I met JaNay Brown-Wood at a local book-signing and I was most impressed with her, her book and her promotional abilities. She read her book, shared her story, fielded questions, and had all sorts of creative give-away opportunities. The store quickly ran out of books! She handled everything like a pro who had been up to this business for at least ten years. Seeing her in other venues since then, I’ve discovered that’s JaNay—she sparkles a room!
My experience in sharing her book with others includes sharing it with a third-grade African-American/Hispanic girl I was tutoring in reading. She never sat still for a moment. However, when I read her Imani’s Moon, she was glued to her seat. She loved it so much, I brought it in a second time and she practically “read” the book to me—from memory! I knew at that moment just how powerful Imani’s Moon is, especially for young, African-American girls.
How did you come to write Imani’s Moon? How did the Maasai tribe come to be a part of the story?
I remember one day, an idea bounced into my mind about a boy jumping to the moon. I envisioned him jumping next to a tree, and at each level of the tree were different animals that told him he’d never make it. I really loved this idea. Then, after chatting with my sister, she reminded me of the beautiful Maasai people known for their jumping dance, which I thought was a clear connection to my little jumping boy. From there, I researched and revised and researched and revised and researched and revised…and Imani was born. So, that silly idea of a boy jumping transformed into something that I am truly, very proud of.
What were your favorite stories as a girl? What stories were missing for you?
I loved Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstien as a young girl. My parents would read them to me at bedtime, and I enjoyed the playful language they would use. And of course the rhyming. That stuck with me, and I often find my own author voice often coming out in rhyme. As for the stories that were missing, I don’t remember very many stories with little black girls on adventures and solving problems. I do remember reading some historical fiction that had black children as protagonists, but they were often linked to dark parts of America’s past. Sometimes, I just wanted to read something a little more lighthearted and magical that included a protagonist that looked like me. So, I used to write my own. For example, I remember writing this story about Detective JaNay who was a crime solver—my very own version of Nancy Drew. In other words, even though I didn’t find many stories like that, I was lucky enough to have an active imagination to make up my own.
What has been the response from children to your book?
I think the response has been SO positive. Parents tell me how much they love my book. Teachers share this with me too. As a matter of fact, one of my colleagues shared my book with her child’s teacher, and the teacher said she stayed up late that same night researching moon activities because she wanted to use my book in her class the very next day! Talk about heart-warming. Children enjoy my book too. When I was reading at a local event, one of the parents told me that her daughter, who was playing across the way, stopped playing, found a bench, and listened to me read it until the story was done. My story and my delivery of the story was more engaging then the swing and slide set she was initially playing on and she was captivated from that point on. That made me smile!
In addition to all of that, Live Oak Media liked my book so much that they made it into a wonderful audiobook that is beautifully narrated which you can find on their website: http://www.liveoakmedia.com . Lastly, my book has received many honors including being the winner of the NAESP Children’s Book of the Year Award, a 2014 Distinguished Book with the Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California, the recipient of an “excellent” rating from the Maine State Library, a Top 2014 Mighty Girl Book for Young Readers, and a Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) Multicultural Book pick for 2015. All of the love I have received has made me so thankful!
Did your passion for writing children’s stories draw you to your career in Early Childhood Education?
I actually do not think my love for writing pushed me toward pursuing a career in ECE. The two grew organically and separately, and it is very interesting how they have converged. What I will say that is shared across the two is my passion for giving children tools to be successful—that’s something that is present in both my love for writing and my love for teaching others how to work with children. But I wouldn’t say one led to the other.
Are you excited about the recent focus on “diversity” in children’s books? How does having the right book impact a child?
I am excited about the push for more diverse books. But really, I can’t help but to think: “It’s about time!” Everyone needs books with protagonists that look like them because this allows for readers to connect and realize that “if this character can overcome, so can I!” I hope children get that from Imani. She doesn’t let the bullies stop her. She keeps at it and she makes it. Also, I believe classrooms are enriched by diversity. Society is enriched by diversity! And I believe the books available to read should certainly reflect this.
You use a unique stamp with your signature. How did that come about?
There’s a little story to that stamp. When I first started getting serious about trying to get published, I would go to different events with authors. One of the events I went to was a book launch party for Jim Averbeck and his beautiful book In a Blue Room. When I got my book signed by him, he stamped it with a moon that said something like “Good Night” and it was shimmery and silver. I loved that idea and I wanted to do something similar. So, I can’t take any credit for that. That was all Jim Averbeck. Thanks for the inspiration, Jim!
Successfully published authors say marketing is an investment in their writing business. You seem to have a rich promotional plan for your book. Can you share how you are promoting your book? What has worked best for you? Lessons learned?
Well, when Imani’s Moon was published, I held two book release parties to celebrate the publication. I spent time contemplating things that I thought children would like and shared them at these events including bookmarks, pencils, and even moon-shaped cookies. On top of that, I always try to think of creative ways to get the word out there as well as allow for my book to be accessible for use. With that in mind, I had a Teacher’s Guide and Reader’s Theater script created by the wonderful Marcie Colleen. You can see them both on my website http://www.janaybrownwood.com/notes-for-adults.html . Additionally, some avenues seemed pretty important to pursue such as having a website, starting a Twitter (thanks Erin Dealey) and creating some promotional cards that could be passed out and shared. I also very rarely say “no” when an opportunity to share my work with others arises. But, I am still very new at this, and am continuing to learn new things as well as thinking of novel ways to promote my book.
You have a new book coming out in 2017, Grandma’s Tiny House. With your large family, I suspect the ideas have been sparked from your family. Can you share about that story?
I do have a new book coming out and I am so excited about it. Since it’s under contract, I can’t share too much. But what I can say is it’s a story inspired by my family’s holiday gatherings where we all come together in celebration. It’s a concept book and written in rhyme. 2017 can’t get her fast enough!
Thanks for taking the time to read about me. If you’d like to learn more, visit my website at www.janaybrownwood.com, follow me on Twitter @janaybrownwood, and like my JaNay Brown-Wood, Author & Educator page on Facebook!