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.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Author Visits: Who Enjoys Them More?

I've been doing school visits for a long time, and the children seem to grow more endearing by the year. The University of Wisconsin's School of Education recently invited me to speak to fourth and fifth graders at Emerson Elementary in La Crosse. In this nice writeup describing my presentation, the School of Education's newsletter asks a good question: "It was hard to tell who was enjoying the experience the most: was it the children, the audience, or the author herself?"



Thursday, August 07, 2014

Diversity in Children's Books: It's a Question of Power

I've been returning to words like "power" and "privilege" when it comes to the conversation around "diversity" in children's books. Amina Chaudhri of the American Library Association's Booklist Magazine recently interviewed me to clarify my position.  Here's an excerpt:

Books and Authors: Talking with Mitali Perkins

...BKL: What do you think about labels that categorize sets of books by racial or ethnic content?

PERKINS: I would love to see a time soon when we don’t need any of those labels, and all kids will read all kinds of stories and find their own connections. Secret Keeper is set in Calcutta in the 1970s, and I’ve heard adults say that they didn’t have [a Bengali] population in their communities, so the story was not pertinent. Yet I’ve had kids from rural America write me eight-page letters saying that they loved the story and felt as if Asha reflected them.

I almost feel like the adults should get out of the way a little bit. The child reader will surprise you as to how they find their windows and mirrors in every different story. So, if the adult is saying, “This is about this,” sometimes that gets in the way of the child’s imagination. When I was reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was reading it as a Bengali immigrant child, and what I got out of it were so many points of connection that an adult could never have told me about. The power of stories is that the reader makes his or her own meaning, especially when a child rereads a story; there’s something going on between the kid and the story that maybe adults shouldn’t even look at too closely. Just let the magic work!

You may read the rest online or download the entire interview.

"... [It's] not an issue of race and culture but an issue of power. There are communities in America that have less power and there is poverty, and people have not had many chances to tell their own stories. That’s a different issue than an educated Bengali person who is growing up in the middle class. To lump us all together as multicultural because we’re not white puts too much focus on race and culture and not enough on power."

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Advance Review Copies of TIGER BOY!

One of the exciting milestones in the birth of a book is the arrival of the Advance Review Copy (ARC) sent from the publisher to the author. This copy is sent to reviewers and some teachers and librarians several months before a book releases. It's the first time you see the story you imagined, then wrote, and then revised in book form, and it's a breathtaking moment.

Yesterday, I got a copy of TIGER BOY (coming April 14, 2015) from Yolanda Scott, my editor at Charlesbridge, along with a lovely note. Now it feels real, friends. My next book! 

"Dear Mitali, How cool is this? We made a book! And a darn fine one, too. I couldn't be more pleased ... Best, Yo"

Friday, July 18, 2014

Widen Your Circle: Join us for KidLitCon 2014

One of the best ways to deepen our commitment to children's and young adult books is by meeting other people who share that passion. And I don't mean just virtually; I mean in real life, too. Well, here's our chance: the 8th annual Kidlitosphere Conference, aka KidLitCon, October 10-11, at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in Sacramento, California. This is a gathering of people who care about children’s and young adult books, including librarians, authors, teachers, parents, booksellers, publishers, and readers.


Social Media, Blogging, and Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Literature

How might we use our blogs and social media platforms to widen the world of children’s and young adult literature? I'll be there, speaking about how we can change and affect the conversation about diversity, both in the industry and in the wider culture. Author Shannon Hale is going to speak also, via Skype.

Mark October 10th and 11th on your calendar—we'd love to see you there. And consider submitting a proposal by August 1st about how you might contribute to the conversation on children’s and young adult books. Or just register by September 19th.

Conference Organizers

Tanita Davis and Sarah StevensonFinding Wonderland
Jen RobinsonJen Robinson’s Book Page

Please help by spreading the word. Be a fan on Facebook and Follow KidLitCon on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New Summer Reading for Anglophiles


Maybe it's the strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. Or maybe it's that I can't quite get rid of the influence of the Raj in my psyche. No matter—the fact remains that every summer my reader's heart starts to hanker after Brit Lit.

There's nothing quite like a good Susan Howatch novel, tea, scones, and clotted cream (which Whole Foods carries now, leading to the demise of my overly ambitious fitness plans.)

On the hunt for contemporary (still alive and writing) authors, I posted this on my social media yesterday:




I thought I'd compile a list of books and authors as suggested by my friends, in case other anglophiles out there are looking for a new read. Books that are asterisked received more than one mention. (Note: I have neither read nor vetted the titles on this list, so read at your own risk ... but I do have a smart social media set.)

