Author: Pam Jones-Nill

Sidetracking through research

So, you know how we get sidetracked from writing. That’s my version of writer’s block because I don’t allow myself to get ‘blocked’. The writing may not be cohesive, or worthy of more than a click of the delete button or a toss to the pail, if I’ve jotted it on paper. Yup, I still use paper. Point is, I keep my mind moving. Either reading, researching, or doodling – all of that keeps me moving. Come to think of it, baking keeps my mind moving too. 

I recently baked a Whole Orange Almond Cake. It was delicious -and looks great too! I got to thinking, ok, this recipe is using 2 whole oranges. Sounds weird, but it is so flavorful. Does it matter which kind the recipe didn’t specify? According to Google, there are 400 varieties. I used Navel oranges but now I’ll be on the lookout for 399 more varieties. You see what I mean – even the oranges raised a curiosity that I had to satisfy.

Anyway, while researching one of my picture book biography subjects and I came across a line that piqued my interest. Knowing that I was about to be pulled out of my research lane, I attached a post-it note to the line and kept moving. Promising myself that I’d circle back once I completed what I needed to do that afternoon. 

When I completed my research that day, I decided not to circle back that evening. My brain was on overload, trying to square all the facts and information I gathered. I let another day go by before I went back to that note when I realized the line was something that I had not directly thought of, although I realized it as a fact.

One subject I’m researching was an enslaved man in Maryland who’s grandfather came from West Africa during the middle passage. “Trained as a shoemaker, not a skill taught to many blacks because they saw shoes as a vehicle to escape.” That’s the line – that’s it right there.

So now I have two paths for this sidetrack research. How did my subject learn this skill? Was it a skill that he brought with him from West Africa? I may never get those answers, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try.

Slave catchers striped clothing from the African men, women, and children they captured before they packed them onto slaves ships to cross the Atlantic. Decent clothing, decent food, or basic human rights were not provided to the enslaved, let alone shoes! 

Some quick links:

Slaves shoes from the collection from the Chicago History Museum

My sidetracking took me on a quick journey around not only shoes but the clothing issued to enslaved people.

Buck was an enslaved person hired by Thomas Jefferson to make shoes for the enslaved at Monticello. 

The Protest


by Samantha Thornhill and Illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benetiz

Standing up against something bigger than you in support of your family, neighborhood and friends is not easy. When builders want to take over a community garden to build a parking lot, Lily rallies to work against that decision and keep her community garden open. Lily pulls together friends to fight the builders and she and her community of friends manage to gain a year of time back for the garden. They vow to be ready to fight again next year too!

A Long Road on a Short Day

by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickley – Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

I read this book before the Christmas holiday and although it is not a Christmas book, it filled me with the holiday spirit. I re-read it for this post and I love this book today as much as I did when I originally read it.

Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney have captured the Christmas Spirit in a very comforting, pure, and relatable story. The idyllic illustrations by Eugene Yelchin bring readers into the story.
The story follows Samuel and his father, looking to secure a source of milk for their family. They embark on a series of trades beginning with a knife to be traded for assorted other valuables. Everyone seems to have a valuable item that means more to the person looking to trade it than the owner. The trading continues as the storm rages on. Until Samuel’s father finally trades for the item his mother wants most, a milk cow.

Follow this father and son as they work to accomplish a seemingly endless goal. Through snowstorms, cold weather, they work to accomplish their goal – all on a Long Road on a Short Day.

Obi’s Mud Bath

Full disclosure – I read this story a couple months ago and published this review elsewhere but never got around to posting it on this blog. After re-reading it this morning, and loving it all over again, I’m posting here as well.

I was gifted the story arc of this book for my review. I truly loved this story and the ongoing gifts inspired by a real-life event, Obi’s Mud Bath is a story of friends helping friends.

Written by Annette Schottenfeld and illustrated by Folasade Adeshida Obi’s mud Bath tells the story of Obi, a Rhinocerous in Zimbabwe, during a drought. If there is one thing a Rhino wants to do on a hot day it’s to wallow in a cool patch of mud. But instead, there is only dry, dusty, dirt for Obi and his friends Ruffalo, the ostrich, Tenda, the giraffe, and Mayo, the elephant. As Obi searches for mud he gets into trouble. With help from his friends, Obi does get out of trouble. And they all find a way to make it rain.

Inspired by a real-life event, Obi’s Mud Bath is a story of friends helping friends. Written by Annette Schottenfeld and illustrated by Folasade Adeshida Obi’s mud Bath tells the story of Obi, a Rhinoceros in Zimbabwe, during a drought. If there is one thing a Rhino wants to do on a hot day it’s to wallow in a cool patch of mud. But instead, there is only dry, dusty, dirt for Obi and his friends Ruffalo, the ostrich, Tenda, the giraffe, and Mayo, the elephant. As Obi searches for mud he gets into trouble. With help from his friends, Obi does get out of trouble. And they all find a way to make it rain.
A portion of the proceeds from this book is being donated to an organization that empowers families around the world with access to safe water and sanitation.

#ReadYourWorld 2021

For this review, I was gifted a copy of “From My Window”- by Otavio Junior and Illustrated by Vania Starkoff. Picture Book

First published in Brazil by Companhia das Letras, San Paulo in in 2018.
Translated and Published by Barefoot Books in the US and the UK in 2020.

