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Monday, November 24, 2014

Thank you, Leah!

Welcome once again to my place!

In my first post I asked this question about the main characters in the Ernestine and Amanda series:
If you could talk to one of the girls, which one would it be and
what would you say to or ask her?

I promised to send to the person whose response I liked best an autographed copy of book 5, the most recent book.
Book 5 of the series
Among the responses I received was one that impressed me deeply. It came from Leah who lives in Los Angeles, California.  She addressed her response to Ernestine and Amanda (I loved that), and here is part of what she said:  

Dear Ernestine and Amanda,
You guys are SOOOOO lucky - I wish I lived your life!!

Living in one place for years - that's awesome. We moved all the time. :-(

Teachers who care…!

You had Enough. Never going to bed hungry, always safe. I say "WOW!"

Ernestine: Your Mama and Daddy, Uncle J.B. and more family, a sister (I've always wanted a sister), music lessons, friends like Clovis and Alicia, safe streets, a loving Church - Again all I can say is "WOW!" 

Amanda: It's harder for you, with your folks breakup and all. But you know your Dad and you know he loves you. I never knew my Dad at all. And you have grace and Dance to help you find your way.

So, I guess my only question for the both of you is "Do you know how lucky you are"? 

Leah’s response made me think about Ernestine and Amanda in a different way. I once said that their stories are the keepers of my childhood memories, and that remains true. The things they do, the voices they hear, the communities in which they live… all of these things were of my childhood.

Leah helped me know that I must remember that some kids see their lives as very different from the ones of Ernestine and Amanda. In fact, some kids’ lives are very different, and for many different reasons. In some ways this is good; in others, not as good. Of course, every kid will have to decide for herself or himself how this is so. 

What I must decide and remember when I’m writing the Ernestine & Amanda stories is to show how what they do, how they feel, and what they strive for should reflect a reality all kids can understand, no matter in what time they live.

At the Farm

On the Ocean
The photo of the young women in “At the Farm” above was taken over 40 years before the times of Ernestine and Amanda. The identical twins in “On the Ocean” was taken over 40 years after those times. However, although living in times almost 90 years apart, every single one of these young women is the same in some very important ways:
  • Each wants to find joy in herself and with those in her life.
  • Each has a dream about herself—a dream that will affect the choices she makes.
  • Each is a young woman of color and will sometimes be forced to look at herself through the world’s mirror… one that often does not recognize and welcome her because she is of color.
  • Each will become a woman in a world that often does not value her because of her gender and will have to figure out how to be true to herself and her goals despite this.
Leah’s words will help me remember how the above are true in Ernestine and Amanda’s lives, especially now as both girls get ready to enter high school.    

I’ll sign off now with a special message to Leah:

Thank you so much for your wonderful response and for telling me that you’re a fan of the Ernestine & Amanda series. It was great to hear that you’ve read and loved every book. I hope you’ll continue to read and enjoy them, including the autographed copy of book 5 which you should have received by now.
By the way, one of the main characters in another one of my books, Store-Bought Baby, is named Leah. That name is going to be a very special one for me.

To everyone, I hope you will visit again… soon!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Ernestine or Amanda: Who Would You Choose?

I love stories... I mean, I really love stories!
I love to read them, hear them, imagine them…
It’s no surprise, then, that I love to write them!

How do you feel about stories?
My guess is that if you’re here, reading this first post of my blog, stories appeal to you also. You might even have a few of your own to tell.

Well, welcome to my “Write Place.”
This blog will be my special place for sharing many things about stories.
It’s also a space into which I sincerely welcome you to join me.

Most of what I will share in the beginning will be about two of my favorite young ladies: Ernestine and Amanda. Join me now and get a chance to receive one of their books as a gift!

Keep reading to find out more.
Book 1
“Ernestine and Amanda are the keepers of my childhood memories,” I once told a person who interviewed me. I should also have said that most of all, Ernestine and Amanda’s stories tell ones I wish I had been able to read when I was growing up—stories about black girls like me.

My friends and I longed to read about kids who looked like us and talked like we did. Kids whose neighborhoods were similar to ours and whose families cared and talked about the same kind of things at the dinner table that we did. Kids who went to the same kind of schools we went to.

