gRandma gRace’s Blogs

gRandma gRace’s Blog 7 – October 2017

As we plan to launch Akira’s Book Club on Sunday, November 5th, I find myself reflecting on the state of our children, particularly children of African descent. As a researcher focusing on the African American experience, I am constantly reminded by data thrown at us daily about the problems of Black folks. We bombarded with the numbers of us in prisons, unemployed, on welfare roles, in special education classes, on drugs, and so forth. As an inquisitive Black woman, I have spent a significant number of my 67 years learning about the experience of African Americans and to be quite frank, given the history and dynamics of race in this country: the brutal enslavement of our people; Jim Crow; forced segregation, the right to vote coming only six decades ago, massive destruction of black communities such as the bombing of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 and burning of black communities such as Rosewood, DeCatur, East St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit, the killing of young black men and women by police that sparked the Black Live Matter movement, and years of scientific racism which still perpetuates fabricated data on black inferiority…….I am truly amazed that so many African Americans have continued to work hard. I am truly amazed that so many have done and are doing so well. I am truly amazed that we are able to continue developing young boys and girls who can succeed in spite of these issues. I am truly amazed that Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 and was reelected in 2012. I am truly amazed that African American still write powerful lyrics and sing beautiful songs in the American chorus. We, too often don’t hear any positive news…currently,

  • 30% of black families are considered middle and upper class by economic indices
  • 42% of households with a householder who was black lived in owner occupied homes
  • 54.4% of black women are in the labor force with 66% of black women who head black families in the labor force
  • 82% of blacks 25 and older have at least completed high school!

Yes, there are problems and yes, we have a long way to go, but don’t let the media get it twisted, we have made advances with stops and restarts along the way. If one carefully reads our history here in America and delves deeply into the peculiar race dynamics in this country, the progress and song of African Americans is indeed phenomenal! We have to keep adding lyrics to our songs because the terrain keeps changing.

The election of the 45th president creates special challenges as he makes up news and headlines as he feels fit. He has created divisions and open old wounds, not to heal them but to deepen them. He is clearly unfit and thus makes matters for our young children worse. Consequently, we need to be more resolved than ever to help support our children’s growth and understanding of the world. Helping them learn to read opens so many windows to this world. We at Wordsmith Jr, LLC and Akira’s Book Club are dedicated to helping in this mission. Ashay!

Note: Pictured above are from one of the Emanyatta Saturday School sessions where Tajai Massey (pictured on the left) shares his love of creating living spaces with young students.  Each week the Emanyatta students have staff members read aloud to them in small groups so they can discuss the reading and share their thoughts. We are proud that Wordsmith Jr books are used often in these read aloud sessions.

gRandma gRace’s Blog 6 – July 2016

It has been a very exciting summer. Wordsmith Jr, LLC has reached a milestone. We just got on Amazon! See http://amzn.to/2aq6VBF  or
https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=%22wordsmith+jr%22

You can purchase the books through Amazon or at our website. We are hoping with the Amazon option, more families can enjoy our books. So please spread the word.

Akira and I also spent the month on the east coast visiting friends and relatives. We were able to share our work with friends in New York City and although we were not able to do a book talk in NYC as originally planned, we made some contacts and plan to do a book talk in the future. However on June 26th, we were able to do a book talk at the Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville, MD. We are so very happy that so many people came out to the Busboys talk! They not only showed up and listened but also bought books. So thank you all so very much for your support (see pictures below and additional pictures in the events page).

We have also confirmed a book talk and reading at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta for Saturday, September 17th at 1:00. The artist in the Lana Fana Series, Ms. Candace Driver, will be at this event. So if you are in the Atlanta area please join us.

