Two Places at Once: Detroit and Dubai

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Detroit, MI–I just returned home from a fantastic vacation and although I’m glad to be back, I’m not quite home yet. My thoughts are still filled with the beauty of Dubai’s skyscrapers, all designed in award-winning fashion; touring Muscat, Oman and being stunned by it’s movie set quality of clean, white-cool buildings, baking in unrelenting 104 degree heat; the smells and colors of Cochine, India, that convinced me that sacred cows and people can coexist on city streets; the bustling city of George Town, Malaysia and the cab driver’s proud comment that their exponential growth is because of China. “No China, no Malaysia,” he said. And the crown jewel of my vacation: Singapore, where everything is shiny and new: buildings, malls, public transportation systems. Can you imagine a mall so big it has a canal inside where you can float from one end to the other? But wait, you’re surrounded by four levels of designer stores that repeat themselves every few hundred feet and at the very end of the mall is a gourmet food court that surrounds a skating rink.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. In the coming days, I’m going to give each country its individual recognition, but first, Dubai. We flew there from New York–a 13 hour trip–my travel buddy, Margo Williams and I, and after checking into our spacious and elegant hotel room, decided to take the public train to the Souk Market, the gold and spice market in Old Dubai.There wasn’t much significance about the train except that it was new, like everything in this part of Dubai, extremely clean, quiet as a whisper, boasted digital signs, maps and a British speaking lad that identified every stop. It was also full of people who, unlike me, didn’t stare out the windows at hundreds of new buildings that took on various shapes and sizes, leaned toward or away from each other and fanned out in every unique style imaginable. However, like me, they exited the train to transfer to Old Dubai, which some people said is the working man’s part of town.

Have you ever been to a gold market? Every store was like sunshine, repeating a yellow bright theme that played out in bangles, necklaces, and rings…carats galore to adorn every part of the human body. Everywhere we turned, merchants beckoned, “Come here, come here.” But my gold buying inexperience and the fear of a no money back guarantee kept my pursed closed unitl I opened it for spices and dried fruit…yum! We handled locally made and Chinese silks, carvings from neighboring villages, and refused invitations to buy caftans that exploded in color and were greatly reduced in price the further along we walked.

It was night time and it was still so hot. It was hot the next day too when we joined the Classic Soul group on a desert tour. You see, Margo knew someone who knew Linda, who has been booking tours around the world for more than 25 years, some of them complete with concerts and theme parties. In fact, Linda used to book the Tom Joyner ‘Party With a Purpose” annual cruise, but she and Tom went their separate ways a couple of decades ago.

Anyway, we bumped along the sand dunes in a Hummer for too short of a time (as far as I was concerned) and that’s where we learned a lesson about citizenship in Dubai. Our driver was born in Dubai, in fact, he has lived there more than 30 years but he’s not a citizen, and he wants to be. Why? Money and resources. Emiratis only make up about 20% of Dubai’s population and in a pretty cool “share the wealth, keep the peace way,” the Royal Family gives all 800,000 Emirati citizens free education and health care, a monthly allowance, and subsidized utilities. Men can claim free land and no-interest loans to build homes and ask for as much as $19,000 to pay for a wedding. At 800K strong, Emiratis only make up 20% of the population. The other 80% are immigrants, who can live in the country as long as they’re working. Once they stop working, they’ve got to go! It kind of messes up a retirement plan.

Our driver also told us that you can tell Emirati men from everyone else because they wear the white thobe or ankle length robe. Many of them do not have more than one wife. He said that the government issues a weekly prayer for the Imans so that fanatical interpretations of the Koran don’t occur.

After a camel ride and having a falcon placed on my head (not by choice but I embraced it), we headed inside the marketplace, where we sat on ground cushions that were pressed against slightly higher tables. We were treated to a feast of Indian food and watched the Tanoura dance, referred to as the Whirling Dancing Man. He whirls and twirls the entire dance, lifts part of his costume, folds it, and continues to twirl, cradling the cloth like a small child. The music also changes to sound like a crying baby.

