Interview with Katheryn Russell-Brown

It’s back to days of alarm clocks and paying attention in class.
This summer I found a new author who will be easy to pay attention to, for Bookseedstudio’s first interview of the fall semester.

I met the author of LITTLE MELBA and HER BIG TROMBONE
after sweet trombone sounds accompanied her lively library talk.

It was the most musical children’s book signing I’ve ever attended.

Extra fun floated through the room of our downtown library, because Dr. Russell-Brown’s daughter Sasha, a fifth-grader, stood proudly on stage, playing select notes on her very own big trombone.
When the author kindly asked if a little boy in the enrapt audience
wanted to try out Sasha’s big trombone, he did! It almost felt like it
could be a scene from the author’s lyrical Coretta Scott King honor book, illustrated beautifully by Frank Morrison with signature elongated touches. But, we were attending another nourishing event
for readers at the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library.

images

Some background, from the story

Melba Doretta Liston grew up pushing the pedals on a player piano, while
beloved aunties danced in the living room. She was blessed with a mom who
bought the seven-year-old girl a trombone on the spot when Melba spied it offered
by a Kansas City traveling vendor. She insisted THAT was the instrument for her!
The rest is history. A history not widely known.
But it’s told for young readers via a spirited storytelling style in LITTLE MELBA.

Melba was one of the first women of any race to become a world-class trombone virtuoso – playing, composing and arranging. The back-of- the-book material shows a photograph of Melba with Quincy Jones. She also played for many others,
including Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and the Supremes.

artwork c. 2014 copyright, al rights reserved FRANK MORRISON from Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

artwork c. 2014 copyright, al rights reserved FRANK MORRISON from Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Melba experienced discrimination based on her race and for being a woman in a male-dominated artistic realm. Yet she performed all over the world, received many honors such as Jazz Master designation from the National Endowment for the Arts, and she eventually formed her own band. She was composing as recently as the 1990s. She was born in 1926 and died in 1999.

You might suspect the author is a music teacher but at the University of Florida College of Law, she is Dr. Katheryn Russell-Brown, professor of law and
director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations.

I know you’ll want to learn more about the author of LITTLE MELBA and HER BIG TROMBONE (Lee & Low Books) so let me bring her onstage.

Favorite music to listen to.
I’m a rhythm & blues girl, with particular affection for 1970s r & b. My list of favorite bands and singers is long. Let’s see, I love Earth Wind & Fire, the Isley Brothers, the O’Jays, the Spinners, James Brown, the Emotions, the Whispers, Maze, Stevie Wonder, Heatwave, the Commodores, Rufus, Kool & the Gang, the Jackson 5, Deniece Williams, the Dramatics…. I could go on for pages, there were so many amazing groups of musicians.

Author you’d like to meet.
Hands down, Toni Morrison. She writes with a twinkle in her eye. She is a masterful writer. Her fiction has received lots of attention but she also wields a mighty pen when writing non-fiction (“Birth of a Nation ‘Hood) and she’s written children’s books to boot (my kids love “The Big Box”).

What fact about Melba Doretta Liston amazes you the most?
Her incredible intellect and perseverance.

How did you learn about Melba Liston?
I heard a wonderful NPR radio broadcast in 2010 called, “Melba Liston: Bones of an Arranger,” narrated by Nancy Wilson.

Some favorite children’s movies.
I have two favorites. “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (the original with Gene Wilder) is one. It was absolutely magical. I saw it at the MacArthur/Broadway Mall in Oakland in 1971, when it first came out. The movie house was packed with kids who had been dropped off by their parents.

I also love “The Wiz” (1978). The music, the acting, and the production were fantastic. I’m thrilled that it will be back on Broadway next year. I’m taking my kids!

Future projects.
I have a few more stories up my sleeve. Please stay tuned!


