Childrens Books Can Make Parents Become Detectives

Have you ever read a book that touched you so much that you had to find the author and communicate your gratitude?

Children’s books can elicit the same response.

Children can love a book so much that parents reach out to authors. The Internet makes it easy to do so. Parents can find authors through their websites and social media platforms. Before the wide use of social media finding authors usually could only be done through sending letters to publishers. I have received letters from parents that were sent to publishers for me and I have received correspondence directly from parents who found my contact information on the Internet. I cherish the letters and I also cherish the immediacy of the contact through social media.

The following is a message I received from a parent in Los Angeles who located me through social media.

“My daughter and I just finished reading When Grandmama Sings and it started a discussion about segregation, acceptance, and loving others. Thank you! We enjoyed the book.”

Mothers not only contact me, but fathers do too. The following is an email I received from a father who discovered my contact information on my website.

When Grandmama Sings is so realistic and convincing my daughter and I tried to find the history of the singer and her band.”

It brings me much joy to know that my books, not only touch children, but parents as well.

I have even received messages from parents in other countries. The following is an email I received from a father who lives in Israel.

“I am an American-Israeli citizen living practically my whole life in Israel. I have a daughter (5) whom I just finished reading the book you guys wrote and illustrated – Uncle Jed’s Barbershop. Apart from the story beautifully unfolding, the illustrations are amazing and true to life. When I got to the part where she arrives at the hospital and you describe the segregation, I ask my daughter, “What do you think? Are black people and white people any different?” Her answer is simple and touching. “Aba (father in Hebrew), you are a person. She is a person. We are all the same.” Needless to say, the rest of the story was read to her with tears in my eyes. The ending was inspiring and beautiful. And I do not usually go out of my way to find authors and illustrators of the many books I read to her. But this one was a special one. So thank you, for the beauty in storytelling, and the most splendid illustrations accompanying the book. Keep up the good work! With much appreciation!”

Hearing from parents warms my heart. I get such joy from receiving such communication. What makes the letters, emails, and social media messages extra special is that I do not know the people who take time to reach out to let me know that my books touched them.

It is beyond meaningful to know that my words have the ability to touch another human being to their core.

So parents keep up the detective work. Your messages mean more than you will ever know to authors.

For more information about my books click the link to visit my website

Childrens Books Can Inspire

One August day I was invited to the main branch of the Little Rock Public Library to read  Uncle Jed’s Barbershop to 7 & 8 year olds during Storytime. Since school was not in session parents brought their children. After reading the story, the question and answer period was dominated by parents, who were fascinated with the historical aspects of the story. They shared their childhood memories about going to the barbershop. Some animatedly talked about relatives who were barbers.

But there was not one word from any of the children.

I really wanted to hear what the children thought since Uncle Jed’s Barbershop is a book for children. No matter how long I waited, there was no comment from a child.

After all adults had exhausted their questions and shared their barber stories, I packed my bag to leave.

As I was going out the door, a little girl stopped me. She said, “I liked your story about Uncle Jed. I want to be a doctor when I grow up. But my grandmama keeps saying I’ll never be one. Now I know I can be a doctor.”

The emotions her comment generated in me are indescribable. I knew then I had achieved my goal in writing Uncle Jed’s Barbershop.  I wanted to inspire children to dream big dreams for their lives and to believe that those dreams can come true.

But that day, this girl ended up inspiring me. As a result, I felt a bigger responsibility; to make sure as many students as possible heard the story of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop.

The Little Rock library visit was my very first appearance with Uncle Jed’s Barbershop.  Since then I have travelled throughout the United States sharing Uncle Jed’s story. And countless children have read about Uncle Jed and his dream of owning a barbershop.

Year after year I receive letters from students telling me about their dreams and how hearing Uncle Jed’s story has convinced them that their dreams can come true. The letters come directly to me after school and event visits.

Letters and emails even arrive from students with which I have had no contact. They have found Uncle Jed’s Barbershop in their school library, their public library, or their teachers read it to them. An interesting aspect of the letters is that the students tell me their dreams, and they also share who tells them they cannot achieve those dreams. Oftentimes, it is a close family member.

I am delighted that Uncle Jed’s Barbershop has inspired and continues to inspire children to dream great dreams for their lives, no matter how unattainable others think those dreams may be!

For further information about Uncle Jed’s Barbershop

 

 

 

Childrens Books Can Introduce Students To The History Of Jazz

A book can be the entrance to a whole new world for children. Books can make otherwise complicated subjects easy to digest. If you are introducing your students to the history of jazz, a book can ease this entrance.

Jazz is a musical form characterized by improvisation and syncopation. It is a combination of African music  (rhythmic intricacy) and European music (harmonic structure).

