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.
Happy Friday, Friends! It’s an honor to be Piedmont Laureate. Thank you for the warm welcome and support.
During my tenure, I look forward to offering panels, readings, programs and workshops that build bridges and focus on the brilliance, beauty and hope of children’s literature. There’s power in stories, reading those written by others and using your voice to tell your own. I want to honor both.
Part of my mission this year is to raise awareness of the outstanding authors and illustrators in the Triangle and around the state. In celebration of Black History Month, I’m starting by shining a light on Black children’s book creators who call North Carolina home. I’m inspired by their work and grateful for the ways they empower, captivate and affirm young readers.
There are so many that I’m saluting them in two posts. Part I is below. Look for Part II next week. Please check out their books and consider adding them to home, school and library collections.
Derrick D. Barnes
Newbery Honor Winner. New York Times bestselling author. Two-time Kirkus Prize Award Winner. Derrick has written more than a dozen books for young people that touch hearts along with snagging critical acclaim. His beloved titles include Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut and I Am Every Good Thing, both illustrated by Gordon James (see below) and The King of Kindergarten illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton (check out her work next Friday). Learn more about Derrick at www.derrickdbarnes.com.
Tameka Fryer Brown
With award-winning books including Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb, My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood illustrated by Shane W. Evans and Brown Baby Lullaby illustrated by A.G. Ford, Tameka has become known for her jazzy, poetic style and picture books packed with joy and meaning. She has more gems on the way including a bio on Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress and the first to run for a major party nomination for president. Learn more about Tameka at www.tamekafryerbrown.com.
She knocked it out of the park with her debut young adult novel, Legendborn, earning a spot on the New York Times bestseller list and winning the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent. Set on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, Tracy’s stand-out title has been called a reimagining of Arthurian legend and thrilling celebration of Black girl magic. Learn more about Tracy at www.tracydeonn.com.
Judy Allen Dodson
Historian. Archivist. Librarian. Advocate for Diverse Children’s Books. With her poignant debut novel, Escape From . . . Hurricane Katrina, you can add author to her stellar list of roles. In a powerful story of courage, determination, resilience and family bonds, Judy gives us twin heroes who weather a devastating storm outside and the emotional storm of a mom battling cancer. Learn more about this Junior Library Guild title and what’s on the way at www.judyallendodson.com.
Chrystal D. Giles
Her acclaimed middle-grade debut, Take Back the Block, explores gentrification, heritage, friendship and home. It is a Junior Library Guild selection and Kids’ Indie Next Pick. Chrystal’s poem, “Dimples,” is featured in the poetry anthology, Thanku: Poems of Gratitude. Learn more about her at www.chrystaldgiles.com.
Fracaswell “Cas” Hyman
Actor. Producer. Award-winning TV writer. Cas is full of storytelling magic. What a gift that he uses his talent to create middle-grade novels too. His first book, Mango Delight, earned a starred Booklist review and was named a Teachers’ Pick by Amazon. Lucky for us the charming sequel, Summer in the City, debuted last year. Learn more about Cas at www.fracaswellhyman.com.
Gordon C. James
He says this on his website: “When people see my art I want them to say, I know that person, I know that feeling.” Gordon has people around the country feeling seen and loved. His award-winning books include Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, one of the most decorated books at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards,I Am Every Good Thing and Let ‘Er Buck! written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Learn more about Gordon at www.gordoncjames.com.
Did you enjoy learning about these creators? Come back next Friday to discover more.
Congratulations! We made it, friends. We made it to December 2020.
This is the final PL blog post of the year from me. (I’ll get to the concentrated gratitude in another section, but know that a current of gratitude runs throughout this entire post.)
As a New Year hurtles toward us, it’s tempting to look back and consider what we ‘accomplished’ over this past year. December scrolling reveals an internet rife with Best of awards and Year in Review lists.
I guess that’s what our society does in December?
Are you planning to engage in a Year in Review of your own?
My spouse and I spend every New Year’s Eve reviewing our previous 12 months and then set goals and intentions for the coming year. (This process involves snacks and champagne and occurs in the window between when the kids go to bed at 8:30pm and we go to bed at 10:30. Yes, we are the life of the party.)
The goals we set for 2020 have been subverted, reconfigured or just crossed off the list, so I don’t think we’ll spend much time with those tattered aspirations. Instead, we plan to spend a portion of our two hour window celebrating what we achieved despite this year’s challenges and how we navigated the painful mismatch between our expectations and the reality.
Our New Year’s Eve review has been a tradition for over a decade. It is a celebration of our most recent journey around the sun, and I love it.
Do you have a similar tradition?
Will you reflect on your 2020 writing process?
What will you celebrate?
What will you celebrate with a raised glass, a cheer, a song, a cupcake, or a pat on the back?
