The Return of Racist Jokes

The Toronto Star, in Race is the New 'Sex' in Today's Pop Culture, comments on an upswing in ethnic jokes among teenagers that I've noticed even in our very politically correct town:
Ryan (Hearst), 19, says he and his friends will often make racist jokes towards one another. "A black friend of mine will take my keys or something and poke fun at himself for stealing," Ryan says. His Asian roommate is also fair game ... Laughing at each other just shows how close and comfortable they all are... "We couldn't go to people we don't know and make those kind of jokes, because who knows how people will react? There always has to be lines. Without lines and rules, there's chaos."
For this intimacy-hungry generation, then, it seems that lines aren't drawn between WHAT you can and can't say when it comes to race-related comments, but between specific groups of people to WHOM you say them. Does that mean anything goes as long as a person is in your posse? Or are there still a few absolute rules when it comes to teasing a close friend of another race? (Like a white person calling a black person the N-word, for example?) Hearst and his buddies freely make fun of an Asian friend's physique (go to the article if you want to read the guy-oriented details; I don't want this post showing up on weirdo google searches), but he lets his black friend "poke fun of himself." Is there a reason for that?

Who Gets To Write For Whom?

Interesting discussion on the YALSA-BK listserv this past week about the right to tell stories featuring American Indian characters. Here was my contribution:
It gets complicated when the person telling the story is a descendant of the oppressor. Can a powerful person articulate the experience of the powerless? I suppose she must if the powerless cannot speak for herself. Bottom line: an insider who has suffered earns the right to tell the story in a way that's unattainable for even the most compassionate, intuitive, talented outsider.

But even two insiders would describe the same events differently. And how do you define an "insider," anyway? I am a Bengali and my parents were Hindus born in Bangladesh, but that doesn't make me an insider when I tell the story of another Bengali girl, Naima, the Muslim daughter of a rickshaw puller. My three years in Bangladesh and familiarity with the language and culture might make my story more "authentic" than yours, but Rickshaw Girl is still fiction, not memoir, and I am not the daughter of impoverished Muslims.

Best case scenario: let the stories be written from inside, outside, and in-between. That way the young person reading them can be in charge, as story is always a dialectic between hearer and teller.

For those interested in pursuing the question of who has the right to tell a story, I refer you to two of my favorite, now-classic articles: Against Borders, by Hazel Rochman, published in the March/April 1995 Horn Book Magazine, and Insiders, Outsiders, and the Question of Authenticity: Who Shall Write For African American Children? by Nina Mikkelson, published in the African American Review, Spring 1998.
I received this stimulating challenge from another member of the group:
I found this phraseology so interesting that I am e-mailing you offlist to find out: Is one considered a "descendant of the oppressor" if one's ancestors, while European, did not come to the U.S. until the 20th century? ... Are all white people descendants of the oppressor, or only those who can trace their ancestry to the Mayflower or the Revolutionary War or pre-Civil War, etc.? ... Is one presumed to have had ancestors who were "oppressors" based solely upon the fact that that person is white or should one's actual ancestors actually have oppressed someone? And, if the latter, how would one know without a full family tree?
Here was my answer:
Your question was thought-provoking, and I appreciate it, because it made me realize that even though I'm not white, I am still enjoying the benefits of those who came first and stole the land from the people who lived here. That stains my hands, too. I suppose, then, that all non-natives are seen as beneficiaries of the genocide and outsiders, whether descendants of the Puritans or descendants of later immigrants, which means I must redefine my statement to "those considered outsiders or oppressors by the suffering people must tread VERY carefully when they tell the stories of the suffering people." In the case of the American Indians, that might mean all of us immigrants residing in this land -- except perhaps the descendants of anybody brought here against their will (slaves)? Thanks for helping me to move along. I hope that is more clear; if not, keep asking.
Anybody else want to leap in and clarify the discussion? For more interesting reading, fellow fans of the Little House on the Prairie books can check out your discomfort factor as you read an "insider's" response to Ms. Wilder's depiction of Osage history.

