Monday, January 19, 2015

Let "Selma" Be a Spark

Let Selma be a Spark 

by Wade Hudson

The movie Selma brings up close and personal, the tremendous dedication, commitment, perseverance and hard work and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King to confront the evils of segregation and Jim Crow laws. But it also allows us to see that Dr. King didn’t fight the battle alone. Many stepped up in the struggle for freedom and justice.  Most are unsung heroes.

The movement in Selma was an important event in the freedom struggle.  Its landmark status, finally recognized, is deserved. But the fight to end slavery and its successor, legal segregation, with all the evil that accompanied it, has been long. We are thankful for Selma, the movie. We embrace it! We encourage as many people as possible to see it and discuss it in family gatherings, classrooms and churches.  

I am hopeful, however, that the interest now piqued doesn’t end with Selma.  Let Selma be a spark to ignite a desire to know more about the many other battles in the struggle for freedom and the people who waged them. Richard Allen. Denmark Vessey. Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman. Sojourner Truth. Ida B. Wells-Barnett. WEB Dubois. The list goes on and on.

Just Us Books was established, among other reasons, to present these heroes and others and the history of the Black struggle for freedom and justice in books written specific for children and young adults.  In the tradition of Sankofa, our youngsters need to reach back to the past, take from it what is good and bring it to the present as they prepare to make positive progress in the future.

Wade Hudson is an author, speaker, and president/co-founder with his wife Cheryl of Just Us Books, independent publisher of books for young people that celebrate the diversity of Black history and culture. You can connect with him on Facebook and at

Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King—A Drum Major for Justice

Reprinted from AFRO-BETS Book of Black Heroes from A to Z 
by Wade Hudson and Valerie Wilson Wesley, Just Us Books, Inc.

Monday, January 5, 2015

10 Reasons Multicultural Literature is Good for ALL Children

by Cheryl Willis Hudson
The concept of "multicultural literature" can present challenges to parents who want to raise well-rounded children prepared to thrive in our global society. How does a well-intentioned parent find and select good books for his/her children? What kinds of stories affirm that child's place on the planet? Folk tales? Fairy Tales? Nonfiction? Biography? What kinds of picture books prepare children for the complex world in which they live? What kinds of stories open a window of possibilities for that child's future? What kinds of books help children to dream of a better world for all peoples? Can books help us to make new friends and know our current neighbors? Must other races and creeds be represented for a book to be truly multicultural? What specific titles should form the core of a child's personal library?

Publishers, librarians, booksellers, educators, and parents (in particular) of all philosophies, budgets and ethnicities play important roles in this conversation. Since books provide a conduit of exposure to people, places and worlds both similar and different from our own, it makes sense to expose our children to books that embrace a diversity of cultures, interests, values, nationalities, and hues, right?

When I was a child growing up in segregated schools in Virginia, none of my school books contained "colored children" who looked or acted like me. The main public library in our town was not open to "Negroes" as we referred to ourselves at that time, and all of the "good" books--meaning new ones--were there. The "colored" library was a tiny cramped space that contained mostly used and discarded books. Why then would any child want to read them?

When I became a parent I was determined that my children have a collection of wonderful books. And yes, like many parents I believe that seeing and experiencing diversity in children's literature is a good thing. But how can a parent know what is good? What is fair? What is authentic? What is stereotypical? What is to be avoided?

This space is dedicated to exploring how children's literature can inform our world--how effective presentation of the written word and visual images can help us as parents to guide our children toward empowerment and discovery of their inner selves and their ultimate possibilities. This space is dedicated to exploring diversity in children's literature and to finding ways to get good books in the hands of children for their information and their joy.

Why is multicultural literature important? Here's my top ten list:

1. Multicultural literature confirms that we live in a global village and that the world is pluralistic and made up of many different kinds of people.

2. It helps to develop self esteem in all children through inclusion rather than exclusion.

3. It provides knowledge and information about people from all parts of the world.

4. It can change the way students look at their own particular society and the world by offering varying perspectives or different ways of viewing the same situations.

5. It can promote/develop an appreciation for diversity.

6. It can help children think critically and ask questions.

7. Like all literature, it can provide enjoyment and appreciation for unity and variety in the human experience.

8. It can reflect the cultural diversity within the classroom and community

9. It can provide positive role models.

10. It can create a bridge between student's real-life experiences and intellectual learning.

Why is multicultural literature important to you and the children in your life?
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.

