Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Multicultural Children's Book Day ~ reviews by Christy Mihaly

Today I'm pleased to share two terrific new own-voices books just ahead of Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020. 

They are: When Aidan Became a Brother, a picture book written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita; and Mary and the Trail of Tears, a middle grade by Andrea L. Rogers. I'll tell you more about these important books soon.

But first, a word about Multicultural Children's Book Day. MCBD is in its seventh year (and I've been participating for six)! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen, two diverse-book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those books into the hands of young readers and educators. There's more MCBD information, including a link to the Twitter Party, at the bottom of this post.

MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and on school bookshelves--books like these two.

Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story, written by Andrea L. Rogers and illustrated by Matt Forsyth, will be published February 1 by Stone Arch Books, an imprint of Capstone. It's one of a 12-book series, "Girls Survive." This is gripping historical fiction, for grades 3 to 5. 

Twelve-year-old Mary and her family, along with other members of the Cherokee Nation, are forced from their Georgia home by the U.S. military in 1838. This harrowing story is told at a level appropriate for middle graders, covering the injustices, heartbreaks, and hardships without undue graphic detail. Forsyth's captivating illustrations add to the appeal.

Andrea Rogers, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, brings a deep and personal understanding of the historical events related to the Indian Removal Act, and the cultural traditions of the people who made the long journey west from their homes. The book includes an excellent author's note and additional back matter. Mary is a strong female character who stays strong to keep her family together through challenges including sickness and death. This is a compelling and important novel about a chapter in American history that kids often don't know enough about. Well done!
When Aidan Became a Brother, written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, was published last year by Lee & Low Books, and has received many honors, including the Stonewall Award announced this week at ALA. It tells the sweet and satisfying story of a transgender boy who is anticipating a new sibling. Aidan wants to make sure the baby doesn't experience the kind of misunderstandings and distress that Aidan once did. His parents reassure him, reminding Aidan that though they made mistakes, he helped them make things better. His mother says, "This baby is so lucky to have you, and so are we." The illustrations are lively and bright, showing Aidan as an energetic, positive kid. This pioneering book tells a perennial new-baby tale, with transgender representation. 

In an author's note, Kyle Lukoff recounts, "When I was born, everyone thought I was a girl" (like Aidan). Explaining that Aidan is a transgender kid, "but he's also just a kid, like you," Lukoff expresses hope that Aidan will grow up "in a world that supports and believes in him." Together, he adds, we can create that world. And that is the power of books like these!

Resources and information from MCBD:

FREE RESOURCES from Multicultural Children’s Book Day
·      Our New FREE Teacher Classroom Physical and Developmental Challenges Kit
·      Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians, and Educators

TWITTER PARTY! January 31. Register here!

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

MCBD 2020 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board:
Author Sponsor Link Cloud: Jerry CraftA.R. Bey and Adventures in BoogielandEugina Chu & Brandon goes to BeijingKenneth Braswell & Fathers IncorporatedMaritza M. Mejia & Luz del mes_MejiaKathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry BlossomSISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. NorrgardJosh Funk and HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTERMaya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove,  Lauren RanalliThe Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! By Dr. Sharon ChappellPhe Lang and Me On The PageAfsaneh Moradian and Jamie is JamieValerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena PublishingTUMBLE CREEK PRESSNancy Tupper Ling, Author Gwen JacksonAngeliki Pedersen & The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm TreeAuthor Kimberly Gordon BiddleBEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 by Mia WenjenSusan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher (Founders of Inner Flower Child Books)Ann Morris & Do It Again!/¡Otra Vez!, Janet Balletta and Mermaids on a Mission to Save the OceanEvelyn Sanchez-Toledo & Bruna Bailando por el Mundo\ Dancing Around the WorldShoumi Sen & From The Toddler DiariesSarah Jamila StevensonTonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book SeriesTeresa Robeson  & The Queen of Physics, Nadishka Aloysius and Roo The Little Red TukTukGirlfriends Book Club Baltimore & Stories by the Girlfriends Book ClubFinding My Way Books, Diana Huang & IntrepidsFive Enchanted MermaidsElizabeth Godley and Ribbon’s Traveling CastleAnna Olswanger and GreenhornDanielle Wallace & My Big Brother Troy, Jocelyn Francisco and Little Yellow JeepneyMariana Llanos & Kutu, the Tiny Inca Princess/La Ñusta DiminutaSara Arnold & The Big Buna BashRoddie Simmons & Race 2 RioDuEwa Frazier & Alice’s Musical DebutVeronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series  Green Kids Club, Inc.
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE
Co-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts: A Crafty ArabAfsaneh MoradianAgatha Rodi BooksAll Done MonkeyBarefoot MommyBethany Edward & Biracial BookwormsMichelle Goetzl & Books My Kids ReadCrafty Moms ShareColours of UsDiscovering the World Through My Son’s EyesEducators Spin on itShauna Hibbitts-creator of eNannylinkGrowing Book by BookHere Wee ReadJoel Leonidas & Descendant of Poseidon Reads {Philippines}Imagination SoupKid World CitizenKristi’s Book NookThe LogonautsMama SmilesMiss Panda ChineseMulticultural Kid BlogsSerge Smagarinsky {Australia}Shoumi SenJennifer Brunk & Spanish PlaygroundKatie Meadows and Youth Lit Reviews.

