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.

Nelson Mandela by J. Patrick Lewis

copyright KADIR NELSON

copyright KADIR NELSON

 

July 18th is a day for Mr. Nelson Mandela, who said,

 

“It is within your hands to make of our world, a better world for all.”

 

Thank you, Anastasia Suen & POETRY FRIDAY & J. Patrick Lewis.

The J. Patrick Lewis poem gives me goose bumps, especially at one line:

Nelson Mandela International Day poem by J. Patrick Lewis.

 

Here is more on Mr. Mandela, Nobel winning peace maker:

http://www.mandeladay.com/

And here is even more, from his Foundation:

http://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/biography

And finally, from Alicia Lewis Murray, (I don’t know if there is a Lewis-Lewis connection..)  here is a look at Mr. Mandela from the perspective of children’s books:

http://www.balancingmotherhood.com/2013/12/12/nelson-mandela-childrens-book/

The artwork here is from KADIR NELSON’s exceptional book, NELSON MANDELA as displayed with Alicia’s article.

 

A young poet in character

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye edited the poetry anthology SALTING THE OCEAN, which is afloat with the vibrant writings of young poets. Like Nye, I think that attention paid to young poet voices can build peace, provide future strong leaders and just make any poet’s day.

If you agree, Poetry Out Loud,  is a brilliant program you may want to run out & connect with. I volunteered with POL recently & hope to help out more, next time around.

In the 1950s in my state, Florida, a Putlizer-Prize winning author thought about a young poet.

In doing so, the author created a character not seen often then. An elementary-age poet character. If you know of a recent (within 3 years or forthcoming) picture book or illustrated book (not YA, which pays tribute to teen poet charactersoften enough) for children that features a elementary age character who is a poet, I would like to know for my list.

In the meantime, young poet Calpurnia is a character to consider. She is inspired by her dog, to write poetry:

 

My dog’s name is Buggy-horse

         Of course.

 

Our young poet further writes:

 

Lovely day,

Come what may.

         If I did not love

                           my mother

                                    and my father

 

         I would run away.

         Because

                           it is a running-away

         Kind of day.

from THE SECRET RIVER

 

With the birds chit-chittering outside my open window

 

With the two kinds of azalea in the yard (native & exotic) nodding pink petals on the March breeze

 

With my Western cousins having just swept through town on their way home, enticing us with video of their kayak adventures among manatees, alligators and living whelks

It

feels like

a running-away day.

I can’t run.

Why –

just been away in Boston & then immediately after, Central Florida

hosting a critique meeting soon

have 3 essay deadlines

And mostly, my writing deserves this keyboard time.

But – if you are north of Garden Zone 8 &  your winter has lasted longer than usual this year, is it time for your running-away day?

I hope so, remembering the advice of one of my favorite writers for children, Cynthia Rylant, who said that instead of reading an interview with her online, a writer should probably go and play.

 

Did you guess the adult creator of the young poet who was inspired by her dog?

It is Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, in THE SECRET RIVER.

Timeless, lovely story, in each of its two editions:

 

THE SECRET RIVER  by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

THE SECRET RIVER
by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

 

 

THE SECRET RIVER by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings illustrated by  Leo & Diane Dillon

THE SECRET RIVER by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
illustrated by
Leo & Diane Dillon

 

 

 

 

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

We are one

“We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.” – BAYARD RUSTIN quoted in WE ARE ONE, an illustrated biography for young readers, by Larry Dane Brimner

In my crowd, I am often late to knowledge.

Clarity about the meaning of the everyday term for where I live in the cosmos – the universe – ONE SONG – only arrived when I became a mother. This  left me giddy.  ‘One song, one song, one song,” I remember lilting to my baby girl as we danced around the room.  And then I thought of the Beatles: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together..”

WE ARE ONE is the perfect title for an illustrated biography of one of the most famous men of the Civil Rights Movement you have yet to hear of.  I am late, very late, to know about him. I feel privileged that Larry Dane Brimner is the person who brings him to me.

With recent events in the country of pharaohs,  watching the expression of oneness in Cairo,  it’s a good time to examine WE ARE ONE, The  Story of Bayard Rustin. Without this book, black history months such as this one is, would come and go with nary a mention of Rustin.

