Differently Abled--A New Story Inspired by My Mom

Last Saturday evening my mom and I were coming back from Fashion Week in Milan. 

My mom and I with my friend and favorite designer Stella Jean.
If you're not familiar with her brand, get into it. I've been a fan for a long time.

If you know my mom, you're aware that in 2005 she suffered a brain aneurysm and a stroke and was left paralyzed in all of her extremities for quite some time. She was hospitalized for over two months and eventually regained her mobility after physical therapy, but she still walks with the assistance of a walker or cane. She gets to where she needs to go, slowly but surely. Anyway, on Sept. 25 we got to Termini train station, and there was an incredibly long line to wait for a taxi. We were told by a toothless and kind guy at the end of the line who seemed to be managing it to go to the front because my mother is visibly disabled (I prefer to the term 'differently abled" and she didn't have to wait in line. (This is pretty customary in Italy, where the majority of the population is of a certain age). So even though I had a bad feeling about it, I helped my exhausted mom walk to the front with just her cane--she'd left the walker at home because we weren't sure it'd be easy to move around with it.
Once we got to the front, we encountered a group of about six Americans. Before i could even ask or explain they just started shouting "NO!" at my mom and me, telling us we were rude for trying to skip the line...it was really incredible. Then they started insulting me and disregarding my mom as if she were invisible. One forty-plus woman said, "You're not getting in the next taxi. Your mom can just sit down and wait over there."
I think I was most stunned by the grace and dignity that my mother was able to muster up in this situation. I could see that she just didn't want to be a bother. She just kept saying, "We were told to come to the front of the line" with the most patient and serene tone.

My mom Katharyn at Stella's show earlier in the day

Now, if you know me, you can imagine that no one in that line went home unscathed. I shouted in English and Italian. I hurled insults back to those who were insulting me. I told the forty-plus woman she was angry because her husband wanted to be with me, really anyone, but her (he did not object)...the whole time I just kept thinking, "Damn, I'm really not in the mood for an argument. But no one is going to disrespect my mother..." One 70-plus year old white American man snarled, "You're just doing this because you're Black."
I guess this is what Trump is doing to the states right now...
My mom, who is very sensitive about her disability, just kept saying, "We were told to come to the front." After shouting explaining to everyone in line in Italian that my mother is differently abled and this is Italy so she has precedence in the line and asking if anyone wanted to object to us hopping in the next taxi, the 70-plus year old American guy's horrid wife said, "Just shut up and get in the car." I called her a lot of horrible names...then her husband, just loud enough for only me to hear, gritted his teeth and spat, "Get your Black ass in the car." I wonder how many times he's uttered that phrase in his decrepit life.
The hate and racism and intolerance of a differently abled person was palpable.
But it got me to thinking that this could be a really great children's book...not all of the horrible racist stuff, but just explaining to children through a story that you can't tell who is going through what by just looking at them... my sister Nefeterius was a transplant recipient and had cancer and looked like a professional model the whole time she was sick and even on her deathbed. I also want to communicate that if you see someone who is differently abled it's kind and considerate to give them grace and a hand, if possible.
These kinds of projects are sorely needed right now, and they always will be. Plus, there are very few differently abled characters on the front of children's books, just like there's a void in racially diverse characters in children's literature.
So I told Phil over at Howell Edwards the story, and asked him to make a promotional image. I've started writing a story about a differently abled Nana, who, like my mother, is a complete superhero. She takes her grandkids to school (even giving them a ride on her walker), travels the world, cooks, loves and lives beautifully and is an inspiration to so many.

Once we were home from Milan, my mom and I told Charles and the boys what happened. Noah and Milo were so flabbergasted. They just couldn't understand why anyone would ever have a problem letting someone who has mobility issues go ahead. "If I had been there," Milo said, "I woulda kicked those people for messing with Nana..."
It was very moving to hear some things that my mother had never shared with me, as she is an eternal optimist and a truly positive force. She recounted stories of times when people have let doors close in her face--or have run to get ahead of her in line because she's moving too slowly and they don't want to wait. "Yes," she mused while telling some of what she's been through, "people like me go through a lot." I admire my mother so; she has never complained once. And so, I had no idea...
Children's books are an incredible tool to model authentic stories and appropriate conflict resolution strategies. I'm excited to see where this story goes. I'd like you guys' help with publishing it quickly.
I self fund all of the books published via The English Schoolhouse. If you've ever wanted to be illustrated in a kids' book, here's your chance. For the end pages of this story, I'm going to have an illustration of people from all different backgrounds and abilities. The caption will say, "Differences are Beautiful." Once the book is published this image will be made into a poster and sold on my publishing house's website, theenglishschoolhouse.com.ALL proceeds from the poster will go to my sister's foundation, The Nefeterius Akeli McPherson foundation, which was set up by my mother Katharyn Mcpherson in her honor. Funds will assist in providing scholarships for college students as well as medicine for individuals suffering with illnesses who need some assistance.
So, if you'd like to help make this book a reality, here's how you chip in--
*Choose the picture you'd like your illustration to be based on and email it to info@theenglishschoolhouse.com.
*Donate $75 or more to info@theenglishschoolhouse.com via PayPal. ($75 is the price for each person to be illustrated--so, for example, if you wanted to be illustrated with two children, the price would be $225 and I'd need a picture of all three).
*The deadline for this is Friday Oct. 6 as funds I collect will assist in paying for illustration work and book formatting. Each contributor will have their name listed in the book dedication.
I know this was a long post. Thank you guys for reading and supporting. It'd be great if you'd share as well.
And listen, if you're racist and on that bullsh**, KEEP YOUR MISERABLE A** IN THE STATES!
Rome doesn't need or want that kinda energy.

