Tag Archives: multicultural books for kids


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.


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

Diversity is Every Day



Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match / Marisol McDonald no combina ...


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.





Finding Your Non-Fiction Voice

10835255_671606022984727_3647482300606995007_o  As a child I was a voracious reader, devouring fiction books with great characters at almost a book a day. So it came as a great surprise to me as an adult writer how difficult it really is to craft and create an interesting character in my own books.  As a young adult I became more of a reader of non-fiction and biographies and still favor that genre, with the exception of historical fiction.

As a writer of 3 children’s manuscripts in the past two years, I find it easier to do the research than the writing and certainly the editing.  My editor for my first non-fiction bio for kids about an inventor, gave me great advice.  She told me to find heart in the story. I never realized until after a year of revisions that crafting a good non–fiction character requires not just telling their story, but fleshing out a believable and interesting portrait with respect to the character’s history.  Like a good fictional character, the real person you are writing about needs to grab your reader’s interest. I needed to find a voice for my character, even though his biography is written in the third person.

Writing for kids is very different than writing for adults.  And when writing non-fiction it is very easy to get too technical for young readers.  When I stepped back and thought about my audience as being seven to ten year olds, I had to revise and edit my original drafts many times and add less technical vocabulary and contextual clues.  In writing a book about an inventor for a young audience, you have to find the excitement in that inventor’s process and the creative process of inventing. As a new writer in the children’s book field, I was also inventing my own process of using a combination of the research facts and  the elements of storytelling to respect the subject I was writing about, the inventor, Lewis Latimer.   I hope my journey as a writer and the love I have developed for my subject, telling about untold heroes in history, will appeal to my young readers.  Maybe they will find their voices as writers as they are already on their path as readers.

Champagne Wishes and Publishing Dreams

10675520_10152977368632028_1786284487381610554_nHappy 2015!    The year has changed but some things stay the same. The waiting game in the publishing industry can literally make you insane.  After my editor said I would get my third rewrite back for my pb bio on Lewis Latimer  before Christmas, I should not have had any expectations of getting any work sent to me before the holidays.  Last year I got my first revisions and initial  interest in that manuscript sent to me by my editor on December 23! So a full year has gone by and I’m still  working on what I hope will be my final revisions before it is acquired and an illustrator is found.  I am grateful and excited though, that my debut book would be published by the wonderful Lee and Low, no matter how long it takes.  I know of many writers whose work has taken years to come to fruition. Patience is certainly a virtue. I have worked for almost 3 years now to get “Lighting the Way,” published without an agent’s help.

Just finishing sending out my multicultural fiction title, “Mooncakes and Matzahballs for Anna Goldstein Wong” to a few houses around the country.  I have high  hopes for this book, my newest baby, as I think it is unique and fits the bill for more books about multiracial/multicultural kids.   I will play the waiting game again.

I will try to get an agent this year, as having helpful editors can only go so far.  For all the months and years I invest in writing and revising a manuscript, I think having my ideas approved before the work would help my sanity.  All this while working full time as an elementary school librarian!

Here’s to anyone with hopes and dreams getting published in 2015! Keep believing in your work!