Thank You, Crow by Michael Minkovitz and Jose D. Medina will be published on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. The debut picture book for both Minkovtiz and Medina, Thank You, Crow tells the story of two friends, Crow and Sebastian. Crow brings little treasures to the boy who saves him so that together they can go on a big adventure. In the process, Sebastian discovers that friends can be found in the unlikeliest of places and that a little kindness and imagination go a long way.
Michael Minkovitz is a Georgia native who gained a unique perspective growing up in the only Jewish family in a tiny, rural community before ending up at New York University’s Tisch School, where he graduated with a degree in filmmaking. He later graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a Master’s degree in film, but he’s also had fun being a news photographer, an SAT tutor, and running his family’s business. He is overjoyed to create and publish his first book with his husband, Jose.
Jose D. Medina is an illustrator from Venezuela who now resides in Savannah, Georgia. After beginning his art education in Caracas, he finished his illustration degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2017. His art addresses complex ideas in a way that is simple and engaging, focusing on social and political activism while incorporating humor and lightheartedness. Thank You, Crow is Jose’s first book, and he was thrilled to work on it with his husband, Michael.
Penny Candy Books interviewed Michael and Jose on the eve of Thank You, Crow’s publication.
PCB: What is the origin of Thank You, Crow? What is the inspiration for it? How did the two of you come to collaborate on it?
MM: Thank You, Crow started as a project for Jose's college course in illustrating children's books. Because we both have a love for children's books and I have some experience in writing, it was a nice opportunity for us to work together on something. We enjoyed the process and put a lot of effort into it, so by the end of his class we had the beginnings of what we felt could become a real book. When discussing the book in general terms before we even settled on a story there were a few elements that I enjoyed in books as a kid that I knew I wanted to try to incorporate if possible. One of those elements was a repeated phrase ("..but he said thank you anyway") as I think there is something satisfying and pleasing in that repetition for young kids. Another was a visual element that continued across the pages that young kids could look for and anticipate. I think the main inspiration for this is my love of the Mercer Mayer's Little Critter books as a child, namely Just For You, in which every page included a hidden cricket and spider. Both of those elements might serve to make reading a book more of an activity between a parent and child and less of a passive event where the book is just read to a child. Lastly, we wanted the book to have a purpose, or a life lesson.
I started throwing story ideas to Jose and the one he liked best evolved into Thank You, Crow. The original idea took place largely in an orphanage rather than a spot in the woods, where Sebastian would spend his time on an outside balcony that overlooked a forest to get away from the scary housemother. Instead of a crow, Sebastian befriended a dog. After helping the dog in some way, the dog began bringing Sebastian gifts that he mistook for junk, but he was just happy to have a friend so he said thank you anyway. In the end, the dog was much more than he seemed, the junk he brought was actually components of a rocket, and Sebastian was able to best the scary adult and escape the orphanage.
Soon after, Jose suggested that the dog should be a crow, which made complete sense when he showed me a true story about crows bringing gifts to a little girl, and after a few more alterations it became what it is today.
PCB: Michael, how did your upbringing as a member of the only Jewish family in a small, rural Georgian town affect or impact your writing? When do you know you wanted to be a writer?
MM: I've often wondered how my childhood experience shaped me as a person. To provide some context with a little background information, my great-grandfather had a cart out of which he'd sell various fabrics and scraps which eventually evolved into department stores across Southeast Georgia named Minkovitz. My dad ran the store in Sylvania that his father owned previously, which is why my family lived where we lived. By the end of the twentieth century, malls in larger nearby cities like Savannah and Statesboro eventually killed most small-town department stores like ours, but not before giving my sisters and I a small-town childhood that I feel fortunate to have had. We were different from everyone else, however. We weren't shunned or anything like that—there were many great people there—but the culture was centered on Jesus, livestock festivals, hunting and fishing, and that just wasn't my family. Some days of the year we'd miss school to make the drive to our synagogue in Savannah for Jewish holidays. Likewise, some days of the year my friends would miss school because deer hunting season just started and they were going hunting with their dads. We put up mezuzahs, our neighbors mounted heads. You get the idea. When we visited Savannah for the holidays, and started driving in for Sunday school and then Hebrew school when we were a little older, we were once again in a place where we didn't fit. The other Jewish kids in Savannah had grown up around each other in what seemed like a huge metropolitan city compared to where I lived, and we felt like complete outsiders. My mom may have inadvertently amplified our insecurities in little ways by reminding us not to say "I'm fixin' to" and instead say "I'm about to" when in Savannah, for example. The point of all of this is to say that I never truly felt like I belonged in the place I was in, and that sense of being an outsider looking in continued for most of my life. As a result, I think I was more easily able to view things from someone else's perspective and therefore be a more empathetic person. As an example, while I had friends that looked like me in elementary school, I also became friends with the black children in my class, and looking back at it, I realize my other friends didn't. Now that I'm older, I find value in identifying with those who are viewed as the other. As far as how all that may affect my writing, I believe empathy must be an important factor for any writer.
