Sunday, February 11, 2024

Just Us Books to Host Writing Our Future: A Celebration of Black Children’s Literature

In honor of our milestone 35th anniversary and Black History Month, Just Us Books is proud to present a program that will bring together a dozen acclaimed Black children’s book authors and illustrators. 

Writing Our Future: A Celebration of Black Children’s Literature will be held Saturday, February 17, 2024, 12 - 2:30 pm at the Montclair Public Library, 50 South Fullerton Ave. in Montclair. It will also be streamed online.



Sponsored in collaboration with the Montclair Public Library and local independent bookstore Watchung Booksellers, the event will feature panels, book readings, autograph signings and literary performances. 

Guest authors and illustrators include: Rita Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer), Valerie Wilson Wesley (Willimena Rules series), Denise Lewis Patrick (Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson), Sharon Dennis Wyeth (Something Beautiful), Eric Velasquez (Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library), Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Operation Sisterhood); Torrey Maldonado (What Lane?), George Ford (The Story of Ruby Bridges), author-illustrator-educator Toney Jackson who will deliver a spoken word performance, as well as authors and Just Us Books founders, Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson.

“Books play such an important role in preserving and sharing Black history and culture. We can’t think of a better way to commemorate Just Us Books’ 35 years in publishing than by bringing together a talented group of authors and illustrators for a Black History Month literary celebration,” said Wade Hudson, CEO of Just Us Books.

“We’re hoping to reach the entire community with this event,” explains Cheryl Willis Hudson, Editorial Director of Just Us Books. “It’s a great opportunity for children to meet published authors and illustrators; for aspiring creators to learn about building careers in publishing; and for parents, educators and readers of all ages to get some wonderful books.”

Panels include:

·       Our Literature’s Legacy, a conversation about the path to more diversity in children’s publishing and how we continue the progress

·       Putting it All Together: Creating Books for Young Readers about the author and illustrator creative process, developing your craft, and how to break into and succeed in the industry

·       The Power of the Pen highlighting the power of children’s literature to inspire change

The event is free and open to the public, including children of all ages. 

Registration is encouraged for in-person attendance: https://montclairlibrary.libnet.info/event/9975696 and is required for virtual attendance: https://montclairlibrary.libnet.info/event/10147473 

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Sunday, October 8, 2023

Wade and Cheryl Hudson to Receive BookFest Honorary Achievement Award


Wade and Cheryl Hudson, founders of Just Us Books, will be presented The BookFest Fall 2023 Honorary Achievement Award, which honors individuals who have contributed positively to the literary world. The Hudsons are being recognized for their contributions to children’s publishing, their work centering Black stories, and their dedication to diversity and inclusion.

The award presentation is part of Book Fest, a leading virtual literary event, and will be live streamed Saturday, October 21, at 10:45 am Pacific at https://www.thebookfest.com/

Celebrating its 35th anniversary this month, Just Us Books is a leading publisher of children’s books that reflect the diversity of Black people, history and culture. Wade and Cheryl Hudson founded the company in 1988 grounded in the belief that “Good books make a difference,” and have led Just Us Books not only in publishing good books, but in creating more opportunities for Black authors, illustrators and other creatives to enter the industry. Just Us Books is now widely regarded as an institution in the community and children’s publishing industry, and remains one of the nation's few Black-owned presses. In addition to their work as publishers, Wade and Cheryl are both award-winning authors with more than 30 titles each to their credit. 

ABOUT THE BOOKFEST®
The BookFest is the leader in virtual literary events and produces vital conversations on the world’s stage for those who love to read, and those who love to write. Launched in May 2020 as many live events were forced to be cancelled, the biannual event is free to attend and takes place in the spring and fall, streaming panel discussions, conversations, and live interactive sessions. The BookFest features an array of literary speakers, experts, and authors and is presented by Books That Make You and produced by Black Ch√Ęteau Enterprises. For more information, visit TheBookFest.com

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Embracing the Past, Empowering Our Future: Reflections on Just Us Books’ 35 Years

by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
founders, Just Us Books

Thirty-five years ago, we sat at our dinner table contemplating starting our own children’s book publishing company. We had already self-published two books, the AFRO-BETS ABC Book and the AFRO-BETS 123 Book and our success with them in the marketplace prompted a serious discussion. Should we strike out and expand our venture to publish works by other Black book creators?

Wade and Cheryl Hudson present the AFRO-BETS Kids at the
Portsmouth, VA Public Library to an audience that includes their son Stephan in 1987. 

