Friday, April 24, 2015

TIGER BOY West Coast Book Launch and More!

It's been a busy week in the Bay Area launching my new book, TIGER BOY. Tomorrow I head to Boston for festivities on the other coast. Here's a taste of what's been going on this week in California — school visits, booksellers' conferences, and a happy launch party.

Linden Tree Books in Los Altos created this lovely display.
I visited Chabot Elementary School in Oakland. Not a bad place to sign books.

At Malcolm X. Elementary School in Berkeley, we learned about Bengali culture and Bengal tigers.
Kids never make me nervous.
This was the first time I got to talk about both books!
The actual book launch party was at Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore in Berkeley. Thanks, Mrs. Ds, and thanks to all the friends who joined me.
Parties are fun! Plus I got to read lovely notes from the fourth-graders at Malcolm X.
"Dear Ms. Perkins. Hi Ms. Perkins. I want to see you again Ms. Perkis. I love you Ms. Perkins"
Next stop: Pasadena, for the American Booksellers Association Children's Institute, where I signed and met many enthusiastic booksellers committed to connecting multicultural books and children. I also took a brief detour to wander around the Huntington Library and Gardens (photos below.)





Thursday, April 16, 2015

On Preaching and Self-Censorship in Writing for Young Readers

I sat on a library panel this week with four other YA authors. I'd had a busy day, and was irritable already. I probably should have sat back, listened, and shut up, but of course I did no such thing.

"Do you purposefully put messages in your books?" someone in the audience asked.

"Do you feel you must censor yourself to any extent because you're writing for young people?" another attendee asked.

A few of the other panelists responded, and the consensus seemed to be a rousing no to both questions. They talked about the freedom we need to create good art, the disaster of didactic fiction, and the mandate to trust our young readers. They sounded so cool, and so right. But I've already told you I was feeling contrary. Without much thought, I leaped into the conversation.

I've been ruminating on why I erupted with such fervor and decided to air my responses out here on the Fire Escape. I'd love your comments and thoughts. Do you resonate with any of these statements/questions—all of which popped into my head, and some out of my mouth (more inarticulately than below)—and if so, which ones and why?

On putting "message" in our books:

"Aren't all stories containers for worldview, messages, and morals, even if it's the view that the world is morally uncertain? A belief that there are no definitive answers is a particular philosophy. An author's reluctance to convey any morals or ideologies doesn't mean a story isn't saturated with them. And if the head isn't in charge of weaving your worldview into a story, the gut will do it for you."

On writing more carefully for children than for adults:

"Children's stories are more powerful conveyers of worldview because a child is in the process of formation. Don't we have a responsibility as adults to discern the hidden as well as overt messages in children's stories, even our own? Shouldn't we steer them away from the 'danger of a single story,' for example, about certain kinds of people?"

"Is there a right 'age of consent' for young people to roam freely in the world of stories? Is a parent solely to decide or are we in the wider community of adult writers, publishers, and educators also called to defend young minds and hearts? If so, shouldn't we pay closer attention to our stories and perhaps limit our freedom more than artists who produce works for adults?"

Wow, was I cranky. But what do you think?  I don't mind you showing me why and how I was off. Or on. Or both. Don't hold back.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Happy Bengali New Year! It's also TIGER BOY's Book Birthday!

Happy Book Birthday to my new novel for young readers, TIGER BOY, set in the Sunderbans region of West Bengal, India! The publication date was picked months ago, and we had no idea that it would release on Bengali New Year's Day. It's the year 1422, people! Congratulations also to Jamie Hogan, the book's illustrator.
The Bengal tiger is even more breathtaking up close. This was taken in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in the Tiger Preserve.
Even the binding of the book is beautiful. Thank you, Charlesbridge.
Introducing Neel and his sister Rupa. Illustration courtesy of Jamie Hogan.
If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area 4/18 or in the Boston area 4/26 , you're invited to a book launch party.

Friday, February 20, 2015

TIGER BOY Launch Parties: You're Invited!

You're invited to the launch of TIGER BOY, a new novel for upper elementary readers by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan and published by Charlesbridge. We'll celebrate all things tiger as we travel (via imagination) to the Sunderbans region of West Bengal, India. 

