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.


  1. Thank you Michelle and Ms. Weatherford. As a middle school librarian, I can say YOU have made a tremendous difference in the lives of many, many people. I put your books into kids hands, teacher's makes no difference--they just need the words. Thank you. Thank you.
    Michelle, I take the abecedarian challenge. Thank you for giving poets the chance to tackle a real challenge. It's so good to see TLD back in action.

  2. Oh! An Abecedarian. This might be just the challenge I need, to finish off a couple that I have started. (And I might finally get one in on time!!) :)

    This is a fascinating and inspiring interview in so many ways - both hearing your story, Carole, and also hearing you talk of Arturo Schomburg's story. And that Epitaph is rousing!

    Thank-you for sharing, Michelle. You always ask insightful questions.

  3. This post warmed my heart. So many wonderful nuggets of wisdom. My favorite may be the George Washington Carver quote.
    It's a delight to read about Carole and her contributions to literature!
    Thanks, Michelle and Carole.

  4. Wonderful interview--thank you Michelle and Carole! Going to put Schomburg's story on my to-read list.

  5. I have loved Carole's books for many years. Thanks so much for all the sharing here. I especially like the George Washington Carver quote. He's one of those people I want to sit down with in heaven and have a long chat. It's been a crazy summer, but hopefully things are beginning to settle down and I might even be able to write an abecedarian!

  6. Finding stories from history that have been rarely shared is what I love most about Carole Boston Weatherford's books, and lately the beautiful illumination of her words by Eric Velasquez. Knowing stories from those who accomplished much is an important part of knowing our collective history. Wonderful interview, Michelle. I look forward to this latest book. Thanks for the challenge, too.

  7. Last year I discovered Carole Boston Weatherford at the Mississippi Book Festival. I bought and had her sign "Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer." Before reading that book, I did not know who she was even having grown up in Jackson, MS. I was ashamed of that, but I took the challenge and taught all my students about who she was. This year, it will be Schomburg.
    I have tried the abecedarian form before. Quite the challenge, but I'll take it.

  8. Thanks for a fascinating interview and a fun challenge. Just out of curiosity, can one start anywhere in the alphabet and go from there or must the poem start at the letter A?

    1. Technically this kind of poem is supposed to go from A-Z, but for this challenge, you can start anywhere you want, Rosi. Even if it's just, say, L-P.

    2. Thanks, Michelle. I will get to work. ;-)

    3. Thank you for such an interesting and eye opening interview. I loved learning about Carol Boston Weatherford and her new book about Mr. Schomburg. I can't wait to read her book. I happened to have an old abecedarian sitting around that needed revision, so thanks for this opportunity.

  9. Great interview. I am looking for more poetry and diverse books for my classroom collection so will definitely be putting her books on my list to read to my class this year.

  10. What an inspiring writer! I have many of her books, and now I know more about her. I can't wait to share Schomburg with my students!!

  11. Because Boston is her middle name I have always thought Carole hailed from my favorite New England city. Ridiculous, I know, but that's how my mind works!

    I'm so happy that public libraries are celebrated in this new book about Schomburg. They are the greatest resource a citizen has, yet are so often dismissed as a tax burden.

    As for the abecedarian poem, if a writer only includes a part of the total, how will the TLD committee be able to review it for inclusion in the next anthology?

    1. I *think* I understand your concern, Diane, but just in case, what I meant was that writers may use just part of the alphabet (as long as the letters are in sequential order). The poem itself, however, should feel complete— not like it broke off mid-thought. As for the future TLD committee, they will review the challenge as it was presented. Maybe think of it as a "modified abecedarian" challenge.

  12. How have I missed out on these books and on Carole. Thank your for introducing me! I can't wait till my next trip to the library to discover more.

  13. Thank you the wonderful interview! I love the fact that her father printed her first poems. It is so important to show our children that we love and support their passions and I think this illustrates that perfectly!

    An abecedarian poem sounds like so much fun! I can't wait to see everyone's poetry.

  14. Yes, thanks Michelle for this opportunity to thank a favorite writer, whose work has lifted and inspired. Ms. Weatherford, your words go into the world and make it a better place. I like your abecedarian challenge. I'm in a whimsical mood, so I may give it a whirl, just to cleanse the palette before my day's writing.

  15. THANK YOU, as always for a wonderful in-depth interview with Carole. I treasure her work and our friendship.

  16. Appreciations!

    This is a treat of a tease of an assignment. Count me in.

    I feel so fortunate to find this post, which is a short-course in moxie, missed facts of history & mighty manuscripts in the spotlight.

    (And, I briefly visited the Schomburg Library in Harlem on a tour so am especially pulled to this topic.)

  17. Putting my thinking cap on, the wheels are turning, thanks for this marvelous post Michelle, and for sharing Carole Boston Weatherford with us!
    I loved reading "A BAT CAVE: An Abecedarian Bedtime Chronicle–delightful from "Attic" to "Zzzzzzz." George Washington Carver is a favorite of mine, and these lines "If a book is a garden carried in a pocket,
    then Schomburg yielded a bumper crop,
    blanketed Mount Kilimanjaro with African violets." and your "EPITAPH: 1938," have magnetically drawn me into your book, I look forward to reading it. From one nature/ garden, and humanitarian drawn kindred spirit to another, Thank you for all of your writing Carole Boston Weatherford!

  18. Thanks for sharing such an enlightening post, Michelle. Carole's work is quite impressive - and necessary. I have to say, I've never heard of any reference to Beethoven having African roots (a violinist friend of his was, but that's all I know)...and while I don't know a lot about most classical composers, I have studied Beethoven and Tchaikovsky quite a bit. I'll have to look into that!

  19. Thank you for highlighting this magnificent artist of words and imagery. What a legacy Carole's creating. WEATHERFORD POWER!

  20. Thank you! I hope it's nominated for the CYBILS. I love her work.

  21. What a rich life, a vibrant life story, and a power-packed book you have brought to us, Michelle. Despite some obstacles in life these days, I am celebrating summer ABC style thanks to Carole Boston Weatherford and your inspiration.

  22. Just saw this on instagram, and was reminded of the abecedarian challenge. :)

  23. I'm so thankful for a quiet morning to sit and read this inspiring interview! Thank you, Michelle, for hosting Carole Boston Weatherford. I have heard of Arthur Schomburg, but had no idea what a trailblazer he was! And I agree, an abecedarian is the perfect form for this month's challenge!

  24. Michelle,Thanks for including this link in your POETRY FRIDAY comments. Carole Boston Weatherford has been a favorite author for many years, and I loved learning more about her! I've updated my post to link to your interview (I hope that's ok with you- if not, let me know).