School Days

School is back in session. As kids return to classrooms, children’s book creators are getting ready for author and illustrator visits. Sharing with young readers is an honor and a joy. The pandemic brought countless challenges, but also fresh ways to connect. Authors and illustrators do readings, share their publishing journeys, give writing workshops and lead discussions about themes in their books through platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. They use tools like jamboard, polls and the chat to make sessions interactive and keep students engaged.

In Publishers Weekly’s insightful article, The Future of School Author Visits, award-winning North Carolina author Alan Gratz shared that he loves the energy of in-person visits but found ways to bring some elements of live presentations to the online space: “Some of his techniques translated seamlessly to Zoom—an in-person show of hands became an online poll. Some kids were more willing to participate in this more anonymous format.”

Whether virtual or in-person following Covid safety protocols, author visits are here to stay. They’re a chance for young people to not just explore books in different ways, but to meet the people who create them – and realize they can tell their stories too.

Looking for NC authors and illustrators to invite for visits?

Here are some resources:

Writers and Illustrators of North Carolina

SCBWI Carolinas

United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County

Durham Arts Council

Arts and Sciences Council

Children’s Literature Article to Check Out:

In Their Own Words: What Christine Day and Andrea L. Rogers Want You to Know By Kara Stewart

School Library Journal will be featuring Kara Stewart’s book reviews and interviews with Native creators in their “In Their Own Words” series. Stewart (Sappony) is a reading specialist for Orange County Schools, Native educational equity consultant and 2014 Lee & Low Books New Voices Honor Award winner. She was the 2020 United Tribes of North Carolina Indian Educator of the Year and has been a literacy coach and teacher for more than two decades.

New Releases from Triangle Creators:

Spring and summer brought some wonderful new titles from Triangle children’s book creators. Here are a few stand-outs to consider adding to your collection.

The Boy & the Sea by Camille Andros, illustrated by Amy June Bates

“The text has universal themes of longing for peace and answers to life’s questions. . .Watercolor seascapes are beautiful, with shells, crabs, and reflections in wet sand. A warm-hearted story that many will find solace in.” ― School Library Journal

Escape from Hurricane Katrina by Judy Allen Dodson

Junior Library Guild selection

“Hurricane Katrina was one of the most destructive storms in American history. In this fictional tale, daring twins Jo Jo and Sophie battle the raging floodwaters in a fight for their lives.” ― From the publisher

How to Build a Story . . . Or, The Big What If If by Frances O’Roark Dowell

“. . . Both encouraging and realistic (“Writing is like a sport: it takes practice to get good”), [Dowell] confines standard writing advice (“show don’t tell,” etc.) to an appendix and instead confronts the real monster that devours many an aspiring writer: quitting before the end. Fresh, interesting, and unique . . . ” ― Kirkus

Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood by Kwame Mbalia

New York Times Bestseller

 “Luminous . . . Filtering perennial subjects such as friendships, gender identity, and family through the lenses of magic, science, space travel, superheroes, and more, this is an exuberant celebration of carefree Black experiences; while it will especially resonate with Black readers, any reader will appreciate how this genre-bending collection expands the horizons of what joy for Black boys can be.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Fall Events:

Want to pick up tips about children’s book writing and make literary connections? Two conferences are coming this fall.

Creating Together: SCBWI Carolinas 2021 Fall Conference (September 24-26)

I’m on the Creating Success with Empowering Characters panel on Sunday, September 26. The panel is moderated by children’s book author Judy Allen Dodson, who is head of special collections for the State Archives of NC, and includes award-winning Charlotte children’s book creators Alicia D. Williams and Gordon C. James. 

NC Writers Network Fall Conference (November 19-21)

I’m leading a So You Want to Write a Children’s Book workshop. Stay tuned for registration information and more details.

Everybody Books

The first picture book I saw with a black child on the cover was Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. I didn’t see it as a kid during library storytime or in a classroom at school. It came across my desk at work. I was a writer in my 20s.