There was clearly a need. There were few books for children and young adults that featured Black characters and that drew from Black history, culture and experiences. And we knew there was a demand. We had had trouble finding for our two children, books that featured characters who looked like them and stories that reflected their experiences and heritage. We knew other Black parents and teachers faced the same difficulty. 

It wasn’t a long discussion. We decided to step out on faith just as our ancestors had done before us.  Just Us Books was born. We chose that name because, simply, it was just the two of us.

The Just Us Books staff poses for a photo in 1992

Much has changed over these 35 years. We entered an industry in the 80s when only a handful of Black book creators were widely recognized such as Virginia Hamilton, Tom Feelings, Mildred Taylor, Walter Dean Myers, Eloise Greenfield, George Ford and James Haskins. Black editors, art directors and marketing professionals were few and far between. There were very few in-person book tours by children’s book authors or illustrators and making a national best-sellers list like the New York Times was a far-off dream. 

Over time, however, we have seen more Black and other book creators of color enter the industry. There has been an uptick in the number of BIPOC people in publishing positions. Black and book creators of color have won major industry awards and the bestseller lists are no longer nearly all white. We would like to think that Just Us Books has played a role in helping to achieve this progress.

Dr. Loretta Long reads her book Courtney's Birthday Party at a school visit

But so many challenges still remain. Books by Black creators are still a small percentage of the total number published every year. There is still a disparity in advances and royalties paid to Black and BIPOC authors and illustrators versus what’s paid to those who are white. Nearly 80 percent of the publishing companies staff are white. Most books by BIPOC authors and illustrators are not marketed as vigorously as those of white authors and illustrators. The myth that books by Black creators don’t sell is still a major barrier.  And most recently, book banning, and the closing of school libraries have added to the list of challenges as efforts to undo the progress that has been made intensify.   

We face these issues as we have done in the past. With resolve. Advocating and agitating for inclusion, diversity and equity ─ and doing the important work of sharing good stories that reflect a full range of experiences that center Black children, children of color and others who are marginalized. That same determination still drives us even as we must prepare to pass the baton to the next generations. We will do so assured that the struggle to create an industry and a world that is more just and equitable will continue.

Just Us Books’ 35 years have been quite a journey. As with any business endeavor, there have been periods of exciting milestones, disappointments, economic challenges, and many peaks and valleys. We have seen far too many other publishing ventures close their doors. Thankfully, as the Langston Hughes declared in his 1957 poem, we’re “Still Here.”

A parent reads the AFRO-BETS A B C Book to their child,
 decades after the title's initial publication

We are so grateful to the many Just Us Books authors, illustrators, publishing industry professionals and dedicated Just Us Books staff members who have partnered with us on this journey. We appreciate all the parents, teachers, administrators, librarians, booksellers, young readers, and other supporters who have been such an important part of this history too. In so many ways, we are all like family. There would be no Just Us Books, and certainly no 35 years, without you.  

Wade and Cheryl Hudson celebrate the publication of
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices with contributors and 
author and illustrator friends at the Celebrating Our Voices event
held at North Carolina Central University.

And so, we’re still here and we continue, embracing the journey ahead. Creating good books that make a difference in the lives of children everywhere.

Just Us Books founders Cheryl Willis Hudson and Wade Hudson



Friday, September 22, 2023

Just Us Books, Nation’s Leading Black Owned Children’s Book Publisher, Celebrates 35th Anniversary


(West Orange, NJ) September 22, 2023 ─ The average life span of a small business is eight and a half years according to The New York Times. As Just Us Books prepares to celebrate 35 years in business, it’s not only beating the odds, it’s also continuing to blaze a trail, publishing children’s books that center and celebrate Black stories, history and culture.

“Just Us Books’ 35th anniversary is not just a celebration of our company,” says Wade Hudson, CEO and co-founder. “It’s a recognition of 35 years of children reading, learning, growing, and being affirmed through stories that reflect the richness of Black culture and history, which is especially important in today’s climate of banned and challenged books.”

The company plans to celebrate the milestone throughout its 35th year, which begins October 1, 2023, with special content and events, including a bookfair being planned for spring.

“We’re reminded every day ─ by teachers, librarians, parents, readers of all ages ─ that our work, our books are needed,” says Cheryl Hudson, Editorial Director and co-founder of Just Us Books. “Their support has been such a big part of Just Us Books’ journey. So we’re looking forward to celebrating this milestone with our extended community throughout the year.”


The Just Us Books journey began in the early 1980s. Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, who live in East Orange, NJ, were parents in search of children's books that reflected the diversity of Black history, heritage and experiences. Disappointed by the number they found and their limited availability, the couple embarked upon a mission: to create the kind of positive, Black-interest books that they wanted for their own two children.

