AbyD Illustrator Tyrelle Smith

AbyD Illustrator Tyrelle Smith

Tyrelle Smith is the master artist behind the gorgeous illustrations that grace the pages of some of our favorite AbyD titles including The Legend of MeeCheli: The First African American Princess and, our latest release, Dance of the Antelope.

For the recently released Ghanaian fairy tale by Patricia Norki Nater, Tyrelle took inspiration from the rich golds and purples popular on the African continent as well as gorgeous, complicated Kente cloths and other elements of Africana to create art worthy of an African Cinderella story.

Tyrelle is no stranger to looking at inspiring items. When he’s not painting or drawing himself, he is a security guard at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He took the job, in part, to be around inspiring works all day and keep art in the forefront of his mind.

Here’s what Tyrelle had to say about how his two occupations complement each other:

“I enjoy the environment and being around the artwork. It’s a great joy to go there and be around inspiring artwork all day.”

Tyrelle graduated with an art degree and considers himself lucky to be an artist whose daytime workplace is filled with amazing artwork and populated by other people who live for art; whether they are the tour leaders, visitors, curators, patrons or other art professionals who work at or visit the museum.

“Most of my co-workers know I’m also a working artist. Actually, most of the people that work at the museum are artists of one kind or another. The majority of the security staff are artists or designers,” he said.

As he passes through the museum performing his job daily, there are a few pieces in the permanent collection that always move him. He counts the romantic  “Twilight in the Wilderness” by Frederic Edwin Church among his favorites as well as most of the museum’s impressionist pieces.

“I love artwork that has an expressionist element to it. I definitely work parts of that into my own art,” he said.

A piece of Tyrelle's art from Dance of the Antelope

A piece of Tyrelle’s art from Dance of the Antelope

When he began working with authors as a book illustrator, he added another dimension to his creativity. He had to create something that he was inspired by but that also pleased the author.

“Illustration is a different beast. It challenges me, but I love it. You have to work within a whole new framework that keeps in mind your own style but also presents the interesting challenge of bringing their vision to life,” he explained. “I would say that the biggest surprise in illustrating was learning to step outside my comfort zone and away from the techniques and references I usually use,” he said.

For Dance of the Antelope, Tyrelle was particularly moved by the global feel of the story. “I’m incredibly happy to be working with characters of different ethnicities and diverse stories. It’s wonderful to play around with style and context in the illustrations,” he said.

One thing that stays consistent throughout Tyrelle’s portfolio is a certain mystical and fantastical quality. “I make sure to get that element in everything that I do. Even the cover of Meecheli has that feeling. It’s more grounded than some of the fairy and dragon pieces that I do, but it still has that otherworldly, epic, grand feeling to it,” he noted.

We couldn’t agree more. With Tyrelle’s talent, we at AbyD have no doubt that his work will someday be hanging on those museum walls besides Monet, Dali, Rousseau, El Greco, and Caravaggio.

Check out more of Tyrelle’s work in Dance of the Antelope, The Legend of MeeCheli: The First African American Princess and on his own site here 


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Washoe Ranchers at Richards Ranch, Washoe County, Nevada. Photo courtesy of Bob Dass

Washoe Ranchers at Richards Ranch, Washoe County, Nevada. Photo courtesy of Bob Dass

If you are as excited as we are about the upcoming release of Just Indian, our new book by first-time Native American author Jackie Neypes, then you might want to learn more about the Washoe tribe that Jackie descends from. So did we! We asked Jackie a few questions about her background.

Here is what we found out about the fascinating Washoe tribe.

Jackie still spends time on Washoe tribal lands in Nevada whenever she has free time. She always visits alongside her family and thinks of it as the best time of the year. She said that “Going back to where my family is, and my ancestors are from, gives me such peace and joy. My favorite part of being in Carson Valley [Nevada, where the Washoe lands are] is to visit with my elders and listen to my tribal history.”

In her book, Just Indian, readers enjoy learning a bit about life both on and off the reservation for one Native American boy and the tribulations facing Native Americans today. The book beautifully displays the beauty and richness of tribal heritage as well.

Jackie wrote the book because she wanted to raise awareness about what it is like to be a modern Native American. She is concerned that people may perceive Natives in a past context and don’t think about what many modern Natives have to face in this present time. She wanted to bring to light the hardships that many Natives face in this world.