I looked at the sweet-faced girl on the cover with ballies and barrettes and smiled as I thought about my nieces, my cousins and myself at that age. Then, I opened the book and was blown away by the power of the story. A child’s quest to discover what people in her neighborhood consider beautiful turns into a journey of self-empowerment. The girl transforms her surroundings and the beauty inside her heart radiates for all to see.

As soon as I finished reading Something Beautiful, I saw picture books in a new way. They were moving, evocative, full of heart. They could change someone’s life by showing them the power they hold inside. As a Black woman reading a picture book about a Black girl for the first time, I knew I had add my voice.

A picture book can take children who are unsung in literature and center their stories so they’re heard and seen.  Something Beautiful is my example of a perfect picture book. It’s lyrical, begs to be read again and again, has layers of meaning, outstanding illustrations and lingers in your mind long after you’ve closed the book. Picture books are important because they speak to something deep inside. They move, affirm, inspire and heal. They give us back to ourselves.

Traditionally, the age range advertised for picture books is 4-8. But sticking to that guideline means missing out on books that have lots to offer everyone. That’s why I love the term “everybody books.” That’s truly what picture books are to me.

Want to learn about important people and events that are too often overlooked? Check out nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. You’ll be amazed at the engaging stories and depth of research. Want to explore friend and family relationships, tackle tough subjects with children or show blooming understanding between generations? Got you there too. Want to laugh, cry, feel your heart being warmed or be chilled to the bone? Covered.

The next time, you’re looking for a good book to share with kids of any age or to read yourself, give yourself a treat and pick up a picture book.

Here’s the list of picture book nominees for the 2021 North Carolina Children’s Book Award to get you started: http://nccba.blogspot.com/2020/07/2021-picture-book-and-junior-book.html. I’m honored that my book, Going Down Home with Daddy, is included.

Slide Into Reading Fun

Beware the summer slide. That’s a warning about the decline in reading skills that kids can experience when they’re out of school for the summer. How do we cure it? Books. Hooray for reading!

But telling a kid to pick up a book because they need it is much different than inviting them to have a blast in a story of their choosing. What if we flipped the script? Instead of being a warning, what if the summer slide was a metaphor for a whoosh into adventure, drama, history and magic? What if instead of using books as medicine, we offered them as opportunities for kids to fly?

June has been full of celebrations: LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, Juneteenth, Black Music Month, Father’s Day. There are amazing book lists that explore these themes and many others. Here are a few to help kick off the summer slide into reading fun:

Skip the Screen

These titles were recommended by NC history museums. Books by NC authors including Tameka Fryer Brown, Michelle Lanier, Frances O’Roark Dowell, Carole Boston Weatherford, Kwame Mbalia and me are listed.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Summer Reading 2021

Get a We Love Reading yard sign and earn a free book by reading this summer. There are book lists, details about local story walks and much more.

Durham County Library Summer of Learning

Free books, free meals and the chance to win a tablet. Win-win-win. Check it out.

Wake County Public Library – Tails and Tales

Log your reading and collect points. Weekly drawings.

15 Books for Pride Month – Black Children’s Books & Authors

MrsChavezReads – Books for Dads!

Juneteenth Children’s Books

19 Books for African American Music Appreciation Month

13 Summer Reading Programs Where Kids Can Earn Free Books, Gift Cards & More

Always dreamed of creating a children’s book of your own? Register for my free Wake County Public Library workshop, So You Want to Write a Children’s Book. It will be held virtually on July 6 from 6:30-8 p.m. and is capped at 25 attendees. Learn more here.

You Matter

This post is for the kids. The ones who feel unseen and unheard. The ones who feel less than compared to others. The ones who worry that a better day will never come.

I’m here to tell you that your voice, your smile, your beauty, your brilliance fill this world with hope and love. Hold your head high, young heroes. Now strut. That’s right. Do you. For real. Bump what people think. Put some swag into your walk. Put some stank into your steps. You just made them look. Guess what they saw? A leader. A trailblazer. A difference maker. That’s what you are. Check you out. Proud, brave and bold.

