I last featured Nikki Shannon Smith back when her book The Amazing Life of Azalea Lane came out. She now has mulitple books, including a Middle Grade Historical Fiction book in Girls Survive series, called LENA AND THE BURNING OF GREENWOOD, as well as new and upcoming books in her Brown Baby Parade board book series.
In the early 1920s, the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is the wealthiest Black community in the United States. But Tulsa is still a segregated city. “Black Wall Street” and white Tulsa are very much divided. Twelve-year-old Lena knows this, but she feels safe and sheltered from the racism in her successful, flourishing neighborhood. That all changes when Dick Rowland, a young Black man from Greenwood, is accused of assaulting a white woman. Racial tensions boil over. Mobs of white citizens attack Greenwood, terrorizing Black residents and businesses, and forcing many–including Lena and her family–to flee. Now Lena must help her family survive one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history. Readers can learn the real story of the Tulsa Race Massacre from the nonfiction backmatter, including a glossary, discussion questions, writing prompts, and author’s note, in this Girls Survive story.
In our last interview, you talked about the benefits of getting out of your comfort zone. What are your suggestions for writers who are looking to put themselves out there (particularly not yet published authors)?
I have had to work really hard to step outside of my comfort zone, and sometimes it’s still challenging for me, but it is always worth it! It can be difficult for writers at all stages to show their works in progress to other people, but it’s important to do so. I recommend finding a critique group or a critique partner. It not only provides you with feedback, but giving feedback to someone else helps you hone your own editing skills. If you’re able to go to writing meetups, workshops, and conferences, I also recommend that. You can learn and create your writing community at the same time.
Great advice! Your book from the Girls Survive series, “Lena and the Burning of Greenwood: A Tulsa Race Massacre Survival Story” was awarded the Oklahoma Book Award in the category of Children’s and Young Adult Books. Congratulations! What about this story do you think resonated most with readers?
Thank you! Lena and the Burning of Greenwood is an emotional story depicting heartbreaking truths, and I’m truly grateful it has reached such a wide audience and that readers enjoy it. One thing I always try to do with difficult subject matter is include hope and joy. I wanted Lena and her family to be well-developed and to show the love and beauty in their household and their community. While Lena goes through unimaginable events, she is a little girl, not unlike other little girls. I think her relatability pulls readers in, and the unfortunate tension inherent in her situation allows them to endure the story. I believe despite the tragic outcome of the massacre, readers find hope and see that there are good people of all kinds who can band together to make the world a better place. I have also had many adults thank me for telling this story, which has been all but erased from history for far too long. I think all of those factors combined have led to the success of the book.
And I’m glad you were able to shine a light on a part of history that deserves to be seen! The Brown Baby Parade Board Book series debuted with “Love is All Around,” and there will be two more books coming out that are available to pre-order. Can we expect even more books in this series?
Yes! There will be six titles in the Brown Baby Parade series! Available for pre-order now are Halloween Friends and Countdown to Christmas. Additional titles include an Easter book, a book set on a farm, and a book set in a neighborhood. I’m thrilled to have this series with Crown Books growing and making its way into tiny hands!
Excellent! If you could recommend four books in addition to yours that your readers would enjoy, what would they be and why?
This is a hard question! There are so many wonderful books out there, and reading is deeply personal. Honestly, I think readers of all ages should read any book they want to read. It’s so important to me, especially during this era of book banning, that readers receive that message. I will share four books (in no particular order) I enjoy, but I encourage everyone to find a book they love enough to read and read again.
1. Picture Book: BIG by Vashti Harrison
2. Wordless Picture Book: Another by Christian Robinson
3. Middle Grade Fiction in Verse: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
4. Young Adult Horror (but genre-bending in my opinion): Man Made Monsters by Andrea L. Rogers (currently reading and enjoying)
For this and more of Nikki Shannon’s books, go to