I hope this title earned  a shelf of awards.

The author has tackled  a key person in U.S. Civil Rights history who is under-represented on children’s bookshelves, as far as I can tell, from skimming the titles out there.

Secondly, Rustin was gay and a member of the  Communist Party in the United States. To his great credit, Larry Dane Brimner presents these topics with more than a cover-the-bases sentence for each of these area of Rustin’s complex life.

Finally, he knocks the socks off the reader by uncovering one outstanding fact after another of this unsung hero.

For example –

Who convinced the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not to carry a gun and not to keep an armed guard at his house in Montgomery during the tense days of the civil rights protests of 1955 & 1956?  It was the peaceful protest that Dr. King became synonymous with.

Who repeatedly tested the color barriers on public buses & also the response of Southern bus drivers & riders, in 1942 long before Rosa Parks (1955) , and was hauled off the bus and arrested?

Whose arrest for sitting in a “white” seat while living his peaceful life as a black man, resulted in his working on THE CHAIN GANG in North Carolina?

After getting off the chain gang (think COOL HAND LUKE, there is a movie in Bayard Rustin’s life ) whose article about that chain gang labor, in The New York Post, helped bring about an end to the North Carolina chain gangs?

Who was a Quaker?

Who credited his peaceful protest guidance of the Civil Rights movement to his grandmother?

Who organized  every detail of the Aug. 28, 1963 rally for equality on the National Mall – from details about what kind of box lunch each bus rider should bring for themselves, to how to get 100,000 mainly poor black folks, safely from their small home towns to the nation’s Capitol?

From the author we learn the answer to each of these questions is: Bayard Rustin.

Before reading this book, my answer to a lot of these questions would have been something like,  “Well, somehow I thought King had done that.”

Rustin is the fella who created the crowd for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , at the Washington Monument that August 28 of 1963. Rustin brought people with no means to travel, with the challenges of  travel & lodging for black folks, to fill up  the long Mall in Washington, D.C. He did this without e-mail, cell phones, tweeting, Facebook, MySpace, ATMs &, well you know the ways of today.

This is a fabulous biography. I enjoyed everything, especially I liked reading about his West Chester, Pennsylvania family, where the grandmother, was a Quaker and therefore a pacifist. Grandma Julia married a man who had been born into slavery, Janifer Rustin. Not only that, he was a slave in the North, so when Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, it didn’t “free” Janifer Rustin. That happened a year after, when the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by the U.S. Congress.  We begin to see the kinds of stories the young Bayard learned, growing up with Mr. and Mrs. Rustin. Bayard Rustin was born in 1912 and passed on in 1987.

Faced with this wealth of material, I’m not sure how I would have crafted the story. I might have been tempted to just keep the Bayard Rustin file open, indefinitely, seeking subjects easier to translate to teachers and those they tutor in civics and Civil Rights topics.

We are all fortunate, every one, that Larry Dane Brimner chose to delve into the topic and emerge with a lively and enlightening story.

Unlike many of the authors whose books I choose to write about here, I don’t know Brimner as a pal. I liked  chatting with him at a book-signing table last year as he met teacher fans, but it was a brief contact & I got no sense of who he was, other than another writer sitting on a high chair before a table with a stack of books my his side & a smile on his face for each person who presented a crisp hardbound illustrated book toward him to sign.

I apologize to the school intended to be gifted the copy that I had Brimner sign.  I have kept it far too long since November when I bought it. But with this post going up in mid-February, I will take it there next visit.  And I am grateful to my pal

Joan Broerman for her early recommendation of this title.

For more on Mr. Rustin, in addition to Larry Dane Brimner’s valuable book, there is an excellent resource I found from the material in the back copy of WE ARE ONE, at Columbia University’s oral history project.  You may also want to see Mr. Rustin on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1963. Those were the days we received not only LIFE but LOOK, every week at home. So that means he was in my living room & likely, I saw this same cover on our coffee table, but being a little kid, it didn’t sink in.  I am thankful for this chance to understand, through the teachings of Mr. Rustin that WE ARE ONE.

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.)