Writers on Writing:NonFiction/Tonya Bolden

Nonfiction can feel  like a stepchild of children’s literature. When we look at numbers that relate how few books are written by American Indians and authors of color we’re only considering works of fiction. Sometimes there are no clear lines between these genres. Memoirs can be fiction (Brown Girl Dreaming; Woodson) or nonfiction (Becoming Maria). The list of poetry titles that Nikki Grimes mention yesterday contained works based both in fact and in fiction. Today’s interview is with Tonya Bolden and is about the art of nonfiction writing.

How has writing nonfiction for children changed over the past few years?
It’s been moving farther and farther away from “just the facts.” Increasingly we are tonyagiven more freedom in terms of storytelling, allowed—even expected—to use techniques of fiction and to even break some rules now and then so that the prose can flow. Editors are open to creativity—so long as we writers don’t misrepresent the facts.

 Are there as few American Indian and people of color writing nonfiction as it seems?
If yes: Do you have any idea why? If no: How can we find them?
I believe your perception is correct. As for why, there is no one answer. For example, more than a few black writers of nonfiction who were household names when I entered the field are now deceased. Others are in retirement or semi-retirement. The ranks have not been replenished. Why? In part because of the shorter shelf life: often if a first or first and second book does poorly, a writer doesn’t get another shot. The demands of publishing are now such that editors do not have the time/liberty to develop talent as in the days of yore. But your question reminds me of something Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole once heard a man say, “There will be no more prizes for predicting rain. It’s time to build some arks!” If people want more nonfiction by people of color, they must support the people of color who are writing nonfiction now. As Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, founder of The Literary Media and Publishing Consultants says, “Preserve a Legacy, Buy a Book!”

 How is reading nonfiction different from reading fiction?
That depends on the writing. If the nonfiction is dry and uninspired then I imagine the reader will be merely gathering information. If the nonfiction reads like fiction, the reader will be engaged—caught up in a life or a time—and leave the book with more than information.

 How did you know that you wanted to write nonfiction?
 I didn’t until I wrote And Not Afraid to Dare: The Stories of Ten African American Women (1998). Scholastic editor Ann Reit suggested the idea. I was game—especially as I was just starting out. By the time I finished the book I was absolutely hooked on nonfiction. In part because I love learning. In part because I hungered to give young people the kind of history I never had. History not simple. History with complexities and contradictions. History with some life to it, texture, vigor and vim.

 What can we expect from you in 2016?
Pubbing on February 16: This Kid Can Fly (Balzer + Bray), the memoir of an amazing young man, Aaron Philip, soon to turn fifteen. Aaron has cerebral palsy and has endured countless hardships. But he is such an overcomer! Working with Aaron on his memoir was eye-opening and humbling. In the fall: How to Build a Museum (Viking), the story of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, scheduled to open this fall—the last museum to be built on the National Mall. Talk about right up my alley! What an honor it was to write this book, to be connected to this history in the making.
Tonya Bolden is an award winning author of more than 20 books. She is a gifted writer and educator who truly values the learning process. Connect with her on Twitter at @tonyaboldenbook

Tonya’s books include the following.

 Beautiful Moon  (Fiction)
Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl
Winner, 2006 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award
Winner, 2006 James Madison Book Award
M.L.K.: The Journey of a King
Winner, 2008 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Orbis Pictus
Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
33 Things Every Girl Should Know: Stories, Songs, poems, and Smart Talk by 33 Extraordinary Women     
Twelve Days of New York
Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America
Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty 
Carter G. Woodson Award Book
FDR’s Alphabet Soup: New Deal America 1932-1939
Finding Family (Fiction)
Wake Up Our Souls: A Celebration of African American Artists
Tell All the Children Our Story: Memories and Mementos of Being Young and Black in America

Saturday Trailer: Dreaming in Indian

What better day for book trailers than a Saturday? Dreaming in Indian is a non-fiction book that was released in 2014 by editors Lisa Charleyboy (Tsilhqot’in) and Mary Beth Leatherdale. Charleyboy is the Editor in Chief of Urban Native Magazine and Leatherdale writes, edits and consults on books, magazines and digital resources for children and youth.

