Tag Archives: civil rights

A Conversation with Vanessa Brantley-Newton, illustrator of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER

I’d like to start this post by noting that the subject of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER, the late Audrey Faye Hendricks, was nine years old when she was imprisoned for her civil rights activism. She remained in prison—real prison—for a week. She was locked in a cell. Interrogated by adult strangers. She was in danger, both inside the prison and after her release. She is an American hero. As of this post, she does not have a Wikipedia page.


“I’d never heard of Audrey Faye Hendricks,” says Vanessa Brantley-Newton, author and illustrator of over 75 books. vanessa-brantley-newton“When I read Cynthia Levinson’s manuscript, it broke me. It made me cry. I became fascinated by Audrey. I read the manuscript to myself and then had someone read it to me. Right away, I could see the pictures—that’s very important.”

Vanessa goes on to detail aspects of her research, “I read Cynthia’s previous book on the Children’s March, WE’VE GOT A JOB TO DO, and weve-got-a-jobwatched the PBS program on the event. I wanted my work to be emotional—to make it clear that Audrey was a child. As I worked, I listened to music from that time, songs like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” With one exception early in the process, Vanessa and the author did not actively collaborate on the project. “Cynthia wanted to see how I portrayed Martin Luther King Jr.—a friend of Audrey’s family—and once I showed her the sketch, we didn’t need to consult again.”

Like all of Vanessa’s work, THE YOUNGEST MARCHER glows with color and shimmers with texture. the-youngest-marcher“I’m a retro girl, heart and soul,” Vanessa says. “I love the colors of the sixties and seventies, the reds and oranges together.” She scanned vintage fabrics and included photographs in her collage work. Her use of marbleized paper adds swirling atmosphere to the image of a small, beloved child curled up on a prison cot.

Despite her age, Audrey’s bright-eyed conviction is made plain in Vanessa’s illustrations. As she heeds Dr. King’s call to fill the prisons, as she boards the police van in her starched skirt, bobby socks, and pink hair ribbons, she is full of hope and might as easily be headed to school or church. Although younger than the other marchers, she remains stalwart until the prisons are full to bursting and all are released. Hope intact, Audrey Faye Hendricks emerges to her parents’ arms and a changed world, one she helped to create.

“I hope that people can be inspired by my work,” Vanessa says. “As a child, I never saw children of color in books. We have this wonderful ability as authors and illustrators to tell stories that encompass what children go through so that kids feel included, like someone has captured their real world.”

I’d like to thank Vanessa for her time and for all of her efforts to bring Audrey Faye Hendricks and her story to vibrant, visual life. I’d like to thank author Cynthia Levinson for writing the story of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER. I’m glad and grateful to know about this remarkable story of courage.

Hayley's Author PhotoI write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.
I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.



Filed under Activism, Book Launch, Celebrations, Character Development, Characters, cover art, Creativity, Illustrators, Inspiration, Interviews, Launch, Picture books, process, Research, Uncategorized

Family Recipes

This week we’re celebrating the launch of Cynthia Levinson’s debut picture book, The Youngest Marcher, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton.



In 1963 in the city of Birmingham Alabama, when Audrey Faye Hendricks was in elementary school, she was inspired by dinner guests Dr. Martin Luther King, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, and Reverend James Bevel. She didn’t think it was right that she couldn’t sit at the counter to eat ice cream, sit at the front of the bus, or ride the nice elevator at the department store with the white folks. So when the idea came to have a Children’s March and fill the jail with children to protest the inequity, Audrey volunteered. She was the youngest marcher and was in jail for a long seven days, which led to Birmingham rescinding its segregation ordinances. This is a powerful story about how one young girl made a difference by standing up for what she believed in.

One of the first things Audrey ate when she was released from jail was her mother’s Hot Rolls Baptized in Butter, a favorite. When Audrey and her sister grew up, they didn’t have a recipe but they experimented until they came up with something that tasted just like their mother’s rolls. The recipe is included in the book.

