It’s About All Children Being Seen With Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Hi everyone! I am so excited because today I am talking with Vanessa Brantley-Newton! She is the author and illustrator of numerous books including BECOMING VANESSA, (one of my favorites) GRANDMA’S PURSE, as well as the and the illustrator for THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN by Derrick Barnes and MARY HAD A LITTLE GLAM written by Tammi Sauer. I am looking forward to finding out a little bit more about her today!

Hi Vanessa! Thank you for joining us today. What was your first memory as a child where you connected to a book?

As an African American born in the 60’s and raised in the 70’s I didn’t get to see myself in any children’s books. It appeared that only whites got that joy of seeing themselves and stories about them. I thought I was invisible for many years. No real shows on TV that has people that looked like me. Every once in a while Diane Carroll or, Bill Cosby (at the time), Flip Wilson and the Jackson Five. That was about it. One day one of my teachers, Ms. Russell opened up a copy of the Snowy Day, written by Ezra Jack Keats and it changed my life. It would be the very first time that I would ever get to see a beautiful brown child that looked like me. I had pink snow suit, my mom looked like his mom, even the wallpaper in his house looked like the wallpaper in our house and I felt like, for the first time, someone saw me and that I existed. I thank Ezra Jack Keats for the gift of the Snowy Day. One of my favorite books ever.

Vanessa, hearing you say you thought you were invisible breaks my heart. No child should ever have to bear that weight, or how that makes them feel. Children should feel loved and appreciated for who they are. I am so grateful for your teacher and Snowy Day. You express your reaction to the book and I want to highlight your statement… “And I felt like, for the first time, someone saw me and that I existed”. This moment of being acknowledged, of seeing someone just like you in a book is so powerful!

My follow up question then is what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

I hope that when children see a book written and illustrated by me that they are seen. Every single one of them. I want them to know that, “I see you. In your beautiful brown skin with your afro puffs, cornrows, or locs. I see you with your beautiful hazel eyes or missing teeth. I see YOU sing your song and doing your dance with leg braces or in your wheelchair. I just want them to know that they are seen and are valuable and precious.

YES! This makes my heart sing, Vanessa! I love that your hope for children is to be seen, and for all children to be seen as they are. It is a validation that they aren’t alone, that they matter, and they are important. Children see the world as it is presented to them, which is another reason why books are so important. They can have a wondrous impact on a child’s view of the world, how the world should be, and realizing the greatness already inside them. Vanessa, thank you so much for chatting with me today. I am so glad you were inspired to write and illustrate books for children because I am such a fan!

And thank you everyone for reading. Take care and have a wonderful day!

It’s About Empathy with Tina Mowrey

Today on Books 4 Karachi Kids we have Tina Mowrey! Tina is the author of WHAT A PRICKLY PEAR and has two other books coming out soon. MY FAMILY TREE HAS ROOTS (which by title alone I’m SOLD!) set to come out in 2022 and BEING BAILEY RAE in August of this year!

Hi Tina and thank you for chatting with me today! I’m excited to learn what your first memory was a child where you connected to a book.

THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS by Katherine Paterson is one book that sticks in my memory because Gilly was such a colorful character. I hadn’t encountered a character like her in my previous reading material, so it was refreshing. I also remember being introduced to the world of foster care and it impacted me so much that I decided I wanted to foster and/or foster to adopt children as an adult. 

That’s an amazing impact, Tina! I think this again shows us how influential books are. For you, it introduced you to something that would later become part of your life in a truly loving way. How wonderful that you were inspired by this book to grow your family and provide a home to children that needed one.

In what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

As far as the impact my writing has on children, I can only hope that they will see themselves in the story or learn to be empathetic toward the characters and their situations. Also, if I write something humorous, I hope they find it funny!

