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Fifty-seven years ago in Tokyo, Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota) stunned the world by winning the Olympic gold medal in the 10,000-meter race. He was a relative unknown in the sport, the first (and still only) American ever to win the event, the second Native American athlete ever to win track and field gold (after Jim Thorpe). It is still considered one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history.
Today, the day of the same event in the same city at this year’s Olympic games, I could not be more honored and pleased to announce Billy’s children’s book debut is on the way.
Billy overcame a lot to reach that podium: Poverty. Being orphaned at age 12. Racism. Depression. Hypoglycemia that went undiagnosed until a year before the Tokyo games. He was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps at the time. He is an inspiration—although he prefers to empower rather than inspire, and has traveled the world doing empowering speaking engagements for much of his life. In 2012, he received the Presidential Citizens Medal from Barack Obama in part for his work with Running Strong for American Indian Youth, an organization he helped to found. (You can learn more about the organization here—and watch the short, grainy video of the last lap of Billy's medal-winning race, with the announcers going wild.) Billy is so much more than an Olympic gold medalist; he embodies the Lakota tradition of the giveaway, in which someone who achieves great success gives back to the communities that support them.
When my client Donna Janell Bowman approached Billy about collaborating on a picture book autobiography, long conversations and deep connection resulted—as well as an absolutely gorgeous text. I am so moved by Billy entrusting me with representing him for this project. He and his wife Pat are as warm, generous, and open-hearted as you might imagine.
This book, WINGS OF AN EAGLE: THE GOLD MEDAL DREAMS OF BILLY MILLS, has unfolded as though it had wings of its own. There was a lot of interest among publishers, but Andrea Spooner of Little, Brown had such passion and vision, and such wholehearted support from her team, that when she swept in with a preempt offer, it was clear it was meant to find a home with her—at the place that is also happens to be the publishing home of Billy and Pat’s “adopted son," Nicholas Sparks. Soon Andrea had the perfect illustrator on board—the illustrator Donna had envisioned from the start, S.D. Nelson (Standing Rock Sioux)—and now we’re well on our way to the summer 2024 publication, just in time for the next summer Olympics.
Billy’s organization, Running Strong, works with communities to create healthier, happier, and more hopeful futures for Native American youth. We cannot wait to put this book in the hands of those youth, and to have today’s children from all over the world be newly empowered by Billy Mills and his story.
So many congratulations to Billy and Donna!
I started writing children’s books because I wanted my children and more children like them to have access to joyous, original stories with protagonists that look like them. Fun stories that inspire positivity, encouragement, thought, laughter, and that, bottom line, let people see black and brown kids as kids.
So when I was presented with the opportunity to write a book about Juneteenth, I was admittedly a little torn.
While I had always known about the heinous circumstances that were the impetus for the first Juneteenth, my personal Juneteenth memories have mostly been cocooned in joyous summertime memories from my hometown, Buffalo, NY. Juneteenth is part of my family’s history. My grandfather, Judson T. Price, Jr., is a Buffalo, NY activist, former educator, and one of the co-founders of our hometown celebration.
Buffalo’s Juneteenth Festival was founded in 1976 as a parallel event to America’s Bicentennial Independence celebration. It is well-known by many Buffalonians, especially within the Black community. So when many Americans ‘discovered’ Juneteenth in June 2020, I was wondering why they were so late to the party.
But I knew The Juneteenth Story was important to tell - and I’d soon learn how much I had yet to learn about the history of the celebration. As I immersed myself in research, it quickly became apparent that, beyond the already painful roots of this emancipation celebration, Juneteenth’s under-shared 155+ year journey directly paralleled more broadly known American history in so many fascinating ways.
I semi-nervously shared one of my early drafts with my family. It was an ambitious effort to meaningfully but age-appropriately summarize a 500 year trail of, at times, traumatic, and at times, triumphant history... in about 1300 words.
Days later I got a call from my grandfather, now 90, but still sharp as tack.
“Whoooooooooa, girl! That was SOMETHING! I didn’t expect to learn so much!”
I taught ‘Mr. Juneteenth’ something?! Wow. That was enough for me.
But this wasn’t about what I had done - it was about all that had been omitted from my (and earlier) generation's history curriculums. And in the current political environment where erasing key figures in our country’s history has become a heated debate, it has become even more important that I help contribute to building a body of accessible, historically accurate content to tell the truth about this element of our country’s history.
Enslavement, false imprisonment, Jim Crow of new and old, and persistent inequality are not joyous. The truth can hurt, but there is joy in having the freedom to share it.
There is joy in uncovering and sharing narratives about our ancestors so that they, too, get their rightful place in American history.