West Coast: Saturday, April 18, 1 p.m., Mrs. Dalloway's Books, 2904 College Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705

East Coast: Sunday, April 24, 4 p.m., Newtonville Books, 10 Langley Rd, Newton Centre, MA 02459



★ (School Library Journal) Gr 3-6–Set in the lush Sundarbans natural region of Bengal, this quiet, gripping tale emphasizes the deep but often fragile connection that exists between humans and nature ... Perkins avoids black-and-white characterizations and compassionately illustrates how dire circumstances affect a person’s choices. Young readers will revel in the vivid action and suspense surrounding Neel and his sister Rupa’s quest to locate the tiger cub. Adults will likely praise the novel’s simple and clear narrative, which belies its complexity around issues related to climate change, poor economic conditions, class structure, and gender discrimination.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

First reviews for TIGER BOY!

With TIGER BOY releasing in April, I've been waiting nervously (as usual) for first reviews. My family and friends seem to like it, but there's a mysterious power either to uplift or devastate in responses written by experts in the field. That's why I was delighted when Kirkus said this last week:
The Kolkata-born author visited the remote Sunderbans in the course of her research. She lovingly depicts this beautiful tropical forest in the context of Neel’s efforts to find the cub and his reluctance to leave his familiar world ... the sense of place is strong and the tiger cub’s rescue very satisfying. Pastel illustrations will help readers envision the story. A multicultural title with obvious appeal for animal-loving middle graders.
Today I was thrilled when Charlesbridge told me School Library Journal is giving the book a STARRED REVIEW (all-caps, hooray, yippee) in their February issue. The reviewer beautifully captures my hopes for the book:
Gr 3-6–Set in the lush Sundarbans natural region of Bengal, this quiet, gripping tale emphasizes the deep but often fragile connection that exists between humans and nature ... Perkins avoids black-and-white characterizations and compassionately illustrates how dire circumstances affect a person’s choices. Young readers will revel in the vivid action and suspense surrounding Neel and his sister Rupa’s quest to locate the tiger cub. Adults will likely praise the novel’s simple and clear narrative, which belies its complexity around issues related to climate change, poor economic conditions, class structure, and gender discrimination."

Saturday, January 03, 2015

TWENTY-TWO CENTS: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo

"If you were living in another country and heard that lots of Americans were hungry, would you leave behind your own safety and comfort to return here and serve?"

"If you asked a lot of people for help once you got here and they all said no, would you give up?  Or would you try and come up with a way to solve the problem without their help?"

"What's the difference between a celebrity and a hero?"

Before reading TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK by Paula Yoo (Lee and Low) to a group of fifth-graders, I might start by asking questions like these. Then I would launch into the story, letting their eyes linger on the beautiful paintings by Jamel Akib. I agree with Publisher's Weekly's review: "In detailed and inviting prose, Yoo shares the story of activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Yunus, beginning with his childhood ... Akib’s grainy, jewel-toned chalk pastels contrast a sense of scarcity and deprivation with one of warmth and humanity. Yoo makes the significance of Yunus’s contributions understandable, relevant, and immediate."

Without overstating Yunus' humble and yet not impoverished background, Yoo and Akib make it clear that this world-changer didn't come from privilege. Children in all circumstances will be inspired by Yunus' life and by the difference he has made throughout the planet. I pay attention to cultural details about my own Bengali heritage, and Akib didn't disappoint with his accurate depiction of practices like giving and receiving with the right hand, squatting to chat, and sitting cross-legged to learn. In the final pages, he paints a panel of proud young brown women whose faces and postures speak volumes about empowerment and hope.
It's been a while since I read a biography aimed for children, but after enjoying this one so much I'm going to look for more. I remember discovering a series in the library when I was in fourth or fifth grade called “The Childhood of Famous American Series” from Bobbs-Merrill. Looking back, I'm surprised by how many world-changing women were featured: I read about Clara Barton, Susan B. Anthony, and Louisa May Alcott.  All the books began with a person my age or so who went on to change the world, and as I devoured them I began to imagine trying to make my own mark.

I invited Paula to chat with me on the Fire Escape about creating the book and about the power of biography to inspire and inform. Read on to enjoy her brilliance.

Welcome, my multi-talented friend. Your website is a dizzying display of diverse talent—music, children's books, television writing. You're a celebrity in your own right. Okay, let's start with an easy question: why did you want to write this biography?