Luckily, my mom was always reading multiple books and surrounded us with books from an early age. I think because we lived in a town without a real bookstore, relatives sent us many books, though I think the library in town was actually fine. So I read a lot growing up, and it had a big impact on me and my imagination. In the end, it’s simply a nice feeling to create a story and make someone feel something when they read it.
PCB: Jose, tell us a little bit about your life in Venezuela. How did you come to be an artist? When do you move to America and what brought you here?
JDM: I grew up in Caracas, which, for people who may not be familiar with it, is kind of like the New York City of Venezuela. It's a gorgeous place, surrounded by green mountains. There are special things about living there that I miss. For instance there is a group of wild blue macaws that would frequently come visit my mom on our balcony. I miss my hour long commute to college in the morning, where I would get to see the sun rise from behind the mountains, even though I was stuck in traffic. It's often a noisy, dirty, and crowded place, but at the same time it's filled with culture and art, and I attribute some of that to my development as an artist. I don't think there is a point in time that I ever decided to be an artist, it's just something I've luckily always had an aptitude for, and though I did consider studying medicine at times, clearly art was the path I took. I started my art education in Caracas, and due to the increasingly destabilized political and social climate in Venezuela, and to explore opportunities as an illustrator that I would likely not be afforded in my own country, I transferred to SCAD three years later.
PCB: What has been the biggest challenge for you both as you've written, illustrated, and published this book?
MM & JDM: This is our first book, so we have nothing to compare this experience with, however we were lucky in how nicely and mostly painlessly it all seemed to come together. However, there was an instance when we needed to account for the fire extinguishers that Crow used as propulsion for the rocket because we didn't show how Crow actually procured them. The fix involved a change in the text and imagery that worked out nicely and solved the problem. It was challenging while also being satisfying in the same way that solving a difficult logic puzzle is satisfying. The most challenging part of the overall process was likely when it came time to translate what was in our heads into a 32 page format, maintaining the repetition we wanted while not being overly repetitive, and finding the right rhythm for the story that would make it the most enjoyable.
PCB: What has been the biggest surprise throughout the process?
MM: We knew that making a book was not a simple and quick process by any means; however, we didn't anticipate the level of thought and consideration that goes into every little detail. For example, we all spent a considerable amount of time discussing the placement of a single line of text, and while the reader would likely never notice, it hopefully results in a better experience and goes to show how much care actually goes into it.
PCB: Why is Thank You, Crow such an important books for kids and adults to read at this moment in time?
MM: Being kind and being gracious simply because it's the right thing to do and not because you'll get something out of it is one of those life lessons, like the golden rule, that would make the world a better place if everyone tried to abide by it. Today, when elected leaders spew hate and contempt through every medium, a little story about being polite and kind might be needed. If this book finds a home in the bedroom of a child who is otherwise exposed to ugliness, it's possible that it could actually have some sort of impact. A parent reading Thank You, Crow with their child might be uplifted by its hopefulness and be a little less weary.
PCB: Any advice for aspiring writers and artists out there?
MM: Writing a children's book is something I've always wanted to do, but it was always a nebulous sort of thing that I had no idea how to approach, so I just labeled it as being out of reach and didn't even try. It turns out that I did have the ability, so I should never have discounted the idea. The lesson I learned is that special things can and do happen and sometimes luck makes it happen and other times it takes trying again and again. The original story idea for Thank You, Crow is pretty different from the final product, but the core is basically the same. So I've learned that when you feel that you have a good idea don't dismiss it because sometimes it takes a lot of brainstorming and looking at it from new angles before you find the direction that works best.