New Year, New Books with a New Illustrator: Jamilla Okubo!

I love it when the universe delivers.
I mean I adore it when the universe comes thruuuuuuu with exactly what you would have wanted
to happen.
It's been happening more and more to me recently and I'm grateful.

My goal for The English Schoolhouse publishing for this year is to publish ten gorgeous new titles. It's a large goal for a boutique publishing house, but I know we can do it and I'm so excited about releasing visually dazzling, relevant, luxury children's literature nearly every month in 2018.

To date I've worked with three illustrators mainly--Howell Edwards Creative, Federico Fabiani & Elena Tommasi Ferroni. In September I met a new friend and brilliant artist, Maya N'Diaye and we'll soon have a book out entitled The King and the Flute. But this illustrator right here...the newest addition to The English Schoolhouse family, I've adored her art for quite some time.

I think I first became aware of Jamilla Okubo's work through the platform for all things Black, cultured and dope AFROPUNK. They featured her work back in 2014. I may or may not have seen it until 2015, but once I did I was smitten. I followed her Facebook page immediately, and later found and followed her on IG. Recently she updated her website, which I invite urge you to check out.

Wisdom lies in sharing what you know.

As a writer and a self-published author (who has recently inked a three book deal with a major publishing house *sips wine* FSG/MacMillan), I often get asked how I find such incredible illustrators. Here's my answer:
1. Follow the work you're really interested in.
2. Share it. Not because you're interested in something coming back to you but because you genuinely want to spread the news about art that moves you.
3. When you're ready, really ready, say something. Approach the artist and shoot 'em straight. Say what it is that's currently residing in your heart that you need their help to make a reality.

Every.single.time I've done this the answer has been yes.

And that's how Jamilla joined the schoolhouse family. And I'm so honored that even though she's clearly on a creative roll incline, and has been tapped by the likes of Dior for her vision and gifts, and has had said work featured all up in The New York Times, she's agreed to make our upcoming book her first project of 2018.

Here are some of my favorite pieces from Jamilla.
I can't wait for her to help the words I've curated come alive through her art.

In the spring we will be releasing a best-selling book for kids:
Jewels from the Ancestors: A Book of African Proverbs.

As you can see, her art is perfect for this project.

I could go on and on but I'll end with Jamilla's lovely pic accompanied by couple of appropriate hashtags.

#blackgirlmagic #blackexcellence

B is for a BoOk DeAL! We're a part of the FSG/MacMillan Family NOW!

I've been waiting to announce this news so long.
Like six months of wanting to twirl on the streets of Italy and Texas and New York and New Orleans and everywhere I've been recently like this...

greeting strangers and starting conversations by saying, "My name is Tamara. I make beautiful things. I've been self-publishing like a mad woman for the last three years, and I just landed a book deal with Farrar, Straus & Giroux/MacMillan, which is like the Chanel or Dior of publishing. And I used to teach kindergarten and have read countless of their stories aloud over the years...some I can probably recite by heart, so this is a moment. They've also published classics like A Wrinkle in Time & Middlesex, so this is the BIG leagues here. I mean, this is major. Can you believe it? I know, me neither! I really like your sweater...Let me buy you a coffee."

I could go on and on like I'm giving my own version of the "I'd like to thank the Academy speech," because I am just that PROUD and excited and deliriously happy. So I'm limiting myself to just a few lines in hopes that you'll actually finish reading this post. There are lots of folks to thank.

To get to this moment in time was a real TEAM effort sewn together with the golden thread that is God and all that is wonderful and inexplicable and profound and awe-inducing in the universe. I'm so grateful.

Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO
on Farrar Straus & Giroux/MacMillan's Book List
Spring 2019

First, I have to thank my mom, Katharyn McPherson--my first teacher, the most genuine and loving person I know, and my moral and spiritual barometer and reference in life. Where would I be without you? I wouldn't be me. That's for sure. I love you and thank you for your unwavering support over the years. Thank you for letting me jump on the couch as a kid. Thank you for dragging me to church and living what you said you believed. Thank you for being an entrepreneur and yourSELF consistently my whole life. Nappy and I got so lucky to land you as a mom in this life. I love you.

Mom and Nefeterius (aka Nappy)

And I've got to thank my sister Nefeterius McPherson, who left as many gifts in her departure as she brought with her birth, and continues to inspire me from the by-and-by. She was and continues to be my pattern maker in life--someone who I strive to impress. So grateful to have you as a sister, Nappy.

Thank you to my son Noah, who inspires so much of what I write and publish, as do his brothers Milo and Zen and the nearly here new baby wonder. Noah, if you hadn't thought to write the tooth fairy a note when you lost your tooth, Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO wouldn't exist today. I owe you college tuition. And possibly a car.

I want to thank all of my elementary school teachers, particularly those who taught reading and writing and language arts. Mrs. Bray, who never raised her voice, Mrs. Hodges, who was stern and gave out graham cracker squares for good grades on spelling tests, Mrs. Washko, who had a chinchilla as a classroom pet, allowed me to stay over her ranch one weekend, and who I just wanted to adopt me, and, my favorite, Mrs. Newton--who had the best sense of humor and gave spelling tests with words like 'dinosaur'. Thank you to Sugar Loaf Elementary, including the principal Mr. Caruso, which was such a safe, cozy learning haven for me for four years as a kid. It was a place that recognized talent and had programs and curriculum and educators dedicated to honing kids' interests, talents and gifts.

My mom had this on her dresser the last time I was home visiting.
And I smiled from ear to ear. 

And because my life has shown me again and again that there's power in recognizing the sh** in our lives as necessary fertilizer...

I'd like to thank the guy that broke my heart so bad 10 years ago that I just decided to quit America and move to Rome. At the time I had no idea I'd be an author, curator, producer & director with ties to so many artists in Europe and around the world. Thank you!

Thank you to my ex-husband, who once told me I'd be able to do little more than 'wipe my butt with the pages of my books.'  All of my gratitude! And I offer this appropriate quote from Beyonce--
"Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper."


I'd like to thank the horrid woman who promised me a position as Assistant Director at her language school in Rome in 2011 and had me write ALL of her curriculum and handbooks for said school, only to retract the offer once I informed her that I was pregnant and take months to pay me to boot. If it weren't for you, I would not have gone looking for private English lessons as supplemental income and eventually found the illustrator of Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO. So, yeah. Thanks, girl.

That brings me back to the warm fuzzies.
I'd like to thank the brilliant illustrator behind the visual concept for Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO, Federico Fabiani. Thank you for reading the blog post about the idea and taking the time to act on it and then reach out to me. Thank you for believing in my ideas, since The English Schoolhouse was just a tiny language school, and offering your exquisite art to help bring them to life. You're an incredible talent, and I know the best has yet to come for you. For us!

Federico & Iris with a signed Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO art print

Thank you to the physical muse behind Tallulah as a character, my dear friend Iris Peynado.
In real life, Iris is a prominent actress and a staple in Italian cinema. She's also my youngest son's godmother. Iris has been so kind and genuine and loving and sincere since the day I met her that when I wrote Tallulah and thought of who could play a gorgeous boss CEO who is full of grace and poise and business savvy and all the good things, only Iris came to mind. Iris, thank you for being you. And for letting me use your glorious face. It's a great face...with an even greater soul to match.

What a beauty.

Thank you to my love and partner Charles Burchell, who produced the audiobook for Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO and scored it. We recorded it in the upstairs loft in our apartment here in Rome and it was what my now editor heard and saw and fell in love with. We make all the audiobooks and all the babies and all the beauty. And I'm so grateful. Thank you.

Thank you to my friends and extended family who support all of my ideas and projects and books--particularly Leticia McGowan for your endless legal advice and paypal purchases (lol!) and Stephanie Adams, lifesaver extraordinaire, and my former assistant Frenchaire Gardner.

I'm grateful for every.single.person who has purchased, read, shared, posted about, taught with, blogged about, read aloud and/or otherwise supported ALL of my books from The English Schoolhouse. I extend my sincerest thanks to fellow author Gail Milissa Grant, who passed along the audiobook to a friend and literary agent asking if she knew anyone who could get Tallulah to where she needed to be...and the friend did.

