Thursday, August 31, 2017

Spotlight on Carole Boston Weatherford + DMC Challenge

Photo credit: Gerald Young

Carole Boston Weatherford is the award-winning author of more than fifty books for young people—books that blur the lines between the genres of poetry, biography, nonfiction and historical fiction, and tackle tough subjects that spark curiosity and critical thinking. Among the many literary honors she has received are the NAACP Image Award, Coretta Scott King Award, Caldecott Honor Medal, and Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. Her career has been recognized by the Ragan-Rubin Award from North Carolina English Teachers Association and the North Carolina Literature Award, two of the state’s highest civilian honors. She is a Professor of English at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.

Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Carole tells the story of when she recited the first poem she ever wrote to her mother on the way home from school.

Carole Boston Weatherford's first poem. Read more at her website.

She was only in first grade. After that, her mother asked Carole's father, a high school printing teacher, to print some of her early poems on the letter press in his classroom. From then on, Carole knew that she would be published because her father had already done it!

In 1995, Juneteenth Jamboree was published—the first of dozens of books that would shine light on important figures and events in African-American history. It's what Carole refers to as her "truth-telling mission," to find stories that are universal enough for young people to identify with, even without living through the time period.

A small sampling of widely acclaimed books by Carole Boston Weatherford

I want them to ask the question that they often ask, "Did that really happen?" and I want them to be appalled and I want them to say "Why did it happen?"
                                                                                     —Carole Boston Weatherford

When deciding on a 2017 book to feature for today's interview, I had plenty to choose from! Two picture book biographies were released early this year: The Legendary Miss Lena Horne (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster) and Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression (Albert Whitman & Company), the paperback version of last year's acclaimed You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster) was released during the summer, and two other books are slated for this month: In Your Hands (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster) and Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library (Candlewick Press).

Both of her September releases have already received rave reviews, but seeing that this month marks the 30th anniversary of Library Card Sign-up Month—a time when the American Library Association (ALA) joins public libraries nationwide to highlight the value of a library card—I thought it would be a terrific opportunity to introduce Arturo Alfonso Schomburg.

First, a bit about the man from the Candlewick website:

Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez
Candlewick Press (September 12, 2017)
ISBN: 978-0763680466
Find at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or via
Where is our historian to give us our side? Arturo asked.

Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro–Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny), he turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division. A century later, his groundbreaking collection, known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has become a beacon to scholars all over the world.

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library is Carole's fifth partnership with Pura Belpré Award winning illustrator, Eric Velasquez. It's no wonder. They make a fantastic team!

Author Carole Boston Weatherford with Illustrator Eric Velasquez

Rich and illuminating free verse is complemented by warm and luminous illustrations that look like they came straight off a museum wall. The grace and pride that comes through in this book is not only an accurate historical representation, but also a reflection of the author's and illustrator's respect for Schomburg and his unwavering quest to correct history.

I'm delighted to be speaking with Carole Boston Weatherford today about Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library and what drives her to write and collect her own shelves of stories.

Welcome to the TLD spotlight, Carole! 
We'll start our interview as we always do, with five favorites.

Favorite food: Spinach
Favorite color: Blue
Favorite dog breed: Beagle
Favorite music: Jazz
Favorite quote:
How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.
                                             – George Washington Carver, educator, botanist and inventor

From a young age you had confidence that you would be published. Has your writing career evolved in the way you expected?

"Diverse children's books found me when
I was a new mother." – CBW
I expected to be writing poetry for adults, but diverse children's books found me when I was a new mother and I dove in the children's publishing world. I am very conceptual and now have no desire to write books that are not illustrated.

Your literary mission is "to mine the past for family stories, fading traditions, and forgotten struggles." It's a road map that's taken you to some truly impactful subject matter. Are there certain sources you return to again and again to find these stories, traditions, and struggles?

Primary source images are a continuing source of inspiration for me. Archival images speak to me of past trials and triumphs and of stories begging to be told.

Researchers in the reading room of the New York Public Library’s 135th Street
branch (now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture), c. 1930

You've referred to poetry as your "first literary language" and yet sometimes, particularly with picture books, readers don't always recognize your writing as poetry. They think of it as lyrical or poetic prose. How do you draw the distinction between lyrical prose and poetry? Do you find it problematic that people are not recognizing your poetry for what it is?

