“In order to do representation well, we’re going to have to either confront or subvert all sorts of stereotypes.” – An Author Interview with Malcolm Newsome

Header image including a photo of author Malcolm Newsome and his book covers.

Malcolm Newsome is a children’s book author from the Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology and now works in cyber security for a company called Jemurai Security. He writes picture books with the aim of bringing hope and possibility to as many young people as he can. Malcolm is a married father of five. He is the author Dear Star Baby (Beaming Books, 2023), Sydney’s Big Speech (HarperCollins, 2024), and several more forthcoming titles. When he’s not writing or spending time with family, you’ll probably find him either reading, spending time outside in his mini-orchard, making homemade pop (not soda!), baking bread, or being a lumberjack. Follow Malcolm on Instagram & X.

At Diverse BookFinder, we’re all about the importance of diverse, representative literature for children. What does representation mean for you? How has that changed over time, if at all?

Representation is about normalcy. That is to say, the images and narratives we see in books and other media create a baseline for what is considered normal. In order to do representation well, we’re going to have to either confront or subvert all sorts of stereotypes. This is something I’ve believed for a very long time. And it undergirds my writing.

What is it like working with different artists to help bring your stories to life? What’s the illustration process look like from your perspective? How do you find/pick artists for each story?

I feel fortunate that each editor I’ve worked with has had a collaborative approach to illustrator selection. But since they made the final decisions, I’ve not really thought of myself as working “with” artists, per se.
My experiences so far have been fairly traditional in the sense that the illustrators work with the editor and art team almost exclusively when it comes to art direction, composition, etc. That said, each artist that has worked on my manuscripts have been truly extraordinary and very kind. I want to shout out Kamala Nair, Jade Orlando, Nadia Fisher, and Jenin Mohammed for all having been excellent in every way. I’m really looking forward to having a project with Nia Gould.

Illustration by Kamala Nair from Dear Star Baby by Malcolm Newsome.

A father drives a car with his wife in the passenger seat and a child in the rear seat. The family's expressions are sad or worried. The road they drive on is lined with palm trees and the night sky is full of stars.
Illustration by Kamala Nair from Dear Star Baby by Malcolm Newsome

The primary work for me has been–and continues to be–working on my craft. In particular, writing in such a way that the text is expressive and evokes visual possibilities.

However, I do have a story on submission now that has followed a very different process because it is a joint author-illustrator submission with Adriane Tsai, an amazing human and artist. We’re both represented by James McGowan and it has been a true joy collaborating!

What do you find to be the most challenging part of creating books for children today? What is the most rewarding?

I think the most challenging part is trusting my own ideas and my authentic writing voice. There’s a host of perennial best sellers as well as newer books that have taken the market by storm. It can be really tempting to think that I have to write a certain way or sound like others in order to stand out, too.

By that same token, the most rewarding has been the random messages and emails that people have sent after reading my books. It always does my heart so much good to know that the words on the page are resonating with them.

In your previous book, you described seeing a need in children’s books and your hopes for how the story would help readers. What are some of the inspirations and hopes behind “Sydney’s Big Speech”?

Book Cover: Sydney’s Big Speech

My main inspirations and hopes behind Sydney’s Big Speech are related to what I mentioned earlier regarding confronting and subverting stereotypes.

All too often, children–especially quiet children–are overlooked and pigeon holed. I want readers to embrace the big dreams they may have and know that they can still accomplish them despite how it might look on the surface now.

Going further, we’re so often led to believe that all Black girls and women are loud and boisterous. But I grew up with a mother and sister who both defied the odds despite being softer spoken and more reserved. My mom even made history in our hometown as the first Black woman elected to the city council. I didn’t have to look far in order to be inspired.

What was your favorite childhood book? What was it about it that you loved?

I remember loving Sarah Plain and Tall, Encyclopedia Brown, and some others. But the book that I recall as having the biggest impact on me was a picture book about mnemonics. It sticks in my mind as the first book where I realized that I could use books to teach myself all sorts of things. I wish I could remember that book’s title!

Book Cover: Sarah, Plain and Tall
Book Cover: Encyclopedia Brown

We can see on your website that you’re already working on several more books. What can you tell us about them? What is something you’re particularly excited about with these upcoming projects?

Oh, yes! There’s some really exciting stuff on the horizon!

I’m super excited about a book releasing early next year called I Am the Spirit of Justice (Zonderkidz:HarperCollins). A major part of what makes this one so special is that it’s co-written with Dr. Jemar Tisby, who’s been my best friend since fifth grade. Jemar is also the fantastic NYT Best Selling author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism. It’s illustrated by Nadia Fisher. I’ve seen some color art and WOW! Y’all are going to love it!

Other forthcoming titles include The Daddy-Daughter Dance (Holt:Macmillan), The Christmas Pickle (HarperCollins), and another unannounced title from Holt:Macmillan.

You also mention having a mini orchard. What are you growing right now? Will any of it make its way into your pop-not-soda?

Haha. I’m not sure if any will make it into my homemade fermented pop-not-soda. But we’ll see! They will definitely make it into some jams, jellies, smoothies, and other tasty dishes.

I currently have nine fruit trees–apples, cherries, peach, and plum. Plus grapes, blueberries, raspberries, and elderberries. I may add a pear and pawpaw tree this year!

Is there anything else you would like to share with the Diverse BookFinder audience?

I’m just grateful for the opportunity to share a little bit here. And I’m eternally grateful for anyone who’s read, requested, reviewed, purchased, or shared any of my work. Please feel free to keep in touch with me on socials or via my website (www.malcolmnewsome.com).

Also, for anyone who may be interested, signed copies of Sydney’s Big Speech are available from www.threeavenuesbookshop.com and can be shipped anywhere in the contiguous US!

Diverse BookFinder would like to thank Malcolm Newsome for his time and input.

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