Thank you, Katheryn.
It will be a pleasure to listen & stay tuned for more of your books.
Here is a website about LITTLE MELBA AND HER BIG TROMBONE
https://www.leeandlow.com/books/2854
Here is a website about Katheryn Russell-Brown
http://krbrown.net/CHILDRENS.html

Those of us who are filling our book baskets with titles to read
this school year will want to add in LITTLE MELBA, which is a Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book, illustrated by Frank Morrison. It fits several good connections including stories on

high-achieving girls & women

African-American role models

musical instrumentals, jazz & orchestras

Here are two websites about children’s books on girls & women
Amelia Bloomer List/ALA
https://ameliabloomer.wordpress.com/

KidLit Celebrates Women’s History Month (article by Katheryn Russell-Brown,
which includes a link to a video of a grown up Melba, performing)

http://kidlitwhm.blogspot.com/2015/03/little-melba-and-her-big-trombone.html

Here are two websites about books on African-American topics
Coretta Scott King Book Awards
http://www.ala.org/emiert/cskbookawards
The Brown Bookshelf
http://thebrownbookshelf.com/about/

Here is a website about children’s books on music

https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/childrens-music

I hope your school year sings.

SUGAR HILL

When I made a trip from Florida to visit a newsgal pal, Deborah, who lived in New York City in the 1980s, one day I arranged to ride a bus to one of the city’s most fascinating neighborhoods, Harlem.

Harlem is connected to Florida in many ways but especially because Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Augusta Savage and other talented cultural icons we share about with our kiddos in school, home & at the library, went from Florida to NYC & then onward in their great careers.

At that time, the only place

for them to be

in NYC

was Harlem.

Our Harlem tour was mighty fine. I have news of a new tour, with these introductory words by poet Carole Boston Weatherford:

                                                Sugar Hill Sugar Hill

                                                Where life is sweet

                                               And the neighbors smile

                                                   At all they greet!

The is from a rhyming tribute to a part of Harlem, Sugar Hill elegantly portrayed in images by artist R. Gregory Christie.

Both the poet and illustrator have earned a block full of children’s literature awards.  Not only have I given some of their books as gifts, but I was also fortunate to hear Ms. Weatherford read her poetry once.

If you are like me, you’ll want to read more of the rhymes. Until you can find this brand new picture book, here are some of Christie sketches for SUGAR HILL, HARLEM’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOOD, through the courtesy of the artist and, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Hope you book your tour.

notes – Mother’s Day Weekend 2012

A very good ‘bye & two hellos

Anne Rudloe/Butterflies On A Sea Wind

Suitably for a memorial,  clouds opened up Sunday May 13 in time for umbrellas to pop like mushrooms, among congregants arriving at church to reflect upon the life of author & scientist Anne Rudloe.  Because she was a Buddhist teacher I wondered if we would find jewel- tone prayer flags & sandalwood incense & perhaps the sound of a delicate small gong?  Instead, lovely hymns & also some Gershwin & The Sound of Music. Many smiles & tears. Loving tributes to her life, where she enriched so many. Departure was in pure sunshine, drops dancing off tree leaves, shimmery glints along the path home. Good wishes to Family &  Gulf Marine Specimen folks.

FAITH RINGGOLD. She stood up the whole hour she spoke. She is 81.

&  FAITH RINGGOLD/c. Jan Godown Annino

After decades of world-wide accolades, she still had to outfox an oily art dealer who intended to keep her Clinton family portrait rather than pass it on as intended. With her husband Birdie helping, she put it directly into grateful hands at the White House. Her sparkling mural mosaics are lesser known than the totemic story quilts that are catalysts for children’s books.

She read from her witty new bullying poetry.  Public school kids in NYC knew her as their art teacher, before she quit to spend time with her other talents. California college students call her professor.Thanks, FSU Fine Arts folks.

ANDREA DAVIS PINKNEY. Wow. Never imagined two years ago when I presented at the library on SIT IN, a Brian Pinkney-illustrated history for young readers of Greensboro, N.C. desegregation by brave students, that the author would be presenting on it herself.

The interactive event that covered many children’s literature titles, found us stretching our credulity to see if we thought our cat lounging at home could talk & narrate a story & also asking ourselves how we would respond to hot coffee & catsup being poured on our heads. A lively & deep talk, all the more special because of the all-ages audience.

Pinkney sets her alarm for 4 a.m. She writes every day.  Thanks, LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library folks.

Andrea Davis Pinkney & Brian Pinkney

social studies

Maps & globes. The state’s symbols. Our national landmarks & parks & wild places. The people who farmed, fished, created artwork & lived off the land before the time of Columbus. And, everything that happened after that.

