Thursday, January 30, 2020

Multicultural Children's Book Day 2020 is Here!

Each year for Multicultural Children's Book Day (MCBD), I sign-up to be a book reviewer, reading and providing my feedback about a new title, chosen for me by the event organizers. It is an activity I enjoy and one to which I look forward as it allows me to remain deeply connected to the genre and to build my personal knowledge of children’s books and reading trends. So much so, that my reviewer activities now extend beyond this one-day reading holiday. I now also write reviews for small, independent publishers of children's books and am an Author Sponsor for MCBD.
     This year, Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators. Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.
     Since 2015 when I wrote my first review, I have been keenly conscious of the shifts and stagnation in the type of content available for our youngest readers. The effects of which I first wrote about in The Cocoa Kids Collection© Thesis: “Revaluing Children of Color’s Lives Through Children’s Literature.” That’s why I felt moved to vocalize an observation I have made about the cross-section of books I have been asked to review this season. There have been three: Katie Comma, by B.B. Swann, illustrated by Maja Anderson; Swashbarklers of the Sea by author, illustrator Cynthia Kremsner; and the single title for MCBD, The Escape of Robert Smalls: A Daring Voyage Out of Slavery, by Jehan Jones-Radgowski, and illustrated by Poppy Kang.
     Each of these books was an enjoyable read that I feel will contribute to wide reading options available to emergent readers. They are each an achievement of which their author should be proud. Also, the composite of titles and themes is worth note inasmuch as they reflect the unrelenting reality of kids’ books, their content, and characters. That is: fantasy characters dominate, as in Katie; animals too often replace humans, as in Swashbarklers, and in diversity narratives, stories about Black Americans are disproportionately grounded and framed in slavery. Granted, I could as easily have received a composite of books that reflected a different reality. However, in the random sample that chose me, the titles and content I receive reflect an unchanging truth that statistics uphold. It’s also why I continue to do my part to raise awareness and effect change through my study of literacy and writing of books and prose. 
     It is my hope that soon we will begin to see equal levels of representation in our society, and that new avenues for original expression will continue to grow and transform what Nancy Larrick (1965) once called "the all-white world" of children's books. Fresh narratives will feature stories by and about blacks and people of color living full, rich lives without being substituted by fantasy characters or human-like animals. Stories will be grounded in contemporary pop-culture as well as in an imagined future. This, I feel, is how we as a reading community and national culture will grow. That's why it is my great pleasure to feature and support new voices. A look at the authors in the two books Valerie's Vignettes features in this post shows that their lives are far from ordinary. 
     Jones-Radgowski’s life in foreign service echos a love of adventure that her book about legendary Robert Smalls describes. And the story and characters in Moore-Fields' Pit Fighters are based on the events and people in his life. It’s also why I have decided to include in this edition and those to come, Question & Answer (Q&A) author interviews of the people behind the books. These up-and-coming authors- of-color work touch the pulse of trends in the writing community. So, I invite you to check out these two, new works. Moreover, be sure to come back next month to meet another author and to read another insightful Q&A.


MCBD 2020 is honored to have Valerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, and the following sponsors on board.