20150529_112332The next couple of days, I watched Al Jazarra News, which focused on all the growth and philanthropic campaigns countries like Dubai carry out. I met some business people, weathered the heat, marvelled at the ski lodge in the mall (for reals!), and continued to tour this fantastic locale of contrasts and culture clashes that will be the first Middle East country to host the 2020 World Expo.

Look out, world, and behold beautiful, creative, exotic, mysterious, rich, exceptional Dubai. It’s everything you heard about, and more. I know I’m back home, but in many ways, I feel like I’m still there.

Next: Helping the Captain Steer us to Muscat, Oman

MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: Creating Our Own Publishing Houses

This is a profound quote from one of our oldest publishing houses. “Not only does the industry need to publish more children’s books that reflect our nation’s diversity, the diverse books that ARE being published need to be supported. We all must be involved in this important cause—book creators, educators, librarians, booksellers, reviewers, and of course, parents.”

Wade Hudson QuoteThe kidlit world is currently abuzz with many loud, strong, and unified voices crying out, “WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS!” The cry has been made before, but this time there appears to be an organized activism accompanying the noise.

In that same activist spirit, we at The Brown Bookshelf reached out to a variety of experienced individuals involved in the creation of children’s books written and/or illustrated by African Americans and asked them to share the wisdom they have attained as they’ve worked to make sure these books not only make it to publication, but also reach the widest audience possible.

Today, on the first day of Children’s Book Week, The Brown Bookshelf adds our contribution to the movement via a series called MAKING OUR OWN MARKET. We begin with the voices of Wade and Cheryl Hudson, founders and publishers of Just Us Books, in a guest post entitled, Making A Difference Through Publishing.

Wade and Cheryl PicMaking a Difference Through Publishing
by Wade…

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Mayors Seek to Build an Early Learning Nation

I love this idea: The resolution calls for community action and asks parents and caregivers to engage in “daily brain-building moments with their children” to highlight the benefits of adult/child conversations.

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray is asking his colleagues in the United States Conference of Mayors to sign on to a resolution that would designate the decade of 2015 – 2025 as a time for building “an Early Learning Nation.”

The resolution calls for community action and asks parents and caregivers to engage in “daily brain-building moments with their children” to highlight the benefits of adult/child conversations.

The resolution’s resonant and ambitious goal is for the children of Generation Alpha – those born between 2010 and 2025 — to “emerge equipped and prepared to resolve issues, assume leadership positions, while generating innovative and long-term solutions for previously intractable and seemingly unsolvable challenges.”

Fifteen mayors have co-sponsored the resolution, including Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh, who recently set up an advisory committee on universal pre-K, and Mayor Angel Taveras of Providence, home of an effort…

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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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Still Holding On to the Dream

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It was a life changing moment for me when I realized that this was it, this is what I wanted. I wanted people to be lined up around the block, waiting for me to sign their book, my best seller, just like I was doing for Terry McMillan that afternoon in Chicago.

That day–decades ago–I stood in fellowship with a group of women whose singular gospel was how amazed we were  at Terry’s ability to break through the hierarchial publishing world and make Waiting to Exhale a must-read for black women around the world…or at least in the United States. She had busted out of the norm, had thrown open the curtain to reveal the romantic goings on in the real world of sexy, successful, single black women and their lovers. She had written prose that you didn’t need to read a hundred times to understand the breathless dance that happened when a man and woman became one. Someone had finally written our story and we reveled in it!