In the end, labels are not important. As long the text connects with readers, the genre doesn't matter. As a writer and teacher, I distinguish poetry from prose by the diction, linear structure, and economy of language.

When it comes to mining stories, Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library is a treasure trove. Not only do we learn about the fascinating life of Schomburg himself, but we're also introduced to some of the people whose stories he collected.

SCHOMBURG: THE MAN WHO BUILT A LIBRARY. Text copyright © 2017 by Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrations
copyright © 2017 by Eric Velasquez. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
(Click image to enlarge.)

For me, it was particularly eye-opening to find out about famous individuals whose African heritage has been "whitewashed"—people like John James Audubon, Alexandre Dumas, Alexander Pushkin, and Ludwig van Beethoven. What was one of your takeaways from writing this book?

I was most impressed with Schomburg's dogged determination to refute stereotypes and to project a more accurate portrait of Africa's descendants. I owe a debt of gratitude to him.

Arturo Schomburg—historian and activist

SCHOMBURG: THE MAN WHO BUILT A LIBRARY. Text copyright © 2017 by Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrations
copyright © 2017 by Eric Velasquez. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
(Click image to enlarge.)

The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future. . . . History must restore what slavery took away.

              —Arturo Schomburg

Please share a favorite passage from Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library and tell us why it’s meaningful to you.

You might choose any sentence from the penultimate poem. The most lyrical poem in the text, this eloquently celebrates and elevates Schomburg.


If this proverb
A book is a garden carried in a pocket
is true, then Arturo Alfonso Schomburg,
the historian and book collector,
had a green thumb and a harvest of pride.
There was no field of human endeavor
that he did not till with his determined hand,
that he did not sow with seeds of curiosity,
where he did not weed out lies and half-truths,
or that he did not water with a growing sense
of African awareness and heritage.
If a book is a garden carried in a pocket,
then Schomburg yielded a bumper crop,
blanketed Mount Kilimanjaro with African violets.

Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Like Schomburg, you are a collector of stories. Is there something else that you collect as well?

I have collected ephemera, baskets and knickknacks with a grape motif. I also collect books, particularly ABC books, fairy tales and African-American subject matter. I probably own more than 2000 volumes. I once dreamed of being a librarian.

What’s coming up next for you?

I have two books coming out in 2018—Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Dream and You (Bloomsbury, January 2018) and How Sweet the Sound: The Story of Amazing Grace (Atheneum, Summer 2018).

If you had all the world’s children in one room, what would you tell them?

"I was born to write. I must fulfill that."
– Carole Boston Weatherford
There's only one race—the human race. Life is not a competition, but love one another as if it is.

Finally, what you have chosen as this month’s ditty challenge?

Write an abecedarian poem (in which the text is in alphabetical order). My son and I self-published mine. It's entitled "A Bat Cave: An Abecedarian Bedtime Chronicle." Read the text HERE.

What a perfect back-to-school challenge!

But before you go looking for words beginning with Q, X, and Z . . .

For the purpose of this ditty challenge, you do NOT need to write a 26 line poem! Just a section of the alphabet is fine, as long as it's in sequential order.

You can read more about the abecedarian form HERE.  

I hope you'll join me in thanking Carole Boston Weatherford for sharing herself with us today. Thanks, also, to Candlewick Press for providing a copy of Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library for one lucky DMC participant. (Winner to be selected randomly at the end of the month.)


Post your abecedarian poem on our September 2017 padlet. Stop by any time during the month to add your work or to check out what others are contributing.

By posting on the padlet, you are granting me permission to share your poem on Today's Little Ditty.  Some poems will be featured as daily ditties, though authors may not be given advanced notice. Subscribe to the blog if you'd like to keep tabs. You can do that in the sidebar to the right where it says "Follow TLD by Email." As always, all of the poems will be included in a wrap-up celebration on the last Friday of the month—September 29th for our current challenge.

TEACHERS, it's great when students get involved! Ditty of the Month Club challenges are wonderful opportunities to learn about working poets and authors while having fun with poetry prompts. Thank you for spreading the word! For children under 13, please read my COPPA compliance statement in the sidebar to the right.

FIRST-TIMERS (those who have never contributed to a ditty challenge before), in addition to posting your work on the padlet, please send your name and email address to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com. That way I'll be able to contact you for possible inclusion in future Best of Today's Little Ditty anthologies.