Today, authors share some of their favorite recipes that are associated with good memories and family.

Jason Gallaher: Here’s a recipe I absolutely love that has been passed through all the members of my family forever and ever. It’s beef stroganoff, so it’s nothing monumental or insanely unique, but all the family meals I’ve had with this make it so my heart soars whenever I know we are having it for dinner!

Beef Stroganoff

1 lb. ground beef
1 medium to large onion, chopped
1 – 10 1/2 ounce can of cream of mushroom soup
1 cup sour cream
Sliced mushrooms
2 tbsps ketchup
3-4 squirts of soy sauce
Dash of garlic
Brown the meat, onion, and mushrooms. Add remaining ingredients and heat through. Don’t boil. Serve over your favorite noodle or rice.
Heather Bouwman: We have a super-easy recipe for “Green Eggs and (vegetarian) Ham” that was a go-to dish when my kids were little (and still something they ask for today). I created it by tweaking a quiche recipe into something much simpler…and then gave it a name that I thought would make the kids want to eat it.
Green Eggs and Ham
5 – 6 eggs
roll of refrigerated crescent rolls (Pillsbury or other)
about 3 cups of fresh or frozen broccoli florets (thawed)
maybe a tablespoon of dijon mustard
feta cheese–about 1/2 cup
Baco’s or other vegetarian bacon
Set oven to 350º
Steam the broccoli until it is very soft.
Butter the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Spread the crescent rolls out in the pan to make a crust. Brush generously with dijon mustard and sprinkle with feta. Set aside.
In a blender or with a hand blender, blend the soft broccoli with a little bit of egg until pureed. Small chunks are fine. Add the rest of the eggs and blend until frothy. Add a little pepper if desired and mix in.
Pour egg mixture slowly over feta. Sprinkle bacos on top. Cook about 20 minutes, until egg is set. (Dish will not rise–it’ll be more like tart height than quiche height.)
Read Green Eggs and Ham while eating.
 Elly Swartz: My favorite family recipe is my mom’s chicken soup.  Made with a whole chicken, carrots, celery, onion, cooked slow for 5 hours and served with so much love.  My mom made this soup for Passover, and every time anyone in my family had a fever, a cough, a runny nose. She passed away over 20 years ago, but each time my kitchen fills with the smell of chicken soup, I think of her and am so grateful for all the love she ladled.
Debbi Michiko Florence: The one thing that always reminds me of home and family is inari sushi, or as we affectionally used to call it, footballs. Mom always served these at family potlucks and holiday celebrations. I tried to make them a few years ago for New Year’s, and they were good, but not as good as the ones my mom made. A lot probably had to do with the fact that Mom made them for us.
Very Easy Inari
2 cups of cooked sushi rice
1 can of inari age or fried bean curd (found in Asian markets)
Open can and carefully remove the fried bean curd. Open inari and scoop a small ball of  slightly cooled cooked rice into the pocket. Repeat until you use up all the fried bean curds. Serve and enjoy!
What are your favorite recipes that remind you of home/family? We’d love to hear about them!


Filed under Book Launch, Launch, Picture books

MLK, Obama, and the power of story

Photo by Brett Farmiloe

Photo by Brett Farmiloe

Today happens to be both Martin Luther King Day and Obama’s second inauguration address. It has also been 150 years since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and almost 50 years since King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. A poignant coincidence of timing, to be sure.

While perusing Facebook yesterday, I came across this insightful Martin Luther King, Jr. quote:

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

It was posted by LitWorld.org, along with the following status: “Stories matter so much. They connect us, and bind us together, and give us strength. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. let’s fight – today, tomorrow, and every day – for the power of story, and every child’s right to read, write, and share their story.”

