Bossy Flossy

Bossy Flossy

In her most recent book, Bossy Flossy, award-winning author and illustrator Paulette Bogan tells the story of Flossy, the bossiest girl around. However, one day she meets another boy in her class, Edward, who is just as bossy as she is. Will they find a way to get along?

Following , the third- and fourth-grade students in Ms. Gulnick’s class at PS 154 in Harlem, learned how to peacefully solve conflicts in their day-to-day lives.

The class was thrilled to receive their own copies of the book and were immediately attracted to the heartfelt and relatable story.

In preparation for Paulette’s author visit, the students read the story and came up with questions about writing, illustration, and Bossy Flossy for Paulette. The visit started with several rounds of interactive drawing. Together they created characters, each featuring three different animals. Using the art they drew, Paulette told the students that drawing is another way to tell a story. Then she read the book and discussed different ways they can solve disagreements. The students were highly engaged during the visit and shared their own experiences dealing with someone as bossy as Flossy or Edward.

Behind the Book invited Story Pirates, an education organization that turns kids’ original stories into shows, to conduct a workshop on character development.  Using their imaginations, students were encouraged to create wild characters and to think deeply about what made their characters special.

The students then wrote their own stories about a conflict that they experienced and how they handled it. Jason, one of the students, created a superhero character who guards the school by solving conflicts and disagreements. Jason named him Super Schoolman.

Once they completed their first drafts, Behind the Book volunteer writing coaches helped the students add details to their stories as well as encouraged them to use more creative expressions in their storytelling.

Behind the Book’s Teaching Artist, Candice Humphries, taught an art workshop where students created string puppets based on their main characters and then acted out their stories for their classmates. They talked about why the solutions in their stories were the most effective way to deal with their conflicts. Some students went on to share real-life experience using the puppets they had just made.

At the end of the program, every student had created their own story and a puppet of their main character. As in all BtB programs, they also received their own autographed copy of Bossy Flossy with a portrait of Flossy drawn by Paulette.

The students had the opportunity to connect with a great author, learn about what inspires her and her process of writing and illustrating a book from the first idea to the published story. Moreover, they learned effective strategies for conflict resolution that come in very handy in their daily lives.


This blog was written by Xiting Zhai, a Behind the Book Intern

Annual Appeal

Any author will tell you that a book truly comes to life in the presence of its reader. While the words on the page are usually what fosters that connection, we at Behind the Book go one step further to create real relationships between authors and students in classrooms throughout New York City.

For 12th grader Mariama at International Community High School in the Bronx, reading and writing were already a passion. When she first learned that she was going to meet the authorMarina Budhos, she penned a letter describing how much she adores books from the smell of the freshly printed papers, to the words that fill [her] most empty parts.Books, to Mariama, are not just stories, but tools that transport her into the lives of others where “characters become families.”

Her classmate Windila, a self-described deep and thoughtful philosopher,” described a similar love for books. She appreciated Marina not just as an author but as a role model for young women like herself. At the start of her final year of high school, truly a crossroads, Windila dwelled on ways to create positive change. Her philosophy is that life is a book full of chapters where you can start a good chapter and the next will be deceiving but you don’t stop reading, keep going and see the change that happens.

Nothing makes us happier than seeing our students connect so deeply to the work we do with them. But here at Behind the Book, we’re not just reaching the Mariamas and Windilas of the world. We’re also here to connect kids who don’t like to read to books and authors, and to reading and writing skills that strengthen their education as a whole.

While eager scholars get excited about the prospect of our programs, many of their classmates need to look at a book through a different lens to be able to appreciate its story. That’s why our programs are composed of a series of workshops that include art, field trips, special guest speakers and volunteer coaches who work with kids in small groups. Each student’s individual learning style is addressed in a Behind the Book program. And, each student goes home with at least one brand new book.

Our organization is needed more than ever before, as several nonprofits serving our communities have closed their doors. Though funding has never been less certain, we’re expanding, because the gaps that we’re here to fill keep growing.

The students in our classes are nearly always from low-income families—last year, an average of 87% were living at or below the federal poverty line. This school year, Behind the Book will be serving 2,000 students and distributing nearly 12,000 books—motivating kids with an eagerness to learn, AND motivating those who have struggled in the past.

We ask that you increase your support this year—our biggest year yet—and the year you too, are most needed.

A generous donor has agreed to donate an additional $5,000 if we meet our ambitious fundraising goal. This is your chance to double your gift to support kids in need.

