Kahani Fiction Contest Winners!

Judge Sangeeta Mehta, an editor at Little Brown Books For Young Readers, has made her decisions, and the winners of Kahani Magazine's First Annual Young Writers Fiction Contest are ... Now it's time for young illustrators out there to compete for prizes by illustrating the award-winning stories.

Films Between Cultures Win Awards

Got back from the annual Kindling Words Retreat last night with a horrible cold, but with four solid days of writing behind me. Checked in with the news to discover that two films about immigrants won the top four awards at the Sundance film festival. From an article in the Guardian:
Quinceañera, which examines Hispanic family culture through the eyes of teenagers living in Los Angeles, won the jury and audience prizes in the drama section, while God Grew Tired of Us took the equivalent awards in the documentary category at Utah's annual celebration of independent film-making. The latter, which took director Christopher Quinn four years to make, chronicles the lives of three Sudanese refugees after they emigrate to the US. Festival director Geoffrey Gilmore said: "This year we've seen a number of films that deal sensitively with the timely and complex issues of cultural assimilation and community. Clearly, these compelling stories along with the quality of film-making have resonated with audiences and jury members alike."

Is Television Fattening?

Definitely, yes. So, if you're in Boston and watching the Boston Neighborhood Network's Literary Limelight Show on Channel 9 at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 25th, remember that I don't have that much "avoirdupois" in real life, okay?

Mother Daughter Book Club

On Sunday, I met with about ten mother-daughter pairs who had read The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen (Here's a nice new review of the book, by the way). I showed the girls how to pleat a saree, fielded challenging questions about plot twists, and discussed my upcoming works-in-progress. It was crazy to accept this invitation as I'm racing to the finish line with Sparrow's story, but as I signed books and chatted with the girls, I realized I was craving a connection with readers to serve as my cheering crowd on Heartbreak Hill. Because that's where I am ... about six miles from the finish line of this marathon. I'll have to take the manuscript with me to Kindling Words this weekend, where I'll continue to be grumpy and detached until I'm done.

Perkins Wins Newbery Medal!

Alas ... it's not this particular Perkins, but a wonderful writer named Lynne Rae Perkins. Here are all the 2005 award-winning books as chosen by the ALA:

Newbery Medal
  • Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow)
Newbery Honor Books
  • Whittington by Alan Armstrong, illustrated by SD Schindler (Random House)
  • Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Scholastic)
  • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury)
  • Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbott (Putnam)
Printz Award (Young Adult Fiction)
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green (Dutton)
Printz Honor Books
  • Black Juice by Margo Lanagan (EOS)
  • I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (Knopf)
  • John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth by E. Partridge (Penguin)
  • A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson (Houghton Mifflin)
Caldecott Medal (Picture Books)
  • The Hello, Goodbye Window illustrated by Chris Raschka, written by Norton Juster (Hyperion)
Caldecott Honor Books
  • Rosa illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Nikki Giovanni (Henry Holt)
  • Zen Shorts written and illustrated by Jon J Muth (Scholastic)
  • Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride written and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Simon & Schuster)
  • Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems illustrated by Beckie
  • Prange, written by Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin)
Batchelder Award
  • An Innocent Soldier written by Josef Holub, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (Scholastic)
Batchelder Honor Books
  • Limited for Nicholas written by René Goscinny, illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé, and translated from the French by Anthea Bell (Phaidon)
  • When I Was a Soldier written by Valérie Zenatti and translated from the French by Adriana Hunter (Bloomsbury)

Sibert Medal
  • Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley written by Sally M. Walker (Lerner)
Sibert Honor Book
  • Hilter Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Scholastic)
Belpré Author Medal
  • The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales (Random House)
Belpré Illustrator Medal
  • Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart illustrated by Raul Colón and written by Pat Mora (Random House)
Belpré Author Honor Books
  • César: ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by David Diaz (Marshall Cavendish)
  • Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Raul Colón (Random House)
  • Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic)
Belpré Illustrator Honor Books
  • Arrorró, Mi Niño: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games selected and illustrated by Lulu Delacre (Lee & Low)
  • César: ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! illustrated by David Diaz, written
  • by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand (Marshall Cavendish)
  • My Name is Celia/Me llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/La Vida de Celia Cruz illustrated by Rafael López, written by Monica Brown (Rising Moon)
Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal
  • Henry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Sucie Stevenson (Simon & Schuster)
Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Books
  • Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold (Scholastic)
  • A Splendid Friend, Indeed by Suzanne Bloom (Boyds Mills Press)
  • Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa written by Erica Silverman and illustrated by
  • Betsy Lewin (Harcourt)
  • Amanda Pig and the Really Hot Day written by Jean Van Leeuwen and illustrated by Ann Schweninger (Penguin)

And The Award Goes To ...

