Happy Book Birthday, Jada!

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Art by Vanessa Brantley Newton

When my daughter was in elementary school, she searched for chapter book series starring girls who looked like her. We found Nikki & Deja, Ruby & the Booker Boys, Dyamonde Daniel, Willimena Rules! and Sassy. She treasured those great stories but longed for more.

Where were the chapter books about black girls who loved science? Where were the ones about black girls who felt awkward as they navigated friendships or froze when faced with public speaking? She read countless series with white characters. She saw them in prime spots in libraries, bookstores and at school. Why weren’t more series with black characters available too?

As a mom, children’s book author and founding member of The Brown Bookshelf, I know how important it is for kids to see their reflections and know their lives matter. Literary icon Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I took her advice.

Kirkus Reviews says this of Jada Jones: Rock Star: “Easy to read and sprinkled with science, a contemporary tale of friendship, loss, acceptance, and learning how to be who you are and rock what you’ve got.” Book 2, Jada Jones: Class Act, is the story of Jada running for student council and finding her voice.

People often ask how I came up with Jada Jones. Well, guess what? I didn’t find Jada. She found me. I heard her in my daughter’s voice, saw her in the eyes and smiles of girls I met when I visited schools. Smart, sincere and big-hearted,  Jada and her friends represent the beautiful kids I know who deserve to be the stars of stories too.

A big thank you to the best team around: illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton, my editor Renee Hooker and the Penguin Workshop crew, my agent Caryn Wiseman, my family and friends. And special thanks to the wonderful children I am honored to serve. Today, I’ll share cupcakes with my husband and kids and toast with sparkling cider. My birthday wish is for Jada to connect with children, help fill a void and soar.


Rock Star Writers

Illustration by Vanessa Brantley Newton (Jada Jones: Class Act)

Thank you to everyone who entered the Rock Star Rules contest. We were impressed with the wonderful entries and are thrilled to announce our winners. Time to celebrate!

The grand prize goes to ERR of Farmington Hills, MI. Her entry was a script for a show called Rock Star News. Can you guess who the featured guest was? Jada Jones! ERR’s concept was creative, unique and fun. She not only shared rock star rules, but gave detailed examples of each one. Here’s an excerpt:

Elena: Thanks! Well folks, this is Elena, speaking out on my top rock star rules! Stay tuned for the latest RS News-Jada Jones, a rock star herself, will be coming to interview me!
(Jada Jones walks in, smiling)
Jada: Good job, Reporters Alexis and Elena! I heard what you were
saying, just wanted to be a rock star friend and let Elena finish her
introduction. Letting somebody do something first is a great way
to be a rock star friend! And saying thank you is good, too!
Both Alexis and Elena: Thanks for the compliment, Ms. Jones!
Jada: Oh, you’re welcome!
Jada: Well, let’s get started! (Looks at Elena) What are your top
rules for being a rock star friend?
Elena: Hmm…I’d really have to dig deep on that one. My first rule would be…Be Kind! This world would be miserable without kindness, so I think my top rule would be kindness.
Jada: Can you tell us what kindness is to you?
Elena: To me, kindness is like a friend, someone who always is by your side, who never lets you go, ready to defend you, always keeping promises and helping you. Kindness not only helps you, but other people too. Kindness is always the one to pick up your social studies notebook when Shayla drops it in the hallway or when Louisiana gets you an ice pack when you fall of the monkey bars at recess. Kindness is always there for you, like a dog and a leash. Kindness loves you like a mother, (not literally, though) taking care of you, (also not literal) and doing nice things for you. That’s what I think of kindness.

The rock star runners up are BP of Bakersfield, CA and LC of Southern Pines, NC.  BP’s rules were thoughtful, wise and inspiring. LC’s rules remind us to show respect for our community, each other and ourselves. Here are their entries: 

Top Rules to Being a Mega ROCKSTAR Friend 

starclipart1.  ROCKSTAR friends know how to bring out the mega sparkle in others.

2.  ROCKSTAR friends use their words to build others up.

3.  ROCKSTAR friends know how to find beauty in every person and situation.

4.  ROCKSTAR friends lead by example.

5.  ROCKSTAR friends always welcome others to create, build, and join the group.

6.  ROCKSTAR friends always welcome a challenge (big or small).

7.  A ROCKSTAR friend always remembers what they are made of.

– BP, Bakersfield, California

Rock Star Rules

starclipart21. Do not be loud in the library.
2. Be respectful.
3. Help others.
4. Don’t say mean things.
5. Don’t litter.
6. Do not steal.
7. Don’t waste paper and water and energy.
8. Be kind to animals.
9. Use your manners.
10. Read every day.
– LC, Southern Pines, NC
Thanks again to all of the rock star writers who entered. So proud of you.

Rock Star Rules Contest


To celebrate the release of the Jada Jonesjadaprogramcover2 series, we’re kicking off a contest for kids in first-fourth grade. Ask a parent, teacher or guardian to share your rules for being a rock star friend by October 24 to enter. Details and prizes here. And you get something special just for stopping by the site  – Jada Jones coloring pages designed by artist Vanessa Brantley Newton:

Rock Star coloring page

Class Act coloring page

Remember Jada’s advice: “Dare to shine by being you.” Happy creating.

Celebrating Jada at Quail Ridge Books

IMG_5047Thanks so much to everyone who came to our launch party, bought books, sent well wishes, shared posts. My sister-friend Vanessa Brantley Newton and I felt the love. About 100 people partied with us. Quail Ridge Books sold out of copies. Yay! More are on the way. What a celebration and welcome to the world for our character Jada Jones.

We created this series to make sure all kids can see themselves in chapter books. Black girls and boys deserve to be the stars of stories too. The biggest joy foIMG_5052r me was looking into the audience at excited children. Some had already read the books. Some looked forward to digging in. What a blessing to share the day with the kids we serve.

We started the event by sharing our children’s book journeys. I read excerpts from the books. Vanessa dazzled the crowd with hFullSizeRender (25)er art demo. After the Q & A, it was time to eat cake and rock candy, do crafts and sign. It filled our hearts to see children and parents lined up with our books. We loved getting to talk to each person.

At the craft station, kids used paint markers and Sharpies to create art on rocks. They had fun with coloring paFullSizeRender (26)ges Vanessa made.

So many people pitched in to make the launch party special. Thank you to our family and friends who came early, stayed late, pitched in wherever they could – our husbands and kids, Judy, Susan, Shelia, Dominique, Coy, Johnny, Virginia, Shawna. Thank you, QRB, for hosting us and Gem Wagon Miners for donating the door prizes. IMG_5050

A big thanks to all of you for being with us on this journey. We are grateful for your support.

Our next book parties are 2 p.m. Saturday, October 21 at Richard B. Harrison Library in Raleigh and 1 p.m. Sunday, October 22 at Park Road Books in Charlotte. Let’s keep the party going.IMG_5056.JPG