You’ve stated an important point that I want to discuss. Empathy. When children read, they aren’t always going to be in the same situation as the main character. They may not even understand the details surrounding the character’s problem. But through the writing and illustrations, they can begin to see, to understand, to empathize. This is a very important aspect and learning opportunity that children’s books provide. And on the other side, it may be exactly their situation! They may SEE themselves in this storyline, in this book, and finally have found a place where someone understands. I cannot stress how important this is for children. All children need to be represented in books because of the positive impact it will have on them. I’m so glad you stated this, Tina, because it’s definitely needed. And not to overshadow humor, because we ALL could use more laughter these days!

Thank you again, Tina, for being so giving of your time and thoughts. We as a community appreciate it!

I’m offering two critiques. To be entered, please retweet this post and tag a friend on Twitter. The contest ends Saturday July 2, 2021 at 12 pm EST. Thanks everyone for helping spread the word about Karachi Kids!

Writing Journey Speed Bumps and Detours

We’ve all been there. We’ve got our plan, our manuscript, and we’re feeling confident. (Because we all should believe in our stories and art.) We query, apply for a mentorship, or submit it in a contest. And then we wait…which is really hard!

How to pass the time?

  1. Throw yourself into another project
  2. Listen to podcasts
  3. Watch webinars
  4. Critique other’s work
  5. Read a book
  6. Exercise

I’m going to stay with this one for a bit. Though not an easy thing to do, exercise will definitely improve your mood in the long run. This may become something you turn to release frustration. Or get rid of nervous energy when you’ve finished being Monica Geller and already cleaned the entire house or apartment. (Guilty)


7. Do something completely unrelated to writing. Sometimes we need other distractions and things to put our energy into. (Hobby, craft, fixing something, creating something, cooking ect.)

Okay, the verdict is and it’s a…….pass. Ugh.

Tears stream. Maybe anger even bubbles. Self doubt and sadness come to stay a while. As well as the very uninvited guest known as Imposter Syndrome. And guess what? It’s OK to feel all of these things! You were supposed to get your hopes up because that show you BELIEVE IN YOUSELF! And, since we’re human, we then experience all of the emotions. Once again, it’s okay to feel whatever way you are as long as your safely experiencing it.

What to Do

You can push through this speed bump and continue on your way. Or maybe you slow down and re think your path to getting where you’re going. Do you maybe need to look at joining a critique group or organization to get you headed in the right direction? Perhaps a craft book will help things become clearer or shine a light on a certain place where you’ve found yourself stuck. Another option is to stop. Take time for you and give yourself a break. It may just be the mental fresher you’ve needed all along but didn’t know it. Whatever way you decide, do what’s best for you, at YOUR PACE. Last time I checked, writing and being published doesn’t happen over night. It is a JOURNEY, and I’m happy to be on it with so many wonderful people that I never would have met without writing.

So please take care of yourselves. Listen to what you need, and reach out for support. And when you’re ready, try again. I’ll be rooting for you!!!

Take care writing community!

It’s About Encouraging the Love for Space with James McGowan

Hi everyone! I’m mixing things up a bit today and am excited to say the talented James McGowan is our special guest! James is an agent at Bookends Literary Agency as well as the author of Good Night Oppy! I’m thrilled he was willing to take time out of his busy day to help our initiative for Books 4 Karachi Kids.

Hi James! What was your first memory as a child where you connected to a book?

Can I cheat on this question? I specifically remember one weeknight as a child, reading a board book with my mom. I cannot remember the title though! Of course, neither can she. But that was my first time reading on my own and I totally wish I could remember it.

That’s definitely a proud moment! I’ve witnessed my youngest learn to read and it’s so heart warming to see their face light up when they realize they’ve just read a book. Even though you both can’t remember the title, the memory of you reading on your own stayed with you, which speaks to how special it was.

In what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

I hope my writing, particularly with GOOD NIGHT, OPPY! inspires a bunch of kids to become space lovers. I am endlessly amazed by space, and I think it’s a topic that kids will love. We’re always learning something new.