Please make your gift to Behind the Book today by mail or online at We guarantee that your donation will be put to work in NYC classrooms right away!

Happy reading,

Jo Umans

Executive Director

Meet the Author: Page McBrier

Page McBrier is the author of 46 picture and chapter books for young readers. Behind the Book has had an ongoing, successful relationship with Page and Beatrice’s Goat. Based on a true story, the award-winning New York Times bestseller is about a girl who receives a goat from Heifer International and when it gives birth she gives the baby goat to another family. The program focuses on helping young readers understand the importance of “paying it forward.”

Page’s recent projects include Abracadabra Tut, a time travel adventure novel for middle school kids and One Cow and Counting, the latest title in her series for Heifer International.

Page is also a teaching artist for the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. She leads workshops and residences throughout the state and beyond that focus on art and writing. She is clearly passionate about encouraging all kinds of aspiring writers and artists.

Behind the Book: How did you initially get involved with Behind the Book?

Page: I was contacted by Myra Hernandez. Behind the Book sounded like a great program; hands-on, engaging and lots of fun. This was about three or four years ago.

BtB: What does it mean to you to be able to interact with young readers and help them develop a love for reading/writing?

Page: One great thing about BTB is the small audiences. It’s nice to spend time in a one-on- one
personal setting. The students also have a familiarity with your books, and after the author talk we complete a fun activity together. I love interacting with the kids. It’s especially fun when it’s more intimate like this. You really feel a connection.

BtB: Were you always a reader/writer? Was there a particular person or book that inspired you to love reading/writing?

Page: I was always a reader as a kid. I love to share how my sister and I used to get up and go read in the closet after our mother put us to bed. We were avid readers. We went to the library all the time. The local librarian used to tell my mother that our family checked out the highest number of books every year. Kids tend to develop an ear for language when they read that much. Good readers become good writers.

BtB: What advice would you give to our young students as they work their way to a
published piece?

Page: The first time you write something you’ve really just begun. The true writing emerges as you revise. For me, this is the fun part. Read what you wrote out loud—get a general sense of the language – does it flow? Does it make sense? Was anything left out? Did you repeat any words too often? Did you make interesting word choices? I’ll read and re-read until it sounds just right.

BtB: What’s a fun fact about yourself? Do you have any interesting or unique hobbies?

Page: Growing up, my parents took in a lot of kids (foster, adopted and older kids). All of us
were close to the same age, so we often hung out together. We built a tree fort in the backyard. For a while we had a donkey as a pet and we roamed around a nearby park quite a bit. Two of my siblings didn’t speak English when they first arrived, another used a wheelchair so I was exposed to many different kinds of people and cultures at a young age. My parents were unconventional. It was a little wild. We weren’t always supervised—we’d have adventures and go to the woods for the day.

I have a worm-composting bin—I use it for author talks for The Chicken and the Worm. Twice a year I harvest my “red wiggler” worms and end up with a bucket full of worm castings to use as fertilizer in my garden (it doesn’t smell!). It looks like dirt. Kids can’t believe it when I show it to them and tell them it’s worm poop!

BtB: What’s your favorite book/short story that you’ve written and why?

Page: This is a hard question. I always put heart and effort into all of my books. Some books, such as Beatrice’s Goat, have had a larger impact on a greater audience which has led to more opportunities to travel and promote my books. Thanks to the success of Beatrice’s Goat, I also wrote and researched another five books for Heifer International, which took me all over the world.

BtB: What authors inspire you and why?

Page: Many authors inspire me. This past winter I read some of the Newbery Winners: The Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos; loved The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron; love Neil Gaiman; Read The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. I grew up reading E.B. White (ex. Stewart Little, Charlotte’s Web), Beverly Cleary, and Sharon Creech. I appreciate both content and language from these authors.

BtB: How do you narrow down what you’re going to write about? Do have always know before you start or do you figure it out along the way?

Page: A lot of times research drives the twists in the road (the plot). I do a lot of research before I write. I love it (a little too much)—I’m kind of nerdy…always reading, asking questions, pursuing ideas. I do much more research than I’ll ever need because that gives me lots of choices as I start my story.

BtB: Do you have any kind of writing process?

Page: I have general ideas when first delving into a story. Sometimes I plot it out a little bit. I try to write three-six pages a day and then the next morning I edit those pages and once I do that editing I march on from there. It’s methodical. With rough drafts I just keep rewriting.

