Monday, October 5, 2015

Meet Rita Williams-Garcia, signing her new book Bottle Cap Boys Dancing on Royal Street

Marimba Books' newest release, Bottle Cap Boys Dancing on Royal Street, a picture book set in New Orleans celebrates the unique tradition of bottle cap dancing. But you may be able to meet author Rita Williams-Garcia and get a signed copy of her book at a Bottle Cap Boys book signing near you.

Rita will be celebrating the release of her new book at events in Newark, NJ; Philadelphia; New York City; and Chicago. Please see her appearance schedule below and check back soon; more events are being added.

About the book: Tap dancing on sidewalks, especially in the city’s French Quarter, is a New Orleans tradition as familiar to some as Jazz, Creole and Cajun food, and Mardi Gras. For generations, Black youngsters have danced for tourists on the streets of New Orleans—some because they enjoy it, but many others to earn money for their families.

Instead of dancing in store-bought tap shoes, these young boys and girls stamp and grind bottle caps into the soles of their sneakers until the bottle caps stay firmly in place at the toe. And they don’t miss a beat!

Through rich and upbeat rhyme, author Rita Williams-Garcia (author of One Crazy Summer, Coretta Scott King and Newbery Honor winner) gives voice to the dancing and to two youngsters, brothers Randy and Rudy, who keep this unique New Orleans tradition alive. Damian Ward’s exuberant illustrations are great complements to Williams-Garcia’s perfectly pitched poetry.

Bottle Cap Boys Dancing on Royal Street by Rita Williams-Garcia, illustrated by Damian Ward. ISBN 978-1-60349-030-6, age 5 and up, hardcover, $16.95. Published by Marimba Books, distributed by Just Us Books. For more information or to purchase, visit

Event Schedule

October, 8, 2015, 6 - 8 pm
Book launch party
Newark Public Library (co-sponsor)
Newark, NJ
RSVP here

October 22, 2015, 6-8 pm
Art Sanctuary
Philadelphia, PA
click here for details

October 25, 2015, 10:15 am
Bank Street Bookstore
New York, NY
click here for details

October 29, 2015, 6 pm
Chicago State University
Chicago, IL
co-sponsored by Chicago State University African-American Male Resource Center, African-American Studies Program College of Education and Say It Loud!
Please direct Chicago event inquiries to or 501-952-6169

Additional appearances:
Bank Street Book Fest
Oct. 24, 2015, 9 am - 4 pm
Rita Williams-Garcia is the closing keynote speaker
Click here for tickets and more information

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Just Us Books Celebrates 27th Year

In 1988, Wade and Cheryl Hudson formalized a mission they embarked upon as new parents years before: to bring to market vibrant, positive, affirming books that celebrated the diversity of Black history and culture - the kind of books they wanted for their own children. This month, Just Us Books celebrates its 27th year as not just a business but an institution dedicated to making these books available year-round, in libraries, classrooms, and homes everywhere and to providing a publishing venue for talented Black writers, illustrators, designers and other professionals. And that mission has become a legacy for the husband-and-wife team.

Please join us in celebrating 27 years of good books making a difference in our children's lives. Visit our web site and our sister company Marimba Books, a multicultural children's book publisher. We're kicking off our 27th year with several exciting new titles, including Bottle Cap Boys Dancing on Royal Street,  and the return of the book that help to start it all, the AFRO-BETS A B C Book.

If you share our commitment to inspiring, encouraging and educating young people through books that contain characters, stories and themes that reflect our diversity, please support us. Share our books and our story with children, parents, educators and book lovers. Stay connected with us via Facebook and Twitter. For other suggestions on how to help us increase the number of quality children’s books that celebrate diversity, and how to support the diverse books that are already available, read this Diverse Books Pledge from Just Us Books President, Wade Hudson.

To the many librarians, educators, parents, grandparents, young readers, church and community members, friends and others who've supported Just Us Books during this 27-year journey, we offer our heartfelt gratitude.