Book Reviews: Non-fiction

I’ve recently read two nonfiction books that are completely unrelated in topic, location and even the time period in which they’re set yet, they’re very similar in that they’re well written books that address the intellect of young adults.


The Compassionate Warrior: abd El Kader of Algeria by Elsa Marston (Wisdom Tales, 2013)

FC9781937786106summary: A brilliant military strategist, superb horseman, statesman, philosopher, Muslim hero . . . Emir Abdel Kader (1808-1883) was an international celebrity in his own time, known for his generosity and kindness even towards enemies. Today he is recognized as one of the noblest leaders of the 19th century and a pioneer in interfaith dialogue. This fascinating biography of the heroic Arab who led the resistance to the French conquest of Algeria, endured betrayal and imprisonment, and in 1860, in Syria, saved thousands of innocent people from mob violence brings a vital message for our times.

Marston combines her love of scholarship and of young adult literature as she writes about Emir Abdel Kader. At times, she speaks directly to her audience in a tone that guides them as they learn more, not only about this brilliant and compassionate leader but, also about Algeria. France’s relationship with the country was just beginning as Algeria struggled to eventually become a unified nation. Their relationship was complex and interpreted differently through the lens of each of the cultures. Marston provides only what she could document, resulting in a book that is a rare historical document. I think young adults would be more engaged in a story that included more about the Emir’s personal and family life, however this books focuses more on his political accomplishments along with the country’s development. Readers gain insights not only into a country we here tend to ignore, but also into the complex arena of international relations. Nothing is as simple as it seems!


Up for Sale: Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery by Alison Marie Behnke (21st Century Books; August 2014)

+-+805560493_140summary: Up for Sale takes a hard look at human trafficking, identifying perpetrators and telling the stories of victims through their own words. You’ll discover why some people become vulnerable to trafficking and you’ll read about what their lives are like on a daily basis. You’ll also meet some of the courageous individuals and organizations working to free people from lives in bondage so that, in the words of US president Barack Obama, each person can “forge a life equal to [their] talents and worthy of [their] dreams.

I enjoyed this book. I appreciated its effective use of color, images and layout in telling a multidimensional story. Yes, multidimensional. Human trafficking has no single definition, no single place or location. At its core, it is an horrendous abuse of those with no power: children, women, the poor, the uneducated, homeless… Up for Sale brings to light many of the ways this crime against our humanity is perpetrated today. I liked that the book made sure readers understood this global crime isn’t just committed ‘over there’, but that it happens here in America everyday. The author treats the young adult readers as if they’re aware enough to need to know about human trafficking and without being exceptionally graphic, she provides a dose of reality. Teen readers will appreciate the numerous examples of how this crime is committed over and over again. As the faces and situations change, readers develop a heightened sense of compassion, a greater sense of social justice.



GooseBottom Books: A real treat!

I’ve recently posted about the fabulous books published by Goosebottom Books that I found at JCLC. The postings included a video of their wonderful interact book, Horrible Hauntings and a review of Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman. I think it’s time to look behind the books and find out a little more about Goosebottom. I’ve reached out to Shirin Bridges, the Head Goose for just that purpose!

1. Your book Ruby’s Wishwas quite well received! Can you talk a little about what took you from writing to starting Goosebottom Books and entering the publishing world?

