• A Page Before Midnight – Writing Prompts

    Everybody has a story and it’s made up of moments – this moment – of a story. These prompts are about a moment. Scribbles on a page. (I do mine really early in the morning, but if you’re a teen, you might do yours on the phone in the dark late at night.) These are for everybody, teens, kids, adults. No rules. Be a poet. Write a text. Write a paragraph. Make it true. Make it up. Turn the prompt upside down. You are creating the world! The prompts are to tap into your experience, your memory, your imagination. Stay in touch. What happened? My goal – to post a prompt on Instagram every week.

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  • Whoosh is coming back! Groundwood Books, 2021

    Whoosh, best friends with Joseph even if he doesn’t know it, is coming back in a new picture book. A Feast for Joseph, a book I co-wrote with OD Bonny, is coming out with Groundwood Books. We’ve just seen artist Ken Daley’s roughs, what they call the illustrations before the art is finalized. With full stomachs after a feast where they brought their families together, Joseph and Whoosh are dancing under the moon. Ahhh. Ken drew Whoosh – below – sliding down the railing to Joseph who is trying to get a ride on her bike in Joseph’s Big Ride. (She finally lets him.)

    OD and I met when he wrote a rap song for Viola (in The Good Braider). I love this book we’ve done together because with OD, it’s an Acholi story. OD says, this is me when I was growing up. He came to Portland from Kyangwali refugee camp in Uganda. Together we re-imagined Joseph as a small boy in Kyangwali before he came to Portland. We made discovery after discovery together about Joseph. For instance, in Kyangwali, he played the awal, a percussion instrument you hit with a wire comb. Our book first went to the art department at Groundwood where the art director did a rough layout. Now Ken Daly, who will do final art by the end of the year. Then printing in Asia. A Feast for Joseph arrives in 2021!

  • Why Tortoises Have No Hair, a Kenyan Folktale

    Why do tortoises have no hair? You’ve probably wondered where tortoises’s hair has gone. Here, in the illustration below, is where his problem started, with the scent of the frying mandazi. (East African doughnut.) You’ll see he has hair.

    Illustration by Maxwell Abwamba in his digital book, Why Tortoises Have No Hair published in the African Storybook project

    The tortoise tale is written and illustrated by Maxwell Abwamba. He graduated from high school in 2014 and now works for Vibrant Villages in Luanda, according to my friend Mark Bean, founder of Amesbury for Africa. Maxwell is also a freelance artist and illustrator in his western Kenyan town. He wrote the book in his local language, Lunyore. Through the digital African Storybook project, the book is available internationally both in Lunyore and English. Click on the title to read Why Tortoises Don’t Have Hair. Maxwell and I are messaging over Facebook as I write this, and he just wrote, “It was told to me by my grade one teacher. We used to learn mother tongue which was later removed out of Kenyan Syllabus.” These stories are working to keep local languages alive and also to give us on the other side of the world a chance to see the words in languages we may never have the chance to hear or know.

    African Storybook brings to us “picture books in the languages of Africa.” There are stories in 111 languages, ones spoken in sub-Saharan countries. It’s a project of Saide, Enabling Successful Open Learning for All, located in Johannesburg. African Storybook also has an app that can be downloaded free to make a storybook.

    African Storybook app

    Finally, here’s a recipe for mandazi, and if you smelled these light, flaky doughnuts frying, you’d almost understand why the tortoise would sacrifice his hair for them.

  • A Picture Book from Iran

    An Umbrella with White Butterflies by Farhad Hassanzadeh, illustrated by Ghazaleh Bigdelou, published by Tuti Books in Tehran

    Allow this Persian cat to draw you to the work of Iranian children’s book author, Farhad Hassanzadeh and illustrator Ghazaleh Bigdelou. Iran, like the U.S., is fighting for its people suffering in the corona virus pandemic. In our global fight, I’m acknowledging and celebrating the art of picture books from book creators around the world. Hassanzadeh has just been shortlisted for the Hans Christian Anderson award for best children’s book creators in the world presented by IBBY, the International Board of Books for Young People. He is a deeply respected author in Iran but I couldn’t find his books snapped up by a U.S. publisher to bring them to us. I hope his making this shortlist could bring An Umbrella with White Butterflies to the U.S. Here’s one of Ghazaleh’s interior illustrations:

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