JDM: It may sound like a cliché, but keep drawing. Draw funny things. Draw things that make you sad and things you love. Draw trees, draw dogs, draw cars or mountains, and draw more dogs. And put it out there. There will be someone out there who can relate to it and appreciate it and to me that's what it's all about.
PCB: Any advice for young readers out there?
MM & JDM: If you read a book that you think someone else will like, be sure to let them know! Keep reading!
Thanks again, Michael and Jose!
Last week on our blog we featured part 1 of our interview with Clara Martin. Clara wears many hats: she’s a bookseller and book buyer for Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS; a book reviewer at TwentybyJenny.com; and an author, illustrator, and recent MFA graducate from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
In part 2 of the interview, Clara discusses her own writing, her work as a children's literature reviewer, and how all the facets of her creative and professional life fit together.
PCB: I understand that you are a YA author, too! How has working in a bookstore influenced your own writing?
CM: Well, I write everything from picture books (along with illustrating them) to middle grade and YA…and working at a bookstore, I’ve seen why certain books sell and why others do not. During author events, I notice which books grab a child’s attention—and I make sure to ask them why. Kids love funny books, they love adventure, they love fantasy, they love contemporary fiction. So, with such a varied market, what wins out every time? The power of a well-told story with compelling characters.
PCB: What books have been most influential to you as a writer?
CM: Always a hard question. I knew that I wanted to be a writer after I read Charlotte’s Web. And having grown up in the South, Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor’s writing influenced me. A small book called The Light Princess by George MacDonald and illustrated by Maurice Sendak is a strange, 19th century fairy-tale that has always fascinated me, as it is about a princess who literally is so light she floats to the ceiling. I love books that play with words. And I particularly love Sendak’s illustrations—they are exquisite.
I am also so influenced by every single one of the authors that I meet who pass through Lemuria!
PCB: Congrats on recently earning your MFA. What factors led you to choose a low residency MFA program? Would you recommending that aspiring writers should pursue an MFA? Why or why not?
CM: As most people who finish their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts say: “just go.” Getting my MFA was the best thing I could have done for my writing. I think that if someone is on the fence about it, they should be selective about what program best fits them, but I think it is an opportunity to create work among like-minded people, with faculty who give insightful feedback and help you grow as a writer. The community at VCFA is unparalleled.
I chose to go the low-residency route because I wanted to continue working at Lemuria. There was so much cross-over between writing children’s books and selling them every day. It was a good way to figure out what being a working writer really means!
PCB: You are also a book reviewer! Tell us a bit about Twenty by Jenny and how you came to be involved. What kinds of books are you looking to review?
CM: Yes! I began writing reviews of children’s books in The Clarion Ledger (a newspaper in Mississippi). Shortly thereafter, I met the lovely Jenny Brown. At the time, she was the children’s book review editor at Shelf Awareness. When she moved on to be the VP Publisher at Knopf Books for Young Readers, she asked if I would manage her book review website, Twenty by Jenny. I said yes, and here we are, two years later!
At Twenty by Jenny, I review books for children ages 0-3, 4-7, 8-12, and for Teens (the YA market), and it is sent out by email to people who want to read those reviews. You can subscribe to the weekly email and choose which age-group review you’d like to receive here.
PCB: How has the experience of reviewing books impacted you as a bookseller and as an author?
CM: A good review is short, sweet. and to the point. It may offer insights into why the reviewer enjoyed the book so that the reader may also feel that connection into why they may read the book. Likewise, when writing for children, you must “get to the point” of the story very quickly. And a good review is the same as a good hand-sell—you have thirty seconds to recommend a book—what do you say? That’s how I like to think when I’m writing a review.
PCB: Any high level thoughts or observations on the book industry that only you, as an author who also sells and reviews books, can offer?
CM: I’m lucky to be doing what I’m doing. I read books, I talk about books, and I write books.
Lemuria is a wonderful and inspiring place to work and has afforded me many opportunities. Independent bookstores are carefully curated places that strive to make human connections between readers and their books. Support them whenever you can.
For a book to make it into the world and be successful is not a one-man operation. It takes many people behind the scenes to make it work!
