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.

Posted in African-American, bedtime, black, Book Release, diversity, independent, international traditions, learning, multiculturalism, new artists, new writers, opportunities, originality, race, teachers | Tagged , , , Comment

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As you’ve likely read in the news over the last week, megastore Target has announced that it will remove gender-based signage in its toy, bedding, and home decor sections.

We here at AcuteByDesign are especially interested in the toy department. We have always been in favor of toys that present diversity–of color, ethnicity, and gender.

Changes in diversity presentation have been a long time coming, and still have a long way to go.

But we are here today to celebrate steps forward and dialogues opened. Not to editorialize on where society yet needs to go. So three cheers for Target doing what they believe to be right in a step toward diversity and equality.

Target’s change comes in response to customers who found the signage unnecessary, and it’s a major move in the shift toward gender-neutrality, anti-stereotyping, and letting kids play with any toys they like without stigma or shame.

It may have started with the Free To Be…You and Me album Marlo Thomas “and friends” put out in the seventies, with the song “William Wants a Doll.” Even back then, the song pointed out that boys who like to play with dolls are not necessarily different–they are just practicing being good daddies.  

Which is the point of a clip we saw online somewhere recently, showing a boy with a doll in a carrier on his back, practicing to be a good father.

The current Target-centered hubbub started in June, when an Ohio woman tweeted a photo from a Target store designating that an aisle contained both “Building Sets” and “Girls’ Building Sets” with a message asking them to stop the sexist practice.

Target’s social media team took notice when the tweet went viral. It was favorited and retweeted a combined 6,000 times.

In response, Target began researching how they could make their stores more comfortable for and accepting of all their customers. Their plan is to remove blue and pink decoration, gender signage, and more over the next few months.

The thinking is that if girls want to play with trains and cars and boys prefer dolls or kitchen sets, there is no need to influence them by providing signs saying those items are not for them.

Target recognized that their customers’ needs and thoughts are evolving, and it’s expected that other national retailers will follow suit. For sizing and fit reasons, gender signage at the store will remain on children’s clothing, contrary to some concerned social media posts by people who are apparently misinformed about the changes.

They are not the only ones upset, however. Some communities are in a furor over the change. Those who support more traditional gender roles, along with some conservative and African-American groups, have boycotted the store and asked others to do the same.

The store’s website will still list toys as for “boys” and “girls” for now, as that’s how people often enter keywords online.

AcuteByDesign applauds and welcomes these changes and conversations in society. We promote discussions about gender, and it is our mission to create books that show all children of both genders in powerful roles. Our stories feature gender equal messages that show boys and girls in equally positive leading roles with main characters the stretch across the cultural, racial, ethnic, and learning spectrum.

Check out the first book in our MeeCheli series, which features a young girl as a warrior who fights to protect her people. To see out more gender-equal children’s book selections, click here.

 

Posted in diversity, gender, gender equality, issues, multiculturalism, originality, sex, stereotypes, talking, Target | Tagged , , , , , , Comment

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This will be part of a series of posts about what lessons we can learn from different famous figures – whether they are authors, artists, thought leaders, politicians, humanitarian figures, or those important to diversity in this world.

The first installment is…CS Lewis

CS Lewis is responsible for that rare sort of fantastical story that is as much a metaphor for life and a parable for adults as it is a child’s entertainment. Like onions, his stories keep revealing different layers. And as with the huge world hidden inside a wardrobe, you feel like you will never reach the end of what he can teach you. Author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, he is known for stories that bring you into his world in the first sentence.

Here are some of the words and lessons of CS Lewis and why they are still as viable today as when he wrote them:

-On originality: “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth without caring twopence how often it has been told before you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

Here at AbyD, we aim for stories that feel authentic and original. A breath of fresh air in our works is what we want. As an example, take a traditional storyline turned on its head when you make the characters be from a different continent, such as in Dance of the Antelope: A Ghanaian Cinderella Story [link, once it’s added to site].