The friend knew Joy Peskin--children's books editor at FSG/MacMillan and someone who I could just put in my pocket and hang out with all day every day personally and professionally.
Joy, thank you for loving and believing in Tallulah.

Joy & Monique and me at a business lunch that was all the fun
in NYC in August

In February of this year I followed a gut feeling and flew from Rome to NYC. Though it wasn't the purpose of my trip, I was able to meet Joy then. And in August Farrar Straus & Giroux/MacMillan officially picked up not one, not two, but THREE of my books. (Stay tuned for what the others are.
I mean, can you BeLiEvE THIS?!?! I know! Neither can I.)

My final thank you goes to Michael Seltzer and Ralph Tachuk in NYC.

Here's Michael a couple of summers ago, on his way to accept an award for philanthropy.

Thank you for being family. Thank you for showing me the most exemplary love since the day I met you guys. Thank you for having copies of my books at your home that I didn't have so that when I went to meet with Joy, I had the complete set. I think it's one of my favorite stories of how the universe works--the two other books that FSG picked up, I didn't have in my possession. But you guys did. And you reminded me again and again to take them with me. And had champagne waiting at home once the meeting was over.

Dear Reader,

Believe in yourself.


Love love love
and all the great stories
that end up in books,

A K is for Kahlo Giveaway Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

It's September 16, the second day of Hispanic Heritage Month!

As an ex-Kindergarten teacher, the September-October time of year was always one of my favorite. There's so much going on, so much to celebrate. The kids are just getting into the swing of things, fall swirls through the crisp air, it seems like apples and pumpkins are everywhere, and the curriculum is rich for reading and learning and experiences. I used to love the free candy that would come with Halloween time--'confiscating' what the kids weren't supposed to have and promising I'd give it back later...which really meant I'm gonna eat this in the boring faculty meeting after school next week after we've both forgotten you were trying to sneak a laffy taffy into your mouth in line at the bathroom.

Another reason I used to love this time of year during my teaching career was celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, or Latinx Heritage Month as some are now using. I'm partial--some of my favorite people on the planet are Latinx. My best friend from college, Elizabeth Amaro, who is an artistic genius in her own right and is responsible for me becoming a bilingual teacher as she and her family gave me full immersion experiences in the Spanish language, introduced me to Frida Kahlo. We used to watch the film starring Frida starring Salma Hayek ad nauseum, which led to countless inside jokes and random quotes we still use today. Nearly 20 years later, here I am with my ninth book published through The English Schoolhouse...

K is for Kahlo by me, brilliantly illustrated by Howell Edwards Creative

You may be having trouble focusing on the book cover because of one of the following three distractions:
-my awesome afro
-my poppin' lipstick
-the incredible floral crown I have adorning my crown

Well I inherited the afro, the lipstick is Mac's Ruby Woo, and if you wanna know about the gorgeous floral headband, you're in good company. I'm not the only one who loves my high school friend Vashelle's creations...she's attracted the attention and business of some pretty big names--

Model/Actress Denise Vasi & her daughter Lennox
Love this one.
Celine Khavarani's baby shower, celebrity relations VP for Marc Jacobs

So a few months ago I was at home in Rome pregnant with my fourth kid (still am), and I saw the last pic and decided to reach out to Vashelle for my own headband. And I love it. (Fun fact: it gives a nod to my soon to be born child's moniker, and Vashelle made it just for me.)

When I was wearing it around the house recently and caught a glimpse of my book K is for Kahlo, I thought it'd be cool and relevant for us to do a collaboration/giveaway in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

I sent Vashelle some questions, and she responded candidly. Check out the woman behind these floral crowns below in this interview...and keep reading until the end to find out how to win a copy of K is for Kahlo AND your very own headband! We're giving away two of each.

Viva Frida!
Viva read alouds!
Viva la arte!
Viva headbands worn as crowns!

Wishing you all a gorgeous weekend and upcoming week.

Here's the interview:

     Hey Vashelle, thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I adore what you're doing and am so excited to share your work with anyone who reads this blog. So we'll just jump into it. 
     We're from a small town in Texas. How, if at all, do you think your upbringing affects your creativity? 

       I spent most of my lifes time in Texas, but Ive also lived in 8 states and one foreign country. Having moved every one to three years to completely different places (in terms of landscape, culture, etc.) definitely affected my creativity. I carry each and every place in my spirit, but I think Arizonawhere I was born and where my family is fromand my three years in Germany have influenced my creativity the most. Arizona for my life experiences, family history, culture and overall mysticism of the Southwest, and Germany for the forests, museums, history and so forth. The town I lived in still has a standing hexenturm, a tower for the purpose of hanging alleged witches. If that doesnt set a childs imagination ablaze I dont know what does.

