Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: Ashay ByThe Bay, Black Children’s Bookstore Vallejo CA

Given the challenges of the pandemic, many independent bookstores have turned  increasingly to online sales to survive. Deborah Day, founder and CEO of  “The #1 Black Children’s Bookstore,” Ashay By The Bay, Vallejo, California, made hers an online shop from the beginning in 2000. It survived the recession of 2008 and is still going strong. Fittingly, Ashay is a powerful Yoruba word that means “it shall be so.” It is also Deborah Day’s given name.

So! Day has developed an engaging and user-friendly website (www.ashaybythebay.com) with over 800 titles, from  baby books to picture books to fiction and nonfiction for middle grade and young adult readers. Most have black American and African subjects, themes, and characters.  But since there is a large Latin American community nearby she also has school collections of Spanish and bilingual books for them. More about her school collections in a moment.

It’s exciting to see so many books for kids about black culture, people, and history gathered onto one curated site. I have now added several titles to my staggering must read pile. For instance, though I’m not a fantasy or science fiction fan at all, I can’t wait to read Tomi Adeywmi’s West-African inspired fantasy, Children of Blood and Bone.  Before the week is out I will probably also dip into Nnedi Okarafor’s imaginative and highly praised tale of magic and adventure in Nigeria, Akata Witch. As Day understands, good books for kids are good for everybody!

Before COVID, Day advertised grew her business by going to events, holding book fairs, and helping groups to conduct book fairs. She loved making in-person contacts that way. Now that those events are no longer possible she is relying more on social media ads, and she is hearing from people across the country.

The Pandemic also poses a challenge to her goal of getting children’s books about black subjects and black experience into the schools where they can have more impact on students’ understanding. Few schools are buying books right now and many students are doing distance learning. What an important time to build a home library, Day says. Of course there are many digital book available online, but the students are already screen-weary from school work. Day loves books and believes and holding a book to read is a more satisfying experience.

During shutdown, people can consult the Ashay website for the lists of the book collections, organized by age/grade e level, that Day offers to schools, and find ideas for books to order. These collections include many core curriculum books, but also give a chance for some independent publishers to become better known. Here are just a few of the many titles on her lists for middle graders:

Biographies: The Truths We Hold: An American Journey (Young Readers’ Edition) by Kamala Harris ; Portraits of African- American Heroes, by Tonya Bolden , including figures from dance, law athletics, science, and more. Who Was Jesse Owens? By James Buckley and Gregory Copeland; Brave. Black. First, 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World, by Cheryl Hudson; Hidden Figures, Young Reader’s Edition, byMargot Lee Shetterly; Black Women in Science: A Black History Book for Kids by Kimberly Brown Pellum;

Award-winning Fiction:

P.S. Be Eleven, Rita Williams-Garcia; The Season of Styx Malone, by Kekla Magoon; Harbor Me by Jaqueline Woodson; Ghost and Look Both Ways, by Jayson Reynolds; A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson;Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes; The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

Nonfiction:

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba;28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World by Charles R. Smith; The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love, and Truth, edited by Wade and Cheryl Hudson; Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men who Changed America, by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

The Arts:

Radiant Child: The story of Young Artist Jean Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe; Who is Stevie Wonder? By Jim Gigliotti; The Legends of Hip Hop by Justin Bua; The Rose That Grew from Concrete,by Nikki Giovanni and Tupak Shakur; Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry, edited by Arnold Rampersad and Marcellus Blount; Who is Stevie Wonder? By Jim Gigliotti and Who HQ’; Misty Copeland: Life in Motion.

December 2020:  an ideal time to get to know more about black culture from the excellent books being published for children.   It’s also an ideal time to give beautiful, real books to children who’ve been doing schoolwork online all day. And let’s please bypass the chains when we buy these books (Amazon will survive the economic crisis) and support independent booksellers like Ashay instead. A triple win!

 

 

Indie Spotlight: The Bookworm, Omaha NE

Note:   In response to the virus crisis, The Bookworm will be open for its usual hours, but with the following changes to help everyone shop safely. They are postponing all in-store book clubs, to be resumed in the future.  Staff is increasing cleaning of surfaces, credit card machines, door handles, bathrooms, etc. For those keeping their distance, The Bookworm will ship books anywhere in the country at $2 less than the going shipping rate, and will ship orders of $100 or more for free. They will make free contact-less courier deliveries three days a week within nearby zip codes. Customers may also arrange to pay by phone and get curbside pick-up. For further information, please go to bookwormomaha.com.