I’m in a picture book/middle grade writers group so I have a lot of eyes reading my drafts. Each week we read certain pages from manuscripts and then meet and discuss comments.

BtB: Anything new in the works?

Page: I’m always working on something. I’ll often spend up to a year on a project—always revising and improving what I’ve written. Or I’ll find something “in the drawer” that I set aside for one reason or another and then tackle it again. Most recently I wrote a picture book with my son, who’s hilarious. We had such a blast. I don’t know if we will keep working on it or write others. With each new generation of writers, picture books have evolved in interesting ways, so my son’s take on the story added another level of humor that I found totally refreshing.

I also just sold a story to an educational-publishing house that will come out next year.

Tips About Writing Process:

I’d say I am “treat motivated.” To keep myself on track, I set a daily writing goal and then promise myself a reward when I’m done (to go for a bike ride or take a walk, cook something, check out what’s on sale at TJ Maxx, read a book). Don’t ask me why, but for some reason, this works for me. Most writers learn to set goals for themselves—it’s important to be disciplined.

Also sometimes I get bogged down and no matter what I write comes out sounding clunky and dull. When that happens, I find that reading a short story or novel with a well-written voice often helps me rediscover my own writer’s voice.

December Readings at KGB

Join us to hear the masterful works of Helen Bendict, Hannah Tinti, Karen Shepard and Matthew Lansburgh at KGB Bar in the East Village on Thursday, December 14th.

Helen Benedict is a professor at Columbia University and the author of seven novels, including the just-published Wolf Season, and her previous novel, Sand Queen, a Publishers Weekly “Best Contemporary War Novel.” She writes frequently about justice, women, soldiers, and war. Her coverage of sexual assault in the U.S. military inspired the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Invisible War, and her work instigated a landmark lawsuit against the Pentagon on behalf of victims of military sexual assault. Benedict has spoken at West Point, the U.S. Air Force Academy, Harvard University, TED Talks, and the United Nations, among others. A recipient of both the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, Benedict is also the author of five works of nonfiction, including the book, The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women in Iraq, and a play, The Lonely Soldier Monologues. She lives in New York.

No one writes with more authority or cool-eyed compassion about the experience of women in war both on and off the battlefield than Helen Benedict. In Wolf Season, she shows us the complicated ways in which the lives of those who serve and those who don’t intertwine and how—regardless of whether you are a soldier, the family of a soldier, or a refugee—the war follows you and your children for generations. Wolf Season is more than a novel for our times; it should be required reading.
– Elissa Schappell, author of Use Me and Blueprints for Building Better Girls

Hannah Tinti is a writer, editor, and teacher. Her new novel, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, has been optioned by director Matt Reeves, producer Michael Costigan, & Endemol Shine. Both a coming-of-age novel and a literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores the relationship between father and daughter after the mysterious death of his wife/her mother, what it means to be a hero, and the cost we pay to protect the people we love most. Her short story collection, Animal Crackers, has sold in sixteen countries and was a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway award. Her best-selling novel, The Good Thief, is a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, recipient of the American Library Association’s Alex Award, winner of the The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and winner of the Quality Paperback Book Club’s New Voices Award. In 2002, she co-founded the award-winning magazine One Story, where she is now Executive Editor. In 2009, she received the PEN/Nora Magid award for excellence in editing, and in 2014 One Story won the AWP Prize for Best Small Press. In 2011, she joined the Public Radio program, Selected Shorts, as their Literary Commentator, interviewing authors and actors about the importance of literature and reading. She co-founded the Sirenland Writers Conference in Italy with Dani Shapiro, Michael Maren, and Antonio & Carla Sersale. She has taught writing at New York University’s Graduate Creative Writing Program, Columbia University’s MFA program, CUNY, and at the Museum of Natural History in New York City.

This is a convincingly redemptive and celebratory novel: an affirmation of the way that heroism and human fallibility coexist, of how good parenting comes in unexpected packages, and of the way that we are marked by our encounters with each other and the luminous universe in which we dwell.
Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

Karen Shepard is a Chinese-American born and raised in New York City.  She is the author of four novels, An Empire of WomenThe Bad Boy’s WifeDon’t I Know You?,  The Celestialsand a newly published collection of stories, Kiss Me Someone.  Her short fiction has been published in the Atlantic MonthlyTin House, and Ploughshares, among others.  Her nonfiction has appeared in MoreSelfUSA Today, and the Boston Globe, among others.  She teaches writing and literature at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, where she lives with her husband, novelist Jim Shepard, and their three children.

