WHAT COLOR IS YOUR MOOD?
Would you describe the way you feel using the weather? A piece of fruit? A prehistoric lizard?
If you could change your mood with the swipe of your hand as if drawing the curtains on a horrible bad day – wouldn’t it be grand?
In MY COLD PLUM LEMON PIE BLUESY MOOD young Jamie “eases into a green feeling like a dragon dancing through a jungle made of green Jell-O” with a crayon in his hand.
Tameka Fryer Brown is the author of MY COLD PLUM LEMON PIE BLUESY MOOD, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Viking/Penguin), which will be available nationwide tomorrow March 7, 2013. Born in Miami FL, Tameka now resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. Growing up, she dreamed of becoming a lawyer. When she got to college, she changed her mind and pursued a business degree, graduating summa cum laude. Her first job was as a medical sales representative, supplying surgical supplies to hospitals – a job she thought was “cool” because she got to observe surgical procedures. Since that first career, Tameka has primarily worked with children of all ages in many different capacities. She has been a Sunday School Teacher and a youth Counselor, a Montessori School Teacher Assistant, and a mother.
I am delighted to feature Tameka as my guest today. Congratulations on the success of AROUND OUR WAY ON NEIGHBORS’ DAY and on the release of MY COLD PLUM LEMON PIE BLUESY MOOD. Thank you, Tameka, for appearing here, answering my questions, and allowing the readers to become better acquainted with you and your work.
Tameka, are you a full time writer?
No. I’m a full time mom who writes. But my kids are older now and in school, so I’m able to carve out fairly long writing blocks when I’m on a creative roll.
When did you first know that was what you wanted to do?
I was on the couch reading a picture book to my youngest daughter when the thought occurred to me, I could do this. I could write books like these. Having been a stay at home mother for 8 or so years, I was ready to do something more; something that was cerebral and just for me. In writing stories for children, I found that something.
How long have you been writing?
I decided I wanted to be a children’s book writer in the spring of 2005. I joined SCBWI in November of that year and I’ve been moving full steam ahead since then.
How has your Montessori classroom experience helped you with your writing?
That was a meaningful experience that continues to inform my writing today.
I am a fierce believer in the Montessori philosophy of education, particularly the idea of educating the whole child. In my stories, I try to advance the concepts of community, individuality, respect for self and others, and “using your words” to express emotions of all kinds—each of which is at the core of Montessori’s social education.
Why did you choose to write for children/young adults?
To write something meaningful, you have to have something to say. For some reason, the things I have to say are geared toward young people. Maybe it’s because little-girl me is still very much alive and needs to read these words as much as any other child.
How many hours a day do you devote to writing?
It varies. I’m not a writer who sits down and forces myself to write, at least not routinely. I don’t tend to produce my best stories that way. I do devote a lot of time to mulling. I mull ideas all the time. Once something strikes my fancy as a great idea, then I start writing. Mulling is definitely a part of my creative process.
Do you have a special place and time to write? Set the mood for us.
Have computer, will write. It doesn’t really matter where, as long as it is very quiet… usually a place where I can be alone.
Who, or what, inspires you?
My kids inspire me. Little-girl me inspires me. My grandmother inspires me. Although my granny is no longer with me, aspects of her have found their way into the majority of the stories I’ve written. Reading phenomenal literature also inspires me.
How do you get your ideas?
Thoughts, dreams, people watching, TV shows…observing and reflecting on life provides continual material.
Do you draw mostly from personal experiences?
For the most part I do—things I’ve either experienced or observed.
Do you do a lot of research?
Only as much as is required to be sure I’m accurate. I’m not one of those people who gets lost in their research. It’s never been something I loved to do.
Your first book is AROUND OUR WAY ON NEIGHBORS’ DAY. According to Booklist it is about “[A]n African American girl [who] bounces around her urban neighborhood celebrating Neighbors’ Day…happily surrounded by a multicultural crowd.”
