The Jones Family Express

The Jones Family Express


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Steptoe tells a warm story about a realistic African-American

 family that bickers and loves even as it is selfish and generous



The Jones Family Express

By Javaka Steptoe

Award-Winning Children’s Book Illustrator debuts as both author and illustrator in new book


New York, NY–In his debut as both author and illustrator, Javaka Steptoe combines humor and warmth in The Jones Family Express (Lee & Low), the story of an African-American boy who wants to make a special gift for his aunt when she comes to visit. The book is a warm and joyous celebration of one boy’s love for his family. Javaka Steptoe’s inventive collage illustrations, bursting with color and energy, bring his story to life for families everywhere.

For as long as Steven can remember, Aunt Carolyn has traveled around the world, and she always sends him postcards from the places she visits. those postcards make Steven feel special. This summer Aunt Carolyn is coming to the annual block party and Steven wants to do something to make his aunt feel special too. He is determined to give her the perfect gift, but with little time and money, he worries that he won’t be able to find the right thing. Just when Steven begins to lose hope, he discovers a surprising inspiration–and learns that the best gifts of all come straight from the heart.

Critics have hailed The Jones Family Express as “engaging” and a “promising new direction” for Steptoe, who has won countless awards for his imaginative and original illustrations. the Book is available for purchase from the publisher Lee & Low (,, and traditional bookstores.

“Steptoe tells a warm story about a realistic African-American family that bickers and loves even as it is selfish and generous. the mix of materials is inventive, and the skillful compositions are filled with action, palpable affection, and the pride Steven finds in his own creativity”  — BookList

More Praises for The Jones Family Express

In this down-to-earth Brooklyn tale, young Steven awaits a visit from his world-traveling Aunt Carolyn. “Once, when I was three, I hid in her suitcase so she would take me with her,” the middle-school boy explains. “She was so tickled she promised to send me a postcard from every place she went until I was old enough to travel with her.” Aunt Carolyn has kept her word, and Steven wants to thank her with a truly original gift. When he cannot find a suitable present at a drugstore or a Jamaican culture shop on Nostrand Avenue, a secondhand toy train inspires him: “The paint was peeling off and some of the windows were broken, but I could see it had potential.” Like the snapshots Steven glues onto the toy locomotive’s windows to transform it into “The Jones Family Express,” the elements of Steptoe’s artwork combine into layered compositions: his rough-hewn collages of an African-American family appear against a background of scattered postcards with exotic stamps and jokey cursive messages. . .The hero’s, labor intensive expression of love is the heart of this book.”

–Publishers Weekly

Steptoe makes his authorial debut in this engaging story about a boy’s special relationship with his aunt. Every summer, Aunt Carolyn goes traveling. Now she’s returning for the family’s annual block party and Steven searches for a gift to welcome her home. Throughout, he frames text as if in a postcard or letter and set against a backdrop of his signature cut-paper and mixed media collage. In the opening spread, photographs and postcards are scattered about on the left, the boy sits with snapshots pulled from the box beside him, all from his aunt’s travels. As the tale unfolds, family members and neighborhood folks are introduced, including Steven’s grandmother, with whom he lives and Jamaican-born shopkeeper Ruby, whose store comes alive with colorful fabric accents and cut-out photos of beaded necklaces, amber stones, and African art. His characters’ faces infuse the compositions with an unexpected realism. in the end, Steven surprises Aunt Carolyn with a gift that comes straight from the heart. And she, in turn, surprises Steven with a gift of her own. A promising new direction for Steptoe.

–Kirkus Reviews

The family closeness and comaraderie are lovingly communicated, as are the family foibles (Uncle Charlie eats off other people’s plates, Grandad has a secret barbecue recipe everyone knows, etc.). . . . The art is emotionally vibrant and energetically rendered.

–Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

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Javaka Steptoe is an eclectic young artist, designer, and illustrator, building a national reputation as an outstanding contributor to the genre of children’s literature. His debut work, In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African American Celebrating Fathers, earned him the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, a nomination for Outstanding Children’s Literature Work at the 1998 NAACP Image Awards, a finalist ranking for the Bluebonnet Award for Excellence in Children’s Books, and countless other honors. His most recent works, Do you Know What I’ll Do authored by Carlotte Zolotow and A Pocketful of Poems authored by Nikki Grimes, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and the ALA Booklist.

Contact: Feleicia Pride / Literary Pride / 443-415-5600 /  

Once a model and inspiration for his late father, award winning author/illustrator John Steptoe, Javaka Steptoe has established himself as an outstanding illustrator in his own right. Utilizing everyday objects, from aluminum plates to pocket lint, and sometimes illustrating with a jigsaw and paint, he delivers reflective and thoughtful collage creations filled with vitality, playful energy, and strength. For Steptoe, “collage is a means of survival. It is how Black folks survived four hundred years of oppression, taking the scraps of life and transforming in their own lives.”

As both an artist and educator, he challenges traditional notions of Black art, emphasizing the richness of our collective past through his use of family as a recurring theme and centerpiece. Steptoe explains, “I want my audience no matter what their background, to be able to enter into my world and make connections with comparable experiences in their own lives.

Having earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Steptoe is very committed to children’s education, making appearances at various schools libraries, museums, and conferences across the country, including the American Library Association, the International Association, and Reading Is Fundamental, Inc.

Javaka Steptoe currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and may be contacted for school visits or artist/author talks via fax at 718-363-2361, or, or

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 4 October 2011




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Related files:  The Jones Family Express  Interview with Javaka Steptoe  

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