-On how literature enriches the human experience: “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”

To us, a book is not simply something to read; it can be like a lens through which you view the world. Choose to call on it just when you need to, or let it change you forever, seeing the world in this new way.

-On achievement: “We are what we believe we are.”

We can achieve whatever we believe we can achieve – or whatever we believe that we can’t. That’s why we must encourage the young, the unpublished, the unsung, and the disenfranchised to get their great works into the hands of the reading public. We must instill in them a  belief that they can make their dreams reality!

And, in the end, Lewis expressed how many of us here at AcuteByDesign feel:

“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

Find out more about us here.

Posted in diversity, learning, literary quotes, multiculturalism, originality, quotes | Tagged , , , , , , Comment

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Do you know what leitmotifs are? Did you know that they can help learning-disabled students begin reading and that they are used widely in Cory Hills’s book and CD project The Lost Bicycle?

By now, you’ve likely seen Cory Hills’s award-winning CD The Lost Bicycle and read the accompanying children’s book by the same name, published by AcuteByDesign.

Though it may seem like a simple story with African influences, there is much more at work behind the seemingly easy, rhythmic facade of the story.

Cory says, “Taking apart the music story, there’s a reason why it’s written how it’s written: I wrote it for performing live.”

If you listen to Cory perform the percussive storytelling piece The Lost Bicycle live, you’ll notice that each element of the story has it’s own “sound.” Each time he says the name of a character, place, time, or thing; he makes the same corresponding sound with a percussion instrument. That might be a wood block for a dog or a cymbal for a tiger–those are leitmotifs. By the end of a story, a listener subconsciously associates a certain sound with a certain character, item, or action. There are 17 different leitmotifs in TLB.

“Every time I say ‘Mother Earth,’ I ring the bell. When I mention the ‘storm,’ I hit a rainstick. It’s fun for me because it strengthens the story and allows me to push things. Every time I hit the wood block, it’s because I’ve mentioned ‘the boy.’ By the end of the story, I almost don’t need to speak, the wood block has come to represent the boy,” he explained.

Though it’s never overtly mentioned, listeners, especially kids, pick up on this pattern subconsciously.

Leitmotifs are a hot topic in some literacy projects for students with disabilities. Many educators believe that, for each additional component added to a story, a different part of the brain is used to comprehend it. When you have more possible routes to understanding, you have more ways to learn.

Using techniques like this can also allow learning disabled people of all ages to connect with a story in deeper ways. If they have trouble concentrating, the sound gives them another dimension to focus on. If they have attention disorders, a straightforward narrative may not resonate with them. Sounds can provide a welcome distraction that brings them back to the narrative. It’s been studied and proven that kids with disabilities respond better to these types of stories.

Cory references Howard Gardner’s theories of multi-intelligence. “There are several different ways to be intelligent. What some of the literacy experts have worked out is that leitmotifs help students to identify words, sentence structures, and tenses. A kid can have a learning disability, but in just one area of intelligence,” said Cory. For these students, realizing that they understand may also boost their confidence and belief in what they can do.

Leitmotifs are hardly a new technique. They come from the time of  Wagner [mid-1800s]. The sound motifs or themes were used in his operas (and those of his contemporaries) to represent an element in a story: a person, place, item or action. They can be a single sound or a few notes on an instrument. It makes a story more engaging and hypnotic, and people can begin to follow it without listening to the words. Leitmotifs are one reason that people can follow opera in a language they don’t speak.

Cory said, “At the height of the story, I’m running around playing all of these sounds and that’s fun for the audience but they are also learning. At the end of every show, I ask the kids, ‘Did you get that a certain sound is connected to certain character?’

“It shows the power of leitmotifs that 95 percent of kids can yell out which character had each sound. They pick up more than you know.”