Weekly Reader's Writing Magazine

I'm happy to announce that my article about creating a sense of place, "A Whole New World," is in this month's issue of Weekly Reader's Writing magazine, an excellent tool for young writers edited by the brilliant Sandhya Nankani. Check out the magazine's writing contest for teens called Take Me Away (.pdf download), scheduled to be judged by Ursula K. Le Guin. Also featured and interviewed in the October issue of Writing are two of my favorite authors, Isabel Allende and Gail Carson Levine, author of the new book Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly.

The Canine-Americanization of Mitali

"Get away from that animal!" my mother called out. "He'll bite!"

Dogs wandered the streets in the city of my birth, Kolkata, India. They were wild, skinny, cowering, and sometimes rabid, and my thoroughly non-westernized parents taught us to fear them. When we moved to a country where some people seemed to revere dogs more than they did their aged relatives, I just didn't get the great American pet fixation.

But then I became a Mom. Reluctantly, in response to the begging and wheedling of two four-year-olds, I agreed to acquire Strider. Over the years, I moved from keeping a distance to letting him follow me around the house with adoring eyes. And then I actually found myself becoming thankful for his presence. Immensely so, because when our boys got older and became more taciturn, still the conversations, stories, and jokes about Strider continued. They jettisoned stuffed animals and squirmed away from kisses, but affection for and nurture of their dog intensified every year. Basically, he kept their hearts soft and open, and I became a firm believer in the power of dog therapy.

That's why, with Strider's days sadly numbered, we brought Zipper home yesterday. As I write this with our new puppy's body nestled against my feet, I realize that my own tenderness towards him might be one of the biggest leaps I've ever made across cultures. Of course, I still have high expectations when it comes to the younger generation respecting and caring for ancient relatives -- which Strider thinks is a most excellent cultural practice.

Kahani's 2nd Annual Young Writers Contest

Kahani, a South Asian literary magazine for children, invites all storytellers between the ages of 6 and 11 to write a 500-word short story:
The theme? It's up to you. But your story must use the words turmeric, river, and cousin.

Entries will be divided into two age groups: 6-8 and 9-11. Sangeeta Mehta, associate editor at Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, will judge the stories. Manuscripts must be postmarked no later than Sunday, December 17, 2006. Visit Kahani for complete rules and an entry form.

The two 1st place stories will be announced in January 2007 and we will post them on our site for you to read. But young artists take note: we want you to illustrate the winning stories. That’s right! In Part II of the Kahani contest, we will post a call to artists to illustrate the 1st place stories. We will have more details on the illustration contest early next year. For now, start writing!

As the top prize, the 1st place stories and illustrations will be published in the Spring 2007 issue of Kahani. The winners will also get a check for $50 each. Second place winners will receive a $50 gift basket, courtesy of Barefoot Books, a Cambridge-based publisher of multicultural literature. Our 3rd place finishers will each get a $25 Borders gift card.

Real YAs Speak Out: Sixteen by Sixteen

Sparrow, the protagonist of my novels for Dutton, is sixteen. That's why I found Time's series of essays authored by sixteen-year-olds so fascinating. What are sixteen-year-olds thinking about? Pressure, decisions, relationships, academics, careers, racism, how they differ from their parents ... Check it out, especially if you write or read YA novels. How do the fictional sixteen-year-olds we're reading and writing about match up to these real teens, many of whom dwell between cultures?

Sculpting a Novel

When it comes to art, you might think that writing a young adult novel and sculpting a masterpiece are two quite different processes. But as I'm slaving over the second story about Sparrow Righton, First Daughter, this description by a sculptor written in 1540 provided some encouragement:
For this work, a violent and continuous straining of all a man's strength is required, which brings great harm to his body and holds many definite dangers to his life. In addition, this art holds the mind of the artificer in suspense and fear regarding its outcome and keeps his spirit disturbed and almost continually anxious ... But, with all this, it is a profitable and skillful art and in large part delightful.
Source: V. Biringuccio, "The Bronze Founder," in La Pirotechnia (Venice, 1540).

Love, Muslim American Style

The New York Times reports on an event organized by the Islamic Society of North America that is trying to bring about "hybrid" marriages among conservative Muslim Americans, a practice that falls slightly to the left of traditionally arranged marriages:

Scores of parents showed up at the marriage banquet to chaperone their children. Many had gone through arranged marriages — meeting the bride or groom chosen by their parents sometimes as late as their wedding day and hoping for the best. They recognize that the tradition is untenable in the United States, but still want to influence the process.