That really resonated with me. One of our jobs as writers is to facilitate that kind of communication, whether we write fiction that pulls the reader into someone else’s shoes and lets them experience another life or nonfiction that teaches the reader about some aspect of the world we all share. Sharing our stories, as well as the inevitable pieces of ourselves that spill out onto those pages, helps our readers know and understand another person’s point of view.

Emmanuel and I in 2010

Emmanuel and I in 2010

At one point while I was writing my upcoming picture book biography about Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a young man from Ghana who changed the way his country viewed disabled people, my husband asked me something to the effect of, “What can an able-bodied white American girl possibly have to say about this? Why would YOU write THIS story, one that has nothing at all to do with your personal experience?” It left me speechless. Why wouldn’t I write this story? To me, it’s not about being disabled, or African, or male. It’s a story about feeling ignored when you think you have something to offer; about pursuing and achieving a dream; about the personal rewards of working for the good of others. It’s about how every one of us has value and can make a difference in the world. It’s a story about being human. Those are all things I have personally experienced.

Emmanuel’s story touched me, and I want it to touch young readers, too. I hope it will make them value other people despite their obvious differences. And I hope it will empower readers as individuals ready to make their own marks on the world.

Photo by Tom LeGro/PBS NewsHour

Photo by Tom LeGro/PBS NewsHour

At the official dedication of King memorial on the National Mall in 2011, Obama said, “It is precisely because Dr. King was a man of flesh and blood and not a figure of stone that he inspires us so. His life, his story, tells us that change can come if you don’t give up.”

So, whatever you’re working on… don’t give up. It might be just the thing the world needs.

Incidentally, powerful words are all around us. That King quote above? Being a nonfiction author, I didn’t want to quote it without knowing its original source. It turns out it’s from an advice column MLK did for Ebony in 1953, in which he advises a woman not to divorce her second husband just because he and her daughter do not get along. It wasn’t the lofty origin I was expecting, but I guess it just goes to show that greatness can be found in the unlikeliest places!


Filed under Writing and Life

Where Can You Find Cynthia?

Alas, the time has come to wrap up Cynthia Levinson’s debut week for her book WE’VE GOT A JOB. But don’t despair! We’re leaving you with more places to find Cynthia on the web. We’ve left a trail for readers, teachers, writers, and, well, just about anyone who’d like to know more about Cynthia’s writing process and what led her to craft such an important book. We’ve chosen…

…as your handy-dandy WE’VE GOT A JOB online guide. Click here for a page with several thumbnails–each a trail that ends in an interview with Cynthia.

Find the link in the gray stripe at the bottom of each box and click. Easy, right?

So go ahead–teachers, introduce WE’VE GOT A JOB to your students. (Here’s a free online curriculum guide to get you started). And everyone stay tuned to Cynthia’s website, where she’ll soon be posting a trailer produced by the 4th grade students you met in yesterday’s post.

Although we hate to say farewell to this auspicious debut week, we know that Cynthia’s book will live on in classrooms across the country and in the hands of readers of all ages.

On page 115 of WE’VE GOT A JOB, Cynthia quotes Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. as saying to the children of Birmingham:

“You are certainly making history, and you are experiencing history. And you will make it possible for the historians of the future to write a marvelous chapter.”

Cynthia Levinson is that historian, and WE’VE GOT A JOB is, indeed, that marvelous chapter.


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Education, Happiness, Social Media


 “Who forced you to march?”

Audrey, a third-grader at Birmingham’s all-black Center Elementary School, sat on a straight-backed chair in a vast and otherwise empty room in Juvenile Detention. Dressed in a pinafore and Mary Janes with turned-down socks, she looked across a broad conference table at five big scary white men. She wondered if they planned to kill her.

“Nobody forced me,” she answered.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, sir. I decided myself.”


“I want my freedom. I want to be able to go places and do things like anybody else.”

“Are you against America?”

“No, sir.”

This slightly truncated quotation is an account of one black child’s experience during the civil rights era. It comes from my debut nonfiction book, WE HAVE A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH (Peachtree, February 2012).