“Faithlessness among women runs through Kiss Me Someone less like a theme than a cactus spine. Injuries may be offhand, deliberate, even set up in childhood like bad genes waiting to switch on. In her hands, all are thrilling and nuanced. . . . This complexity puts Shepard on a shelf with writers like Margaret Atwood . . . and Elena Ferrante.”

– Dylan Landis, The New York Times Book Review

Matthew Lansburgh‘s collection of linked stories, Outside Is the Ocean, won the 2017 Iowa Short Fiction Award. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, Ecotone, Electric Literature, StoryQuarterly, Guernica, Michigan Quarterly Review, Joyland, The Florida Review, and Columbia. Matthew holds an MFA in Fiction from NYU, where he received a Veterans Writing Fellowship. You can visit him online at

“Not for the faint of heart, this collection is relentless and intense, but Lansburgh’s prose offers stunning moments of tenderness amid its stark depictions of loneliness. Arresting and pointed.”


Meet the Author : Tony Medina

Tony Medina is the successful author of seventeen books for both adults and children. His children’s books DeShawn Days and Love to Langston in particular have received several awards including: the Parent’s Guide Children’s Media Award in 2001; the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People in 2002; and the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award in 2003. Writer’s Digest also named Medina as one of the ten poets to watch in the new millennium. He was also awarded The Langston Hughes Society Award
and the first African Voices Literary Award.

Aside from his longstanding involvement with Behind the Book, Medina, also an educator, is passionate about inspiring readers and writers. He currently teaches Creative Writing at Howard University.

Medina’s latest book I am Alfonso Jones, the first YA graphic novel that addresses issues of police brutality and Black Lives Matter was released this October.

Behind the Book: How did you initially get involved with Behind the Book?

Tony: It has been so long since I first started working with Behind the Book, so I am a little fuzzy on the details on how I initially got involved. I think Abe Barretto of Lee & Low Books first linked me with Behind the Book. Once I began working with Jo Umans of Behind the Book we just clicked and I have been working with the organization consistently for over ten years. I really loved the fact that Behind the Book’s mission was to bring authors and illustrators into classrooms in New York City that normally would not be so privileged, exposing children to writers and artists who resembled them and come from similar backgrounds, for the most part—and gift them books!!! It was a marriage made in literary and literacy heaven!

BtB: What does it mean to you to be able to interact with young readers and help them develop a love for reading/writing?

Tony: The greatest part of being a children’s or young adult book author is getting to visit with young people and getting them excited about writing, thinking, using their imaginations and reading. It means a great deal to be able to inspire young people to believe in their voices and help them to feel confident about expressing themselves creatively. You never know how your interaction with them will affect their lives in profound ways. But it is reciprocal—I benefit greatly from the interaction and exchange, as well. I recall an incident when I came across an email from a librarian talking about a child who, after reading my book DeShawn Days, about a ten-year-old child from the projects raised both by his hardworking, single mother and his grandmother and lives with an extended family of uncles and cousins, and who has asthma, turned to her and said of me, “How does he know about my life!” Those are the kinds of spiritual reinforcements you get when working with young people, our future.

BtB: Were you always a reader/writer? Was there a particular person or book that inspired you to love reading/writing?

Tony: As a child, I was a bit lazy when it came to reading. I didn’t have the attention span for it; TV was my form of literature. I had a friend—Troy Ward—who would take books out from the library and push them on me, saying I should read this; I should read that. I’d take a book home and try and read it, but wouldn’t get past the first page or so, and would either turn on the TV or go out to play. Then in the ninth grade I was supposed to do a book report and hadn’t and I received an F. I was able to do a makeup and I fell in love with the book I selected to read from the handout: Flowers for Algernon. For some reason that book grabbed me and I spent an entire weekend engrossed in the world Daniel Keyes created that, upon finishing the novel, I announced to my family that I wanted to be a writer. I was so excited I even drew a picture of the main character for the cover of the book report—which helped garner me an A+. From that day on, I read everything on the list Mr. De Los Reyes handed out in the beginning of the school year. I began reading for fun, but mainly reading to teach myself how to become a writer.

BtB: What advice would you give to our young students as they work their way to a
published piece?