The banquet is considered one preferable alternative to going online, although that too is becoming more common. The event was unquestionably one of the big draws at the Islamic Society of North America’s annual convention, which attracted thousands of Muslims to Chicago over Labor Day weekend, with many participants bemoaning the relatively small pool of eligible candidates even in large cities.

There were two banquets, with a maximum 150 men and 150 women participating each day for $55 apiece. They sat 10 per table and the men rotated every seven minutes.

At the end there was an hourlong social hour that allowed participants time to collect e-mail addresses and telephone numbers over a pasta dinner with sodas. (Given the Muslim ban on alcohol, no one could soothe jumpy nerves with a drink.) Organizers said many of the women still asked men to approach their families first. Some families accept that the couple can then meet in public, some do not.

A few years ago the organizers were forced to establish a limit of one parent per participant and bar them from the tables until the social hour because so many interfered. Parents are now corralled along one edge of the reception hall, where they alternate between craning their necks to see who their adult children are meeting or horse-trading bios, photographs and telephone numbers among themselves.

Note that in the paragraph above, the writer, Neil MacFarquhar, carefully chose words to reveal the generational power shift that takes place within immigrant communities. In the old world, children are "forced" into marriages "arranged" by their elders; in the new world, parents are "barred" from "interfering" and "corralled" into the powerless gesture of "craning their necks to see."

Tiger Tales: Hispanic Heritage Month

Con permiso, the Fire Escape is delighted to excerpt the newest issue of Tiger Tales, a wonderful bimonthly newsletter from, a project of Pacific Rim Voices:
The very foundation of today's Hispanic culture rests on the original immigrants and the twenty nations that have contributed to the rich tapestry we call Hispanic America today – each one of them a microcosm of cultures and traditions in itself. With the increased numbers of Hispanic Americans comes increased cultural influence, but also more widespread stereotypes. We hope the books we highlight here can help children and young adults understand more about their rich heritage and that of their peers.
Authors and Illustrators
Author/illustrator Amelia Lau Carling talks about growing up in Guatemala, in a Chinese household, and the books her childhood experiences inspired.

Author René Colato Laínez talks about coming to the United States as a teenager, from El Salvador, his challenges and accomplishments ever since, and his latest book, I am René, the Boy, winner of the International Latino Book Award for Best Bilingual Picture Book.
Illustrator Leyla Torres' beautifully crafted artwork stands out, whatever theme she is tackling, and is at its best when richly evoking family life, and her native Colombian culture.
Personal Views
Bilingual Storytime: 10 Best Books To Read to a Young Audience by Ana-Elba Pavon.

Wisdom and Heritage: Stories about Grandparents and their Grandchildren by Aline Pereira.
New Resources
The results of the International Latino Book Awards, an annual set of awards for Spanish, English and Bilingual books written by Latinos.

Colorín Colorado, a web-based project that provides information and advice for educators and Spanish-speaking families of English language learners.

Book Reviews
Tales Our Abuelitas Told: A Hispanic Folktale Collection by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, illustrated by Felipe Dávalos, Viví Escrivá, Susan Guevara and Leyla Torres (Atheneum, 2005). Tiger Tales' Book of the Month!
Guatemala ABCs / A Book About the People and Places of Guatemala by Marcie Aboff, illustrated by Zachary Trover (Picture Window Books, 2006, ages 4-8).

I am a Taxi
by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books, 2006). This novel begins in a cell in San Sebastián Women’s Prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where twelve-year-old Diego has already lived with his mother for nearly four years, as well as with his three-year-old sister, Corina, who has never known any other form of existence. His father is held in the men’s prison across the square and Diego has a certain amount of freedom to move between the two. His parents were sentenced to seventeen years imprisonment for drug-smuggling when drugs were found taped under their seats on a bus.

Off We Go To Mexico: An Adventure in the Sun by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Christopher Corr (Barefoot Books, 2006, ages 4-8).

