Awesome Authors: JaNay Brown-Wood on Disguised Learning with Books

By Linda Joy Singleton

How does being a college professor and the mother of a young child influence the topics you choose to write about?

Charlesbridge, 2017

I call myself JaNay Brown-Wood, Author & Educator. These titles go hand-in-hand because I feel that I use my books and writing abilities to educate while also using my education to pull inspiration for what I write.

Often, my books have an element of learning to them. In the field of Early Childhood Education, many term this “disguised learning” such as opportunities to support learning without bringing attention to it.

A great example of this is my book Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story!, illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Charlesbridge, 2017), which is a book about family coming together to eat and celebrate each other’s company, but which also counts to 15.

Often, children struggle with counting past 10, and so my book offers this opportunity to practice and hear the numbers as readers count the family members and foods that move up the stairs into Grandma’s house.

By knowing and teaching students that children need to be introduced to early mathematical concepts (the educator in me), I was able to write a book that did this while engaging children in a fun narrative (the author in me).

On top of all that, being a mother leads to even more inspiration! Watching my daughter grow, observing the things she is interested in, and thinking of creative ways to support her also gives me lots of kindle to keep my writing mind flowing.

A great example is my book Shhh! The Baby’s Asleep, illustrated by Elissambura (Charlesbridge, 2021). It was inspired by her sleeping restfully as a tiny infant, and the extra effort my husband and I expended to keep the place quiet. And what’s fun about this book, too, is that it is filled with onomatopoeia and sound language—and attention to language and the sounds of language sets the foundation for early literacy skills (see what I mean by author and educator all combined into one)!

I just love finding ways to engage diverse children in fun stories that also support their language and represent their experiences in authentic ways, and my background and profession as a professor certainly helps me to do that each time I write a new story.

There’s rarely just one moment that leads to success. What turning points led to your first sale?

Charlesbridge, 2014

My path to publishing was an interesting one. First of all, my first sale came after the publication of my first book. I actually got my publication contract for Imani’s Moon, illustrated by Hazel Mitchel (Charlesbridge, 2014) through a contest called “The Children’s Book of the Year” award through the National Association of Elementary School Principles. The prize for this contest was a book contract with Mackinac Island Press/Charlesbridge Publishing Inc. After working with my wonderful editor, I sent her another manuscript for consideration and got a contract for Grandma’s Tiny House.

Now what I didn’t mention about all of this is that I learned about the contest from my critique group partner and dear friend, Rosi Hollinbeck, who I met when I became a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. So if I were to pick one turning point, I would say joining SCBWI and being welcomed into a warm community of writers and creators—that was a big turning point for me.

Last, I just want to say that both of my books have won awards and accolades, and I am so grateful for all the people who have helped me along the way!

What promotion strategies have worked best for you?

I think utilizing social media has been a game-changer. Through Facebook and Twitter, I advertise events such as book release parties and readings I do in the community. Also, I am someone who often says “yes” when afforded opportunities to share my work with the community, even if sometimes it forces me to step outside of my comfort zone. So, getting my name and voice out there, looking for ways to share my work, and saying “yes” has helped me to share my work with the world.

Do you have any new books/projects you’d like to share?

Yes! I have many new projects I’d like to share! I have contracts for eight new picture books coming out between summer of 2021 through 2023—and hopefully more in the works! Shhh! The Baby’s Asleep, illustrated by Elissambura, will be published with Charlebridge in 2021. Here’s a quick blurb:

Baby is finally asleep! But everybody else is way too noisy. Can Mom, Daddy, Grammy, Pop Pop, Shae, Dante, Rover the dog, and the neighbor Shh! long enough to keep the baby sleeping? Join a host of boisterous family members as they tiptoe through a noisy naptime! I am looking forward to having a cover reveal for Shhh! soon!

I have a four picture-book series called Where in the Garden, illustrated by Samara Hardy, coming out with Peachtree beginning in 2021. These books will be so fun to share with young readers and to get them talking and learning about visiting gardens.

I am so fortunate to be a part of Charlesbridge’s Storytelling Math collection, which celebrates combining math and everyday stories with a host of diverse characters. My book Too-Small Tyson (Charlesbridge, 2022) will be a part of this wonderful collection!

Lastly, I am jazzed about my picture book Jam, Too, with Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, being published tentatively in 2023, as well as another soon-to-be announced book with Nancy Paulsen Books.

As you can see, I have many projects that I am ecstatic about and eager to share with young readers everywhere! If you are interested to learn more about me and my books, visit my website or find my books here.

Cynsational Notes

JaNay Brown-Wood is an award-winning children’s book author and educator. Her books include Imani’s Moon, illustrated by Hazel Mitchel (Charlesbridge, 2014) and Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story!, illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Charlesbridge, 2017).

Her upcoming books include Shhh! The Baby’s Asleep, illustrated by Elissambura (Charlesbridge, 2021), the Where in the Garden picture book series, illustrated by Samara Hardy (Peachtree, the first two to be published in 2021), Too-Small Tyson (Charlesbridge, 2022), Jam, Too, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, tentatively 2023), and On Our Way (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, Release date TBD) .

She has a BA in Psychology and Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, an MA in Child Development from California State University, Sacramento, and a PhD in Education from the University of California, Davis. Currently, she teaches and conducts research at California State University. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and is someone “who truly enjoys hearing, writing, and telling stories!”

Linda Joy Singleton is a Roving Reporter for Cynsations. The author of over 50 books from picture books to YA/MG series, including Curious Cat Spy ClubThe Seer (Llewellyn/Flux) and Dead Girl series (North Star Editions). She’s also written picture books, her most recent are Crane and Crane, illustrated by Richard Smythe (Amicus, 2019), Lucy Loves Goosey, illustrated by Rob McClurkan (Simon & Schuster, 2017) and A Cat Is Better, illustrated by Jorge Martin (Little Bee Books, 2017).

She lives in the Northern California foothills, surrounded by a menagerie of animals including dogs, cats, peacocks, horses and pigs. Linda reports on writing and publishing children’s literature for Cynsations. Follow her on Twitter for writing news @LindaJoySinglet.