Violet Duncan - I Am Native

Friday, April 24, 2020 No comments

Today’s interview is with Violet Duncan author of I Am Native. Violet is Plains Cree and Taino from Kehewin Cree Nation. She has toured nationally and internationally as a dancer and storyteller. Violet is currently a Professor at South Mountain Community College: Storytelling Institute. She is also a former "Miss Indian World," representing all Indigenous people of North America.

What inspired you to write I Am Native?

I was inspired to write I am Native so that people who are new to Native culture, would see a side-by-side of Nehiyaw (Cree) and N'dee (Apache) peoples practicing their Native and modern cultures. I also wrote this book for Native children and their family members, so that they would see themselves as they are today. The intention of the book is to bring both worlds we live in together on the page, ending the confusion that Native people are all gone.

How long did it take you to write this book?

This book took three years from first thought to print. I wanted to make sure the language was very easy to read for our young readers. I also wanted the illustration to showcase native culture correctly and that part took a lot more time.

Did you have critique or writing partners?

My family members are my critique and writing partners. Everything I write first goes through my children and they are very honest with me. Next, I share with my husband and mom and they offer a lot of insight. After family members, I share my writing and early illustrations with elders in my home community. This stage is very important to me. Sharing our culture is a process and I am always learning; I feel better knowing my elders are on my side and encourage me to keep going.  

You decided to self-publish instead of having a traditional publisher for your book. Why?

Self-publishing puts you right into the driver's seat and allows you full control of the writing and illustrating process. This was really important to me since some pages would take me months to write to get the feeling just right.  

There’s a big emphasis on family and intergenerational relationships in your book. Tell us why that was important to feature.

All across Turtle Island, (the name for earth or North America), you will see many different Native Nations sharing their music, songs, stories, and dances through a multigenerational teaching style. There is no "school" that teaches all the dances, stories and songs from one Nation. You learn from family and community members. It is not uncommon to have a household with children, parents, grandparents and maybe even aunts and uncles living together. Each generation offers new experiences and knowledge and this has always been the way Native culture is passed down.

In your book, the children experience both traditional Native experiences and modern-day experiences. What is your message in depicting it that way?

When my children go to school, their peers are always so curious when they find out we are from Native Nations (Cree/Apache/Taino/Arikara/Hidatsa/Mandan), they ask what we do at home, what we eat and if we live in a tipi. Yes, in 2020 we are still asked if we live in tipis. I wrote this book for those children. I needed a crystal clear format so that it was understood that we are human beings, multi-disciplined, articulate and proud. We are athletes because we practice both basketball drills and hoop dancing drills. We are dancers in ballet and Jingle dress dance. We are not something stuck in the past, we are not gone, we are here.

What is your message for both Native and non-Native children that read your book?

For all children, my message is to be proud of who you are.  For Native children, my message is to be proud of your culture because we come from strong, resilient people that have been passing down our indigenous knowledge since time immemorial. 

Where can readers find you online?

You can find me on Facebook and Instagram @violetduncan but also check out my website

Valerie Bolling - Let's Dance!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 No comments

We're so excited to share this interview with Valerie Bolling, author of Let's Dance! Be sure to get your copy at retailers online.

What inspired you to write Let's Dance?

This book was inspired by children who love to dance, especially my nieces, Zorah and Anyah. I decided to write a fun, rhyming story that celebrates the universality of dance. After all, dance is a language we all speak even though we have different "accents."

To illustrate the variety of "accents," I wanted to ensure that the book portrayed an inclusive representation of children: gender, race, ability. My editor, Jes Negrรณn of Boyds Mills & Kane, expanded upon my vision for diversity by recognizing that some of my words describe cultural dances like flamenco (Spain), kathak (India), and long sleeve dance (China). I am thrilled to have this added layer of cultural representation in my book!

You seem committed to diversity. Can you tell us more about that? 

I would love to. As an educator, I want to use my books as a vehicle to teach- especially about topics and themes that others may not feel comfortable writing about or talking about with children.

When I write, I think of the children who don’t typically see themselves in books, and one of my goals is for them to feel valued and validated when they read my books.

