Showing posts from May, 2006

Why I Write For Kids (Reason #1)

School visits. How many writers for adults get to meet regularly with readers who lavish them with encouragement and share intimate details about their own lives? At the risk of bragging, but for the sake of enticing more storytellers to write for kids, I share a few excerpts from a packet of 50 or so thank-you notes I just received from sixth-graders (emphasis, spelling, and grammar all theirs): was very exciting for me to hear a wonderful exquisite author come in and tell us what you can do if you put your mind to it ...

...I have read a few of your books and I love them. How you describe the culture and confusion of those girls is amazing. I am trying to be a writer too. But it is not really panning out ... thing I can definitely associate with is what you said about your mother and how guests can barely walk after eating at her house, you have yet to meet my grandmas (Russian and Jewish)...

...thankyou for your phenominal powerpoint presentation about your life and your…

Marina on Kaavya in Minnesota

In today's Minneapolis Star Tribune, author Marina Budhos (Ask Me No Questions, Atheneum 2006) wondered if an immigrant-striving-for-conformity syndrome contributed to the Opal Mehta scandal:Was Viswanathan as much the victim of her upbringing as she was of a media machine that would too easily buy her as a brand? Are we, as children of immigrants, emerging from our families, already a kind of walking and talking success package, susceptible to the branding that the marketplace will happily do for us? To me, the Indian facility for exam-taking also speaks to a deep conformity among immigrants, a cynicism, even, that education, life's success, is simply a matter of figuring out the right moves.Budhos' own first YA novel about a Bangladeshi family struggling to stay in America seems light years away from any pre-packaged chick lit genre. (I've got it on my nightstand and will review it soon on the Fire Escape.)

Eva Longoria: A Dual Cultures Icon

In "The Melting Pot Gets Hotter," an article in the May 28, 2006 issue of the Los Angeles Times, Reed Johnson uses Desperate Housewives' Eva Longoria to demonstrate how young Americans are dwelling comfortably in two cultures: What (Eva) Longoria personifies, on screen and off, is cultural duality, the notion that two different things can share an identity without sacrificing their distinct individual properties ...

This phenomenon of inhabiting more than one culture simultaneously, without feeling a sense of conflicted loyalties, differs in important ways from Chicanismo, the political-cultural movement that arose among Chicanos (people of Mexican descent born in the United States) in the 1960s. Chicanismo was a survival strategy for members of a minority group struggling to get along in a society that treated them as third-class citizens. By necessity, its supporters felt, Chicanismo often took an aggressive stance of resistance toward mainstream U.S. culture.

The new du…

Tales From The Slush Pile

Looking for the skinny on the life of a children's book writer/illustrator? Tune into "Tales From The Slush Pile," an original comic strip by Ed Briant hosted by Publisher's Weekly.

Oprah, Publisher's Weekly, and Charlesbridge

Last week, PWreported on children's book publisher Charlesbridge's expansion into middle reader or "bridge" titles. Now check out this news release from US NewsWire:
WASHINGTON, May 25 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Children and youth living in poor countries and in regions recovering from conflict will receive award-winning books through an Oprah's Book Club Award of $50,000 given by Oprah's Angel Network, a public charity formed in 1998. "This generous grant from Oprah's Angel Network will enable us to distribute children's books that depict a culturally diverse world while promoting tolerance and understanding," said Maya Ajmera, president of the Global Fund for Children (GFC). "GFC's books will reach children and youth in countries where poverty and violence are the backdrop of their lives. We hope our books will help them become productive and caring global citizens." Under the grant, some 17,000 books will be distributed to children …

Hazel Rochman: Against Borders

While sprucing up my Books Between Cultures presentation for the upcoming American Library Association's annual conference in New Orleans, I stumbled across this brilliant article by Hazel Rochman. I loved her reminder that no single hyphenated voice has the corner on an ethnic group's experience:
Maxine Hong Kingston, who wrote the classic memoir The Woman Warrior, complains about “the expectation among readers and critics that I should represent the race. Each artist has a unique voice.” She says, “What I look forward to is the time when many of us are published and then we will be able to see the range of viewpoints, of visions, of what it is to be Chinese-American.” Phoebe Yeh, a children’s book editor at Scholastic, says that she is a reader before she is a Chinese. Cynthia Kadohata says that “being Asian” is not the focus of her writing: “a writer has no special obligation to his or her race unless such obligation resides in the heart.” In a great story, we experience co…