Illustration reproduced from Annie's Gifts by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustration copyright by Anna Rich, published by Just Us Books.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Celebrating Kwanzaa

By Cheryl Willis Hudson

Our family began celebrating Kwanzaa when our son and daughter were in kindergarten and grade school. My husband and I encouraged creative self-expression in our children and during their formative years we wanted to discourage the overemphasis on buying and receiving material things. So celebrating Kwanzaa (or First Fruits) was a perfect way to reinforce our family values, pass along some African-American history and have fun doing it right along with our children.

On the day after Christmas, we set up the mkeke, or a mat that served as a foundation on which to place the elements, the kinara or candleholder, the unity cup, the dried ears of corn representing each child, fruit, vegetables and small items representing African American cultural expression such as a book or a small work of art. Starting December 26th, each day before dinner, the children took turns lighting a candle and explaining the Nguzo Saba or principles of the day. By New Year's Day, January 1st, we had talked about:

Umoja - Unity
Kujichagulia - Self-determination
Ujima - Collective Work and Responsibility
Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Nia - Purpose
Kuumba - Creativity
Imani - Faith

Our family Kwanzaa celebration was very simple but it became a ritual that Katura and Stephan looked forward every day. First of all, they were able to learn new words in the Swahili language. What child wouldn't smile when trying to pronounce Kujichagulia?

Then they challenged each other to remember the words and principles in the correct order. They both got a chance to light a series of candles and then blow them out (almost like a birthday party) and by the last couple of days they had made and exchanged handcrafted gifts (Zwadi). Finally, we had a big feast at home or celebrated a fiesta (Karumu) complete with music, dancing, family and friends on the last day of Kwanzaa.

By the seventh day, we had had so much fun celebrating Kwanzaa that we didn't want to take the decorations down. So we didn't. Now the kinara remains in a central place in our dining room all year long.

Although Kwanzaa was created as a cultural celebration for African Americans, the symbolism and rituals are valuable tools for anyone who wants to follow reasonable guidelines for being a productive member of their community. Talking out loud about the Nzguzo Saba helped our family realize that these were principles worth practicing all through the year.

We realized that family time is very precious. That it's a good thing to have family meals together rather than grabbing grub on and eating it hurriedly on the way to some other activity. It's a good practice to help children learn how to listen and how to have a meaningful conversation at the dinner table. It's good for everyone to discover the joy of doing creative work with our hands. It feels good to share something of yourself that is unique whether that is reciting a poem, reading a passage from a book, telling a joke or singing a song. The principles of Kwanzaa reinforce the value of family and community.

For very young children the principles can be explained in this way.

- Umoja translates as unity but can be simplified to mean: We help each other
- Kujichagulia translates as self-determination but can be simplified as: We define ourselves for ourselves
- Ujima translates as collective work and responsibility and can be simplified to mean: We work together in community.
- Ujamaa translates as cooperative economics and can be simplified to mean: we support each other economically.
- Nia translates as purpose and can be simplified to mean: we work and live with purpose.
- Kuumba translates as creativity and can be simplified as: we use our minds and our creativity.
- Imani translates as faith but can be translated to mean: we nurture our spirits and connect with our Creator and ancestors

The Kwanzaa seeds that were sown during our first observance have grown into a harvest for our daily lives.
A version of this article was originally published by, 2006.

Check out these children’s books about Kwanzaa and visit The Official Kwanzaa website for more information.

My First Kwanzaa Book, by Deborah Newton Chocolate

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Now Available for Christmas and Kwanzaa--Willimena Rules! by Valerie Wilson Wesley

Order here

Christmas and Kwanzaa are right around the corner and Willimena is usually excited about her favorite time of the year. There are fun decorations, yummy food, the seven principles of Kwanzaa and, of course, gifts for both holidays.

But this year, no one feels much like celebrating. Aunt Laura lost her job and Dad and Mom say that big changes are coming for the family--changes that mean Willie may not get that bike she wanted.
Willie thinks she has it bad until she sees how these big changes are affecting her cousin Teddy. He's usually nice, friendly, and greets Willie with a grin. But lately, he's sad, mad, and downright rude.He doesn't seem to want to celebrate the holidays at all, and nothing Willie does to cheer him up is working.

Christmas and Kwanzaa are supposed to be joyful, but this year is turning out to be the worst. Can Willie find a way to bring "happy" back to the holidays?