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 Books, 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.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Work to Be Done: A Continuation for Walter Dean Myers

by Cheryl Willis Hudson

The tribute to Walter Dean Myers at Symphony Space in New York City, March 8, 2015, was appropriately titled: "Work to Be Done: A Continuation for Walter Dean Myers--A celebration of his Legacy and Mission."

Hosted by Walter's son, Christopher Myers, the event was a celebratory literary performance piece, which highlighted diverse areas of Walter's literary and humanistic spheres. Friends, family, mentees, emerging artists and writer-artist legends in their own right honored Walter's legacy through their music, original compositions, childhood notebooks, sketches, volunteer literacy work, letters, commentaries, spoken word and works-in-progress--all tangible evidence that the kind of work that Walter believed in and lived was, in fact, being done.

Chris' loving comments about his dad, with whom he frequently collaborated, were sprinkled throughout those of participating artists, who included Avi, Jason Reynolds, Wah-Ming Chang, Eisa Davis, Helga Davis, Justin Hicks & company, Jomama Jones {aka Daniel Alexander Jones}, Emily Raboteau, Neela Vaswani, Jacqueline Woodson and Brian Selznick.

Chris described his father's body of literature as disciplined, world-building, work that appealed to the imaginations of young people--work that was often realistic and gritty but ultimately was always "infused with hope."
"Each story," Chris said, "builds a world." And Walter, through his work, created maps by which readers could enter them.

The talents the participants displayed were extraordinarily diverse in their scope, subject and presentation. No better way to honor Walter's tremendous legacy.

Read Wade Hudson's tribute to Walter Dean Myers here

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Exploring Black Images in African-American Children's Literature

by Cheryl Willis Hudson

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
—words spoken in the Disney movie, “Snow White”

“Who can be born black and not exalt?”
—Mari Evans, author, I Am A Black Woman

“The seeds of an African American children’s literature were sown in the soil
of Black people’s struggles for liberation, literacy, and survival.”

—Rudine Sims Bishop, educator-author, Free Within Ourselves:
The Development of African American Children’s Literature

mages bombard children and adults on a daily basis via television, videos, advertisements, movies, textbooks, newspapers/magazines and social media. Although some of these images are positive, many are negative and simply perpetuate and reinforce age-old stereotypes of race, gender and social class without a balanced regard for the portrayal of true diversity within our country and our world.

When assessing the impact of imagery on the psyche of all children, but upon Black children in particular, it is important to know who is telling the story and who is painting the pictures. It is essential that we tell our own stories.

As an author and publisher of Just Us Books, I’m committed to helping present authentic and realistic stories, illustrated with images that reflect and reinforce positive and realistic aspects of being born Black and living on this planet. That means embracing authentic stories told by us, in our voices, from our perspectives, lenses and brushstrokes. It means rejecting messages of inferiority, mediocrity, marginality, assumed deviant behavior and demonstrating clearly through our books that “Black lives matter.”

he books and materials selected for this display are a small sampling of works from the canon of African-American literature for children. This literary canon includes a wide range of books, which mirror and reflect the diversity of our history, culture and experiences as members of the African diaspora. Included are alphabet books, counting books, baby board books, illustrated nursery rhymes, folktales, picture books, biographies, novelty books, fantasy, comic books, and covers of some books for middle grade and young adult readers.

These books are filled with skillful and thought-provoking illustrations in a variety of styles, whose imagery serves to teach, entertain and illuminate. Within them, Black culture is represented in all its variety and is not simply relegated to a narrow shelf of historical stories about slavery, civil rights and selected biographies of familiar Black personalities.

While many of the books displayed are published by major commercial houses, it should be noted that a very important component of presenting positive imagery of Black culture is the work done by independent Black presses and self-published authors. Literature from independent presses offers a wealth of creative works for young readers.

Many books displayed in these cases are available from your public library. Many are also available for purchase from booksellers and make valuable additions to your own home libraries.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, where are the fairest books of all?

The word “fair” has so many meanings: pretty, light complexioned, equal. However, in terms of the power of imagery and illustrations, when thinking about “fairness” in publishing books for children, the answer the mirror gives should not consistently be “Snow White,” which in essence reflects dominance of an all-white world of children’s book publishing.  (See Nancy Larrick’s article from September 11, 1965).

Children’s books should be inclusive and representative of diverse cultures. That means they should include the beauty and richness of the Black experience and the vision of Black illustrators as well as others who have traditionally illustrated children’s books. Black children should be able to see images of themselves in the literature that they read. Fairness then means equity and expansion of publishing boundaries so that children’s literature is inclusive of the multicultural diversity of our world.

This article was written as a contribution to the Newark Public Library's exhibit, My Soul Has Grown Deep, celebrating African-American literature. The exhibit runs through April 30, 2015.

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

Copyright 2015 by Cheryl Willis Hudson, Just Us Books, Inc.