SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ — “I totally forgot I submitted. I was in shock when I won!”
Scotch Plains-based author Robert Constant’s marketing plan for his latest children’s book was derailed by COVID, but a recent award is giving his book new life.
Hello Grandma!, Constant’s second children book recently was named the Bronze/Third Place winner in the 2021 Feathered Quill Book Awards (Early Readers Category). Based on his own family history, the story details young Saniyah and Robbie’s visit with their grandmother in Nassau, The Bahamas. Although smartphones and the internet can bridge the miles, the children soon realize that keeping in touch online could never compare to saying, “Hello Grandma!” in person.
During their real life visit that was captured in the book, the siblings try to make up for lost time with Grandma by experiencing the best that the colorful Caribbean way of life has to offer.
“They immerse themselves in Bahamian customs and culture along the way. It’s a different life,” the author told TAPintoSPF. “My mom was born in New York City and lives in the Bahamas. We are proud Americans but proud of our Bahamian heritage. My mom loves the book! It’s her face on the cover. Even if we did not sell any books, it would still be a success.”
“I wouldn’t be able to win anything without (illustrator) James Zeger. If you don’t have illustrations to match the books, it doesn’t work,” Constant explained.
Constant did presentations in Philadelphia, Alabama, California and The Bahamas, and the international release was just before COVID hit. He expected to travel to promote the book with readings and signings, but had to focus instead on doing online promotion.
“Online enables you to promote anywhere in the world. You have to get creative and sign and mail the book ahead of time,” he explained. “You have to adapt.”
The author, whose day job is being a fundraiser for Princeton University, said that winning the Feathered Quill Bronze Award has given the book a second life and that he is planning to promote it more. He hopes to be able to do school visits next fall (assuming in-person school will be in place for the next academic year).
“It’s a hobby that got out of control. You have to spend some considerable time doing events, but it’s fun. I’ve spoken in Trenton, Plainfield, Newark, and in Scotch Plains,” he said. “Sometimes I have dressed up like a Tuskegee Airman, sometimes as George Washington Carver. It helps students understand who of these luminaries are.”
To highlight the Bahamian connections with his latest book, Constant uses a conch shell and tropical fruits, including mangos, hog plums, and tamarind. The teachers enjoy the fact that their students learn about a different culture.
The author’s first book, Hey Tuskegee!, follows siblings Robbie and Saniyah as they relive the outstanding accomplishments of iconic African-Americans, including the university’s founder, Booker T. Washington. Readers will take in the spirit and pageantry of Homecoming as the Marching Crimson Pipers entertain and lead more than 30,000 fans in singing the university’s signature songs. After the game, they witness the Black Greek sororities’ and fraternities’ comradery as they passionately sing their traditional songs.
The title comes from the way alumni greet each other, Constant explains.
“If you are walking somewhere, and you see a person with a Tuskegee sweatshirt, it’s automatic to call over, ‘Hey Tuskegee!’,” he said.
As an alumnus, the school holds a special place in his heart, but the roots are also familial. His great grand aunt was a champion tennis player at the Tuskegee courts. He later found out that she played tennis at the historic Shady Rest Country Club, which walking distance from his current home.
“She played here, and she also won the doubles title in 1932 at the Southern Open at Tuskegee. We have a photo where she is next to George Washington Carver.”
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