I had been working on yet another version of a short story that got longer with every new city I moved to, as my then husband ascended up the corporate ladder. With everything changing around me, writing was the anchor that bridged new jobs, new relationships, and new hair stylists. I got caught up in the flurry of possibilities that Terry had opened for writers like me who worked to satisfy appetites that wanted to hear what we said, to read what we wrote and to buy what we sold. Years later, after 47 rejection letters from publishers and agents, I self published From Morning Drive to Midnight. It was loosely based on a woman’s rough and tumble days as a radio talk show host, when FM was overtaking AM on the dial, when DJs’ ratings were tied to their gimmicks and personalities, and when singers toured the stations to promote records and gave lavish promotion parties for radio people who truly believed that you only live once. Those were the days!

Oh, but I digress. My book signings netted about four or five people at a time.  Not bad, but not a dream made real, either.

The other night, I thought of my dream as I waited for Sherri Shepherd of The View to sign the book I had purchased. She was our hilarious host at the annual Ford African Ancestry Network event, which had invited Henry Louis Gates to talk about his new PBS show, Finding Your Roots. You may not be aware of it, but this event has a reputation for challenging its guests to a Wobble Dance-off, and Sherri was up for the challenge.  At the end of the program, she announced, “I’m going to sign some books, but I’ll be back!”

I waited a while before retreating to the book signing area, but no matter. The line was still wrapped around several ropes that kept everyone in single file. After she signed a book, she would take a picture. Up and down, up and down she moved for more than an hour. Even Terry McMillan had not done that!

When I got back to my table, everyone asked me, “Where is she? When is she coming out to Wobble?”

“She’ll be out,” I said, “But right now, girlfriend is living my dream!”

(Note to self: I’ve got work to do.)

Renee Prewitt is the author of a new children’s book, Taj Cleans the Garage and is working on a little something that will make her dream come true.

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#486 – Taj Cleans the Garage by Renee Prewitt & Michaela Nienaber

Great review and she captures many exciting pictures too. Thank you, Suzanne!

Kids Lit Review

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2014

i am a mccb dayToday is Multicultural Children’s Book Day for 2014. In fact, this is the inaugural event! I heard about this at the last minute and was very lucky to be able to participate and bring everyone who reads KLR a chance to find some great multicultural children’s’ books. This week the review of Josephine will be posted. This book is from one of my favorite publishers and a sponsors of today’s event, Chronicle Books. But there are plenty reviewing Josephine today, so I am bringing you something different. I hope you enjoy it.

Taj Cleans the Garage

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by Renee Prewitt & Michaela Nienaber, illustrator

The Prewitt Group, LLC     August 1, 2013

978-0-9895643-0-4

Age 4 to 8     32 pages

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“Taj always wants new cars for his train set, so his parents encourage him to start earning the money to buy…

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50+ Kids and Me on MCB Day

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A few weeks ago, I joined a national community of bloggers–many of them authors of children’s books like me–to help celebrate January 27 as the first Multicultural Children’s Book Day. I am pleased to say that yesterday was one of the best days of my life!

I had the pleasure to meet with children in two different elementary school classes who joined me in putting together our own spin on how we would make it a memorable occasion. At University Prep Science and Math School in Detroit, Michigan, Ms. Thomas’s third grade class brought their favorite multicultural books to school and sat together in a big, wide circle of sharing. I came face to face with several smiling, eager kids, dressed in their uniform beige and blue, who introduced their favorite books, told us the author and illustrator’s names, and explained why the books were their favorites.The first names of students, as well as the names of their books, are listed at the bottom of this blog.

ImageLater that day, I visited Vandenberg World Cultures Academy in Southfield, Michigan. Ms.Lewandowski teaches an ESL class–English as a Second Language–and I met children from several countries, including Vietnam, India, Senegal, Nigeria, and of course the good ole USA. Can you imagine that? While they didn’t bring books to share, this first grade class was the perfect audience for my new children’s book, Taj Cleans the Garage. One little boy asked right away, “Is Taj African-American?” I told him yes, and that his friend was Hispanic.

Afterwards, they were delighted to tell me where they wanted the flying horse to take them. Usually when I ask this question, Grandma’s house wins, hands down, but Chucky Cheese emerged victorious yesterday! One student started a second go-round on that question, and after thinking about it, they also said they would fly to California, India, to parties and to school!