I’ve been reading space books with my youngest and they love them! It’s something so big and full of wonder. It really creates a sense of awe for all of us.

Thank you for joining us today, James, and sharing your memory and wish for children. GOOD NIGHT, OPPY! comes out this September and is available for pre-order now. Thank you everyone and have a great day!

Why I Write

Thinking about this topic actually brings tears to my eyes. I love children’s books. The transformation that happens when a child is read a story…seeing them go on an adventure, or learn to cope with something difficult, or begin to learn more about life, love and themselves in those few pages….it can only be described as magic.

I write because I want to help children and caregivers connect. I want story time to be something special, whether it’s a heartfelt moment, or a learning opportunity told in a gentle manner. I think childhood is such a special and fragile time, and I would love to be even just a twinkle of positivity – and a reminder that imagination is a wonderful thing.

Each one of us has stories to tell through words and art. I hope you find what is that calls to you, that drives you, that moves you to create. Because it is a gift that wants to be shared, and could be the thing that makes someone’s world better.

It’s about Celebrating Diversity with Valerie Bolling

Hi friends! Today I’m honored to talk with Valerie Bolling, the author of Let’s Dance, a wonderful book where children from all over the world dance, tap, twist and twirl! It is a rhythmic read filled with beautiful illustrations that is sure to delight young readers. (Mine definitely liked it!) I’m excited to learn more about Valerie today!

Hi Valerie! What was your first memory as a child where you connected to a book?

I don’t remember the first time I connected to a book. What I do remember is that I always loved books. I loved being read to; I loved reading; and I loved writing my own stories and poems, too. 

The books that were read to me as a young child – usually by my great-aunt, Lucille – were Frog and Toad, Curious George, Amelia Bedelia, Charlotte’s Web, James and the Giant Peach, and The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. As I got older, I began to read these books on my own as well as series, such as Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, Pippi Longstocking, and books by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. None of these books are about Black children or written by Black authors. Fortunately, I still loved reading; however, some children could be turned off to reading if none of the characters look like them and/or if the voices and experiences of the characters are not like theirs. Malcolm Mitchell’s book, My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World, expresses this reality beautifully.

I think what you’ve said about representation is so important. All children should be able to see themselves in books. I’m grateful that your love for reading kept you invested, but understand that may not be the case for others. In a world where we are trying to encourage children to read, we as a community must make sure we are doing everything we can to foster this love. This means having diversity in books, in all genres, and with authors and illustrators.

In what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

My life’s work as an educator, and now as an author, has always been about children. Every interaction I have with a child is precious. Every interaction is a chance to make a child experience joy and a sense of a community – and to feel special. My books allow me to facilitate these interactions.

I write because I want all children to feel at home in a book. I want them to smile, laugh, think, and question. Most of all, I want them to celebrate the diverse world we live in. My desire is for children of all backgrounds to see themselves in my stories and feel seen and heard, valued and validated.

“Feel seen and heard, valued and validated.” This statement is so powerful, Valerie! Children need to know they matter. By acknowledging them, it shows we are listening and appreciating them. This not only increases their self worth but also their self esteem. This increase will greatly impact their decisions, actions, and help them decide who they want to be. This is the power of supporting children and helping them believe in themselves! Honestly, I tear up about the beautiful scene and possibility of children finding their voice, their confidence, and seeing their immense worth.

Your hopes make my heart happy dance, Valerie, and I want to thank you for spending time with us today. Make sure to check out Let’s Dance! Thanks for joining us everyone and have a great day!

It’s about Being A Bridge with Megan Lacera

Hi friends! We’re continuing our journey of connecting to our childhood today with Megan Lacera! She is part of the husband wife team that created Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies. What a brilliant twist to have the zombie child try to introduce the parents to veggies! This book over flows with creativity and fun, which definitely has kids asking to read it again. I wonder what inspired Megan when she was young. Let’s find out!

Hi Megan! Can you tell us your first memory as a child where you connected to a book?

