Day 10: Jackie Wellington

This year, The Brown Bookshelf would like to introduce a new profile — the “Up and Comer.” In this space, we recognize a children’s book creator “who has made a significant contribution to the world of children books before publication.” We’re delighted to welcome educator, activist, and author Jackie Wellington as our first Up-and-Comer honoree, and as you’ll see below, significant doesn’t even begin to describe it.

How did your teaching lead to your writing of fiction?

I am a writer who was raised in a Jamaican family. If you know anything about the culture, you’d know education is important and writing is not a “worshipped” profession. Doctors, Lawyers, teachers are notable aspirations for a child growing up on a small Caribbean island. Chef, writer, and artist, not so much. So I did what was expected. I graduated high school, joined the Army, and attended college.

For years I taught…

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Summer School 2014: Get it Write this Summer

I am taking this challenge. What are you doing this summer to hone your writing craft?

Nerdy Chicks Write

badgeWelcome to Summer School 2014: Building Character

Are you looking for a way to keep writing through the dog days of summer?

Do you want to be inspired by some of the best writers in children’s literature?

Join a fun and fabulous community of  people who are as passionate about kidlit as you are!

Enroll in Summer School now! (It’s free!)

What is Summer School?

Summer school is defined as a school or a program that provides lessons during summer vacation. Studies have shown that participation in summer school has substantial beneficial effects on its participants. 

kami and sKidlit Summer School is a four week writer’s workshop that will run from July 21 through August 15. Because we (Kami and Sudipta) both enjoy teaching writing classes, we wanted to find a way to offer craft-based writing advice on a particular topic each summer. Our 2014 course is going to focus on writing great characters.

Daily blog posts…

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untitled (169)A TRIBUTE TO MAYA ANGELOU by Jackie Wellington

Maya, you no longer have to be a caged bird,
confined in a tiny space,
looking out from behind those bars.

Now, your spirit is set free,
You can glide towards the moon,
sail upon the clouds,
and settle in your new home – Heaven.

I became a “Phenomenal Woman”
because you said that’s who I am.
And I believed you.

I shook hands with a “Freedom Fighter”
because you said that’s what I should do.
So I listened.

I stopped “Passing Time,”
stopped existing,
and started living.
(That was your advice to me.)

You told me, there were “Senses of Insecurity.”
“Don’t buy in to the stereotype,” you said when you recited this poem.
At that time, I lack “Communication I, Communication II,” and “Artful Pose.”

Now look at me, standing here in “Remembrance.”
Reminiscing on the life of an author, motivator, poet, actress, human rights activist, an abolitionist of mental slavery, and a wonderful human being.

You have left your imprint on the future of our nation.
The little boys and girls of all races, cultures, and ethnicities.
You will join your brothers – Martin, Marcus, Malcolm, and Mandela.
And your sisters – Rosa, Harriett, Sojourner and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Thanks for impacting my life.
Thanks for motivating me to be something bigger and better.
And thanks for being you.
Rest In Peace, Maya Angelou.

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Self-Editing Tips: Beginning

I finished a picture book draft in a week. Now I am off to self edit. Here are some tips from Nancy I. Sanders. Thanks for sharing, Nancy 😀


Today and in upcoming posts, we’re going to be talking about practical steps we can take to edit our nonfiction picture book manuscripts.

We’ll be using my Nonfiction Picture Book Self-Editing Checklist. You can find it on the site of my writing buddies, Writing According to Humphrey and Friends. Just scroll down until you find the link to click on, then download the free pdf file to print out and use.

Let’s start at the top by talking about CONTENT.

Does your beginning introduce your main character?

The first page of most published picture books has three key ingredients. It introduces the main character, establishes the setting, and establishes or hints at the main story problem. As you’re working on the first word, the first sentence, the first paragraph, or the first couple of paragraphs in your manuscript that start your picture book’s beginning, you want to…

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As you are aware by now, I am fascinated by nonfiction picture books. From science driven ones (Dianna Aston)untitled (135) to biographical focused ones (Barb Rosenstock, Audrey Vernick, Emily Arnold McCully, et. al.) to historical fiction (Kelly Lyon Starling, Judith St. George, Don Tate, Eve Bunting, et. al.). The text and illustration are so captivating that I cannot stop turning the pages. untitled (136)

The days of the “boring textbooks’ format” in nonfiction is fading away like rotary phones and landlines. I, for one, is ecstatic about this. So I am constantly keeping up with the buzz on the changes in publishing and how nonfiction is affected. I came across this article and thought I should share. I found a blog that blogs about the Common Core State Standards. Whether they are for or against it, is irrelevant. However, they stated that there are 7 categories of nonfiction in kidlit and they classify these books in these categories. untitled (139)


1.) Data: In more friendly terms, you might call this category Fasts Facts. It includes Eyewitness Books, The Guinness Book of World Records, and my own book Animal Grossapedia. These are the concise, fact-filled books that groups of boys love to read together and discuss. untitled (141)

2.) Expository: You might call this category Facts Plus because the facts are interwoven into a content-area explanation. This is could be considered “traditional” nonfiction in some ways, but there’s nothing old-fashioned about today’s expository titles. Their engaging text and rich, dynamic art and design are sure to delight as well as inform young readers.