We continue!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bright Eyes, Brown Skin: Talking openly with children about racial differences

 by Cheryl Willis Hudson

Bright eyes, brown skin
A heart shaped face
A dimpled chin
Bright eyes, cheeks that glow
Chubby fingers, ticklish toes
A playful grin
A perfect nose
Very special hair and clothes
Bright eyes, ears to listen
Lips that kiss you
Teeth that glisten
Bright eyes, brown skin
Warm as toast
And all tucked in.

I wrote about 1/2 of the words of that poem shortly after our son Stephan was born. He was a big baby--weighing in at 8 pounds 6 oz. And he was 21 inches long. He had a nice round head, freckles (that quickly faded after a few weeks) light brown skin and an infectious lopsided smile.

Stephan’s eyes were bright and hopeful and he jetted into the world about an hour and 45 minutes after I arrived at St. Barnabas Hospital on November 4th -- 8 centimeters dilated and anxious to have this labor over. I immediately felt I knew who Stephan was and to the amazement of my obstetrician and the midwife on duty, I laughed heartily out loud on the delivery table when he took in his first breath. They washed him up, put him on my chest and I remember thinking, “He’s exactly what I expected, a beautiful Black baby boy.” But I also said a silent, wordless prayer shortly afterward -- a prayer I believe most African-American mothers say knowing the challenges their male offspring face on their journey from birth to manhood.

I quickly put any negative thoughts aside and embraced our new son and the fullness of his possibilities for the future. I stroked his skin, I kissed and counted his fingers and his toes, I rubbed his bottom and brushed his still silky brown hair. I rubbed my nose on his nose. I smelled his baby fresh smell. And my husband and I welcomed him home in tow with our daughter Katura, who had just turned six-and-a-half and was already showing signs of being a protective big sister.

Katura and Stephan, her baby brother (age 4 months)

Stephan’s birth was the inspiration for writing a children’s book. Years later, I took the original words of my poem to my friend, Bernette, an editor. Wouldn’t this make a great baby board book? I thought.

She agreed and with her editorial skills, Bernette helped to expand it into a picture book (very different from my original concept) that her husband George illustrated with four children rather than one. The final result was a picture book about pre-schoolers that has become a great teaching tool for celebrating diversity. It is a book that deals openly with racial features--Negroid noses, full African-American lips, lush sculptural African-American hair and varieties in dress and skin colors.

The unique thing about this book is that facial features are presented naturally and positively. A nose is “perfect” for a face (not just broad or derisively flat); hair is neither “good” or “bad” but simply a crown on a child’s head; skin is not simply dark -- it’s a range of browns; eyes are not rolling or buck -- they are bright and inquisitive. Black features that for so long have been presented and associated in stereotypical ways in children’s literature (akin to minstrel show imagery) are now being rendered directly -- with no value judgment or racist baggage. The simple, rhythmic text invites children of all complexions and ethnicities to take turns identifying their eyes, ears, noses, hair and clothes and to talk about similarities and differences among their friends.

Bright Eyes, Brown Skin presents a natural and accessible way to talk about differences and similarities and familiar things because it places children in a natural, everyday pre-school setting. The associations are warm and positive and affirmative and Black children can see themselves realistically in the story line. For many African-American children and children of color, Bright Eyes, Brown Skin affirms cultural identity. It helps them to see themselves as valued participants in the world and encourages them to talk openly about racial differences without feeling embarrassed, ashamed or marginalized.

What a positive way to affirm diversity.

Cheryl Willis Hudson is a children's book author, speaker and publisher of Just Us Books. Her books are available at Just Us Books and retailers across the nation. Follow her on Twitter at @diversitymom_ch.

Copyright (c) by Cheryl Willis Hudson, all rights reserved. Originally published by

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Hearty Welcome to Rita Williams-Garcia

We are excited to add Rita Williams-Garcia to our list of outstanding creators of books for children and  young adults. Rita joins outstanding writers such as Sharon Draper, Nikki Grimes, Kelly Starling Lyons, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Camille Yarbrough, Tony Medina, Eleanora E. Tate, Omar Tyree, Denise Patrick, James Haskins and illustrators, George Ford, Floyd Cooper, Nancy Devard, Don Tate, Eric Velazquez, R. Gregory Christie, Brenda Joysmith, Laura Freeman, many others who have been published by Just Us Books and Marimba Books.        
                                         Picture of Rita Williams-GarciaBottle Cap Boys Dancing on Royal Street, a picture book written by Rita and illustrated by Damian Ward, will be released in October 2015. A promotional and marketing campaign will support the release of the book.