Is this an accurate description? What inspired you to write a book about a neighborhood?
I think it’s an accurate assessment. I always describe AROUND OUR WAY as a love story between a young girl and her close-knit, multicultural neighborhood. The idea for this book first came to me during that twilight phase between sleep and wakefulness. Before I ever opened my eyes, I had the rhyme scheme established and the first paragraph written. Since it was an ABC book initially, the format obviously changed, but the essence of the story—a tour of a young girl’s neighborhood filled with diverse friends, family, and a strong sense of community—remained the same.
Is it reminiscent of the neighborhood where you grew up?
Kind of. Miami itself is extremely diverse and at school I had friends from various cultures. I don’t remember participating in block parties, but my granny’s house was the place for every holiday meal, so I did grow up with lots celebrations full of delicious food and extended family. It was at my great-grandmother’s apartment complex that we were able to roam around outside, walk to the corner store, etc. I suppose the neighborhood in AROUND OUR WAY is a combination of all three…my vision of a neighborhood utopia.
Tell us about your new book, MY COLD PLUM LEMON PIE BLUESY MOOD?
Jamie (the main character) describes his day’s emotional journey through the metaphor of color. He starts out in a purple, “cold-plum eating” kind of mood, but is soon ushered into a gray “storm brewing inside” kind of place by his rude and pushy older brothers. While readers witness Jamie’s colorful attempts to get back to his original mellow mood, they’re also inspired to find new, interesting ways to describe their own feelings.
How did you develop the concept for this book?
The first line of the book came to me as I was reflecting on my own emotional state one day. I thought to myself, “Boy, I’m in a mood.” My writer’s mind took note of the phrase, and I determined that I’m in a mood would be a great title or first line for a picture book.
How did you choose the color-mood associations?
I’m not really sure. I love bright colors—they make me feel so alive. I guess it just felt right.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m actively working on another picture book project, and mulling over a couple of novel ideas.
Tell us about The Brown Bookshelf. How it go started, the purpose, the mission, the effect that its existence has on our young readers.
The Brown Bookshelf is an online resource that brings awareness to African-American authors and illustrators of children’s books. Our flagship initiative is 28 Days Later, which takes place during the month of February. During 28DL, we highlight those artists that are either new on the scene or established and making contributions to kidlit, but not receiving the recognition we feel they should. The founding members were Paula Chase-Hyman, Varian Johnson, Kelly Starling-Lyons, Don Tate, and Carla Sarratt. In addition to Paula, Varian, Kelly and Don, the BBS now includes Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Crystal Allen, Gwendolyn Hooks and myself.
I’ve been a member since the end of 2009 and it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve been part of as a writer. Our service is important because ALL young readers need to be presented with multicultural reading material as standard fare, and it’s our goal to make people (especially librarians and other gatekeepers) aware that it exists.
Where can we purchase your books?
MY COLD PLUM LEMON PIE BLUESY MOOD ~ Coming March 2013 from Viking/Penguin
AROUND OUR WAY ON NEIGHBORS’ DAY ~ Available at online booksellers everywhere
Currently, they can be purchased at Barnes and Noble. They can also be ordered in person at any bookstore, or at any online bookseller, including:
Once again thank you and congratulations, Tameka! I wish you much success with MY COLD PLUM, LEMON PIE, BLUESY MOOD.
Do they ever mix?
CHILDREN LOVE SHOW AND TELL
I have been watching, listening, and reading with great interest the story and ensuing debate over the recent expulsion of a local 6 year old girl from her first grade class at Alice Drive Elementary in Sumter, SC.
The parents of a 6-year-old kindergarten student, Naomi McKinney, say that Sumter School District 17 “overreacted” in expelling their daughter. Mrs. McKinney explained that she was running late, hurrying to get the kids to school. As they were leaving, she remembered that her daughter had “Show and Tell” that morning and instructed her to run back into the house and “grab something”. Instead of asking her daughter what she chose, she took her kids to school and dropped them off. A little while later, she received a call from the principal telling her that her daughter was being questioned by the police. A call no parent ever wants to receive.