I am René, the Boy / Soy René, el Niño by René Colato Laínez (Piñata Books, Arte Público Press, 2005, ages 4-8). What’s in a name? That’s what René sets out to discover when his identity is threatened on the day a new girl arrives in his class – and her name is René too. How can his name be a girl’s name?!? He is proud of his name: it is tied up with his roots in El Salvador, not only because his father and grandfather are both René too but also because that is where he first learned to write it. Things are not so bad though. It turns out that René the girl actually spells her name differently: Renee.

Truth and Salsa by Linda Lowery, by René Colato Laínez, illustrated by Fabiola Graullera Ramírez (Peachtree, 2006). Twelve-year-old, Michigan-born-and-bred Hayley is having difficulty coping with her parents' separation. When her Mom needs some time alone, Hayley has to go and spend six months with her "weird" Gran who's taken herself off to live in Mexico.

Winter Afternoon / Tarde de Inviern, by Jorge Luján, illustrated by Mandana Sadat, translated by Elisa Amado (Groundwood Books / Libros Tigrillo, 2006, ages 2-5).

The Frog and His Friends Save Humanity / La rana y sus amigos salvan a la humanidad by Victor Villaseñor, illustrated by José Ramírez, Spanish translation by Edna Ochoa (Piñata Books, 2005, ages 4-8).
Papertigers also provides new book lists focusing on Latino people, history, and culture, as well as many other wonderful resources. You'd be muy loca not to go there right now.

Wanna Glomp?

I was hypertasking when my main squeezie came over to glomp me. I said, "That was the awesome," and gave him a shaka ...
No, this isn't a scene from a steamy romance novel in progress -- it's me showing off some newly-acquired urban vocabulary. (Translation: While I was talking on the phone and writing my blog entry at the same time, my husband came over to give me a much appreciated hug.) Don't worry, I'm not midlifing. (Definition: an older person using urban slang in everyday conversation -- not yet in the urban dictionary; see midlife crisis.) But if you love words and the evolution of language as much as I do, why not sign up to get the dictionary's word of the day in your mailbox? I can't guarantee that the content won't be edgy or even outrightly rank, but playing around with language is always all grapes, right?

Typepad's Menu Special: Chicken Spaghetti

The children's literature blog Chicken Spaghetti was featured yesterday as Typebad's blog of the day. Here's their description of the blogger's delectable concoction:
Susan Thomsen, author of Elvis: A Tribute to the King, whose bylines also include The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Global City Review, has turned her blogging attention to the world of kid lit. Chicken Spaghetti has been going strong for nearly two years and has fast become a source for all things where book-related and children-related meet. Great for parents, teachers, and even those interested in writing a children's book of their own -- Chicken Spaghetti is a one-room schoolhouse for learning about this quickly growing genre. Thomsen points to more than 25 different children author's websites, and has her posts archived in a variety of useful categories. While much of kids lit is broken up by ages, Thomsen makes it easy by pointing browsers directly to picture books, beginning readers, intermediate readers, and sharing her massive blogroll to weblogs of similar interests.

Montreal Killer Kimveer Gill's Cultural Affiliation

Okay, so I checked out the cache of Kimveer Gill's page at Here's how he filled out one survey on that site:

Birthday:July 9, 1981
Current Location:Canada
Eye Color:Brown
Hair Color:Black
Height:6 foot 1
Right Handed or Left Handed:Right
Your Heritage:Indian
The Shoes You Wore Today:Combat boots
Your Weakness:Lazyness
Your Fears:Have none
Your Perfect Pizza:All Dressed
Goal You Would Like To Achieve This Year:Stay Alive
Your Most Overused Phrase On an instant messenger:Heavy Metal Rulz
Thoughts First Waking Up:Tired
Your Best Physical Feature:My hair
Your Bedtime:Whenever I'm tired
Your Most Missed Memory:Being young
Pepsi or Coke:coke
MacDonalds or Burger King:Burger King
Single or Group Dates:Group
Lipton Ice Tea or Nestea:WTF
Chocolate or Vanilla:Chocolate
Cappuccino or Coffee:Don't care for coffee
Do you Smoke:No
Do you Swear:Yes
Do you Sing:Hell no
Do you Shower Daily:Yes
Have you Been in Love:Yes
Do you want to go to College:No
Do you want to get Married:No
Do you belive in yourself:Yes
Do you get Motion Sickness:Ummmm, ya. I think so
Do you think you are Attractive:So-So
Are you a Health Freak:No
Do you get along with your Parents:No
Do you like Thunderstorms:Yes
Do you play an Instrument:No
In the past month have you Drank Alcohol:LOL. Yes
In the past month have you Smoked:No
In the past month have you been on Drugs:Yes
In the past month have you gone on a Date:No
In the past month have you gone to a Mall:No
In the past month have you eaten a box of Oreos:No
In the past month have you eaten Sushi:No
In the past month have you been on Stage:No
In the past month have you been Dumped:No
In the past month have you gone Skinny Dipping:No
In the past month have you Stolen Anything:No
Ever been Drunk:Yes
Ever been called a Tease:No
Ever been Beaten up:No
Ever Shoplifted:Yes
How do you want to Die:Like Romeo and Juliet -or- In a hail of gunfire
What do you want to be when you Grow Up:Havn't thought about it
What country would you most like to Visit:None
In a Boy/Girl..
Favourite Eye Color:Doesn't matter
Favourite Hair Color:Doesn't matter
Short or Long Hair:Doesn't matter
Height:Doesn't matter
Weight:Doesn't matter
Best Clothing Style:Covered in Black clothing
Number of Drugs I have taken:Not alot
Number of CDs I own:300
Number of Piercings:0
Number of Tattoos:0
Number of things in my Past I Regret:I regret nothing

Apart from the one place in this survey where Kimveer listed his heritage as "Indian" (not choosing to identify himself as "Sikh"), he affiliated himself almost completely on the rest of the site with (typically white) Goth-ness. Why? What made him choose that particular identity as he was growing up?

Which brings me to another question that I've asked before on the Fire Escape: If you're a guy in North America with Asian roots, and you can't or don't want to wear the model-minority label, how do you define yourself? Do you pick Goth or Skater Boy or Hip Hop depending on who your buddies are? What other possibilities are there for teen immigrants when it comes to style, music, ethics, values?

This post may seem like an odd reaction to the murders in Montreal, but along with the victims and their families who are suffering intensely tonight, I can't help thinking of the parents who raised this hate-filled brown boy. What can we learn from their tragedy in this strange place between cultures?

Teen Virtual Poetry Workshop in October

Teachers & Writers is offering a free online poetry writing workshop for writers aged 14 to 18. Led by poet Hoa Nguyen, this Virtual Poetry Workshop will last for 10 weeks, beginning on October 12, 2006. Hoa provides fabulous writing exercises, and participants must commit to the entire workshop, follow through on assignments and contribute to online discussions. Interested teens should send an email to no later than October 11, 2006, including first name, last name, and a brief introduction. Space is limited, so tell your favorite young poets to act fast. (Source: Pooja Makhijani, of course.)

ALA's Becoming American: New Immigration Stories

Check out the American Library Association's wonderful new site:
Becoming American – New Immigration Stories is a project designed to provide libraries throughout the United States with a selection of excellent books on immigrant literature for adults and families. The reading lists and resources on this Web site have been developed to help librarians engage their communities in reading and discussing important texts containing rich and deep insights into our vibrant tradition of immigrant literature.

Why I Write For Kids (Reason #7)

Visitors to the Fire Escape may be keeping track of my list of reasons to write for kids. (FYI or to refresh your memory, here are reasons #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and #6.) During a recent three-day tour with Charlesbridge publicity director Donna Spurlock and editor Judy O'Malley (lunch included, as evidenced in the photo), I discovered yet another reward of writing for children: the opportunity to connect with independent booksellers, commonly known as "indies."