At the very heart of the entire publishing business is what drives people to pick up a book and read? What story is going to grab them? When there is cross-communication and collaboration between authors/publishers/booksellers/readers, a book can really be a success. Publishers and booksellers who share information on what’s working/what’s not working will know how to better market and sell their book, booksellers will have more books to sell, and authors will have more time to write.
PCB: Thank you, Clara, for your time and insight!
On the very last day of our month-long road trip, we stopped by Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS. It was one of the most impressive stores we visited--one of those places where you just wished you could spend the night. A huge selection spread across lots of rooms, big and little, with lots of light and good energy.
It was there we met Clara Martin, bookseller, book buyer, book review, and book writer! We were so impressed with all that Clara is doing in the world of books that we asked if she'd be willing to answer some questions for us. She was kind enough to agree, and in part 1 of our interview, Clara discusses the joys and challenges of bookselling, why independent bookstores are important, what she's looking for when considering books for the store, and positive developments in the kidlit world.
Clara Martin is the Children’s Books Buyer and Event Coordinator at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the owner of TwentybyJenny.com, where she reviews books for children of all ages. Clara attended Vanderbilt University where she received a B.A. in English Literature and Art History, and she also received a MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
PCB: What's your role at Lemuria Books? Describe a typical day at work.
CM: I’m the Children’s Book Buyer and Event Coordinator at Lemuria. A typical day will involve buying inventory that sold the previous day, contacting schools to set up author events, helping customers find everything from a book for a newborn baby to a book for a reluctant-reader who is six, to gushing about a new YA novel with a teenager who has been waiting for that book to release. I plan story times and I try to think about displays and what our customers might like. I also choose books for our Lemuria’s Young Reader’s First Editions Club each month. I pick a picture book and a middle grade book for each month, they are signed by the author and/or illustrator, and sometimes there’s a fun print included. We’ve picked award winners like Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall and The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, and my current favorite is July 2018’s pick, We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan Higgins.
PCB: What are some of the challenges of the job that customers might not know about? What are some of the joys?
CM: Challenges…when we don’t have the book in-stock and then the customer goes to Amazon. Of course, if the customer needs the book immediately, then there isn’t much we can do, but there are many factors that go into why we may not have that book. Maybe the book is out-of-print, maybe it is in high-demand, maybe it is on back-order with the publisher, and maybe it hasn’t sold in over three years, or customers haven’t been asking for it. However, our team is really good at finding just about any kind of book you would like, and the turnaround is really fast. Support your local indies!
The joys outweigh the challenges! Particularly in the children’s section. Every day, I get to help kids find the book that might make them a reader, and that’s so much fun! There is a book out there for everyone, and if you say you aren’t a reader, you are wrong! Just go to your local bookstore and ask for help. It may take trial and error. I love finding new authors and illustrators that we can help support.
PCB: What role can a bookstore play in today's hyper-partisan political environment? What role should it play?
CM: The amazing thing about a bookstore is that any person, from any background, can find what they are looking for. Truly. It is a space that brings left-wing and right-wing together, sometimes side-by-side on the shelf, or next to one another at the cash-registers. It’s a place where debate is healthy and respected.
PCB: What brings people into your store? What keeps them coming back?
CM: Well, I’d like to say books, but really, it’s the booksellers. We aren’t computers, so we make connections between what you’ve read and what you want to read next in a way that isn’t an algorithm. Booksellers read a lot, and in a wide variety of different subjects. When you tell me the last book you’ve read, it’s possible that I’ll recommend something to you in a different section of the store. The best thing is when a customer comes back and says: “I loved that book you gave me—what should I read next?” Customers make connections with the books they read, and the booksellers who put that book in their hands. Every book store has a different set of “readers,” so stepping into various independent bookstores means you may discover books those particular booksellers are currently reading. It’s always fun to go into different bookstores when I’m traveling and see what people around the country are reading.
PCB: What are some big trends and/or positive developments you've noticed in children's books lately? What do you look for when selecting titles for display at Lemuria?
CM: I love original stories, good writing, a book that is fun to read aloud, and that has amazing illustrations. It’s a high bar! And luckily, there is a lot of incredible work that is coming out that meets it. I think that the trend in publishing is to accurately reflect the world we live in today—whether that be shown in an illustration of a classroom filled with children of different races, different religions, and different socio-economic backgrounds. It is refreshing to see stories that are seeking to reach all kinds of children. I especially love the huge boom in graphic novels! There is such a positive trend of understanding that for kids, “reading” also includes visual literacy. There’s no rush to get a child away from books with illustrations!
