Author Interview: Greg Neri

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty
author: Greg Neri
publisher: Lee and Low; 2010
main character: Robert “Yummy” Sandifer

It doesn’t take long to read Yummy but it’s impossible to call it an easy read. Yummy is the true story of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer. In 1994, Sanidifer was shooting at  members of a rival gang in Chicago when he accidentally shot and killed a neighborhood girl, Shavon Dean.
Sandifer was called “Yummy” because of his sweet tooth.
Greg Neri retells the story of Yummy In a book that will create meaningful debate in schools across America. He paints Yummy neither as a victim nor a monster. He simply asks: where is the blame, the fault? And even more important: where is the solution? You see, the Yummys of the world don’t just kill neighborhood girls like Shavon Dean.

I’ve joined with Doret @ HappyNappyBookseller (1 August)  and Ari @ Reading in Color ( 2 August) for a blog tour featuring Greg Neri’s latest book, Yummy: The Last Days of  a Southside Shorty. Be sure to visit their blogs for the rest of the interview!
Not only does Yummy hit the books shelves today, but Greg and his family also leave for a year in Berlin. Please join me in wishing them a wonderful, ‘yummy’ year abroad!

After reading several of your interviews, I finally realized what impresses me most is your passion for reading and for students, particularly those students who seem most reluctant about being in school and reading. Where does that passion come from? Who or what inspired you to enjoy reading so much that you work so hard to share that joy with others?
Well, I have to say, it’s not that I woke up one morning with some divine message telling me to go forth and promote reading to urban teens. It all came about by accident, mostly from the reactions to my first book Chess Rumble by students, teachers, and librarians. When that came out, I started to see and hear about boys who’d never read a book ever, reading my book and the excitement that generated with their teachers, well, it was infectious. It seemed to be happening
everywhere I went. I mean, once you’ve seen that you can have some actual effect on young people, and they actually ask for more, that’s powerful motivator.
And quite by accident, all the projects I was working on after that, seemed to fit into that same category: bold compelling books for boys and urban teens. When I started speaking in classrooms and conferences, I started to understand that the way I was naturally approaching storytelling attracted non-readers for specifics reasons…reasons I remembered from when I was young and not all that into books. I started talking about how every non-reader had a book out there that would surprise them and change their concept about what a book was and what it could do. And the whole process was circular. The more I started breaking down those elements that might bring a non-reader into the fold (real voices, free verse, white space, thin volumes, and unusual, provocative storytelling with illustrations), the more I started playing with the form. And it grew from there.

As someone who has worked in so many art forms I’m wondering what future you see for books?
I always prefer to call myself a storyteller, rather than a writer. To me, story is king and there will always be stories. Whether something is on a printed piece of paper or on an iPad means less to me than whether or not there are still stories to be absorbed.
I love the digital world and the ecologist in me wants all books to go digital for that one reason alone: the carbon footprint of eliminating the killing of trees, the waste and pollution from manufacturing and shipping…digital is clearly the way to go. I’ve always hated the waste associated with producing books, even though I love books. But in the very near future, I’ll be able to write and feel good about the impact my stories might have on this earth and in young people’s minds.

Germany! What are you most looking forward to?
I have been to Germany many times because my wife is from there. But I have never lived outside of the states for a year, and while the thought of it makes me incredibly uneasy, I know it will be good for me. I look forward to getting some distant perspective on everything: the US, my writing career and how I approach writing. I look forward to meeting more German writers and ex-pats. And of all the big German cities, Berlin is an amazing place: a living museum of ancient Germany, the Nazi and Communist eras, and the only place in the world that had a huge empty piece of real estate in the middle of it (because of the Wall coming down) where they could build an almost sci-fi city of the future. Pretty cool stuff and a lot different than Tampa!
I look forward to experiencing more international perspectives in a deeper way than I have before. And maybe even come to love soccer.
Neri has also authored Chess Rumble (2008 NCTE/ IRA Notable Children’s Book in the English Language Arts, 2009 ALA Quick pick for Reluctant YA Readers, 2010 winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins/ IRA Promising Poet Award) and Surf Mules (2009 Cylbils Nominee.

