Author Spotlight: JaNay Brown-Wood
March 10, 2022
We are excited to feature author JaNay Brown-Wood and her newest picture book, MIGUEL'S COMMUNITY GARDEN illustrated by Samara Hardy (Peachtree Publishing Company) coming out one April 1, 2022.
Enter to win a copy! (Prize available in April!)
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
My name is JaNay Brown-Wood, PhD, Author & Educator. I am a wife, mother, Early Childhood Education professor, scholar and researcher, poet, and advocate for authentic diversity being captured in children’s books. With all that said, I’ve ALWAYS loved to write. When I was younger, I “wrote and illustrated” my own books in school. I wrote poetry, stories, plays, and songs—the process of writing and creating breathed so much life into my childhood. Even my 6th grade teacher made a prediction that I’d be a bestselling author (I still have the prediction she made about me so many years ago). Then, when I graduated from UCLA with my BA in Psychology, I decided I wanted to try to actually get a book published. I had already written an early draft of Imani’s Moon, but then I worked at refining my craft, learning about publishing, understanding what makes a good story and after 8 years, my first book was published. And it’s been an amazing ride since then!
I also want to note that my mission has been to help children find themselves in books. This is essential because I know that in order to build strong literacy skills, books are required; and in order to get children motivated to engage with books, we must find ways to connect them to the written word. This is why I write! I write because I want children’s literature to be a space of transformation for children; a space that helps them to feel seen and validated, build empathy & compassion for others, and become lifelong readers & learners. I write so that the books that fill shelves in homes, stores, classrooms, and libraries relate to the children reading them in an authentic and meaningful way, especially when it comes to overcoming obstacles. I do this so that children today and tomorrow can see themselves in books in a way that I wasn’t able to when I was growing up.
Congratulations on your upcoming book of Where in the Garden series and your four Chicken Soup for the Soul books! Tell us about these books and what inspired you.
Thank you! 😊 It has been a pleasure writing the Where in the Garden books. So far Amara's Farm has been published, and later this year Miguel's Community Garden and Logan's Greenhouse will be publishing as well! These books take readers through different gardens as they help the main characters find a specific produce. For example, Amara needs help finding her pumpkins, Miguel is searching for his sunflowers, and Logan is looking for his carrots. Additionally, this series introduces children to different types of produce (from the common to the unfamiliar) and compares/contrasts characteristics of the different produce—and it includes a host of diverse characters! Also, each book has a tasty recipe in the back that children can try out with their adult helpers! Not just that, but, I’ve been creating short “Cooking with JaNay” videos that go with the recipes—so much good stuff! Check out the Cooking with JaNay, Amara’s Recipe here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjuKlM-U3G0
As for the Chicken Soup for the Soul books—those have been a blast to write. They each center on social and emotional skill development, telling stories while introducing readers to ideas or strategies pertaining to social skills and emotions. My two Chicken Soup for the Soul BABIES books focus on accepting differences and taking turns while my Chicken Soup for the Soul KIDS books follow the Sunshine squad—a group of diverse friends who live in the same apartment building—as characters figure out how to help out and try something new. Something else that’s really cool about these books is they all have a short note to adults that highlights information about social and emotional skills and supporting them.
For all of these books, I was inspired to include my knowledge about supporting the development of children while working to include fun stories to disguise the learning taking place. I hope that comes through to eager readers!
Was your journey to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
My journey to publication was one of perseverance and growth. As I mentioned, it took 8 years from the idea of Imani’s Moon to actually holding the award-winning book in my hand. And during that time, I dived deeply into learning about how to write for children. I read TONS of books including picture books and novels, as well as craft books. I also joined SCBWI and worked with critique groups. I kept at it, and I took the many rejections I received as trophies that I was actually sending work out into the world—even when the “no’s” did hurt. I didn’t let that stop me. I continued to persevere and grow. So, the journey was long, but it was worth it because I learned so much. And while I am now a multi-published author, I believe my journey is still just beginning!
What projects are you working on now?
I have many projects in the pipeline, and I am expanding the types of books I am writing.
First, I am so excited to be working on a fun early chapter book series with Scholastic called Love Puppies including magical puppies who use their powers to spread love and warmth throughout the human world. It has been so much fun writing these and I hope they’ll warm the hearts of readers everywhere! I’ve also been working on a novel. It’s fully written, but I am deep in the revision process. Hopefully it will see a publication day in the future! I am also working on some rhyming books with diverse characters. Finally, I have more than seven other picture book contracts that have yet to be announced, and my agent is sending more out as I write them. All in all, I am so blessed to be doing this work and I am loving every moment of it!
What advice would you give your younger self? Is this the same you'd give to other aspiring authors?
My advice is simple: Do not give up! Persevere! I think this is of utmost importance for breaking into the field of writing for children. It’s hard. It’s an uphill battle that requires you to learn so much and apply it to what you do. But take each challenge as an opportunity for growth and forward momentum. And finally, believe! Believe in yourself, your talents, and the value of your voice.
Yes, I’d give this advice to my younger self, to children, and to aspiring authors everywhere!
What is something most people don't know about you?
I have a free newsletter that readers can subscribe to and I have started this new adventure on Twitter. I am calling it #MyMomentsOf and I’d love for you to join me! Specifically, I’ve been sharing moments of inspiration for me as they emerge. I’ll tweet #MyMomentsOf [Inspiration] and then share something that inspired a poem, story, reflection, etc. Do you want to join me? Your moments don’t have to be inspirations but maybe moments of joy, glee, silly, reflective growth, etc. My challenge to YOU is this: when in a moment whether it’s happiness, growth, inspiration, anything that is meaningful to you, share it on Twitter with #MyMomentsOf and then a descriptor [joy] or [growth], etc. It’ll be a beautiful way to document our moments together as we move through 2022 and beyond.
Where can people find you online?
You can find me:
On Facebook: JaNay Brown-Wood, Author & Educator
On Twitter: @janaybrownwood
On Instagram: @janaybrownwood
On my website: www.janaybrownwood.com. (And don’t forget to subscribe to my free newsletter!)
JaNay Brown-Wood, PhD, is an award-winning children’s author, poet, educator, and scholar. Her first children’s book Imani’s Moon won the NAESP Children’s Book of the Year Award and was featured on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show and Storytime with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, her second book Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story! received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and won the CELI Read Aloud Book Award, and her third book SHHH! The Baby’s Asleep received a starred review from School Library Journal. She also has several poems published in Highlights for Kids, Highlights High Five, and the poetry anthology Thanku: Poems of Gratitude (Lerner/Millbrook, 2019). She has many forthcoming books including the Where in the Garden four-book series (Peachtree Publishing, forthcoming 2022, 2023), four Chicken Soup for the Soul Babies/Kids books, Jam, Too (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, forthcoming 2024), and Why Not You? (Penguin/Random House) which she collaborated with Grammy-winning pop star Ciara and Superbowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson. JaNay lives in California with her husband Catrayel, her daughter Vivian, and their two turtles. She enjoys writing for kids, spending time with her family, and spreading the word about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Learn more about her on her website www.janaybrownwood.com.