New Moon Magazine Book Club

As a mother of sons, I had an eye-opening experience last night: I chatted on-line with the girls of the New Moon Book Club. Insightful comments and witty banter showed up in the chat room, while on another screen the girls asked philosophical questions that sent my own fingers flying. Wow! My mind was racing long after we exited the conversation. Now I'm back to reading masculine non-verbals to glean clues about middle school life and engaging in techno-entertainment chat. Don't get me wrong -- I like conversations about the new X-men movie (can't wait to see it), StarCraft, and whether the PS3 is really going to be worth all that money, and I know girls talk about stuff like that, too. But last night, it was all about Jazz, the protagonist of Monsoon Summer, and being a strong, beautiful girl. Thanks, New Moon!

Fourth Blog Carnival of Children's Lit

Melissa Wiley, author of The Martha Years books about Laura Ingalls Wilder's great-grandmother, Martha Morse Tucker, and The Charlotte Years books, about Laura's grandmother, Charlotte Tucker Quiner, as well as a blog called Here in the Bonny Glen, has gathered a treasury of links to blog-based book reviews, rants, and ruminations for the fourth Carnival of Children's Literature. Enjoy!

Me In The Blogoglobe

I blog, therefore I am. Kelly Herold of Big A little a fame features me as the blogging writer of the month in the May issue of The Edge of The Forest, a wonderful new children's literature monthly.

Mixed Messages in New York

Thoughts during my two days in NYC, where I attended SAWCC's Mixed Messages conference and met with the Dutton folks:

It's FUN to have lunch at a trendy Tribeca Italian restaurant on a rainy Friday afternoon with two editors, dipping biscotti into espresso while you discuss your novels-in-progress and kid lit in general ...

Editor Monika Jain of Kahani is all about excellence, and this innovative magazine for South Asian kids deserves the Assocation of Educational Publishers' prestigious award ...

After a bit of internal turmoil featuring Katie Holmes and John McCain, I've come to like the title editor Margaret Woollatt suggested for Sparrow's story (First Daughter: My Extreme American Makeover) ...

I get steamed when Indian writers living in America, lauded by Americans, and funded by Americans pontificate about how India is so much more writer-friendly than the so-called literary "empty room" of America. Okay, so most Indians are bicultural and bilingual. T…

See Ya' In New York

I'm heading down to NYC tomorrow to have lunch with Margaret Woollatt of Dutton (editor of my President's Daughter books) and Lucia Monfried, Senior Editor. Monika Jain of Kahani magazine is accompanying me on the drive as we're both participating in the South Asian Women's Creative Collective's Fourth Annual Literary Festival, Mixed Messages. If you're in town, why not join us for the free panel on kid lit on Saturday morning at eleven o'clock hosted by Marymount Manhattan College? Should be a lively discussion, especially as it's moderated by my articulate, thoughtful friend Pooja Makhijani.

Drita My Home Girl

For upper elementary readers comes Drita My Home Girl (Putnam, March 2006), a book about a refugee from Kosova by jennie lombard (yes, it's all lowercase):
From School Library Journal:
Starred Review. Grade 3-5. In alternating chapters, two fourth graders tell about the development of their unlikely friendship. Drita is a refugee from Kosova who, along with her family, is finally joining her father in New York City. In a cramped apartment and without connections or language skills, her mother sinks into a serious depression, while the girl struggles to find her place in school. Maxie, a precocious African-American child who lives with her supportive grandmother and her widowed father, struggles, too; shes in constant trouble in school for her comedic efforts since her mother died. When she sees a news report on Kosova, she decides to do a project on Albanian refugees, focusing on Drita. The girls find common ground, and when Maxies grandmother, a retired nurse, sweeps in to rescue …

Bollywood, Bhangra, and Books

While I was presenting my "Books Between Cultures" seminar at the Public Library Assocation's National Convention last March, I had only one regret: I was missing a concurrent session called "Bollywood, Bhangra, and Books," offered by Gail Mueller Schultz and Jeffrey Gegner of Hennepin County Library in Minnetonka, Minnesota. But now these India-savvy folks have posted their fabulous handout, complete with links and recommendations on books, movies, music, and dance. Follow the link, scroll down, download the .pdf file, and enjoy!