Finally, in July we were able to have three books published making our total number of books eight. The new books are: Do You Have the Nerve to Learn About Verbs?, Have You Found Those Useful Pronouns? and Veggies Don’t Scare Me At All!! We only have four more books to go and we are happy to announce that the Mischievous Akira (the adjective book) and How Could We Live Without Adjectives? are almost done and should be available for purchase by the end of September. We have learned a lot about this whole publishing effort.  We have made some mistakes along the way but have a steep learning curve and thus plan on moving toward perfection.  Please bear with us and help us along our way! This has been a tremendous group effort. I want to thank all of our artists (Steven, Candace and Heidi), my talented writer daughter (Julana), our wonderful publisher, Mr. Alton Chandler, and our printer (Eric at Vision Integrated Graphics) plus the many supporters who have given financial support, bought our books and have affirmed success for us – THANK YOU ALL!

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gRandma gRace’s Blog 5 – May 2016

IMG_2673In mid April, we participated as guests in the Jester and Pharley Pfund booth in the annual Los Angeles Times Book Festival. It was held at the University of Southern California and although it rained the first day, we learned a lot about how book festivals work. We were blessed to meet some fabulous people, bought some great books and sold our books as well. Wordsmith Jr, LLC would like to take this moment to give a special thanks to Mr. Craig Keys, associate Senior Vice President for Civic Engagement, at USC, his staff, and the Saltzman family for giving us a venue and for welcoming us so warmlyIMG_2671. When I was initially invited, I was to read a Wordsmith Jr, LLC book to a group of students being hosted by USC along with other new authors. However, Scholastic Books bought out this entire venue and only wanted their books read. After being disinvited to read in this venue, we did what we so often do – we regrouped, enjoyed and engaged the many people who walked around the outside booths and stopped by to visit us.

 

I also walked around to visit the other booths and learned that the Wordsmith Jr, LLC books do indeed fill a current void. Although there are great books available featuring children of color, we did not see any that featured children of color with a targeted emphasis on literacy. We truly focused on the research regarding the learning of children, particularly African American children, and used this research to inform how our books are written, designed, formatted and illustrated.

There are five research-based elements that we incorporated in our books:

1. High expectations through use of high level vocabulary in all books – There is a long tradition of research where high expectations lead to higher performance among students of all races and classes.

2. Inclusion of movement and action in all books – Dr. A. Wade Boykin defined verve as having energy, being intense, and having expressive body language, which also implies a propensity to remain stimulating and lively. His research shows that Black children do better in understanding and retention of materials that are ‘vervistic.’ Our books intentionally include movement and action.

3. Positive self esteem through images of self in the books – Educator and teacher trainer, Dr. Mack T. Hines, III states “When a teacher presents a picture of learning and you are not in it, you become an afterthought of accountability, and your life and experiences will not find a mirror in the classroom.” Children’s self-esteem is enhanced when they see positive images of themselves. Our books focus on African-American children, as these children are often not often presented in current literacy curriculum.

4. Character building is embedded in all of our books (kindness, helping others, sharing) – Jessica Lahey states in an Article in Atlantic (2013) that “Character education is not old-fashioned, and it’s not about bringing religion in to the classroom. Character is the ‘X factor’ that experts in parenting and education have deemed integral to success.” We have included overt and subtle character qualities in our books.

5. Rhyme is used in 8 of our 12 books (not in Akira series) – Rhyming is a mnemonic technique that many of our children enjoy. This is evidenced in how very young children can memorize nursery rhymes and even complex rap lyrics.

All of our books are intended for out-loud reading to our children. They are designed to foster social interaction between the reader and the listener(s). Research has shown that social interaction is a major contributor to brain health, along with exercise and a nutritious diet.

 

gRandma gRace’s Blog 4 – April 2016

We are on the move! January through March has been very busy months for Wordsmith Jr, LLC. We have two additional books that are available now (Book 2 of the Akira Series that focuses on homonyms titled, Akira’s Happy Tale; and a book about cardinal and ordinal numbers titled The First Ten Days). We have two other books getting their final touches before going to the publisher (Book 2 of the Lana Fana Series that teaches readers about verbs titled, Do you have the nerves to learn about VERBS?); and a delightful book about vegetables titled, Veggies Don’t Scare Me At All). Each book is in the same format as the previous books, 32 pages and the price still $9.99. We are proud to share these books and are working hard to get the full set of 12 books done by the end of this year. We so appreciate all of your support.

