My name is Alyssa and I am a member of KidLit in Color. I am so excited to talk about the value of mentorship programs in this post because they were such an important aspect of my writing and publishing journey.
I was fortunate enough to win three mentorship programs: The Las Musas Mentorship, The Word’s Editor-Author Mentorship, and PB Chat’s mentorship. More information about those opportunities and more below.
First, I want to share WHY mentorship programs are so invaluable.
There are MANY more reasons why mentorship programs are invaluable. But now I will share some TIPS for applying for mentorship opportunities.
Please see below some mentorship programs to keep on your radar based on what genre/age group you write for.
The #PBChat Mentorship
Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program
AWP: Writer-to-Writer Mentorships
Write Team Mentorship Program
Diverse Voices DVMentor Program
Avengers of Colour
Author Mentor Match
All Levels PB-YA
SCBWI Mentor Programs
We Need Diverse Books Mentorship Program
Las Musas Hermanas
Editor-Writer Mentor Program
Children's Lit Fellows
#QueerKidLit Mentorship Program
Mentorship for Desi Writers
Write-Mentor Spark Mentorship
Latinx in Publishing Writers Mentorship Program
Be Your Own Mentor (a website providing resources on revising, industry, craft)
I hope you enjoyed this blog post and found it informative. If you have any questions please feel free to contact KidLit in Color at https://www.kidlitincolor.com/contact.html
Alyssa Reynoso-Morris is a queer Afro-Latinx Dominican and Puerto Rican writer, wife, mother, and community organizer. During the day she is a Chief of Staff working with community members, non-profit organizations, and government officials to make the world a better place.
Then she puts her writer’s hat on to craft heartfelt stories about home, family, food, and the fun places she has been. Alyssa was born and raised in The Bronx, New York, and currently lives in Philadelphia, PA with her partner and daughter.
If you have specific questions for me, please contact me via my website at www.alyssaauthor.com
As a Black Panamanian, I grew up confident and fully aware of who I am and my racial and cultural background. But it wasn’t until I was asked, “What are you?” that I realized I didn’t know how to explain what I’d always known.
When I asked my mother about it, she told me, “Tell them you are a Black Panamanian” (which I knew). But that response only worked when I was a child. The older I got, the people who asked that question wanted more, and I found myself also needing more-- in terms of understanding fully.
My debut novel, Sincerely Sicily, was born solely from this experience. Loosely based on many of my experiences growing up, the main character Sicily Jordan embarks on a self-discovery journey to fully understand, for herself, how she is Black with a Panamanian cultural background. In addition to her self-identity journey, Sicily experiences hair discrimination from an unexpected relative and deals with plenty of new experiences involving a new school, friendships, and her first crush.
As the publishing industry continues to push for diversity in children’s literature, I have seen a slight improvement. But there are still cultures and countries that lack representation, including Panama. With that, I felt compelled to tell my story and do my part by filling this void. Mainly because I think readers desire to read about something new and different. And readers of Panamanian descent can finally relate first-hand and enjoy seeing their culture displayed in fiction.
Overall, I hope all readers can take a few things away from Sicily’s story. The first is the difference between race and culture. This message is conveyed in a scene when Sicily is doing research and realizes that while her ancestors are from Africa and the Caribbean, her parents were born in Panama, and she was born in the US. The cultures changed, but the racial makeup of her family did not. Thus, displaying to the reader that race and culture are not dependent on each other; the two can mutually exist, as one has nothing to do with the other.
The next takeaway would be gaining the confidence to advocate and stand up for oneself. Through Sicily’s example of resolving a hair discrimination conflict with her abuela, my hope is for that interaction to be a blueprint for young readers on how they, too, can express their feelings to adults constructively and appropriately to gain resolution.
Sincerely Sicily was indeed a labor of love, written to appeal to the targeted audience, but people of all races, ages, genders, and cultures will be able to find a few relatable elements of the story that will entice them to keep on reading.
Born to parents who migrated from Panamá, Tamika has always taken a particular interest in writing themes that explore her Black Latina identity. Because of her passion for spreading knowledge of Black Panamanian culture, Tamika has been featured on various websites, podcasts, and panels.