For Let’s Dance! I had a clear vision of showcasing underrepresented and marginalized children, engaging in the joy of dance. Turn on music, and most children will start to move – or as I say in my book:

“Groovity-groove/Bust a move.”

We may groove or move differently on the dance floor – or in life- but we are connected through the common experiences we share....and dance is one of them.

Are you able to do all of the dance moves in your book?

Funny question, Kirstie. Absolutely not. Some I'd have fun trying; others not so much.
No breakdancing headspins or handstands for me!

Tell us about your book launch party? 

I had a PHENOMENAL launch party on March 7 at a local library. There were more than 200 people in attendance, the largest number the library reported ever having for an event!

It was standing room only; people were even standing outside of the large auditorium.
There was dancing, reading, a raffle, and book signing. The book sold out and most important was that the audience and I had a fabulous time!

What was your route to publication like?

Admittedly, I had a fairly easy road to publication with Let’s Dance! I started querying in January 2018, and I got an offer at the beginning of July 2018. However, I have other stories I’ve been querying for one or two years that remain unpublished.

Did you have critique partners? If so, how instrumental were they in writing your story?

Yes, I have critique partners, and they are unquestionably instrumental in my writing process. With Let’s Dance!, Marianne McShane, a friend who is a writer, storyteller, and retired librarian, suggested I read Watersong by Tim McCanna as a mentor text and that I start the story with a line that appeared later in my text:

“Tappity-tap/Fingers snap.”

Her recommendations helped significantly in revising the book.

Currently, I am a member of a picture book critique group, and I also have a fabulous writing partner, Lindsey Aduskevich.

Tell us about your illustrator and illustrations?

The illustrations are AMAZING. Maine Diaz is extremely talented. She brought my words, my vision, and Jes' vision to life. Her gorgeous, energetic illustrations truly make my book dance!

How do you juggle writing and working full-time?

It’s not easy, but life is a balancing act, isn’t it? I write late at night until midnight or 1 a.m.,
and I reserve large chunks of time for writing on weekends, usually on Sundays.

What's the one piece of advice that has helped you as a writer? 

Two things immediately come to my mind, so I hope it’s OK to speak about them both because they are intertwined. One is “Don’t take rejection personally.” The other is “Keep trying.” 

There’s much rejection in this business, but it’s not necessarily about you, the writer. It's likely that particular agent, editor, or publisher is not connecting strongly enough with the story.

It could also be that another story similar to yours is on the person's list; thus that book and yours would compete. It may be that the story is good but isn’t the genre or theme the person is currently looking for.

Perhaps you need more time with your story to revise more and get critique from others.
The bottom line is that if your story isn’t right for an agent or editor, then that person is not someone who should represent your writing - your career as an author.

Since we rarely know the true reason why a manuscript is rejected, we have to keep trying, hoping that we will find someone as passionate about our writing as we are. Isn't that what all writers want? We deserve nothing less.

What are you working on next? 

I’m always working on revising stories, but my newest project is a narrative picture book biography. I’m still in the early stages.

Valerie Bolling has been an educator for over 25 years and a writer since age 4. She and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater...and dancing.

If you’d like to learn more about Valerie please visit her social media links below! 

Aya Khalil - The Arabic Quilt

Tuesday, February 25, 2020 1 comment

Today we feature Aya Khalil, author of "The Arabic Quilt" illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan. The Arabic Quilt recently debuted and is a great book about embracing differences. I especially took note of the important role supportive adults like teachers and parents play in bridging cultural gaps between children. 

What inspired you to write The Arabic Quilt?

There's not a lot of immigrant picture books that are authentic, #OwnVoices. I have so many experiences, good and bad, growing up as an Egyptian-American and I thought kids and even adults may relate to The Arabic Quilt, which is based on several true events.

Have you had a chance to tell your teacher how important she was in helping you acclimate into the classroom and new environment? 

I actually just did a couple of days ago! My childhood best friend connected me with her and I am sending her a book in the next couple of days. It's so nice to reconnect with her and we are catching up.

What message would you like for immigrant children to get from The Arabic Quilt? 

That it is OK to stand out from others and there's really no need to assimilate, as many parents try to make their children do. Clothes, food, and language are all part of who we are and we should embrace them all with confidence.