Mitali, Illustrated

Jamie Hogan, the wonderful artist who illustrated my forthcoming middle-grade novel Rickshaw Girl (Charlesbridge, Spring 2007) sent me this sketch of myself for Mother's Day, and I share it out here on the fire escape to show off her talent and generosity.

Does My Head Look Big In This?

A new Australian book explores the life of an immigrant teen wearing the hijab. Can't wait to read it. From the UK-based Independent:
Most novels aimed at teenage girls deal with first kisses, friendship and problems with parents. But a new book to be published later this month will tackle the thorny issue of wearing the hijab, in one of the first novels to portray the experiences of a Muslim girl growing up in a Western society.

Does My Head Look Big in This? is the story of Amal, a 16-year-old Australian Muslim girl who one day decides out of the blue that she wants to wear the hijab at her secondary school. Her decision shocks her parents and friends but gives her a sense of inner calm and conviction.

The author, Randa Abdel-Fattah, 26, a lawyer from Sydney, based the novel on her own experiences as a teenager growing up in Australia where she wore the hijab between the ages of 14 and 17.

"I wanted to write a book that allowed readers to enter the world of the average Muslim t…

Wanted: Teen Writers in New York

The Fire Escape is pleased to announce two fantastic opportunities for teen writers who live in or near New York City:

#1: Free Writing Workshop for Teens

The South Asian Women's Creative Collective (SAWCC) and Marymount Manhattan College invite teens age 13-17 to a FREE writing workshop with Marina Budhos, assistant professor of English at William Paterson University and author of The Professor of Light, House of Waiting, and Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers. Her wonderful young adult novel, Ask Me No Questions, recently received starred reviews in the Horn Book and Booklist.

This workshop is co-sponsored by South Asian Youth Action (SAYA) as part of Mixed Messages, SAWCC's fourth annual literary festival, and will take place on Saturday, May 20, 2006, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Marymount Manhattan College, 221 East 71st Street. To register, email your name, age, and school to sawcclitfest(at) Participation is limited to 12 students, so sign up soon!

#2: Yout…

Teen Writing Contest Deadline June 1

I'm accepting submissions for the fourth annual short story and poetry contest for teens between cultures until June 1. Here are the rules:

Do you love to weave words together?
Were you and/or one or both of your birth parents born in another country?
Do you live in the United States or Canada now?
Are you 13-19 years old?

If you answered yes to ALL of the questions above, YOU qualify to enter the 2006 Fire Escape Writing Contests! Submit an original, unpublished poem or story that reflects some of the joys and struggles of growing up between two cultures in America. The Fire Escape will only consider one poem and story per person, so send your best work.

Poetry (up to three poems)
Short Fiction (up to 800 words)

First Prize: $40
Second Prize: $25
Third Prize: $10

How to submit an entry:
Paste your poem or story into an e-mail message and send it to contests (at) I will not open attachments. Proofread thoroughly and keep your presentation simple. Entri…

Writing Place When You're Displaced

Good writing is a magic carpet that can take us to unknown places and make them familiar. In his essay “The Sense of Place,” Wallace Stegner makes the case that a person must dwell in a place for years before writing about it: "If you don’t know where you are," (the poet) Wendell Berry said, "You don’t know who you are." ... (He) is talking about the knowledge of place that comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons, valuing it for the profound investment of labor and feeling that you, your parents and grandparents, your all-but-unknown ancestors have put into it.But what if you’re a newcomer, like myself and other immigrant writers? Can you write about a place that's not the “land where your fathers died?” Will you have the power to transport a reader there the way a native would? Not in exactly the same way, no. But readers can experience your fictional place…

Alloy: It's About The Marketing

If you want to learn more about Alloy Entertainment, the book packager involved with Opal Mehta, check out David Mehegan's informative article in today's Boston Globe. Mehegan sums up what we know about their involvement in the Viswanathan case: Alloy's editors helped Viswanathan -- who had been referred to them by the William Morris literary agency -- lighten her tone and flesh out the plot of "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life." Though it remains unclear exactly what influence Alloy editors had, president Leslie Morgenstein wrote in an e-mail last week that no one helped Viswanathan write the actual words of the book that, it turns out, liberally borrowed from at least three authors.It's striking that many of the "racy" titles that have made the news lately are products of a company with expertise in marketing to tweens.