Writer friends, my wish is that you find something to celebrate from your 2020 writing journey, no matter the painful mismatch between your expectations and the reality.
If you wrote one idea on a sticky note that fell behind your fridge, celebrate it.
If you wrote three books, a screenplay, your memoirs, and ten stage plays, celebrate those.
If you wrote 15 well-crafted emails to your community list-serv/children’s teachers/doctors/family, then hurrah, celebrate.
If you composed a to-do list that you never checked off, wrote GOOD MORNING SUNSHINE in lipstick on your bathroom mirror, or spelled out WASH ME through the dirt on your car window, that’s celebration worthy.
Maybe you dashed off a few private journal entries that no one ever saw.
Maybe you published 52 blog posts.
Maybe you discovered you are a poet not a novelist and now you write verse.
Maybe you excelled in the chat box on Zoom.
Maybe you spent most (or all) of 2020 just…thinking. Thinking about writing. Thinking about words. Thinking about life.
Maybe you spent most (or all) of 2020 just…feeling. A slew of feelings to carry and process and vent and sit with and burn through.
Maybe you spent most (or all) of 2020 just…existing. Growing, stretching, shrinking, breathing, sleeping, moving, dreaming, working, cleaning, watching, consuming. Maybe you tried on a lot of verbs, and none of them were ‘writing.’
That’s great. Good for you. Celebrate.
Whatever you did or did not do this year, let us celebrate the fact that we are here together.
Let us also acknowledge that the writing process is more than putting words on the paper.
Writing is a spectrum loop of gathering, processing, researching, considering, reading, resting, thinking, talking, revising, and so on. ‘Writing’ contains a multitude of verbs compressed.
When I’m in a snit, when I’m feeling unkind to myself, when I’m feeling competitive or lost, I zero in on quantity — How many pages am I piling up? What’s my word count? How many pieces have I actually published/produced/made public? I zoom in tight on the quantity of the attention I’m getting — How many shares, likes, accolades, and paid gigs have I gotten and is that more or less than what I should be getting and more or less than what other people are getting?
Yes, occasionally I find myself constrained by a very narrow and exacting definition of what it means to write and be a writer, but I’m not going there this year.
I am NOT going there this New Year’s Eve because I know (and you know too) that writing is more global, more flexible, and all-encompassing than that. Writing is about quality too. Putting the words on the paper is only one element. Publishing is only one element. Sometimes we cannot ‘do’ all the writing. Sometimes we can attempt only a few of the verbs under the writing umbrella. That’s to be expected, and that’s ok.
There are so many of us writers, each with a unique perspective, voice, and file drawer of experiences. We may not share those perspectives, voices, and experiences, but we did share this year. We lived through this year as writers, and today I celebrate us. Cheers!
And most of all, most of all, most of all, let us celebrate the future.
Let us celebrate the writing that WE. WILL. DO.
Tonight, I raise my virtual glass to the writing that the future holds for us.
We are walking toward it now.
See, see, see! In the distance!
Stories/poems/plays/essays are patiently waiting for us to arrive, and take their hands, and bring them home.
PART TWO: Whether you are or aren’t
Looking for inspiration for when you’re not writing and for when you are writing?
Here’s a harrowing and inspiring piece by playwright Clare Barron: “Not Writing” by Clare Barronon the Playwrights Horizon website. It contains mature language and content, so beware, but if you are NOT writing, then maybe give it a read.
“….I pray that we lift up the voices that came before us. That we read our old plays and rediscover what’s there. That we allow for people to emerge at all ages. We allow for people to begin at all ages. To quit, and return again. To take breaks. And to come back to us. And we will welcome them with open arms.” ~ Clare Barron
If you ARE writing plays, then I highly recommend this piece by Ellen Lewis: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Playby Ellen Lewis on the Howlround website. I love it, and it invigorated my writing, and I wish I had written it!
“Inspired by Wallace Steven’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” I began thinking about the various ways I look at a play I’m writing, as I’m writing it. Every lens reveals something different.” ~ Ellen Lewis
PART THREE: Gratitude
Thank you for connecting and for your support and encouragement.
Thank you for reading and listening.
Thank you for helping us to build a community during a very isolating and isolated year.
Thank you for celebrating writing. Thank you for the writing you have done and the writing you will do.
Thanks to the City of Raleigh Arts Commission, the Durham Arts Council, Orange County Arts Commission and United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County for sponsoring the Piedmont Laureate program, and for supporting me during this strange year.
PART FOUR: North Carolina magic
This year, I had the honor of conversing with dozens of amazing local writers, administrators and creatives, as well as co-producing short original audio fiction written by eleven NC playwrights. You’ll see some of that goodness below. I look forward to crossing paths with and showcasing more North Carolina artists and writers in the future — there are so many, and we are so lucky to live in this place of abundant creativity.
Please click on the links below to soak up amazing North Carolina wisdom and work.