I’m pleased to share that my novel, ONLY THE STRONG, has been acquired by Agate Bolden, a Chicago-based publisher. ONLY THE STRONG tells the intertwined stories of a retired “leg-breaker,” his kingpin boss, a sainted community pediatrician, and her headstrong young protege, set against a ’70s backdrop of rapid social and political change. I’ll post more news when I have an official publication date.

Starred Review

From School Library Journal:

50 Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington
Written by Jabari Asim; illustrated by Bryan Collier
December/ Ages 4 – 8/ $16.99
ISBN: 978-0-316-08657-8

Here sits a barefooted boy leaning against a tree trunk, eyes closed, dreaming about reading. Here he is following his master’s daughter to school, carrying her books, feeling their “magic seeping into his hands.” Booker was born a slave, and slaves were forbidden to read. Emancipation came while he was still young. He worked with the men in his family, first shoveling salt, then in a coal mine. He learned to read from a spelling book his mother gave him. He attended the school for Negroes after work and dreamed of Hampton Institute, where he could study writing. He walked there–hundreds of miles through the mountains of Virginia, unloading ships in Richmond when his food money ran out. A janitor job at Hampton paid his room and board. Written in simply stated narrative, in a font that looks hand-printed, this story covers more of Washington’s life and offers more detail than Marie Bradby’s More Than Anything Else (Orchard, 1995), a brief, movingly told, beautifully rendered introduction to Washington for younger children. Collier’s patterned and textured watercolor and paper collage paintings perfectly mirror the narrative, reiterating details and settings in handsomely constructed glimpses of the young Booker at school and at work; the teen-aged Booker traveling on foot toward a better education; the student dreaming of great things to come. His dreams are shown as luminescent bubbles or rays of light that reach toward the sky; his shirt is map-patterned. Two pages of biographical endnotes include a time line of his significant accomplishments. An inspirational life, memorably presented.

This Just In . . .

Our first review of Fifty Cents and a Dream:

Booker T. Washington is often attacked for compromising with, rather than attacking, the political establishment, but in this handsome picture-book biography, the focus is on an amazing achievement in his youth, when he walked 500 miles from his West Virginia home “without a single penny in his pocket” to make it to school. Asim tells the story in spare free verse, beginning with Washington as a slave boy whose dream was to learn to read. Even when freedom comes, life is brutally hard: “he shoveled, hauled and packed,” working in a salt furnace and a coal mine. Collier’s dramatic, unframed illustrations in watercolor and collage include the unforgettable image of the young Washington staring through a window at white kids in the classroom. Then there is Washington’s journey; tired, hungry, and alone, he was always struggling to get to school. The climax is a close-up portrait of the adult Washington seated in a classroom with books, dreaming of sharing what his teachers have given him. Extensive back matter includes additional facts, a chronology, and a discussion about his enduring legacy.

Summer Reading, Part I

It’s really hard for me to give up on a book that I’m struggling to read. I keep putting myself in the author’s shoes, urging my imaginary reader to give it a just a few more pages, when she will find that it gets incredibly good.

Fortunately, I’ve read a number of books this summer that have been truly compelling. I’ve got a few more novels and story collections that I want to get through before switching to nonfiction for a while.