The other exciting news is that we have been working to get non-profit status for Akira’s Book Club. Our goal is to help parents, families, teachers and children establish book clubs all over the nation. With non-profit status we can solicit funding for purchasing books for low-income families and schools; and to create additional curriculum to support parents, teachers and friends in making their book clubs fun and exciting as they use their Wordsmith Jr, LLC books. We hope to have the non-profit status by the end of this summer. We are anxiously anticipating being able to do outreach to many communities in our quest to facilitate literacy among our young children.

A big thanks to Sharon Robinson and Karen Ransom who joined me in reading our books to classrooms in Oakland during the Oakland Educational Fund’s annual African American Book Read event. The children really enjoyed the beautiful pictures in the books and having someone read to them as seen in their smiling and intent faces in the pictures below.

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Regarding upcoming events, we are also participating in the Los Angeles Times/USC annual Book Festival on April 9th and 10th and are making plans on having a book talk/family event at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville, MD in June 2016. We are working hard but truly enjoying this adventure!

 

gRandma gRace’s Blog 3 – January 2016

A heart-felt, big, happy-face thank you to everyone who came out to our Wordsmith Jr launch. It was wonderful to see so many supportive people and happy children. We have posted the pictures on our events page so you can see the faces and activities of those who came out. Video clips will be posted shortly.

What struck me most was your very positive reception to our first two books. The children loved the pictures and were very captivated by Akira sharing her book. She, of course, was thrilled and excited and I had to take the microphone from her as she wanted to just keep talking and saying the alliterations in her book. I had to get some time to thank folks and describe our books and vision. Our two artists, Heidi and Steven, were awesome signing their books and greeting the guests. Steven has quite a following and I think they all showed up! After the event Heidi, our fabulous watercolorist, wrote on her FB page:

Yesterday, I got my copies of this book (Can YOU Haiku?) I was so busy at the signing, I really didn’t get a chance to look at it and there weren’t enough copies left for me to have any that day. But now, I’ve had time to really look at it, and it is so beautiful! The publisher did a wonderful job of integrating my work with the story. I am so proud!

Heidi, we are happy that you love the book. Steven was also pleased with the final product of his hard work in the Alliteration book. We love it when a plan comes together! Our third artist, Candace, will be featured in the nouns book that is scheduled to be out just before Christmas and we are very excited about that!  So much positive feedback has led us to create a gofundme page. We are soliciting funds to publish and print the books on a faster schedule than originally planned. So if you can help out please go to https://www.gofundme.com/wordsmithjr and share what you can.  We so appreciate all the love!

Additionally, cudos and thanks to our volunteer team (wearing their Wordsmith Jr logo shirts). They truly kept everything moving and grooving! MOCHA was a perfect venue for the launch and we’d also like to thank their staff.

The launch has inspired us to work harder, continue on our path, get more quality products out there, and truly make an impact on literacy in our community.

 

gRandma gRace’s Blog 2 – October 2015

They say when you are busy, time flies! I still can’t believe it is flying so fast however. We are just a few days away from our November 7th launch of Wordsmith Jr, LLC and introducing our first couple of books to the community. We are very excitedly planning for a fun afternoon with balloons, face painting and healthy snacks for the children; plus, great food for thought for the adults. Please RSVP and join us if you can.

Initially, we thought we would only have Akira’s Animal Alphabet Alliterations (AAAA) at the launch. However, we are ahead of schedule and we will also have our second book, Can YOU Haiku? at the launch. The illustrators of both books will be there to sign books and share their art secrets.