Combining their experience, Wade’s in writing and marketing, Cheryl’s in art and publishing, they developed ideas for books that shared universal children’s themes from an Afrocentric perspective. The couple presented manuscripts to publishing houses but they were repeatedly turned down ― several publishing professionals even doubting the viability of a market for children’s books featuring Black characters. So the Hudsons decided to publish the books themselves. The AFRO-BETS A B C Book was released in 1987 and Just Us Books was incorporated a year later.

The success of the small press soon proved doubters wrong. Titles including Bookof Black Heroes From A to Z and Bright Eyes, Brown Skin became classroom and library staples. And larger publishing companies followed Just Us Books’ lead, publishing and widely distributing more children’s books featuring diverse stories and characters.

The company’s 35-year history has been marked by numerous accomplishments including a production partnership with Crown, an imprint of Random House, which produced the three anthologies including the award-winning We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices; a 1999 marketing partnership with General Mills and the UniverSoul Circus; and the publication of In Praise of Our Fathers and Our Mothers, a book about the Black family that brought together celebrated authors and artists, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Virginia Hamilton, Walter Dean Myers, Jeanne Moutousammy-Ashe, Leo and Diane Dillon, Fred and Patricia McKissack. Its books, including From A Child’s Heart; The Secret Olivia Told Me, I’m A Big Sister Now and Kwame Nkrumah’s Midnight Speech for Independence, have earned numerous awards. Just Us Books has won multiple honors, including Small Business Pioneer of the Year, the Children’s Book Council Diversity Award, and its founders have become recognized leaders in publishing and the push for diversity in children’s literature, with the couple being awarded the prestigious Carle Honor for Mentorship in 2022. 

In 35 years of operation, Just Us Books has become more than a children's book publishing company; it's become an institution. It also remains one of the nation's few Black-owned publishers. And the company continues its mission grounded in the same belief that helped launch the company three and a half decades ago: Good books make a difference.

Just Us Books’ titles can be purchased wherever books are sold and via its website: justusbooks.com. Connect with the company on social at @JustUsBooks across all platforms.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Back to School Kidlit Picks

 
            Image copyright Nancy Devard, published in Afro-Bets Kids I'm Going to Be by Wade Hudson

It’s back to school season. Whether your young scholars are excited, anxious, or wishing summer break would last forever – there's a book out there for them. Start with our back-to-school kidlit picks, available at our online store.


Places I Love to Go, by Wade Hudson,
illustrated by Laura Freeman, ages 2-5



Follow a group of children as they experience the excitement of visiting their favorite places – including school. 

Afro-Bets Kids I'm Going to Be
by Wade Hudson, illustrated by Nancy Devard, ages 4-8


















The Afro-Bets Kids have an important class project: to think about the careers they might be interested in pursuing. There are so many exciting options: astronaut, athlete, educator, film director, architect. And there are great Black leaders in those fields, too such as Dr. Mae C. Jemison, LeBron James, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ava DuVernay, Sir David J. Adjaye and Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. Learn about these great achievers and their careers as the AFRO-BETS Kids (Tura, Stef, Nandi, Robo, Langston and Glo) research and use their imagination to explore what they'll be when they grow up.

Aloha for Carol Ann, by Margo Sorenson, illustrated by Priscilla Burris, ages 4-7


Beautiful palm trees, pretty flowers and a warm breeze are all waiting to welcome 8-year-old Carol Ann to her new school in Hawaii. But Carol Ann doesn’t want a new school. She doesn’t want new friends, or palm trees or a warm breeze. She wants her old friends. She wants her old home. She wants things the way they used to be. How will she remember her new classmates’ names? Who will she play with at recess? How will she ever feel at home in this new place? Then the teacher introduces Carol Ann to the term, aloha. She says the little word means hello, welcome and a lot more. Carol Ann finds out for just how much aloha means as she makes a place for herself at her new school.

“In this story of starting at a new school and making friends, Carol Ann is soon saying ‘Aloha’  ... the book should prove reassuring to children in similar situations.” - Publisher's Weekly


Jamal’s Busy Day, by Wade Hudson, illustrated by George Ford, ages 4-7

Meet Jamal – an energetic boy who shows just how demanding and eventful his day is as a student. He "works with numbers" in math class, does "research" in the library, has "meetings to attend" in the school auditorium, and occasionally settles schoolyard "disagreements between [his] co-workers." 

“The upbeat message is that both parents and children can "work hard" and accomplish much in their respective arenas: all have something to contribute and all work has value.” -Publisher’s Weekly


Path to My African Eyes, by Ermilla Moodley, ages 11-14

Being a teenager is tough enough. But imagine starting freshman year a new high school that's not just in a new city, but a new country? That's life for 14-year-old Thandie Sobukwe.

