Basking in the Spotlight

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As an entrepreneur, you don’t get many pats on the back.

Employee/subcontractor appreciation is something you do…not necessarily something you receive. You are your own “wind beneath your wings.” Your back pats are new and repeat business. (I’m not complaining!) But there are times when you just want to hear the words “good job,” and that’s exactly what I heard the other night.

Last week, I received the 2015 Giving Spirit Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners, which recognized my volunteer work on behalf of The Children’s Center, and Cranbrook’s Horizon Upward Bound SISTERs program. Most notably, I was singled out for my work as a volunteer reader for the last two years in public schools where I have read my two children’s books–Taj Cleans the Garage and Malcolm Mows the Lawn–and encouraged young children to choose books for imaginative fun and adventure!

The likes, shares, retweets, views, favorites and comments that followed the award announcement all felt like a warm, cuddly blanket that wrapped me up in praise and congratulations. I heard from friends and collegues, clients and family, all filling me up with their kind words and expressions of love. Now, I am passionate about all of the work I do in the community, and while I don’t do it for recognition, my heart swelled with gratitude that someone had noticed.

Thank you, everyone, for your good wishes and for your awards night support. I think it meant so much because even a self-starting, go-getting, everyday is a new opportunity to shine entrepreneur like me, needs a little recognition sometime.

Congratulations to all of the 2015 NAWBO awardees:

Breakthrough Award, Samantha White,  Founder, Shakespeare in Detroit; Diversity Champion, Siham Jaafar, President & CEO, 3D Consulting & Communications; Global Business Award, Kay Douglas, President, Douglas Marketing Group; Pinnacle Award, Barb Hendrickson, President, Visible Communication, LLC; Rainmaker Award, Belinda Jefferson, President, Hercules & Hercules, Inc.; Red-Tape Buster Award, Sheila Konanur, President & CEO, Naadee, LLC; Up-and-Coming Award, Robin Cole, President & CEO, Professional Medical Centers; Warrior Award, Cassaundra Sims, Vice President, Universal Solutions Management; Words of Wisdom Award, Melanie Duquesnel, President & CEO, Better Business Bureau; Greater Good Award, Rhonda Walker, President, Rhonda Walker Foundation.

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Don’t Judge a Book By the Cover

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I was recently invited to read to Mrs. Charles class of second grade students at Marquette Elementary and Middle School on Multicultural Children’s Book Day. Once again, I was awestruck by the inquisitive nature and insight of little people who say the “darnedest things.”

MCCBDay, was started last year by two children’s book authors to promote diversity books and authors, and to send a message to publishers that the demand for multicultural books is real. Last year, I wrote about my experience at University Prep with students who brought in their favorite diverse books and talked about why they liked them.

This time, I read my latest book, Malcolm Mows the Lawn, a story about a little boy whose chore turns into an exciting adventure, and he becomes a hero. The literacy instructional specialist, Aretha Snadon, also asked me to read another book, The Royal Bee by Francis and Ginger Park, which was about a little boy in 20th century Korea whose persistence earned him an education and eventually, a national prize that allowed him to feed and clothe his family.

Right away, the story points out that only rich children were allowed to go to school. One little girl raised her hand. Yes?

“That’s not fair,” she said. “All people should be able to go to school.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

The kids had other questions too, and I had mine. Was Malcolm’s adventure real or imagined?

“It was fiction,” said one boy. “He was dreaming!”

Which book was your favorite?” I asked, so assured of the answer. When the majority of the children said the Korean book, Why?

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“It was inspiring,” said one little girl.

“But the book you wrote was fun!” said a boy. (Ahhh…my target market has spoken!)

I had expected the typical second grade class: Jittery, a little noisy, anxious to one-up the last answer someone gave. But these young people were thoughtful, calm and very good listeners.

While some parents and teachers may already know this, here’s what I learned: Our kids may be little and noisy and constantly craving fun, but once you turn the page, you will see their desire to connect the dots, and to understand how and why things are the way they are, whether real or make believe!

Reading—especially about diverse children and cultures—is a great way to help them to do that.

If Football Players Can Wear Pink, We Can End Illiteracy

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(Left to right) Cowboys & Lions in pink; Pam Good, Renee Prewitt, Leslie Andrews and Councilman James Tate at Beyond Basics Literacy Summit; Links Panel on Literacy; Art Wall at Starr Academy.