Through Jackie, we learned that the Washoe tribe traditionally lived in the lands across Nevada and California and are especially fond of the land around Lake Tahoe. In fact, the word “Tahoe” is derived from the Washoe word for lake.

Photo of Whale Beach, Lake Tahoe. An important setting in Just Indian and part of the Washoe lands. Photo courtesy of Jackie Neypes.

Photo of Whale Beach, Lake Tahoe. An important setting in Just Indian and part of the Washoe lands. Photo courtesy of Jackie Neypes.

They believed Lake Tahoe to be a place of utmost importance and the spiritual center of their world. Traditionally, they received the bulk of their diet from the lake and surrounding rivers, fishing for trout and freshwater clams during all seasons that the waterways weren’t frozen.

The story that has been passed down from the Washoe elders is that a coyote led them to their ancestral home, and they were taught to use the local lake, plants, animals, and other resources to find food, medicine, and the items needed for survival.

Another part of their diet and lore is the collection of pine nuts. Pine nuts were gathered in the fall and eaten all winter. They were so important to the tribe that they even performed a “pine nut dance” to ensure a good picking season. To fill the gaps in their diet, they would also hunt for small game like rabbit.

The name Washoe means “people from here” in the Washoe language. It’s a fitting name since, unlike many more nomadic tribes, the Washoe were and are semi-sedentary, which may be why their name means “people from here” and not “people from all over.”

To find out more about the Washoe, click here

To find out more about Just Indian and reserve your copy today, click here.

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An AbyD Author Remembers Her Past

Screenshot 2015-10-17 at 12.56.30 PM

To really get to know the world that Patricia Norki Nater writes about in her recent AcuteByDesign book, Dance of the Antelope, which takes place in Ghana, we asked her to tell us a bit about where she comes from.

She chose to tell us about a popular the market in Accra. The Makola market is important to Norki because it was writing about this big, loud, colorful and traditional market as a young girl that cemented in her mind that she wanted to be a writer. The piece of writing that she produced for her teacher about the market during the Christmas holidays won high praise and was even put on display in the classroom.

Now,  years later, Norki shares with us her memories of the Accra market:

“When you walk in – it’s a frenzy! Vendors calling out to customers about their wares, the vibrant colors of goods and fabrics, the smells of delicious foods such as roasting plantains, corn or kebabs are almost overwhelming. It even looks like a party! The balloons for sale and the Piccadilly Gem brand biscuits that vendors string up like popcorn as decoration added to the air of festivity.  

“You enter and all of this comes at you like a wave, and you need to search around for what you need: groceries, lunch, new clothes, shoes or a present for a friend – you could get everything there! Back then, all the vendors were outdoors. They would sit on stools behind their high stacks of wares, wearing these big hats to keep the sun out of their faces. The hats were sometimes so big that you could hardly see their faces!” she recalled.

At the competitive, good-natured market, vendors selling similar products often sat beside one another. They would arrange oranges, bananas and peanuts in crazy patterns to try to attract people to their goods and sell more; all the while calling out to everyone that passed by, trying to entice them.

Going to the market was always an adventure.  “Oh, the peanut brittles and coconut candies! And the ice cream men riding bicycles and selling Fan brand vanilla ice cream or Sunspot brand orange and lemon shaved ice. It was heaven for children, who were everywhere laughing, crying and playing while the adults chatted, possibly sipping palm wine.

“I would be trying to get the sweets while my mother and father were getting our groceries. They didn’t take me often because I always wanted to buy something. My dad loved shopping though. Those were happy times.”

“The market in Accra is not really like that anymore. Now, it’s more coordinated and supervised but I will always remember it like it was when I was a child.”

To learn more about Norki’s fascinating world and life in Ghana, pick up a copy of her new release, Dance of the Antelope. The Ghanaian Cinderella story features the beautiful, young Nshira and teaches youngsters about Ghanaian homes, clothing, food and culture. Get your copy here today!

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Cyn holding up a copy of her latest release, Heartfelt, The Special Reindeer

Cyn holding up a copy of her latest release, Heartfelt, The Special Reindeer

The good wishes were indeed “heartfelt” when over a dozen of Cynthia “Cyn” MacGregor’s friends and associates gathered in her home for a double celebration, marking not only her birthday but also the release of Heartfelt, the Special Reindeer.

