Kufis, Dashikis and Capri Suns: African American Childrens Books That Shaped My Life

Now, my family was a special brand of black folks, heavy into encouraging my siblings and I to appreciate our roots and be proud of our history. We were that family that went to the Kwanzaa festival every year and dressed in terrible fake Kente clothe for the black history month pageant at the Presbyterian church (it’s what we could get in Richmond, don’t hate). So it makes sense that the children’s books my parents picked for my brother and sister and I would reflect their pseudo-Afrocentric values, and looking back on it, they chose pretty damn well. Peep the literary list below and let me know if you remember any of these African American Classics in Children’s Lit:


Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears – The ultimate game of ‘my momma’s sister’s cousin’s baby daddy’s uncle’s mechanic’s father told me…” that was ever played in the animal kingdom. And a baby owl died as a result. Also, the cover has to have best instance of illustrated side-eye I’ve ever seen.  #ColdWorld #Goodbook

Dayum, dayum, DAYUM! *shakes fist*

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – I feel sweaty just remembering having read this book. But it was good, and served as a solemn reminder of the life my grandmother left behind in Mississippi. Definitely eye opening for a kid living in the ‘burbs during the 1990s.

She just crossed AKA

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters – The classic tale of warring sisters, this book told the story of my life. I thought I was the sweet, innocent Manyara, but my sister will tell you I was more like the wicked Nyasha. Still freaked me out that the prince was a garden snake, though. Maybe Nyasha was better off not marrying him anyway.

I dare you to tell me what I can’t do. I dare you.

Amazing Grace – The root of my modern ‘I’m a black woman and can do anything’-ness stems in part from this book. Grace doesnt give two damns what you think, she’s gonna be Peter Pan, REGARDLESS of her gender or race. She plays no games, she’s brave and daring, and she gets the part in the end. Play on, playette.

Ananzi is a wild boy…

A Story, A Story – This book was my first exposure to Ananzi stories.  Ananzi the spider man was clever, tricky and knew how to get what he wanted (stories) from the sky god Nyame. An  African MacGuyver, if you will, except way more nimble.

Why does Abiyoyo look like a static monster, dad?

Abiyoyo – The only things I remember about this book are that Abiyoyo looked like a bolt of lightening and that me and my brother and sister would sing out ‘Abi-yo-yooooooooooooooo’ in the deepest voice possible around the house. Just brings back good memories of mischief makin’ :)

Haters gon’ hate

Goggles! – Ezra Jack Keats perfectly captures the joyous rapture of finding a pair of glasses. In Richmond, before dudes in Coogi sweaters were wearing gold-rimmed Gucci glasses, and waaaaaay before your favorite rapper was wearing sunglasses in the club, Peter was stunting hard in his goggles. Haters gon’ hate, indeed.

**Honorable Mention – Virginia Hamilton’s books (Sweet Whispers Brother Rush, The People Could Fly, The House of Dies Drear). That woman was a children’s literature workhorse and I couldn’t fit all her memorable works in this one post, so I decided to shout her out.

So, peeps, what early books shaped your life experience? Any that stick out to you in particular? Share in the comments section!


Book Review: The Power of Habit, a.k.a. “why I’m addicted to Twitter”

It’s Monday y’all, and you know what that means – another book review. I discussed”The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business” with my brother Sam.  This book will definitely make you think twice about how much influence small things like habits have over the course of your life, and how big corporations like Target are using your spending habits to target (pun intended) their marketing strategies. Check out the review and tell me what you think! I’m personally trying to get into working out more (bleh), what habits are you working on???


INFOGRAPHIC: Summer Reading List Based On Your Favorite TV Shows

It’s summer time, and you need a choose a book to read on the side of the pool/at the beach/at your family reunion. Don’t worry, I created a mind map of books based on TV shows for you. This infographic is based on personal reading, suggestions from others, Twitter convos, and a bit of magical thinking.