Author Sponsors: Jerry CraftA.R. Bey and Adventures in BoogielandEugina Chu & Brandon goes to BeijingKenneth Braswell & Fathers IncorporatedMaritza M. Mejia & Luz del mes_MejiaKathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry BlossomSISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. NorrgardJosh Funk and HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTERMaya/Neel Adventures with Culture GrooveLauren RanalliThe Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! By Dr. Sharon ChappellPhe Lang and Me On The PageAfsaneh Moradian and Jamie is Jamie,TUMBLE CREEK PRESSNancy Tupper LingAuthor Gwen JacksonAngeliki Pedersen & The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm TreeAuthor Kimberly Gordon BiddleBEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 by Mia WenjenSusan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher (Founders of Inner Flower Child Books)Ann Morris & Do It Again!/¡Otra Vez!, Janet Balletta and Mermaids on a Mission to Save the OceanEvelyn Sanchez-Toledo & Bruna Bailando por el Mundo\ Dancing Around the WorldShoumi Sen & From The Toddler DiariesSarah Jamila StevensonTonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book SeriesTeresa Robeson & The Queen of Physics, Nadishka Aloysius and Roo The Little Red TukTukGirlfriends Book Club Baltimore & Stories by the Girlfriends Book ClubFinding My Way Books, Diana Huang & IntrepidsFive Enchanted MermaidsElizabeth Godley and Ribbon’s Traveling CastleAnna Olswanger and GreenhornDanielle Wallace & My Big Brother Troy, Jocelyn Francisco and Little Yellow JeepneyMariana Llanos & Kutu, the Tiny Inca Princess/La Ă‘usta DiminutaSara Arnold & The Big Buna BashRoddie Simmons & Race 2 RioDuEwa Frazier & Alice’s Musical DebutVeronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series Green Kids Club, IncSuper Platinum Make A Way Media/ Deirdre “DeeDee” Cummings, Platinum Language LizardPack-N-Go GirlsGold Audrey PressLerner Publishing GroupKidLit TVABDO BOOKS: A Family of Educational PublishersPragmaticMom & Sumo JoCandlewick PressSilver Author Charlotte RiggleCapstone PublishingGuba PublishingMelissa Munro Boyd & B is for BreatheBronze Author Carole P. RomanSnowflake Stories/Jill BarlettiVivian Kirkfield & Making Their Voices HeardBarnes Brothers BooksTimTimTomWisdom Tales PressLee & Low Books, Charlesbridge PublishingBarefoot Books Talegari Tales   We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERECo-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts A Crafty ArabAfsaneh MoradianAgatha Rodi BooksAll Done MonkeyBarefoot Mommy, Bethany Edward & Biracial BookwormsMichelle Goetzl & Books My Kids ReadCrafty Moms ShareColours of UsDiscovering the World Through My Son’s EyesEducators Spin on itShauna Hibbitts-creator of eNannylinkGrowing Book by BookHere Wee ReadJoel Leonidas & Descendant of Poseidon Reads {Philippines}Imagination SoupKid World CitizenKristi’s Book NookThe LogonautsMama SmilesMiss Panda ChineseMulticultural Kid BlogsSerge Smagarinsky {Australia}Shoumi SenJennifer Brunk & Spanish PlaygroundKatie Meadows and Youth Lit Reviews

Meet Merrick Moore-Fields, Author of The Pit Fighters

Comicbook Creator and Afro-Futurist, Merrick Moore-Fields
Introducing Merrick Moore-Fields a budding comic book author and Afro-Futurist. Merrick is the creator of The Pit Fighters. He recently shared his story and reflections on authorship with Valerie's Vignettes.

Q1: Merrick, please tell us a bit of your project’s background, why you wrote it, and what you hope to achieve in doing so. 

The Pit-Fighters is science-fiction action tale about a group of fighters competing in a fighting tournament. Meanwhile, the nephew of one of the fighters manipulates time to stop and otherworldly horror threatening the universe. I have been working on this series since I was in middle school. This project has been through several drafts (I still have trouble reading through my early work, mostly because my handwriting was atrocious back then.) and I hope to finally get this series off the ground. I wrote The Pit-Fighters as a stepping stone into a larger universe, one inspired by Star Wars and Afrofuturism.

Learn more about the Pitfighters, here.
Q2: Why did you choose comic books, as opposed to another form of writing, as your form of expression?

I love comics. I have enjoyed reading them since I was 4 years old. I started off with comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes and then moved up to more complex graphic novels like Watchmen. I just think it is a very expressive medium that allows for complex ideas.

Q3: Were you interested in writing in school?

Yes, I was mostly into poetry and spoken word. I was in a spoken word club in high school. I did some creative writing, although that was mostly on my own.

Q4: What is Afrofuturism? And why is this your genre of choice?

There are many definitions of Afrofuturism. One definition I like comes from Jamie Broadnax, a guest writer at the Huffingtonpost. In her article, "What the heck is Afrofuturism?" she states, "Afrofuturism is the reimagining of a future filled with arts, science, and technology seen through a black lens." I believe this to be an accurate description. It is a genre that allows me as a writer to construct black characters without the overarching presence of Eurocentric thought.

Q5: Tell us about your development team and how you develop your stories?

I found some incredibly talented people online through sites like Deviantart and Facebook.
Sebastian Sala was a great artist who helped bring my characters to life, while Angel Rondon
brought vibrant colors that gave each page energy. Finally, Cristian Docolomansky Cerda
created fantastic lettering that really made the comic pop. I normally would write the script first,
do some concept drawings, thumbnails, and then send the necessary documents for the team
to work on. I am very hands-off, and I want to give the artist some breathing room to put their
own spin on my characters.