These are usually cozy, welcoming sanctuaries where one may imbibe the culture and ethos of a community. They provide young browswers a venue to mingle face-to-face with fellow book-lovers instead of via the impersonal glare of a screen. They support local schools by providing curriculum-based literature to students (often at big discounts), host parent-child book discussions that spark lively conversations between the generations, and partner with libraries to unite towns around particular novels. Here's a rundown of the Massachusetts bookstores we visited in order of appearance:
  • Brookline Booksmith, where in a run-of-the-mill kind of event for the store, author Nora Ephron was speaking later that day about how much we hate our necks;
  • Cornerstone Books, a spanking new addition to the renaissance in downtown Salem, close to the wonderful Peabody Essex Museum;
  • Banbury Cross in Wenham, a children's-only cottage stocked with classic and contemporary goodies for mind and soul;
  • Sundial Books in Lexington, flooded with light and staffed by a couple who obviously live, breathe, and adore literature -- and each other, although we only met one of them;
  • Bestsellers Cafe, chock-full of the aroma of fair trade coffee and welcoming seats overlooking the river as it curves through Medford;
  • Newtonville Books, my bookstore, where I get hugged, kissed, and cosseted every time I pop in to visit The Lizard's Tale, their amazing new children's space;
  • Wellesley Booksmith, sister to the store in Brookline, where the community is about to be lavished with a series of visits from children's books luminaries like Megan McDonald, author of the Judy Moody series, and National Book Award winner Kimberly Willis Holt; and the
  • Concord Bookshop (pictured below), where we were greeted with words of gratitude for Monsoon Summer and a delighted anticipation over the publication of Rickshaw Girl that encouraged me thoroughly as I crawl back into my writer's cave.
In each place, Donna, Judy, and I marveled at the culturally-suited architecture, thoughtful decor, and imaginative display strategies. Everywhere, we met staff who are passionate about providing fun and transformative literature to young readers. As they've shown time and again, neighborhood handselling has the power to set nationwide trends that's beyond the capacity of the chains.

So, as we head to the New England Booksellers Assocation's Trade Show in Rhode Island this Friday night to banquet with a table of no-brand-name booksellers, here's a Churchill-esque cheer for the independent, budget-battling baristas of the book: "NEVAH GIVE IN! NEVAH, NEVAH, NEVAH, NEVAH ..."

Children's and YA Books on War and Terrorism

I invite you to peruse two lists on this somber anniversary. First, from the American Library Association, a list of books for teens on terrorism. And second, an international list from the University of Washington, Reading 9/11 Through Children's Books (.doc file; note the number of titles from Japan):

Andryszewski, Tricia. Terrorism in America. Brookfield, Conn.: The Millbrook Press, 2002.

Campbell, Geoffrey A. A Vulnerable America: An Overview of National Security. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2004.

Corona, Laurel. Hunting down the Terrorists: Declaring War and Policing Global Violations. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2004.

Currie, Stephen. Terrorists and Terrorist Groups. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2002.

Durrell, Ann and Marilyn Sachs, ed. The Big Book for Peace.

Frank, Mitch. A Nation Challenged: a Visual History of 9/11 and Its Aftermath. New York: Scholastic, 2002.

Frank, Mitch. Understanding September 11th: Answering Questions About the Attacks on America. New York: Viking, 2002.

Gerstein, Mordicai. The Man Who Walked Between The Towers. Roaring Brook, 2003.

Goodman, Robin F. The Day our World Changed: Children's Art of 9/11. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002.

Greif, Jean-Jacques. Nine Eleven. Paris: l'Ecole des loisirs, 2003.

Hamilton, John. Operation Noble Eagle. Edina, Minn.: Abdo Pub., 2002.

Hampton, Wilborn. September 11, 2001: Attack on New York City. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2003.

Hibbert, Adam. Le Terrorisme. Montreal: Editions Ecole active, 2002.

Hirata, Itsuko. Oshiete! Iraku no Senso to Imamukashi. Tokyo: Chobunsha, 2003-2004.

Margulies, Phillip. Al Qaeda: Osama bin Laden's Army of Terrorists. New York: Rosen Pub. Group, 2003.

Marquette, Scott. America under Attack. Vero Beach, Fla.: Rourke Pub.

Miller, Debra A. The War against Iraq. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2004.

Miller, Raymond H. The War in Afghanistan. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2004.

Mintzer, Richard. Keeping the Peace: the U.S. Military Responds to Terror. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Patel, Andrea. On that Day: A Book of Hope for Children. Berkeley, Calif.: Tricycle Press, 2002.