When the parents arrived at the school, they were outraged that their daughter was going to be removed from school and recommended for expulsion according to the district weapons policy. As first reported, this was a toy gun made of clear plastic. The first image I had was of a water pistol. The McKinney’s, however, described it as “an old, broken, beat-up toy gun” which couldn’t fire. My image was changing. They went on to say that it was held together with “camouflage pattern duct tape” and that you could hear broken pieces and BB’s rattling around in it. Now my image was of a BB gun.
This isn’t the first incident of a young student being kicked out of school for weapons violation.
A Dilley Independent School District student was expelled because he brought a BB-type gun to school last Tuesday. “It was not actually a BB gun, but it was one of those guns that shoots those plastic BB’s,” said Dilley Police Chief Albert DeLeon.
A fifth grader brought an orange-tipped toy gun to school. The district treated this incident as if the student brought a real weapon to school, and the student has been suspended. “The key is fair, firm and consistent implementation of the school discipline code.”
Shawnee Mission School District officials said the punishment fits their zero tolerance weapons policy. However, the student’s mother calls it unfair.
It’s quite clear. No guns may be brought to school. Period. It’s the law.
So, when Samuel Burgos brought a gun to school last November in Broward County, Florida, the zero tolerance policy kicked in, and Samuel was suspended and then expelled.
“No child should be disciplined in this manner,” said Magdiel Burgos, Samuel’s father. “He made an honest mistake, OK. And he’s paying dear life for it, and it just isn’t fair.” He brought a clear plastic, spring-action toy gun to school, which fired plastic beads. The school board classified the toy gun as a weapon because it fired a projectile device.
School officials found a loaded handgun on a third-grader at an Inkster, Mich., elementary school after someone called in a tip. Some “parents are wondering what could have happened if the student had fired the gun.”
Which is the real Glock 26?
Back to the Sumter gun. Broken or not. Taped with camouflage tape or not. This gun was a BB gun. Defined as a dangerous weapon in almost all school board policies across the nation:
As used in this policy, “dangerous weapon” means:
• A firearm, as defined in C.R.S. § 18-1-901(3)(h) ( “Firearm” means any handgun, automatic, revolver, pistol, rifle, shotgun, or other instrument or device capable or intended to be capable of discharging bullets, cartridges, or other explosive charges.) ;
• Any pellet gun, BB gun or other device, whether operational or not, designed to propel projectiles by spring action or compressed air;
• A fixed blade knife with a blade that exceeds three inches in length;
• A spring-loaded knife or a pocket knife with a blade exceeding three and one-half inches in length;
• Any object, device, instrument, material, or substance, whether animate or inanimate, that is used or intended to be used to inflict death or serious bodily injury
This gun, although broken, had been manufactured to shoot BB’s. BB’s have been known to inflict bodily harm. BB guns – pellet guns – have killed.
All the same, if it were my child, I would not want the result to be the same.
A hard lesson learned for any parent or child. In the words of Naomi’s dad: “Don’t take nothing for granted that your child knows better. Discuss, prior to sending your child to school, what’s acceptable and not acceptable, as far as show and tell.”
This is a controversial issue. One that has lots of hot buttons attached to it. And one that will not go away anytime soon.
The Department of Education expanded its definition of a firearm in 1997 to include pellet and airsoft guns. The penalty for bringing a firearm to campus is a one-year expulsion. Here’s how the DOE defines a firearm:
Some comments I have read, both for and against the strict school policies:
“This whole no guns in school notion and zero tolerance is getting completely out of hand. I teach in a small Kansas rural high school, I know the reasons for the no guns policy, but treating a seven year old like a criminal makes no sense to me. What has happened to discretion?”
“Yes, toy or not. The parent should have made sure that he had never done it.”