When she is not writing, Tamika is somewhere cozy online shopping, sipping lemon ginger tea and reading, or listening to a podcast. Read more at TamikaBurgess.com
By Kirstie Myvett and Aya Khalil
KLIC featured over 30 BIPOC children and middle-grade authors and illustrators on our blog in 2022. We’ve had guest bloggers, cover reveals, and many giveaways to promote BIPOC books and stories near and far. Since starting our group in 2019, we’ve featured over 60 BIPOC authors on our website and countless more on our social media platforms, and look forward to reading and sharing more of your wonderful stories and illustrations.
Besides using our website and social media platforms, another way we’ve accomplished our mission of amplifying diverse voices is by participating in panels. In 2022, we led panels on the following topics: Brown Joy Matters: Elevating BIPOC Voice in Print, Writing and Modeling Anti Racism for Young Readers, and Banned Book Edition. Panels provide a great opportunity for learning, discussion, and sharing. We hope to participate in even more panels this year.
This was a busy year for our KLIC authors who published 10 books in 2022, including one middle-grade book. Our authors were featured in regional and national press and received several awards and recognition, including:
New England Book Award Finalist - Middle Grade
New England Independent Booksellers Association Fall 2022 Windows and Mirrors Selection
Outstanding Book Award 2022, National Association of Black Journalists
Today Show - Read with Jenna Jr. Summer Reading selection in June
NECN Women’s History Month story in March
2022 Horn Book Summer Reading Recommended Title
Booklist’s Best of 2022
Chicago Public Library’s Best of 2022 list
The Buffalo News, Buffalo Spree Magazine
WGRZ (NBC Affiliate, Buffalo)
Amazon Editor’s Picks
Greenwich Free Press
School Library Journal
New York Magazine
Wisconsin Muslim Journal
American Muslim Today
KLIC authors believe in giving back, especially to aspiring children’s authors. Several of our authors have taken part in mentorship programs to share their knowledge and pay it forward. Our members serve as mentors at the Highlights Muslim Storyteller Fellowship, We Need Diverse Books - Black Creators Fund, and We Need Diverse Books (general mentorship program).
Another way that we pay it forward is by participating in World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) and reading our books for free to students across the country. Thanks to a virtual platform, we can meet children and teachers all over. We have shared our books with children in Texas, Iowa, Florida, Indiana, New York, Louisiana, Connecticut, Michigan, Missouri, and Canada. If you haven’t booked us for WRAD in 2023, time is running out! Just click on our CONTACT button and someone will reach out to you asap!
We have many books coming out this year so keep an eye out for more information.
Last, we continue to support amazing and talented authors by reading their books. This year KLIC authors have read over 536 books!!! We are passionate readers and will continue to spread the love of books with you all.
Happy New Year!
You can learn about our books at our KidLitinColor.com.
Glenda Armand - ALL ABOARD THE SCHOOL TRAIN and ICE CREAM MAN
Interview by Gabriele Davis
Hi, Glenda! Congratulations on your TWO new picture books releasing this month: ALL ABOARD THE SCHOOL TRAIN and ICE CREAM MAN! Both books are captivating and eye-catching. Can you give our readers a brief overview of each and the inspiration behind them?
Thank you! I am excited about both books, though their beginnings were quite different. ICE CREAM MAN is about a free-born black man in pre-Civil War America who had the self-confidence, creativity and initiative to overcome overwhelming odds to become a successful inventor and entrepreneur. Augustus Jackson also happened to work as a chef in the White house, serving under three presidents! I had not heard of Augustus Jackson until my editor asked me if I would co-author a book about him with Kim Freeman. Kim gets credit for “discovering” Jackson. Once I learned about him, I knew that he checked all the boxes as to the kind of person I like to write about.