I believe that we will greatly diminish illiteracy–especially in Detroit–in my lifetime. I’m a believer because I’ve seen problems of this magnitude make significant advances since I’ve been around, and I’m convinced that, when it comes to illiteracy, this too shall pass.

For example, December 1 was the anniversary of the day that Civil Rights Advocate Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of the bus. Today, Barack Obama sits in the White House as the nation’s first African American president. Decades ago, Nancy Brinker’s sister, Susan G. Komen, sat in the back room of a hospital at a time when it was taboo to say the words “breast cancer.” Today, even big, strapping football players wear pink shoes on the football field, and an army of survivors have helped to turn fear and shame into courage. I’m a big fan of classic movies, and beyond their black and white allure and stylish sophistication, they reflected a time when smoking cigarettes was considered cool and sexy. Today, cigarette cool is making its last stand. The little tobacco stick is not even allowed in its most sacred refuge, the bar! Who ever would have thought?

But, most of all, I’m a believer because every time I’m with a group of people who are committed to reading and literacy, the energy in the room is so powerful. The people and the programs underway are not overwhelmed by the problem here in Detroit, where 47% of people are illiterate. Rather, they are dedicated to exposing children to books, to new experiences and helping them to develop language. Small victories become huge successes over time.

I believe that we will win this war on illiteracy in Detroit, in America, and eventually, around the world. Think about it, and I am sure you will agree. We’ve all seen issues of this magnitude solved in the past, and in time, we will say, Illiteracy: Problem solved! The opportunities to be a part of the movement are everywhere!

Reading and Volunteer Resources
http://detroitk12.org/readingcorps/
www.beyondbasics.org
www.liveunitedsem.org
www.gradelevelreading.net
www.pnc.com/grow-up-great
www.matrixhumanservices.org
www.readingrecovery.org

Renee Prewitt is author of Taj Cleans the Garage and Malcolm Mows the Lawn, books about little boys whose chores turn into exciting adventures!

When Crashing Is a Teachable Moment

Kitai takes flight in After Earth

Kitai takes flight in After Earth

I saw two very good movies this weekend and was genuinely surprised that my earlier dismissal of both was turned on its ear.

The first movie, After Earth, starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden (Kitai), was an exceptional portrayal of a father-son relationship fraught with trust, love and acceptance issues. After a horrible crash onto a planet where “everything lives to kill man,” Ranger Cadet Kitai has to venture out into the wilderness alone to find a rescue beacon to save his skin and that of his incapacitated father. As I’m watching him being chases by manic gorillas, I say to myself, “This is an adventure story, just like the ones in my two books, Taj Cleans the Garage and Malcolm Mows the Lawn.”

Taj and Malcolm are both African American boys and their chores turn into adventures. Taj learns the Golden Rule, and Malcolm becomes a hero. It’s light, fun stuff for the 2-7 age group. In After Earth, Kitai faces a series of challenges (adventures) too that force him to overcome his fears and rely on his instincts.

Yes, there were moments in the film when things did not quite mesh together. There were also a couple of times when it appeared as though, for Kitai, following directions was a concept as foreign as planet Earth. But hey, all kids do that and to be honest, Kitai had his reasons. Did his Dad not see that monster-sized tarantula on his son’s arm after telling him he could protect him by watching his every move via that giant TV screen that survived the crash? Eventually, the son, guided by the father, comes into his own, trusts himself and emerges the hero. Just like Malcolm did…in a way! The other reason why I liked After Earth is because it lays out such a positive relationship between an African American Dad and his son.  I am not sure, but I think this is a first for Hollywood.

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The second movie, The Internship, wasn’t bad either. To be honest, I don’t get Vince Vaughn. It takes me too long to zone into his borderline humor, even in this movie. But I was fascinated by the idea of having both Taj and Malcolm, and little boys and girls who look like them (not depicted in the movie, by the way) to grow up one day and compete for an internship at the greatest place to work in the world…Google!

That’s part of the movie’s charm. It is a tongue-in-cheek depiction of what we’re missing as employees of any company, anywhere else. In The Internship, both guys “crash” the party. They’re outsiders who want in, and they bring their unique games to the party, spicing it up in a way that only age and experience can contrive. They’re after the perks of all perks: At Google, you get lots of free coffee drinks and food, reflection chaises where you can recharge yourself—not just your batteries—and you’re surrounded by young, smart kids who are the best of the best, and they know it!