Tony: The main advice is to fall in love with reading. Fall in love with words, language, ideas, films, TV shows, art. Get caught up in poems and stories and plays. Read everything— essays, memoirs, newspapers, comics, novels, graphic novels. Also, be a toddler in the world; be astonished by the beauty and awesomeness of being alive and the physical world. Look at things the way poets and artists do—the way children do. Learn to listen. The sounds of the world and the way people speak, the stories they tell, the natural poetry that stumbles from peoples’ mouths, their natural use of simile and metaphor, the various flavors of their language and dialects. Immerse yourself in the music and poetry of life. That will always inspire you to create.

BtB: What’s a fun fact about yourself? Do you have any interesting or unique hobbies?

Tony: When I was a kid living in the Throgs Neck Housing Projects in the Bronx, I was so obsessed with the character of The Fonz in the ABC sitcom Happy Days that I actually thought I was The Fonz. I wore a jean jacket a neighbor painted “The Fonz” on and I carried a comb in my back pocket like he did; and basically, I went around speaking like The Fonz and imitating him like a method actor who continues his role well beyond film shooting ends. I was a nut! But everyone in my neighborhood and at school played along.

BtB: What’s your favorite book/short story that you’ve written and why?

Tony: The most endearing book I’ve written has to be DeShawn Days, because it is my first children’s book and it is about a 10-year-old kid from the projects talking about his life and experiences though poetry. I used some elements of my own personal narrative for the character. Up until that point I have not seen a book about a kid like DeShawn represented in children’s literature There were books from the perspective of middle class children in picture books, but not many from the voice and point of view of a child from the ‘hood. DeShawn allowed me to create a character representing the children who seldom have a voice in society. But I recently wrote my first graphic novel for young adults, entitled I Am Alfonso Jones, about a 15-year-old Black Puerto Rican kids from Harlem who is shot and killed by a police officer moonlighting as a department store security guard. I am really caught up in Alfonso’s story and him as a character. Like DeShawn, Alfonso is very much “real” to me. That’s the power of the imagination and stories: the characters writers create become like real-life people to them and go on living beyond (in their imaginations) well beyond the story is written and the book is published.

BtB: What authors inspire you and why?

Tony: Because I read so much there are just too many writers to mention. As a child, of course I was taken by Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, which as I stated inspired me to want to become a writer. Other writers I read as a teenager who really excited me and captured my imagination include: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving and Alice Walker.

BtB: How do you narrow down what you’re going to write about? Do have always know before you start or do you figure it out along the way?

Tony: The life of a writer is complicated by the fact that we are constantly thinking of new ideas for writing poems, stories, essays, etc., but there are not enough hours in a day and our lives are made that much more difficult because most of us have to go out and earn a living in order to do what love to do. So, we have to try and keep our minds and projects in order. I have written a few books simultaneously but when you are working on a larger project, like a traditional novel or a graphic novel, you pretty much have to be immersed in the world of those characters and their stories. I have to keep notepads handy and I have to learn how to focus on one project at a time, unlike reading where I can have about 6 or 7 books going at the same time! I usually narrow down what I want to write about by what I am compelled by: a certain idea, story, news item, or current societal problem that nags at me. Sometimes characters pop up in your head telling their story, demanding to be heard. Poems may seize hold of you and you are compelled to write them and rewrite them until you get them right. Other times, an editor may approach you with an idea for a book and you like the idea and want to work with that editor, and so you run with that, and that has a certain level of excitement knowing you have a book contract, which is a great motivator. Sometimes you just force yourself to write something (because you are a writer after all and in order to be considered a writer you have to write, no?) and you don’t know where that will take you, and you end up with something. That’s all part of the magic of creativity.

The cover of Tony Medina’s newest book, I Am Alfonso Jones.

BtB: Do you have any kind of writing process?

Tony: I have been trying to find a serious writing process for about fifteen years or so. But, to no avail. I started out writing by inspiration, but you learn early on that that can get you but so far as a writer. So you have to force yourself to write. I have been too busy, too lazy, or too distracted to employ a writing routine or schedule. But I have been striving for that kind of discipline in my writing life. I do know one thing, I really work well when I am contracted to write a book and have an imposed deadline to meet. I just have to take that approach to writing projects that are not under contract. I basically have to create my own writing deadlines and adhere to them. In order to be successful, you must see writing as a ritual, as a discipline that gets better the more it’s practiced.

BtB: Anything new in the works?