Seating was at a premium but there was no shortage of good cheer and also no shortage of interest in Cynthia’s latest book from AcuteByDesign, the story of a “special needs” reindeer who also has a special power: the ability to look into a person’s heart and know what their most heartfelt wish is.

Among those gathered to fete Cyn on this double occasion was Lawrence (“Larry”) Rein, who wrote the music for the song “It’s Heartfelt” and also performs it on the recording, which is available for download here .   Cyn wrote the lyrics to the can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head tune.

Cyn's guests assembled at her home

Cyn’s guests assembled at her home

Although nobody sang the birthday song, Larry Rein whipped out his smartphone and played a recording of “It’s Heartfelt” for the assemblage. Good food and wine abounded, as did a sense of camaraderie and a general congratulatory atmosphere.

Cyn “wears two hats” around AbyD: as one of its authors and one of its staffers. Her only regret at the party was that none of the other AbyD team members could be present to join her on this occasion.

Editor’s Note: Don’t worry Cyn, we’ll be there next time! 

Posted in Book Release, Cynthia Macgregor, difficult, diversity, events, gender equality, independent, Launch Party, learning disabled students | Tagged , , , , , , , Comment


The last week of September is the nationally recognized “banned books week,” during which the books that have been banned or challenged in schools, libraries, and other institutions are celebrated for the contributions they provide. It is precisely these kinds of books ­ cutting edge, scary, thought­-provoking, provocative, and ahead of their time ­ that should be celebrated.

In an unofficial movement, many African American bookstores, authors, and bloggers have claimed the last week of October as “African­-American banned books week,” a time to celebrate banned books by African­-American authors and other authors of color.

Among those most celebrated titles are:

The Color Purple by Alice Walker; The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley ; Beloved by Toni Morrison; Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston; Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; Native Son by Richard Wright; Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin; The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; The Kite Runner By Khaled Hosseini; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and many, many others.

At AbyD, we happily celebrate banned books by authors of all colors and stripes. We are fans of the unknown and untested, of wild creativity and unfettered thought.

Why Are Books Banned?

Books are banned or challenged by schools, libraries, learning institutions, or public groups. Even government censorship boards have banned books. The reasons are usually related to some kind of outrage over the book’s contents that can include: violence, sex, racism, drug/alcohol use, blasphemy, religion, politics, and even witchcraft.

Did you know that groups wanted to ban the Harry Potter book series because they claimed it encouraged witchcraft?!

The Diary of Anne Frank was also brought before a board in Alabama for rejection simply because it was “a real downer.” Imagine!

A council in London banned the Beatrix Potter classic The Tale of Peter Rabbit from London schools because it portrayed “only middle­-class rabbits!”

It’s easy to laugh at some of these claims in retrospect, but they were quite real, and it’s scary to think that we might have lost some of these great, classic books.

Why We Should Celebrate

We should celebrate banned books so that we can recognize that we made mistakes and rectified them. That we allowed knowledge to rule over fear, beauty over prejudice. We should celebrate because we recognized our mistakes and grew as a society and a culture. We should celebrate because, as a nation, we are still young and willing to learn from our mistakes.

Because these books were banned at one time, there is a chance that, had we not seen the error of our ways, these titles might have been lost forever. We need to rejoice in the fact that that didn’t happen. That we still have these tomes and titles to read, enjoy and consider.

After all, what would the world be without The Color Purple or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? Not a world I’d like to know.

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Diane Humetewa, photo courtesy of ASU News

Diane Humetewa, photo courtesy of ASU News

Diane Humetewa is the United States’s first female Native American Federal Judge and a hero of ours here at AbyD. Confirmed last year, she is doing a great job fairly interpreting the law for the state of Arizona.

At AbyD, we love and support both the Native American community and those people who push discriminatory boundaries.

Not only are we supporters of Native American culture, history, and people in all ways, we are in the midst of publishing our first book aimed at enhancing Native pride in children and increasing awareness of Native life.

Just Indian is due out before the end of the year and tells the story of a young Native American boy who defies the stereotypes of those around him and, most tellingly, those inside his own head.

Humetewa broke the same stereotypes when she took the federal bench in mid-2014, appointed by President Barack Obama. She is not only the first female Native American federal judge, but only the third Native American judge in the history of the country!