From the American Library Association:
For the first time ever, the American Library Association (ALA) will pilot a live Webcast of its national announcement of the top books and video for children and young adults - including the Caldecott, King, Newbery and Printz awards - on January 23 at 7:55 a.m. CST. The award announcements are made as part of the ALA Midwinter Meeting, which will bring together more than 12,000 librarians, publishers, authors and guests in San Antonio from January 20 to 25. Online visitors will be able to view the live Webcast the morning of the announcements by following the links that will be on the ALA home page and at news.ala.org. High-speed access will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
It's fun to watch the Amazon sales rankings change in response to the ALA's prizes.

The Horror Of A Repeat Dress

At my senior prom, I turned up wearing the same dress as another girl (who looked better in it than me, unfortunately). I spent the entire night avoiding this stranger, my cheeks burning with humiliation. I remembered the intensity of my misery when I read about Reese Witherspoon accidentally wearing the same Chanel dress that Kirsten Dunst wore three years ago. Witherspoon's choice of dress has been described as a "debacle" and a "fashion faux pas." Here are my theories about why being seen in the same dress as another person is such a cultural fiasco for a young woman:

Theory No. 1: Maintaining your cool factor means you must be perceived as trend-setting and unique. Imitating another girl's style exactly is a sign that you're losing your edge. That's why Dunst was probably tickled by what was deemed a disaster for Witherspoon — Kirsten wore it first.

Theory No. 2: A girl's dress-up clothes make a statement about her inner self, and especially about her sexuality. What does she value? What is her relationship with her body? So when she shows up at an event wearing the same outfit as someone else, she's immediately linked with this stranger, a person with whom she might not have chosen to connect. Her response, then, can either be hiding and avoiding (like I did when I was 17) — or celebrating the connection and sharing a laugh.

For example, this is how Witherspoon's publicity people responded to the "crisis":
Although it was disappointing that the dress had already been worn, Reese looked beautiful and the bigger deal is Reese won the Golden Globe for her work in 'Walk the Line.' I still love Chanel, my clients still love Chanel, and we are still working with them.
If I worked for Witherspoon, I'd have come up with this instead:
Reese was delighted to discover that she'd chosen the same Chanel dress once worn by the lovely and tasteful Kirsten Dunst. "Kirsten and I must have more in common than winning a Golden Globe award,' she announced. "I'm definitely taking that girl to the mall."

Five "I"s of YA Lit

On YALSA-BK, where I lurk and listen to brilliant librarians who know what teens like to read, I learned this morning about five critical developmental tasks of an adolescent: Identity, Intimacy, Independence, Integrity, and Intellect. As I revise Sparrowblog: The Campaign Rant (Dutton 2007), I realized that my own voice tends to skew "middle-grade" rather than YA, so in this revision I've been striving to make Sparrow's expressions of independence and identity more appropriate for a fifteen-year-old.

The problem is ... I'm wondering if these "I"s apply more to WASP protagonists than to South Asian, Middle Eastern, African, Latino, or Orthodox Jewish teens. Will North American teen readers relate to my Sparrow, who is shy and quiet, and not into rebelling against her parents? In Rickshaw Girl (Charlesbridge 2007), Naima's angst is expressed much differently than her counterparts who don't live in Bangladeshi villages. How do writers from non-Western traditions feature non-western protagonists who don't want to go after independence, intimacy, and identity in the way that a North American reader expects?

Maybe the "I"s of YA lit need a bit of revision out here on the fire escape ... Anyone care to try?

Kindling Words

I'm dangling the annual Kindling Words writer's conference in front of myself like a carrot as I revise Sparrow's story (due to Margaret Woollatt of Dutton by January 20th). There, I'll refuel creatively and set writing goals for the year ... if I make it through this revision. And am still upright. I hear The Inn at Essex in Vermont provides in-room massage therapy ...

Two Boys For Every Girl?

What's it going to take to raise the value of a girl baby in India? A severe shortage of potential wives in about fifteen or twenty years? I hope the widespread practice of female feticide stops before then. Third daughters like me (that's me with Dad in the photo) in sonless families probably rarely make it to birth these days. I know I blogged about this recently, but today the Christian Science Monitor reported that the decision to end the life of a girl baby is far more commonly (and surprisingly) made by educated women in India.