New Orleans is considered by many to be the birthplace of jazz. Other major cities associated with jazz are: Chicago, New York, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Musicians in each city have put their distinctive stamp on jazz.

Its history coincides with the urbanization of black Americans. Therefore, jazz has always been an urban music.

The type of jazz known as ‘Swing’ first appeared during the Great Depression. The optimistic feeling of the music lifted spirits. This gave rise to the ‘Swing Era’ when swing dancing was the national dance.

When Grandmama Sings pays homage to this era and to early jazz singers who got their beginnings touring the South.

When Grandmama Sings takes place in the 1940’s. Belle’s grandmother is a local singer in a small town in Mississippi. She gets an opportunity to go on a tour of the South and she takes Belle with her.

When Grandmama Sings shows what life was life for black entertainers who traveled from city to city to get their name known. Grandmama is protective of Belle but she doesn’t shelter her from the harsh realities of life.

They encounter separate hotels for black and whites. They can’t eat in a restaurant after a show because of the color of their skin. Grandmama meets with injustice in New Orleans when a club owner wants her to perform without pay. And when she performs in a big venue in Atlanta the audience is segregated. Whites sit on the main floor and black people have to sit in the balcony.

It is important for students to read books like When Grandmama Sings because arts programs in schools are diminishing and students are not being exposed to music. It is important that students learn to appreciate different types of music. They should know that certain types of music were born out of struggle. If students hear music and can read about the challenges the artists faced, they will have a better appreciation of what it takes to build a career.

Reading books like When Grandmama Sings opens the door to discussion about the different genres of music, such as classical, blues, country, hip hop, rap, etc. Students can discuss how the different styles of music affects emotions.

Music is the fabric of our society. Children’s books set in the music world can help build imagination and foster intellectual curiosity, while at the same time imparting nuggets of history.

Read more about When Grandmama Sings

Negro League Baseball History For Christmas

If you have a history buff on your Christmas list, they will love Last Train To Cooperstown, profiles of the last Negro League inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Kevin L. Mitchell, author of Last Train To Cooperstown, stopped by to talk about his book and all things relating to baseball.

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Why did you write Last Train to Cooperstown?

I wrote the book in response to the current decline of popularity for baseball by African-Americans.  Due to social, economic, and other issues the attention of African American youth has been diverted from the game. Basketball and football are now the main sports they participate.  The number of African-Americans playing Major League baseball is less than during the late 1950s through 1970s.  With no Lebron James, Steph Curry, or Cam Newton high-profile type player in baseball, African American attendance at Major League baseball games has decreased.

The book’s purpose is to indicate that because of Negro League baseball’s rich history and its everlasting impact on the game, African-Americans have deep, grounded roots in baseball that cannot be severed by the current trends.  The stories of the 2006 Hall of Fame Inductees from Negro League baseball in the book are reminders of those deep, everlasting roots.  Readers will get a deeper understanding of Negro League baseball as not just a part of baseball history or African America history, but as being imbedded into the fabric of 20th Century American history.

How did you get interested in baseball?

I think my interest in the sport began to develop in 1957 when I was six years old.  Baseball reigned during that time as the nation’s favorite sport.  Henry Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves’ defeat of the New York Yankees in 1957 was my first TV World Series recollection.  I played a form of stickball with my brother, Lephus Jr., in our backyard.  My friend, Big Mike, and I would take turns using the handle of a cut off broom to hit a rubber ball my brother pitched to us.  We turned the small yard into a make shift asymmetrical ball field.  A red barrel used for burning trash served as first base.  Air pollution had not yet become a concern in 1957 so open trash burning in the city was not illegal yet.  When  I hit a double, I would run to touch the red barrel and then head to second base; the southeast back corner of our garage where my father very seldom kept his car.  When scoring from second on Big Mike’s single I would have to remember to touch third base, a post of our neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Shern’s wire fence.

With both of my older brothers and my father being baseball fans, I  would watch baseball games on TV with them.  There were no 24 hour Cable TV sports stations televising games.  The Kansas City CBS affiliate TV station could not televise the weekend national Game of the Week due to the television blackout policy in the 1950s for cities with Major League teams.  So we watched selected road games the Kansas City Athletics televised.  Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, Hector Lopez, and Bob Cerv are the A’s players with which I first became familiar.  I also would listen to my brothers and their friends talk about other Major League players, especially African American ones (Aaron, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, etc).   Jackie Robinson had retired the previous year (1956), but my awareness of race relations at six years old was enough to allow me to know of him as the first “Negro” to play in the Major Leagues.  However, I was too young to have a deeper understanding of his significance.

Why do you think African American kids have lost interest in baseball?

