7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #705: Featuring Temi Coker, Alexis Franklin, Omar T. Pasha, and Jenna Stempel-Lobell

h1 August 23rd, 2020 by jules


I know I regularly post here at 7-Imp about picture books and illustration, but sometimes I see a book cover that blows me away. In this case, it’s the cover art (pictured above) for the YA novel Punching the Air, written by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam and coming to shelves next month. I read an early copy, and it’s a beautifully crafted and compelling story.

How about that cover art, right? See below to take in the whole package, the cover with its lettering. The jacket art is by Temi Coker; the portrait is by Alexis Franklin; and the jacket design and lettering is by Jenna Stempel-Lobell. (I highly recommend following all of them on Instagram — respectively, @temi.coker; @alexis_art; and @jstempellobell. I don’t know about you all, but that’s my primary reason for being over at Instagram — to see art.)



Here’s a vide of the cover creation:



Zoboi, pictured below, is the acclaimed author of American Street, which was a National Book Award Finalist, as well as the novels Pride and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich. Dr. Yusef Salaam, also pictured below, is one of the so-called “Exonerated Five,” and after spending years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, became a father, poet, activist, and inspirational speaker. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award (2016) from President Barack Obama, the Phoenix Award from the Congressional Black Caucus (2019), and an honory Doctorate of Humanities from Anointed by God Ministries Alliance & Seminary (2014).

Salaam and Zoboi met in a class at Hunter College in 1999. When, many years later, they saw each other once again on Zoboi’s book tour for American Street, the two decided to write this book. It is partly inspired by Salaam’s experiences but is otherwise a work of fiction. It is the story, written in dynamic free verse, of Black, Muslim, sixteen-year-old Amal Shahid, who is an artist and poet. He is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to jail.




That’s the ridiculously brief, two-sentence description of a work of art that contains multitudes. At its core, it’s a book about racial violence in the U.S.; the gentrification of Black neighborhoods; the racial biases inherent in U.S. education; the criminalization of African Americans in this country and the racial disparities inherent in the U.S justice system; and much, much more. As one of the book’s poems, “Blind Justice II,” notes, Amal went to trial and was found guilty all because …

we were in the wrong place
we were in the wrong skins
we were in the wrong times
we were in the wrong bodies
we were in the wrong country
we were in the wrong
were in the wrong
in the wrong
the wrong

It’s also a book about how art and poetry help Amal survive in prison. It’s about keeping hope when everything and everyone around you would rather keep hope down. And it’s a book with textured, complex, and nuanced characters. And given that Amal loves art, both studying and creating it, the book includes some powerful metaphors around art and race. (I will now always think of this novel when I hear the phrase “white space,” which we hear in a lot of picture book discussions.) And that butterfly wing you see on the cover is there for a reason, as butterflies also seamlessly serve a symbolic role in the story.

The Kirkus review sums it up well: “Awardworthy. Soul-stirring. A must-read.” I hope everyone reading this gets their hands on a copy of this one, come September.

The book also contains interior illustrations by Omar T. Pasha. Below are two examples, which are exciting for me to see, since the galley of the book I have only has a bit of interior art.




Cover art reproduced by permission of HarperCollins Children’s Books. Interior illustrations above excerpted from PUNCHING THE AIR by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, on sale September 1. Copyright © 2020 Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Photos of Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam used with permission of HarperCollins. Photo of Ibi Zoboi taked by Joseph Zoboi, and photo of Yusef Salaam taken by Staci Nurse (Staci Marie Studio).

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’s Kicks * * *

1) The first episode of Lovecraft Country. Holy wow.

2) The end of the last episode of I May Destroy You. Oh, Arabella.

3) I may have gotten a little misty-eyed hearing First Aid Kit’s cover of “On the Road Again.” I’m not a musician, but I miss live music.



4) Jordan Lehning’s new album is so, so good.



5) I watched the four episodes of Unorthodox this week, and it’s one of the best things I’ve seen all year. And Shira Haas gives a captivating performance.

6) Socially-distanced walks with friends, though boy howdy do I miss things like hugs.