[This interview took place before the Coronavirus became pandemic, so some of the discussion below of book clubs and nearby sites to visit should be kept in mind  for the future.] 

What better place for a bookworm to visit than a store called The Bookworm? We’re talking today with their Children’s and Young Adult’s Manager, Hannah Amrollahi.
MUF: It’s always a delight to see an independent bookstore that’s been going for a while (since 1986). You’re not only surviving, but thriving.   What keeps you going?
Hannah: Community support allows the Bookworm to thrive. We can host programming of all kinds and stock magnificent books, but without community support and engagement we wouldn’t be here. Omahans continue to show they want vibrant, physical spaces, and we are so appreciative. People drive everything we do.

MUF: What do you want readers to experience when they visit The Bookworm? You and your staff seem to have especially strong backgrounds in books and education. How do you help readers find their next favorite book?
Hannah: We strive to greet every person as they enter the store and offer assistance before they leave, because that is a basis of hospitality. Conversations between people, readers and booksellers, are personable in a way algorithms cannot be. Our favorite question to ask customers is “what was the last book you read and loved?” and let the conversation flow from there. We offer the opportunity to find something similar, but equally important, something new, niche, or related. When readers visit, I hope they leave with a sense of wonder, energy to carry into their reading, and a book they will love.
A strong background in education helps booksellers find the right books for a burgeoning reader, where their reading level and interest has taken root. The majority of sales in children’s are gifts, they are not for the customer themselves, and so we want to bring that expertise to assist. The Bookworm has a strong staff connection to Montessori, and independent learning, teaching, and reading are also strongly connected.

MUF: What’s a good day at Bookworm for you?
Hannah: The best moment I have is when I hand a book to a child and their eyes light up in excitement. A very close second is handing a book to an adult and hearing them say, “oh, this is perfect!” for the child in their life. This interaction looks a lot of different ways now that I manage as well as hand-sell. Sometimes it’s an email to a local school letting them know the books for their author event have arrived. It can be the jitters in a volunteer’s hand picking up advanced readers donations for a local charity. If we’re having an event it can be the hectic pace in a line. Regardless, it is always the best part of my day.

MUF: Bookworm seems to be book club central! You have over a hundred external book clubs getting discounts and seventeen in-store adult clubs for many different interests. That suggests strong community connections. Last, but definitely not least, is your monthly Very Newbery book club for middle graders. What‘s the next selection Very Newbery is reading?Hannah: We love book clubs! All of our store ones are open to new members, so we are constantly meeting new people and enjoying the chatter about a book.
The Very Newbery club was started last summer and we’ll resume it in 2020! I would love to read the 2019 Newbery, New Kid by Jerry Craft, since it’s the first graphic novel in the category. It would be a joy to hear what kids think about this milestone.
Currently, we work with a local parochial school for the Chat N’ Chew bookclub and the University of Nebraska at Omaha for a Young Adult Literature class. Both have several titles, as they span across grades, but for February I love Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo and Front Desk by Kelly Yang. The first is a zany and lesser-known title by a big-hit author (remember Because of Winn-Dixie?). The second is an own-voices title that paints a realistic and poignant picture of immigration in the United States in its highs and lows.

MUF: One of the great things about independent bookstores is that the books you carry are curated by people who know books and not just business. Please tell us some titles, new or old, fiction, poetry, or nonfiction you find yourselves recommending these days to readers ages 9-12?
Hannah: Nine to twelve is such a great age. Here are a few of my favorites.
New: Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwotiz is the type of book we have on hand because I fell in love with its quirky fun. A light read featuring an “evil” daughter dealing with a host of villagers, a sickly father, and a whittle-witch, it will enchant readers with variations on tried and true tropes while incorporating surprisingly real-world themes of privilege, family expectations, and reparation.
Old: A musty church. A mysterious visitor. The Letter for the King. I discovered this 1962 classic from Tonke Dragt, whose own life is a fascinating study of her time, after the Netflix movie announcement revived interest. It has so much to offer, amazing out-loud, fantastic syntax reflective of its translation from Dutch, short chapters that make it fit easily into any schedule, and truly endearing characters struggling with the most basic, and most important, moral decisions. When can you share a secret? To what do you owe a promise? An all-ages book I only wish I had read earlier so I could be re-reading it sooner!
Nonfiction: I have some newer titles I love, but All of Us: a Young People’s History of the World from Yvan Pommaux and Christophe Ylla-Somers is still my favorite world history for this age group. The over-sized, beautifully illustrated hardcover has the literal weight of history. The authors tell a linear story of humanity that focuses more narrowly on America and Europe only in the near present. Time becomes a third character that moves the book around the globe, placing the Bering Strait migration, the development of Chinese writing, the Indus Valley, and early Crete together on glorious spread. History is messy, but this book achieves a robust introduction and a questioning tone that will provoke curiosity.

