Celebrate Black Literature: A Q&A with Austin Public Library Director Roosevelt Weeks

Join us in celebrating Black History Month! For the month of February, Texas Book Festival is working to recognize Black History Month by highlighting black Texas authors, readers, and notable contributors to the literary community in a series of blog posts. So far, we’ve had contributions from  TBF Community Ambassador Peggy Terry who shared a fantastic list of books coming out in 2018, award-winning children’s author and illustrator Don Tate who took the time to answer some questions, and Dr. Rosalind Oliphant Jones, the founder of the Austin African American Book Festival and the Folktales Black Women’s Literary Society.

Today, we’re excited to present wisdom from new Austin Public Library director Roosevelt Weeks, who comes to APL from the Houston Public Library system (where he was the much-beloved Deputy Director of Administration) and started in his new position last September. Weeks, a veteran of several Texas libraries, is a brilliant addition to our Austin literary community and we look forward to working alongside him in his exciting new role!

Also, we highly recommend checking out the Celebration of Diverse Literary Voices of Texas at the new Central Library (Living Room, 6th floor) on February 24, 2018 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., presented by the Austin Public Library and KAZI Book Review for the second year running.

Join notable Texas authors (including several previous Texas Book Festival authors) for “author readings as well as panel discussions on cultural diversity, African American education, Mexican American literature and social justice in literature.”

We’ll see you there!


What drew you to pursue a career in libraries?

I was volunteering at the Pasadena Public Library providing computer training to customers. A customer told me she needed help learning Microsoft Word so she could get a promotion on her job. I worked with her for about 3 weeks and she came in the library one day and told me she got the job! At this point, I realize the importance of libraries and what they mean to the community.


What’s your favorite part of working in the library system? What are some of the most important roles libraries play in Austin (and Texas at large) today?

Meeting people with different background and culture. I love getting out into the community and talking about the importance of reading and the impact libraries how on communities.


What are you most looking forward to in your position here at APL?

Working with the various community and community leaders in identifying needed programs and services. Every community is different and I don’t believe in providing cookie-cutter programs and services. Programs and services should be meaningful and life changing.


What advice would you give to young black people considering a library degree and career?

If you want to make a difference in your community, a library career is for you. The pay will not make you rich, but it will give you a decent living. There are not enough librarians of color and we need more of them. Libraries and library workers should represent the community they serve. It makes a difference when you walk into a library and you see people that look like you and understand some of the challenges you face.


Is there anything you wish more people knew about APL (or even about libraries in general)? What programs/ events do you want to highlight/ make sure Austinites don’t miss?
Libraries are open and free to everybody from all walks of life. If you are looking for ways to start a business, we can help. If you are looking to develop a new skill, we can provide with the resources. If you are looking for entertainment, we have movies and programs from many genres and cultures. If you are looking for a good book, we have millions waiting for you! All of our library locations are safe and welcoming for you to come in to have meetings or just to relax. Finally, all Austinites must come visit our New Central Library. It is six floors of pure delight and excitement, but describing the Central Library makes it hard to do it justice. You must come visit to really appreciate it.


What are you reading right now? What are some of the books coming out in 2018 you’re most looking forward to?

I am currently reading We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled by Wendy Pearlman and Thursday Night Lights by Michael Hurd (a 2017 Texas Book Festival author). I am looking forward to reading The President Is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton, and Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosely.

Celebrate Black Literature: A Q&A With Dr. Rosalind Oliphant Jones

Join us in celebrating Black History Month! For the month of February, Texas Book Festival is recognizing Black History Month by highlighting black Texas authors, readers, and notable contributors to the literary community in a series of blog posts. So far, we’ve had contributions from  TBF Community Ambassador Peggy Terry, who shared a fantastic list of books coming out in 2018, and award-winning children’s author and illustrator Don Tate who took the time to answer some questions.

Today, we’re excited to say we got to ask some questions of Austin legend Dr. Rosalind Oliphant Jones, the founder of the Austin African American Book Festival and the Folktales Black Women’s Literary Society, which grew out of her fantastic independent bookstore Folktales (which closed in 1999). Oliphant Jones has brought countless award-winning and best-selling black authors to Austin both through her bookstore and the AABF, from Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Gwendolyn Brooks to YA author sensation Angie Thomas, whose debut novel spent more than 40 weeks at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Oliphant Jones has done immeasurable work for our community.

The 12th annual Austin African American Book Festival (AABF) will take place June 23, 2018 at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural, and Genealogy Center. Don’t miss this vibrant, one-of-a-kind event!


The African American Book Festival Committee (L to R): Peggy Terry, Carol Wright, AABF Founder and Director Rosalind Oliphant Jones, and Anne Boyd


Texas Book Festival: What inspired you to start the Austin African American Book Festival?

Rosalind Oliphant Jones: When, in December 1999, it made good business sense to close the doors to Folktales, the Black themed bookstore I launched in the Austin area, I was left both devastated and relieved. I had given so much of myself to this venture, but even though I was exhausted and broke, none of that tarnished my love of books.

Longtime supporters constantly asked if I planned to reopen or if I was ever going to do any more author events. While I had no plans to reopen a full service operation I was organizing a few things here and there:  The Folktales Black Women’s Literary Society was going strong, I organized the Afrocentric Book Club at the high school where I was then teaching, and I also hosted a few author signings and book events around town.

From there, I saw the pioneering Harlem Book Fair, which has been held annually for the past 2 decades, as the creative impetus to start something similar and just as meaningful and influential here.

TBF: How has your experience opening and running Folktales, a successful community bookstore, informed your experience co-founding and running the AABF?

ROJ: Last year marked my 25th year as a bookseller! One thing I realize about great booksellers is they don’t just sell books; they also sell and cultivate a wonderfully multifaceted literary experience.

What we have been able to do with the festival is appeal to a reader’s desire to connect with authors both beloved and newly discovered and to share a kinship with readers in search of that same connection. There is so much excitement in meeting authors and hearing them discuss their work, and with Folktales and the Austin African American Book Festival, we have facilitated space for hundreds of authors to engage with readers in this community. I am really proud of that.

TBF: What’s your favorite part of interacting with authors and readers (through Folktales, the Austin African American Book Festival, Folktales Black Women’s Literary Society, and in any other ways)?

ROJ: I am absolutely fascinated by the work writers do. I am curious to know what their inspirations are, their favorite books, other authors they know, and more!

Back in 1994, Austin Community College brought the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks to town. Folktales hosted a book signing for her and there was also a private dinner in her honor. I asked so many questions, all of which she graciously answered! At one point, in the midst of our conversation, which included lots of laughing, she looks at me and says something like, “You ask questions like that of a writer.” It was a goldenmoment for sure! This is just one unforgettable moment I have experienced while doing this very rewarding work. There are so many other wonderful stories I could relay about my interactions with writers and readers.


TBF: What do you look for when inviting authors and speakers to the AABF?

ROJ: It’s hard for me to put into words what we look for when putting together our festival. With a circle of very smart, charismatic friends who read across genres, we gather for tea or coffee or lunch to discuss books, brainstorm ideas, and create what has, for the last 11 years, culminated into something we believe has been very special and worthwhile for the community.


TBF: You’re someone who’s been a major community leader in promoting and supporting black literature and media for some time. Have you seen a shift the ways major publishing houses (and Hollywood) produce or respond to black stories?

ROJ: The world is constantly shifting and publishing houses are no different. When Folktales opened in 1992, it was the “Age of Terry McMillan.” Her first two novels Mama and Disappearing Acts were popular, but then came Waiting to Exhale and the success of that book jolted the publishing industry. Suddenly, the masses realized what many of us already knew: Black people buy books! As a result, we saw this wonderful proliferation of more Black authors getting publishing deals. We saw Black centered products like greeting cards, gift wrap, novelty items, T-shirts—it was thrilling to behold! Unfortunately, by the year 2000, things started slowly winding down. We saw more bookstores closing and some publishers began shifting their focus from a more varied landscape of black literature to a narrower emphasis on urban fiction.

There is talk that we are about to witness another renaissance! The excitement surrounding the Black Panther movie has certainly been contagious! And the fact that it has its origins in comic books and graphic novels counts it as a definite plus for the literary world as well.


TBF: Could you share an anecdote or two about the AABF?

ROJ: A powerful moment for me was the year historian Dr. Arnold Rampersad was our keynote speaker. Dr. Rampersad is celebrated for his acclaimed biographies on Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson, and Ralph Ellison. He was extremely complimentary of the festival and in his opening remarks had created this beautiful tapestry connecting all the authors on program. Later, when we were walking through the museum, he asked me, “Where are the children, where are the youth?”

It revealed a troubling omission, as we had planned that particular festival with little attention to youth programming. It was an oversight we have worked very hard not to repeat.

TBF: What are you reading right now? What book or two (or more are you most looking forward to this year?

ROJ: I hope to complete the Old Testament by mid-year. I am in the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 18. I just finished Priscilla Shirer’s devotional Awaken: 90 Days with the God Who Speaks, which was uplifting.

I am also loving and learning from the fabulous never before published photographs and interesting backstories in Unseen: Unpublished Black History from the New York Times Photo Archives.

I just picked up Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power, which I am looking forward to reading it as well as all the books I am told I will be inspired to read as I make my way through it!

I expanded the health section in my library after I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2016. I am all about being a healthy and informed survivor! I just re-read The Immoral Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which provided far too many lessons to recount here. I am also making plenty of highlights and notes in the margins of my copies of The Metabolic Approach to Cancer by Dr. Natasha Winters and Jess Higgins Kelley and The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

I cannot wait to be among the first to read Zora Neale Hurston’s book Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave, which is due out in May, and I am also looking forward to Angie Thomas’ sophomore release, On the Come Up, in June.

Celebrate Black Literature: A Q&A with Don Tate

The Texas Book Festival Celebrates Black Literature! For the month of February, the Texas Book Festival is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting black Texas authors, readers, and notable contributors to the literary community in a series of blog posts. Last week, TBF Community Ambassador Peggy Terry shared a fantastic list of books coming out in 2018 that she recommends reading, and today, award-winning children’s author and illustrator Don Tate has taken the time to answer some questions we had for him. In addition to being an award-winning author and the illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children, Austinite Don Tate is an outspoken advocate for diversity in publishing, a founding host of The Brown Bookshelf, a Texas Book Festival author, and a long-time TBF supporter and volunteer.

When you’re finished reading here, we recommend you check out the fantastic kid lit blog The Brown Bookshelf, “a blog designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers, with book reviews, author and illustrator interviews.” The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days Later series for Black History Month features interviews with large number of amazing black authors and illustrators of children’s, middle grade, and young adult literature.

Happy reading!



Texas Book Festival: What draws you to Children’s literature? Was writing for kids a conscious choice or more the age group you felt inspired to speak to?

Don Tate: Early in my career, I worked at an educational publishing company. My job was to design and illustrate children’s basal books and teaching proucts. The job required some travel to library and literacy conferences. I was inspired by teachers and librarians, who were passionate about children’s literacy. I wanted in on that! Eventually, I illustrated a book for that publishing house called Retold African Myths, written by Eleanora E. Tate.  That was thirty-something years ago, and I’ve never looked back. I love using my art to tell stories for young people. Writing came much later, though—like twenty years later!


TBF: I know you’ve written about how, as a kid, you were drawn more to art and drawing than to reading (largely because of the terrible lack of black representation in literature when you were growing up). But how did you first get into art and illustration?

DT: I’ve been an artist as long as I’ve been on this earth. There wasn’t a moment when I accidentally discovered that I liked art. As a child, my hands were always busy drawing and making stuff. I made things like choo-choo trains and cars from empty toilet paper rolls. I created elaborate puppets from socks or from patterns I created. I created macramé wall hangings from twine and beads.  I always had some kind of project in the works. Thankfully, my mom supported my artistic endeavors, even when it meant tearing the house apart and putting it back together. I attended a vocational-technical high school. My core area of study was commercial and advertising art. While there, I became less interested in creating art for art’s sake, though. I liked creating art for a specific purpose: a magazine layout, a t-shirt design, a story! I liked commercial art, or narrative art.


TBF: What’s your illustration process look like? How does that compare to your writing process?

DT: My illustration and writing process are similar. When I visit schools, I tell kids that writing is similar to painting a picture. With a picture, I use a paintbrush, a pencil, or some other drawing tool. When I  write, I paint with words. I create worlds using very visual word choices.

With my illustrations, I begin with a rough draft. Same with a written manuscript. The first draft of an illustration or a manuscript is messy. But that’s okay, that draft is like a lump of clay that I can then mold into a story. Because my books focus on history, writing and illustrating both require a lot of research. And before any of that reaches my editor’s eyes, I revise my words and illustrations many times.


TBF: What sort of stories do you look for in your writing and/or illustrating? What are some of the elements that you were drawn to in past books you’ve written and illustrated?

DT: I like stories about little-known people who’ve done great things in the face of adversity. These stories inspire me. In my book,  It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (Lee & Low), which I wrote, a homeless man and former slave with no art training becomes one of the most important outsider artists in the country. In Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree), which I wrote and illustrated, an enslaved poet becomes the first African American in the south to get a book published, at a time when it was against the law to teach a black man to read. With Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge), which I also wrote and illustrated, a weak and sickly child grows up to become known as the Father of Bodybuilding and “The Strongest Man on Earth.” These men overcame great obstacles to achieve success. These stories inspire kids to work hard and never give up.


TBF: Tell us about your work on the kid lit blog, The Brown Bookshelf:

DT: The Brown Bookshelf was started by YA authors Varian Johnson and Paula Chase-Hyman. They wanted to start an online initiative to support African American children’s book creators, whose works often fly under the radar of the publishing industry. I was invited  to join a whole team of writers and illustrators to contribute to the blog. Together, we work to shine a light on the myriad of diverse voices creating books for young people. February is when we host our “28 Days Later” campaign, where we highlight an African American book creator each day of the month with interviews and guest post. Be sure to check out our 2018 campaign!


TBF: I know you do a lot of school visits and events with kids: what’s it like getting to meet your audience like that? What’s one of the best stories that’s come out of interacting with your young readers?

DT: I love meeting my young readers. While they are excited about meeting me, I am equally as excited to meeting them. I’m thankful to school librarians for bringing us all together—authors and illustrators and readers. I’ve had a lot funny and interesting experiences while visiting schools, however one of the most memorable moments happened this past October at the Texas Book Festival. Students at Brushy Creek Elementary School in Round Rock sang a tribute to me and my book Strong as Sandow:


TBF: What advice would you give to young authors and illustrators of color? What encouragement?

DT: Polish your craft. Writers: Read and write a lot. And stop worrying about having to find an illustrator, that’s what publishers do. Illustrators: Draw a lot, practice. There is more of an emphasis on diversity in publishing lately, so opportunities are broadening. I’m seeing more faces of color on the covers of children’s books, lately. Most times, however, the creators of those books are not People of Color.  Everyone is answering that call for more diversity, so we’re easily marginalized.  So, Author or Illustrator of Color—get to creating, your voice is needed. While it’s important for a Black child to see Black people represented in the books they read, it’s equally important that they know Black people write and illustrate the books they read. They know this by opening that book jacket flap and seeing a book creator that looks like them.


TBF: What, at least to you, is the best part of writing for kids?

DT: Supporting literacy. Knowledge is power, and therefore books are powerful.


TBF: What are you working on now?

DT: I have several books on the publication horizon that I illustrated:

Par-tay! Dance of the Veggies (and Their Friends)

Written by the legendary Eloise Greenfield and published by Alazar in April, 2018.

Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band

This book, written by Michael Mahin and published by Clarion in July, 2018, is the fictionalized account of the true story seven homeless street kids who helped inspire a new genre of music called spasm.

No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas

Written by Tonya Bolden and published by Knopf in October, 2018.

So that’s it for me this year—dancing kids, dancing veggies, and potatoes galore!



February Reads: TBF Loves Books About Love

Whether you’re into celebrating Valentine’s Day or Bah-Humbugging it, love is a central theme in much of literature the world over, and many of our favorite books feature love (and its many complications) as a powerful motivator in the main character’s actions. So, in the spirit of February’s day of hearts and candy, we offer some recommended reading about the many types of and words for L-O-V-E. 


Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Not only this one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, but Marquez so brilliantly captures the idea of love in a way that transcends expectation and cliché. Interweaving the impulses of love and desire with the reality of society, aging, and dying, Marquez captures all the competing intensities of love.



Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

If you’re a pragmatic romantic like me, you like your love stories served up with a cold splash of irony. Nothing was more enjoyable in college than taking a course that had every Jane Austen novel on its syllabus. So when Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice came out a couple of years ago, I had to read it right away. It’s light and clever and I won’t give away how Sittenfeld devises the romantic plot for literature’s second most famous couple, but it’s no surprise that she makes Elizabeth Bennet a writer.


Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

This book had been on my TBR list for a very long time. It finally was available through the Austin Public Library a few weeks ago and I could not put it down. The story centers on Rachel and Nick’s love story. Nick is bringing home his American girlfriend to meet his family in Singapore for the first time and to attend his best friends wedding. The twist: Rachel has no idea that Nick’s family is wildly wealthy and that the wedding they are attending is between an heiress and a billionaire. I normally have a hard time with books where I know than the main character does, but I was laughing the entire book and enthralled with the Nick and Rachel’s love story. Read it before it hits theaters this summer!



The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

I have a particular love for romance novels and have zero qualms discussing it, though I often feel as though it is the genre with the most pitfalls as well as potential. It is certainly the most maligned of literary genres—to be fair, much of that disgust may have been earned once upon a time (admit it, someone says “romance novel” and many readers imagine a mass market paperback in which a shirtless, uncommunicative hunk throws a powerless simpering maiden over the back of his horse and rides into the sunset, consent be damned).

However, the state of the romance novel today is infinitely different from the average early 1970s Fabio-esque tumble in the hay. Romance writing commands more than half of the publishing market in the US, with readers beyond the stereotypical light browser. More and more often, we’re seeing diverse characters and pairings—realistic interracial romance, positive queer love stories, genuine representation of love interests with disabilities—and believe me, we’re celebrating.

With that (much too longwinded) introduction, I am excited to whole-heart-eyes-edly recommend Jasmine Guillory’s new novel, The Wedding Date. This sweet love story starts with a perfect rom-com-worthy meet-cute in a stalled elevator, and goes on to follow two genuinely charming humans as they fall in love: Alexa, a hard-working mayor’s aide for the city of Berkley, CA, and Drew, a children’s doctor living in LA. These characters feel like admirable and relatable people doing their best with the baggage they bring to their new relationship—insecurities, demanding careers, past heartbreaks, long-distance dating, and of course, racial tension in all its major and minute forms.  Alexa, you see, is black, and Drew is white. Guillory skillfully navigates the trials (and infinite joys) of interracial dating without side-stepping the tough (and true) parts, but to be clear: this is not a book about issues of race, this is a book about two humans falling in love. I highly recommend celebrating love along with the characters of The Wedding Date.



Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.

While Ethan Frome might not be romantic (far from it), Edith Wharton creates an incredible, troublesome love triangle in this short book. With perhaps one of the all-time best endings (no spoilers!), it’s a book I come back to every so often to marvel at the subtle interactions between characters and the fateful choices they ultimately make.




Next Year, for Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson

This tender, engrossing novel follows Kathryn and Chris, romantic partners of nine years, as they open up their relationship to other people and discover the elasticity, compassion and possibility that come with allowing deep love to evolve. With a touch of humor, the characters unpack nuanced emotions as they navigate their new boundaries, wading into waters of jealousy, loneliness and the definition of commitment in an earnest effort to figure out the very best way to love one another. This book is terribly romantic. It also includes a subplot that follows the couple’s slow drift away from close friendship with another couple, offering an angle on the shifting roles and boundaries of friend love, as well. A wonderful read that reminded me that real love is so much bigger than the heart-shaped box we tend to put it in.


Reading Rock Stars Dallas-Fort Worth

It’s finally time for Reading Rock Stars Dallas-Fort Worth!

We’re so excited to return to Thomas Tolbert Elementary in Dallas on February 8, and also thrilled to announce we will be visiting Rosemont Elementary in Fort Worth on February 9 for the first time!

Whenever we bring a new school into the Reading Rock Stars family, we look for schools which are passionate about reading and ready for the exciting challenge of hosting three author visits in one day. Schools apply for the program, highlighting how their team plans to get their students excited to meet authors, and how they want to use Reading Rock Stars to start new reading initiatives.

In conjunction with Reading Rock Stars, Rosemont Elementary is launching their “Celebrity Readers” program. Members of the community will visit classrooms to read their favorite books and speak to students about why they love to read. The team at Texas Book Festival is happy to provide the very first celebrity readers (and Rock Stars): Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Roda Ahmed, and John August! Vanessa Brantley-Newton and Roda Ahmed will also visit Thomas Tolbert Elementary with veteran Reading Rock Stars author Mac Barnett, who will visit with 4th and 5th grade.

Learn more about our Reading Rock Stars authors and check out their books below!


Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, John August earned a degree in journalism from Drake University and an MFA in film from USC. As a screenwriter, his credits include Big FishCharlie’s AngelsCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryCorpse Bride, and Frankenweenie. His books include Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire.In addition to his film career, he hosts a popular weekly podcast, Scriptnotes, with Craig Mazin. He also created the Writer Emergency Pack, an educational storytelling tool that was distributed to over 2,000 classrooms in partnership with nonprofit literacy groups like 826LA and NaNoWriMo. John and his family live in Los Angeles.

John’s book: Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire 


Roda Ahmed is a Norwegian author and columnist born in Hargeisa, Somalia. Roda is the bestselling author of Forberedelsen (The Preparations). Mae Among the Stars is her first children’s book. She speaks five languages: Somali, Arabic, Norwegian, English, and French. Roda lives in LA with her husband and two children.

Roda’s book: Mae Among the Stars 


Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a self-taught illustrator, doll maker, and crafter who studied fashion illustration at FIT and children’s book illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York.  She is the author and illustrator of Let Freedom Sing and Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table and has illustrated numerous children’s books including Mary Had A Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, One Love and  Vanessa currently makes her nest in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, daughter, and cat.


Vanessa’s book: Grandma’s Purse 



Mac Barnett is a New York Times-bestselling author whose books for children have sold more than one million copies in the United States and have been translated into over 30 languages. His picture books include two Caldecott-Honor-winning collaborations with Jon Klassen: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, which also won the E.B White Read-Aloud Award, and Extra Yarn, which won both the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award. Leo: A Ghost Story, illustrated by Christian Robinson, and The Skunk, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell, were named two of the Ten Best Illustrated Books of 2015 by The New York Times. Mac’s novels include the Brixton Brothers mysteries and  The Terrible Two series. He lives in Oakland, California.

Mac’s book: The Terrible Two Go Wild 








Books We Can’t Wait to Read: Lea’s and Lydia’s 2018 Picture Book Picks

For our final TBF 2018 Book Picks preview, our resident #KidLit nerds Lea and Lydia are looking at some of the amazing picture books coming out this year! The majority of these books are spring and summer catalogs, and there are so many more exciting picture books coming out this year. Lea’s already hustling to bring many of these authors to Texas elementary schools for Reading Rock Stars visits, and we can’t wait to see these books on the shelves and in the hands of young readers.

And don’t forget: you can check out the rest of our 2018 Book Preview posts here.

Happy reading, y’all!


Mae Among the Stars

Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington; January 9

We’re so excited to have Roda as one of our Reading Rock Stars authors in Dallas and Fort Worth this year! It’s easy to fall and in love with and be inspired by Dr. Mae Jemison’s story. The book is the perfect way to start to talk to children about their dreams and how they can achieve them.







Junot Díaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa; March 13

One of the most anticipated picture book releases of the year! Junot Díaz’s first picture book started with a promise to his goddaughters “two decades ago, when they asked him to write a book that featured characters like them, Dominican girls living in the Bronx.” With Díaz’s brilliant storytelling touching on the themes he does best—immigration and traditional culture, family and memories, and finding where you belong—along with bright, fluid illustrations from Leo Espinosa, this book is sure to be one you read over and over again.

Don’t miss Junot Díaz speaking and signing copies of Islandborn at Bookpeople, April 4 at 6:30pm




Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Loren Long; January 9

I LOVE Matt de la Peña! Just in time for Valentine’s Day, this book shows children all the different ways love can be expressed. Share it with the child in your life to start a conversation about all the different ways you love them and that they can love others. An inspiring and heartwarming story, you definitely need this on your shelf!


Don’t miss Matt de la Peña and Loren Long speaking and signing copies of Love at Bookpeople January 20, 11:30am.



Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and The Rainbow Flag

Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno; April 10

I have become such a fan of non-fiction picture books and I cannot wait to see this one! The Rainbow flag feels like it’s been a symbol of queer pride forever, but that’s not the case! This picture book brings the story of the flag and will teach children about the inspiring Harvey Milk. It’s a great primer on activism and I’m saving a spot on my shelf for it!






Alma and How She Got Her Name

Juana Martinez-Neal; April 10

When read this book, I couldn’t help but say “awwwww” this entire time! A veteran Reading Rock Stars author/illustrator, Juana Martinez-Neal takes you through sweet Alma’s name and her family history. It’s a wonderful way to talk to your children about family, their history and why it’s important to feel pride in your story and your uniqueness. Beautifully illustrated, I am looking forward to sharing this with students as soon as I can!




They Say Blue

Jillian Tamaki; March 13

Jillian Tamaki has been one of my favorite graphic artists since I first read Skim, the YA graphic novel she co-wrote with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, and her following books This One Summer and Super Mutant Magic Academy have only cemented her place on my best bookshelf. Her first picture book, which follows a young girl exploring the colors of the world around her, is a gorgeous, wonder-filled ode to the beauty of nature and perspective.





The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra

Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ana Aranda; March 7

I laughed out loud the entire time  I read this adorable book. While it has been out awhile, I am looking forward to having its illustrator, Ana Aranda, join us for Reading Rock Stars in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s such a silly feel good book! The illustrations are so fun and you and your child will be sure to laugh and wonder how the goats will escape the mighty chupacabra!






Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea

Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Rebecca Green; May 1

Rebecca Green is one of my favorite illustrators, and this story by Elizabeth Suneby about a resourceful, science-loving boy who devises a sustainable way to make the monsoon season in Bangladesh safer for his mother is a sweet, inspiring story about sustainable technology and family love.







Books we haven’t read yet but can’t wait to get our hands on:


Books We Can’t Wait to Read: Lydia’s 2018 Middle Grade picks

Happy 2018, y’all! I started off the New Year making a list of all the books I desperately cannot wait to read this year, and even though I’ve gotten a good start, the list keeps growing.

Part 1 was my preview of young adult books I can’t wait to read, and this part 2 is a list of many (but of course, not all) of the middle grade books (books aimed for ages 10 and up) coming out this year that I’m excited to read and share with other readers. There’s stories of magic, family ties, first love, first grief, growing up, or in some tragic stories, not being able to grow up because life was taken away. I’m especially drawn to authentic coming-of-age stories told by #OwnVoices authors about children and lives we don’t see too often in books and media. Add some magic, mystery, and maybe a witch or two, and I’m not leaving my couch until the book is done. Happy reading!

Don’t forget: check out Julie’s 2018 adult fiction and non-fiction picks and Lydia’s 2018 YA picks too!


Books I’ve read and loved (and will re-read and re-read):


Love, Sugar, Magic: A Dash of Trouble

Anna Meriano; January 2

I have been holding my breath waiting for this book for almost a year, ever since Houston author Anna Meriano told me about her story of the youngest sister in a family of Mexican-American pastry brujas, and all the anticipation only made it that much sweeter (sorry, I had to).

Set in small-town Texas, youngest sister Leo finds out more than she ever expected when she sneaks into her family’s pastry shop the day before Día de los Muertos (when she’s supposed to be at school) and witnesses a magical coming-of-age ceremony for her older twin sisters. The following adventure mixes all my favorite ingredients of family love (and rivalry), friendship, good intentions gone awry, and even features real recipes you can try yourself (the magic is optional). I’m already waiting for the next in the series.


Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring

March 27: Angela Cervantes

Have you always wished you could run away and secretly live in a museum, bathing in a fountain and uncovering the secret of an ancient statue, just like in The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler? Did you love Under the Egg and Chasing Vermeer as much as me? Well good news: 2018 is THE YEAR of the Art History Mystery (yes, that’s a genre, I just made it up), and we’re off to a great start with this gem by Angela Cervantes.

Paloma wanted to spend the summer reading Lulu Pennywhistle mystery books by the pool, but instead she’s visiting Mexico with her mother. She isn’t looking forward to being away from her friends and taking summer Spanish-language classes, though she is hoping to find out more about her late father, who grew up in Mexico. Immediately after arriving, however, Paloma makes new friends and is drawn into the mystery of Frida Kahlo’s missing peacock ring. she sets off to solve a few mysteries of her own.


Ghost Boys

Jewell Parker Rhodes; April 17

This new book by the award-winning author of Towers Falling, Ninth Ward, and many other celebrated books broke my heart—as it should. The titular ghost boys are spirits of the many, many young black American boys murdered in racial violence. One of these is the main character, Jerome, a timid twelve-year old boy gunned down by a racist police officer while playing in the lot next to his house, and readers follow his confused, frightened ghost as he wanders the city, stuck, wishing he could either go back to his life or move on to what comes next. He’s joined and comforted by the ghost of Emmett Till, who helps him understand why he was murdered, why the police officer is claiming he did the correct thing, and why there are so many ghost boys like him and Emmett. Jerome ends up becoming friends with the only living person who can see him: Sarah, the daughter of the police officer who murdered him, a white girl his own age, and she joins him on his search for understanding and change.

This story hurts. Rhodes doesn’t offer any easy answers, and while her prose is beautiful and there are moments of sweetness and even triumph, it is not an easy read. However, I recommend it as one of the most important books coming out this year.


Drum Roll, Please

Lisa Jenn Bigelow; June 26

Growing up is hard, and even harder when several big changes come at the same time. Quiet Melly dreads her summer music camp, even though her best friend is going with her, because she’s already homesick: not just for her house, but the home she has with both her parents, who have just decided to split up. It’s even harder when her best friend ditches her at camp, she starts to worry she’s not good at playing the drums, even though she loves it, and she starts to develop a crush on another girl, Adeline.

Anyone who’s ever felt overlooked, “like a mouse,” and felt too scared to even talk to the person they like will love cheering Melly on as she finds her inner rockstar and drums up the courage (pun lovingly intended) to share her feelings with the girl she likes. I’m recommending this sweet, authentic story to everyone this year.



Currently Reading:


J.A. White; July 3

Neil Gaiman famously misquoted G.K. Chesterton in his epigraph for one of my all-time favorite novels, Coraline. The original Chesterton quote went something like: “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.” I whip that quote out whenever I hear someone say a piece of media might be “too dark” or “too scary” for the age group it was intended for—usually for books like Coraline, and, I expect, Nightbooks.

Yes, this book is scary, but it’s clever and fresh and stars the sort of tentative, anxious underdog I love to root for. The idea of a vicious witch luring children into her Brooklyn apartment and imprisoning them in the library is not an impossible stretch of the imagination for a kid (nor is her booming side business of selling magic-infused essential oils to hipsters), and the frightening here is balanced with Alex’s creativity, bravery, and refusal to give up.


Books I haven’t read yet, but CANNOT WAIT to get my hands on:



Cynthia Kadohata; February 6

The 11:11 Wish

Kim Tomsic; February 13

One True Way

Shannon Hitchcock; February 27

Midnight in the Piazza

Tiffany Parks; March 6

The Night Diary

Veera Hiranandani; March 6

Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort

Will Taylor; March 14

Hurricane Child

Kheryn Callender; March 27 – Recommended to me by the fantastic Kelly Starling Lyons!

Aru Shah and the End of Time

Roshani Chokshi; March 27

Out of the Wild Night

Blue Balliett; March 27

The Parker Inheritance

Varian Johnson; March 27 – Johnson is a local Texas author!

Gone to Drift

Diana McCauley; April 3

You Go First

Erin Entrada Kelly; April 10

Be Prepared

Vera Brosgol; April 24

All Summer Long

Hope Larson; May 1

Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed; May 8

Lions and Liars

Kate Beasley; June 5

Flor and Miranda Steal the Show

Jennifer Torres; June 12

The Girl with the Ghost Machine

Lauren DeStefano; July 3

Where the Watermelons Grow

Cindy Baldwin; July 3

City of Islands

Kali Wallace; July 3


Abby Cooper; July 17


Barbara Binns; July 31

2018 Texas Book Festival Dates Announced!

The Texas Book Festival is proud to announce its 2017 Festival Weekend was the most successful on record, with 50,000 attendees coming together on November 4 and 5 in the largest celebration of books and literacy in the Festival’s history. The Texas Book Festival will return for its 23rd year on October 27 and 28, 2018, and will once again be held in and around the Texas State Capitol in downtown Austin.

The 2017 Festival Weekend featured more than 300 authors, including Tom Hanks, Dan Rather, Gail Simmons, Attica Locke, Min Jin Lee, Mark Bittman, Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush, and more. Held November 3 at the Four Seasons Hotel, the annual First Edition Literary Gala raised more than $630,000 for the nonprofit organization and its literacy programs. Additionally, the TBF gave more than $100,000 in grants to Texas public libraries in 2017 and, through its Reading Rock Stars literacy program, provided more than 9,300 books to students in Title I schools this year. The Texas Teen Book Festival, held on October 7, also drew thousands with its all-star lineup of YA authors including Jason Reynolds, Marie Lu and many others, as well as an interactive iTent space, writing workshops, panels, and more.

“2017 was an epic year in so many ways, from standout literary talent across so many genres to incredible attendee turnout. We are as starstruck as anyone about the big marquee names at the Festival, but our true stars are the children, schools, and libraries we are able to impact across Texas, thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and supporters,” says Lois Kim, executive director. “We’re setting our sights even higher in 2018 for our outreach programming and an amazing Festival Weekend.”

Book lovers can expect to see more of what 2017 offered during next year’s Festival Weekend – a great author lineup, book signings, food trucks, cooking demonstrations, author sessions and panels, live music, a Saturday night Lit Crawl, and more. Submissions to participate in the Festival will open on Monday, January 11. For book submission guidelines, please visit our submissions page.

Books We Can’t Wait to Read: TBF’s 2018 Book Preview

Whether you made a resolution to read more in the new year or you plan to just keep going at your usual rate, it’s never too early to start building your 2018 must-read list.

This week we’re going through some of the titles we’re super looking forward to this year—some we’ve read already and some we can’t wait to get our hands on! Check out:


Julie’s 2018 preview of adult fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Lydia’s 2018 run-down of young adult and middle grade reads to look for.

Lea’s and Lydia’s top picks for picture books and kids’ lit this year.