Particular Books
  • The Fire-Eaters by David Almond
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • *The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie and other Flavia DeLuce mysteries by Alan C. Bradley
  • Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan
  • The Children's Book by AS Byatt
  • Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
  • Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
  • *The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  • The Memory of Love by Armineta Forna
  • *The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith 
  • Old Filth by Jane Gardam
  • Austenland by Shannon Hale
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye by Rachel Joyce
  • Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesy
  • Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel
  • If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor
  • Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  • Rustication and The Quincunx by Charles Palliser
  • Lady Jane series by Deanna Rayborn
  • Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
  • *The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
  • *Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
  • *Sunday Philosophy Club and Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
  • Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd
  • A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh
  • Maisie Dobbs series by Jacquelyn Winspear
  • *Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  • The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Other Recommended Authors
  • Rhys Bowen
  • Elizabeth Buchan
  • Margaret Drabble
  • Philippa Gregory
  • Elly Griffiths
  • Nick Hornby
  • Penelope Lively
  • Sarah Maclean
  • Elizabeth Noble
  • Maggie O'Farrell
  • James Runcie
  • Joanna Trollope
Dead Authors and Books People Couldn't Help Mentioning
  • Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
  • Rumer Godden
  • Dora Saint (Miss Read)
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Got other suggestions? Leave them in the comments for the rest of us to discover.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Asian Festival of Children's Content

Earlier in the summer, I was privileged to serve on the faculty of the Asian Festival of Children's Content, which seeks to "provide the world’s children with quality Asian content for education and entertainment." AFCC 2014 focused on India, lasted for six days, and drew 938 delegates from 27 countries. I spoke on several panels but also managed to enjoy the sights, tastes, smells, and sounds of Singapore, the third wealthiest country in the world.

My first panel was titled Young Adult Books as Windows and Mirrors. Here's the description: "Do books serve as a window to a different life or a mirror for your own? Mitali Perkins and Sampurna Chattarji examine why it’s important that young adult audiences have books that not only provide insight to the lives of others but also serve as mirrors of their own lives and cultures."

Next came The Vast Spread of the Sea: Asian Diaspora Writers and the Works, featuring author Gabrielle Wang, Illustrator Il Sung Na, and myself. "In this panel, we ask Asian authors who have worked in the UK, Australia, and the USA to speak on their experiences as creators of Asian descent. What issues, if any, remain universal to the Asian diaspora experience? What challenges have these creators faced and how did they overcome them to get published? Find out!"

Third and last, I spoke on Writing About Different Cultures with Gabrielle Wang. "As our global society embraces multiculturalism more and more, the question of how to tell effective stories that speak to multicultural communities become ever more important. How should writers, illustrators, and other story creators responsibly address writing about different cultures? Join in the discussion in this panel."

Fun to meet online friends in person, like Daphne Lee, Scholastic Asia editor...
... and Sayoni Basu, editor with India's Duckbill Books.
Editors Cheryl Robson (left) of the U.K. and Sayoni Basu (right) of India talked about acquisitions. Stacy Whitman of Tu Books (center) ably represented North American editors and publishers.
My turn to present: "Young Adult Books as Windows and Mirrors."
AFCC staff and volunteers were excellent at spoiling us. Many of our "Makan and Mingle" events took place on the top floor of the Singapore National Library, and featured a glorious 360 degree view.
The Children's Room at the Singapore National Library.
Bookseller Denise Tan of Closetful of Books organized my author visit to the ISS International School of Singapore.
Spoke with 9th graders from many Asian countries about stories between cultures.
I always feel at home in a roomful of global nomads and Third Culture kids.
A sweet-faced Indonesian student asked for a picture. Who could say no to that smile? Not me.
My extracurricular activities included a visit to the National Orchid Garden.  At every turn, you catch your breath and squelch a desire to burst into applause, because what will the other tourists think? Oh, well. Go ahead. They've all become flower and fountain paparazzi.
Perk of solo travel: paying closer attention to the symmetry, detail, and elegance at the National Museum of Singapore. A volunteer docent presented an enthralling 2.5 hours of history, full of unforgettable stories from the nation as well as from his own life. "Confucian families sadly didn't honor girl children as much as boys. During the time of hardship after the war, for example, girls were given to Malay families for adoption. One particular Chinese family had three daughters and two sons. They fought hard and somehow managed to keep the family intact, but the girls were not educated while the sons went to school. How do I know?" He hesitated to check his emotion. "Because I was one of those boys."
How do you know you're in Little India on a Sunday afternoon? By the monsoon rains, spicy vegetable biryani and sweet lassi, painted windows, and hundreds of Indians, strolling, shopping, and people-watching, just like you.
Need a break from the equatorial sun? Nothing better than a good book, a cup of Darjeeling, and biscuits in the Writer's Bar, where Ernest Hemingway and W. Somerset Maugham enjoyed different kinds of beverages.
 Last but not least, don't skip a moonlit riverboat ride. Glorious! Right, Junko (Yokota) and Marjorie (Coughlan)?
AFCC 2015 will be held from May 29 – June 7 in Singapore, and the country of focus is China. My recommendation? Don't miss it!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