Working on this event has been an uplifting and exciting experience for me. The co-founders, Valarie Budayr of Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen of Pragmatic Mom created this special day to draw attention to the need for publishers to publish more children’s books that reflected the country’s changing population.  They pointed out that despite census data that shows 37 percent of the US population consists of people of color, only 10 percent of children’s books published have diversity content.

It is also true that multicultural books can help to break down stereotypes and raise awareness about cultures that are different from our own. Personally, I was always on the hunt for books that reflected my children’s brown skin on the page, and drew them into the story. I wanted to help nurture their identities with characters like them who had adventures, discoveries, mysteries and just plain old fun. I also wanted them to learn to appreciate people and their differences.

Yesterday put an exclamation point on the many reasons why authors like me write books that show children whose mainstream lives merge with cultural traditions. Many kids and parents get it; I hope that many more publishers will too.

University Prep students and their books:

Taniya: Brianna, Jamica and the Dance of Spring. Juanita Havil, author; Anne Sibley O’Brien, illustrator

Micah: Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Doreen Rappaport; Bryan Collier, illustrator

Logan: Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco

Nevaeh: One of Three. Angela Johnson, author; David Soman, illustrator

Aliyah: Bein’ With You This Way. W. Nikola-Lisa; Michael Bryant, illustrator

Cassidy: First Bear in Africa by Santomi Khikawa and Ellis Island. Frank Brooks, author, Matt Straub, illustrator

Isaac: Egypt. Elizabeth Bert, author; Susan Manuel, illustrator

Sterling: Jalani and the Lock by Lorenzo Pace

Joaquin: Down to the Last Out, the Journal of Biddy Owens by Walter Dean Myers

Renee Prewitt is author of Taj Cleans the Garage, a story about a little boy whose chore turns into an exciting adventure, and he learns that money isn’t the only reward in life!

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Share Your Favorite Book on Multicultural Children’s Book Day

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January 27, 2014 is Multicultural Children’s Book Day!

Publication of Multicultural Books Declining

It’s a pretty well known fact that books that feature diverse characters and themes have proven to tap into children’s natural curiosity and to ignite their interest in reading. So, when I first heard about Multicultural Children’s Book Day, I jumped at the chance to be a part of it.

The creators, Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom, want to raise awareness for books that celebrate diversity and get more of them into classrooms and libraries. They say that 37% of the US population consists of people of color, but only 10 percent of children’s books that are published have diversity content.

That’s amazing to me, especially since studies show that children are motivated to read more books when they see themselves on the page.

When they were growing up, I was always looking for good books for my children to read that nurtured their identities as African Americans. I wanted them to get excited about adventures and mysteries that boys and girls who looked like them had, not just read about what a historical figure did as a child. (We read our share of those books too). So, encouraged by friends who told me to “write one myself” I dived back into the publishing world, self publishing a multicultural book that challenged stereotypes and raised awareness about children like mine.

Taj Cleans the Garage was the result. It’s a story about a little boy whose chore turns into an exciting adventure, and teaches him that money isn’t as important as doing the right thing. Michaela Nienaber did an outstanding job as the illustrator, filling each page with exploding color and action scenes.  You’ve got to see it (and buy it) to believe it!

On January 27, I am commemorating MCBDay by reading Taj to students at two schools. The students will bring their favorite multicultural book to school and talk about why they like it. I will also ask my friends and colleagues on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin to share the name of their favorites too. You can do the same or something else to mark this day. Visit Valarie or Mia’s pages for more ideas and a great multicultural book list.

I am a big proponent of reading. It is the backstage pass to everything you want to do in life.We know that the more children read–especially about themselves–the better the odds are to close the achievement gap. With fourth grade reading scores measuring so low around the country, especially in minority communities, we can’t afford to accept the status quo about anything.