If the internship competition is really one of the ways to get a job at Google, then kids, pay attention! I would like to show both of these movies to the children I have been reading to in Detroit and Southfield Public Schools. In both cases I would ask them very basic questions.

What would you do if you thought that the team you were assigned to could not win a competition?

What would you do if you had to run half-way across a dangerous countryside to find a rescue beacon that could save you and your Dad’s life?

I am a reader and a huge advocate of reading as the backstage pass to everything you can possibly want to do in life. But as I become more adept at mining the broader messages that relate so deeply to my heart and soul, I will also sneak in a movie lesson, especially if it offers the chance to tap into a child’s imagination and become a teachable moment, either by hook, by crook, or by crash!

Malcolm Mows the Lawn Will Debut at Ann Arbor Book Festival

 

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I will read my new multicultural children’s book at the 10th Ann Arbor Book Festival, June 21st.

USA is becoming more diverse but multicultural children’s books are on the decline.

Malcolm is second book in series aimed at closing the 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3.

All of the things above are true. Malcolm Mows the Lawn, is my new multicultural children’s book, about a little boy who learns how earning money to buy toys can lead to fun-filled adventures with alligators, speed boats, baseball games, and lost puppies. It is written for ages 2 to 7, and shows how a boy of color juggles responsibility, courage and teamwork to become a hero, leading readers to ponder the question, “Who knew that doing chores to help Mom and Dad could be so exciting?”

I’ll read Malcolm Mows the Lawn in the Children’s Tent at the 10th Ann Arbor Book Festival on Saturday, June 21st, 1 pm. The rest of the day, I’ll be available to sign books at Booth 15. Let me give a shout out to the illustrator right now; he is Scott Everett, whose also a graphic designer and a recent graduate of the College for Creative Studies.

With this book, I am continuing my mission–yes, I am on one–to develop a series of multicultural children’s books that boys want to read. I worked closely with Scott to make sure the pages were filled with bright, stimulating visuals that would draw readers into the story and take them on an energetic ride throughout the book. Malcolm also has ten discussion questions and a Fun Facts section in the back.

Final Malcom 1-5-08I started this series because I was always looking for good stories for my son to read. I wanted to introduce him to characters that nurtured his identity as a young African American boy. Although he’s now grown, I hope that Malcolm Mows the Lawn and the first book in the series, Taj Cleans the Garage, will help to fill this void.

According to the Children’s Book Council, fewer and fewer multicultural books are being published, although the country is becoming more diverse. Major publishers site poor sales and little interest among customers, but my books are appealing to people of all ethnic backgrounds who know how important it is for children to see a true reflection of the world in which they live.

These two books do something else too. They reinforce some of the old school values I grew up with like doing chores to earn an allowance, living by the Golden Rule, and helping neighbors. While reading Malcolm and Taj in classrooms, I have already witnessed young children talking about creating their own adventures and becoming real-life heroes. I hope to find that same magic next week!

Indies Are Not Dinosaurs

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Christopher Paul Curtis and Renee Prewitt at Book Beat “Indies First Storytime Day”

Some people say that the independent book store will be like dinosaurs soon; they will only be resurrected as Hollywood remakes. But I wouldn’t wager my 35mm digital movie camera just yet, based on the response from authors and readers alike at the Indies First Storytime Day, which took place on Saturday, May 17 at Book Beat in Oak Park, Michigan.

 

The whole idea was put together by Kate DiCamillo, author of the 2014 Newbery Award for Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures. She’s also National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (2014-2015). “The point is to show up and to read aloud, to celebrate stories and to celebrate the indies who work so hard to put our stories in the hands of readers,” she said.

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To honor Children’s Book Week (May 12-18) about 15 authors came to Book Beat, and read to a medium-sized, responsive crowd throughout a cool, windy day, full of sunshine. I started out reading Book Fiesta! by Pat Mora, recalling with great care, a few Spanish words I learned in high school. Cheered on by Book Beat owner Colleen Kammer, I followed up by reading one of my children’s books, Taj Cleans the Garage, about a little boy whose chore turns into an adventure. (A lot of parents liked the chore idea.)