Lillian Childress Hall

I returned from a family reunion recently to find an email celebrating the recent anniversary of the graduation of Lillian Childress Hall. Ms. Hall was the first Black librarian in Indiana. Face it, we’re still in a space where we need to honor and celebrate our firsts. We have to call to mind all the tribulations they faced so that they could excel, so that we could excel. Our children aren’t always trying to give their best anymore. I think they need to be reminded of the Lillian Childress Halls and the Pura Belpra’s who literally opened doors so that we could get into libraries. They need to know so that they’ll want to keep opening doors.

I wanted to add photos to this piece, but there just isn’t a lot of information available on Ms. Hall. I wanted to do more than simply cut and paste the work that results from the efforts of Michelle Fenton, but all I can add to her research is that Ms. Hall lived from 1889-1958.

Last Saturday was the 95th anniversary of the graduation of Lillian Childress Hall, the first black librarian to work in Indiana. On July 24, 1915, Mrs. Hall was one of 37 students (all women) to receive a librarian’s certificate from the Public Library Commission of Indiana’s Summer School for Librarians. The Public Library Commission of Indiana’s Summer School for Librarians was a six week course held every year in which students learned the practical aspects of librarianship. Once the course was completed, students were awarded a certificate and were certified as librarians. The classes were held at Butler University (at that time it was Butler College).  Eventually, the summer school was held at IU which eventually led to SLIS (the Public Library Commission had merged with the State Library in the late twenties and stopped giving the classes).

Once Ms. Hall was certified, the director of the Evansville Public Library (Ethel McCullough) promoted Mrs. Hall from apprentice to branch manager for the Cherry Street Branch (colored branch). In 1921, the Indianapolis Public Library (now IMCPL) decided to start its own “negro branch” and recruited Mrs. Hall to run it. This branch was the Paul Laurence Dunbar Branch and was located inside of School #26 (located at the corner of 16th and Columbia – the building is still standing and is now called the John Hope Education Center). It closed as a branch in 1967 and became a regular school library.  When Crispus Attucks High School was built, the Indianapolis Public Library decided to open a branch there as well and hired her to be the branch manager. Mrs. Hall stayed there until 1956, the year she retired. The Indianapolis Public Library Association gave a retirement tea in her honor at Butler University in May of 1956. Mrs. Hall died on April 23, 1958. She’s buried in Crown Hill Cemetery (section 98, plot 1472 – this is near the 32nd Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. side of the cemetery).

iPhone + Road trips = Library Visit

I finally got an iPhone and my daughter warned me to prepare a 3-5 hour block to play with it. I have spent way too much time playing Whirly Word and Unblock Me. I forgot about the cool Map app while in NYC until Zetta reminded me it would be a great way to find Spoonbread!  I spent a little time with FaceTime and that’s all about playing: swiveling the phone, turning it upside down and showing off the blue toenails. I’m finding I like keeping the stuff I do on my ‘puter right on my puter, stuff like FB, Twitter…

Oh, I’ve downloaded my fair share of free stuff and am putting together a list of apps for education for a blog post. Polls are showing that Black and Latino students are big on phone usage, so this could be a great way to increase teaching effectiveness.

Remember that car charger with the FM tuner I mentioned yesterday? I’m using that for road trips so that I can play tunes from my phone through the radio. I got one it with the hand free device so that I can also talk on the phone while driving.  I decided to add some sparkle to my music stash by visiting the public library and checking out some CDs.  I thought there was a limit on how many CDs I could get, and there is: 60!

My loot list:


Phoebe Snow: Second Childhood (yes, the one with Poetry Man!!)

George Winston: Autumn

Josh Groban: Awake

Neil Diamond: Greatest Hits vol 2

Whitney Houston: Whitney

Sammy Davis Jr and Carmen McRae: Boy meets Girl

Willie Nelson: Lost Highway

and some books on CD:

Train to Trieste by Domnica Radulescu

Something on the Side by Carl Weber

I’ve uploaded the music, not sure about the books. I may just play them through the car’s CD player. Suggestions appreciated!

