Today I’m excited to welcome Tameka Fryer Brown, whose debut book Around Our Way on Neighbor’s Day hit the shelves on August 1, 2010. Around Our Way is illustrated by award-winning artist Charlotte Riley-Webb, and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Tameka, thank you for stopping by Multiculturalism Rocks! to share a bit more about yourself and Around Our Way.

My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Your book highlights and celebrates the importance of a community centered neighborhood, a place where people interact, and laugh, and play together, share food… A place where a child finds plenty of occasions to arouse his curiosity, to learn by observing and participating in activities in the neighborhood. Was your book inspired by childhood memories or by recent experiences? Do such communities still exist and abound?

The community depicted in Around Our Way is a portrait of my “neighborhood utopia”. The multicultural aspect of it is certainly inspired by my growing up in Miami–a city that is the very definition of cultural diversity.

For the most part, I’ve always been a homebody, and was one of those only children that didn’t play outside much, except when I went to one of my cousins’ houses. However (and believe it or not, my mind is just now remembering this), up until age 8 or so I did experience a “community-centered neighborhood”, though it wasn’t the place I called home.

My great-grandmother lived in a certain apartment complex, which was basically like projects you paid to live in, and I have nothing but fond memories of it. I remember running in and out of her house all day: playing kick ball, practicing cheers and “jumps”, performing in a little singing group to anyone who would listen. My cousin (who was a year younger than me) and I got sent to the corner store for something all the time. Oooo-and we’d go to the apartments of people who sold snacks from their homes, and buy things like giant pickles, hot sausages and–my personal favorite–frozen cups! LOL! Do you know what a frozen cup is? It’s Kool-Aid frozen in a Dixie Cup. In all kinds of flavors. Sold for a quarter. Oh my goodness–there is such a big smile on my face right now.

Wow. I can’t imagine ever letting my kids go into people’s houses to buy food, unless they’re people I know EXTREMELY well. And letting them walk to the store alone at age 7 and 8? No way.

So why were families more comfortable allowing their kids to freely explore their neighborhoods back then? I don’t know; it’s a comfort level I certainly don’t have today when it comes to my own children. Safety issues are a major concern of mine, and I find that I seek out more organized, controlled events for my children to gain new experiences. But there’s something very distant and discouraging about that, especially as I reminisce about my own young years.

Maybe if we knew our neighbors better, we’d be out and about in our neighborhoods more, and we’d have both the opportunity and tendency to look out for each other more–especially our children. In turn, parents would feel better about safety and our kids could live more freely. Then we wouldn’t feel like we had to pay hundreds of dollars a month for our kids to be involved in various “activities”, because they’d be able create their own experiential and exercise opportunities with their friends.

Communities like the ones in AROUND OUR WAY are more rare than ever. People who currently experience the same sense of community found in this fictional neighborhood are very fortunate indeed. It is my hope that we all will begin to seek closer relationships with our neighbors. Establishing periodic activities like Neighbors’ Day celebrations would go a long way toward building these relationships, and they’d also create a more relaxed climate in which our kids can develop and grow.

Could you share with us some of the responses you get from your readers?

So far, the response has been quite good. I’ve had many parents tell me how much their kids enjoy my book, how they want to read it over and over. That makes me ecstatic, for that’s my primary benchmark of success.

Around Our Way is your first published book. Has your life changed in any way since its publication? (Note: maybe you have less time to write, too many emails to answers, much marketing to do…)

Since Around Our Way just released in August, I’ve been spending a lot of time on marketing activities for the book, to the exclusion of writing new material. I am, however, giving myself a time-limit on this “dedicated promotional period”; I have a new project that I’m itching to delve into.

Congratulations on the sale of your second book, I’m in a Mood (Viking Children’s Books, 2012)! Tell us more about it… πŸ™‚

In A Mood is about a boy who’s experiencing a range of moods–as described through the metaphor of color. If you enjoy the rhythmic, jazzy vibe of Around Our Way, I think you’ll love the lyrical, bluesy feel of Mood. I’m very excited about it.

This is a sensitive question, but I need to ask: From your experience, were some of the challenges encountered on your path to publication due to your story being multicultural? Are multicultural picture books harder to sell?

In my case, Nathalie, it was a positive. This manuscript was not only my first sale, it was also the one through which I acquired an agent. Both agent and editor desired it because of the multicultural aspect. I know this is not always the case, but it just goes to show that there are publishers out there who truly mean it when they say they are looking for multiculti lit. And even though it may sometimes feel like a haystack needle search, I’m a testimony that it is possible to connect with professionals who are the “right fit” for your work. Write, hone and persevere.

I’m sure your answer will be an encouragement to many! πŸ™‚
It’s Neighbor’s day in your corner: what type of dishes do we see on the tables? *stomach growl!*

Ha ha! When I was growing up, we had big family dinners (which sometimes included neighbors and friends) for just about every occasion. And 99% of them took place at my grandmother’s house. When I think back to how teeny her house was, and how we could easily have 25-30 people rolling through….

Anyway, the food I remember from those days was your traditional southern fare (created to culinary perfection): chicken (both fried and with dumplings); barbecue ribs; potato salad; collard greens & sweet cornbread (fyi: you have to mash up the cornbread in the greens and eat it with your fingers); oven-baked, corn-off-the-cob; black-eyed peas; pound cake; sweet potato pie…the list goes on and on. We’d often have oxtails and pigeon peas and rice, too, which likely came from the Carribean influence in Miami.

Today, my husband is the master chef in our home; His food is scrumptious, but he’s always trying something new, so I can’t really give a standard menu. However, there are two things people look forward to when they come to the house for a big meal: our macaroni and cheese and our sweet iced tea…both of which I’ve learned to make as well–if not better–than he. (Shhhh! It’s true, but don’t tell him I said so.)

Which book, a favorite of yours, could be a companion to Around Our Way?

That’s a tough question. There are a lot of picture books that I adore, but wouldn’t necessarily see as a companion book. I do think readers who like Around Our Way would also like the lyrical, My Feet Are Laughing (by Lissette Norman, illustrated by Frank Morrison)…and vice versa.

What advice would you give to those hoping to follow in your footsteps?

That the secret to getting published is this: there is no secret to getting published. No shortcuts, no hook-ups, none of that. It’s all a matter of goal setting and goal attainment, which will only happen if you:

Research the children’s book industry continually,
Invest time and resources in learning your craft, and
Clothe yourself in both humility and boldness…then learn when to skillfully use which.

Once again congratulations, Tameka! I look forward to your next book and wish you much success in the months and years to come.

Thanks so much, Nathalie. Same to you.

For more information on Tameka Fryer Brown, visit:
o Tameka’s website
o Tameka’s blog
o Tameka’s interview on Cynsations!
o Featured on Writers Against Racism, interviewed by award-winning journalist and educator Amy Bowllan
o Interviewed on Authors Now!
o Multiculturalism Rocks! review of Around Our Way.

4 thoughts on “Author Interview: Tameka Fryer Brown!

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