7) Reading Punching the Air reminded me of watching Ava Duvernay’s When They See Us when it came out last year, which is hard to watch but so well done. And if you haven’t seen it yet and if you can get access to it, I highly recommend it.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

8 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #705: Featuring Temi Coker, Alexis Franklin, Omar T. Pasha, and Jenna Stempel-Lobell”

  1. Oh wow, I can’t wait to get Punching the Air. I believe I am first on the hold list when it arrives to the library (said it was being processed) Thank you for sharing this today.
    Jules, walks and friends. Yes! I miss hugs. And I may have to take a peek at Lovecraft Country.
    My kicks:
    1. Beginning to figure out the space in the extra bedroom/writing room.
    2. Lunch with a friend.
    3. Said friend made a Georgia Peach Pound cake for Chuck and I. Ate some, froze some and shared some. Delish.
    4. Friend saw picture of Al the Aloe plant and drove to my house to get it and rehab him.
    5. Reading two great books: A Seat at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan (Upper middle Grade) and Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen (Reminds me of A Man Called One by F. Backman.
    6. A new lens for my camera.
    7. The state roll call at the DNC. Brilliant.
    Have a great week.

  2. Jone, you getting a new lens for your camera is a gift to everyone who get to see your beautiful photography. … Peach pound cake sounds delicious. Thanks for the book recs!

  3. Hello, Imps! Hello, Temi Coker, Alexis Franklin, Omar T. Pasha, and Jenna Stempel-Lobell! Thank you for sharing your art and your stories and your words!

    Jules: Thank you, as always, for creating this place where we can all share and support each other.

    Jone: Enjoy the new lens, and the new space!

    My kicks:
    1) Safety
    2) Good meals
    3) Breaks
    4) Electric fans
    5) Space
    6) Breath
    7) Pacing

  4. Little Willow, my pleasure. … Kicks of space and breath must mean you’re a master meditator, or at least concentrator. … Are you far from California fires? I hope so.

  5. What a stunning book cover! I am definitely putting this on my TBR list and will have to get on the wait list at my library.

    Jules – love your music kicks – I miss live music so much, and summer is usually full of outdoor concerts. Hopefully that can happen again in the future. And hugs, too.

    Jone – yay for a new camera lens and friends who rescue plants and friends who make cake!

    Little Willow – good meals and breaks and safety are all such wonderful kicks.

    My kicks this week:
    1) It was Daisy’s birthday and gotcha day this week – she’s 14! And has been the sweetest addition to my life for 6 years now.
    2) Baked a dog cake for her and it was a big hit. She’ll be having it as treats for the rest of the week.
    3) Visiting a client at home today to drop off some papers and then buying fresh eggs from them – fresh eggs from well-loved chickens are the best kind.
    4) Watched Project Power last night and it was fun to see the beautiful shots of New Orleans. Newcomer Dominique Fishback is super charming and I expect to see more of her in the future – she held her own with Jamie Fox and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
    5) Picked up a cocktail kit from Freeland Spirits – a local woman-owned and run distillery – and the Watermelon Cooler Mix was excellent.
    6) Finished Narcos this week. That was a ride.
    7) Mailed a number of letters and packages this week to PenPals, family and friends in an effort to stay connected, spread some happy, and support the USPS.
    Bonus kick 1 – friends and colleagues with shared values.
    Bonus Kick 2 – our newly elected DA just got profiled in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/23/us/portland-protests-prosecute.html
    Bonus kick 3 – having hope for the future.

    Have a great week Imps!

  6. Rachel, wow, Schmiddt sounds great. Very cool that his background as a public school teacher has informed his work. … Happy birthday to Daisy! I’m with you on your last kick. I didn’t watch all of the convention, but the clips I saw in the news gave me hope. Enjoy those fresh eggs. (“An egg, Lulu Atlantis, is an everyday surprise!… You could keep an egg nearby for comfort.” — from Lulu Atlantis: The Quest for True Blue Love)

    Have a good week, you all!

  7. Jules – I am hopeful about Schmidt, he’s starting off strong so far, and it will be interesting to see how his leadership evolves.

    Happy to report my library has ebook & audio copies of Punching the Air and there is already a wait list for both. the library did not have copies of Lulu Atlantis: The Quest for True Blue Love, which I now want to read after that fabulous quote, so I recommended it for the library.

  8. Rachel, Lulu is the weirdest, quirkiest book for children that was largely forgotten in 2008, but I looove it.

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