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 (, and headband account ( 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






The Cover of My Upcoming Book...for Adults

For the last three years, I've been creating full-time--publishing books for kids, curating high art & producing documentaries and a web series. I oftentimes post ideas that I want to bring into reality on my personal Facebook page. Until now, I've only published literature meant for young readers via The English Schoolhouse. In the winter of 2016, I posted an idea that I had to write and publish a collection of short stories about humor that can be found in the most devastating circumstances. I'd tentatively titled the project, "Rubbing Gravy on Emotional Wounds and Other Stories."

Here's a couple of examples I pulled from my FB page of the types of stories that will be found in the book:

From early December 2016--

so earlier today i had an unexpected authentic chat with a friend who's experienced great loss in her life recently.
loss is something i unfortunately know a lot about.
dad passed away in a car accident when i was 13.
my only sibling (and life pattern-maker) moved on to the next thing a little over a couple of years ago.
this conversation i was fortunate enough to be a part of reminded me of a project i want to move on soon--tentatively titled "Rubbing Gravy on Emotional Wounds and Other Stories"--it would/will be a collection of essays about loss and wisdom and humor.
talking to this friend today reminded me of a funny exchange that happened while my mom and i completed the daunting task of picking out my sister Nefeterius' headstone.
now, mind you, i'm not the superstitious type--but the whole idea that bad things come in threes is very applicable to that time of my life. in a flash my sister died, i decided to leave my ex-husband and subsequently found myself in an unexpected custody a foreign country.
but here's just a little exchange that i shared with my grieving (and growing) friend today. i'm sharing it here because i've learned to follow instinct, and think maybe it could help someone going through a rough patch to find the humor and whimsy in it all...
so my mom and i were at the funeral home in texas with whom i suppose is the assistant director or something...
Him: Ms. McPherson (my mom), so you'd picked out the plot next to your husband for yourself, so I was thinking perhaps we could put your daughter there instead.
My mom: (nods solemnly)
Me: (to my mom) Well then where are you gonna go? Not that you're ever going. No one else is allowed to die, dammit. No one else better freaking die...
My mom: Oh honey I'm not going anywhere...
Him: Well you know we can dig the plot deeper for your husband, where he's already at rest, and place you on top.
Me: ...
My mom: Oh really?
Him: Sure, yes, we can do it for the other plot as well, where your daughter will now be.
My mom: Oh that won't be necessary...who would go there?
Me: ME!
My mom: Really?
Me: Are you kidding me?! See this is what I MEAN! You always think about Nappy! Never about me!
My mom: Oh Tammy, I just, you're married.
Her: ...
Me: ...
we both burst out laughing
Me: Dig the plot, just in case. You're not gonna have my soul roaming around plotless. No sir. But nobody else is freaking dying. Nobody else is allowed to die.

From late December 2016

Musings from the backseat...
So my mom told me a story a couple of days ago that's PERFECT for the book on the hilarity of grief I'm writing tentatively titled Rubbing Gravy on Emotional Wounds and other Sad Stories.
She recently contacted a friend of hers who's in his 80s and recently lost his wife of over fifty years. She rang and he didn't answer so his answering machine (to his home phone) picked up and played his voice delivering the most magnificent and efficient PSA:
"This is __________. I've made some changes in my life. Please leave your name, your number, and I'll do my best to call you back. If I don't call you back, that means you are one of the changes."
Y'all. I can't tell you how much I love that.
I ain't even waiting til 2017 to prune and weed my garden so that what needs to bloom and grow and multiply can do so easily.
No apologies ever need to be made for setting healthy boundaries.

Sometimes I get asked what my secret to completing so many different creative projects is, and I answer, you just have to start. For me, once the cover of a book is complete, I feel a real sense of accomplishment and there's no telling me that I'm not well on my way to making magic.

This project is no different.

Yesterday I reached out to one of the three illustrators with whom I work regularly, Federico Fabiani, to see if he could work on the cover for this book for me. The thing is, I really like quick turn around. I know they say good things take time, and I agree with that theoretically-- but I really like a badabing badaboom effect when it comes to collaborating on creative projects.

Federico did not disappoint. This morning this arrived in my inbox--

My first thought was, "Damn! I don't know what kinda font this is but it's incredible!"

Federico joked via text that his kitchen smelled weird, and then it all started coming together for me. Did this guy actually, like, use GRAVY?!

I asked for clarity.

He sent pics--

This man whipped up some vegetarian gravy, then stuck a syringe in it

And wrote out the title

I adore the splatter
He rewrote the title to make it look a bit more polished

And here we have it--
An incredibly creative and fun
and whimsical
and wonderful
and effective
cover for my first book
for adults.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

So now we're on the way
Because this is more than a great start
to what I'm hoping and praying
will be a bestseller
in the self-help section
or wherever they put the books
that are meant to make you
connect, reflect & laugh.