Category Archives: diversity in writing

youngest-marcher

I had the pleasure of chatting with the lovely Cynthia Levinson, author of  the 2012 award winning “We’ve Got a Job,” that highlights four youngsters who took active roles in the Civil Rights Movement. One of those children was Audrey Faye Hendricks, the subject of Cynthia’s newest book, “The Youngest Marcher,” illustrated by the fantastic Vanessa Brantley Newton.

LI:1. How did you decide to focus on Audrey Faye Hendricks after writing We’ve Got a Job?

Cynthia Levinson: The idea actually came from Atheneum. When my agent, Erin Murphy, called in 2009 or 2010 to tell me there was interest in the book proposal I’d written about the Birmingham Children’s March, she said there were two offers—one for a picture book and the other for a middle grade. What did I want to do? My instincts told me the story needed multiple perspectives, and I opted for a book for ten- to fourteen-year-olds. After We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March (Peachtree Publishers) came out in 2012, I asked Erin to find out if Atheneum would still be interested in a picture book. And they were!

We’ve Got a Job focuses on four young marchers.  One of those four children was only nine years old. With a protagonist the same age as my readership, Audrey Faye Hendricks instantly became the main character.  

LI:2. Was it more difficult to write the picture book or the YA book about the Civil Rights Movement and kids’ involvement  in it?

Cynthia Levinson :Both! We’ve Got a Job was my first book. So, I had to learn to conduct interviews, find photographs, keep track of all of the research, write a book, get edited… It was a real learning experience in so many ways.

But, so was writing a picture book. Honing in on younger readers, cutting and shaping text, and considering page turns are very challenging. And, for the first time, I experienced working with an illustrator—the fabulous Vanessa Brantley Newton.

  LI:3. Did you meet any of Audrey’s family in real life?

Cynthia Levinson: Indeed. I interviewed Audrey at her home and saw where her mother made Hot Rolls Baptized in Butter, where Dr. King sat at her dinner table, and where her church choir director practiced protest songs on her upright piano. Then, Audrey’s sister, Jan, filled me in on details about how feisty Audrey was! And, she gave me the recipe. That was like gold.

LI:4. Do you have a favorite illustration or scene from the book?

Cynthia Levinson: I have two favorites. One is the spread at the dinner table where Audrey and her mother both have one eye open and the other closed during Dr. King’s prayer. Audrey looks saucy and her mother disapproving—it’s perfect! The other is the spread where Audrey is lying on her side on her cot in jail, with her back to the reader, staring at the wall. It’s both brilliant and heartbreaking.

content

  • Age Range: 5 – 10 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten – 5
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (January 17, 2017)
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Diversity is Every Day

 

 

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Here comes another month of celebrating cultures! Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Filipino American History Month, Native American Heritage Month. While I applaud celebrating diversity, shouldn’t every day be a Diversity Day?

It is almost thirty years this month that I started teaching urban kids in Harlem. And from that time, in the mid 1980’s until today, so much has changed. We only had the books of the father of African American kid lit, Walter Dean Myers, to offer up to to middle school and high school kids who wanted to see themselves depicted realistically in books.  Forget about finding any diversity in picture books then.  Today we have wonderfully diverse picture and chapter books by the likes of Walter’s son, Christopher Myers, Don Tate, Kwame Alexander, Zetta Elliott, Jacqueline Woodson, just to name a few authors of color. Monica Brown, Margarita L’Engle and Meg Medina are Latina authors representing their Hispanic culture in picture and middle grade books.  Not to mention this year’s multi award winner, Matt de la Pena, whose “Last Stop on Market Street,” has universal themes for kids of all colors.  Joseph Bruhac continues to be the master spinner of tales with Native American settings and characters.

Publishers like Lee and Low, Tu Books, Kar-Ben and Apples and Honey Press strive to show kids of different races and religions in their publishing choices. Theses publishers were not around in the 1980’s when I first had to recommend books to kids of color.  I have seen a multitude of changes in children’s lit as both a teacher and currently librarian. But I say to you, shouldn’t every day be a diversity day, to learn about a new culture? I now teach to a predominantly Haitian- American population and while we do spend a large amount of time learning and reading about African American history, which is great,  I also love for my students to read about other cultures. I have had some interesting conversations with African American fourth and fifth graders about the Holocaust and how my grandfather lost many of his siblings during Hitler’s regime.  If we only learn about our own culture, we are not getting the full picture of humanity.  And despite what many are saying, I have seen big and great changes in the world of children’s literature over the past few decades.