For those of you who don’t dig infographics, here’s a linked list of all the books below. Let me know what you think!

Colbert Report

Bossy Pants (Tina Fey), 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in theMouth (And Other Useful Guides) (Matthew Inman), Stuff White People Like (Christian Lander), PostSecret: Extraordinary Secrets from Ordinary Lives (Frank Warren), Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World (Davy Rothbart)

Modern Family

The Color of Water (James McBride), My Korean Deli (Ben Ryder Howe), Virgin Suicides (Jeffrey Eugenides), OnBeauty (Zadie Smith), The Taste of Salt (Martha Southgate)

Downton Abbey

Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides), Salvage The Bones (Jesmyn Ward), Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamada Ngozi Adichie), Wench: A Novel (Dolen Perkins-Valdez)

Mary, Mary

Church Folk (Michele Andrea Bowen), The Shack (William Young), The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis), The Purpose Driven Life (Rick Warren), Living Buddha, Living Christ (Thich Naht Hanh)

Oprah Winfrey Life Class

The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg), 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman), Beneaththe Lion’s Gaze (Maaza Mengiste), State of Wonder (Ann Patchett), The Artist’sWay (Julia Cameron), Back of the Napkin (Dan Roam)


The Long Fall (Walter Mosley), Leaving Atlanta (Tayari Jones), Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Jeff Lindsay), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson), Homicide: AYear on the Killing Streets (David Simon)

Walking Dead

Wild Seed (Octavia Butler), Dhalgren (Samuel Delaney), Pym (Mat Johnson), The Watchmen (Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons), Shades of Memnon (Brother O), A Song of Ice & Fire :Game of Thrones series (George Martin)

Mad Men

Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe), Prep (Curtis Sittenfield), Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe), 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene), Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun (Reginald Lewis, Blair Walker)

Awkward Black Girl

How To Be Black (Baratunde Thurston), The Broke Diaries (Angela Nissel), Nappily Ever After (Trisha Thomas), BeforeYou Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (Danielle Evans), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz), The Return of Simple (Langston Hughes)

Love + Hip Hop

Coldest Winter Ever (Sister Souljah), Drama is Her MiddleName (Wendy Williams, Karen Hunter), Diamond Life (Aliya S. King), Bling (Erica Kennedy), The Vixen Manual: How to Find, Seduce and Keep the Man You Want (Karrine Steffans)

Melissa Harris-Perry

Drift (Rachel Maddow), Emperor of Ocean Park (Stephen Carter), Black Cool (Rebecca Walker), MalcolmX: A Life of Reinvention (Manning Marable), The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot),The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander)

RuPaul’s Drag Race

Giovanni’s Room (James Baldwin), Gotham Diaries (Tonya Lewis Lee, Crystal McCrary Anthony), OutlawMarriages (Rodger Streitmatter), The Commitment (Dan Savage), Seriously I’m Kidding (Ellen DeGeneres), Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Jeanette Winterson)

7 Tips on How To Read More – A Working Person’s Guide

“There aren’t enough hours in the day,”

“There aren’t any good books,”

“My baby’s mama scratched my eyes out when I was on the Maury show so I can’t read no more.”

The excuses are legion, and largely baseless, and you know, they build monuments to nothingness and such. I’ve used at least one of those excuses to explain my lack of literary spine crackin’ since I got a full time gig, but decided that the excuses had to go (hence this blog). Here are some ways to jump start your reading so you can sound well-versed at your next faculty cocktail party (or Maury show appearance):

1. Join a book club – This is one of the best things you can do to increase your literary consumption. Accountability from friends + books you  actually like = more reading. You get the benefit of breaking down the work piece by piece with other people so you don’t have to go it alone, and you can explore perspectives than your own. Twitter is full of book clubs and Oprah just restarted hers. The one I’m digging now is Ninja’s Be Reading (#NBR), which takes place every Tuesday at 9 pm EST. It’s fun, engaging, and makes reading a group thang. Join one. NOW!