Pineau, Marcel. Panique a Bagdad. Paris: MICHALON Jeunesse, 2003.

Poffenberger, Nancy. September 11, 2001: A Simple Account for Children. Cincinnati, OH: Fun Pub., 2002.

Richie, Jason. Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein. Minneapolis: Oliver Press, 2003.

Sierra, Hector. Ano hi no koto o kakimashita: Nyu Yoku to Afuganisutan e de tsutaeru kodomotachi no kokoro. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2002.

Streissguth, Thomas. Combating the Global Terrorist Threat. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2004.

Takahashi, Kuniyori. Boku no mita senso: 2003-nen Iraku. Tokyo: Popurasha, 2003.

Uchibori, Takeshi. Afuganistan: Yuki to Egao. Tokyo: Kokudosha, 2004.

Wells, Donna Koren. Live Aware, Not in Fear: The 411 After 9-11, A Book for Teens. Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Health Communications, 2002.

Wheeler, Jill C. September 11, 2001: The Day that Changed America. Edina, MN: Abdo Pub., 2002.

Williams, Brian Oct. Attack on America: 11 September 2001. London: Cherrytree Books, 2003.

Woolf, Alex. Terrorism: The Impact on our Lives. Chicago: Raintree, 2004.

Yancey, Diane. Life of an American Soldier in Afghanistan. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2004.

From the library: Do you know of a children’s book that belongs in this list? We are looking for additional children’s books dealing with September 11, the Iraq War, terrorism, and the image of the United States in the Middle East. We are especially interested in items that show other countries’ perspectives on these topics and in books written in languages other than English. If you have a title to suggest, please contact Kathleen Collins at

Bookstore Tour: Episode Two

Day two of my great Massachusetts bookstore tour, a brilliant publicity idea innovated by Donna Spurlock of Charlesbridge. I get to chat and break bread with Donna and editor Judy O'Malley, children's lit expert, for three days -- yesterday, today, and Monday. I'll report in on this adventure next week, and in the meantime, check out the winners of the 2006 Boston Globe/Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children's Literature, and this Publishers Weekly interview with Patricia McCormick about her research process for Sold, a novel on sex trafficking in Nepal. (Thanks, John Bell, for the link).

American Born Chinese by Gene Yang

Gene Yang's graphic novel from First Second Books just got a starred review in this issue of School Library Journal. Here's the book's description:
All Jin Wang wants is to fit in...

When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl.

Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god.

Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he’s ruining his cousin Danny’s life. Danny’s a basketball player, a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse.

These three apparently unrelated tales come together with an unexpected twist, in a modern fable that is hilarious, poignant, and action-packed. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax ...

Fuse Number 8 blogger and librarian Betsy Bird gives the book a mighty high recommendation:
The art itself is simple enough to lure in the kiddies right from the start, without ever becoming too simple or failing to convey the storyline. In the end, this book is one of the subtler discussions of race, racism, and trying to fit in. Fellow author Derek Kirk Kim is blurbed as saying, “As an Asian American, American Born Chinese is the book I’ve been waiting for all my life." The book goes beyond just the Asian American community, though. It’s a smart witty treatise that needs to be read and understood by all kids. The best graphic novel of 2006 for children, bar none.
Read the rest of her review here.

The Great Paterson in Cambridge; The Wee Perkins in Wellesley

Fellow Presbyterian Minister's wife Katherine Paterson will be reading from her new ALA Booklist starred-review novel, Bread and Roses, Too, tonight at 7 o'clock at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. I can't make it because my writers' group is having our annual fall kickoff/goal-setting dinner, which I love, but I'm conflicted because (a) Paterson's new book is a between-cultures novel about an immigrant family from Italy, and (b) she's my hero.