Stay tuned for part 2 next week when Clara discusses her own writing, her work as a children's literature reviewer, and how all the facets of her creative and professional life fit together.
Since our last blog post, we’ve visited twenty more independent bookstores, one public library, and one museum dedicated to picture book illustrations in two Canadian provinces and three more U.S. states. That brings our total to twenty-eight stores in seven states and two provinces. We have approximately twenty stores, six states, and two weeks to go!
In Montréal we stopped for poutine (French fries smothered in brown gravy and cheese curds) at a restaurant near McGill University. A poster in the window made a pun on Putin and poutine. The poutine was merely okay but the pun was delicious. At the restaurant I picked up a copy of the latest Montréal Review of Books and read a fascinating article by Elise Moser about the Quebecois kids’ book author Elise Gravel, whom you might recognize from the Disgusting Critters series (my boys love the one on slugs).
Gravel is a prolific author but it turns out that many of her books haven’t been translated into English or published in America. Why not? “In part because of the limitations of the American book culture,” explains Moser, who notes that “US publishers are…more wary of offending sensibilities.” Gravel herself noted in a recent interview that the US and Quebec/French markets are “vraiment deux planètes” and that the Canadian government’s support of the book industry helps publishers be “more open-minded and creative, and take more risks.” Her latest book, about a gang of kids who live by themselves in the forest, befriending animals and refusing to bathe, failed to find an American publisher (but we bought at copy at La Petite Librairie Drawn & Quarterly). Moser explains that “Gravel was given to understand that it was due to the children’s nudity, described as ‘too French.’”
I’m proud to say that this reminded me of Penny Candy Books. After all, it was a German book about an irate mole determined to learn which animal pooped on his head that partly inspired us to found our press. The first book contract we signed was for the North American rights to La chasse by Margaux Othats, which we published as The Hunt in Feb 2017. I’ve had a retail store in New Mexico tell me they wouldn’t stock the book for fear of angering the gun owners (which I took as a great sign). And when we acquired the world English rights to The Blue Pool of Questions by Palestinian poet Maya Abu Al-hayyat, we did so knowing that we might cause a stir in the U.S., merely because of who Maya was. We want to cause stirs. We like them. We’re okay with them. We think they can be necessary.
These were my thoughts when we visited Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA, walking distance from President Kennedy’s childhood home. We’ve been presenting booksellers with a complimentary copy of The Blue Pool of Questions, and co-owner/manager Lisa Gozashti and I struck up a conversation over this title. Lisa told me about their new Transnational Literature Series curated by employee and writer (and fellow Emerson College grad!) Shuchi Saraswat. Shuchi was off for the day, but I subsequently struck up a dialogue with her via email and asked her if I could interview her about the Transnational Literature Series. We’ll likely publish the full interview at a later date but for now here’s some excerpts.
On the origins of the series, Shuchi explained:
“The Transnational Literature Series, which focuses on migration, exile, and displacement and works in translation is both an in-store section and events series. The two parts of the series came to be in different ways.
"In early 2017, after Trump issued his travel ban, after the weekend of airport protests, one of my colleagues created a display in the bookstore window featuring books written by authors from the seven countries listed in the original executive order—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. After a few weeks, we moved the display inside and expanded it and I took over stocking it. This became a politically motivated research project for me. Who were the writers from these countries? Whose work had been translated in English and who was writing in English? Who were the publishers publishing these books? Once I started asking these questions, the section grew quickly and organically. I started to pay more attention to translations, which languages were being translated, what kinds of experiences were being translated. The section combined a number of my personal interests—supporting small presses, focusing on international literature and immigration—and so I advocated for keeping it as a regular section which we titled Transnational Literature.