ALL ABOARD THE SCHOOLTRAIN is much more personal. However, I do have to thank Isabel Wilkerson for writing THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS. In her epic narrative about the Great Migration, Wilkerson shares an anecdote about children in 1920s rural Mississippi forming a “walking train” to get to their one-room schoolhouse. That inspired me to ask my mom if she had had a similar experience having grown up during that era in rural Louisiana. Her eyes lit up as she recounted to me the basic elements of what became this story.
I love that ALL ABOARD THE SCHOOL TRAIN was inspired by your mother’s childhood experience and that you got to include some wonderful family photos in the back matter. What was your family’s response to this book? Can you speak to how writers can tap into their own family histories for inspiration?
I certainly hadn’t planned on using my family’s pictures in the book. That was my editor Tracy Mack’s idea! Her vision for my cute little story transformed it into a 48-page work of true historical and cultural meaning. I am honored that it received a starred KIRKUS review.
My family helped me remember certain facts and provided pictures. In that sense, it was a group project! My Mom would be very proud. To aspiring writers, I would say that the first place you look to for stories is home. By “home” I mean your own life and family, where you grew up, what books you read, what fascinates you. Take the inspiration you find there and see where it leads you. It could take you to another world. For instance, Suzanne Collins, who loves Greek mythology, was at home flipping the TV between the Iraq war and reality TV shows when she got the inspiration to write The Hunger Games.
You’ve authored other picture book biographies. Having been both a history teacher and a librarian, it’s no surprise that you love writing books spotlighting the stories and accomplishments of people who deserve a wider audience. What do you hope readers will take away from these books?
You are right. I enjoy introducing my readers to unsung heroes. IRA’S SHAKESPEARE DREAM is about Ira Aldridge, who was a contemporary of Augustus Jackson and who, like Jackson, was born free. Aldridge became a world-famous Shakespearean actor, noted for his portrayal of Othello. In SONG IN A RAINSTORM, I introduce readers to Thomas Wiggins who, born enslaved, blind and autistic, went on to find fame and fortune as a musical prodigy. I would like children to know about the diversity of the African American experience.
Both ALL ABOARD THE SCHOOL TRAIN and ICE CREAM MAN have great kid-appeal. Ice cream and children are a natural combination, and you draw readers through both books with catchy refrains. Can you share your tips for making stories engaging and relatable for young readers?
You know, I had not thought about how they both have refrains. I do like to write in rhyme, so any chance I get, I will do so. Also, when I write picture books, I imagine them being read aloud by a teacher, parent or librarian. Kids like to participate in the story and love repeating a catchy refrain. It keeps them engaged and it helps with their memorization skills. I am a proponent of having kids memorize poems and songs and even times tables (I know that dates me.). It’s exercise for the brain.
I enjoyed the fascinating details you include in the afterword for ICE CREAM MAN. Kids will be surprised to learn that people once ate bizarre ice cream flavors like Parmesan Cheese and Asparagus! What research tips can you offer writers interested in crafting fascinating picture book biographies?
I like to give lots of details in the afterword that I hope the adult reader will find helpful in sharing the books with children. Kids like weird and amazing facts. If the facts also have a yuk factor, all the better. So I would say to new writers, find some fascinating detail about your subject that children will find interesting. I like to begin the bio with an anecdote from the subject’s childhood that immediately draws the child in.
Both Keisha Morris and Keith Mallett do an amazing job of bringing your stories to life with their illustrations. I especially like how Morris captures the joy of the school train winding through town and how Mallett conveys the pride Jackson takes in bringing sweet treats to his community. How involved were you in the visual development of these books? Did you include many illustration notes in your manuscript? Were you able to provide feedback on rough sketches?
Yes, I was involved to some extent with the illustrations, and both artists were a delight to work with. I saw sketches along the way, making suggestions that were well-received. For instance, Thelma in SCHOOLTRAIN, is inspired by my mom. When Keisha, who loves cats, gave Thelma a pet cat, I asked her to change the cat to a dog. Mom was a dog person. For ICE CREAM MAN, Keith had to make sure not to show ice cream being eaten from a cone. Ice cream cones were not invented until 1904!
You have referred to school libraries as “the heart of the school.” What is it that makes school libraries so vital?
