Written by: Charles R. Smith
Illustrated by: Shane W. Evans
For ages: 6-12 years
Topics Covered: Black Culture & Identity, History, Poetry, Own Voices, Sweets & Social Justice, Activism, Trailblazers.
For #sweetsandsocialjustice this week I went down a bit of a rabbit hole for the stunning book 28 Days, which celebrates iconic moments and contributions made by the Black community. I ended up finding a really cool article from the Smithsonian (which you can read here) about how enslaved chefs shaped American cuisine, one from First We Feast (link here), and one from the NYT (hopefully there’s no paywall and you can read it here). I eventually landed on making an apple cake in my trusty cast iron skillet.
This powerful book is setup for February, with 28 poems about a historical moment, but I’m a huge proponent of #BlackHistory365 and this can be used anytime of the year. Having these poems give an abbreviated history of an event makes this book a brilliant reference text for students, and maker rich classroom discussion. Starting with Crisps Attucks, readers flow through time learning abut Matthew Henson, Marian Anderson, and many more amazing figures. The 29th poem is a call to action for readers and young people today to make history. I love the poetry aspect, it gives so much information without creating an overwhelming amount of text on the pages.
Recipe: Cast Iron Skillet Apple Cake
- 3-4 apples (I used Empire), peeled, cored, and sliced
- 1/3c dark brown sugar
- 1.5t Apple Pie Spice
- pinch salt
- 1 1/3c All-Purpose Flour (I use gluten free, but you can use whatever you want)
- 1/2 cup maple sugar (white is fine)
- 1 1/2t baking powder
- 1/2t salt
- 2/3c warm milk (I use soy)
- 1 egg (room temperature)
- 6T melted butter
- 1t vanilla extract
- coarse sugar (to sprinkle on top, optional) or you can make streusel if you’re feeling particularly motivated!
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 ½” to 10″ (2″ deep) cast-iron skillet; or a 9″ square cake pan. Combine the peeled, sliced apples with the brown sugar, boiled cider, spices, and salt. Set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Mix the warm milk, egg, melted butter, and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture, stirring to combine. Pour into the prepared skillet, put bunches of sliced apples into the batter (about 1/2 and apple at a time) in a fancy pattern (if you want). Bake 50-60 minutes. Cool for a few moments in the pan and then loosen edges!
Charles R. Smith Jr. is an award-winning author, photographer and poet with over thirty books to his credit. His awards include a Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration (2010) for his photographs accompanying the Langston Hughes poem, My Peopleand a Coretta Scott King Honor Author Award (2008) for his biography on Muhammad Ali, Twelve Rounds to Glory.Many of his books have also garnered reluctant reader awards, proving that kids that don’t like to read, do like to read his books.
Charles’s interest in writing came first, years ago, growing up in Compton, California when he began composing simple poems and stories inspired by the books he read. “Reading books filled with stories and poems inspired me to write my own. And if I wasn’t reading a book, I was playing a sport: I played everything, particularly basketball, and spent many afternoons on the court, perfecting my jump shot.”
In high school, Charles’s love of writing led to him join the high school yearbook staff as a writer where he was also required to take photographs. Through trial and error, Charles soon found a new love in photography. “Right up until that point I wanted to be an astronaut, but after taking yearbook pictures nonstop for a year, I knew I wanted to become a professional photographer.”
Today, Charles combines his passions of writing and photography with a variety of subjects that spark his interest, from basketball with Rimshots,Hoop Kingsand Hoop Queens to black history with 28 Daysand Brick by Brick,to diversity withI Am America and I Am the World, to name just a few of his books. Many of those books have been brought to life with the launch of his YouTube channel centered around cultivating the mind, the body and spirit. From poetry performance, to favorite books, to photography how-to, to American Ninja Warrior and fitness training and more, Charles is harnessing the power of video to engage readers and educators in new ways.
Of the distinctive niche Charles fills with his books, he notes, “I want to show students, particularly boys, that there are many ways to pursue their interests, no matter what they may be.” Charles R. Smith Jr. was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Shane Evans has spoken at many schools and events all over the country. Speaking to people of ALL AGES about his art, books and inspiration. As a book illustrator Shane has found a natural audience in children from ages 5 and up. Audiences find themselves on a journey through slides that take them around the world from Japan to Africa and all adventures in between. Shane shows viewers how he creates his books and works wonderfully with youth, sharing the business of art and the techniques of organizing ideas to create illustrations. Evans has also conducted art workshops with students and adults, helping them to hone in on their own special talents through his professional guidance.