What’s Already Been Told
By Tonya Abari
The market is becoming oversaturated with diverse children’s books about hair.
In 2019, when I began querying Locs, Not Dreads for the second time since I first wrote the manuscript in 2013, much of the feedback that I received was that the market was becoming oversaturated with books about Black hair. With the success of Matthew A. Cherry’s Hair Love, Derrick Barnes’ Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, Natasha Tarpley’s I Love My Hair, author/illustrator Sharee Miller and independently published natural hair series by Crystal Swain Bates – and with growing national support for The Crown Act – traditional book publishing and mainstream media further showcased the special relationship that Black folks have with hair. I didn’t have one picture book about Black hair as a child, so I’m ecstatic to fill my daughters’ bookshelves with mirrors. In this house, there is no such thing as too many! We buy them all.
Growing up in salon culture (my mom was a career cosmetologist), I’ve been around hair all my life. At one point, after returning my hair from its relaxed state to its natural state, I even thought I wanted to open up a natural hair salon. Although I never took that route, I knew as a children’s author that hair would be one of the many topics I wanted to explore. I queried many agents, cold pitched editors, and participated in Twitter pitch events. I did receive some initial interest, but I also was told that in the coming years there would be way too many books about Black hair.
Was I too late?
At first, I took this advice with a grain of salt because how many anthropomorphic books are out there? How many books with unicorns and princesses and ladybugs? Yes, there are now more books than what I had growing up about Black hair – but I haven’t seen my book yet. I had to keep this energy alive in my soul. But as rejections rolled in one by one, I wondered if there was enough room for my story. I finally found a great home for the book – with an indie editor/publisher who understood its significance from the jump. And I now realize that if I would have taken those words “it’s already been told” to heart, there might not be a Locs, Not Dreads publishing on September 5, 2023.
While Locs, Not Dreads is based loosely on my niece and her mom, who loc’d their hair well over a decade ago, the manuscript is littered with familiarities that I’ve experienced as a girl, woman, mother, student, and educator who is unapologetic about rocking natural and/or loc’d hair. In fact, as a teacher, I taught many lessons on denotation and connotation relating to Black hair terminology – and those lessons are ones that I’ll never forget (they are now memorialized in the pages of my debut picture book). I knew that fact alone separated Locs, Not Dreads from the other picture books that were on the market even if no one else had picked up on these nuances.
This brings me back to my original point. There can never be too many stories that exist, especially for groups that have historically been marginalized in traditional publishing. My advice to new writers who have stories that have seemingly already been told: tell your story anyway. The spectrum of our experiences run so deep. Perhaps the topic has been written about before – but it definitely hasn’t been written by you.
By: Gabriele Davis
Whether or not we celebrate major holidays this month, our days can fill up with end-of-year activities and obligations. The more tasks we simplify, the more space we create to recharge and spend time doing what we love, like reading great books to our favorite little ones—and writing them. In that spirit, here are a few time saving tips:
Gabriele Davis is the author of Peaches and Our Joyful Noise, both releasing in 2024.
Share your favorite time-saving tips on Twitter and tag us at @KidLitinColor!
People often ask me about my writing process for a picture book (PB), including this question, which always trips me up: How do you go from an idea to a complete draft of a PB? I know the person asking is often looking for a strategy, but I never know how to simply describe my strategy in a clear way except to call it “gathering.” This article is my attempt to lay it out. Maybe, it will be useful to some writers out there. At the very least, I hope it will be entertaining.
Strategies That Don’t Work for Me: Pantsing or Outlining
Lots of PB creators simply dive in and draft. Theoretically, pantsing a PB of less than 1000 words is easy compared to a 50,000+ novel. Yet and still, it has a lot of the same pitfalls for writers like me: it leads to unfocused, meandering writing. For me, it means never getting to the end of the story and probably getting bored.
Other authors outline. Hundreds of great PB templates exist on the internet. However, I’ve always found outlining a picture book painstaking. If I try to structure a new story idea, I experience a lot of creative blocks and can’t figure out how to move forward. I need some messiness to generate ideas.
My Strategy: Gathering
Because the two methods above don’t work for me, I gather. Another way to explain my process is intensive brainstorming–it’s days of brainstorming–and gathering or collecting my notes from that brainstorming.