When her father is transferred from his position as a professor at a Capetown, South Africa university to Buena Vista, California, Thandie Sobukwe says goodbye to her friends, family and favorites places and hello to self-doubt, rejection and cultural confusion. Everything from the way she looks to the way she speaks, and even the way she thinks is questioned, mocked or simply misunderstood. Thandie's struggling to be comfortable in her skin, but between her California girl dreams, ambivalent feelings about Black American culture, and sensitivity about the ethnic background she thinks makes her stand out too much, she doesn't seem to fit in anywhere. Thandie's facing a real dilemma: How can you be true to yourself when you're trying to discover who you are?

“clearly delineated issues facing young African students in this country as well as those of any teen entering a new school in the middle of the year. Many girls will recognize Thandi's conflicts with her parents and her longing to fit in, and celebrate her progress.” - School Library Journal


12 Brown Boys, by Omar Tyree, ages 9-12

Best-selling author Omar Tyree makes his children's book debut with 12 Brown Boys, a collection of short stories for middle readers that focus on the lives of Black pre-teen boys. Readers will connect with Tyree's engaging characters. There is Santa Monica scholar-entrepreneur and all around super kid William; Red Head Mike who hates his nickname, but hates his red hair even more; Chestnut, who is sent to live with relatives down south to keep him out of trouble in his Brooklyn neighborhood, and Wayne, who resents his role as the oldest child until a tragedy strikes the family. Tyree has assembled a wide range of characters that reflect the diversity of experiences of Black boys - characters that are funny, serious, edgy, street-wise, studious, and all unforgettable.




Wednesday, May 10, 2023

We Remember Useni Eugene Perkins

Activist, social worker, poet, scholar, educator, and playwright Useni Eugene Perkins has joined the ancestors at the age of 90. 

“We have known Useni for many years and marveled at his dedication and contributions to the Black community and to Black arts,” said Wade Hudson, president and CEO of Just Us Books. “He was a good brother!”


Just Us Books published two of Useni's works, Poetry From The Masters: The Black Arts Movement in 2009, and Kwame Nkrumah's Midnight Speech for Independence, illustrated by Laura Freeman. His most recent published children’s book, it won the 2022 Children’s Africana Book Awards Best Book for Young Children and was called "Essential reading for any and all future (and current) freedom fighters” in a Kirkus starred review.


A celebrated member of the Black Arts Movement, Useni Eugene Perkins was born in Chicago on September 13, 1932. Following military service, he earned bachelors and masters degrees from George Williams College. He went on to leverage his studies in social work in a career focused on the social development of urban youth, serving as Executive Director of the Better Boys Foundation Family Center in Chicago and in leadership roles with the Urban League of Portland, the DuSable Museum, and Chicago State University Family Life Center.



Useni’s dedication to strengthening his community and his work advocating for youth translated to the written word as well, through books of poetry such as Black is Beautiful and plays including “Image Makers.” In 1975, his poem “Hey Black Child” served as the closing song for his children’s musical “Black Fairy and Other Plays.” Public recitations, including young Pe’Tehn’s viral performance decades later introduced the poem to new audiences, though it was sometimes wrongfully attributed to other greats such as Countee Cullen and Maya Angelou. In 2017, Hey, Black Child was published as a picture book illustrated by Bryan Collier and received a starred review from Kirkus.




“I’m honored that my poem has been associated with these two gifted writers, but I’m glad the world can now learn about the poem’s true roots,” Useni said.


Useni penned many other books including An Apology to My African Brother; SilhouetteHome Is a Dirty Street: The Social Oppression of Black ChildrenPride of Race; and Midnight Blues in the Afternoon and Other Poems.


His contributions to literature and the Black community have been recognized with numerous awards, notably induction into the Gwendolyn Brooks Literary Hall of Fame and inclusion in HistoryMakers.com, a digital archive dedicated to preserving histories of African Americans. Useni’s play “If We Must Die,” about the 1921 Tulsa massacre, earned him an award from The Black Network for Excellence in Playwriting in 2002. 




Useni travelled to Ghana extensively, experiences that inspired his picture book on Ghana’s President Kwame Nkrumah years later. In 2007 he was inducted into the Gefia Society in Akatsi, Volta Region, Ghana and installed as their Academic Development Chief under the stool name of Torgbui Perkins Agbale I.


We lift up the memory of Brother Useni, his important work and his commitment to our people, especially our youth. May it continue to inspire us all.