"Later that year, I hosted an event in the store for the anthology “This Is Not a Border: Reportage & Reflection from the Palestine Festival of Literature.” The anthology was a collection of witness writing, by primarily American and British based writers who traveled through the West Bank with the Palestine Festival of Literature. This was a book and an event that meant a lot to me. I had recently traveled to the West Bank with a peace delegation, and as a writer I had really struggled with writing about that experience in a way that didn’t center myself. Many of the essays in the anthology openly embraced the perils of witness writing while also keeping the focus on the Palestinians they met. Even uttering the word Palestine, as you know, can upset people. But I had figured that we were in one of the most progressive, intellectually curious pockets of the country. Boston, for all its shortcomings, is an extraordinarily literary city. And I wanted to challenge that by making us confront one of the more taboo and difficult subjects.
"To promote the event, I did sort of a grassroots marketing effort, reaching out personally to friends and people who I thought might be interested. Because of that, and in large part thanks to extraordinary panelists who participated—Ru Freeman, Teju Cole, Khury Petersen-Smith, and Tom Hallock, who each brought their own audience—we had over 100 people come to the reading. To tell you the truth, I can’t remember how many books we sold, but I can remember the look and feel of the room that night. The audience was quiet and incredibly focused. Reverent. There were many activists in the audience, people of color, students, academics. But also a lot of people, regular customers, who were just curious. For the first time I really understood the privilege of having a community space, and how we could really use it.
"Initially, the idea for the series was that I would create four events similar to the PalFest event— panels with writers talking about places where the American narrative is limited and fixed. I was thinking Vietnam, Cuba. Quickly though, when we focused on both the migration theme and works in translation, we realized how many individual books fit. So instead of panels featuring a region of the world (which, while interesting, didn’t allow us to get deeply into a subject) we stuck with our usual format of featuring a book, but always making sure that the events were in conversation so that the readings were about more than promoting the book.”
On the role Brookline Booksmith has played in the TLS, Shuchi noted:
“Without the Booksmith management, ownership, and our events team, who all have been incredibly supportive of the series, it would not exist. I have to spend more time off the floor, at my desk, than I do on the floor, and I used to shelve a lot of sections. The events team has been enormously helpful with operations and helping me pitch and book events, and our events coordinator has designed the logos and flyers. Co-owner and manager Lisa Gozashti, the biggest advocate for this project from the start, reads books alongside me, talks about the series to friends, customers, regulars, and is constantly answering my questions. So the Booksmith has created the physical and mental space for me to explore what this series can do and they’ve trusted me to be the face of it.”
Kudos to Shuchi, Lisa, and the team at Brookline Booksmith for being a voice of conscience in a world gone mad. Yours is an example of the extraordinary work independent bookstores are doing all over North America to create the "physical and mental space" to get people thinking, and deeply.
Booksellers, we owe you.
Greetings from Toronto, Ontario! We pulled into this incredible place late Friday night after the first week of our epic and slightly insane indie bookstore road trip. We’ve spent the past 5 days visiting unforgettable bookstores in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and New York—each a welcome oasis from the heat, the highway, the unrelenting beat of bad news, disingenuous leaders, and hard times. But more on these first eight bookstores later.
As we drove over Lake Erie on the Peace Bridge that connects Buffalo, NY, and Fort Erie, Ontario, I was overcome with emotion. I was bringing my two sons for the first time to this country to the north, our best friend and ally over the years, at a time when our relationship has become unnecessarily strained due to the “America First” policies of our President. We made our way to the north and east toward Hamilton, the mass of Lake Ontario looming to our right, separating us from our homeland. I thought about what I would do if, upon coming to a new country with hopes of freedom from persecution and fear, I encountered a new kind of persecution and fear. I wondered what I would do, how I could go on, if I were detained, merely for seeking asylum, and my children were snatched away from me. It’s hard to conceive of at any time, much less a few days removed from Independence Day.
We were in Nashville on the Fourth of July. We walked down Broadway through a street party and crowds of patriots in their American flag shirts, pants, dresses, boots, and hats. There was a man wearing an NRA shirt emblazoned with a flag made of guns.
Earlier that day Alexis had posted on Facebook: “How can you celebrate today? It’s not real. None of it is real.” A friend and fellow publisher had responded with a link to Frederick Douglass’s speech to Congress from July 5, 1852, “What is the Fourth of July to the Negro?” After recounting the colonists’ fight against Great Britain for freedom, Douglass states:
“Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me.”