This has far-reaching effects in our everyday world too. “Leitmotifs are also the basis for advertising and marketing: Just think about the Law and Order theme song or McDonald’s jingle,” said Cory. “These are leitmotifs. All they need to play are a few notes, and your mind is off and running on exactly what they want you to think about.”

Are you a parent, educator, literacy director, or organization that works with learning disabled kids or adults? Why not pick up TLB for the different learners in your life?

To hear Cory perform The Lost Bicycle and listen to leitmotifs, click this link.

Posted in challenged students, Cory Hills, diversity, Howard Gardner, learning, learning disabled students, multi-intelligence, music, music programs, students, teachers | Tagged , , , , , , , Comment

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Guest Post by AcuteByDesign Author Cynthia MacGregor

Are your kids looking forward to summer, the end of studies, and a summer of, if not exactly sloth, at least not hitting the books? All well and good, but if they don’t open a single book to study, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t open any books at all.

Reading is vitally important to any child’s development, and we here at AcuteByDesign are certainly proponents of reading both for fun and for the benefits that accrue.

Reading broadens the individual’s world, sharpens his or her mind, enhances the curiosity, and of course, with kids who are still reading-learners, practice makes perfect. In other words, the more they read, the more proficient they will become with their reading skills.

Reading is THE cornerstone to education. Need we point out that a student who can’t read well is going to flounder in his or her other subjects thanks to an inability to read quickly enough, comprehend the material fully, and retain it?

So how do you encourage your child to read more—or read at all—over summer vacation?

A little bribery may be called for, and perhaps some friendly competitiveness, too. For an only child, a reward for every book read is a great incentive. For the child in first or second grade, a gold star on a chart may be reward enough. For an older child, something more tangible is called for, though it needn’t be expensive. Ice cream or pizza are certainly suitable.

If your child reads well and is young enough to still be reading picture books, they may tear through several books in one day. In that case, you may want to reward them for every three or five books read. If you are looking for wonderful, multicultural picture books to enchant your children over summer break, why not pick up There’s a Tiger in My House, The Lost Bicycle, The Last Drop of Sunshine, When I Got a Sister or my own offering, Moving Day for Alex?

As for the competition we mentioned in the last paragraph, if you have two or more kids who are old enough to read, award a weekly prize to the one who reads the most books each week of summer vacation. Naturally the books should be appropriate to each child’s reading level. A fifth grader can’t fairly claim the prize by zooming through all of her first-grader brother’s picture books.

Reading—It’s a great habit to get into. And the one kind of kids “getting lost” that parents look forward to is seeing their kids get lost in a book.

Encourage your kids to read as much as possible over the summer. For great titles for children of all ages, visit our online store!

Posted in African-American, book series, Cynthia Macgregor, diversity, Growing Up with Alex, multiculturalism, reading together | Tagged , , , , Comment

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If there are two things that the team at AcuteByDesign finds irresistible, it’s classic children’s tales and African culture. So, naturally, when Patricia “Norki” Nater, a talented Ghanaian writer and inner-city teacher working in Washington, D.C., sent a submission to our inbox, we just couldn’t say no.

Her tale about Nshira, a little Ghanaian girl who is beautiful both outside and in, overflows with the colors, tastes, and traditions of Ghana. It will also satisfy every child’s desire for a rags-to-riches princess tale with all the trimmings!

We are happy to announce that we’ve inked a publishing deal with the talented Nater and her forthcoming book, Dance of the Antelope: A Ghanaian Cinderella Story, is developing beautifully with unforgettable, full-color African artwork by Tyrelle Smith.

The book will hit stores – and your child’s bookshelf! – before the end of the year.

Get to know Nshira, the girl who greets everyone with a cheerful smile and always minds her manners. She loves to dance beside her mother, mimicking the graceful steps of the antelope that rove near their village.

Share her pain when a disease takes her beloved Maame (mother). Read along as everything changes for Nshira and she is forced to serve an awful stepmother and stepsister, who turn her into the family slave.