In those days, black kids (usually called “Negroes” at that time) and white kids lived different lives in many ways, including having homes in separate neighborhoods and going to separate schools. In most cases the white schools had more and better things than the Negro schools. For example, the white schools got new books every year; the Negro schools got the hand-me-down books.

The teachers in our schools were paid less than the white teachers. Despite this, our teachers did everything they could to make sure we had a good education. One of the things they wanted to make sure of was that we would grow strong through knowing who we were, knowing our history… the history of black people in America and in the world. Something we heard often was, “You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been!”
Book 3
Books 3 will give you an idea of what our schools were like.
In this story the girls are in fifth-grade and for the first time attend the same school. The school is named after William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, an important African-American figure in history. 
Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois
Every year the school has a “W.E.B. Du Bois Festival,” an event to celebrate Negro history and heritage. Ernestine is excited about entering the festival’s essay contest. Unlike Ernestine, however, Amanda’s greatest interest is in forming a club—one that Ernestine will not be invited to join. Amanda and her friends name their group “C.L.U.B. No one but club members know what the letters stand for. Ernestine and one of her new friends decide that they stand for “Clowns Losing Undone Brains.” Do you think that might be it?

Book 4
In book 4 of the series a dance studio opens for Negroes. The only other dance studio in Carey, the town where both girls live, is for whites only. So, the Negro parents get together to open a dance school for their children and hire a teacher for it.

The new dance teacher, Miss Davis, was a student of the great dancer, anthropologist, author, and choreographer, Katherine Dunham. In teaching her students about dance, Miss Davis follows Ms. Dunham’s philosophy: that dance should reflect the culture of a people. (It also happens in the story that one of the two girls promises to be a gifted dancer. Any ideas about which one it might be?)
Katherine Dunham
Information about Ms. Dunham and all of the historical people and events mentioned in the Ernestine&Amanda books is included in their website.
For example, the timeline in the site will give you an opportunity to hear the real Katherine Dunham talk about her life and to see a video clip of her dancing. (She performs "Stormy Weather" from  a Hollywood movie in which she appeared.)

Book 5
It’s pretty clear from the very beginning that Ernestine and Amanda are not friends. After reading what each girl has to say about herself or the particular situations they find themselves in, it’s easy to understand why. Many wonder if they ever will be friends or even learn to get along. Hmmm… I wonder.

Actually, I don’t wonder about that at all. I am perhaps the only one who knows without doubt the answer to those questions. I will tell you, however, that book 5 tells about an important turning point in both of their lives.

Especially for YOU!

Many readers have shared their feelings about the Ernestine & Amanda series—especially how they feel about the two main characters. The two girls are quite different in many ways, and most readers seem to prefer one over the other. (I’ve also gotten many responses about Jazz, Ernestine’s younger sister. Just about all readers like Jazz a lot.  Some have even asked me to begin a series about her! I too love Jazz as a character… but more about that another time.)  

For now I want to know your feelings about the main characters of the series: Ernestine and Amanda. My question to you is:

If you could talk to one of the girls, which one would it be and
what would you say to or ask her?

When you’ve decided, please write to me at 
If you’d like, tell a little something about yourself—something you'd want other readers to know.

In my next post I will share all of the responses I like. To the person who writes the one I like most, I will send an autographed copy of a book from the series—any one she or he chooses.

Of course, if you don’t have any idea who Ernestine and Amanda are, go to their website where they introduce themselves and their times. (A link to their site is below.) But to begin really to know them, check out one of their titles on Amazon. There’s a direct link to their Amazon page at their site.

Book 2
Since it’s summer, book 2 is the one you might want to check out first. Ernestine & Amanda: Summer Camp, Ready or Not! Both girls go away to camp, Ernestine to one located about two hours away from where they live—a camp Negroes in Carey have attended for years. Amanda goes to an integrated camp in another state. It is the first time ever that she has spent time with white kids. The camps, like the girls, are very different from each other, but in ways that might surprise you.

Remember to check out Ernestine and Amanda’s website at

Take a look at Ernestine and Amanda’s Pinterest site to get an idea of how people dressed and things looked during their time…  

…but most of all, don’t forget to send your answers to the question to!

That’s it for now.
I will look forward to hearing from you!