I have too many book memories to remember my first! I started reading early and devoured as many stories as I could get my hands on. But one that comes to mind is reading WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by Shel Silverstein. It was a revelation to me; the simple, hilarious, and often poignant illustrations…the collection of stories/poems that shifted effortlessly from inspiration to irreverent. Many books up until that point felt like they were talking down to me or forcing a lesson. SIDEWALK never felt like that. There is a poem called “Sister for Sale” and it’s brilliant. I have a sister and I love her, but gosh, some days when we were young…yep, that poem got right to the core of frustration. Looking at the work now, Silverstein doesn’t shy away from the full complexity of childhood and humanity, and I think that’s why it continued to captivate.

Megan, you make so many good points here that I’m going to take a little time to unpack them. I LOVE that you connected to Shel’s approach. SIDEWALK does meet a child on their level and doesn’t sugar coat anything that they might be feeling. The book makes things real for kids in a way they can relate to. This is so important to highlight! You mentioned “Sisters for Sale,” which gets right to the not so great part of siblings. And it’s okay! You can agree, laugh, or even respond, “Yeah, that’s how I feel!” It connects so clearly to the reader on an emotional level they can understand. This is not to be confused with talking down to children. Children are smart, and they will respond to a book with excitement, or just the opposite. As creatives, we aren’t here to tell kids what to do. We are to write stories to meet them where they are in a way they can understand.

For my follow up, in what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

For me, reading is a bridge to understanding, connection, intellectual growth, emotional depth, empathy, curiosity, spirituality, and love. I hope my work will be a piece of that bridge for others!

What a beautiful visual, Megan! A bridge to so many wonderful things. This is what we’re trying to do with #Books4KarachiKids.

Megan, thank you for taking the time today to talk with us. Have a great rest of the week everyone!

It’s about Joy with Matt Forrest Esenwine

Hello everyone, and thank you for visiting!

I am fortunate that the wonderfully talented Matt Forrest Esenwine has agreed to join the conversation today. Matt is an accomplished author of numerous books including Flashlight Night, Elliot, the Heart Shaped Frog, and the beautifully stunning Once Upon Another Time.

Matt, what was your first memory as a child where you connected to a book?

Thanks for reaching out! I had several favorite books as a child, but the three that always come to mind are “Mr. Snitzel’s Cookies” by Jane Flory, “The Land of Noom” by Johnny Gruelle (the guy who created Raggedy Ann), and the most significant, “The Secret Place and Other Poems” by Dorothy Aldis. This last book helped me develop a love of poetry and greatly influenced my writing style and sensibilities…even though I never knew that until I was an adult.

I love that these books stayed with you and their effect became evident when you were an adult. It shows us the staying power and impact of what we read as children.

My follow up question then is, in what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

I hope my writing simply brings readers joy – whether it’s through encouraging their use of imagination such as “Flashlight Night,” better appreciating the world around them such as “Once Upon,” or helping them to realize they can stand up for what’s right, as I do in my next book, “I Am Today.” I don’t like books that set out to teach a lesson – although there’s nothing wrong with a lesson being taught – but the main focus of a picture book should be the story, the joy.

Joy, yes! This is so important for us as creatives to remember! We want children to enjoy reading, listening to stories, going on adventures and seeing the beautiful art of the illustrations. It is with this joy they experience that will encourage them to continue to read. We are hoping that the joy of reading is brought into the lives of children in Karachi.

Thank you so much, Matt, for your time and sharing your thoughts with us today. Please be sure to check out Matt’s books and look for Elliot, the Heart Shaped Frog out now! Thanks everyone!

It’s about Loving What You Do with Raissa Figueroa

Hi everyone! I am over the moon with happiness because today I get to chat with Raissa Figueroa! She is the illustrator behind the beautiful art in Sophie and Little Star, We Wait for the Sun, Oona and The More The Merrier. I’m a huge fan and am excited to share what stories inspired her and her wish to children everywhere.

