As with most resounding affirmations, though, there are caveats. Tread carefully, writers. If a particular community is processing a shared experience of suffering through the healing power of story, don't venture to speak on their behalf. If a community is voiceless, though, we can and should lean heavily on the gift of imaginative empathy to tell their stories. Always, love someone deeply from that community and listen well. Live among them, bear their burdens, help carry their crosses. Let them carry yours. And by all means, do your research.
For your reflection, here's an article in the African American Review by Nina Mikkelson about "outsider-writing." Consider, too, this review in the Houston Chronicle of 74-year-old white New Englander John Updike's new novel Terrorist about a young Arab-American:
The main character ... is an 18-year-old Muslim convert, son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father who abandoned his wife and son early on. The young man, Ahmad, falls under the sway of a radical cleric in his gritty New Jersey hometown and gets caught up in a 9/11-type plot.Although it's not coming out until June 2006, Kirkus and Booklist have already given the novel starred reviews. I'm looking forward to what one of the best storytellers of our time can achieve when it comes to taking the risk of crossing cultures and generations in fiction.
"A book that doesn't stir up any conversation or dispute probably isn't doing its job," Updike said. "Books are meant to wake us up, or present us with a different aspect of reality or different set of opinions ... If you're going to extend your range at all, you have to step out into the wonderful world of other people."
These days, the (Hollywood) film industry wants us to go out on a Saturday night date, have a nice dinner and then settle back to ponder the grave and depressing issues of modern life. If we all go home with suicidal impulses, they figure their job is done. While Hollywood was taking care of that task, however, it appears that one more all-American enterprise was quietly outsourced to India: over-the-top, pure escapist entertainment. Or, if you prefer, Bollywood movies.After mentioning Bend It Like Beckham, Bride and Prejudice, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Vanity Fair, Connor ends the article by describing one of my all-time favorite flicks, Monsoon Wedding, produced in 2001 by filmmaker Mira Nair:
The romantic comedy bubbles and overflows with characters and plotlines like a towering champagne fountain at a wedding reception. The movie takes place during the four days leading up to a huge Punjabi wedding, and Nair plunges the audience into the thick of things, where we can observe the swirl of secrets and complications that inevitably ensue when families reunite. Nair uses nearly all of the Bollywood conventions in the movie, not least the monsoon rains of the title. But rain is not the only element drenching the proceedings. Joy saturates the movie, too, in abundance. So does color. And music. And dancing. And romance. Sounds more inviting than racism, corruption, terrorism and censorship, no?I think so. And apparently, so do most people on the planet. Wake up, Hollywood!
As he was talking, though, I kept glancing at my watch, noticing with a slightly panicky feeling that time was flying by. I was ten feet from the podium and didn't want to stand up in front of a spellbound audience to leave while Mr. Spinelli was still talking. By 1:45, though, I had to stand up and race back to the Convention Center, because my session was scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m.! Sweaty, disheveled, but delighted to be there, I started the powerpoint and launched in. About 150 librarians came, and once again, I got choked up looking out at so many people eager to serve immigrant kids. (And yet again, I ran out of handouts, even though I'd made 200 copies, so here's the link to view the annotated bibliography of best kids' and YA books between cultures that I distributed.)
A growing number of kids straddle two cultures. How might a librarian evaluate a book to see whether it empowers or alienates immigrant kids? Author Mitali Perkins will provide a case study of growing up between cultures, discuss the "pop culture push," and show how stories help kids stay balanced. At the end of this program, participants will leave with increased insight into the challenges and rewards of growing up between cultures, and thus better able to serve the needs of these constituents. They will be equipped with lists of best books for children and teens about immigrant life, and be able to understand, evaluate, and select literature that empowers rather than alienates immigrant kids.
