Courier cartoonist part of ‘Under ­African Skies,’ first children’s folklore book

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FAMILY MATTER—Bill Murray with five-year-old daughter Cheyanne.

CHERRY HILL, N.J.—Africana Homestead Legacy Publishers Inc., released “Under African Skies,” its first children’s folklore picture book, under its imprint Nefu Books. A clever and colorful adaptation of two African folktales, this story will teach children ages 4-8 valuable lessons on kindness and friendship. Author Roland C. Barksdale-Hall of Sharon, Pa., is an experienced storyteller and well-known in genealogy, family history, library science and African-American culture circles. The book’s illustrator is Bill Murray, a nationally-syndicated cartoonist who also lives in Sharon, Pa. The two will collaborate on several more titles for their folklore series, “Stories by Brother Barksdale.” Future books will feature old and new characters.

Barksdale-Hall’s other pursuits have influenced his writing books for children. He is president of JAH Kente International Inc. that promotes the arts and genealogy in schools in metropolitan Washington, D.C. He also is founder and former executive director of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society of Pittsburgh, a chapter of the Washington, D.C., based national organization. Barksdale-Hall has traveled to West Africa and has researched the Black family for more than thirty years,  served on the executive committee of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, among other things.

By fifth grade, Bill Murray, a Chicago native, had won the first of several prizes for designing citywide cleanup posters. He also had his artwork published in the Chicago Sun Times. Murray attended the Chicago Institute of Art and worked as a freelancer for the Saturday Evening Post. His professional breakthrough was at Johnson Publishing Co. in Chicago. Herbert Temple, a JPC artist who drew cartoons for Ebony Magazine, made Murray an art apprentice. Murray’s first syndicated cartoon, “Those Browns,”  was distributed by Sammy Davis Jr. Enterprises in the late 1970s. Since 1981, Murray has drawn Sonny Boy for Sengstacke newspapers that includes the Chicago Defender and New Pittsburgh Courier. After founding his comic book company, BAM Productions, he hired Kevin B. Eastman (creator of the Ninja Turtles) as a freelance artist and produced a line of comic books from 1985 to 1996. Murray also created “Jet News,” a syndicated political satire that has appeared in more than 1,100 papers worldwide.

Reviewers have early praise for “Under African Skies.”  Karim T. Aldridge-Rand, a third grade teacher in Houston,  said: “Under African Skies” is reminiscent of Barksdale’s outstanding storytelling performance at the Eastmont Branch of the Oakland Public Library (2000), where he captivated an awe-struck audience. His elaborate use of verbal imagery, visual props, and didactic messages recreated a presence that breathed life into his stories. “Under African Skies” is a welcomed treasure to the rich corpus of children’s literature.”  ltibari M.

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