Bottle Cap Dancing on Royal Street spotlights the New Orleans transition of bottle cap dancing, which features b lack youngsters, with bottle caps grinded and stamped into the sole of their sneakers, dancing to entertain tourists to earn money.
Rita Williams-Garcia is a multiple award-winning author of outstanding YA novels such as Like Sisters on the Homefront, P.S. Be Eleven, One Crazy Summer and her recent Gone Crazy in Alabama. Rita is not only an outstanding writer, but she is also a dear friend. Welcome home, Rita! 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

8 Tips for Aspiring Children's Book Writers

One of the most common questions we receive at Just Us Books is “how do I get my book published?” We created this tip sheet to provide general guidance to aspiring book creators.

1. Do your research. If you have general questions about the publishing process, submitting artwork or a manuscript, there are a wealth of Internet resources that provide helpful information. Acquaint yourself with the publishing industry before you contact a company.

2. Know the publisher’s market. Study a publisher’s list and be prepared to substantiate the strength of your manuscript in a cover letter. Be able to provide good reasons why children would want to read your book, why teachers would want to use it and why parents would want to buy it. Have you pre-tested the material with children? Is the language fresh, lively, active and non-stereotypical? Is it age appropriate?

3. Get the publisher’s guidelines (typically available on their web site) before you send your query and follow them.   Some publishers do not accept queries via e-mail, and most don’t accept any communication via fax or phone. Some publishers require you have an agent, while others allow aspiring writers to submit to the submissions editor without agent representation.

4. Always include a query letter, which should include a brief summary of your manuscript. Do not send your complete manuscript unsolicited (unless the publisher’s guidelines state you may do so).

5. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for the publisher’s response. Keep in mind that many publishers only reply if they are interested in your manuscript AND/OR if you provide a SASE. Editors may receive dozens and dozens of inquiries on a daily or weekly basis and may not have time to answer queries individually.

6. Edit your work. Although this may seem like an obvious point, many aspiring writers send cover letters and manuscripts that contain typos and other grammatical errors. Such errors will gain you quick rejection.

7. Be patient. Producing a book takes time. If an editor does express interest in your manuscript, the publishing process may take several years from the editor’s initial “yes.” Keep honing your craft and read plenty of books while you wait.

8. Remember publishing is a process, not an event. An average 32-page full color picture book is a financial investment for a publisher. Upfront costs including editing, illustration, design, printing, shipping, author & illustrator advances, and marketing must all be paid before any books actually reach stores or are sold to the public.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Happy Birthday Mari Evans

I first met Mari Evans in the pages of Negro Digest/Black World magazine, published by the Johnson Publishing Company. An aspiring poet myself, I couldn't wait to find another Mari poem to read, to inspire me and to help me further understand myself and the world in which I was trying to find meaning and direction. I wanted so desperately to meet Mari, to get to know her and learn from her through conversations. But I was way south in Louisiana, miles from Johnson Publishing in Chicago and Mari’s hometown of Indianapolis.

I finally met Mari in person in the early 1990s. Cheryl and I attended an African-American Curriculum Infusion conference held in Atlanta that the late brother Asa Hillard helped to organize. Mari did a workshop there. Cheryl and I connected with Mari immediately. We are now very good friends. We have published four of Mari's books, including the soon to be released Continuum: New And Selected Poems, Revised Edition. The three of us chat as often as we can.

Just yesterday, during a telephone conversation, I reminded Mari how she had influenced me during my maturing years. I could sense her smile. Then I told her that I will call her on her birthday. She said, "That's fine. But please don't sing." Fighting through my laughter, I said, "No, I won't sing. I'll just call to say I love you." 

- Wade Hudson

Profile of Mari Evans taken from Poetry from the Masters: The Black Arts Movement, copyright 2009, Just Us Books. All rights reserved.