Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Janay Brown-Wood

Posted on: February 24, 2015

JanayBrownWoodAuthor of Imani’s Moon, Janay Brown-Wood grew up in California, where she spent her childhood being surrounded by loving and creative family members. Through her school years, Wood could be found plopped with a notebook or computer jotting away stories, involved in adventures through books and movies, or somewhere stealing the show. She also participated in class performances, talent shows, sports, and leadership. Currently, Wood works as an Early Childhood Education professor and is married to her high school sweetheart.

Wood has wanted to be an author for most of her life. In her author notes written back in elementary school, Wood typically wrote: “I love to write stories. Mostly I write stories for kids around my age, but I can always make an exception. One of my goals is to become a wonderful and creative author, did you like my story?” After college, Wood began to actually pursue a creative field by joining SCBWI, attending conferences, taking classes to improve her craft, participating in a critique group, and just always writing stories.

Thanks to a critique partner who told her about the NAESP contest, Brown submitted Imani’s Moon, and that’s how she got her start. The inspiration came from a story that popped into her mind when she was in college. She started writing down this story about this boy who jumped to the moon, and her older sister reminded her about the Maasai tribe’s cultural jumping dance.

Imani’s Moon is the story of a young girl who perseveres even when others are telling her to quit. It’s the same kind of determination Woods has showed with her writing career. From the day she had the idea for the story until it was published took eight years, but Brown believed in the story.

Recently, Brown took time to answer my questions about family, mentors, childhood competitions, and of course her book. I’ll return tomorrow to review Imani’s Moon. Save the date: February 25!

PERSONAL

ALLISON: Family seems to be important to you. How did your parents and sisters influence you?

JANAY: My family is such an integral part of my life. They are my rock.

My parents ingrained in me the importance of education and working hard. They taught me to never give up, to keep pushing myself, and to keep trying my best. They served (and still do serve) as support for my sisters and I. My two sisters themselves are my motivators too. When I was younger and had decided that I didn’t like reading books, I watched my older sister read books as if they were the best thing in the world, which made me want to read more. Plus, both of them are highly creative people as well (my older sister works in fashion and my younger sister uses her creative mind to conduct biomedical research as a student), so I think we push and complement each other.

Then there’s my giant extended family that includes so many loving and supporting members. My family is huge and always overflowing with joy and love and support. It makes me smile just thinking about all of them!

ALLISON: As a child, you participated in a lot of competitions as a child. Which one is the most memorable? Why?

JANAY: I never was a very shy child, so I loved having the opportunity to be front and center. I remember doing talent shows and school shows (one year my class sang a song from Oliver and Company and made sausages out of panty hose and cotton. It was awesome!). I also recited poetry at a competition called Peach Blossom. I even would write my own poems and recite them too. But, a competition that really stood out in my mind was Odyssey of the Mind. I participated in it more than once. I had to work with a group and creatively solve problems, which sometimes included writing skits and acting them out with my team. This was memorable because, looking back, I realize that I certainly was coming into my own with regards to things that I love to do. I certainly hope Odyssey of the Mind is still around today. It really was a great program for young students.

ALLISON: Who served as a role model or mentor for you as a teen?

JANAY: I have had a number of role models, but as a teen, there is one that really sticks out in my mind. I have an older cousin named Jeanette Harris who is a professional saxophonist. When I was younger, we would go watch her perform so my childhood was colored with jazz and Latin-inspired music because that’s what she played. And she was amazing. She IS amazing. I remember watching her on the stage, doing what she loved, being creative and fearless and inspirational, and I told myself that I wanted to do what I loved too. As a teen, I watched her continue to follow her dreams of being a musician, and now she travels the world and plays for sold-out crowds everywhere. I learned from watching her that hard work and perseverance pays off. It might take some time, but you can’t let that stop you. This has been an idea that I have constantly been reminded of by many people in my life. Jeanette is truly is an amazing saxophonist. See for yourself, check out her band’s website: Jeanette Harris Band

ALLISON: Why did you choose to study and pursue a field in child development?

JANAY: My aunt Annette has a child care center, which I attended when I was young. So, I was always around children. As I grew older, I would go back and help her, and I realized I enjoyed working with children. When I went off to UCLA, I learned about the fantastic programs that serve children and became involved. I was fascinated by the developing human brain, and how so many aspects can impact the growing child. I became interested in learning more about how to support the growth of young children. All in all, it does not feel like I chose to study child development. Instead, educating others is just a part of who I am, and I was able to do that in this field. It wasn’t later until I realized that I enjoyed teaching adult learners about children just as much as I enjoyed teaching children. Today, I have the pleasure of teaching students about early childhood education at American River College.

BOOK BACKGROUND

ALLISON: In one interview, you noted not yet having the privilege of meeting the Maasai people. What inspired you to set Imani’s Moon in Africa?

JANAY: Traveling to Africa is certainly on my to-do list, and I hope that one of my first stops will be the land of the Maasai. I am intrigued by their culture and I would love to go and learn more about them. I was inspired to set my book in Africa because after writing a few early drafts, I spoke with my older sister, Erin, who reminded me of the Maasai jumping dance. I did research, and everything fell perfectly into place.

ALLISON: In Imani’s Moon, her mama tells her of different heroes from myths. Which of these is your favorite? Why?

JANAY: I like the Anansi tales. This spider, also depicted as a man, is a determined trickster who often overcomes great obstacles. There are many different Anansi stories, and I have not come across one that I have not enjoyed.

ALLISON: What has been the most exciting part of about being published?

JANAY: Where should I start? There are a bazillion exciting parts! First, seeing Hazel Mitchell’s illustrations was mind-blowing. Her work lifted Imani right off the page, and is spectacular, so seeing her work for the first time is something I’ll never forget. Another exciting part is hearing people tell me how my words have touched them or their child. I cannot even clearly verbalize that feeling, when you know that your words inspired someone else to keep at it, to not give up, to not let others hold you down. It’s wonderful. It is also so exciting to read my book to eager listeners who ask questions and make connections as they listen. I love engaging children in thinking about literacy, so it is beyond exciting to blessed enough to be able to do this with my own work.

ALLISON: Do you have another book in the works?

JANAY: I do, I do! I have contract with Charlesbridge for a second picture book that is tentatively due out late 2016. I can’t tell too much, but I will say it is inspired by my fantastic family. More details to come!

Thank you so much for interviewing me. I hope everyone will read and enjoy Imani’s Moon. If you are interested in learning more about me, please feel free to visit my website, Janay Wood-Brown, and don’t forget to leave a comment on my blog! 🙂

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4 Responses to "Interview with Janay Brown-Wood"

A fascinating interview! Although the link given for JaNay Brown-Wood’s website didn’t work, I was able to visit it anyway (http://www.janaybrownwood.com/). I plan to read Imani’s Moon the next time I’m at the library.

Thank you for the compliment. Also, I appreciate your pointing out that the link didn’t work. It’s now fixed.

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