple starred reviews like his debut. Look for his upcoming novel, Last Gate of the Emperor, written with Prince Joel David Makonnen, in May. Learn more about Kwame at https://kwamembalia.com/.
A speculative fiction YA author, executive editor and creator of Georgia McBride Media Group, she has published dozens of titles by authors around the country. Jonathan Maberry, author of Flesh & Bone and Rot & Ruin, said this of Georgia’s own novel, Praefatio: “This is teen fantasy at its most entertaining, most heartbreaking, most compelling. Highly recommended.” Learn more about Georgia at www.georgiamcbride.com.
LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss
A former engineer, LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss fell under the spell of picture books through her son. Savoring stories with him called her to write books of her own. Kirkus called her debut title, I Love Me! illustrated by Beth Hughes: “A celebratory proclamation of ultra-inclusive self-love.” LaRonda dreams of illustrating her own books one day. Learn more about her at www.iscribeisketch.com.
Johnny Ray Moore
His poignant board book biography, The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr., has sold more than 100,000 copies. Johnny Ray Moore is an accomplished songwriter, greeting card writer, poet and children’s book author. His titles include Howie Has a Stomachache, A Leaf, Silence Please, Anthill for Sale, So Many Questions. Learn more about Johnny at www.johnnyraymoore.com.