Archive for the ‘The Brown Bookshelf’ Category

It’s a Reading and Writing Affair

December 9, 2008

Established in 2000, RAWSistaz (Reading and Writing Sistaz) Literary Group is committed to the support and promotion of books by, for and about African-Americans. Every year, RAWSistaz presents an annual gathering for the members of their online group in various cities.  In addition to being a reunion for the group’s members, The RAWSistaz Affair spotlights authors and focuses on various topics as it relates to literature and increasing the appreciation of the written word.  This year, the RAW Affair will be held online.  As a matter of fact, it is taking place this week beginning December 8 – 13, 2008.

Although primarily a promoter of adult literature of all genres, RAWSistaz is a Brown Bookshelf partner. They’ve wholeheartedly supported our mission to increase exposure of children’s books written and illustrated by African Americans to parents, librarians, teachers and other gatekeepers in a young reader’s life.  On Wednesday, December 10, 2008, visit the RAW event to talk to the members of The Brown Bookshelf as we discuss the best ways to get young readers excited about books, overcoming the required reading slump, and supporting literary balance as the influx of YA street literature increases.  Join Paula, Varian, Don, Kelly, and Carla throughout the day on December 10th in a great discussion about children’s literature.  To visit our panel, or any other, click on the panel topic and submit a comment or question.


The Brown Bookshelf’s Summer Chat Series

June 16, 2008

This summer, the Brown Bookshelf will be hosting three chats on our MySpace forum looking at various aspects of children’s literature.

This week we will examine the state of children’s literature with literary agent Jennifer Carlson.

Jen will answer questions posted on Wednesday, June 18, 2008 from 10AM – 11AM.  Stop by and inquire about children’s literature, present and future.

Get Ya Hands Off of Your Imagination

February 14, 2008

The 70s.  1970 – 1979.  The decade of my birth. The rise of disco.  The birth of hip hop.  Some of my favorite television shows debuted during  this decade.  The JeffersonsThree’s CompanyDiff’rent StrokesGood TimesWhat’s Happening.

The 70s.  The decade of bell bottoms, dashikis, mini skirts, mules, jumpsuits, and platforms.  We were styling and profiling.


The 70s saw the birth of Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Brave.

Good times, indeed.

Saturday morning cartoons were what we looked forward to all week long.  To lie on the floor in front of the TV that didn’t have a remote control with our bowl of cereal as we watched Fat Albert, The Jackson 5 and Schoolhouse Rock.  Conjunction junction what’s your function!

And the radio overflowed with songs that we love to now hear on the radio and yell out, “That’s my song!”  The Jackson 5’s “ABC.”  Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”  Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.”  This was the era of great music by Roberta Flack, Al Green, The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, The O’Jays, The Temptations, Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles, The Supremes, Chaka Khan and Rufus.  “Sweet Thing.”

Sweet Thang is the title of the debut novel written by Allison Whittenberg.  Set in 1975, Charmaine Upshaw is a teenager battling the unfairness of life.  She’s being overlooked by a cutie at school because she’s not light skinned and it’s hard to feel pretty when Lena Horne is the model of beauty.  At home, her family is still dealing with the death of her father’s sister, her favorite aunt Karyn.  Not to mention, Aunt Karyn’s son Tracey John now lives with them which means more adjustment including Charmaine sharing a bedroom with her brother Leo.  Plus Tracey John and Charmaine continually butt heads because Charmaine is fed up with the royal treatment that Tracey John gets from everyone.  Charmaine is tired of life not being fair so she faces her options – either deal with it or work to change how she responds to what happens in her life.

Sweet Thang hums with the sights and sounds of life in Philly in 1975.  When I read the line where Mrs. Upshaw tells her daughter, “Get your hands off of your imagination,” I cracked up because I hadn’t heard that in years since it was last said to me by my mother.  This is a good read that is a stroll down memory lane with some of the references – Lena Horne, Vietnam War — but it has a timeless quality to it that young adult readers will enjoy it as well. 

I came across Sweet Thang in December when I was browsing the shelves for a book to read on my flight home for Christmas.  At the time, I was familiar with Allison’s name thanks to the Brown Bookshelf.  Once Allison was chosen to be a part of the 28 Days Later spotlight, I was eager to research more about her in preparation for her interview.  It was cool to see that she also admires poet Gwendolyn Brooks who I met my freshman year of college. That was a heady experience for me to sit across a table from Ms. Brooks and actually eat a meal while discussing her poetry.  Like me, Gwendolyn capitalizes the B in Black when referring to Black people.