MUF: If families visit your store from out of town, would there be family-friendly places near by for a snack or a meal after shopping? And if they can stay a little longer, what are some unique sites or activities they shouldn’t miss?
Hannah: Omaha makes an extremely family-friendly vacation. Down the sidewalk from The Bookworm is the Market Basket restaurant, a local establishment, and within a few minutes’ drive is a local bakery and restaurant, Le Quartier. For a longer day, there is the Joslyn Art Museum, a free-entrance museum with outdoor sculpture garden and children’s room, the Omaha Children’s Museum, and award-winning children’s theater company, The Rose. Area parks are spread out across neighborhoods, whose old “small town” main streets have kept their individual flavor as the metropolitan area grew. Dundee, Florence Mill, and the award-winning 24th Street Mural Corridor celebrate Omaha’s diverse communities.
Finally, The Old Market downtown features red cobblestones and vibrant businesses tucked into historic buildings. The Durham Museum downtown features full-scale historic train cars and interactive exhibits. Ending the downtown tour at Ted & Wally’s homemade ice cream and Hollywood Candy bookend the day. Check out Visit Omaha, Omaha Magazine, and Nebraskaland for features and ideas!

MUF: Now that we’re all trying to stay home, what a great time to read, and we hope you discovered some titles in this discussion.   It’s also a critical time to support independent bookstores like The Bookworm, yes?  Read and support, a win-win!

Writing and Illustrating Funny Poetry For Kids – Author Interview with Vikram Madan, and Giveaway

At Mixed-Up Files today, we’re thrilled to have author-illustrator Vikram Madan. Vikram talks about his new book A Hatful Of Dragons that comes out on April 21, 2020. He also shares his exciting publishing journey along with other writing tips.

                                                           

 

  1. Tell us about A Hatful Of Dragons. What inspired you to write the book?

A Hatful of Dragons: And More Than 13.8 Billion Other Funny Poems’ is a quirky, eclectic collection of funny rhyming poems woven together with rich illustrations featuring recurring characters and sub-plots – a double dose of visual and literary fun for all ages 7 and up.

As a kid I loved both cartooning and writing poems but never thought of combining the two till I encountered, much later in life, Shel Silverstein’s work. I was instantly attracted to the concept of words and images working together to create a funnier experience. So much so that ‘A Hatful of Dragon’ is my third collection of self-illustrated funny poems featuring intertwined words and drawings.

 

  1. What would you want readers to take away from A Hatful Of Dragons?

I would love for readers of all ages to come away from this book with the idea that you can have a lot of fun playing with language and also with a desire to read more rhyming poetry.

 

  1. What were some of the most fun and challenging parts about writing A Hatful Of Dragons?

The poems in my original manuscript were largely disconnected from each other. While shortlisting the poems, Rebecca Davis, my editor, instinctively zeroed-in on the uniqueness of creating cross-connections between poems. As I developed the illustrations for the book, I had a lot of fun thinking of ways to interconnect the poems visually. For example, a main character in one visual might show up later in the book as a secondary character in another visual, helping create a cohesive, but weird, universe for the characters. I hope kids will have fun closely inspecting the illustrations for cross-connections.

