Genoa Barrow | Observer Senior Staff Writer

JaNay Brown-Wood is having a very good year. The local children’s author is adding 10 books to her offerings in 2022, with more coming. Russell Stiger Jr., OBSERVER.

After the success of her first book, 2014’s “Imani’s Moon,” the literacy gods are shining brightly on local author JaNay Brown-Wood.

“Imani’s Moon” was released by Penguin Random House and while the pandemic slowed promotion and marketing, Brown-Wood quickly is making up for lost time. She’s releasing a jaw-dropping 10 books in 2022.

“I’m really fortunate,” the writer and educator said. “Some have already been published, there are more new books coming out and they range from board books to picture books, and the bulk of them feature characters of color.”

Brown-Wood introduced one of her latest children’s books, “Miguel’s Community Garden,” to area readers last weekend with a book signing and reading, held fittingly at the Sojourner Truth Park Community Garden in South Sacramento. 

“I try to write authentic stories where kids from different backgrounds can find themselves in an authentic way,” she said. 

With so many titles coming out, it would seem Brown-Wood is always writing. She does, however, have a full-time job as an early childhood education professor at Folsom Lake College. “I write when I can and I especially when I am inspired,” she said.

Editors also make contact via her agent with projects they think she’d be good for.

“I’ll say yes or I’ll say no,” she said. “A handful of the books that are coming out this year are from editors who have sort of reached out because they knew my work and they like my writing style. They also know that my background is child development and so they’ll have me write some stories.”

Brown-Wood collaborated with singer Ciara and her husband, football star Russell Wilson, for a book, “Why Not You,” published in March. The celebrity couple runs a charitable foundation of the same name. “That was a really cool experience, I have to say,” the author said.

Upcoming titles include two board books for a new “Chicken Soup For The Soul” series for babies. And two more books for the new “Chicken Soup” series for children who are slightly older.

“They focus on some kind of social or emotional skill,” she said of the series. “One of them is called, ‘Me. You. Us. Whose Turn?’, that one is about two penguins who are learning to share and taking turns, and the other is called ‘Fast and Slow. Both Just Right’ and that one’s about accepting differences.”

Children’s book author JaNay Brown-Wood, left, spoke with Ayanna Fabio and 2-year-old Golden. Fabio penned her own children’s book, “Paint-A-Rock Day,” in 2016. Russell Stiger Jr., OBSERVER.

The kids books follow a diverse group of children called the Sunshine Squad. Her two for that series are “Will Mia Play It Safe: A Book About Trying New Things” and “Oliver Powers Through: Helping Out At Home.”

Developing literacy skills and learning from an early age is critical, Brown-Wood said.

“Sometimes social and emotional learning is kind of taken for granted,” she said. “People just assume you know how to share, that you come out of the womb ready to share or learn how to make a new friend. Many of the social skills children have to learn. It has to be modeled for them; they have to have opportunities to practice those skills. So when you can embed it in a story, it does this disguised learning. They’re reading the story and they’re engaged in the story, but the learning is there too. I think it’s important.”

Parents and other adults may remember the Little Golden Books series from their childhood. The series debuted in 1942. “The Poky Little Puppy,” released that year, remains the top-selling U.S. children’s book. Brown-Wood looks for her two contributions to the series to become classics as well. Her Little Golden Book about famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman is slated for publication in December and another on award-winning gymnast Simone Biles comes out in summer 2023.

“I just feel blessed,” Brown-Wood said. 

Brown-Wood enjoys talking about her writing with diverse groups of kids and seeing them discover the joys of reading and of seeing characters who resemble them.

“I pinch myself that I get to do that, because it feels like such a privilege.”

Representation matters

When Brown-Wood was a child, her father read her Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss at bedtime. “I liked being read to, but I did not enjoy reading,” she said. “I think a part of that was probably because I couldn’t find … a character that reminded me of myself. Even to this day, there’s just not enough diversity and it was even worse back when I was a kid.”

In elementary and middle school she started creating her own picture books, complete with illustrations. She still has many of them. “It makes for a great artifact,” Brown-Wood said. “When I walk into an elementary classroom of fourth-graders and say, ‘I wrote this when I was around your age and look at me now. You can follow your dreams.”

Miguel’s Community Garden” is the second title in her four-book “Where In The Garden?” series. It helps children learn to compare and contrast and shows that diversity comes in many forms – the main character is a Hispanic boy with two fathers. Another book in the series features a boy in a wheelchair.

Area families came to the community garden at Sojourner Truth Park to hear author/educator JaNay Brown read from her new book, which is set in a community garden. Russell Stiger Jr., OBSERVER.

Brown-Wood was mentioned on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” last year as an alternative to Dr. Seuss when his estate said it would stop publishing several of his works that could be considered offensive to some readers.

Brown-Wood’s first book took eight years to reach shelves. She experienced a lot of rejection before winning a contract through a contest hosted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Today, her books are read by children the world over and several have been translated into other languages.

Having 10 books coming out in one year is an anomaly, Brown-Wood said.

“I don’t expect that it’ll be like that again.”

While she’ll soon venture into longer works, the prolific author doesn’t see herself giving up her other gig. “I’m not ready to yet because I really love teaching,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to walk away from that at this point, but if my career kind of keeps up in this way, I’ll say it’s definitely a possibility.”

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