Most, if not all, of us have had mentors in our lives — people who have influenced us, caused us to see our life in a different way, challenged us to grow. I have posted about a few of my mentors on this blog.

Something I said in one of those posts resonates for this post today. “Words and actions of encouragement cost nothing, but their worth to the receiver is beyond price.”

Usually, these relationships are not formally treated as mentorships, they are just the way some friendships or acquaintanceships turn out. Some people may not even realize they’re our mentors, yet still they have a profound influence on our lives. Such connections are important, and it’s important to recognize and benefit from them.

There are also formal mentorships, and that’s what I want to focus on today.

We Need Diverse Books is a movement that grew out of the realization that ALL kids need to see themselves represented in the books that are available to them and there needs to be more effort expended to ensure that happens.

The more kids (and adults) see themselves celebrated in story, and the more kids (and adults) learn about each other in story, the more we all grow as a society.

We Need Diverse Books describes their raison d’etre in the following way (copied/pasted from their website): “We Need Diverse Books™ is a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”

A year ago, We Need Diverse Books launched a mentorship program that would pair aspiring/emerging writers of diverse books with stellar mentors. When the 2017 list of winners of mentorships was announced, I was thrilled to see two of my friends in the list of mentees. Today, I’d like to introduce you to those two wonderful friends, and celebrate them. (I will post about them in alphabetical order.)

Pamela Courtney is an elementary school teacher, a writer of children’s books, and a stellar encourager, exuding warmth and caring at all times. In 2004, she developed a program which, in her words, was intended “to enhance literacy engagement, expressive language development, and descriptive vocabulary in early learners through music.” You can see why we connected in the first place, just from that description!

In Pamela’s official bio on the We Need Diverse Books mentorship page, it says of her that “With each narrative she crafts, Pamela explores the history, folklore, magic and mysticism of her rural Louisiana culture. Her goal is for children to immerse themselves in the mysteries of exotic legends, animals, and people.”

So that we could experience a bit of what it’s like to be in her classroom, Pamela generously shared a recent happening with us.

I got the book Freedom in Congo Square, written by my mentor Carole Boston Weatherford. I told my students that I was from Louisiana, the state in which the story takes place.

I have a child who is a very slow reader and is quick to use, “I can’t,” a lot.  We also have another student whose grandma is from New Orleans. Needless to say, it piqued everyone’s interest. I had to read this story every day.

After the first time I read it, my slow reader latched on to it. She would recite “Five more days to Congo Square.” Or “Four more days to Congo Square.” She soon began to realize that the word at the end of the first sentence rhymed with square. I loved that she came up with that strategy on her own.

Her mom, (who works in the classroom next door) happened to peek in, heard her child sounding out words, and was so excited. I’d never seen such a grin.

Now the kids tease me. When it’s time to go outside for recess, I’ll announce, “Okay five more minutes . . . ” The kids have started responding, “Five more minutes to Congo Square.” Not sure I like that they equate the end of my instruction time as a release from hardship and so they need to celebrate that!

Still, I loved it when I heard them say, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna run and run until I get tired.”

Thanks, Pamela! It’s so wonderful to see a book “hook” a child. That’s what we, as writers, live for. Everyone, if you haven’t yet read Freedom in Congo Square, look for it at your local bookstore or library! Just reading the Kirkus Review of this book will tell you why Carole Boston Weatherford is the perfect mentor for Pamela!

Teresa Robeson is an artist, writer, owl and bird aficionado, lover of miniatures, creator of soaps that look good enough to eat… You get the message that she is multi-talented. She and I connect on many levels, not the least of which is that she has deep roots in Canada, although she has lived in the United States for many years.

Her roots go further afield than Canada, actually. She spent her early childhood in Hong Kong, and her art and writing are infused with her experience of both Eastern and Western culture and life, as well as with her diversity of interests. Learn more about her at her website (and do follow the links at the end of the first page!)

She also brings a delightful sense of humor to her creative work, as evidenced in her squirrel and frog drawings, as well as her ongoing series of mouse and caterpillar/butterfly drawings, just to name two. Her birds are exquisite, and her portrayals of children will touch your heart. You can find more of her art (and the occasional photo of delicious-looking baking or the aforementioned soaps) at her Instagram.

Her writing spans the gamut from picture books to adult, as well as poetry. She writes non-fiction, speculative fiction, and so much more, with many appearances in Ladybug and Babybug, short stories in anthologies, articles for SCBWI, and more. I know she will benefit greatly from working with her mentor, Jane Yolen, whose work spans many genres as well.

You can read more about Pamela and Teresa, as well as the other 2017 mentees, at the We Need Diverse Books website.

Pamela and Teresa — I am thoroughly delighted that you two are among the 2017 mentees for this excellent program, and I look forward to the creative work that you produce in the future. *Hugs* to both of you!

You can learn more about their mentors, Jane Yolen and Carole Boston Weatherford, at their websites. May I just say that not only will Teresa and Pamela benefit from these mentorships, but I believe their mentors will benefit from their interactions with Pamela and Teresa, as well!

This week, M is for mentors, mentees, and making diversity a priority. It’s also for marvelous friends with multiple talents!

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