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We 
Left school. We 

Lurk late. We 
Strike straight. We 

Sing sin. We 
Thin gin. We 

Jazz June. We 
Die soon.


Like Ms. Brooks, Allison is also a poet and a playwright.  Her next book Life is Fine comes out March 11, 2008.  And then next year, she will treat us to a return to the 70s with the companion piece to Sweet Thang called Hollywood and Maine.

28 Days Later Off to a Great Start

February 5, 2008

The Brown Bookshelf has had a great start to 28 Days Later!  In the first five days of our launch, we have featured interviews with Christopher Paul Curtis, Michelle Meadows, Dana Davidson, Rita Williams-Garcia, G. Neri, and Sean Qualls.

In January, I researched and read everything I could get my hands on about Rita Williams-Garcia.  I learned a lot about her and her writing career as I prepare questions to ask her.  Last week, I received her responses and I loved them.  Her personality shines through and you don’t just learn about her journey, but she lets us know about one of her peers, Jacqueline Woodson. 

She shares with us what music helped her write her books as well as how a box of Jiffy cornbread inspired a short story called “Clay.”

As I researched, I realized that her first novel Blue Tights was published 20 years ago when I was in the 7th or 8th grade depending on date of publication.  But to show just how much perseverance matters, she first started writing Blue Tights in 1980 when I was a kindergartener.

A number of authors and lit groups have aligned themselves with our mission and are championing our cause including author Cynthia Leitich Smith who featured all 5 of us in an interview last week.  Check it out!

I respect all of my African American children’s literature peers and trailblazers, but that respect has deepened thanks to The Brown Bookshelf.

It’s 2008 & We’re Still Making Black History!

February 1, 2008

Happy Black History Month! 

Thanks to the efforts of Carter G. Woodson, what started as Black History Week became Black History Month in 1976.  

If you’ve read Freshman Focus or know someone who has, then you know that each chapter begins with a Black history fact.  Today’s blog contains a sample of key events that happened throughout history on February 1. Visit this site for a more detailed listing of February 1st Black History Moments.

February 1

1810 – The first insurance company managed by African Americans, the American Insurance Company of Philadelphia, is established.

1902 – Langston Hughes is born in Joplin, Missouri.  He will be known as one of the most prolific American poets of the 20th century and a leading voice of the Harlem Renaissance.   In addition to his poetry, Hughes will achieve success as an anthologist and juvenile author, write plays and librettos, found theater groups, and be a widely read columnist and humorist.  Among his honors will be the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1960.


1938 – Sherman Hemsley is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He will become an actor well known for his roles in the TV shows All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Amen.

1957 – P.H. Young becomes the first African American pilot, flying on a United States scheduled passenger airline.

1960 – Four African American college students from North Carolina A&T College in Greensboro, North Carolina sit at a “whites-only” Woolworth’s lunch counter and refuse to leave when denied service, beginning a sit-in protest.


1965 – Ruby Dee becomes the first African American thespian to play a major role at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut.

1978 – The first stamp of the United States Postal Service’s Black Heritage USA series honors Harriet Tubman, famed abolitionist and “conductor” on the Underground Railroad.

2008 – The Brown Bookshelf launches 28 Days Later, its first initiative celebrating authors and illustrators of African American children’s literature.


To say that we are jazzed about 28 Days Later is putting it mildly.  Individually and as a team, we’ve been working hard over the past month to prepare for today.  I’m sure our friends and family are tired of hearing the words:  Brown Bookshelf, interview, review, Paula, Varian, Don, Kelly, Carla, and WordPress.  LOL!  But this is fun for us as well as hard work.  In the past month, I’ve researched, read about, read books by Rita Williams-Garcia (2.4.08), M. Sindy Felin (2.9.08), Allison Whittenberg (2.14.08), Karen English (2.21.08), Coe Booth (2.22.08), and Valerie Wilson Wesley (2.27.08) all in preparation for February 1 – 29th.  We’ve joined the Myspace Revolution and got busy friending fellow authors, libraries, librarians, and those with a passion for children’s literature.  It’s game time not just for the Patriots and the Giants, but for the five of us at The Brown Bookshelf!