Coming Attractions

Posted August 13th, 2014

I love it when children’s books do well in the world. I was excited to join Katherine Paterson at the film premier of Bridge to Terabithia, a couple of years ago, and can’t wait for The Great Gilly Hopkins to hit the big screen. I’m all a-tingle just thinking about the wide release of Lois Lowry’s, The Giver.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Fault In Our Stars, and the growing number of other Hollywood treatments based on children’s and young adult books.  But—there is a but.

Where, oh where are the films based on children’s and YA titles written by authors of color? Why is no one optioning some of the worthy titles by these authors?

Books into Movies

My question is as much to black filmmakers and black movers and shakers (and Latino, and Asian, and—well you get my drift) as it is to anyone else. There may not be as many moneyed POC in Hollywood as there are whites, but there are certainly a number of heavy hitters I could name. Why aren’t they stepping up to the proverbial plate? I know they have production companies of their own, so why aren’t they making moves to acquire the rights to works by Walter Dean Myers, or Joseph Bruchac, or Angela Johnson, or Grace Lin, or Sharon Draper, or Christopher Paul Curtis, or Matt de la Pena, or Jacqueline Woodson, or—well, we’ve got a decent list of our own. (We may be small, but we are mighty!) And mind you, I’m talking about award-winners, and bestsellers, so the book-to-film audience is there, in case anyone asks. I just wish our affluent counterparts in the film industry would rise up to the dollars and sense to be made by developing our books for the big, or small, screen.

Oprah Winfrey, Will & Jada Smith, Spike Lee, are you listening? BET, what about it? Tyler Perry, what do you think?

What’s it going to take, huh? Look, I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. (Is anything important ever?)  I’m just saying it’s going to be worth it.

Nine Not-to-Miss Novels

Posted October 13th, 2011

National Book Awards readingComing up with the title for this blog was a breeze. As a poet, I’m partial to alliteration. However, I fell in love with a good deal more than nine books this summer, so I’ve decided to list all of my faves and let someone else worry about the final tally.

First, a couple of caveats: I don’t generally talk about specific books on this blog because that’s not what it’s for. I’m making this lone exception because, as a judge for this year’s National Book Award, friends have been asking me what wonderful titles I found along the way. So, this once, I’ll give you my two-cents worth of commentary on some of the latest, and what I, personally, consider the greatest YA titles entering the marketplace this year. Again, this is a one-time thing, so please don’t send me any books to review, because I won’t. That’s not my gig. You’ll also notice, I did not include publisher, price, or grade-level. Again, not my gig.

Second, the titles on this list are not the only good books published in 2011. There are many more, I’m happy to report, but you won’t find all of them here. These, in addition to the five finalists, are simply my own, top-tier favorites.

I love me some novels-in-verse, don’t you know. Besides Inside Out and Back Again, I found three titles to add to my collection. Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle gets my vote. An evocative story of adventure on a pirate ship and an island along the Caribbean Sea, this is a gem of a book with a lyrical lure. Eddie’s War by Carol Fisher Saller shows us the impact of WWII on a farm boy in the Heartland. True and tender. Then there’s Allan Wolf, who does not disappoint. This time around, his tome is The Watch that Ends the Night, a novel about the Titanic. Written in the voices of those intimately connected with the story—including the iceberg! (I love that)—Wolf steers the story place it’s never gone before. Kudos, Allan!

I’ve never been one for sci-fi novels, but one novel so catalogued got my attention. Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky was fascinating, and thought provoking. It answers the question “What if online communication completely replaced face-to-face human interaction?” The answer will give readers a lot to ponder, and they’ll enjoy the journey along the way.

Sara Zarr is up to nothing but good once again. How to Save a Life, a novel about a baby in need of a parent, and a parent in need of a mother, is a big story with an even bigger heart. When you’re done, you’ll want to give this book a hug.

Speaking of babies, do pick up Pregnant Pause by Han Nolan. I guarantee you’ve never met a character quite like Eleanor Crowe, nor thought of placing a pregnant teen in a so-called fat camp. Yes, there is some hilarity, but that’s not the half of it. What can a pregnant teen learn about herself in this environment? Read to find out.

I love books about tough-talking girls, and I could not put down The File on Angelyn Stark by Catherine Atkins. This smart, and smart-mouthed, teen is rough around the edges, and with good reason. But she fights to claim the good in herself, and discovers the courage to set her life on a healthy path. She’ll make you a believer.