That was 166 years ago, yet it seems all-too relevant today. If the “immeasurable distance between us” hasn’t been bridged in the decades since Douglass gave his speech, years that have brought the greatest scientific, technological, medical (just to name a few categories) advances humanity has ever seen, how can we ever bridge it now, when innocent black men, women, and children are shot in the streets by cops, when U.S. officials tear immigrant children from their parents’ arms, when the government backs corporate interests over Native people’s rights and builds a pipeline through sacred ground?
I’m convinced that bookstores can play a small part in bridge building. The stores we visited this week—Novel in Memphis; Parnassus Books in Nashville; Carmichael’s Kids in Louisville; Blue Manatee Books and Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati; Gramercy Books in Bexley, outside Columbus; Appletree Books in Cleveland; and Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo—offer visitors a rich selection of complex books to challenge complacency and spur curiosity and independent thought in kids and adults. Independent bookstores like these create an atmosphere that encourages discovery.
So if you find yourself visiting one of these towns or if you live near these stores, be sure to drop by and purchase some books. You’ll meet booksellers there who can help you find the perfect title or maybe you’ll come across something on your own that you never even knew you wanted or needed, something that maybe challenges your preconceived notions instead of something chosen by an algorithm to reinforce them.
Books are bridges that span the gulfs between us. They are the original Peace Bridge. Let’s travel over them together to a place of understanding.
It’s going to be a crazy and awesome July in Penny Candy Land. We’re hitting the road to visit some of our favorite independent bookstores—and to introduce ourselves to some new ones, too—in the Midwest, Northeast, Eastern Seaboard, and Southern US. Booksellers are our heroes, and now more than ever they play a critical role in connecting people and ideas, dreams, hopes, and reality. No algorithm can ever replace them. Booksellers forever!
As we’ve been preparing for the trip, planning stops along the way, we remember what a privilege it is to be able to do this. It wasn’t so long ago that African-Americans wanting to travel by car across the United States had to rely on the Green Book to know which businesses would serve them along the way.
And although the Jim Crow era ended over 50 years ago, it seems that not a week goes by without someone (like the woman in San Diego who called the police on black people for having a barbecue in a park or another woman who called the cops on an 8 year-old girl for selling bottled water without a permit or the President accusing Democrats of wanting immigrants to “infest our country”) reminding us that being a person of color in the US is still dangerous.
It is ignorance that fuels responses like these. And bookstores are an enemy of ignorance. So we like to think that our road trip to visit bookstores, to shine light and love on booksellers, and to showcase our catalog of diverse books that spark big conversations between kids and their adults, may, just may, be a small step toward change.
Starting with Novel in Memphis, TN, and ending with Lorelei Books in Vicksburg, MS, there are at least 45 stores across 20 states we hope to visit. Follow along with us on social media as we document our progress!
[images from H is for Haiku, Blue Pool of Questions, and Somewhere a Bell is Ringing]
Our first two books are still feeling the love with two great reviews recently. Check them out:
The Pirate Tree's Lyn Miller-Lachmann writes in "Remembering the Struggles of the Elders: A Review of A Gift from Greensboro," "This brief but powerful book, by the young small press Penny Candy Books, is truly a gift – a gorgeous poem and a story for readers young and old to ponder."
On her blog, Much Ado About Adoption, Merrisa writes, "This sweet book does a wonderful job of breaking down adoption after infertility into an easy-to-tell story. My kudos and gratitude to author Tracey Zeeck and Penny Candy Books for bringing to life a highly relatable, important story that adoptive parents like me can use in this wonderful, challenging journey of adoption."
And, finally, Quraysh Ali Lansana found himself (with yours truly) in Yulee, Florida, last week, where he read and discussed A Gift from Greensboro with 300 third through fifth graders through the Authors in Schools program sponsored by the Amelia Island Book Festival. This was an amazingly attentive and insightful group of kids! Here's a photo of Q signing some books in the school library after the talk:
Check out the great article in the Worcester, MA, Telegram & Gazette about Chuck Young and The Day We Lost Pet.
I recently lost two pets, Pikey and Calvin, and this book has been such a balm for me. Not only are Chuck's words so poignant, comforting, and poetic, but Aniela Sobieski's illustrations are masterful, inviting, and other-worldly. Yeah, I know I'm the publisher, and I'm supposed to say nice things, but I can also say that Chad and I don't publish books we're not in love with, and this one has been extra impactful to me as a human. —Alexis
Some interior spreads: