This month, local author Chris Barton is giving away a hardcover and audiobook version of Flying Lessons & Other Stories, a wonderful middle-grade anthology published by Crown Books for Young Readers in partnership with We Need Diverse Books. The book includes writing from beloved authors like Kwame Alexander, Grace Lin, and Jacqueline Woodson. Barton allowed us to share this brief conversation with contributor Kelly J. Baptist and Ellen Oh, co-founder of We Need Diverse Books, who also edited the collection and wrote its foreword. To sign up for Barton’s newsletter and be eligible for fun book giveaways, click here!
Chris: What do you hope the next steps would be for a gatekeeper — whether it’s a librarian, a teacher, a bookseller, or a parent — after adding Flying Lessons & Other Stories to their collection?
Ellen: I hope that they will talk about the anthology, recommend it, read it aloud to kids, just share it as widely as they can. These are stories that are meant to be read by everyone.
Chris: For nine of the ten contributors, those librarians, parents, etc., can also help connect readers with the authors’ other books. Kelly, how did you and your writing get connected with We Need Diverse Books and this anthology, and what can readers who enjoyed “The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn” look forward to next?
Kelly: I first heard about We Need Diverse Books in 2015, when I read a kidlit article that listed various contests for writers of color. I saw WNDB’s short story contest and added it to my list of things to enter.
I brainstormed for a while about what story to use, but as a working mom with 5 kids, I got busy and didn’t remember about the contest until a few days before the deadline. I decided to take a longer piece I’d been working on and coax a short story from it. I was still frantically polishing the piece mere hours before the deadline. I had my 7-month-old in one arm and was typing with my right hand, my two toddler girls were running around singing loudly and pretty much destroying the house since I was distracted, and I was horribly late to pick up my two older kids from school. Oh yeah, and my computer kept freezing.
I called my husband at work to let him know I was giving up and would not be able to get my story submitted on time. He stayed on the phone with me, calmly talked me off the ledge, and would not hang up until I restarted the computer and submitted the story. I pushed send and dashed off to retrieve my neglected darlings from school.
Months later, my kids were spending summer vacation with my parents, and my husband and I were getting ready for work. I checked my email on my phone and started screaming. I burst into the bathroom where my husband was trying to enjoy a shower, and promptly shut his water off, still screaming. He was super excited about the news that I had won the contest, but probably also wanted his hot water back.
From there, I got to speak with Phoebe Yeh [VP/publisher at Crown/Random House] on the phone, and then met her in person. I am so blessed to be a part of the WNDB anthology, because I grew up LOVING the work of many of the authors who are a part of it, particularly Walter Dean Myers and Jacqueline Woodson. As Kobe Bryant would say, it’s amazing to be alongside my muses in a book.
What’s next? I have two projects submitted to my editor right now (should have updates in a few days) and am actively working on two more, one of which is a continuation of Isaiah Dunn’s story. I look forward to writing and writing and writing!