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Book Smarts

Young author Chental-Song Bembry promotes literacy through her “Honey Bunch Kids” series — and aims one day to turn them into a licensing empire, too

ARTISTS AREN’T TYPICALLY what comes to mind when you think of entrepreneurs — yet their pursuits are no less commercial in nature than the most cold-eyed business professional. Chental-Song Bembry, the 15-year-old writer and illustrator behind The Honey Bunch Kids, and her mother, Holly Glover, who helps her run the literary business out of their home in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, recognize that. The duo hope ultimately to “launch a dominant brand that would include the images of her characters being sold on personal items, from bed sheets to book bags,” Glover says.

First, though, there are reading and uplifting life lessons to promote. The Honey Bunch Kids tells the tale of a group of African-American middle-schoolchildren who become friends on their first day after they miss the bus and end up having to walk to school in the rain. Chental-Song is currently finishing the third book in the series, which is available at the Honey Bunch Kids Web site.

The young author, not surprisingly, is a passionate advocate for literacy; she’s frequently booked at libraries and schools to help promote reading to children, and was recently named Youth Ambassador for two literacy organizations, LiteracyNation and Mission EduCare.

On February 6, meanwhile, in recognition of her community-literacy efforts, Chental-Song was named a “Hometown Hero” by the New Jersey Nets, part of the team’s celebration of Black History Month. She was brought onto the court during the team’s game against the Chicago Bulls, and Honey Bunch Kids images were displayed on the arena’s screens. “It was such an honor,” she says. “Being on the floor was an experience I’ll never forget.”

While she and her mother work to build the brand as a licensing concern, meanwhile, Chental-Song has her sights set on turning The Honey Bunch Kids into a long-running series for boys and girls between ages 7 and 12. “Although my books are humorous, children will gain valuable life lessons from them,” she says. “The feedback I get from kids is what inspires me to keep writing.”

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It must have been a thrill to be recognized by the Nets. How did that come about?
The Hometown Hero award is cosponsored by McDonald’s, and is given to people based on the positive things they’re doing in their community. In January, a woman who used to work at my high school called my mother and mentioned that she works in conjunction with the Nets to find and recognize young people. The review committee reviewed the Honey Bunch Kids Web site and my bio, and chose me to receive this great award. It was such an honor.

You got to go down on the floor during a timeout, right?
Yes. It was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget, because I had never been to a professional basketball game before. During a timeout, two of the Nets’ dancers walked me onto center court, where they introduced me to the crowd. The announcer gave some information about The Honey Bunch Kids. Images of the covers of two of my books, as well as my logo, were displayed on the big screens. I was nervous to go out there. When I heard the crowd cheering for me, I was in awe.

Did you get to meet Jay-Z, who’s part-owner of the Nets?
I didn’t get to meet him, because he was doing a benefit concert in New York for his foundation. But I received a beautiful plaque with my name on it, as well as a basketball signed by [Nets point guard] Deron Williams.

What’s the latest on The Honey Bunch Kids series overall?
With some of the money I received from 100 Urban Entrepreneurs, I’m improving my Web site, and have also just finished corrections for the third book in the series, which I’ll be selling in the spring. I have numerous book signings booked at local libraries and other events: radio interviews, a few Black History Month programs.

You’ve spoken before about your interest in possibly licensing the Honey Bunch Kids, too.
I’m currently searching for a doll maker who can do a prototype of the characters. My plan is to book as many events as possible in 2012 in order to continue to spread the word and gain exposure; I aim to continue networking with people who can help me position The Honey Bunch Kids as an emerging brand.

Literacy promotion is a major priority for you as well.
It’s a huge part of what I’m trying to do with The Honey Bunch Kids. At my events, I always speak to children about how being a good reader has helped me become a successful student.

What are your short-term and long-term goals for the series?
This year, I aspire to double my sales in books from last year, and to have prototypes of the characters completed by the end of the spring. Because of my eight weeks in mentoring from 100 Urban Entrepreneurs, the Black Enterprise Youth Entrepreneurs’ Conference, the few business classes I take in school and my involvement in the Entrepreneurs’ Ministry at my church, I’ve gained a pretty big interest in business. I would love to see how the Honey Bunch Kids would be received as a brand — and one day, maybe even a cartoon series.

What other projects are you thinking about pursuing?
My writing style is realistic fiction. Although my books are humorous, children gain valuable life lessons through them. I focus on friendship, self-esteem, teamwork and honesty, so the possibilities are endless. The feedback I get from kids is what really inspires me to keep writing and believing in what The Honey Bunch Kids could become. •