Well, the change in career was inspired by my niece. If you know my books, beginning with Ruby’s Wish, they have all been (until my recent ghost book, Horrible Hauntings) about girls who found ways to do their own thing and exceed expectations. So when my niece showed signs of getting caught up in the pink princess craze, I was a little alarmed. “You know that there were princesses who didn’t sit around waiting for a prince, don’t you?” I asked her. I knew, because I’ve always been a history buff. She didn’t know, but she was interested, so we went looking for the books. But to my surprise, we didn’t find them. I was so surprised by how few women find their way onto our children’s bookshelves, so I decided I needed to write these books myself. Then I decided that more than that, I needed to publish these books, in part to ensure that they would come out as a series—that the message would be that there were many of these princesses, across the world and throughout history; that they weren’t isolated aberrations. That’s how Goosebottom Books came about. We published our series “The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses” in October 2010, and followed it with “The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames” in October 2011 (this time with the help of many other authors), and have added to both series in 2012. Another series is now in the works for 2014.
2. From where did the name “Goosebottom” come?
I wanted a name that reflected our personality. “Goose” says we publish for children. “Bottom” says we do it with a sense of fun and a little attitude. And “Goosebottom” happens to be a kid-friendly English translation of a nickname given to me by a French-speaking ex-boyfriend, not because of any anatomical amplitude, but because of a certain mental attitude.
3. I’ve noticed that Goosebottom has its own staff of writers. How does that work? Are writers assigned projects? Do they create their own?
We’ve been very blessed with our authors—the geese, as we call ourselves. Many of them have now become personal friends, and there is a real collaborative spirit to Goosebottom Books.
The way we find and work with our authors is, I think, unique. We receive submissions all year ’round, and we file them for later reference. We don’t accept manuscripts—we accept writing samples. When it’s time to find writers for our next list, we review these samples and decide whom we’d like to work with. We then approach those writers with our idea for the next series, and with specific titles for that series. They are asked to pick the top two titles they would like to write, and also asked to suggest other titles for the series that they’d find interesting. We then decide on a final title list, and have so far been able to assign titles so that everyone has been able to write at least one of their top two picks, if not their favorite title.
4. Who has been the most difficult woman to research so far?
I’d say either Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman or Sorghaghtani of Mongolia. Both have left very faint traces in the historical record—or at least faint in the English language record that I can access. But the traces they left were so compelling, they begged for inclusion on our list. And in Sorghaghtani’s case, I thought that she really brought to light an often forgotten and fascinating point: that the administration of Genghis’ empire was often entrusted to women. Jack Weatherford, in his book The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, writes about Genghis’ daughters who inherited and ruled lands as his sons did. But at one point in history, most of those sons’ lands were also ruled by women. On the death of her husband Tolui, Genghis’ youngest son, Sorghaghtani was formally confirmed as the ruler of his lands (Eastern Mongolia and Northern China)—this despite her having a son old enough to inherit. Similarly, Genghis’ son Chagatai’s power passed to his wife Ebuskan (Central Asia), and Ogodei’s (named Great Khan after Genghis’ death) to his wife Toregene (Western Mongolia). That’s an impressive number of female Heads of State, ruling most of the largest contiguous empire the world has ever known. I don’t think that many people know that this seemingly macho culture had a deep respect for its women.
5.  Horrible Hauntings is one of the most innovative books I’ve seen! How did you all ever come up with such a concept? Do you think Goosebumbs will continue to work in electronic formats?
Thank you! As I write, we have just learnt that we’ve won the Best Children’s Book Award given by the Halloween Book Festival. But the credit for the idea goes to our augmented reality partner, Trigger, and specifically to their President, Jason, who also happens to be my brother. He showed me a project they were working on using the technology and said, “Don’t you think this would make a great ghost book?” The answer was obvious, so we decided to create this experience together.
Whether the book will succeed financially is an open question at the moment. It’s still too early to tell. And the augmented reality component changes all the math, as you can well imagine.
But we’re very pleased to have been able to accomplish something so innovative, and I’m especially pleased that we found a way to make the latest technology bring readers back to the printed book.
After my nieces and nephew went through all the augmented reality ghosts, they actually curled up with the book and read the stories, so they’d know what they’d just seen. That was very rewarding for me, and I’ve spoken to reading specialists who are enthusiastic about this book’s potential when it comes to luring in reluctant readers. If this book has more kids reading, I’m happy. If it has more kids interested in history and nonfiction, I’m happier still. That’s what Goosebottom Books are all about: stealth education.
6. What are some of your upcoming releases?
We have something new in the works, a format we haven’t tried before. I’m not at liberty to disclose what that is at the moment, but stay tuned! Young readers have been asking for this, so we’re going to give them what they’ve asked for.
7. Because I met you at JCLC I have to ask: What does diversity mean to you?
For me, diversity just IS. Having lived and worked around the world, I’ve seen how diverse this world is. I believe that natural, existing diversity needs to be reflected on our bookshelves. Why? Because exposure is key. Only with exposure can we hope for understanding, and only with understanding can we hope for empathy and compassion. And only with empathy and compassion is there hope at all for the world.
Children have no frame of reference except what they’ve been exposed to. When they don’t see women on their book shelves, they think it’s because women haven’t done anything. When they don’t see certain ethnicities, they think those ethnicities haven’t accomplished anything worth publishing. It sets the boundaries for what they think is possible. It sets those boundaries artificially small. The celebration of diversity not only affirms, it empowers.
Shirin, thank you for such an insightful interview. I wish you many future successes!