On May 2, 1963, Audrey Faye Hendricks, then nine years old, tried to march with several hundred other black kids (all older than she was) from a church in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, to City Hall. She was arrested less than two blocks from the church and spent a week in jail. During that week, a matron threatened her with solitary (she was playing a board game she’d carried with her and didn’t hear the matron tell her to sit down) and was interrogated.

Audrey shared this story with a civil rights historian, who interviewed her in 1995 at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum/educational center/archives built across the street from the historic church. I read her interview online, and, during one of my three research trips to Birmingham, I had the honor of talking with Audrey at her home.

Above all, I needed to know what she was protesting about. How could a nine-year-old’s life be so hard that she’d go to jail to change it?

For the purposes of today’s post—Independence Day, 2011—Audrey’s understanding of freedom is particularly apt. Her response, “I want to be able to go places and do things like anybody else,” is both charmingly simple and rousingly universal, the nugget and the epitome of what it means to be free.

She and three other black children—James, Arnetta, and Wash—are the focus of my book. They tell the story of how they and about 3,000 other high school and elementary school kids desegregated what some people considered the most racially violent city in the South. For me, learning what it meant for them NOT to be free, during the years before they won the battle, was like journeying into a foreign country—a country separated by geography, by time, and by myself.

I grew up, white and Jewish, in Columbus, Ohio, and was a high-school senior in 1963. Housing and schools in Columbus were de facto segregated. I didn’t know any black people, except our maid, Betty. Theoretically, however, we could all go to the same restaurants and movie theaters. If we did, which I don’t recall, I probably gaped but, at least, I didn’t have to worry that, if a black family also decided to have dinner at Marzetti’s, they’d be arrested before being served their salads.

What I learned about civil rights mostly came through reading newspapers, watching Huntley-Brinkley, and singing “freedom songs” along with Joan Baez LPs—not through living it, the way Audrey, James, Arnetta, and Wash did. So, my first explorations into Birmingham circa 1963 entailed learning the facts of segregation, which were extreme and incontrovertible.

Birmingham’s Segregation Ordinances, adopted and expanded in the early 1940s, made it “unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectively separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment.”

And, this was, literally, just the beginning of legally mandated “Separation of the Races.” Anyone—white or black—who played ball or went to a party or a meeting with someone of the other race or who sat in the wrong bus station waiting room or used the wrong “toilet facilities” could be prosecuted.

Reading these stipulations was one thing. Absorbing what it meant to live under the virtual apartheid that defined the place was another. Anyone—white or black—who so much as questioned the sanity or justice of these regulations invited brutal retribution by the Ku Klux Klan. Many recordings of interviews I conducted contain silences while I sat speechless, shaking my head, after listening to the stories both black and white Birminghamians told me about the facts of their utterly divided lives. Two women—one white, one black—told me that desegregation, when it finally, slowly began to take root during the summer of 1963, thanks to the children who marched and went to jail, liberated everyone.

Freedom—invoked in civil rights songs and on picket signs—had seemed a vague, undefined concept until I delved into and came to understand its complete absence. Given the extremes in Birmingham prior to 1963, freedom there had concrete definitions: eating lunch while sitting at the counter rather than standing outside; getting hired as a clerk, not just a janitor, in downtown department stores. (It also retained concrete limitations: schools remained segregated as did parks and the police department, among other services, for many years.)

Except in places of extremes (I’ve also written for kids about Rwanda, for instance), “freedom” seems to me to be a mixture of the specific and the relative. As such, it is ever-elusive, ever-reconfigured, ever-threatened.

Researching this book has led me to consider my own past, my assumptions, my prejudices, and my ignorances. I have come to wonder what lacks of freedom I am ignoring in the world today, just as other white people did, some under duress and others by preference, in Birmingham almost 50 years ago. They’re out there, possibly less stark, less literally black and white, than during the civil rights period. They’re also inside, I realize.


Filed under Research, Writing and Life