Q6: The Pit Fighters features a main character who is first referred to as "Little Sun-Born." Please tell us about this character. How did he come to be and how did you develop his voice, his style of language and talking?

That's Zeke. His full name is Ezekyel Arken-Spire, and he's one of the first characters I wrote. I
wrote him when I was in 5th grade. He's a kid who was given the ability to control time from a device called the Chronosphere. I developed his style by modeling him after my older brother
while throwing a bit of my personality in the mix. He's fun to write about, and I hope readers will
become engrossed in his character when his tale unfolds.

Q7: What are your goals for the book and series? What's next for The Pit Fighters?

I consider The Pit-Fighters to be my "launch-pad" for an even bigger project that I have been
working on since I was in middle school. I plan to separate The Pit-Fighters into two parts, finally
leading into my main series. For what's next in the story hopefully there will be some fighting.

Q8: How do you feel your work can impact young readers?

It always puts a smile on my face when young readers pick up and read my work. I hope the
impact would be that they see themselves in my characters, and hopefully in the future, cosplay
as them.

Q9: Are you familiar with Rudine Bishop Simms’ famous discussion of “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Doors”? How if at all, do you feel it applies to The Pit Fighters?

I actually just looked up the discussion (thank you internet.) I think that The Pit Fighters fits right
into it. It is very important for little readers to see themselves in what they read. I hope my
writing will help make their library a little more diverse.

Q10: What do you hope your readers take away from your books?

I want my readers to see black characters as multi-dimensional and complex, capable of
anything on the page. When I was little, I always wanted to see characters who looked like me
doing more than what society expects them to do. With Afrofuturism, black characters can
literally do anything they want.

Q11: What advice would you give other aspiring comic book authors?

Keep writing: there will be a time when you are able to go back and iron out all the fluff in your
stories, but keep building your stories and characters, and you will create your own universe in
no time.

Q12: Last, please share anything more you’d like to contribute to our discussion.

I feel we are in the midst of a renaissance going on when it comes to Afrofuturist works being
published by POC. I hope to contribute to this growing market.

Multicultural Children's Book Day, 2020 -- Book Review

“The Escape of Robert Smalls: A Daring Voyage Out of Slavery”
By Jehan Jones-Radgowski; Illustrated by Poppy Kang
Publisher: Capstone Editions          Published: 2019
ISBN: 9781543512816                      Pages: 42

Robert Smalls' true story is one for the ages. He was an enslaved man who commandeered a Confederate steamboat and then sailed it to freedom with his family and others among the ship’s 16 passengers. Then, as a freedman, Smalls returned to South Carolina and purchased the home of his former slaveholder funded in part by the $1,500 he was rewarded by the U.S. Navy for capturing the escape ship. Later, Smalls went into politics and became a member of the House of Representatives. He retired a U.S. Congressman years before his death in 1915.  But Smalls' most enduring accomplishment remains – his daring voyage out of slavery. 

And that adventure is exactly what is captured in Jehan Jones-Radgowski’s new children’s book: The Escape of Robert Smalls: A Daring Voyage Out of Slavery.

Based on the real-life story of Robert Smalls, the book offers a dramatic retelling of the historic event. Beyond the history itself, what makes this retelling fresh and engaging, worthy of a read, is the quality and cadence of the narrative. Depicted in a cartoon style of illustration, each of the book’s double panels draws the readers deeper into the adventure, tip-toeing through the night when Smalls made history. 

The new book doesn’t just tell this story; rather, it shows it in hues of grey, blue and brown. Readers are immediately drawn into the shadowy, sea-faring world of which illustrations set the tone for a rich description of the ingenuity behind Smalls' endeavor. 

With each turn of the page, another layer, another facet in Smalls' freedom play is revealed. These illustrations include drawings of how he practiced assuming the captain’s identity by studying and learning the slaveholder’s movements and demeanor. Other details like Smalls' use of a disguise to avoid being discovered, is also depicted. Such details echo the emotion of the harrowing act and tell a story that is driven by suspense-building, page-turning pauses.  

All action crescendos to an exuberant climax as the stealth seaman and his family reach safety. Readers will imagine the cheers and feel the relief the characters feel in reaching safety. In taking this approach, readers, too, will come away with a deep appreciation of the real brilliance and danger that characterized Smalls’ act and an awareness of the liberating sweetness of freedom.