Rainbow Bridge from Raissa's Etsy site

Hi Raissa, and thank you for joining us! Can you share with us what your first memory was as a child where you connected to a book?

My mother was avid about reading to my brother and I when we were kids. ‘Twas a very precious night-time ritual. We were expected to be safe and snug in our beds by 8pm if we wanted a story read to us. It was either that or we got to stay up for an extra half hour to watch some of our favorite cartoons. We almost always chose the former. Who would pass up a chance to rest your head on your mom’s lap as she transported you to different worlds? She’d do the voices of different characters and everything! It’s hard to choose just one book as we went through so many, but as an adult a few titles that still stick out in my mind are The Giving Tree, Rainbow Fish, Where the Wild Things Are and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful memory! It sounds like your mom put her whole heart into reading to you and your brother. As a mom, I love reading stories with my kids because it is a chance to be close and share a moment, a story, and a journey to another world. When I read, I love hearing the words just as much as seeing the world the illustrators created. The art brings picture books to life, and I love seeing young readers search the pages as the words are read.

In what ways do you hope your art will impact the lives of children?

I can only hope that my art inspires future kids to perhaps pursue illustrating as a career. Growing up I always loved doodling but as time wore on I sort of pushed art aside to focus on a career path that wouldn’t leave me “starving”. It still blows my mind every day that I’m able to do this for a living. Had someone told me it was a legitimate possibility earlier I definitely would have stuck with it! Doing what you love, whatever it may be, is not only just an option, but it’s the best one you can make.

I love that! Being inspired is such an important part of life, and I hope that all children would be given encouragement to explore their interests, whatever they may be. Because with support, children will feel secure to try new things and experiences, which could potentially lead them to their passion in life. #Books4KarachiKids are working to provide access to books for the children of Karachi. We know books open up a world of possibility, and this is something we hope to achieve for them. Thank you for sharing your wishes with us, Raissa. And thank you to the readers. Have a great day everyone!

It’s about Love with Katie Frawley

Hi everyone!

I’m honored because today the fabulous Katie Frawley joins my blog! She’s the author of Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places and the co-creator of the #FireButtChallenge on Twitter, where you team up with someone and support each other to write something (story, revision, query) that day. Yes, I am a member and it’s a great way to get words on a page. Now to the fun questions!

Hi, Katie! Thank you for chatting with me today!

Hi, Kelly. I am always glad to help kids get books into their hands! A love of reading is best started young.

I agree! Can you tell us what was your first memory as a child where you were connected to a book?  

I suppose my earliest book memory is The Night Before Christmas. My mom would read it to us every year on Christmas Eve, she in her chair, we four kids gathered around her feet on the floor. She knew every word by heart, so she never had to look at the pages or turn the book toward her. She knew when to turn the page without peeking, which felt a whole lot like Christmas magic to me. She still reads this book every year on Christmas Eve, but now she reads it to her grandchildren.

I can imagine you and your siblings sitting around completely engaged by her reading! There is something so simple, yet so magical about story time. I love that your mom knew all the words by memory. My heart lights up a little more hearing she continues the tradition with her grandchildren. That is a special memory that will stay with your kids when they think of Christmas.

Stories can leave such an impression on the lives of children. In what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

I hope to help kids fall in love with books! My second daughter is a bit of a reluctant reader, but I keep telling her, “We just haven’t found the right kind of books for you YET!” I’m so glad there are so many different books out there for the many different kinds of kids. The right book for EVERY kid is out there…somewhere.

I think you’ve brought up a very important point, Katie. Not all readers are alike or have the same interests. I know my oldest loves fiction while my youngest only wants to have us read nonfiction. Picture books have so many different avenues to grab a readers attention. We’re hoping to bring a variety of books to Karachi, Pakistan because we think it’s important to have a various styles of books for children to read.

Thank you for sharing your time with us today, Katie, and for fostering the love for reading!