Blogging For Kids' Books

Chicken Spaghetti writes a great blog about children's literature, and I'm not just saying that because of the nice review she wrote about Monsoon Summer. (Well, let's be honest, it helped spur this post.) I also like to stop by Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations, which features a review of a new "book between cultures," Marina Budhos' Ask Me No Questions (Atheneum, 2006), about a Bangladeshi family immigrating to Canada.

Rickshaw Girl and Jamie Hogan

I stopped by Charlesbridge unannnounced this afternoon to drop off some alpanas (traditional Bengali designs, usually chalked on the floor) that my mother had sketched to help Jamie Hogan, the artist chosen to work on Rickshaw Girl (middle grade novel coming in 2007). Susan Sherman, art director, and Judy O' Malley, editor, were glad to see me because Jamie had just sent some drawings that they wanted to show me. Sap that I am, I got choked up flipping through the illustrated pages of the book-to-be and watching Naima, my main character, come to life. I've never written anything that's been illustrated (except by cover art), and I felt like an architect entering a house after it's been tastefully decorated by a top-notch interior designer: "Wow! I built the place, but I never dreamed it was going to turn out this beautiful!"

High School Immigration Reads

Here's a great list created by Holly Samuels, the librarian at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, on immigration (published with her permission):

Immigration Bibliography

*most popular choices


An American Brat / Sidhwa, Bapsi (Pakistani girl sent to live with her uncle at MIT)

Ashes of Roses / Auch, Mary Jane (Irish immigrant girl in New York in 1911)

Behind the Mountains / Edwidge Danticat (immigration narrative, easier)

Becoming Mary Mehan / Jennifer Armstrong (Irish immigrant, during Civil War)

*Breath, Eyes, Memory / Edwidge Danticat (Haitian immigration)

*Born Confused / Tanuja Desai Hidier (Indian American- contemporary)

Chantrea Conway’s Story: A Voyage From Cambodia in 1975 / Clare Pastore (part of the series “Journey to America”)

*Children of the River / Linda Crew (Cambodian girl flees her war-torn country)

The Dew Breakers / Edwige Danticat (Ex-Haitian secret police living in New York confronts his haunted past)

Donald Duk / Frank Chin (Chinese American life)

Dreaming in Cuban / Cristina Garcia (Cuban family in exile, challenging)

Esperanza Rising / Pam Muñoz Ryan (Mexican girl immigrates in 1930s, easier)

*Fresh Girl / Placide, Jaira (Haitian immigrant girl in New York displeases her strict family)

*Grab Hands and Run / Frances Temple (Salvadoran refugees, easier)

Habibi / Naomi Shihab Nye (Palestinian/ American girl immigrates from America to Jerusalem, easier)

House of Sand and Fog / Andre Dubus (Iranian immigrant, challenging)

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents / Julia Alvarez (Dominican refugees)

Hundred Secret Senses / Amy Tan (Conflict between 2 very different Chinese American sisters

Joy Luck Club / Amy Tan (Chinese American, more challenging)

Kitchen God’s Wife / Amy Tan (Chinese American, more challenging)

*Last Cannoli / Camille Cusumano (Italian American family life, humorous)

Letters from Rifka / Karen Hesse (Ellis Island story, easier)

Line of the Sun / Judith Ortiz Cofer (Puerto Rican immigrant)

Lucy / Jamaica Kincaid (West Indian teen becomes nanny for New York family)

Namesake / Jhumpa Lahiri (Indian American boy struggles with his name and identity)

Nilda / Nicholasa Mohr (Puerto Rican girl in New York during WWII)

*Red Midnight / Ben Mikaelson (Guatemalan refugee, easier)

*A Step from Heaven / An Na (Korean American, contemporary)

Streets of Gold / Marie Raphael (Polish immigrants in early 1900s, easier)

Yokohama, California / Toshi Mori (Japanese-American life pre-World War II)

Short Story Collections

American Eyes: New Asian American Short Stories for Young Adults / Lori M. Carlson, editor

The Boy without a Flag: Tales from the South Bronx / Abraham Rodriguez

The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in America/ Edwige Danticat

Growing Up Chicano: An Anthology / Tiffany Ann Lopez, editor

Growing Up Ethnic in America: Contemporary Fiction about Learning to be American / Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan, editors

Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature of the United States/ Nicolås Kanellos, editor

Interpreter of the Maladies: Stories / Jhumpa Lahiri (East Indian Americans)

Join In: Multiethnic Short Stories / Donald R. Gallo, editor

*Krik? Krak! / Edwidge Danticat (Haitian Americans)

Passage to Ararat / Michael Arlen (Armenian-American’s search for identity)