book review: Darkroom: a memoir in black and white

“Darkroom stands out not only for Weaver’s lovely black and white artwork, but also for her unique perspective on the South during the upheaval of the Civil Rights movement.”~PW

title: Darkroom: a memoir in black and white

author: Lila Quintero Weaver

date: University of Alabama Press; 2012


Darkroom is a graphic memoir of Weaver’s childhood in Alabama. It’s an unexpected story of an Argentinean family living in Alabama in the 1960s. Through Weaver’s eyes, we see how she and her family try to fit into a society that has prescribed places defined by whiteness and blackness. I felt like Weaver was a bit naïve in assuming no racism when discussing from where her parents came in Argentina, but having spent so little time there perhaps she missed its subtleties particularly when contrasted to the overt practices in Alabama.

Using both words and images, Weaver describes the double life she led in elementary school and then the more intentional path she followed in high school.  Weaver embeds her eyesight as a symbol of her changing perception of things around her.

Darkroom adds an important dimension to the documentation of the civil rights era in the south where there were other ethnicities present besides Blacks and Whites. There are things she noticed as somewhat an outside that others didn’t pay attention to and because of that, she offers details that I had never read about before. In the final chapter, the author describes her visit as an adult to visit Argentina. For me, it was an awkward transition. I think it did serve to illustrate how important her heritage is to her, but not much else.

author interview


review: Battling Malaria

title: Battling Malaria

author: Connie Goldsmith

date: September, 2010; Lerner Publishing Group



Malaria is a disease many people know about, but few realize how it impacts people of color around the globe. Did you know it is one of the top three killers worldwide?

Batting Malaria provides high school students with factual information on malaria, a disease which has been around forever. Goldsmith explains why the disease continues to prevail in high poverty areas and speaks to students as budding scientist while explaining the historical and contemporary impact of this mosquito borne disease. While the format of the book will engage students, most will probably use it to seek specific information rather than reading straight through. It is a valuable addition to any library because it is a well written and document source of information about a disease that affects much of the world’s populatio

MaleMonday: Truth or Dare

In all the searching for books boys will like to read, there is one fact that is often over looked: Boys prefer non-fiction.

Sure, boys will read fiction. They are fans of books about adventure and monsters and murder and fantasy and yes, vampires. But given the opportunity to make their own selection, most boys will choose comic books (yea, these are fiction, but they’re something most teachers are reluctant to let students read), magazines, newspapers, biographies, books of records and histories.

Nonfictions that have been popular in my library:

Shooting Stars by LeBron James

No choirboy: murder, violence and teenagers on deathrow by Susan Kuklin

Always Running: La vida loca: Gang days in L.A. by Luis Rodriguez

Cooked: from the streets to the stove, from cocaine to foie gras by Jeff Hederson

Graffiti world: Street art from five continents by Nicholas Ganz

Subway art by Martha Cooper

In the paint: tattoos of the NBA and the stories behind them by Andrew Gottlieb

American Shaolin: flying kicks, buddhist monks, and the legend of iron crotch: an odyssey in the new China by Polly Matthew

I ain’t scared of you: Bernie Mac on how life is by Bernie Mac

Life in Prison by Stanley Tookie Williams

American Dream: three women, ten kids, and a nation’s drive to end welfare by Jason DeParle

Getting away with murder the true story of Emmett Till by Chris Crowe

Dragon Ball Z kidding! Just making sure you’re still with me! My boys love manga and biographies about any contemporary basketball and football players, as well as Michael Jordan and Reggie Williams. This is Indiana, after all!

I found many of these non fiction titles on the YALSA list for reluctant readers, others I just got lucky and stumbled across