2014 South Asia Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature


The South Asia Book Award (SABA) is given annually for up to two outstanding works of literature, from early childhood to secondary reading levels, which accurately and skillfully portrays South Asia or South Asians in the diaspora, that is the experience of individuals living in South Asia, or of South Asians living in other parts of the world. Up to five Honor Books and Highly Commended Books are also  recognized by the award committee.

 2014 Winners

A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum, 2013)

Before India was divided, three teens, each from wildly different backgrounds, cross paths. And then, in one moment, their futures become irrevocably intertwined. Tariq, Anupreet, Margaret are as different as their Muslim, Sikh, and British names. But in that one moment, their futures become entirely dependent on one another. (Grades 8 and up).

Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby (Kids Can Press, 2013)

Razia dreams of getting an education, but in her small village in Afghanistan, girls haven’t been allowed to attend school for many years. When a new girls’ school opens in the village, a determined Razia must convince her father and oldest brother that educating her would be best for her, their family and their community. Based on the true stories of the students of the Zabuli Education Center for Girls just outside of Kabul (Grades 3-8).

 

2014 Honor Books

Bye, Bye, Motabhai! by Kala Sambasivan, illustrations by Ambika Sambasivan (Yali Books, 2013). Pavan, an over-worked camel in the city of Ahmedabad, India, hates his job. He often dreams of being a racing camel in Dubai. But hitched to a heavy vegetable cart and with his owner Motabhai around, how is this possible? (Grades pre-K-3).

Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty, illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez (Amazon Publishing, 2013). Mohandas Gandhi’s 24-day March to the Sea, from March 12 to April 5, 1930, was a pivotal moment in India’s quest to become an independent country no longer ruled by Great Britain (Grades 3 and up).

 The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia (Peachtree, 2013). The arrival of a new student, Marwa, a fellow fifth-grader who is a strict Muslim, helps Aliya come to terms with her own lukewarm practice of the faith and her embarrassment of others’ reactions to their beliefs (Grades 4-7).

Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums by Lewis Helfand, art by Sachin Nagar (Campfire, an imprint of Kalyani Navyug Media, 2013). Mother Teresa knew from a young age that she wanted to become a nun. What she could not envision was where that service to God would take her, until she was sent to Calcutta to teach (Grades 6 and up).

2014 Highly Commended Books

 

The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna written and illustrated by Demi (Wisdom Tales, 2013). Set in a peaceful kingdom in India more than 5000 years ago, this is the enchanting tale of the child Krishna, who is sent by the God Vishnu to aid humanity (Grades K and up).

Gobble You Up! by Gita Wolf, art by Sunita (Tara Books, 2013). In this adaptation of a traditional oral Rajasthani trickster tale, a wily jackal, who is too lazy to go hunting himself, challenges his best friend to catch 12 fish. The narrative unfolds in cumulative rhyme, accompanied by distinctive finger paintings created in the ancient Mandna style (Grades pre-K-3).

In Andal’s House by Gloria Whelan, illustrations by Amanda Hall (Sleeping Bear Press, 2013). As a young boy in Gujarat, Kumar sometimes feels like he lives in two worlds. The old world where people and their choices are determined by prejudice and bigotry; and the modern world: in this world Kumar can be friends with whomever he chooses and his future looks bright (Grades K-3).

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman (Harry N. Abrams, 2013). Tara’s not sure she wants to have a bat mitzvah. Even though she’s attended Hebrew school, her mother’s Indian heritage has a pull on her, and she wonders if she dishonors her Indian grandparents by declaring her Judaism (Grades 5-8).

Torn by David Massey (Chicken House, 2013). The story follows Ellie, a 19-year-old British medic, during her tour of duty in Afghanistan. Her squad is attached to a small troop of American SEALs who must find a hidden cache of arms and learn about a children’s army that is fighting both the Western Coalition and the Taliban (Grades 8 and up).

The 2014 South Asia Book Award Ceremony will be held in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, October 18, 2014.