Prentice Hall Anthology of Latino Literature / Eduardo del Rio


Tis / Frank McCourt (Irish immigrant in New York City)

*Angela’s Ashes / Frank McCourt (Growing up in Ireland)

***Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. / Luis Rodriguez (Mexican American)

Black Cuban, Black American: A Memoir / Evelio Grillo

Border Trilogy ( Mexican-American Immigration Experience, challenging):
  • Across the Wire / Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Lake of Sleeping Children / Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life / Luis Alberto Urrea
China Men / Maxine Hong Kingston (Chinese Americans)

***Down These Mean Streets / Piri Thomas (Puerto Rican in New York)

Escape From Slavery / Francis Bok (Sudanese man tells his modern story)

Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez / Richard Rodriguez (contemporary, challenging)

Kinship: A family’s Journey in Africa and American / Philippe E. Wamba

Next Year in Cuba: A Cubano’s Coming-of-Age in America / Gustavo Perez Frimat

Nisei Daughter / Monica Sone (Japanese American girl living in an internment camp)

Paper Daughter / Elaine Mar (Chinese American, contemporary)

Quiet Odyssey / May Paik Lee (Korean American)

Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American / Jean-Robert Cadet

Teenage Refugees from Ethiopia Speak Out / LaDena Schnapper (many countries covered in this series, short testimonials from different teens in each book; supplementary reading)

West of Kabul, East of New York / Tamim Ansary (Afghan American)

***When I was a Puerto Rican / Esmeralda Santiago (Growing up in rural Puerto Rico and New York City)

Woman Warrior / Maxine Hong Kingston (Chinese American)

A World Without Mitali

If I'd been conceived in 2006 instead of several decades ago, I might not be blogging right now. I was the third daughter born to a woman who wanted desperately to produce a son. If the technology had been there back then, she could have discovered my gender before my birth. Would she have gotten rid of me and tried for a boy? According to the BBC, it seems that many mothers in India are doing just that.

Back To School in Cambridge

I'm starting my school and library visits in 2006 with a jaunt to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Daryl Mark, children's librarian at the public library, invited me to meet with their Parent/Kid Book Club on Tuesday, January 10th at 6 p.m. Then on Wednesday, January 11th, she's arranged a visit at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School starting at 11:40, followed immediately by a presentation at 1 p.m. at Graham and Parks School to 5-6th graders. Holly Samuels, librarian at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, has created a wonderful list of books for her students on immigration, that I'll provide in tomorrow's post. I'll be back at the library for Family Night on January 31st at 6:30 p.m. for pizza and a book talk that's open to the community. If you're in the area, call 617-349-4409 to register.

A Teen Writing Renaissance

The Christian Science Monitor reports that pop culture is actually honing the art and skill of young writers:
"People are so intent on seeing contemporary popular culture as bad, as lesser, that they can't sort out certain ways in which young people today, because of the Internet revolution, are better at what we used to do," says Al Filreis, director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania, who deals with high school writers as well as college students. In the past 20 years, he's seen "the quality of student writing at the high school level [go] way up, and this is explained by the fact that they do more writing than they ever did..."

Overall, says Dr. Filreis, whatever the worries that teens are morphing into fleet-fingered, e-mail-happy robots, there's a genuine writing renaissance under way. "We lost it in the '50s and '60s," he says, as telephones and TVs poured into American homes and daily writing dwindled to grocery lists and office memos. "I think we've gained it back. After a period of formal writing went away, the Internet revolution brought back writing in the daily sense."
We can't deny that teens are writing again, through instant and text messaging as well as through blogs, chat rooms, and email. As a result, "the proliferation of writing, in all its harried, hasty forms, has actually created a generation more adept with the written word."

Re-Vising in the New Year

The revision of book one in the two-YA-novel series I'm writing for Dutton is due January 20th. I didn't write much during the holidays, and now I must JAM. It's a good thing that I like revising better than writing the original first draft. The word itself signifies fresh starts and second chances -- "RE-VISION." It's what can happen to human lives, as well, when a narrative arc that's not great to begin with morphs into a tale well-told, a story worth hearing, an unforgettable hero's journey. Here's to a great year of revising and being revised! Happy 2006!

Monsoon Summer As Brit Lit

Here's the Simon and Schuster UK cover of Monsoon Summer. Why is there an elephant on the cover? There's no mention of an elephant in the book. I love the colors, though, and the Eye. It's fascinating that publishers routinely assign artists to design new covers when books cross the Atlantic. Are young audiences in the UK that different than their counterparts in America?