In the library, students can come and relax, play board games, maybe work on a puzzle. It’s a place where everyone fits in and you can be yourself. And, of course, it’s a place to read. I love helping a student find a book. I have to get to know the student and make that connection. When a student tells me he or she doesn’t like to read, I just say, “You haven’t found the right book yet.” Whether the right book is Gone With the Wind or Captain Underpants, I just want the student to become a reader.
You have another book releasing in 2023. Would you like to offer readers a preview of this book? Any other titles on the horizon?
Sure! I have a book being released by Crown Books in May, THE NIGHT BEFORE FREEDOM, about Juneteenth. I mentioned that I enjoy writing in rhyme. The story follows the same meter as Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas. And I am very excited that this will be my first rhyming picture book.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Glenda! I look forward to reading much more of your inspiring work in the future!
Thank you so much, Gabriele. I enjoyed it. And congratulations on your upcoming books! I look forward to reading them!
Glenda Armand has had a long career as a teacher and school librarian. She enjoys writing picture book biographies that inspire children to read, learn and dream big. Glenda lives in Los Angeles and has a son and daughter. When not writing or practicing the piano, she tends a garden full of roses and succulents. Drop by her website at glenda-armand.com or connect with her on Twitter: @GlendaArmand.
Have you seen this spoken word performance by Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D.? It went viral. So did this recording from the 2019 Trumpet Awards, as well as this video produced by Facebook in 2021. In each instance, the poet’s powerful recitation of YOU SO BLACK reached and resonated with thousands of individuals from various walks of life. Tomorrow, it will officially enter the world as a picture book, allowing countless children to also be bolstered by its brilliance and beauty.
KidLit in Color member Tameka Fryer Brown chats with Grammy-nominated Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. and multi-award-winning illustrator London Ladd about their new children’s book with Simon & Schuster, YOU SO BLACK.
THERESA THA S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D.
TAMEKA: Hi Theresa! Thank you so much for stopping by KidLit in Color to answer a few questions about your phenomenal new picture book, YOU SO BLACK!
THERESA: Thank you for having me!
TAMEKA: Before we talk about the book, can you give us a little back story about the original poem the book is based on? What inspired you to write it?
THERESA: I wrote the first version of You So Black in 2015. At the time I was very invested in creating work that empowered people of color. It was important to me that this sort of subject matter was included in my body of performance material.
TAMEKA: Your captivating recitations of the poem have gone viral, especially the one you did for the 2019 Bounce Trumpet Awards. Now you’re adding “children’s book author” to your long list of creative titles. How did you get the book deal for YOU SO BLACK?
THERESA: My book deal was like a moment of divine orchestration. In the midst of my poem going viral I had the opportunity to do quite a few interviews, one of which was with an awesome sister named Denene Millner. She pitched the idea of turning my poem into a children’s book. It has truly been her tenacity and hard work that has brought this whole book into reality.
TAMEKA: In making it a book for young readers, the original poem had to be shortened greatly. But there is SO much power and poignance in the original. Was it difficult to choose which lines would be included in the book and which would be left out?
THERESA: The process of editing this poem for the children’s book was relatively easy, especially having already made large edits for the version of the poem that went viral. There were a few words that had to be shifted for the sake of young readers comprehension, but overall, the children’s book was an enjoyable rewrite process. As a writer and creator, I have found over the years that you must become comfortable with editing and rewriting your work.
TAMEKA: London Ladd is a highly esteemed illustrator in the kidlit industry, but his art for this book is next level. What did you think of his illustrations for YOU SO BLACK when you first saw them? Do you have a favorite spread?
THERESA: I was truly in awe and speechless when I initially got to see the illustrations for this book. My favorite spread would have to be the page that reads: Black is you. Black is me. I have two sisters, they are identical twins. Growing up in the south suburbs of Chicago, our mother would take us to the beach at Lake Michigan during the summers. The illustration reminds me of seeing my sisters on the beach and the summers we spent together as children.
TAMEKA: KidLit in Color author Alliah Agostini has used the term “FUBU” to describe certain books, and I believe it’s an apt characterization of yours (“on the Black-hand side” makes my soul swoon). Is YOU SO BLACK a “For Us, By Us” book in your eyes?