When the village chief announces a party where he will choose a bride, Nshira longs to go but is forbidden. And anyhow, without a dress to wear to the party, how can she attend? She calls on the help of a few old friends in the village to hatch a plan.

Will she disobey the orders of her family and go out to meet her destiny?

This story, based on traditional Cinderella tales, takes a Ghanaian twist on the classic plot and tells a moving story while introducing kids to Ghanaian vocabulary, foods, clothing, and traditions.

The story unfolds with gorgeous prose by Nater and artwork by Smith, who allows every bit of Ghanaian color, style, and glamour to fill the pages and delight your little ones.

We can’t wait to show you more of this gorgeous book as it unfurls as elegantly as Kente cloth itself!

Posted in African-American, bedtime, black, Book Release, bookstores, diversity, independent, international traditions, multiculturalism, new artists, new writers Comment

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Matsue Wiles created the bright and gorgeous illustrations for AcuteByDesign’s recent release The Lost Bicycle, by Cory Hills.

We noticed lots of different influences in her style and thought we’d ask her about her background and what inspires her art. Matsue was born in Liberia but has lived most of her life in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She still feels the pull of her far-off homeland. Never feeling fully American, yet not 100 percent Liberian has had a curious effect on this powerful female artist.

Because she felt drawn to her ancestral home, she returned to Liberia a few years ago and became involved in launching the modern art community. She bounced back to the US but has plans to take a job at a school in Liberia at the end of this year.

Here’s what she had to say about how life between two cultures continues to amaze and inspire her:

AbyD: How has growing up between two cultures influenced you?

Matsue: For a long time, I went through this internal struggle. I lived here in Louisiana long enough to be from here but my heart was still from Liberia. With my art, I was able to create my own culture, to blend it all together.

What do you love about Liberia?

I like the simplicity and the easy charm of life. Liberians might not have everything but they are the happiest people,  they can be inspired by so little: a red-haired lizard, a fly on the wall, the sea breeze, or people’s laughter traveling through the air.

I miss that. The country is also coming out of a war and there’s a long way to go. It’s a rich culture, but we are in danger of losing some of that with the internet and people devaluing their own culture in favor of Western ways.

And how do you feel about Louisiana?

Louisiana culture is a gumbo, I really believe that! I love the variety and diversity. I live in Baton Rouge, but if I drive just 45 minutes away the accent completely changes, and the food is different, the recipes change—people don’t realize that about this state.

What’s the art scene like in Liberia?

Hmmm, what I will say is that there is no real art appreciation. Liberian people make art to make money, they paint landscapes for tourists, but don’t buy art themselves or place value on it.

That’s where I don’t fit in.

Like most art scenes, there is jealousy – but it isn’t over talent or ideas. It’s over money. For example, if one person sells a certain kind of painting, everybody starts doing a bunch that look like that.

There is a small group that is interested in contemporary art. I started working with them. We’d like Liberia to be recognized for art on an international level.

What about the rest of Africa?

The art scene is really up-and-coming in some places. The Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria have big contemporary art scenes. It would be easier to go and get involved there, but I’m Liberian, and I want to create art there.

The art scene in Louisiana also has an aspect of landscape paintings for tourists, doesn’t it?

Yeah, that’s funny, I guess it does, but contemporary art is more established here. No matter where you are, you have to find your way, find your people. I did that here by going to galleries and open houses but not for the southern, Louisiana-style art you might imagine.

How do you feel about returning to Liberia…again?

There’s less going on in Liberia, art-wise, but what I can do there makes more of a difference. I can leave a bigger footprint. When I was there before, I was doing a project on about how to integrate art into the school curriculum for the Ministry of Art. I wouldn’t be able to do that here.

I’m excited. When I went back before, I did have feelings like I didn’t belong but not now. Now, I’m taking from it what’s mine. I’m going back home.

See more of Matsue’s art in The Lost Bicycle.

 

 

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