Such as the people like my Dad, who , as a boy, worked on a tiny 3-legged stool, in a barn lit by a kerosene lantern.

If these topics make your heart beat fast, you may love Social Studies.

A separate subject, accompanired in years past with huge, vivid color pull-down maps on sturdy maple wood poles. Today the maps are downloaded with ease. And the spot on Earth studied is zoomed into by digital devices that delight me each time I play with them. Amazing,

I remember home walls that were map magnets. Mainly maps from the National Geographic magazine . But a special auto road map would be taped up (taped!), too.

Whether you are a card-carrying social studies type or, like me, you enjoy your own study,  here is a social studies oriented link about Betty Mae Tiger Jumper.

Our only Amelia Jenks Bloomer

We are anticipating the February Read-In, created by the Black Caucus of the NCTE , but before that introspective time at the library is upon us, it’s time to announce two important events of January. First, Literacy with a capital L was feted  well for a week in official ways here in Florida.

Bears of the kind that can be compelled to look at books enlivened Celebrate Literacy Week. They attended school where I volunteer. At the appointed hour we experienced the fun of  DEAR – Drop Everything and Read . My Book Bear puppet snuggled in his always-attached purple sleeping bag, to read CATWINGS from Urusula K. LeGuin.  I settled in a plastic chair to begin Tracy Barret’s channeling of teen angst in Classical (minotaur) times, THE KING OF ITHAKA. Celebrate Literacy Week  ended for me with a surprise visit from  The Cat In The Hat & a governor of the way past & Mrs. Governor at Children’s Day at the Mueum of Florida History.  As one little girl said, whilst occupied in making an alligator book mark at my table for Children’s Day:  “I am a STAR reader! ” She is. They all were. Are. Please let us enjoy more weeks like this.

Also in January I’ve been delighted to compose linking information about 10 particular books for our reading pleasure. The links are a work in progress, so check back.

Each title is newly deemed by the Social Responsibilities Round Table’s Feminist Task Force, of the American Library Association, to be worthy of association with the hallowed name of that wonderful editor, writer, public speaker & wife beloved by her husband, Dexter Bloomer, the one and only feminist Amelia Jenks Bloomer  (1818-1894) Dexter so adored Amelia that after her death, he collected her writings in a book.  He was a journalist who urged Amelia, a teacher and caregiver to children, to publish in the first place.  Her good name is lent to an annual list of 60 or so books, dynamic stories, both fiction and non, published each year, for readers from babies through age 18, that are written and illustrated in a way that is thought to “spur the imagination while confronting traditional female stereotypes.” AJB is, of course, remembered for the Turkish pantaloons that another feminist brought back from world travels. Amelia aquired some, wore them rather than 10 pounds of petticoats & stiff corsets, etc. & wrote about them in her newspaper, The Lily. One fine biography where some of this AJB material is from, is given us by Nebraska author Mary Lickteig, to whom I say a rousing, Thank You.

For 2011 (published in 2010) the Top 10 titles of the Amelia Bloomer Project List, announced Jan. 11, 2011  at the ALA’s Midwinter Meeting are:

CLICK: When We Knew We Were Feminists by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan

FEARLESS FEMALE JOURNALISTS by Joy Crysdale

FEARLESS: The True Story of Racing Legend Louise Smith by Barbara Rosenstock & illustrated by Scott Dawson

I AM NUJOOD, by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoul

PEMBA SHERPA by Olga Cossi with illustrations from Gary Bernard

SHE SANG PROMISE: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader by Jan Godown Annino with illustrations from Lisa Desimini & afterword from Moses Jumper, Jr.

SOAR, ELINOR! by Tami Lewis  Brown with illustrations from Francois Roca

THE COWGIRL WAY: Hat’s off to America’s Women of the West by Holly George-Warren

THE FIREFLY LETTERS: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba by Margarita Engle.

WOMEN AVIATORS: From Amelia Earhart to Sally Ride, Making History in Space by Bernard Marck

http://www.amazon.com/Women-Aviators-Amelia-Earhart-History/product-reviews/208030108X/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

 

 

(2 notes: I am publishing this now before February arrives & I expect to have more links up soon. The month got away from me with an unexpected out of town trip & …. life, sweet life.   Thank you to Jennifer L. Holm for writing the wonderful  Our Only May Amelia, from whence I stole the title idea for this post.)

mighty fine

Wishing you a new year as fresh as  lemons and red grapefruit,

just snapped off from the branch  (thank you Maria & Joe.)

