In honor of Black History Month, the author, Jeanne Harvey, of My Hands Sing the Blues is giving away one autographed copy of her book to a lucky WSBS reader!
R: Tell me about yourself and your family.
JH: I’m living my dream come true to be a children’s book author! I’ve wanted to write books for children since I was a girl. I’ve had a number of jobs along the way (roller coaster operator, attorney for high tech businesses, literacy and library volunteer, and most recently, middle school Language Arts and Writing Workshop teacher). This year, I’ve rejoined the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) docent program, and I give tours to student groups which I really enjoy. I actually was inspired to write MY HANDS SING THE BLUES when I gave tours at SFMOMA of an amazing Romare Bearden exhibit organized by the National Gallery. Kids loved his art! I could barely get them to move on to the next painting because they were so drawn to the vibrant images of the collages and the stories that each painting told.
When I’m not giving tours at SFMOMA, I’m usually at home or in one of the many libraries or coffee houses I frequent where I’m writing, writing, writing. If I’m at home, my sweet dog, Lucy, a black Lab, is at my feet keeping me company (or nudging me to tell me it’s time to get moving and take a walk).
I live in Marin County, just north of my favorite landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge, with my husband who has been a big supporter of my writing since we met in college. We have two sons in college, and they too read my work and give me great suggestions.
R: How many books have you written? Why write for kids?
JH: I’ve written many books for children, picture books and novels, but some need to stay in my files because I view them as stepping stones to where I am now. It’s been a long road for me to get published which made it all that more exciting when it happened.
My first picture book to be published, ASTRO THE STELLER SEA LION (Sylvan Dell Publishing) was published in 2010. It’s based on a true story of a stranded Steller sea lion pup that was rescued by the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center. Astro bonded to people and kept returning to people each time he was released in the ocean. He even joined a school’s walk-a-thon! When I read about his story in my local newspaper, I thought, here’s a perfect story to share with kids. A case of fact better than fiction. I love writing for children because I get to relish the things kids love. And, as a children’s book author, I get to be around kids and share my books which is such fun! When a child tells me that he or she loves my book, it’s truly the best feeling. One teacher told me that a girl who had trouble reading liked my book so much that she memorized the story from reading it so often. I feel very honored to be able to touch a child’s life in that way.
R: Books featuring African-American characters are hard to come by. Why did you choose to focus your book on African Americans?
JH: Yes, I agree that we need more books with African-American characters. I was inspired to write this books because of Romare Bearden’s amazing art. His art tells stories not only about his childhood, but the African-American experience in a way we can all seek to understand. I wanted to share his art and his life story with more children through a book about him.
R: Sum up your book for my readers. Why will their kiddos enjoy it?
JH: MY HANDS SING THE BLUES tells the story of the childhood journey of Romare Bearden from Charlotte, North Carolina, to shimmering Harlem, New York City. As part of the Great Migration, his family moved to escape the terrible Jim Crow laws, and his family home in Harlem became a center for Harlem Renaissance artists, writers and activists. I wrote the story in a loosely based blues format (three line stanzas with rhyme and repeating phrases) because Bearden loved and was greatly influenced by blues and jazz. He not only had musician friends, but he could hear the music right from his studio in Harlem. When I read the book to children at schools and libraries, they connect to Romare leaving his wonderful great-grandparents, and the excitement of a train ride. And I enjoy going wild with the train sounds included in my text (and I even bring a wooden train whistle). And kids absolutely love Liz Zunon’s illustrations which are truly amazing!
R: What are you working on next?
JH: I’m working on several books. I like working on one book, then putting it away and then coming back to it with fresh eyes. I enjoy writing narrative nonfiction biographies and finding a creative way to capture a theme about a person’s life. So I’m tackling a couple of different artist type picture book biographies. And, I’m also trying my hand at a few humorous picture books — I think having our exuberant spontaneous college sons home during the holidays put me in a rather silly mood. And silly can be great fun to write!
Giveaway Item: One autographed copy of My Hands Sing the Blues
Begins and Ends: Begins now, ends at noon (central time) on Feb. 16th. Winner's name will be posted on Feb. 16th.
How to enter (enter up to 5x):
1: Become a follower of this blog, and leave me a comment stating you did so.
2: Share this giveaway on Facebook, your blog, or Twitter, and leave me a comment stating you did so.
3: Become a fan of my blog on Facebook. Leave me a comment stating you did so.
4: Leave a comment telling me how you plan to celebrate Black History Month in your home.
5: Leave a comment stating what you liked best about Jeanne's interview.