Getting Technical

I’m not a geek. I only know enough technology to do what I need to do.  I pick up a lot of ideas, concepts and short cuts and don’t always get the time to make the terms become part of my technology. It drives tech people crazy when I’m not clear and specific! It drives me crazy when I am clear and specific and sales clerks can’t see past my skin to know that I do know what I’m talking about. Combine my gorgeously etched wrinkles and other signs of aging with my beautiful Brown skin, present it to sales associates and you get very demeaning service. Cashiers will actually snatch my debit card out of my hand because they assume it will be quicker for them to push the buttons themselves.

I’d love to give the name of the store where I went earlier this week to pick up a car charger with an FM antennae for my cell phone. The item was marked one price and rang up something else. When I pointed out the discrepancy, the sales clerk got on the phone to ask another associate to check the price on the item because I had picked up the wrong item. Why wouldn’t I want this item or be sane enough to know it’s what I want? Thank goodness she didn’t give me a ‘hon’ or a ‘dear’ because if she had, I wouldn’t have left with the same sense of composure. I hate ‘hon’ and ‘dear’ and all the other terms that put me in a box which you will put on the floor and stand upon. If you don’t know my last name, ‘m’am’ will do!

So why does this fit on a blog that wants to improve literacy for teens of color? Our children need to learn the best ways to manipulate technology.  I’m asking you to re-examine how you’re teaching that tech. When you’re walking around from computer to computer, give over the shoulder directives. If you must put your hands on someone’s keyboard, make sure they’re watching you. Undo everything you’ve done and let them do it on their own. When I’m teaching in the lab, I’ll have students who already know how to do what I’m teaching to raise their hand. They then become responsible for helping students around them, but they are told not to touch their classmate’s keyboard. Don’t let these lessons just be tech lessons: let them be 21st century lessons by teaching students how to function independently while working collaboratively. Let’s empower our students!

As long as clerks keep snatching cards out of people’s hands, they’ll never learn how to do it on their own, even if they’re old.

Judith Krug Fund will provide $2,500 and $1,000 awards to Read-Outs

Freedom to Read Foundation announces competition for two
Banned Books Week grants

CHICAGO – The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), through its Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund, will provide two grants—one for $2,500 and one for $1,000—to two organizations to support “Read-Outs” celebratingBanned Books Week 2010.  Applications for the grants will be accepted through Aug. 27, and the announcements will be made the week of Sept. 6.  Banned Books Week 2010 will be held Sept. 25–Oct. 2.

This is the first announced project for the Judith Krug Memorial Fund, established after Krug’s death in April 2009.  Krug was the founding executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation, which was established in 1969 as a First Amendment legal defense organization affiliated with the American Library Association (ALA).  Krug founded Banned Books Week in her capacity as director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.

A Banned Books Week Read-Out is an event during which people celebrate the freedom to read by gathering to read from books that have been banned or challenged over the years.  To help kick off this year’s Banned Books Week, ALA will be holding its annual Read-Out on Saturday, Sept. 25 in Chicago’s Washington Square Park—also known as Bughouse Square.  Authors of some of the most frequently challenged books of 2009 will be reading from their works, including Lauren Myracle (the ttyl, ttfn,l8r g8r series), Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (“And Tango Makes Three”), Stephen Chbosky (“Perks of Being a Wallflower”), and Carolyn Mackler (“The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things”). Award-winning (and frequently challenged) author Chris Crutcher will emcee the event.

“Judith Krug always loved the Chicago Read-Outs,” said Freedom to Read Foundation President Kent Oliver.  “She enjoyed talking with the authors, the performers and particularly with the many young readers who came to hear the authors and get some wonderful books!  She also always delighted in learning about other events going on around the country.  She was so proud of Banned Books Week and how it was embraced nationally in schools, libraries, universities, book stores and online.  We’re thrilled to offer these grants to encourage others around the country to hold their own celebrations of our freedom to read.”

To apply for a Judith Krug Banned Books Week Event grant, visit  Organizations are required to submit an event description, timeline and budget with their application, as well as agree to provide a written report and video to FTRF following Banned Books Week.  For more information on Banned Books Week, visit  A compendium of thousands of books that have been banned and challenged can be found in the “2010 Banned Books Resource Guide,” available via the ALA Store  You can also purchase Banned Books Week posters, buttons, bookmarks, t-shirts, bracelets, and tote bags there.

Contact Jonathan Kelley at or Nanette Perez at with questions, or call (800) 545-2433, ext. 4226

source: BCALA listserv