Akira is SO looking forward to the launch. She is constantly asking me questions about the launch. Her first question was will she get some presents. I had to explain to her it is not a birthday party for her but a birthday party for our Wordsmith Jr, LLC and that we are inviting other children and parents to learn about our books. She looked a bit puzzled. Then she smiled and asked me, ‘Will the kids who come get presents?” She was truly focused on the presents. I told her that they could get their face painted and some balloons, just like when we go to the Lakeshore Farmers Market. This seemed to be a good thing as she then smiled and stopped asking about presents. She moved on to begin asking about food.

In addition to the launch, there are other exciting things going on with Wordsmith Jr. We are in production of our next three books:

1) Akira’s Happy Tale (Book two of four in the Akira Series)

2) The First 10 Days (A book about how a young girl handles mean kids in her first few days of school)

3) Can you look around and find those nouns? (The first book of five in the Lana Fana Series)

These three books will be available for pre-order in the next couple of months. Excerpts from the books will be read at the launch on the 7th. The writing is done and I have seen the initial art work and am SO very excited.

Finally, our plans to create a non-profit are underway and we hope that we will be able to introduce the Akira’s Book Club as a non-profit organization in the beginning of 2016. We then can more readily involve our community in our mission to increase literacy. We are intent on keeping our books affordable, durable and joyful for parents/sibs and friends to read to children. We truly believe that reading is and should be FUNdamental.

gRandma gRace’s Blog 1 – September 2015

Wordsmith Jr and Akira’s Book Club are in their very early stages of development.

IMG_2242We are actively and excitedly creating additional materials and curriculum to be included on this website in the near future. Our materials are intended to support the growth and development of children with an emphasis on their language skills.

Unfortunately, in some schools children are not expected to perform at high levels. As parents (and grandparents) we must educate ourselves about what children should be doing at what age so we can better prepare them to reach their maximum potential. The standards we used as a basis for their growth, both social and academic, must be on target to at least ‘normal’ developmental growth according to their age. Of course, everyone develops at a different pace so this is not a competition. However, use of standards based instruction helps prevent the ‘lowering of the bar’ that too often is done with children of color. Thus high expectations are one of the keys to success.

High expectations alone are not sufficient. We have to work at helping our children reach these high expectations. What motivates them? What makes them want to learn? What can we do to have fun with our children as they learn? Learning should not be a chore but something that our children want to do. This love of learning mind set should be nurtured early in a child’s life.

We do know that our children learn better when there are actively engaged in the activity. They also do better when they believe and can see what they are learning is relevant to their lives. For preschoolers this relevancy can be in ‘real life’ and in their ‘fantasy play’. So, for example, if you encourage your child to tell stories to you and then show real excitement as your child is telling their story to you (whether it makes sense or not), your child will feel good about their story and encouraged to tell you more. Using the child as the center of their learning experience by establishing the relationship between what you want your child to learn and their everyday experiences as children at home and in their community supports active learning. This is authentic teaching from the perspective of the child.

I have purposefully used these guidelines in working with my granddaughter in creating Akira’s Animal Alphabet Alliterations. She has been ‘hands-on’ at every stage of the process. We were playing with one another and leaning about animals when we began coming up with the animals used in this book. She regularly gave Steven, our artist, input on his work. For example she, like many young kids and her father before her, really loves dinosaurs. This love of dinosaurs was a great incentive for learning their “big word” names. One of the alliterations is Tyrannosaurus tinkling triangle. Tyrannosaurus is her favorite dinosaur and she loved the picture Steve sent for us to review. He then asked me to ask her what would she like to be doing on this page. She told him she wanted to be playing the tuba. I didn’t even know she knew what a tuba was!!! But, she obviously did as shown in the following video clip of me asking her to tell Steve what she wanted. Needless to say Steven drew her playing the tuba …

Akira’s Tuba Video

 

We are excited about Wordsmith Jr and Akira’s Book Club. Additional pages for children, parents and educations are in the works. Stay tuned!