This could be the topic of someone’s dissertation because there are so many issues as to why African American kids have lost interest in the game.  There are social, economic, racial, political, and other factors; and they are all intertwined.  A change in the times and differences in the world surrounding different generations also must be considered.

In my opinion, baseball failed to keep up with the increasingly intense competition from football and basketball that developed in the 1980s for capturing the attention of African American kids. The competition was a subset of a changing world, one obviously now much different than when I was a kid interested in the sport.

Being of “baby boomer” age, I grew up doing the time when baseball reigned as America’s pastime with no other sport seriously vying for my attention.  My love for the game began and was nurtured during the time called “baseball’s golden era”, the 1950s and 1960s when young white and black boys were passionate about the sport.  My friends and I collected baseball cards and knew the names of the players on all the Major League teams. We had Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, and an increasing number of other African American players to emulate.  We saw them play on TV, but mostly read about them in the newspaper and magazines.  The All-Star Game and the World Series were baseball special events we looked forward to each year with excitement.

Pro football and basketball were growing sports we played, but they failed to capture our allegiance from baseball.  They had not yet turned into the billion-dollar advertising and marketing giants targeting African American kids as they are today.  The TV networks had not discovered the money bonanza in sports programming.  There was no Sunday Night, Monday Night, or Thursday Night Football to get our attention.  No 24-hour NFL Cable TV network.  No ESPN to broadcast pro and college basketball games throughout the week.  There was no Super Bowl, no “March Madness”, and no marathon broadcast of the NBA Playoffs which, not like today, ended in the spring and not mid-summer.  It was a different time.

Being before Nike and the other athletic shoe companies, there were no basketball shoe advertising campaigns in front of us.  It was a time before pro athletes, especially African American ones, were not endorsing products on TV.  There were no “I want to be like Mike” commercials about Gatorade getting our attention. Gatorade did not come around until the late 1960s.

The competition from other sports for the attention of African American kids increased immensely in generations after mine.  The world changed, no longer the 1960s.  The popularity of football and basketball continued to grow, threatening baseball’s long standing number one sport status by the year 2000.  The TV ratings for the Super Bowl and “March Madness” frequently surpassed that of the World Series.

When pro football and basketball began to intensely target the younger generation of African American kids in the 1980s, baseball’s marketing mentality remained in 1960 with a nine-year-old me. It was slow out of the starting blocks in marketing official apparel and gear.  Unlike football and basketball, baseball did not use their African American star players to promote the sport.  It may not have had a Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, or Jerry Rice; but it could have better utilized Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds (before the steroid issues), Derek Jeter, or Frank Thomas. By the time baseball understood what was happening, the other sports had the ears and eyes of African American kids.

What is your present involvement in youth baseball?

For the last four years I have been on the board of the Kansas City, Kansas Baseball Association (KCKBA), an organization that provides opportunities for kids in the inner city to play competitive baseball. We organize youth baseball teams to play in leagues such as the Kansas City, Missouri RBI, Wyandotte County Unified Government, and other leagues, in addition to having our own T-Ball league.  Last season I helped coach two Machine Pitch league teams for kids aged 10 years old and younger.

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How are the lives of the Negro League players in Last Train to Cooperstown an inspiration?

They were examples of pursuing excellence in what they did in spite of facing obstacles due to uncontrollable and imperfect circumstances.  Racial discrimination robbed them of the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues; that was out of their control.  Due to the economic restrictions that characterized Negro League baseball, they had to travel and play often in imperfect conditions.  However, they did not use either as an excuse or rationalization to not do their best.  As a result, even though the color of their skin kept them out of Major League baseball, the excellence they exhibited on the diamond earned them an undeniable place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame

Do you have plans for another book?

Yes!  With the Civil Rights Movement’s initial beginnings as its backdrop, the book will tell of the demise of Negro League teams as the integration of Major League baseball by African American and dark-skinned Latino players gained unstoppable momentum in the 1950s.

You have a popular baseball blog – The Baseball Scroll and a website where you write about baseball history.  Explain why you started them.

I started The Baseball Scroll (www.thebaseballscroll.blogspot.com)and the blog on my website (www.klmitchell.com) to constantly promote the unshakable historical connection of African-Americans to the sport of baseball.  The content for both includes my personal reflections, as an African American, on baseball events of my youth, the history of Negro League baseball, and information about baseball’s “golden era” (1950s through early 1960s) pertaining to African American ball players.  Hopefully, heralding the deep historical connection will revive the interest of African Americans in the game.  My blogs also help me connect to other bloggers and baseball historians, both African American and white, who have the same objective.

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How can someone get in touch with you for speaking engagements?

My website address is www.klmitchell.com and my direct email address is kevlephmitch@gmail.com

Purchase Last Train To Cooperstown