To show what I mean by this, I found old notebooks where I gathered brainstorms for Your Name is a Song and took pictures.
Yeah... I wrote pieces for Your Name is a Song in four notebooks... on random pages, interspersed with diary entries, random lists, and brainstorms for other books!
Did I mention I struggle with organization?
Through looking back at these old scribblings, I was able to figure out just what I am doing during my process, and I’m proud to say I did organize that process here!
1. A Very Long Free Write (maybe multiple)
I started out knowing that I wanted to write a book called, Your Name is a Song, but had no idea what the story was about. That title came to me as I was reflecting on a child’s beautiful name, and I decided to write a story that could fit that title.
These are some pages from an almost five-page free write I did to get ideas. Free writing means quickly writing all of your ideas during a set time period without stopping to edit those thoughts. I find writing without self-censoring a therapeutic way to start a book. It took me at least two free writing periods to have a clear direction for Your Name is a Song.
2. Writing Down Words, Phrases, and Sentences I Want in the Book
Once I pinned down that Your Name is a Song would feature many names from multiple cultures, I was constantly making random name lists.
In addition to important words, or in this case names, I will write sentences, phrases, and major ideas I want to put in any book. I don’t necessarily know how or where these will fit in the narrative but I jot them down. Here, I was focusing on language around made-up names.
3. Notes of Encouragement
Finding old notes to myself made this dig into old notebooks pretty special. I, like many authors, often doubt myself while writing a book. I write myself encouraging notes when I’m having those moments. I think they’re an important part of the process.
I hesitated to share the note I found in the middle of my brainstorming. It makes me blush. The language is so lofty, and it talks about my work as genius . However, when I’m having a moment when I don’t feel good enough to write something, I need a note to lean into grandiosity. (And authors, if the note is helpful to you in your own writing, please use it!)
There are no limits to genius. Because it [genius] isn’t yours. But you can hold on to and grasp as many pieces of this infinite mass [of genius] if you want it enough. If you crave it enough. You can create this work of art because it is there to be created.
4. Asking Myself Questions
My questions are interspersed throughout my brainstorming pieces. They are in my freewrites. They are in places where I wrote about scenes. An important question to ask yourself again and again throughout this pre-writing process is “why?”
Here I ask myself: Should I give [my MC] a name? I answer: Shaherazadrina. Of course, I later changed that!
5. Write Messy Versions of Two Key Scenes (typically from the beginning and the end)
I write quick and short versions of scenes. From this photo, you can see just how short sometimes. The important thing at this stage is not that I’ve written a long detailed complete scene but that I have a clear idea in my head of the complete scene.
Here I am teasing out the beginning scene of the book when the girl stomps and say “I never want to go back there again!”
Time to Draft!
After gathering ideas, words, and scenes, I have a good sense of my picture book. I know where it’s going and what it needs to do. I know and love my characters. And I am DYING to finally write the thing. When I have to write the story, I know my idea gathering is done.
Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, M.S.Ed, is a Philadelphia-based educator and children’s book author. Her works, which feature young Black Muslim protagonists, have been recognized and critically-praised by many trusted voices in literature, including American Library Association, School Library Journal, and NPR. She writes picture books and middle grade fiction. Her books include Mommy’s Khimar, Once Upon an Eid (contributor), Your Name is a Song, and Abdul’s Story. She’s taught youth in traditional and alternative learning settings for 15 years.
Creativity helps to support our mental health and well-being by allowing for a connection to self-expression. Modern research suggests mindfulness-based meditation practices can help us contact creative flow by:
Age-old yoga and mindfulness philosophies have always reminded us that when we intentionally pay attention to present moment experience with kind curiosity and care, we create the space to connect with our innate strengths, including creativity. When we can bring a caring, mindful presence to whatever it is we are doing, we naturally create the conditions necessary for creative intelligence to flow through us.
Looking for a quick creative boost in the middle of your day? Consider trying this mindfulness meditation practice known as the Sky of Awareness. Invite a fresh perspective, and explore what arises. Enjoy:
by Rashmi Bismark, MD, MPH, Mindfulness educator and author of Finding Om