JaNay Brown-Wood is no stranger to the word “no.”
The now-published children’s author heard it repeatedly when she continually submitted her manuscript for “Imani’s Moon” to publishing houses.
Some told her the book wasn’t what they were looking for.
Some told her she should self publish.
Some rejection letters began with, “Dear author.”
“Can I at least get a ‘Dear JaNay’? Can you at least pretend that you read my work?” Brown-Wood said during a recent book-signing in Clovis.
And then finally, someone did.
Brown-Wood entered her manuscript in the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ Children’s Book of the Year competition. The prize was a publication contract.
She won — she finally got her “yes.”
Charlesbridge Publishing found an illustrator, Hazel Mitchell, and published “Imani’s Moon” on Oct. 14, 2014.
The book has won numerous awards since being published, including being named one of the Top 2014 Mighty Girl Books for Young Readers, a Northern California Association of Children’s Librarians Distinguished Book for 2014, and a Reading is Fundamental 2015 Multicultural Book.
“Imani’s Moon” was also turned into an audiobook by Live Oak Media and was named Best Audiobook for Children in 2015.
Brown-Wood spoke to staff and students April 4 at Clovis Community College, where her father, Lee Brown, is a political science instructor. Her aim was to inspire others to persevere through rejection and follow their passion.
As a child, Brown-Wood said, “I really liked writing and telling stories. These were interests of mine and what really, really made me happy.”
Brown-Wood volunteered at her aunt’s day care facility in high school and realized a second passion: early childhood education.
“These are still passions of mine and things that get me enthused and excited,” she said.
Brown-Wood, a graduate of Sunnyside High School in Fresno, earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA, her master’s degree in childhood development from California State University, Sacramento.
She is in a doctorate program at UC Davis, where she is working on a dissertation about the lack of diversity in children’s book characters and the impact that might have on children.
“All of the books that are published in America for children, that do not include animals as main characters, about 93 percent of them are published with white characters as the main character,” Brown-Wood said. “That leaves 7 percent to cover African Americans, Asian American, Hispanic Americans and American Indians. That is a very small percentage, and not very representative of the great diversity we have in America.”
The main character in Brown-Wood’s book, “Imani’s Moon,” is Imani, the smallest child in her Maasai village, somewhere in Tanzania or Kenya. Inspired by ancient stories of her people, she sets a goal of touching the moon. Despite the taunting and negativity from her peers and talking animals, Imani continues on her endeavor that seems impossible.
Imani means “faith” in Swahili, Brown-Wood told the Clovis Community College crowd.
“Her name very much parallels what she does, believing in herself,” she said.
Brown-Wood’s second book, “Grandma’s Tiny House” is set for release in summer or fall of 2017.
The author said her writing is influenced by her childhood favorites: Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein.
“Any time I read Dr. Seuss, it’s in my dad’s cadence, the way he reads the story,” she said. “Very much when I write, my voice comes out in rhyme, like Dr. Suess. Although Imani’s Moon is not in rhyme, “Grandma’s Tiny House” is. That will be kind of my coming out as a writer who writes in rhyme.”
She has also had several poems published in Highlights magazine.
“Imani’s Moon” is available in bookstores nationwide and at www.janaybrownwood.com.