The most challenging part of the book was stuffing 13.8 billion poems into 64 pages. 🙂

Actually I found doing the illustrations to be a challenge as I underestimated the sheer physical work required to get through multiple rounds of revisions and changes. Somewhat like running a marathon, most enjoyable, not while you’re doing it, but well after it is done. 🙂

 

 

Another challenge was coming up with a distinctive title for the book. The title poem ‘A Hatful of Dragons’ did not exist in my original manuscript. We thought of titling the book ‘There’s a Dragon in My Wagon’ but an internet search showed half-a-dozen books already had that title. Many other title poems from the manuscript did not pass internal sales and marketing reviews. I finally proposed ‘A Hatful of Dragons’ and once that title was approved, I had to then write a title poem from scratch worthy of the book. Talk about pressure! 🙂

 

  1. You began your writing career by self-publishing your work. How did the experience influence you as a children’s writer? How did you make the transition from self-publishing to traditional publishing?

Prior to self-publishing, I spent a decade trying to have my rhyming picture books and themed poetry collections published. I found agents and publishers reluctant to consider poetry. With rejections piling up, I actually gave up writing and submitting for a few years. However the itch never went away. In 2012, I spent a summer writing a fresh collection of poems. I decided then that if no one would publish my poems, I would publish them myself, which led to my first collection ‘The Bubble Collector’.

 

Once ‘The Bubble Collector’ was out, I realized writing the book was the easy part. Marketing, distribution, getting anyone to notice a self-published book, was incredibly hard (more so for us introverts!). I learnt that if I didn’t do the hustle, no one else would. With perseverance and leg work, I was able to get the book into local bookstores, gain a few favorable reviews and endorsements, and conduct some school visits. The book went on to win a 2013 Moonbeam Book Award for Children’s Poetry and was invited to apply to the 2014 WA State Book Awards. All in all, for a self-published poetry book, it did quite ok. The ‘hustling’, however, left me with deep appreciation for traditional publishing.

Upon completing the manuscript for my second collection (in 2015), I decided to give the traditional channel another shot. It took a year of querying agents before one, Rosemary Stimola at Stimola Literary Studios, expressed interest in the manuscript. (The modest success with the self-published book really helped my pitch). It took Rosemary another year to find a publisher, Boyds Mills & Kane. The publisher scheduled the book for a 2020 release, five years from when I finished the manuscript. Despite the slow pace of traditional publishing, I’ve really enjoyed working with my editors, Rebecca Davis and Barbara Grzeslo – the book is so much better than I could have made just by myself – and I’m looking forward to it being available everywhere without having to knock on doors, one at a time. 🙂

And since the second book was going to take five years, I squeezed out another self-published poetry collection, ‘Lord of the Bubbles’, in 2018, which went on to win a 2019 Moonbeam Award for Children’s Poetry.

 

 

  1. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Although I was writing and drawing from a really early age, I didn’t take my art seriously because I couldn’t see how to traverse the gap between what I made and what I admired. With no insight into the creative journey, the learning process, the blood, sweat, and tears that every piece of art demands, I did not believe in my own abilities. My epiphany came when one day, as an adult, I accidently wandered into an exhibition of original Dr. Seuss manuscripts. Typewritten sheets covered with frustrated scribbles, crossed out over and over again in search of better options. I was stunned to realize that the ‘genius’ was in the incessant revision, the twenty attempts before something worked, the trying, trying, trying and not giving up. Looking at those manuscripts was the first time I thought to myself, “Wait, if this is how it’s done, then maybe I can do this too!” Thank you Dr. Seuss – I wish I could have sent my younger self to see that!

 

  1. Do you have any other advice/tips for writers?

In visual-art circles the running joke is that ‘Only the first fifty years are the hardest’. In other words, the ‘successful’ artists are the ones who find ways to persist. The same is true for writers. Patience, persistence, working on your craft, and never giving up! (And if you do feel like giving up, read a book, any book, by creative coach Eric Maisel).

 

Here’s a cool flip-through video that Vikram made for the book: https://youtu.be/XswGM2FLlBM

Seattle-area Author-Artist Vikram Madan grew up in India, where he really wanted to be a cartoonist but ended up an engineer. After many years of working in tech, he finally came to his senses and followed his heart into the visual and literary arts. When not making whimsical paintings and public art, he writes and illustrates funny poems. His books include ‘The Bubble Collector’, ‘Lord of the Bubbles’, and ‘A Hatful of Dragons’. Visit him at www.VikramMadan.com

 

Want to own your very own ARC of A Hatful Of Dragons? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on March 2, 2020 and will be contacted  via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.