Meet Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, an author who talks to children through her writing and books. Olugbemisola is the author of 8th Grade Superzero, which was named a Notable Book for a Global Society and a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People. She also writes nonfiction for young people, including Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow, and Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins. She is the coauthor of the middle grade novel Two Naomis, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and is a Junior Library Guild selection, and its sequel, Naomis Too. Olugbemisola is a member of the Brown Bookshelf, and editor of the We Need Diverse Books anthology, The Hero Next Door. She holds an MA in education, and writes frequently on literacy-related topics for Brightly and other outlets. Visit her online at olugbemisolabooks.com.
Tell us about your journey to being a writer, and how you started writing for this audience?
I’ve always loved reading and writing; as a kid I’d make little illustrated storybooks for myself and my little sister. We weren’t allowed to watch much TV (PBS only), so I’d make up my own book versions of what happened on the shows that my friends talked about! My family moved a lot throughout my childhood, and so books were my constant companions; they helped me navigate the “Land of New Kid,” which was a place I visited often. My childhood reading days brought so much joy and comfort and opportunity for transformation — I want to offer the same to young readers now.
What do you love most about your work?
For me, writing is an opportunity to think about how I’m thinkin. I can explore the questions I have about life, big and small, sometimes find answers — and sometimes discover new questions. It’s also a chance to imagine and play, and I’ll never pass that up! I love talking to children about books, and reading, and writing — it reminds me that my work is not for me, or for reviewers, or publishers, etc. — my job is to serve the readers and the work as authentically and humbly as possible. Writing is an opportunity to listen deeply to the world.
A lot of your work centers on the need for more diversity in children’s literature – tell us a little bit about that.
I’m a member of The Brown Bookshelf, a web site that works to amplify Black voices in children’s literature. I’m also a former We Need Diverse Books member and editor of their middle grade anthology, The Hero Next Door. I believe that all children need and have a right to, as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote, “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors.” With opportunities to see themselves and develop empathy for others through story, “…they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what make us all human.” For too long, entire communities have been misrepresented or underrepresented in children’s literature — in the books themselves, in the industry as a whole. I think that the stories we read and tell ourselves help shape the story we create together, the world we’re building.
I think that we have an obligation, a responsibility, to promote literature that amplifies marginalized voices, but I think that it’s also an opportunity to do better, live better, and be better. Of course, we promote diverse lit as being only “medicinal,” we can lose out. But if we focus on the “effects” of that good medicine—the joys, the reading pleasures, the transformation that can happen we can present all literature as vibrant, enjoyable, and relevant to all. For more (and better than me) on these topics, I highly recommend The Dark Fantastic, Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Free Within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children’s Literature, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, We Gon’ Be Alright, Jeff Chang, Reading, Writing, & Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice & the Power of the Written Word, Linda Christensen. Online, check out https://disrupttexts.org/ and https://cleartheaireducation.wordpress.com (and the #disrupttexts and #cleartheair hashtags on Twitter) I could go on and on…
What do you hope people who read your books take away?
I hope it offers whatever they need. Each reader has a personal response and relationship with a story, a way that they make it their own. Sometimes readers talk to me about characters or moments that I thought were minor, but had a very particular and important meaning in their lives.
What’s one thing, industry-related or not, you learned in the last month?
I learned how to knit sleeves in the round on two circular needles. It was amazing! I’ve been using double-pointeds for years. I used to do a lot of making every day — knitting, sewing, paper arts projects, and I think it’s very important for my writing, so I need to go back to those habits without feeling guilty, like I’m not “working.”
What’s something about you that not many people know?
I once spent the day on Sesame Street, while Queen Latifah was shooting the “Letter O” rap. The Rolling Stone magazine with Prince on the cover was on a rack in Mr. Hooper’s store, and I moved it to the front.
What’s a book you loved as a kid that’s really stuck with you?
There are so many! Definitely Honey, I Love, by Eloise Greenfield, Cornrows by Camille Yarbrough, The People Could Fly, by Virginia Hamilton, A Wrinkle in Time and A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle.
What is your favorite quote?
I have notebooks and notebooks full of quotes that I love…so there are many favourites. Gwendolyn Brooks is there, like this excerpt from Speech to the Young Speech to the Progress-Toward (Among Them Nora and Henry III):
“Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
“Even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night.”
from Paul Robeson
We are each other’s
we are each other’s
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.”
What advice do you have for those just starting out in writing?
I think that reading, and reading widely is helpful. But it’s also great to read and reread the things you already love. It can help to “read like a writer” and spend some time thinking about why you love what you love — what is it that the author does that works, is it the dialogue, the plotting and structure, the writer’s voice, etc.?
I keep a little notebook with me all the time, just to jot down notes, ideas, snippets of dialogue, doodles, etc.
Most of all, I think that it’s vital to be generous with yourself and to focus on what works for you, even if it’s not what someone else says the “rules” are. Take risks, understand that discomfort can bring about positive change and progress, and take joy in the fact that you have a story, many stories, and that they’re all precious.
 “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop. Perspectives: Using and Choosing Books for the Classroom. Vo. 6, No. 3 Summer 1990. https://scenicregional.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Mirrors-Windows-and-Sliding-Glass-Doors.pdf