The Futility of Writer's Envy

Mark Morford comments on the envious climate at Harvard and how that might play into the so-called "righteous" outrage against Kaavya Viswanathan. Jealousy may be endemic in the Ivy League, but this whole incident motivates me to confess and purge the ugliness of it from my own writing life. I'd like to see it erased in the competitive world of rich-and-famous-writer wannabes (wishful thinking?), and especially in the emerging community of South Asian writers in the diaspora -- where I hope any of us can find shelter to lick our wounds, self-inflicted or otherwise.

Feliz Cinco De Mayo!

We lived in Mexico City (D.F.) for two years when I was in fifth and sixth grade. When my family drove across the border to Texas to renew our green cards, we were checked quite thoroughly because everybody, including Mexicans, thought we were Mexican. To this day I am chastised by elderly women for speaking Spanish so poorly. "Pero soy de la India," I tell them, but it's no use. They're convinced I've betrayed my heritage and gone to the dark side. I don't defend myself too vehemently because they're right — I'm not completely fluent in Bangla, my native tongue, and it grieves me.

It's evident that the human brain is wired to acquire more than one language, and that our neural processes are sharpened by learning new languages. In India, Hindi is the national language, but many people are fluent in English as well as in their own regional languages. Here in the U.S.A., we're a country of immigrants with English as our national language, but wha…

Tiger Tales: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

If you don't know about the fantastic resource called, head over there right now to peruse book lists, reviews, and interviews related to children's books from and about the Pacific Rim and South Asia. With their permission, I post the most recent issue of their e-newsletter, Tiger Tales, here:
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and a great time to celebrate the rich history of Asian Americans and their contributions to strengthening the fabric of this country. Asian Pacific Americans are not a single group. They are made up of more than 24 ethnic groups that speak different languages, each with its own historical roots and branches. Their ethnic or multi-ethnic identities have a long, and not always acknowledged, history. Reading the books we highlight here and spreading the word about them and about APAH month, is one way to acknowledge and celebrate their importance. By introducing young minds to the complex questions of racial and ethnic identitie…

Poll: Who is Paris' REAL Auntie?

We've been getting intense out here on the Fire Escape lately, so let's lighten things up with a quick poll. Which of these two women looks more like she's related to Paris Bennett of American Idol? Looking beyond race to the face, my husband thinks the young crooner looks and smiles like a seventeen-year-old version of me. My sons say "no way, Mom, you're not black," and think Harpo Productions may have found a successor for their Queen.
Speaking of racial resemblances, in our travels overseas, I started noticing that Asians and Africans seemed to discern the differences between our identical twins sooner than most Americans and started calling them by their names earlier. Based on these completely unscientific observations, I've formulated a strange hypothesis that makes my husband say, "don't go there, honey." Here it is.

The American brain in a majority-white context tends to rely first on hair color and eye color to sort out faces. In Asi…

Packaging, Plagiarism, or Photographic Memory?

Round Two. The word "plagiarism" is starting to sound funny to me in the way any word does when you say it over and over again. The New York Timesreports that passages similar to author Sophie Kinsella's Can You Keep A Secret? have turned up in Opal Mehta. Depending on where you stood last time, this gives you more evidence of assembly-line packaging, nefarious plagiarism, or the photographic memory of a girl who earnestly devoured genre fiction so she could grasp what Little Brown wanted. If you've been visiting me out here on the fire escape, you won't be surprised to hear that I'm rooting for Kaavya, and nixing option number two. Here's to hoping that she read Monsoon Summer before sitting down to write so that phrases from my book are eventually discovered in Opal Mehta. Hey, I'd like to watch my Amazon rankings skyrocket, wouldn't you?

Malcolm Gladwell on Plagiarism

Here's some interesting commentary on the fine ethical line between copying ideas vs. sentences and the role that genre fiction might have played in Opal Mehta from Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for the New Yorker and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point. (Don't skip the insights and rebuttals articulated in the comments).