Tony: I have my first graphic novel, I Am Alfonso Jones (Tu Books), which came out in October 2017 and I have a children’s picture book, Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Black Boy (Penny Candy Books), which comes out February 2018, and features the artwork of thirteen artists, some of whom are established and beloved children’s book illustrators and authors in their own right. And hopefully I will be inspired to write and publish more books young people can get behind. (You see what I did there!)

This guest blog was penned by Sarah Jane Weill. 

Wisdom from the author Nikki Grimes

Nikki Grimes Uses Poetry to Connect Students to the Harlem Renaissance, Identity and Dreams

In her book, One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, award-winning, Harlem-born author Nikki Grimes features poetry by Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Clara Ann Thompson and other influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance. The book is a conversation between Grimes and the writers featured as she employs the Golden Shovel poetry form. As described by Grimes in the book, “The idea of a Golden Shovel poem is to take a short poem in its entirety or a line from that poem (called a striking line), and create a new poem, using the words from the original…you arrange that line word by word in the right margin.”

The sixth-grade scholars in Mr. McCoy’s four Black History classes at Eagle Academy II in BedStuy, Brooklyn hit the ground running this fall as they immediately delved into One Last Word and researched the writers featured in the book. In preparation for Nikki’s visit the scholars wrote letters introducing themselves, their passions and interests to her.

Once some writing was underway, Behind the Book’s Teaching Artist, Candice, facilitated a workshop in which scholars created a mural inspired by Romare Bearden’s: The Block. The Block is a tribute to Bearden’s street in Harlem and the scholars each re-created a section of their own block showing barbershops, stores, churches, grocery stores and other symbols of their communities. Candice hung the scholar’s artwork all together so that Nikki was able to visualize the important elements of their neighborhoods. 


Scholars begin writing their own Golden Shovel poems using the first line of Georgia Douglas Johnson’s poem: Calling Dreams. 

The​ ​right​ ​to​ ​make​ ​my​ ​dreams​ ​come​ ​true

I ask, nay, I demand of life,
Nor shall fate’s deadly contraband
Impede my steps nor countermand.

Too long my heart against the ground
Has beat the dusty years around,
And now, at length I rise, I wake!
And stride into the morning-break!

The scholars wrote about their dreams and explored having to support family, going to college, jobs and different careers. Each scholar’s poem was embedded with their passion, interests and courage to share fears and obstacles. Mr. McCoy assisted the scholars in their writing process and once everyone had a first draft completed, Behind the Book volunteers came into their classrooms to serve as Writing Coaches. The scholars were thrilled to meet the volunteers and hear about their work and interests, while also sharing about themselves. The Writing Coaches helped get scholars from a first or second draft to nearly their final draft by assisting them to find creative word choices and to help in deepening certain concepts and narratives.

The weeks of work culminated in Nikki Grimes Day held at Eagle Academy II on October 23rd. Grimes spent one hour in a large group setting talking to the scholars about her life, work and influences.  Grimes was very open in talking about the way in which racism, poverty and homelessness had made her young life painful in many ways, but that the role of poetry in her life helped her navigate difficult moments. Grimes shared, “Nothing is more healing than poetry.”

Grimes read selections from several of her books, including One Last Word and Garvey’s Choice. The latter is a book written in verse about a young boy whose own aspirations and interests conflict with his distant father’s interests, and the way in which music allows him to overcome the pain of bullying and not being understood by family. Several scholars wrote about how they are viewed on the outside (“thug” or “troublemaker”) versus who they really are (“lover of family” or “scientist”) in their Golden Shovel poems, making Garvey’s Choice particularly relevant to their lived experiences.

After the larger assembly setting, scholars were divided into several smaller groups with some of them being chosen to share their original Golden Shovel poems with Grimes and their peers. This was also an opportunity for them to ask her questions in a smaller and more intimate setting. The questions asked were thoughtful with some scholars asking where she went to college and what inspires her to write and others asking about how she would summarize her life in three sentences and how did she cope and succeed in spite of having “a target on her back” (something she referenced during her talk about the struggle of being black in America). 

As is the case with all Behind the Book programs, every scholar received their own copy of One Last Word that was autographed by Grimes herself. The scholars were enthused to have met Nikki Grimes and hear her speak about her work. The program not only gave them this opportunity to connect with an author, but also a chance to explore their own identity and aspirations through writing poetry. 

Bring a Book to Life With Us – November 9

Please join us for our annual benefit event, generously hosted by Youth, INC at New York City’s Grand Hyatt hotel!