Jason Low of Lee and Low Books first approached me about the life of Muhammad Yunus as a possible children's picture book biography. He suggested I read Professor Yunus' autobiography, BANKER TO THE POOR: MICRO-LENDING AND THE BATTLE AGAINST WORLD POVERTY (Public Affairs, 2008). I read this book in one day—I was mesmerized by Professor Yunus' passion and dedication towards helping others left fortunate. His colorful childhood and awakening as an activist inspired me. I agreed with Jason that Muhammad Yunus would make for a great biography to inspire children to learn about compassion and generosity.

What kind of research did you do for the book?

I read several more books and newspaper/magazine articles about Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank. I also interviewed historians and professors who teach college courses about the history and culture of Bangladesh. Most importantly, I had the honor of meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus himself when he visited Los Angeles. It was such a privilege to sit down with Professor Yunus and hear his thoughts on how to eradicate world poverty.

He has a wonderful sense of humor, doesn't he? I met him briefly years ago when I was living in Dhaka at the book launch party of a dear friend, Alex Counts, the author of Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance Are Changing the World. Alex is the President of the Grameen Foundation, which based in Washington D.C.  Okay, moving on. Why do you think that it's important/fun for young people to read biographies?

A good biography is not dry and boring. A good biography is a compelling and engaging story about a person's life and what events inspired him or her to follow a certain path in life that would change the world forever. I love a good plot, but I love a good character even more. To me, a strong biography is one that embraces its main subject as a CHARACTER who faces obstacles and overcomes them with his or her clever initiatives, passion and drive. It's important for young people to read biographies so they can learn how one person CAN make a huge difference in our world. It's also fun for young people because they also are entertained by a suspenseful storyline that shows HOW that one person changed and grew as a result of overcoming their obstacles in life.

Could you sum up for us the dream response of a reader who knows little or nothing about Bangladesh's history and culture?

For me, a dream response of a reader who knows little or nothing abut Bangladesh's history and culture would be their admiration and respect for a country that has never given up, even in the face of war, famine and natural disaster. I would hope readers would be inspired to read more about Bangladesh and its beautiful and complex cultural history as well. And of course, to visit a restaurant and eat the awesome food, especially the many different kinds of pithas that Muhammad loved to eat as a child! :)

Now let's move to the journey of getting the picture book published. What was a high point? A low point?

I researched and wrote several drafts of this book that Jason Low read and critiqued. I revised it quite a bit before it was deemed submission-worthy. The high point was getting the email announcing the exciting news that it had been selected for publication. No matter how many books you write and publish, every new book that is accepted for publication always feels like your first book! It's an exciting feeling that never gets old. I also know picture books can take awhile because you also have to wait for the illustration/art to be completed. So the "low" point was me impatiently waiting and checking my emails obsessively for a sneak peek of the art work! But it was worth the wait - Jamel Akib's art work was phenomenal.

His pastels are gorgeous! I went to his website and want to buy all of his paintings. Okay, next question: what was the biggest change you made in response to an editorial suggestion?

The biggest change I made in response to an editorial suggestion was figuring out how to increase the presence and influence of both Muhammad's mother and father on his growth as a child learning how to become more compassionate and generous. I had focused more on his mother and then was asked to research his relationship with his father more. As a result, I feel the parents' portrayal is much richer and add more depth to what drove Muhammad to become such an advocate for the poor.

Yes, I completely agree. Could you describe a fear you have about this picture book that can keep you up at night?

As a Korean American, I wanted to make sure the portrayal of Muhammad Yunus and his country of Bangladesh were portrayed in the most accurate and authentic way as possible. I channeled into the universal themes that connected me as a human being to Muhammad's life—focusing on the universal themes of his life and his country's history helped me as I triple fact-checked everything. I also found it quite challenging to sum up the history of Bangladesh in such a short amount of text because this was written in the genre of picture books for children, which requires much brevity. Bangladesh has a complex and rich history and I did not want to cheat that historical depth or write anything that was too short and out of context. So I wold say my fear was really more of a concern to make sure Muhammad Yunus and Bangladesh were portrayed in the most authentic light possible.

This book proves without a doubt that authenticity doesn't depend on having the "right" ethnic credentials (whatever that means), but I'd like to explore how much Jamal's Malaysian heritage informed his gut about life in a Muslim country. I'd love to find out what kind of research he did about Bangladeshi cultural practices before finalizing the art. Maybe I'll invite him out here someday. Last but not least: what's next for Paula Yoo in the creative realm?