“My students are younger than this and understand that guns are not allowed at school. The PARENTS are certainly old enough to understand that guns are not allowed at school. I don’t buy the “we didn’t know she had it” argument as they SHOULD have known.”
“Wouldn’t you think a parent would ask a 6 year old what are you taking for show and tell just wondering I always ask my child?”
“That’s ridiculous. It’s a TOY that she brought for Show & Tell. Just like her father stated a pencil is more dangerous then the toy gun. I mean, if you’re gonna do anything suspend her for a few days but expelling her is taking it too far.”
On any expulsion of a young, otherwise innocent child, I have mixed feelings.
As a parent, I would want to argue my child’s case for innocence. As a classroom teacher, I would want to protect all of my students. As a school psychologist, I am in the middle, my job is to counsel the child and protect their rights, and still, to abide by the policies of the district. As a citizen and a taxpayer, I would stand by my elected officials to do what is best not only to educate our children, but to protect them at all costs.
However, I am bound by all laws surrounding gun possession. And I do uphold the policies of school districts and law enforcement to protect our children, our educational staff and facilities.
TIPS FOR PARENTS:
News of a child getting expelled from school for carrying a gun to class – toy or real – is a perfect opportunity for a “teachable moment” on guns, gun violence and gun safety.
What Parents Can Do
- Talk with your kids.
- Talk about guns. Toy guns and play. Real guns and violence. Teach them the difference.
- Talk about the school policies about weapons. Why we have them. Talk about school violence. Encourage your child to express their views, their thoughts and fears.
- Talk about Newton and/or Columbine if they want to know more.
- Ask them questions. Encourage open communication about their play, like when they are pretending to shoot someone with a toy gun.
- Monitor their gun play. Whether they have their own toy guns or they play with their friends, keep an eye on them. Talk to them about it. Watch for any signs of excess violence.
- Teach them gun safety. If they see a gun – use “WHAT”.
- What to do – Stop what they are doing.
- How to respond – Do not touch.
- Action – Walk away.
- Tell – A responsible adult.
- If you have a weapon in your home
- Unload the weapon.
- Lock it up in a safe place.
- Lock up the ammunition in another safe place.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
And as I was writing this piece, this came across the newswire:
The suspect, who has been tentatively identified as a student, has been taken into custody.
According to the district, school administrators and teacher had received threats over the decision.
Here is Sumter County Schools Superintendent Dr. Randolph Bynam’s full statement:
“As superintendent, I will do everything in my power to protect the safety of our students and staff. School level administrators and teachers have received threats as a result of the decision that was made to expel a six year old child for violating district policy. Threats made to staff members are not tolerated, and we intend to involve law enforcement.
“After careful thought and consideration for the safety of the school community, I have decided to vacate the ruling of the hearing panel. The student will be allowed to return to school. The suspension time has been served.
“Sumter School District has zero tolerance for weapons on our school campuses. Our current policy states that the board will expel any student who brings a weapon to school, and in the case of firearms, that includes look alikes. We plan to collectively revisit all board polices that affect student discipline.”
How do you feel about this challenging and hot topic issue?
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I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas filled with love, peace joy and that you have a very Happy New Year!
A Christmas Prayer (unknown origin)
“Let us pray…
That strength and courage abundant be given to all who work for a world of reason and understanding.
That the good that lies in each of our hearts may day by day be magnified.
That we will come to see more clearly not that which divides us, but that which unites us.
That each hour may bring us closer to a final victory, not of nation over nation, but of ourselves over our own evils and weaknesses.
That the true spirit of this Christmas season, its joy, its beauty, its hope, and above all, its abiding faith, may be among us.
That the blessings of peace be ours, the peace to build and grow, to live in harmony and sympathy with others, and to plan for the future with confidence.”
This is the time of year that HOPE is born anew. That the cares, fears, and anxieties of a fallen world can be cast onto the LIGHT.
I wish each of you JOY, PEACE, and LOVE during this wondrous season and for all the days to follow.