Some publishers say they don’t publish multicultural books because demand is low. Others say that the drastically changing book industry makes it too difficult to generate a return on investment. Whatever the reason, it is time for the publishing industry to catch up with reality: Content does matter. Maybe Multicultural Children’s Book Day will be the catalyst for change.

About

Valarie Budayr of Jump Into a Book is a best-selling children’s author of The Fox Diaries: The Year the Foxes Came to Our Garden and The Ultimate Guide to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. She is passionate about making kid’s books come alive and is proud to be a play and reading advocate. Valarie’s mission is to inspire children, families and communities to experience and create our world together while having fun.

Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom is a Harvard grad with a love of children’s books (picture books through YA) and sneaking in teachable moments in art, science, math, foreign language and language arts. Mia is passionate about getting kids excited about reading and helping parents ensure that their child is successful at school.

Sponsors of Multicultural Children’s Book Day are Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books and Chronicle Books.

Taj Cleans the Garage by Renee Prewitt

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Pick a School, Donate a Book

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What are you donating this holiday season?  There are coat drives, food drives, and pet appeals, all worthy causes that tug at the heart and purse strings. Here is one more appeal for something that can change a child’s life: a book.

It is no secret that children are not reading as much as they should. Often, I talk about the 30 Million Word Gap, a study that points out a glaring disparity: high income children hear that many more words by age 3 than low income children. Before they reach Kindergarten, many low income children are already trying to catch up. Books are at the heart of the matter. Read any major study about the achievement gap and it will say that reading more books is the key to closing the gap and bolting the door.

My friend, Tanya Allen, knows this. She volunteers as a mentor at Cornerstone Schools and loves to give away books as gifts. She describes it as planting the seed for reading. “I love holding a book in my hands and turning the pages,” she says. “If we let them, children will learn to appreciate books in this way too.”

I do not want to overwhelm my readers with a bunch of facts and figures, but a Reading is Fundamental study agrees. It found that when children borrow books or receive them, they develop more positive attitudes towards reading and learning. Books also encourage children to read more frequently and for longer periods of time. Some educators say that access to books is just as important as food, shelter and health care.

I am currently reading my multicultural children’s book, Taj Cleans the Garage, to children in Head Start, Kindergarten, first and second grade. The kids are always so excited and so fascinated and so inquisitive, and they all want to talk about where they would go if they had a flying horse. (Trust me. There is a connection between the garage and the horse!) Reading to them and seeing them light up is therapeutic too. It makes me feel good about doing something to promote literacy and to help them learn the love of reading.

Tanya is buying children’s books to donate this holiday season. Maybe we all should follow her example because every little step we take will bring us closer to alleviating the achievement gap. We can start right in our own neighborhood: Pick a School and Donate a Book. If you have time to read it to the class, that’s even better.

My First Book Signing!

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Last week, I had a book signing at Eastern Market

The sun was blinding, the music was hip and bluesy, and the conversations were peppered with words like containers, hotels, reading, and oh yeah, Taj Cleans the Garage, which is not just a book, it’s my platform to inspire young boys to read more and to learn to love reading. I also want to encourage parents to engage their children in more reading activities.

The book signing/conversational event brought people together who purchased signed copies of Taj, and heard me talk about a study that has been making its rounds in efforts to close the achievement gap:  

·         The Kansas study showed that many low-income and minority children learn 30 million fewer words by age 3 than their higher income counterparts

·         This study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley says that this is a predictor for low achievement and ongoing academic challenges.

There is a way that each of us can do something about this: We can read earlier and more often to children, and talk to them more about everything.

Lots of pre-school programs are already on board. In addition, there are several programs that are advocating the “earlier and often” mantra, including The United Way of Southeastern Michigan, that gives newborns through five year olds a book each month http://www.liveunitedsem.org/pages/imagination-library

It’s going to take a village to turn things around, and tag, we’re it. Join them and others you will hear more about in the weeks to come.

Tags: Eastern Market, First Container and a Book Signing

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