To what extent does Frida Kahlo's art influence you? 

To be honest, Fridas art challenges me the most in my writing and personal life. When you read her poetry, her letters to Diego, and look at her art, the most admirable thing about her was her honesty. She had no qualms about being vulnerable by sharing her pain and shadow with the world. Thats the kind of writer and human I want to be, but I cant say I always have the courage.

How'd you get the idea to do the floral headbands? 

Id made one here and there in the past, but after I moved to Maryland from Oahuwhere there was only one overpriced craft store and my creativity was in the pitsI went kind of crazy making all sorts of things. I started making and selling jewelry on Etsy and added a couple of headbands on a whim. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they sold, so I decided to keep making them!

Vashelle's lovely daughter

Which design that you've created is your favorite? 

I dont really have designs in mind when I make the headbands unless theyre custom orders and my customer is looking for something specific. I tend to lay out all the pretty florals Ive collected and arrange them in ways that appeal to me. If I think back, one of the prettiest was a simple Iris arrangement. It was all-white and looked like something suited for a bride. Maybe thats what it was used for! I may never know.

Where have your headbands been featured? 

Ive had two high-profile customers (which was amazing and totally unexpected). One ordered a few for her daughters Frida-themed birthday party (for herself, her daughter and photo booth for guests) and the other for her flamingo-themed baby shower. Ive had a couple of people, unrelated as far as I know, wear my headbands to Frida Fest at the Dallas Museum of Art. Ive had someone order one for herself and her mother for their mother/daughter trip to Mexico for Dia de los Muertos. Ive had a little girl wear my one of my headbands when she dressed like Frida Kahlo for Dress Like an Artist Day at her school in suburban Massachusetts. That one might be my favorite. A part of me wants to ask every single customer what theyre using the headband for and if they can send me a photo. Ha!  

Who is your favorite artist of all time? 

As much as I want to say Frida or even a Medieval painter (did I mention I like dark?), Id have to say Salvador Dali. I have an insanely active and intuitive dream life, so much that I used to mix up my dreams with reality when I was a kid. I grew up all the way to my mid-20s thinking my family and I went on a cruise when I was little. I brought it up one day and my mom was like, What cruise? We never went on a cruise. I was thinking damn, how many of my other awesome childhood memories are a lie? Haha. But yes, Dali because of his paintings strange, dream-like quality. I have an innate understanding of them, almost like my mother tongue.

What other creative ventures do you have going on? 

I write when I can, and I facilitate a writers group that I started as soon as I moved here over two years ago. Ive been lucky enough to be published several times in various (print) magazines, but my writing passion is the personal essay. Id like to write a collection of them. Or maybe a collection of vignettes disguised as fiction since Im still working on the courage part.

Beyond that Ive found my passion is silversmithing. I have to force myself to go to sleep at night otherwise Id be in my garage working at the bench until I pass out. Thats how much I enjoy it. It combines my mental creativity, love for nature (I use natural crystals and stones in my silver pieces) and need to get dirty and tactile. The feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction after finishing a piece is unlike that of any of my other creative ventures.

Where can readers find more about you and your designs/follow you? 

I am most active on Instagram. I have three accounts: my personal account (@itsvashelle), jewelry account (@revel.designs.by.shelly), and headband account (@floral.crowns.by.revel.designs). Id love to see everyone on any and each of them! Im a social butterfly in real life so social media is really no different for me.

Do you create full-time? What are some of your other interests? 

I believe I do! Even when Im not actively creating something I am thinking about it. I write essays in my head all the time thinking Ill remember most of when I finally get to sit down and write, but then I dont (my short term memory is awful, but I can still remember some conversations you and I had in high school. Ha!). I think about crafts, headbands, jewelry, silversmithing, home projects all day long. I struggle a lot with feeling like theres never enough time in a day for all the things I want to do. To take it a step further, I often worry my life will be cut short before I master the creative things I want to master, learn all the things I want to learn, see all the places I long to see.

My other interests include forest-bathing, museum-going, historical site-seeing, library-meandering, old cemetery-visiting, antique-hunting, wine-tasting, cheese and meats-eating, and wanderlusting.

Anything else you want to add?

Im so glad weve connected. You have a distinct position in one of my memories from 20 years ago, right after a pivotal adolescent moment Ive pinched into a corner of my mind. The saying, They may not remember what you saidbut they will remember how you made them feel, comes to mind. I was a lost soul. And you were kind. You might see your name in my collection of personal essays someday. <3