2. Get an audio book – Audio books are the easiest way to digest a book if you are always traveling really far places, i.e. across the Washington D.C. Beltway. If you are stuck in traffic for an hour or two, listening to a book will take your mind off the jerk who just gave you the finger and sideswiped you, and it’ll keep that throbbing vein thingy in your forehead from bursting. Definitely worth a shot.

3. Set aside specific time – What I’ve found is that when I make statements like, “I just don’t have time,” what I really mean is, “I have some extra time, but I used it to to follow the latest Breezy beef on Twitter/shop for hair weaves on Amazon/look at Bossip.” Carving out time for your reading (and writing, for you authors out there) is an important habit to build. I can’t tell you why it’s important, I just know that it is. Don’t ‘spute my word.

4. Join the future – Buy a Kindle. Or a Nook, or a something. There are short story apps you can download and read on the train ride home. Reading Rainbow is now an app, you can use it to read to your kids at night. No need to be married to the past if paper books don’t do it for you.

5. Go someplace else – Maybe your usual reading den is crowded with baby bassinets and strollers. Maybe reading in your bed puts you to sleep within 6 seconds of opening a book. Maybe the feng shui in your apartment is just off. It don’t matter. Find another spot. Go to the nearest library, Starbucks, or big comfy couch, just find someplace where you can get your read on.

6. Mix it in with other things – I like to call this the “eating your vegetables” approach, based on how moms mix vegetables into tasty things to make them more palatable (broccoli popsicles, anyone?). If you’re a gym rat and easily spend an hour on the treadmill, try slapping a book or Kindle up on your dash instead of feverishly watching the time go down. You can exercise and expand your knowledge…AT THE SAME DAMN TIME!

7. Count the small wins – Even if you can’t get through the David Foster Wallace book that’s been chillin’ on a shelf for the past year, still try to read the daily news, blogs, and social media networks to stay abreast of current information and to find new works of fiction. Twitter counts. Facebook counts. I like to think of reading status updates as reading smaller bits of self-published narrative *adjusts monocle*.

Hope this lights a fire under your ass to find something dope to read :) Let me know what motivates you!


Book Review: Atlanta Father Juggles Hidden Family in “Silver Sparrow”

What happens when you try to suppress your secrets, especially when they are “outside children”?  Tayari Jones tackles that sensitive matter with the finesse of a surgeon in her novel “Silver Sparrow”. This book is hands down one of the messiest, realest, truest-to-life pieces of work I’ve read in a long time. It was recorded Father’s Day 2012, which is especially ironic since the story is about a man and his struggle to balance his real and ‘illegitimate’ family.  My little sister and my college roommate join in on the discussion, peep it below. Hopefully you’ll grab “Silver Sparrow” and love it just as much as I did. My sister took my copy and finished half of it in a day. Might have to go cop a replacement copy.


Write For My Life Cuz I’m Scared Of A Day Job…

If you are a writer or a blogger then you know the unbearable agony that is writer’s block.

It’s the months of website neglect.

It’s the short story that got outlined but not written.

It’s the knot in your stomach you feel when you know you should be finishing an essay but choose to instead argue the merits of Plies’ music on Twitter.

So last night I came across a story in The Guardian’s Book Blog that referenced Write or Die, a writer’s block-busting app that according to its website:

“[E]ncourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you’re fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences.”

I’m scared already. The consequences? It gobbles up all the hard work you’ve done if you don’t keep writing. How dope is it that it just cuts the bullshit and get’s really real with you? It looks like somebody’s going to be making a pit stop at the App store. I’m tryna be a Write-or-Die chick.


Words Jumbled On The Page, or Alice Walker’s Review of “Home”

So, my mom’s name is Alice Walker. And she’s a writer.

No, not that Alice Walker.

But still. Anyway, here’s an audio review on Toni Morrison’s new book “Home,” and hear how crunk and off the hook my mom is. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.