I received these two books from the publishers for purposes of reviewing them for MCBD.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Monkey Business -interview with debut picture book author KT Johnston

KT with her childhood pet.

What happens when you love animals, writing, and are curious your whole life? You write stories from the heart and share them one true story at a time. That is just what KT Johnston did. 

Her debut picture book, Railway Jack is the true story of the remarkable partnership between a railwayman and a baboon in 1880s South Africa. When Jim Wide lost his legs in an accident, he had to find clever ways to get around and perform his work. He obtained a very unusual, and very smart, helper: a baboon named Jack. But what about a monkey’s monkey business?? Jim pleaded with the authorities at the rail yard to give Jack a chance and they agreed to a test. 

Coming February 2020 Links to preorder can be found at

Welcome to the Grog today, KT.  No more monkeying around. Let's get to the interview.

1. Who is your agent? 

          I have not yet landed an agent. I sent my first query letter about 4 1/2 years ago...and quickly discovered U.S. publishers aren’t terribly interested in literary novella-length historical fiction from debut authors—and therefore, neither are agents. So I just kept going: learning, writing and querying. RAILWAY JACK is the 3rd manuscript I’ve queried (to agents and publishers willing to take submissions directly from authors), and the first to be published.

2. How did you get the idea for your story?

    I follow history-related feeds and one day an article about Jack came across my desk, so to speak. His story sucked me in and spoke to my heart. I started researching it and it’s amazing how clearly a project can form in your head when you’ve found just the right one.

3. What is your favorite part of the story?

    Anthropomorphism can be harmful to properly understanding our natural world and I try to avoid leaving that impression, but I am touched by the deeply reciprocal relationship Jack and Jim appear to have had. That sentiment came through in contemporary articles I found about them—which I hope I have been able to convey to my readers.

4. How long did it take to write? Get to a publisher?

    Like many writers, I juggled writing around a paying job. It took 4 months to research, draft, edit and put a bow on RAILWAY JACK. I sent out 7 queries (3 rejects, 4 “the sound of crickets”) before Capstone and I found each other.

KT's work space.

5. What is your writing routine?

    I don’t have a terribly specific writing routine other than, well, coffee first—and that I like to get started in the coziness of pre-dawn and shut it down for a glass of wine around suppertime. I should say, though, that I rarely have a whole day spanning between the two that I can devote to writing. I don’t limber up with timed sprints or writing prompts, and I don’t set word count targets; I don’t find those sorts of things effective for priming my pump or measuring my progress. I try to clear my mind of distractions by taking care of communications and social media before getting started (and could get better at resisting the urge to check during the day), and I almost always do a little reading after lunch. Are those part of my writing routine? Yes, I suppose I consider them to be. I guess I have more of a routine than I thought!

6. What inspires you to write?

    I am definitely energized when I run across true stories from the past about animals who made a remarkable impact on an everyday human’s life. Not typical animal hero stories, but stories that can be felt as a ripple in society today.

7. What are you working on now?

    I have 4 manuscripts that are currently in motion at different stages, as well as a whiteboard on my wall with many more ideas queued up.

    8. Words of advice for writers:
    Sometimes you should ignore the thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots and just write what desperately wants to come out.

   Thank you, KT for sharing your heartwarming story celebrating service animals. Best wishes with your debut.

KT lives in Minneapolis, where the four-legged members of her family have always been special. She earned a degree in biology and conducted wildlife behavior studies for the U.S. Forest Service in Montana and the research department at the Minnesota Zoo. She also researched and developed materials for the zoo's education department. KT enjoys traveling, whether she's touring a historical site, experiencing a foreign land, or being transported by a good book.

KT's website is     
Twitter: @KTDidz