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Diverse Books Club

Author Interview: Blue Sky, White Stars

#DiverseKidLit, Author Interviews, Diverse Books Club

When I picked up Blue Sky, White Stars on a whim this summer, I was so taken by its representation of the American experience. The words of Sarvinder Naberhaus and the illustrations of Kadir Nelson included so much of what we love about our country. From the Grand Canyon to an old front porch, we can find pieces of America everywhere. In the young boy who goes to a baseball game and in the woman who stands on a graduation stage. In the story of Betsy Ross and the history of Abraham Lincoln. There is so much to celebrate about who we are and who we can be as a nation.

This month, the Diverse Books Club read Blue Sky, White Stars. When both adults and children submitted questions, author Sarvinder Naberhaus generously agreed to do an interview. We find hope and inspiration in her words, and we know you will, too!


Did you have an intended audience for Blue Sky, White Stars? Who do you hope will read the book?

Great question! My original intended audience is always picture book age children. However, when this book was finished, I also felt it was just as much for adults. I always feel picture books are appropriate for all ages. Everybody loves reading picture books. I think they are for all ages, don’t you?

Do you have a favorite page in the book?

Yes, I love Abraham Lincoln’s face with each worry and burden, every fallen soldier etched in the lines of his face.

What inspired you to write about freedom when there are so many topics to write about? -Alexa, Age 11, 6th Grade

I don’t always get to pick my ideas. They come to me, and I usually like them, but I can’t always make them work for the length of a picture book. I was able to come up with enough ideas to make this 32 pages. I feel my ideas pick me.

It’s so important to represent diversity in a book about America. I feel that it was done exceptionally well in Blue Sky, White Stars. Did you carefully place specific characters on particular pages or leave it all in the hands of the illustrator Kadir Nelson? – DBC Member Jeanell

The nice thing about having Kadir Nelson as an illustrator is that you don’t have to tell him to represent diverse people. That being said, when I pictured the illustrations, I did picture different groups of people. I had revised it to include Sacagawea but I was too late in sending to my editor, so maybe she will have to be in my next book. I also wanted to include George Washington and the farmers of the Dust Bowl. I did try to represent a diverse group of people since that is who makes up America and I did write it with that in mind.

What does this book mean to you personally? – Miguel, Age 11, 6th Grade

It means a lot of different things to me. As an American, it represents freedom and the height that freedom can take us (to the moon). As a writer, it means that all my hard work and dedication was worth the years of toil and trouble.

What was going through your mind and how did you feel while you were writing Blue Sky, White Stars? – Aricin, Age 12, 6th Grade

When you write something, you have no idea if it will get published. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even have an agent when I wrote it, and it got a few rejections until my editor took interest. So you never write it expecting it will get published or that anybody will ever see it but you. At the time you are writing, you are just thinking about the story and trying to write it all down as fast as you can so you don’t forget it. I thought it was a pretty neat idea when it came to me, but the words were so few, I knew I would have to include a lot of illustration notes so people would understand what I was talking about. I wrote the illustration notes right along with the words.

What effect do you think it would have if every classroom read this book? – Alexandria, Age 11, 6th Grade

I do hope every class will read this book. I hope they enjoy it. I hope it stirs something within them – whatever their America means to them. My hope would be that we could heal as a nation and come together and love one another. I actually want to ask you that same question. What effect do you think it would have?


To connect with Sarvinder online, you can visit her blog at http://sarvinderauthor.blogspot.com/ or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SarvinderN. Thank you so much, Sarvinder, for sharing your thoughts with us!

Diverse Books Club: September 2017 Picture Books

#DiverseKidLit, Diverse Books Club

For those of you who saw my friend Madeleine’s post over at Top Shelf Text yesterday, you know that I’m thrilled to be taking on the role of Children’s Lit Moderator for the Diverse Books Club. More than ever, we need diverse books. The members of the Diverse Books Club are dedicated to learning about the world and our fellow humans. We value diversity in all its forms. Our mission is to be those worthy role models that our children deserve.

As an educator, I have a responsibility to expand my horizons and guide my students as they do the same. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that socioeconomic diversity and diversity in ability are near and dear to my heart. While I’m coming from that lense, our membership of over 300 readers comes from many different perspectives. I’m thrilled to be on this journey alongside you all. I’m looking forward to conversations that will challenge me, and reading experiences that will broaden my understanding of the world.

Whether you are an educator or a parent, you may be looking for ways to address themes of diversity with young people. Each month, I’ll be bringing you a curated list of picture books to share with the littles in your life. You’ll then have an opportunity to discuss these books with fellow readers in our Goodreads group. We’re hoping that these books serve as a jumping off point for you and your littles as you explore our monthly themes!


September Theme

As Madeleine announced on Saturday, given recent events, our theme for September will be books about race, the history of racial oppression in America, and current civil rights events.

September Picture Book Selections

I am so excited to share this month’s picture book selections with you. While there are so many different books that could fit into this month’s theme, I’m hoping the selections below are a start.


Henry’s Freedom Box
Written by Ellen Levine
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

This is a book that came highly recommended by a DBC member. (If you’re a part of DBC, you can recommend picture books here!) Goodreads describes it as “a stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist.”  The starred Kirkus review said that “this is a story of pride and ingenuity that will leave readers profoundly moved.”

 

Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman
Written by Alan Schroeder
Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Continuing with representations of slavery in children’s literature, this speculative story about Harriet Tubman’s childhood was published in 1996. It appeared on many book lists and received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award in 1997.

 

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave
Written by Laban Carrick Hill
Illustrated by Bryan Collier

I recently took a course on children’s nonfiction in which we discussed at length representations of slavery in children’s literature. What can make this category so problematic is that children’s books on slavery are most often about enslaved people who escaped to freedom. This can leave children assuming that most enslaved people escaped, or that it was the norm to make an escape attempt. This month, we wanted to include a text about the man known as Dave the Potter, who lived and died a slave in South Carolina. Dave’s opportunity to learn a trade was unique, and adds to the conversations we have with children around slavery in picture books.

 

A is for Activist
Written and Illustrated by Innosanto Nagara

This board book was described by the School Library Journal as “an unusual offering that may plant the seeds for and spark discussions about activism.” We’re excited to hear your thoughts on how this book blends a format for our youngest readers with topics that older children are just starting to explore.

 

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Written by Doreen Rappaport
Illustrated by Bryan Collier

While this book often appears in classrooms during Black History Month, we believe it deserves a place on your bookshelves year round. Author Doreen Rappaport’s inclusion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s own words makes this book incredibly powerful.

 

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Méndez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
By Duncan Tonatiuh

Seven years before Brown v. Board of Ed, Sylvia Méndez won in her legal fight to desegregate her local school. While Méndez’s case is little-known, this book reminds us that when we fight for justice for one group, it can sometimes pave the way towards justice for another. Kirkus reviews called this book “a compelling story told with impeccable care,” and it received a Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor in 2015.

 

Blue Sky, White Stars
Written by Sarvinder Naberhaus
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

I first read this book over the summer, and I instantly sent it out as a recommendation to fellow educators, activists, readers, and Americans. In a time where we can feel so divided, this book celebrates American diversity as an asset. A tribute to our multiculturalism and unity, this book may be exactly what we need right now. I hope you and your littles enjoy it as much as I did!


I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this month’s picture book selections. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below as well as on our Goodreads group. I’m so excited to chat with you all soon. Thanks for joining us on this journey of learning and discovery!