3.) Narrative: This is a category we’ve heard a lot (I mean A LOT) about in the last few years. It’s the current darling of awards committees. Narrative titles present facts in the form of a true story with a narrative arc. As you learn about the next few categories, I think you’ll see that some of the books that have been lumped into the narrative category should really be thought about on their own terms, based on the author’s approach to the information. untitled (137) untitled (139)

4.) Disciplinary Thinking: These books reveal how scientists and historians go about their work, how they evaluate evidence and form theories. The structure could be narrative, but it usually isn’t. This category might also be called something like Experts at Work. Scientists in the Field books are the perfect example, but there are plenty of other examples. Skull by Mark Aronson is one that immediately comes to mind. untitled (142)

5.) Inquiry: This category could also be called Ask and Answer. In these books, the author raises a question or a group of related questions and then seeks the answer. Sally Walker’s Written in Bone and What Bluebirds Do by Pamela F. Kirby are great examples. untitled (143)

6.) Interpretation: For these books, authors research a topic widely, find their own meaning in the information, and present the content from that point of view. Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman is the first title that leaps to mind, but I’d also put books like Those Rebels, Tom and John by Barbara Kerley in this category. I think we’ll see more of these books in the future because this type of presentation directly supports Common Core. untitled (144)

7.) Action: This is category offers a separate spot for titles that invite young readers to take action. The most obvious examples include Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns and the Science Play series by Vicki Cobb. I’m not sure this system is the be all and end all, but it’s a very interesting way for writers, teachers, librarians, and other book lovers to think about nonfiction. It stretches the way we think about current books and future possibilities, and I think that’s extremely valuable. untitled (145)

Do you know what you are writing? Do you know in which category your manuscript belong? Take the Challenge. Find some of these books, read them, and come back here and post the title, author, and category. Trust me, you will not be disappointed in your finding. Better yet, you will have a new love and discovery for all things nonfiction.

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Where are all the black boys? Author Varian Johnson Highlights a Persistent Gap in Children’s Literature

I took the Kate Messner’s Challenge. I ordered Varian Johnson’s book from an independent publisher. You should take the challenge too.

Young People's Pavilion

Ashley Bryan wrote a classic article called the All White World of Children’s Books, in the 1960s.
How much have things changed since then?
varian_homeAn answer comes from author Varian Johnson, who wrote in his May 15, 2013 blog entry:
Last week, author and librarian Betsy Bird posted this on Twitter: “At the risk of sounding desperate, can anyone name me just ONE middle grade novel published in 2013 starring an African-American boy?”
She later followed up with a post listing all the books published in 2013 featuring African-American boys as main characters. If I’m counting correctly, the number is somewhere around eight. Maybe ten, when you count some of the small publishers.
You have no idea how depressed this makes me feel. … There are a lot of theories why these books aren’t being published. Maybe authors aren’t writing them. Maybe editors and agents aren’t…

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Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

Speak – Laurie Halse Andersen

Naughts and Crosses = Malorie Blackman

Forever – Judy Blume

Shipbreaker – Paolo Bacigalupi

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants – Ann Brashares

Beauty Queens – Libba Bray

The Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

Gingerbread – Rachel Cohn

The Hunger Games Series – Susan Collins

Vivian vs. the Apocalypse – Katie Coyle

(Vivian Apple at the End of the World)

Romiette and Julio – Sharon M. Draper

If You Could Be Mine – Sara Farizan

Monster – Walter Dean Myers

The House of the Scorpion- Nancy Farmer

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

Born Confused – Tanuja Desai Hidier

The Outsiders – S. E. Hinton

Firecracker – David Iserson

The Summer Prince – Alaya Dawn Johnson

Alice, I Think – Susan Juby

Boy Meets Boy – David Levithan

Adaptation – Malinda Lo

Legend – Marie Lu

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen – Susin Nielsen

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix– J.K. Rowling

How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

Grasshopper Jungle – Andrew Smith

The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater

(You) Set Me on Fire – Mariko Tamaki

Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein

Uglies – Scott Westerfield

Miracle’s Boys – Jacqueline Woodson

I am the Messenger – Marcus Zusak

Submit Your Manuscript to our New Voices Award Writing Contest

I will be the next NEW VOICES AWARD WINNER. I am speaking it into existence 😀

the open book

New Voices Award seal Summer is rapidly approaching and that means our New Voices Award Writing Contest is now open for submissions! Now in its fourteenth year, the New Voices Award was one of the first (and remains one of the only) writing contests specifically designed to help authors of color break into publishing, an industry in which they are still dramatically underrepresented.

Change requires more than just goodwill; it requires concrete action. We were heartened by First Book’s recent commitment to purchasing 10,000 copies of select books from “new and underrepresented voices.” Likewise, the New Voices Award is a concrete step towards evening the playing field by seeking out talented new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing.

Past New Voices titles include the award-winning picture books It Jes’ HappenedSixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story, and BirdMany winners of the New Voices Award have gone on to…

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In the Classroom: Rush Limbaugh’s Rush Revere and Other Books About the Pilgrims

Very interesting thoughts and perspectives.

educating alice

My 4th graders culminate a year of immigration studies with a close look at the story of the Mayflower passengers, aka the Pilgrims. I began teaching the unit years ago and  have enjoyed finding new material for the children every year. We have a great time reading primary sources like Mourt’s Relation  and end with a visit to the wonderful recreation of both the ship and settlement, Plimoth Plantation.  So I was curious when one of my students brought in Rush Limbaugh’s Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims for me to see. After all, I had heard that the author was a finalist for the Children’s Book Week Author of the Year Award due to the book’s high status on the best seller list (and this week was dubbed the winner).  And so I wondered — was the book any good?

Sadly, I have to concur with both the…

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