THERESA: This book is definitely meant to serve as an empowerment tool for children of color. But I also hope that it serves as an empowerment tool for all children as a teaching implement of poetry and history. I would love for young readers to feel confident and beautiful in their skin, to feel that they are wonderful beyond measure.
TAMEKA: Now that you have your first kidlit title under your belt, is there anything you would have wanted to change about the publication process?
THERESA: I wouldn’t have waited so long to take up Denene on her offer to make this book happen.
TAMEKA: What’s next for you? Are there any more children’s books in your future (asked with fingers crossed)?
THERESA: There are definitely more children’s books in the future. I am very excited to share the stories I have been writing! In the meantime, I am still traveling and performing all across the country.
TAMEKA: Thank you, Theresa, for writing the book that would have blessed little girl me with all kinds of confidence and validation. I know it will do so for young readers today.
THERESA: Thank you. That is genuinely my desire, to give kids an opportunity to see themselves in the pages.
TAMEKA: Hey, London! Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for us about this brilliant picture book, YOU SO BLACK.
LONDON: Hi Tameka, it’s a pleasure being here with you. I’d be happy to share.
TAMEKA: Please tell the backstory about how you became involved with this project. What about Theresa’s text spoke to you?
LONDON: A few years ago, I posted some new work I created while in grad school. At the time, I wasn’t going to post anything because I felt I wasn’t ready to share anything yet, but at the urging of one of my professors, I finally did on Instagram. This caught the attention of someone I worked with years ago who messaged me, curious about my new work style. Months later, I got another message with a link to a YouTube video of You So Black, asking if I would be interested in illustrating the poem.
Theresa’s poem gave me goosebumps. To hear her voice speaking with such passion, power, and pride, all I could do was sit there speechless. To see how her words, inflection, and cadence completely mesmerized the audience was inspiring. At the same time, I’m thinking about how I could do the same with my art.
TAMEKA: I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time, London, and correct me if I’m wrong, but this new style of yours—and I’m no illustrator, so I don’t know if this is the right vocabulary—but it appears to have a more expressionist or abstract vibe. How would you describe the art in YOU SO BLACK?
LONDON: Thank you so much. That means a lot to hear you share that. The feeling is mutual. You are correct. Everything I do now is much more expressive and abstract. This is the type of art that has always attracted my attention. From Harlem Renaissance artists like Aaron Douglass, William H. Johnson, and Jacob Lawrence, to others like Romaire Bearden and Robert Heindel.
The art in You So Black is uniquely me. It’s the first full book where all the art is mine, each texture, cut paper, tissue paper…all of it is me poured throughout the book. I love looking at shapes, textures, colors, and designs. I can’t thank the publisher enough for allowing me the creative freedom to explore and trust my vision.
TAMEKA: We all thank your publisher for that. Speaking of creative freedom, I’m always curious as to how artists decide what imagery to create when illustrating text that is more conceptual than concrete. What was your process for determining what the visuals for each spread would be?
LONDON: That’s a great question! For me, it’s an emotive experience when figuring out the imaginary. It depends on what imagery and concepts might pop into my conscience while absorbing the words. For every project, I have a new journal book/sketchbook where I keep everything related to the project inside: manuscript printed out, inspiring images, quotes, and notes I write/draw. I’m always carrying this journal around, so when it’s time to do sketches, I can refer to it. Most picture books can take 7-10 months, so it is critical to document everything.
For example, some were quick, like the Obama inauguration page. The first time I heard the line “Black with privilege, Black with pride. Black on purpose, on the Black-hand side,” all I could think of was vividly remembering Barack Obama being sworn in as president in January 2009.
For “Black is pyramids and mathematics,” it was a challenge to tie pyramids and math together in a way that a child would find interesting. I did a bunch of sketching for weeks, but nothing seemed to work, so I stopped thinking about it and sketched other pages instead. One night I woke up from a vivid dream. All I could see were shapes, colors, angles, and a face, so I quickly sketched it before it faded from my head. When I submitted the final drawings for approval, I was nervous about the page because it differed from the others in concept. It’s one of my favorite spreads in the book because I feel the illustration came from a deeply spiritual place.