BLOGGERS, thank you for publishing your poems on your own blogs– I love that!  Please let me know about it, so I can share your post! Also remember to include your poem (or a direct link to your post) on the padlet in order to be included in the wrap-up celebration and end-of-month giveaway.

Roadtrip! Kathryn Apel is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup from sunny Australia.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Two Line Tuesday: Hal Borland

"Face" by Patrick Sinot

Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.
Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.

                                          – Hal Borland

Friday, August 25, 2017

My Summer with the Old Man

Photo: Vicki DeLoach

Nope, the "old man" is not my dad. Nor is it my husband, in case you were wondering. I'm referring to the old man in this poem by Joseph Bruchac.


The old man
must have stopped our car
two dozen times to climb out
and gather into his hands
the small toads blinded
by our lights and leaping,
live drops of rain.

Read the rest HERE.  (I'll wait.)

It's a wonderful poem, isn't it?

I've been thinking about it a lot over the course of my crazy-busy summer. Not only do I identify with Birdfoot's impatience, I also feel kinship with those little toads—hopping in one direction or another, only to be stunned and confused when something throws them off course. I'd like to say that I identify with the old man most of all, but that's a stretch. I'm definitely not there yet... though I may be a hop, skip, and jump closer.

This summer I was a full-time toad multitasker—one might even say "amphidextrous" (wink). There was the Teacher Toad, who conducted several different poetry workshops; the Traveler Toad, who found her way to the Berkshires for a reunion and to Atlanta for a college visit; the Mom Toad who held things together back at the homestead; the Chauffeur Toad, who is often mistaken for the Mom Toad; the Conference Toad who had a taste of her first ILA experience; the Editor Toad, who, with the invaluable assistance of a Toadlet Ditty Committee, got the next volume of the The Best of Today's Little Ditty under way; the Friend Toad and Daughter Toad, who made themselves available with limited success; and the runt of the lot—the self-starter Poet Toad—who, more than anything, is well-practiced in the art of patience.

It's a lot to manage, all those hoppity-hoppers. Is it any wonder that the littlest ones get ignored? Until this summer, my modus operandi was to spend an inordinate amount of time juggling time and priorities, ever hopeful that I could find a way to have it all. Of course, it never worked. Outrageous expectations breed disappointment. Period.

But thanks to the old man, I'm beginning to see things another way. Who's to say that any one of these toads doesn't deserve a leathery hand and a fast track to greener pastures. No one fancies being squished when there are places to go and things to do. Priorities change, yes, but that doesn't make one goal more deserving than another.

Photo: Peter Reed

So guess what? I've decided it's okay to take my time. To watch for toads in the road. To explore new opportunities "knee deep in the summer/roadside grass." To carry life in the palm of my hand.

If there's one thing we've learned from current events, it's that life is unpredictable. Predictably unpredictable, in fact. Far more important to me right now is the desire to be present and resilient than the desire to be productive in any one area. I hereby give myself permission to change the rules as I go.

Huh. Looks like my One Little Word has cropped up again—Change.

Lesson learned. Toadally.

A new DMC challenge is on the way! Our next Spotlight interview will be unveiled on September 1st.

It's great to be back to Poetry Friday! Thanks to Jone Rush MacCulloch for hosting this week's roundup at Check it Out.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday Musing: Solar Eclipse


How then does light return to the world after the eclipse of the sun? Miraculously. Frailly. In thin stripes. It hangs like a glass cage. It is a hoop to be fractured by a tiny jar. There is a spark there. Next moment a flush of dun. Then a vapour as if earth were breathing in and out, once, twice, for the first time. Then under the dullness someone walks with a green light. Then off twists a white wraith. The woods throb blue and green, and gradually the fields drink in red, gold, brown. Suddenly a river snatches a blue light. The earth absorbs colour like a sponge slowly drinking water. It puts on weight; rounds itself; hangs pendent; settles and swings beneath our feet.
                                                                       – Virginia Woolf, from The Waves

For more information about the photograph, visit Goddard Space Flight Center.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Two Line Tuesday: Maya Angelou

"In Cold Blood" by Shadi Samawi

Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world,
but has not solved one yet.

                                     – Maya Angelou