encomium

26 Aug

My picture book biographies are encomia–also known as paeans or praise songs.

Over the years, I have sung the praises of divas, athletes, jazz legends, photographers and freedom fighters, among them Harriet Tubman, saxophonist John Coltrane, the Obamas, and most recently, Aretha Franklin. I paint my subjects as they might wish to be seen.

Often, my encomia take cues from the subjects themselves. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, illustrated by Frank Morrison, takes its title from, and riffs on, Aretha’s 1967 hit.

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream and You is a call-and-response litany of virtues and values. And Before John Was A Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane blows like a saxophone.

Vivid verbs rev up Racing Against the Odds: The Story of Wendell Scott, Stock Car Racing’s African-American Champion, illustrated by Eric Velasquez.

And my biographies of photographers are deliberately cinematic.

My classic biography, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, follows Harriet’s spiritual quest. With allusions to African-American spirituals, the narrative unfolds through conversations between Harriet and God.

Stay tuned for my first encomium to a writer, and more to women leaders and to natives of Maryland and North Carolina, states I call home.

Interactive Books (no batteries required)

15 Aug

A teacher friend told me that Freedom in Congo Square was the first book that one struggling student learned to read. The student’s mother, also a teacher, cried as her daughter read aloud. No doubt, the book’s interactive elements played a part in this small victory. Interactivity fosters reading comprehension and fluency.

My interactive books fall under three categories: books with rhyming refrains, books with call-and-response, and books with hooks. These structures engage listeners during read-alouds.

Refrains Like Playground Rhymes

Both Sugar Hill and Jazz Baby use repetition to celebrate Black culture. The recurring line “Sugar Hill, Sugar Hill where life is sweet” conveys Harlem’s energy. “Jazz baby, jazz baby” signals the interplay between musicians and listeners. One toddler loved Jazz Baby so much that he slept with the book.

Call-and-Response

With the phrase, “You can be a King,” this un-biography lifts up leadership traits that students can emulate. Before John Was a Jazz Giant, also repeats part of its title to conjure the sounds of Coltrane’s childhood.

Books with Hooks

The Roots of Rap is written as a rap lyric. Freedom in Congo Square is a day-of-the-week countdown celebrating a New Orleans landmark. And R-E-S-P-E-C-T echoes Aretha Franklin’s hit song, using hyphenated terms such as T-A-L-E-N-T and P-R-O-U-D to chart her journey from the church choir to international fame.

Young readers often put these infectious read-alouds on repeat and soon memorize the verses. So, these interactive texts virtually read themselves.

Awards vs. Rewards

1 Aug

These books have won more awards, including Caldecott Honors, Coretta Scott King Awards and Honors, NAACP Image Awards, North Carolina Juvenile Literature Awards, and Arnold Adoff and Lee Bennett Hopkins poetry prizes and awards from the National Council for the Social Studies, International Literacy Association, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Cooperative Center for Children’s Books, and Bank Street College of Education. These and other titles have garnered more best-book-of-the year nods than I can name.

The greatest reward, though, is knowing that my books are raising the consciousness of children whom I may never meet. Young readers who are moved to write their own poems and tell the own stories to build a better world.

There are no shiny stickers for that. Just a warm feeling inside. I call it “hope.”

Women who wow me

8 Mar

My verse biographies profile women whose voices have been marginalized or muted, women whose stories have been twisted or buried, women who broke barriers and paved a way out of no way, women I’d like to sip tea or share a meal with. They are my #SHEROES.

Womens history month meme

 

Redeemed Reader reviews By and By

4 Mar

Thanks for the rousing review, Redeemed Reader.

17 Feb

by-and-by

FSU concert_choir (2)

I was honored to share By and By during the Black History moment for Fayetteville State University Sunday at John Wesley United Methodist Church in Fayetteville, NC. The FSU Concert Choir sang and Chancellor Peggy Valentine delivered the message. It was a moving service.

Fannie Lou Hamer to get MS historical marker

28 Jan

Fannie Lou Hamer

A college student in a public history course was so inspired by Fannie Lou Hamer’s legacy of activism that he led the charge for an historical in her hometown of Sunflower County Mississippi. It’s about time! Read more here.

New Resources for The Roots of Rap

23 Jan

img_8544

 

The website for The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop now features a playlist and links to lesson plans, documentaries and music videos. Take a look and have a listen. If you can recommend other resources that I should include, let me know.

Hallelujah! Book Birthday for BY AND BY

14 Jan

by-and-by

“My life is a sermon inside a song. I’ll sing it for you. Won’t take long.”

By and By: Charles Albert Tindley, the Father of Gospel Music is a verse biography of the composer best known for the hymn “We’ll Understand It Better By and By.” Tindley’s story, which unfolds through first-person lyrics, is remarkable not only because of his musical legacy. As a minister, he modeled service and outreach, leading a Philadelphia megachurch long before the term was coined. During the Great Migration and Great Depression, Tindley Temple’s ministries addressed needs ranging from hunger to home ownership. Tindley became known as “the Prince of Preachers.”

By and By is my first collaboration with Bryan Collier, a four-time Caldecott Honor winner. This subject hits close to home for us. Collier hails from Berlin, Md., Tindley’s hometown. I too have roots on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and have a grandfather who, like Tindley, was a Methodist minister.

The book’s rhyming text is punctuated with excerpts from spirituals and Tindley’s  hymns, Collier’s luminous watercolor collages celebrate a man whose music and conviction have inspired countless lives.

During the slavery era, Tindley was born free. His childhood was far from easy, with backbreaking hours in the fields, and no opportunity to go to school. But the spirituals he heard as he worked made him long to know how to read the Gospel for himself. Late at night, he taught himself to read from scraps of newspapers. From those small scraps, young Charles raised himself to become a founding father of American gospel music whose hymn was the basis for the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”

By and By is the latest in my growing collection of religious books. Others on spiritual themes include Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom; The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights; How Sweet the Sound: The Story of Amazing Grace; and In Your Hands, a prayer inspired by Black Lives Matter.

###

For interviews or review copies, contact: Carole Weatherford (cbwpoet@gmail.com)

By and By: Charles Albert Tindley, the Father of Gospel Music

By Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Bryan Collier

48 pages

Release date: January 14, 2020

Publisher: Atheneum/Simon & Schuster

Original Art Exhibition in Cary, NC: Illustrations by Jeffery Weatherford from YOU CAN FLY: THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN

13 Jan

Exhibition Cary NC push card 3

Share this exhibition of original scratchboard illustrations with your family or students. Join me and Jeffery at the artist’s reception January 31. We’ll be reading and signing the book. Find out more in the exhibition press release.

Jeffery visits schools to share the Tuskegee Airmen’s amazing saga and the creative process behind his award-winning book, our first collaboration. To book Jeffery, contact me.