Wishing good luck to candidates for

the Coretta Scott King Awards & mock awards.

Wishing peace to all, especially the Bamboo People.

Wishing fun for all, especially the Betsy-Tacy folks.

an author to meet in alabama

JO. S. KITTINGER

http://www.jokittinger.com/
is an author to meet in Alabama.

(My apologies – I had my typical link issues tonight so you may need to type in Jo’s name into your search engine.)

I met the always bizee Jo S. Kittinger,  through the second home that is teacher/friend/cheerleader

to writers & illustrators working on stories for the kiddos,  the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

http://www.scbwi.org/

Jo is a regional advisor in this group for the Southern Breeze (GA, MS & AL & for Florida, a bit of the roof of the state.)

She is a much-published non-fiction & fiction picture book writer.

She is also an expert photographer. This fall, something new pictures her world.

She presents her debut literary picture book. It’s  about an event in modern U.S. history close to many hearts.

These questions today  are about, ROSA’S BUS, for the Calkins Creek imprint of Boyds Mills Press.

It is  illustrated by Steven Walker  in an arresting style that

makes me think of the grand Works Progress Administration post office &

government building murals.

Q

What do you want readers to feel about the bus that Rosa Parks rode?

JO KITTINGER

When Americans gaze at the Liberty Bell, I imagine they are filled
with a sense of patriotic pride in the freedoms we all enjoy. I would
love for readers to feel the same way about Rosa’s Bus.

Q

Did you always know that the bus, #2857, still existed? Would you
share the story of how you found this historic Civil Rights era icon in Michigan?

JO KITTINGER

No, I was not aware of the existence of the actual bus, #2857, until a
few years ago. I was contacted by Donnie Williams, the Georgia man who
owned the bus before it was sold to the Henry Ford Museum.
Williams had written an adult book about the bus and the Civil Rights
movement, THE THUNDER OF ANGELS, and his editor was interested in a
children’s book about the bus. Donnie acknowledged that he was not a
children’s author, so he contacted me. I was able to interview
Williams and was intrigued. Unfortunately, the project did not work
out with his editor and then Donnie passed away. I decided the subject
was worth pursuing and continued work on the story.

Q

What is your connection with civil rights? And that era the bus represents?

JO KITTINGER

I feel a deep connection with the history of the Civil Rights movement, having grown up during those
tense years in the south. Visiting our Birmingham Civil Rights
Institute is always a moving experience. They have a similar bus from
that era on exhibit, in conjunction with the Freedom Riders.

Q

What do you want young readers to understand, more than anything else,
about the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott?

JO KITTINGER

Freedom is not free. The bus boycott was a difficult year for all
those who participated. But black people were determined to go the
distance, to stick with the boycott until the changes were achieved. I
think it is also very important to realize that non-violent means CAN
be an effective avenue to change.

Q

What is it about writing for young readers on historical topics that
especially speaks to you?

JO KITTINGER

When I was a child, history seemed dry, uninteresting and unimportant.
I hope that by presenting history in an interesting way I can help
children realize that there is much to be learned from what has
already happened in our world. We can avoid repeating mistakes if we
are willing to learn from history.
Q

Can you please share a little bit about artist Steven Walker and his
evocative picture book illustrations for your story?

JO KITTINGER

I wish I’d had the privilege of meeting Walker and discussing his
work, but editors like to keep authors and illustrators separate for
the most part. But I was very pleased that Walker was chosen for this
project. He is primarily a fine artist, rather than an illustrator, so
I was very curious about what approach he might take with my story.
You can see more of his work at http://www.stevenwalkerstudios.com. I
must admit that I was taken aback for just a second by the stoic
nature of his work. But after reflection, I realized that he’d
perfectly captured a mood that I’m sure was accurate for the
situation. As an African American, he added a perspective that I’d
only been able to imagine. I’m very grateful for his contribution to

this book.

Many thanks,  Jo.

I’m sure readers will be at their libraries & bookstores,  asking  for

ROSA’s BUS.