We’d like to thank the following sponsors:

The Depository Trust & Clearing Corp
Sidley Austin
Penguin Random House
Allen & Overy LLP
Threadstone LP

We’d like to also thank our event co-chairs, the Behind the Book Board of Directors, Brian Goldrich, Susies Marples, and Muffie Meyer.

And we’d like to thank the Intrepid for lending us items for the event!

To purchase your ticket, visit us here:



Meet the Author: Paul Griffin

Paul Griffin is the award-winning author of middle school and young adult books including Ten Mile River, The Orange Houses, When Friendship Followed Me Home, and Burning Blue. During the twenty year period between graduating from Dartmouth and Penguin Random House publishing Paul’s “first” book he worked several jobs – including as a butler, a bartender, a cook, an EMT, dog trainer and a driver. These and other personal experiences have greatly informed Griffin’s body of work as he draws upon the people and places around him.

Paul’s most difficult and rewarding work was teaching, which he continues to do when he’s not writing. Griffin is passionate about helping young people learn how to tell their personal stories, working with both Behind the Book and Literacy for Incarcerated Teens.

Paul’s latest book Saving Marty was published in September.

Behind the Book: How did you initially get involved with Behind the Book?

Paul: In 2008-09 was at Brooklyn Book Festival and was approached by Jo [Umans] about Behind the Book. I thought it sounded really good. I also was already doing work in schools so the programming at Behind the Book sounded familiar. Since 1989 I worked for the Creative Arts Team out of NYU and I was in the Conflict Resolution Unit. We worked with schools and dealt with issues such as school shootings, HIV, domestic violence, bullying, teen sex, gang reconciliation.

BtB: What does it mean to you to be able to interact with young readers and help them develop a love for reading/writing?

Paul: I am actually less concerned with the reading than I am about storytelling. I tell the kids that it is critical to be able to tell your story I tell kids to “give me you in 2 [minutes]”. You always have to be able to tell your story whether it’s to talk to a judge, when you’re looking for a job, when you’re going to school. I ask them to explain: what is your dream and what inspired your dream. A lot of the boys say basketball and I ask them to show me why you like it—tell me something about your love of basketball that will make me remember you.

BtB: Were you always a reader/writer? Was there a particular person or book that inspired you to love reading/writing?

Paul signs copies of his book for students at DeWitt Clinton High School

Paul: I was also really inspired by movies. I remember in 1976 Rocky came out and everyone was so excited—my mother’s side is Italian—because this was an accurate representation of a guy who could be from the block. That was when I was starting writing. I realized that writing can change your life—you can write yourself to freedom. I was writing scenes and made little films with my grandfather. We would have about four minutes of film and I had to figure out how to write a story from the scenes we had, which was a great way to learn. I also learned how to edit from making these little films. I loved Invisible Man – thought it was a revolutionary way to tell a story. I also really liked the Star Wars book based on the movie. I love sports books like Baseball When the Grass Was Real. Also, my father was an English teacher and once and a while he would give me something really good to read.

BtB: What advice would you give to our young students as they work their way to a
published piece?

Paul: Most important thing is to celebrate everyone’s success—you have to be happy for
anyone in your field who finds success as if it was you. [When you’re writing] don’t put yourself into the book. Write about the story. If you get hit you just have to get back up— if you give it up you’ll never be happy. Don’t focus on the results. Focus on the process. Don’t allow critics to frame what you write—stay off the internet. [Writing] is a zen thing—you have to do it everyday. Write about the people you love. Surrender to the people in your story and let the outcome be what it is. Your editor is always right; they will be with characters as much as you will be so listen to him/her—it’s a team process. Make it less about you, surrender to the characters, listen to your editor and be open hearted about—make it about what the story is.

BtB: What’s a fun fact about yourself? Do you have any interesting or unique hobbies?

Paul: I pole-vaulted in college. I wanted to get a really good education and Dartmouth had the first undergraduate film school and to get in I really wanted to distinguish myself.

BtB: What’s your favorite book/short story that you’ve written and why?

Paul: My favorite things are those that I worked on with an editor—I like to have the company of an editor. They make my writing so much better.

BtB: What authors inspire you and why?