Sigh. Anyway, there's more to anticipate when it comes to bookstores, because tomorrow I'm driving around New England with Judy O'Malley and Donna Spurlock of Charlesbridge to introduce myself and Rickshaw Girl to a few indie owners. And finally, if any of you are in the vicinity of Wellesley, Massachusetts on Sunday, September 17th, I'll be speaking at the town's fabulous library at two o'clock. Here's the description of the program provided by the library, and if you do come, please introduce yourself as a Fire Escape visitor:
Life Between Cultures
Sunday, September 17, 2006
2:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Wakelin Room 1

Mitali Bose Perkins was born in Kolkata, India, and immigrated to the United States with her parents and two older sisters. The Bose family lived in Cameroun, Ghana, Mexico, and New York City before settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. Using a personal, humorous slide show, Mitali shares candidly her experience of growing up between two cultures, explores some of the tensions immigrant kids face, and introduces some of the richness of her Bengali heritage. This family program is suitable for upper elementary and middle schoolers. Kids are encouraged to ask questions, and discussion throughout the presentation sparks lively responses from participants. Free and open to the public. Co-sponsored by the Friends of the Wellesley Free Libraries and World of Wellesley.

Double Their Salaries!

It's back to school again, so why not send your favorite teacher over to the Annenberg Foundation's Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades or The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School? The resource for middle schools features the likes of Julia Alvarez, James McBride, Lensey Namioka, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Nikki Grimes, Shirley Sterling, Laura Tohe, Edwidge Danticat, An Na, Laurence Yep, Christopher Paul Curtis, Alma Flor Ada, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Paul Yee, Joseph Bruchac, Francisco Jiménez, and the rest (no, not the Professor and Mary Ann). Educators have to buy the videos, but the website is full of freebies that encourage and inspire those who teach between cultures (free registration may be required). Since I can't unilaterally pass the one piece of legislation that would revolutionize our nation (see subject line of this post), I can only hope this academic year will overflow with the intangibles that can make teaching such a joyous profession.

Pass The TP And Will You Publish My Book?

I'll always be embarrassed about the time I approached a children's book editor in a ladies' room to ask if she'd heard anything in-house about a manuscript I'd sent to one of her colleagues. I knew I was crossing a line but desperation made the words come hurtling out of my mouth. Publisher's Weekly recently interviewed editors about the strangest place they've been pitched a book -- it's a cautionary tale for writer wannabes that's definitely worth a read. (Thankfully, they didn't include Cheryl Klein of Scholastic in their list of editors ...) Source: Ken Sheldon, a member of the NESCBWI listserv.

MTV, the VMAs, and the Racial Divide

Watched most of MTV's Video Music Awards into the wee hours last night, and was struck by the tension between rock and roll (white people) and R&B/Hip-Hop (black people). The attempt to provide equal airtime and honor both kinds of music felt jarring. I watched with my brown boys who are neither white nor black, and it seemed to me that the show underlined the gap between the genres -- and the two races.

So how do teens like mine who aren't black or white deal with MTV? On the one hand, they have the freedom to pick and choose without feeling like they're betraying their own heritage. On the other hand, music has always been a way for young artists to fuse the old world with the new, and to be welcomed and celebrated by the wider culture. Probably because the MTV execs were carefully walking the line between black and white, there was little room for anything else last night -- apart from half-Lebanese, half-Colombian Shakira with her Bollywood-esque backup dancers, a fleeting mention of Christina Aguilera's Latina roots, and the mixed race Black Eyed Peas, which includes Allen Pineda Lindo, better known as, born in the Philippines to a Filipina mother and an African-American father. (Interestingly, the Peas also recently launched a campaign to help free political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma.)

Of course, I didn't stay up until 2:30 in the morning, so I might have missed something. But is that the reason why MTV Desi and other ethnically-oriented entertainment channels seem to be growing in popularity? Are non-white and non-black teens saying: "I want my MTV, my BET, and my ethnic-TV?"

Child Trafficking: Telling The Story

My editor at Dutton, Margaret Woollatt, told me today of a starred review in PW for Sold by Patricia McCormick, a novel in free verse about a Nepali girl sold into sexual slavery. Sparrow, my protagonist in First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, blogs about meeting a girl about to be trafficked, and I based her description on a disturbing encounter I had years ago in the Dubai airport. I dread and yet long to read Sold, as nothing enrages me more than the sexual exploitation of children. Thank you, Patty McCormick, for telling this story. I know the pen is mightier than the sword, but when it comes to sexual trafficking, even my give-peace-a-chance-flower-child fingers are sorely tempted to wield the latter.