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My highlight of the day was meeting Christopher Paul Curtis, who read a hilarious excerpt from The Watsons Go to Birmingham. My kids grew up reading his books and when I found two that they hadn’t read, I asked him, “Which one of these do you think they would like the most?” Without hesitation and despite my protests, he purchased, signed and gave me both of them: The Mighty Miss Malone and Elijah of Buxton. When I texted my daughter about it, all she said was “OMG, OMG, OMG! Did you tell him that Bud, Not Buddy, is my favorite?” Now, I have!

Gloria Whelan was there–all of her titles covered a whole table–as well as Susan Whithall, Wong Herbert Yee, Jean Alicia Elster, Kathryn Madeline Allen, Matt Faulkner, Jenny Risher, Terry Blackhawk, Michael Zadoorian, Rick Lieder, Brynne Barnes, and Tracy Gallup.

Children clapped and held out their books to be signed, Moms and Dads laughed, we discussed the ups and downs of the book industry, and ate delicious cake. Author swag bags included Gayle’s Chocolates and City Girls Soap, both Michigan based businesses.

“This event competed against a lot of activities on Saturday, including thousands of trees being planted in Detroit to remove blight, volunteers cleaning up the Detroit River, religious ceremonies, and an international Comics convention,” said Kammer. “Still, I’m happy for all of the authors and supporters who came out. Books matter and everyone’s presence reinforced that message.”

Long live the independent book stores! Dinosaurs not allowed!

Renee Prewitt is the author of two children’s books: Taj Cleans the Garage and Malcolm Mows the Lawn. 

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When Thunder, the Flying Horse Came

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When you tap into a child’s imagination, you’re likely to hear them say anything. That’s what happened this week when several volunteers from Chrysler joined me to read my new children’s book, Taj Cleans the Garage, to about 900 kids in celebration of National Reading Month. The automotive giant also provided a copy of the book to each child in Kindergarten through third grade at Burton International Academy, Sampson Webber Leadership Academy, and Thirkell and Chrysler Elementary, all Detroit Public Schools. It was a heady week for this new author who is passionate about helping to close the achievement gap.

Taj Cleans the Garage is the story about a little boy who does a chore that turns into a magical adventure. He takes off on a flying horse named Thunder who soars high into the air and almost gets captured by pirates. At the conclusion of the story, I always ask, “Where would you want the flying horse to take you?”

“Grandma’s house!” “The beach!” “Disney World!” were the most popular answers.

But geography and everything else became fair game too as the children told me about places that embedded warm memories of family, friends and fun. Just about every state in the union was mentioned with Hawaii at the top of the list. When it came to world travel they wanted to go to Africa, Mexico and Asia. They also wanted the flying horse to take them to Cedar Point amusement park, Lego Land, Santa’s Workshop, McDonald’s, the bank and then the mall, the park, Dad’s house, their cousin’s house, and to the hotel swimming pool. Ms. Naster’s Kindergarten class at Thirkell–who I had read to earlier in the month–presented me with a book titled, Thunder Takes Us… It was full of drawings of all the places they wanted to go to, including many of them here.

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I truly feel like I have been flying with Thunder all week. The children’s excitement was contagious. They were so energetic, so full of wonder and curiosity, so creative and responsive to questions that invited them to stretch their imaginations to the sky, and so attentive too, which was great for my ego!

I said this before (or something like it) and I’ll say it again. Pick a school and go in and read to the children. It reinforces that reading is a fun activity that should be shared. Children see the world with fresh eyes and have an uncanny ability to help adults lighten up and see things differently too. I think you’ll find that reading a  story to a child is one of the easiest ways to give back to your community, and the most rewarding too.

And now, the awards…Renee, Taj, Thunder and Jackson want to thank the following for making this week one of the most exciting times in our lives!

Chrysler, Daphne Harris and Chrysler volunteers: You have made our dreams come true!

Beyond Basics, Ellen Sellstrom and Pam Good: You guys are scheduling genius’s and have one of the best literacy programs ever!

Detroit Public School Principals John Wilson, Burton International Academy; Anthony Houston and Asst. Principal Trina Lee, Sampson Webber Leadership Academy; Dr. Clara Smith, Thirkell Elementary School; Wendy Shirley, Chrysler Elementary: For your unwavering commitment to educate the children in Detroit.

Detroit Public School teachers: Thank you for teaching and preparing the future leaders of tomorrow DAY IN and DAY OUT!

Detroit Public School Students: Thank you for being so full of possibilities and for sharing Taj Cleans the Garage with me. Keep reading!

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