Tonya Cherie Hegamin grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania and Rochester, New York. She majored in poetry at the University of Pittsburg and received her MFA in Writing for Children at The New School University. She has done social work for organizations such as Women Against Rape and Planned Parenthood, where she helped educated teens about sexual violence and safe sex. She also worked at helping teen moms get their GED and learn life skills, and has taught creative writing to incarcerated girls and women.

Her book, Most Loved in All the World, won New York Public Library’s Ezra Jack Keats Award in 2009 and a Christopher Award for Positive Media that same year. Her young adult novel, M+O 4evr, was short listed for the ALA Best Books for Reluctant Readers prize and was featured on’s Best Summer Reads ’08.

Selected Reviews of Tonya Cherie Hegamin’s Books

Most Loved in All the World
Tonya Cherie Hegamin
   A young girl narrates the story of her life as a slave in poetic prose. Her mother picks cotton until her hands bleed. The girl is too young to pick cotton, so she brings water to the field. At night, her mother sews quilt squares, each one with a special meaning. A happy little girl in one square is, her mother tells her, “the most loved in all the world.” One night, her mother takes her to a meeting and tells her that she must go with the people there to find Freedom. The girl does not want to leave her mother, but her mother says she must stay to “help others find Freedom.” Wrapped in the quilt her mother made, the girl realizes that it is a map of the way to that Freedom on the Underground Railroad. Although Cabrera’s double-page acrylic paintings depict the story using somber impressionistic shapes and colors, the interjection of the quilted squares of fabric collage promises a bright, hopeful conclusion. The endpages are covered with a variety of patterned textile pieces with other fabric squares throughout; the special square with a large heart and the one with the happy girl support the theme of maternal love. There are added notes, as well as a bibliography on slavery and the Underground Railroad. 2009, Houghton Mifflin Company, $17.00. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature).

M+O 4evr
Tonya Cherie Hegamin
   Eighteen-year-old Opal looks back on her lifelong friendship with Marianne, the biracial daughter of an Amish woman who has left her community. Although Opal seems to have everything going for her–she’s academically gifted and has a steady and loving family–she’d give it all up if Marianne would only love her in same the way she loves Marianne. Opal has been enamored since their childhood days, when she and Marianne would lie together under a blackberry bush, passing berries back and forth from mouth to mouth. This game awakened Opal’s sexual feeling for Marianne, a feeling that grew through adolescence but that she has kept hidden away. The land they live on is haunted by the ghost of an escaped slave named Hannah who also suffered a tragic, unrequited love generations earlier. Hannah’s story intertwines with that of Opal and Marianne, and leads to the same sad ending. A short, spare narrative offers complex characters and packs in a lot of emotion without ever becoming melodramatic. CCBC Category: Fiction for Young Adults. 2008, Houghton Mifflin, 165 pages, $16.00. Age 14 and older. Reviewer: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices 2009).

Pemba’s Song: A Ghost Story
Tonya Cherie Hegamin
   In this slim book, Nelson and Hegamin join forces to depict the powerful encounter between two girls separated by over two centuries. Pemba is a moody, disaffected, modern-day teen, forced by her widowed mother to move away from her lively life in Brooklyn to a centuries-old, long-abandoned house in a small town in Connecticut. Phyllys is a slave girl who once lived in the house, witness to a terrible and never prosecuted crime. What the two girls have in common is that they express their deepest and otherwise inexpressible feelings through poetry–and that each needs the other desperately. Pemba’s first-person narration, written by Hegamin, makes up most of the book; three-time National Book Award finalist Nelson generates the subtle, slant-rhymed sonnets of Phyllys. The novel makes historical research seem urgent and riveting, as Pemba searches for answers to explain her communications with Phyllys by digging through the library archives of Colchester, Connecticut, together with its historian, Abraham (the real-life history buff who inspired these two authors to come together to write this book). And the novel makes poetry seem, not the stuff of an English class assignment, but the eloquent voice of real girls who communicate with each other across the divide of centuries. This is a highly original and striking collaboration. 2008, Scholastic, $16.99. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).

Program Details

Workshops and presentations can be tailored for grades 2 and up.

Most Loved in All the World

  • What is Freedom? Readers of any age and background can participate in this workshop about what freedom means to them and why freedom is so important in our lives.
  • Is it OK to be Sad? For younger readers this is an opportunity to talk about emotions. Why do we feel sad? What can we learn from sad stories?
  • Foster Parenting and Adoption. Many children today live in “non-traditional,” foster or blended families. The little girl in this book cannot be cared for by her birth mother and is sent North with someone who can. Does this mean that her mother does not love her anymore? What is the meaning of sacrifice? Why does the mother send her daughter away? What does she want her to find?
  • Understanding Current Events through History. In our world today, economic factors like poor job markets, inadequate education systems, as well as natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes force people to make touch decisions about how to raise their children. 3-5th graders benefit most from this workshop.
  • Quilts as Storytellers. After reading the book and looking at various quilt examples, the class makes their own quilt. Provide construction paper, scissors and drawing instruments. Kids can tell a story by making up their own symbols or by drawing a scene (from the book or their own lives). They can work alone or in groups. Fun for all ages!

Pemba’s Song

  • Reading and Writing Contemporary and Traditional Poetry
  • Music and Literature
  • Journaling in the Classroom
  • Trusting Your Intuition

M+O 4evr

  • Dicussing Queer Youth Issues. In the book, M commits suicide, unable to accept (or to ask others to accept) her for who she is. O considers suicide too, but is pulled back into life with the support of her untraditional family. Discussion on how and why teens would decide to take their own lives because of their sexual orientation. Workshop focuses on how to get and give support.
  • Understanding Depression. This workshop is specifically to discuss depression, why some feel it more than others, and how we can help ourselves and our friends who are depressed.
  • Understanding Place and Setting. Opal describes her surroundings often. Her sense of place is very much a part of her life. How does the landscape of the world you live in affect you? History and geography go hand in hand–how can we understand a place just by looking at a map? Students research a particular place and the history of the land and its people. Discuss how a place and setting are an integral part of writing.
  • Research Methods. Because of the history intertwined with place and people in the book, this is a perfect book to discuss how writers do research.

Creative Writing

  • Tonya loves facilitating writing workshops and caters to all ages and levels of experience. She also offers individual and small group “creative counseling and coaching.”
  • If you have a project already in mind, or if you would like her to assign writing prompts to get you started, she can provide content editing and general feedback of your work.
  • In addition, she will help coax out and strengthen your “inner creative genius” so that you can incorporate creativity into your everyday life.

Additional Information

To learn more about Tonya Cherie Hegamin and her publications please visit