An active member of the Hopi tribe, Humetewa does not see herself as a role model but a judge. She aims to be a judge for all Americans, to preside on all issues, and not just to specialize in things relating to her own culture. She aims to be much more than the sum of her parts.

Judges for all people are in short supply recently. Her judicial skills were critically needed because Arizona’s federal judges were overloaded. Arizona boasts even busier court filings than most other states since it has all of the issues faced by other areas as well as Native American-related cases (due to large parcels of Native and federal lands), as well as a long international land border and all the legal issues related to that. Arizona is one of the busiest judicial systems in the nation, and Humetewa has risen to the occasion of her new position.

AbyD salutes Humetewa and all federal judges for the work that they do. And we hope we can, in some small way, work to help raise awareness and sensitivity to the realities of life as a Native American.

Find out more about Native American life in our forthcoming book, Just Indian. Watch for our announcements over the next few months announcing its publication.

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Guest Post by Patricia Norki Nater, author of Dance of the Antelope

Dance of the Antelope

Finding Acute By Design was a godsend. Literally. Sometime last year as I was surfing the Craigslist website looking for part-time teaching and tutoring work and scrolling through various links, it just so happened that I clicked on the link posted by AcuteByDesign.

I recalled that, after reading the post requesting manuscript submissions and/or a brief summary of one’s story, I kind of rolled my eyes and muttered about Craigslist doing a better job of screening postings.  However, for some reason, instead of disregarding or discarding the post, I forwarded it to my email as is my wont when I find promising, prospective jobs.

For several days after that I re-read and mulled over the post while praying about what to do.  The reason for my hesitance and mistrust stemmed from my past experience with the writing and publishing industry.  So eager was my initial foray into publishing my work some years ago; a compilation of cute animal photos coupled with quotes/sayings, that the request to pay a fee before entering the writing competition did not trigger any alarm bells.

After being politely told that my work was “extremely creative…but unfortunately did not win” but then found that my credit card had been charged twice – once for the pictures and the second for the text, most assuredly the seeds of distrust took root.

My second bad experience was at a writing conference in Maryland where writers were assured that the very best book reviewers would be available to read respective stories and give “valuable advice” on how to get one’s work published…for a fee of course, of nearly $300.

Unfortunately, I once again took the bait and was astounded when the “expert” reviewer I had the misfortune of being advised by told me that Cinderella was a European ONLY story…obviously he had not heard of the approximately 1500 variations of the story from around the world.

After publication, if I find that he is still around, I plan to send him a copy of my book published by AcuteByDesign!

At one point I even applied for a grant awarded to artists.  I made it to the final round and, at the meeting, which artists could attend but not identify themselves, I sat and listened as the grant award people waxed lyrical about my story but bemoaned the fact that awards were only for those about to embark on their projects, and not for those with the finished product.

After all these mishaps, I decided to self-publish because I believed that there was a market and need for such stories.  I researched various self-publishing companies, decided on one I liked and heard rave reviews about, and promised myself that once I had the funds I would proceed with the publishing process.

Then I found AcuteByDesign, or maybe they found me…because after researching online and visiting the website, I finally, cautiously decided to submit a blurb of my story.  Mind you a blurb, not the whole manuscript.  I went back on Craigslist to forward the blurb, but lo and behold there no longer was a link.

By this time I had determined to take a leap of faith with the blurb.  If I submitted that and things were not legitimate I would still not have given up too much information.  After submitting the story summary on the website I did not hear anything for approximately a month, then I received an email.  Not a generic email, but one with a name and contact number.  After contacting and having a wonderful conversation with a girl who confirmed that they were indeed a legitimate company, and that indeed something had gone wrong with the Craigslist ad but yet my work had somehow found its way to them and that my work was loved and appreciated, I knew I was at the right place.

Then I spoke to Michel, the publisher, and then Laurel, the editor, and as the cliché goes…the rest is history.  My dream of a published book is close to becoming a real reality, and I have the awesome people at Acute By Design to thank for making a way where there seemed to be no way.

To all who have a dream and a passion to fulfil it: Do. Not. Give. Up.  Be prepared for when opportunity knocks; write you book, illustrate your pictures, for success is when preparation meets opportunity (another cliché, but profoundly true).

Find out more about Dance of the Antelope, Patrica Norki Nater’s Ghanaian Cinderella Story, and pre-order your copy of this magical tale here.

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