Bird in a Box, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, is a break-out title about the impact boxing legend Joe Louis had on Depression-era America, in general, and on the African American community, in particular. The voices are authentic, and often joyful, and the historical detail brings the period to life. An uplifting story about hope and the human spirit, this would make a great classroom read. The author’s note and back matter expand nicely on the historical detail. Fabulous job, Andrea!

Another novel of note for its historical theme is Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Supetys. This novel explores a Holocaust story few have heard before. This book reveals the horrors suffered by citizens of the Baltic States, under the heels of both Hitler and Stalin. A powerful story of survival, compassion, and amazing grace. Another title that cries out for the classroom.

Dancing Home by Alma Flor Ada is a small, but important contribution to the national dialogue on immigration. This gently written story takes readers inside the duality of being a first-generation American, with a foot in two cultures. The reader is challenged to examine what it means to be an American.

As most of you know, I am not a fan of profanity in books for young readers, but sometimes it’s necessary to make an exception. Compulsion, by Heidi Ayarbe is one. In this novel about a boy wrestling with OCD, the rough language is a powerful expression of the severe frustration this character experience every day of his life. He struggles, and often fails, to hide or control his symptoms, often teetering on the edge of despair. But he never gives up on himself, and neither will the reader. This is a great book for engendering empathy for those around us who battle their own disorders, whether they are physical, psychological, or economic. This book is one worth checking out.

Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams stole my heart, broke it, and then pieced it back together. This is a beautiful book about hope, with a character who emerges in layers. Loved, loved, loved this book!

There’s another Lynch on my list. The wonderful Chris Lynch rocked it out with Angry You Man. In this story about, quite literally, being our brother’s keeper, we are reminded to check the timber in our own eyes before judging the mote in someone else’s. That will make little sense until you read the book, and I suggest you do. And, oh yeah, there’s a bit of eco-terrorism thrown in, so I’d call this title rather timely. Lynch is a master of the powerful voice, so you’ll be hooked in no time.

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick. Need I say more? A light-filled combination of visual and literal storytelling, as only Selznick can produce. This tale is richly imagined, and gives a glimpse of the World’s Fair in NYC, then brings the story forward. This book is a treat. Do yourself a favor and get this one.


Hey 13! by Gary Soto

Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dragon Castle by Joseph Bruchac

Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon

Lie by Caroline Bock

Bloody Times by James Swanson (non-fiction)

A Girl Named Faithful by Richard Bernstein

Joseph’s Grace by Sheila Moses

The Summer of Hammers and Angels by Shannon Wiersbitzky

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy


Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson (absolutely stunning!)

Never Forgotten by Patricia McKissack

We Are America by Walter Dean Myers

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright

Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck

The Flint Heart by Katherine and John Paterson

Eliza’s Freedom Road by Jerdine Nolen

St. Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods

So, there you have it! I’m sure I left off some important titles, but after reading 279 books in one summer, I’m doing good to be able to narrow the list at all! So forgive me. I hope this list gives you a good starting-off point. That’s the most I can hope for.

Celebrity Children’s Authors and the Publishers Who Love Them, Part 2

Posted August 16th, 2010

I must confess, I’m particularly annoyed by African American celebrities who jump into the children’s book fray because “there are no books for our children,” to which I respond, Huh? Spike Lee made such a claim in a year when I, alone, had five books published. So, I take it he is not only unaware of my contributions to the field over the last 30-plus years, but has also missed out on the substantial catalog of books by Angela Johnson, Pat and Fred McKissack, the Pinkney clan (Andrea, Gloria, Sandra), Tonya Bolden, Sharon Flake, Jerdine Nolen, Carole Boston Weatherford, Wade and Cheryl Hudson, Julius Lester, Walter Dean Myers, Rita Williams-Garcia, Eloise Greenfield, Virginia Hamilton, and so on, and so on. Then there are the host of award-winning illustrators who have brought black books to life: Tom Feelings, Kadir Nelson, George Ford, Eric Velasquez, R. Gregory Christie, Bryan Collier, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Javaka Steptoe, E.B. Lewis, Brian Pinkney, Myles C. Pinkney, and Caldecott winner Jerry Pinkney, and so on, and so on.

To be sure, there is room in the market for many more authors and illustrators of color. And one can certainly harp on the fact that too few black books make the featured wall in the children’s section of, say, Barnes and Noble—which is a rant for another day. But to say that there are no books featuring African American children means that these celebrities have failed to do their homework! Their loudly spoken assertions constitute a slap in the face for those of us African American authors and illustrators who have long toiled in the field. Shame on them!