From My Window is a vibrant, joyful, colorful look at the thing seen from the main characters’ own window. Their neighborhood, or Favela as it is called in the book, depicts people of various shades doing very common everyday things. Bike riding, playing soccer, talking on the phone, and reading all as seen through the main characters’ window.

Given this year of home bound, lock down activities, I’m going to take a page from the author and take a look From My Window.



It has been a while since I posted but I’m forgiving myself for that. I let too many external issues block my creativity in 2020. There certainly have been a lot of things competing for all of our energy. I’ve been taking some time off to recharge and regain my spark. I was off yesterday and I got a huge lift from this. I know one man can’t change the world but if one is going to lead us out of the muck we’re in – my money is on him.

NY Times cover 21.Jan.2021

Special Celebration

October 17, 2020, marked the designation from United for Libraries and Empire State Center for the Book recognized Joseph Lloyd Manor as a Literary Landmark for Jupiter Hammon.

I was one of the hundreds who attended the virtual ceremony hosted by Preservation Long Island which recognized the extraordinary life of Jupiter Hammon and elevates his status as a notable African American and Long Islander. 

Having grown up near Lloyd Harbor, I was aware of the manor but unaware of its connection to slavery or Jupiter Hammon. My own curiosity has allowed me to connect with others in search of Jupiter’s history and I have come to refer to Mr. Hammon as my 300ish-year-old friend. 

Born a slave on the manor or plantation of Henry Lloyd in what is now known as Lloyd Neck on Long Island, Jupiter Hammon lived as a slave for his entire life but was able to become one of the first African American published writers. He left us a remarkable body of essays and poems were written all while he was an enslaved African American, on Long Island.Those writings show evidence of his deep religious beliefs and his support for the abolishment of slavery.

Jupiter was presumably a house slave and it is known, through the letters and documentation of the Lloyd family that Jupiter was close to the Lloyd’s. He was educated along with Lloyd’s own children on the manor. He also handled business transactions for his owners.

His obvious intelligence was cultivated, to a point, by the Lloyds. Education was a priority of the Lloyds and Jupiter was able to exercise that permission.

In his 50’s, with the Lloyd family as his editors, Jupiter was able to publish his works. His early writings were most likely seen as a tool to calm other slaves that may have wanted to rise up in revolt against their enslavement. Jupiter’s words encouraged other slaves to accept their place and not do anything that would anger their masters.

In his later years, Jupiter became a voice against slavery and encouraged the abolishment of slavery. He wrote not about freedom for all slaves, but he took into account how older slaves, those who had lived all their lives in the slave system, would manage their own care. They had no property, little or no education, and no means to make money to support themselves.

Jupiter lived to the age of 95. That alone was an accomplishment since the life expectancy of slaves was generally much shorter. 

The Literary Landmark status dedicated yesterday was certainly a long time coming and is an affirmation of the accomplishments and perseverance of our earliest African Americans.

October 2020

I’ve been absent from this blog for several months but it has not been far from my mind. As we move even deeper into this election season, I’ve been trying to keep my emotions and feelings from getting away from me. It’s way too easy to get caught up in the noise. Here is one of my tips for keeping my happiness levels up.

Give it a try. I’ll start – For October 1 – My most important goal this month is to complete a new manuscript. Your turn!

Surprises ahead in 2020!

It’s been a while since my last post but 2020 has started off with a few surprises for me and I’m catching up now. 

Non Fiction Festival -February

I completed the NF Fest in February. I’m truly thrilled to say I completed the 28 Day challenge and feel inspired to continue focusing on my non-fiction manuscripts. A bit of a new focus for me, but certainly one of great interest.

I live in New York State and as an adoptee, I was not able to obtain my original birth certificate. By law, adoptees received a “post-adoption” birth certificate listing their post-adoption name, birthplace and birth date. Only the birthplace and date were accurate, and the name on that certificate was the name given by the adopting parents.

The Governor of New York signed a bill in 2019 allowing all adoptees, over 18, to apply for and receive their original birth certificate. The law took effect on January 15th in 2020. I was so excited. By 8:30 am on the 15th, I had already applied online and received confirmation that my request had been received. I later saw news stories of hundreds of people lined up to apply in person and that was only in New York City. New York is a big state and I realized this was a big deal and not just for my own curiosity. Thousands of people were also wondering about their biological history. 

My Birth Certificate arrived about three weeks ago.  Much sooner than expected! So, now what?

I have my biological mother’s name, the time of my birth, her address at the time of my birth, and where she was born. I’ve shared some of this information with a biological cousin I found through DNA. The journey is just beginning.  

Francine Semon (left), Sandi Brewster-Walker (center) and myself (right)

Armed with this scant information, I signed up for an African American Genealogy workshop at the Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead, NY.  Sandi Brewster-Walker, Historian / Genealogist and former Deputy Director of the Office of Communications in the Department of Agriculture during the Clinton Administration, guided us through some useful tools for Genealogy researching. Before the start of the discussion many participants, were surprised to learn we had multiple connections to the town of Huntington. Myself included, since I grew up there. After the discussion, the connections continued. Over cheese and crackers, I accidentally found out that I was in this workshop with a relative of my brothers’ brother.  Weird but true!  My brother reconnected with his biological family a couple of years ago. Luckily, I still had photos on my phone to share. After some very reunion like laughter and stories, I left there with more family than I when I woke that morning. I also left with the tools, education, and support to seek even more.  I can’t wait to find the next surprise.