Website designed by Jennifer Matias for Charlene Allen
This is a picture of my grandpa. One of the first things I noticed about myself when I started writing on a regular basis, was how much of my content was influenced by him, even though he died when I was only fifteen years old. I found myself writing stories set in North Carolina, his home town, not because I knew it well, but because he seemed so much a part of the place. And when I needed a mentor for the main character in my historical novel, there he was, ready to be transformed into a man who had been born a hundred years earlier.
Here’s the description of Big Pops, from The Underground Moon:
My grandpa, who everyone called Papa, really did work the molasses mill in his hometown. And like Big Pops, he was ready with a story if you sat with him long enough. My grandpa had nine children and he made sure that, as adults, they visited often and brought their own children with them. He didn’t ask much when we visited– just a few quiet minutes sitting next to him under the car port, sharing stories.
Instead of working the plantation, Big Pops spent his last years tending the mill, turning stalks of sugar cane into hot molasses for anybody who brought him their crop. Dimitrius had helped every chance he got, tending the pot of black, shiny syrup ’til the frog-eyes popped up, all the while chatting with Big Pops. As an old timer who never snitched, all the tales came to Big Pops, especially the ones about runaways. And Big Pops whispered them to Dimitrius.
“They call it the underground railroad,” he liked to say, feeding stalks into the mill with his small, spotted hands. “But the rungs on that railroad are secrets. Places a person can hide in, and signals to tell how to get there.”
Praise for The Underground Moon
“Charlene Allen’s novel is an important book for a young audience in the same way that James McBride's award-winning novel, The Good Lord Bird, is important for adults. Both are focused on freeing the reader from stereotypes about slavery and human relations in the 19th century.”
~ Cultural Critic Stanley Crouch
New York Daily News columnist, and author of Kansas City Lightning and eight other texts, including history, biography, and race relations
The New School, in New York City, is one of the few universities in the country that offers a Masters of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in children's literature. I'm so lucky to be a student there!
In the program, I get to work with twelve other children's writers and together learn to write emotionally honest, timely and compelling literature for young people.
I'll finish the program in the spring of 2018. It's a great program to keep in mind if you want to change the world through making books for kids.