What message would you like for children who were born and raised here to get from The Arabic Quilt? 

Acknowledge your classmate's differences (don't be colorblind), but also find similarities when it comes to hobbies, etc.

How long did it take you to write The Arabic Quilt? 

I wrote it all in one sitting with my kids near me. Then I revised for weeks. I submitted to agents and I received some great feedback (although rejections) so I revised some more and attended local and online critique groups. So a couple of months total.

Did you have critique partners? If so how instrumental were they in writing your story? 

Yes! My local SCBWI was so supportive when I attended my first meeting with them. They wrote down some encouraging comments and I remember one person told me that this is a great story and to "go get it published." 

I also asked writer friends to critique it, who were really helpful, particularly a group of awesome women called Muslim Writers and Publishers.

As an #ownvoices writer, what's your message to the industry about your work and your voice? 

Our stories matter and I hope more publishers believe in our stories and amplify them. I'm thankful for Tilbury House and Brent Taylor of Triada US for believing in The Arabic Quilt. There's been so much positive feedback since it's debuted and I've been getting tons of messages from parents, teachers, and librarians telling me their kids or students could relate to Kanzi (the main character). And adults my age who remember similar events from their own childhood growing up as a third culture kid.

Tell us about your illustrations and talented illustrator?

She's been so incredible throughout the whole journey. Anait's illustrations are so lovely and I'm so happy and honored she illustrated the book. She also related to the book as an immigrant herself and her kids faced some of the experiences mentioned in the book.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? 

Read recently published books from your genre, spend a lot of time at the library and talk to the librarians to see what kids are checking out!

What are you working on next? 

I'm working on two more picture books! Fingers crossed that we hear good news soon.

You can learn more about Aya Khalil on her social media pages.

Twitter - @ayawrites
Instagram - ayakhalilauthor
Website -

Tameka Fryer Brown - Brown Baby Lullaby

Friday, February 7, 2020 No comments

Today we feature Tameka Fryer Brown author of "Brown Baby Lullaby" illustrated by AG Ford. "Brown Baby Lullaby" is a beautiful depiction of a day in the life of a baby with his parents.

What inspired you to write this story?

I was inspired to write BROWN BABY LULLABY during a moment of nostalgia. I was remembering the relationship I had with my children when they were babies; it was such a pure and uncomplicated one, full of the sweetest memories. I wanted to capture those memories and emotions in writing and I thought the topic would certainly make for a good picture book.

How long did it take you to write Brown Baby Lullaby?

I wrote the first draft in one day. I just looked at my files to confirm and was surprised to find how similar that first draft is to the finished version.

The illustrations are really beautiful. Did you have any input in that?

I did not have input into the selection of AG Ford, but man was it inspired. I'm so thankful to Joy Peskin and Monique Sterling (my FSG editor and book designer for BBL, respectively) for having the foresight to reach out to AG for the project. And I'm even more thankful that he agreed to do it!

You are a member of #2020Diversedebuts, a group of diverse authors with debut children's books coming out this year but you're also a member of an author collective called the Sowing Circle. Tell us about that group and what benefits these types of groups serve authors?

Our Sowing Circle serendipitously came about through a conversation I initiated with three authors about how we could promote each other's titles on our joint book birthday. Assuming you have the right mix of people in a collective, it can be a great way to leverage each other's networks, personalities, and skills to help increase visibility for each author and the work they are trying to promote. Members have to leave self-centeredness by the wayside, though, in order to make marketing cooperatives like these work. You have to put as much time into promoting other members as you are expecting them to put in for you. Also, it's important to establish or understand what the expectations of the group will be and to be honest up front if you don't think you'll be able to meet them.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Read a lot. Study the craft. Learn the craft. Join SCBWI. Don't expect hook-ups. Do the work.

What are you working on next?

I have a book slated to come out in 2022 called TWELVE DINGING DOORBELLS. It will be published by Kokila and illustrated by the supremely talented Ebony Glenn.

Besides that, there's always something in some stage of the process, isn't there?

Yes, there is!

You can follow Tameka Fryer Brown on the following social pages:
Facebook: Tameka Fryer Brown, Children's Book Author
Twitter: @teebrownkidlit
Instagram: @tamekafryerbrown
Her website