I'm working on a bunch of manuscripts-in-progress, from a new YA novel idea I have to a couple adult novel ideas, as well as some new picture books (researching new biography topics). I'm also working on a special children's book project that I can't announce yet but stay tuned! :) I also am a TV producer so I'm currently writing for SyFy's DEFIANCE. As for picture books, I host the very popular NAPIBOWRIWEE (National Picture Book Writing Week) event every May 1-7 in which I challenge writers to write 7 picture books in 7 days to help defeat procrastination. (That way everyone has 7 rough drafts they can then pick and choose to revise for the rest of the year!) I feature fun Q and As with published picture book authors and writing advice, plus a fun contest featuring some awesome autographed books from myself and others. The next event takes place May 1-7, 2015.

Thanks so much for spending time out on the Fire Escape with me, Paula, and for writing this book. God bless you and your work in 2015!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

D.C. and NCTE, Here I Come

I'm heading to the National Council of Teachers of English's annual convention in Washington D.C., and am also teaching a writing workshop at Ballou High School for An Open Book Foundation.

At the NCTE Convention, I'm speaking on a panel in the main ballroom at 8 a.m. during the General Session on "Reshaping the Landscape of Story: Creating Space for Missing and Marginalized Voices" (see below), and then signing TIGER BOY from 12:30-1:30 at Anderson's Bookshop's booth (#153) and from 1:30-2:30 at Charlesbridge Publishing's booth (#226). Stop by and say hello if you'll be there.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

TIGER BOY Final Cover

I'm delighted to share the final cover art for my forthcoming novel for upper elementary readers, TIGER BOY, coming 4/14/15 from Charlesbridge, illustrated by the amazing Jamie Hogan.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Checklist to "See" Race/Culture in Kid/YA Books

I was honored to present at the Kidlitosphere's 8th Annual Convention in Sacramento, California, where I shared ten tips for adults interested in messages about race and culture that might go unnoticed "under the waterline" in books for children and young adults. I've offered these in other contexts, but here they are for bloggers and reviewers. As always, I welcome questions, corrections, and clarifications.
  1. Look for overused tropes like an older magical negro or a noble savage.
  2. Notice a smart/good peer of color whose only role is to serve as a foil for a flawed hero. 
  3. Check the cover art for whitewashing or overexoticization.
  4. Pay attention to when and how race is defined, if at all.
  5. Notice if the setting, plot, and characters are in charge of the casting.
  6. Pay attention to how beauty is defined.
  7. Notice outsider “bridge” characters and generic versus specific cultures.
  8. Check for a “single story” that underlines a stereotype about another culture.
  9. See who has the power to make change and who has the power to be changed.
  10. Ask questions about the storyteller’s authenticity, privilege, and power. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Displaying Multicultural Books: The Magic of Windows and Mirrors

I've often suggested that booksellers and librarians play around with "windows and mirrors" when it comes to displaying multicultural books. They can place such a title on a shelf of diverse reads for readers looking for windows into another world, or for children hoping to see their particular ethnic/racial experience reflected in a story. In the past, this kind of display was the only way I might see one of my books face out in a library or bookstore, or featured online.

These days, in a practice that's becoming more common, a multicultural book is displayed with other titles around a "mirror" theme common to all children.

For example, my novel Rickshaw Girl might be placed on a shelf beside other fiction for children with Asian settings and protagonists. It might also be displayed as it is here, at Graves Memorial Library in Kennebunkport, Maine, as part of a collection called "Young at Art: Picture Books and Novels Featuring Young Artists." This display about art includes several other titles that may or may not be "multicultural."  Any reader who wants a story featuring a protagonist who is a young artist will be offered my story. That reader may or may not find her ethnicity reflected in my book, and it may or may not provide her with a first window into Bangladesh. An adult gatekeeper has guided her to a list of books where she will see her love of art reflected, but the rest of a story's mirror/window magic will be between her and the book, where it belongs.

Another example is my book Secret Keeper, which in the past has been featured as a title about India. Recently, however, I found it on a Minnesota's Hennepin County Library list called "YA Books For Tomboys: young adult novels featuring characters that love sports, love to get dirty, hate pink, and don't want to be 'ordinary' girls." There's my "multicultural" novel, rubbing elbows with the likes of Little Women, Hunger Games, and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Again, a reader who likes strong female protagonists will be offered my book, and the other mirrors and windows offered in the story—if she chooses it—are up to her.

Adults who are trying to connect kids with stories, take a look at your lists and displays with fresh eyes. Then have some fun playing around with new windows and mirrors themes to lead young readers to multicultural books. I'd love to hear about your creative lists and displays.