There is joy in knowing the self-sufficiency and tenacity of Black American people, despite the odds deliberately stacked against us.
There is joy in knowing that our history is still being written, and that each and every one of us have the power to affect the next chapter.
So while I look forward to continuing to create stories to bring kids and their families mirrors and windows of joy, I also welcome the challenge and importance of creating and sharing windows of truth.
Alliah L. Agostini will be making her debut as the author of two upcoming books: Non-fiction picture book The Juneteenth Story (May 2022, becker!&mayer! kids), recounting the history of the Juneteenth celebration, and the fiction picture book BIG TUNE (Winter 2023, FSG). A proud Buffalo native of Guyanese descent, she resides in New Jersey with her family. Learn more at alliahagostini.com
These photos capture some of the preparations for the very first Buffalo Juneteenth Festival. In addition to helping lead and plan, my grandfather Judson T. Price, Jr. also created the first Juneteenth Buffalo paraphernalia. Photos are used with permission from the collection of Judson T. Price, Jr.
I first heard of Floyd Cooper through Patricia Lee Gauch. She had his paintings on her wall, and she spoke lovingly of the young artist she'd met early in his career -- whose work could capture a story's emotional arc and take the reader on a very special journey.
Years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Floyd Cooper when he illustrated my most recent picture book Sprouting Wings, which I co-wrote with my friend Louisa Jaggar. Sprouting Wings had been Louisa's labor of love - a gift to her grandchildren, a story about the kind of hero she wanted them to see. Floyd read the manuscript and fell in love with it. Like James Herman Banning he had grown up in Oklahoma. He understood the history and he understood the importance of Banning's story. Floyd was delightful to work with. He chuckled as we sent him numerous historical notes that often involved minor changes to his art. The most important thing that Floyd Cooper did was bring Banning to life and let readers see the deep love Banning had of flight. There are things that words can't convey that only pictures can, and Floyd brought Banning's joy and passion to life. Floyd was extremely generous with his process and shared his early illustrations with us. That probably was one of the most glorious experiences - to see the book come alive through its various stages. Louisa and I are deeply honored that Floyd Cooper fell in love with Banning the same way we had. Words can't describe how heartbroken we feel this week.
This deal that we're celebrating today for Keely Parrack encapsulates everything about why you should never give up on your dreams, and why timing can really be everything sometimes. This is a project that has been on and off sub for a number of years, but we just knew we had to find the right editor for it. And once we spoke to Wendy McClure at Sourcebooks, it became so clear that we had!
Here's a bit about the story that's coming your way next fall:
And I am so delighted that we'll be getting not only just one thriller from Keely, but a second one as well! She's truly just a fantastic writer and I am over the moon for her. Congratulations, Keely!
What could be more joyful than celebrating an exciting new book deal for a debut author? Nothing, I say! We are at peak joyful today!
And what a book it is – Carrie Kruck is an author whose voice captivated me from the moment I first read her work. Her evocative storytelling and whimsical imagination sealed the deal. Then, this text showed up in my Inbox:
Can’t you picture it? I sure could! And so could brilliant illustrator Erin Kraan (and her agent, Catbird’s Kirsten Hall) – and not long after, the inestimable editor Andrea Welch at Beach Lane. The result is a match-made-in-picture-book- heaven, which will be popping out onto your bookshelves in Fall 2023.
Hooray and congratulations, Carrie! May it be the first of many to come.
We're celebrating a debut deal for Alliah L. Agostini this week! I fell in love with it for so many reasons—including that I'm married to a Caribbean-American immigrant and know these Saturday dancehall gatherings quite fondly. I also remember cashing in cans as a kid and my son still does it. But the way Alliah makes the story sing and captures such a specific experience in a universal way—with themes of generosity, determination, and self-expression—makes me hopeful that this story will resonate with families of all backgrounds while it lifts up Jamaican-American families whose experience is reflected.
Here's the announcement:
When Cottage Door Press was looking to develop a line of board books celebrating brown babies, they couldn’t have chosen a better person to make it happen than Kevin Lewis. Kevin, as you know, is the author of the still-popular-twenty-years- later CHUGGA CHUGGA CHOO CHOO and MY TRUCK IS STUCK, as well as being the editor of many hugely successful books and (of course!) now an EMLA agent.
I’m so excited to be working with this house and with Ginny O’Donnell for the first time, and on a series that promises to be so beloved. It will start with BROWN SUGAR BABY next spring and have at least two more books. Up-and-coming illustrator Jestinia Southerland (repped by Alex Gehringer at the Bright Agency) is on board for book 1. It’s going to be WONDERFUL!
Huge congratulations, Kevin!