I went to a violin vigil recently put on by the United Strings of Color. Between the stirring violin performances, young poets stood up and gave voice to their feelings. As they shared their pieces about the pain of colorism, the hurt of racism, the heartbreak of kids their age being murdered, something important was born. Each poet became a beacon, radiating courage, commitment and capacity to bring change.

You’re a light too. What’s your story? Put your heart on the page. Share your struggle and your song. Give us the weary blues and the sweet sunshine. Show us who you are.

Not sure how to start? Look in the mirror and say that you believe in yourself. You know what? Say it and then shout it. Really mean it. Then, sit down and get to work. Write your thoughts in a notebook. Type them on your computer or phone. Record a rap breaking down how you feel.

Do you, my friends. That’s what the world needs. Amazing, incredible, special you.

Here are some places to share your voice:

SKIPPING STONES: AN INTERNATIONAL MULTICULTURAL MAGAZINE

http://www.skippingstones.org/submissions.htm 

Skipping Stones accepts essays, stories, letters to the editor, riddles and proverbs, etc. Submissions should be typed or neatly handwritten and limited to 750 words and poems to 30 lines. They also accept illustrations, drawings, photos or paintings. Guidelines say to include your name, age and address along with your submission.

Send submission to:

Managing Editor

Skipping Stones

P.O. Box 3939

Eugene, OR 97403

email: editor@SkippingStones.org

GIRLS’ LIFE
http://www.girlslife.com/page/Writers-Guidelines.aspx


The Girls’ Life Web site, http://www.girlslife.com, accepts submissions of articles, poetry and short fiction from writers under the age of 18.

Send submissions to:

Website Editor
Girls’ Life magazine
4529 Harford Rd
Baltimore, MD 21214
email: youwroteit@girlslife.com

STONE SOUP
http://www.stonesoup.com/stone-soup-contributor-guideline/

”Stone Soup welcomes submissions by young people through age 13. Include your name, age, home address, phone number, and e-mail address if you have one. Please do not include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Send copies of your work, not originals. If we need the original, we will request it. You do not need to include a photo of yourself.”

Send submissions to: 

Stone Soup 
Submissions Dept. 
P.O. Box 83 
Santa Cruz, CA 95063 

SCHOLASTIC ART & WRITING AWARDS

http://www.artandwriting.org/

The contest is open to students in grades 7-12. Works are judged on originality, technical skill and voice. Categories include science fiction/fantasy, journalism, personal essay/memoir, painting and photography.

Here’s how to enter: https://www.artandwriting.org/awards

7 Ways to Celebrate Children’s Book Week

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 winner of the fifth annual Anna Dewdney Read Together Award is award-winning Charlotte author Tameka Fryer Brown and illustrator A.G. Ford. Register to attend the Friday, May 7 Zoom readaloud by Brown and Ford.

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.

Join John Claude Bemis (a past Piedmont Laureate), Donna Washington, Clay Carmichael, Jacqueline Ogburn and me at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 3 for a talk about writing and illustrating for kids. Learn more and sign up here. On Thursday, May 6, I’m in conversation with three more amazing creators, Carole Boston Weatherford, Fracaswell Hyman and Vanessa Brantley Newton. Details and registration here.

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.

Donate children’s books to inspiring organizations like Saddle Up and Read and Book Harvest.

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National Poetry Month Salute

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.

Johnny Ray Moore’s journey to being a writer began in third grade. He knew he had a gift that should be shared. He’s been creating ever since. Writing poetry for the very young through board books and easy readers is Johnny’s specialty. His beloved board book, The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Worthy Kids/Hachette), sold more than 100,000 copies. Recently, Johnny, a former student of the Institute for Children’s Literature, was celebrated as a member of their Winner’s Circle. You can see him share his touching poetry and stories in the global “Mirror Mirror on the wall, how could we hear them all” project. Visit Johnny 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.

Upcoming Events:

Violin Vigils

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.

May 3rd at 7pm, 5 NC Creators Talk Writing and Illustrating for Kids. Hosted by Flyleaf Books.

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.