Twenty-six personal narratives celebrate the experience of young people making a new home in a strange community—finding common ground as they make new friends, learn a different language, and share their unique cultural identities ... While written to help youth understand their classmates and friends, Kids Like Me also includes discussion questions, self-directed activities and research ideas for teachers and families that can be used in classrooms, clubs and community settings. Richly illustrated with photos and maps of each home country, the text presents countless opportunities to explore and understand new cultures and new friends. Young people who have come from places all over the world share their stories and invite their new neighbors to see that in so many ways these kids are just like me.
Thankfully, it wasn't a heart attack or stroke; he'd tripped over an empty stand jutting out into the passageway, and broken his own fall with his arm. But he was scared, and he was bleeding.
I sat on the floor beside him, helped him turn over, and cradled his head in my lap. People were gathering, and Baba wanted to stand up. He's a big man and I couldn't get him to his feet alone, but I heard a South Asian man call to his son: "Joe! Come and help!"
The teenager raced to obey. Together, the three of us hoisted my father to his feet. As I pulled over a chair and the boy's father ran for a cup of water, I noticed the boy murmuring in a British accent that marked him as a double foreigner, "It's okay, lean on me, I've got you, I'm right here."
Later, once Baba was safely home, I found myself wondering if the boy's respectful behavior towards an elderly stranger had anything to do with his Indian roots. An American fifteen-year-old would probably have rushed to help, but would he have had the presence of mind and inclination to reassure a shaky older man with comforting words? Maybe. But it seemed unusual to me.
As I always tell kids during school visits, every culture has aspects that are beautiful and life-giving as well as systems that promote suffering. The respect given to the elderly is something I'll always be proud of when it comes to my South Asian heritage. As more American firms set up shop in India, let's hope they don't outsource the false idolatry of youthfulness and denigration of the aged that cause so much suffering here in the States.
As for ideas, here's something I do. I invent a character. Then I make something interesting happen to that character. The story flows from there.It's true. My stories usually start with a character coming to life in my mind. How about yours?
So, say your main character is a little old lady. And the interesting thing that happens is that a stray dog finds his way into her house and refuses to leave. Okay, so how does that change the old lady? Does she like him? Does she feed him?
That's a feeble example; I'm sure you can come up with something much better. So, invent a character that you either love or hate or feel sorry for or are irritated by. Get that person straight in your imagination. Then make something happen in that person's life, and write the story from there.
We polled several hundred reviewers, teachers and librarians asking the following questions: Are there blogs you read regularly, and how often? Do you host your own blog? Do you feel blogs are useful?
...For those of us in the book industry, of the people who responded to our online survey, twenty percent did not follow blogs at all. Of those who did follow blogs, most were periodic readers of one or two blogs. The two blogs most frequently noted were the Horn Book Editor's Rants and Raves by Roger Sutton, and Cynsations by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Both include views on industry news, award announcements and information on new books. Cynsations also features author interviews and reviews. Other sites that received several mentions were:
- The About.com children's book site, by Elizabeth Kennedy, which includes regular reviews and award announcements.
- Book Moot, hosted by Kelly Herold, which features reviews and news about book events.
- Chicken Spaghetti, which has news and reviews hosted by Susan Thomsen.
- The Fire Escape, which is a resource for cross-cultural books, movies and television written by Mitali Bose Perkins. (That's me!)
She also gave me the galleys for Rickshaw Girl laced throughout with Jamie Hogan's amazing illustrations. Wait till you see the cover; I can't wait to show it off out here on the Fire Escape. I read the book again just now, and Jamie's illustrations make me love Naima, my main character, even more than I already do. I hope you come to love her too — the book comes out Spring 2007, but Charlesbridge should have ARCs ready by the holidays this year. Enjoy the weekend; I plan to, it's in the high-sixties here in Boston and I can see the tips of the daffies in my garden.