Paul: Current ones: Jacqueline Woodson, I loved her book Feathers. The writing was so
incredibly beautiful—this was a book that proved narrative fiction can be poetic and still be tight and have a fast paced story; Susan Collins—I thought The Hunger Games was amazing in that it created a movement—that book did a lot for young women, it was huge to have a big, big story that feature a young woman and it really changed what books could do; I recently read a debut See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng—it had such beautiful writing about a young boy, it didn’t feel like it was written by an adult but wasn’t cutesy; Lauren Wolk—her first book Wolf Hollow was compared to To Kill a Mockingbird – she is such an empathetic person and her new one Beyond the Bright Sea, which came out this spring, is so good it’s timeless; Matt de la Pena’s first book still grabs me – it felt like he was so free and his character Sticky was so engaging and endearing. I read Old Man and the Sea at least once every year.

Paul chats with students one-on-one.

BtB: How do you narrow down what you’re going to write about? Do have always know before you start or do you figure it out along the way?

Paul: I used to try and think about what story could sell but not anymore. Now I just follow the characters and let the story happen from them. My characters come from the people in my life. I write about people I hang out with and what they all have in common; they are all people that confront challenges and even if they don’t overcome them they can still find hope. I try to focus on my formative relationships. These are the people that you are spending your time with and they will give you the most [inspiration]. I always start with the character and never plan plot out.

BtB: Do you have any kind of writing process?

Paul: I write everyday. I wake up early at 3:15 am and write (I’m usually at my desk by 3:30 am). It’s nothing fancy. But this is the most peaceful part of my day. I like to write in the dark. I usually get about six hours of writing, depending on the rest of my schedule for the day. I always read at night, even if it’s just fifteen minutes.

BtB: Anything new in the works?

My new book came out September 19: Saving Marty. It’s a middle grade novel about a pig that thinks he’s a dog, but it’s really about a kid who needs a friend; he is looking for his father who died before he was born. I also have one coming out in the spring called Skyjacked. It is a YA novel for Scholastic’s Clubs and Fairs, which puts out different versions of books geared towards kids who aren’t big readers—I love working with them.

This guest blog was penned by Sarah Jane Weill, who will graduate from Bowdoin this spring! She spent her summer with us and a bunch of authors, in between playing competitive field hockey. 

One Partner = 10,000 Books!

Thanks to a partnership with KPMG Families For Literacy (KFFL), we are now giving away more than 10,000 books per year!

If you’ve been following our programs for some time, you know that we commit to giving each of our students the book they study with us. Though we’ve generally given more than one per student, never before have we been able to reach numbers this high. With approximately 2,000 students to whom we distributed these 10,000 books, we’ve been giving an average of five books per student! This way, we’re enhancing not just their classroom experience but their out-of-school hours and even their summers.

KPMG Families For Literacy was founded in 2008 to address a pressing need in low-income communities – books! A lack of books in the home is one reason low-income children can lag behind their peers from more wealthy households. KFFL partnered with First Book, a national organization that offers free or deeply discounted books to schools and literacy nonprofits like Behind the Book.

KFFL also had the important directive to involve not just the staff of KPMG, but their families – spouses, children, and even KPMG “alumni.” This year, the organization is chaired by Debbie Ozanus and Lisa Arnig, who are married to KPMG’s Deputy Chairman/COO and Vice Chair of Market Development, respectively. Their outreach to the extended KPMG family has helped grow the program significantly – KFFL is now active in each of KPMG’s 100+ offices worldwide!

We caught up with Anthony Skoda, our main contact in the New York office and a proud dad to a pre-school-aged son. Early on, professionals from KPMG who were involved with Behind the Book noted our focus on schools in low-income communities. Because KFFL’s efforts focus on distributing as many books as possible to students that really need them, they felt that we were the perfect partner to help. We’re one organization with 16 school partners AND we deeply love books! So of course we agree. According to Anthony, “being able to work directly with so many schools that desperately need books has been really a win – win.”

We are now lucky to count ourselves one of the largest partners of KFFL’s New York office. We bring books to schools, and have invited representatives from all our school partners to visit our office for bookfairs. They love to stop by and pick and choose what they want and – let’s be honest – we love stacking books high all across our conference table and through our shelves! The photos you see here are all teachers and librarians at the book fair here at our the Behind the Book office.









This partnership has been great for us on so many levels, but we’re proud to say the great people of KFFL have walked away with one important new skill. Per Anthony, “We are able to see which books are appealing to the larger student population and which are real hits within the classroom.” We hope that new knowledge makes his and his colleagues’ families love this partnership as much as we do!

Thanks Anthony and Anelise, and Glen and Cristina, and everyone at KFFL for all that you do for NYC’s kids!