TAMEKA: Do you have one, absolute favorite line or spread from the book? My favorite spread is the first one. I think. It really is hard to choose….
LONDON: Thank you! I love that spread. It reminded me of my daughter when she was around that age, full of boundless energy and wonder. Well, I previously explained pyramids and mathematics originating from a dream. It is so difficult to pick a favorite spread because of what each means to me on a personal level. It’s hard to pick one, but if I have to choose one…I’d say, “Black is strong.” The idea for that spread is very personal because I could imagine a young boy would feel mighty on the shoulders of his father. The love between them at that moment is beautiful. I never had a father in my life. His name isn’t on my birth certificate, he was never mentioned throughout my life, and to this day, I don’t know if he’s still alive. I’ve always desired that father-son relationship, but it never happened. I’m thankful for the fatherly figures who were there to help me see and understand what being a father was so that when I became a father, I could be the best influence for my daughter and godchildren. That’s why the boy on his shoulders looks like me when I was that age.
TAMEKA: Why is YOU SO BLACK an important book to share with young readers? What do you hope they will feel while or after experiencing it?
LONDON: It’s essential for young readers of color to see themselves within the pages of the books they read and share with their families. I envision them sitting together, experiencing the joy, pride, and beauty of Blackness throughout this book. I hope that You So Black is passed down generationally within families so that young people today will share it with their future children.
TAMEKA: That would be wonderful. Are you working on any new projects, London?
LONDON: Yes!! I’m currently working on a variety of exciting projects right now. I’m working on the final art for My Hair is a Book, written by Maisha Oso; and I’m currently researching and sketching When I Hear Spirituals, written by Cheryl Willis Hudson, and Myrlie: A Voice of Hope, written by Nadia Salomon. I will be starting The Gathering Table, written by Antwan Eady, in late spring 2023. Also, I’m almost done with a draft of my first written and illustrated picture book. Busy times, but I’m extremely grateful for these opportunities to work with so many great people, doing what I love!!
TAMEKA: Wow! “Busy times” is an understatement! Thanks again for sparing this precious time to speak with us. Continued success, my friend.
LONDON: Thank you, Tameka!! This has been great! Wishing you continued success with all your projects and looking forward to talking more in the future. 😊
THERESA THA S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. is a Grammy-nominated musical, lyrical and theatrical alchemist, sprinkling magic like hot sauce. She is best known for her appearance on the 2019 Trumpet Awards on Bounce TV, and the now viral recitation of “You So Black,” which has garnered 11 million views and counting. She has gone on to perform with the likes of Jill Scott, MC Lyte, and Jazmine Sullivan, and appears on famed pianist Robert Glasper’s newest album. Theresa is from the south suburbs of Chicago but calls Atlanta home. She holds a degree in commercial music from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.
LONDON LADD is a graduate of Syracuse University with an MFA in illustration. He uses a unique mixed media approach, combining cut paper textured with acrylic paint, tissue paper and colored pencil to bring his diverse subjects to life. London’s artwork is steeped in intensity and emotion, a reflection of the artist himself. His hope is that You So Black will be passed down through generations, reaffirming African Americans’ strength, beauty, power and love. His goal is to open a visual arts community center where lower-income families can create their own art. He is also the illustrator of My Red, White, and Blue, Black Gold, Under the Freedom Tree, American Anthem, Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving, Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass, Midnight Teacher, Waiting for Pumpsie, Oprah: The Little Speaker, and March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World. His portrait “Breonna Taylor, Remember Her Name!” was published in Recognize! An Anthology Honoring and Amplifying Black Life. London lives in Syracuse, New York.
YOU SO BLACK is published by Simon & Schuster. Click here to purchase.
Photo of Theresa by: Derrick Dean Photography
Photo of London by: Roger DeMuth
How I Became More Than Just the Butt of an Ugly Joke