- First, the difference between the generations when it came to race. The 16-year-old's thoughts (or lack thereof) about being black were nothing like the reflections of his 40-something parents, and the 17-year-old seemed downright savvy about race compared with her clueless "I'm-politically-correct" white mom and her mother's opinionated white boyfriend. Bakari Kitwana, in his book Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop (Perseus 2005), thinks this generation might be on the brink of something new when it comes to race: "The mainstreaming of hip-hop culture has in part provided a space where American youth, Black and white included, can explore these new ideas together, even if the old racial politics are always lurking in the shadows."
- Second, it seemed that the makeup artist managed to make the white people look black, but the black people still looked black to me. The show ignores the fact that many Americans are of mixed heritage, and that in this culture, if one of your grandparents is black, you're considered black. In fact, you're considered black down through the generations until no so-called "African" genetic trait is evident in the way you speak, move, or look. Actors Terence Howard and Halle Berry, for example, each have one white parent and yet align themselves as African Americans. If they procreate with white people, would their kids be considered white? Does this strange, unspoken rule of race in America work for or against black people? It does provide a way to counter the genocide that can take place through intermarriage -- a battle that the original nations on the continent have sometimes lost.
- When it comes to nationality, YLA are specific and identify themselves by their country of origin. The younger age group of 14-24 year-olds are more likely than those aged 25-34 to identify with specific nationality based on preferences of their parents and grandparents. The younger segments refer to nationality as a way to be more unique.
- YLA feel that the current definition of being Latino is based on language and looks: 59% say that other people think Latinos must speak Spanish; 58% say other people think Latinos must look "Spanish" (dark hair, eyes and skin). Because not all YLA look Latino or speak Spanish, many feel the need to explain themselves: 36% say people don't believe them when they tell them they are Latino; 29% feel like they have to prove their Latino identity to people.
- YLA exist in a hybrid world and are masters at navigating their spaces and identities; 77% report that they are in control of which identity all or most of the time. YLA identify with being Latino when they are with their family (48%), around Latino friends (43%), in their home (41%) and in their country of origin (41%). YLA identify with being American when they are with non-Latino friends (31%), in public spaces (26%), at school (24%) and at work (24%). Their Latino and American identities intersect often, such as when in public spaces (59%), at school (50%), in bars and clubs (48%) and with non-Latino friends (47%).
- Being Latino means more than just speaking and looking Spanish; to YLA it means being family oriented (84%), proud (83%), hard working (81%), passionate (80%), tied to tradition (77%), religious (71%), and believing in higher education (60%) and giving back to their community (53%). YLA are unconventional in terms of religion; 60% believe you do not have to go to church in order to prove your faith to God and 49% believe religion is an extremely important part of their lives.
- YLA are extremely interested in maintaining a connection with their culture; 67% agree that this is something that is important to them and nearly half of YLA have the desire to form a stronger connection to their Latino culture. While YLA don't seem panicked, there is some concern over the possibility of becoming disconnected: 31% agree that they are afraid of losing the connection; 30% feel that they are unequipped to pass down their culture, and 25% are unsure of how to maintain the connection.
Growing Up Around the World: Books as Passports to Global Understanding for Children in the United States is a project of the International Relations Committee of the Association for Library Service to Children ... Because the primary goal of the project is to identify fiction and nonfiction that will help young people in the United States understand the lives of children living in other countries today, the bibliographies virtually exclude genres such as fantasy and historical fiction. Rather than including the best books about other countries written by outsiders to those countries, the list seeks to identify children’s books written or illustrated by people have lived for at least two years within those cultures. With very few exceptions, we limit the lists to books written in the last ten years and currently available in the United States.
February 2006 - February 2008
Newton History Museum
527 Washington Street
Teens, meet Anastasia Goodstein. She's 33 and it's likely she knows more about your generation than you do. Marketing and media professionals, meet Generation Y, the first to not know life without the Internet. Anastasia makes such introductions daily on Ypulse, where she blogs news and gossip on Gen-Yers. Pros targeting teens are very interested. So are counselors and youth leaders. Come to think of it, so are we.