Showing posts from October, 2006

First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover

I just received the galleys of the first novel in my YA series about Sameera Righton, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (Dutton, June 2007). Isn't the cover girl GORGEOUS? She's Pakistani-American, like Sameera. I submitted the plot treatment for this book two years ago, before Senator McCain had become a forerunner on the Republican side, and knew nothing about Bridget, his daughter who was adopted from Mother Teresa's orphanage in Kolkata. (I know, I know, nobody's going to believe me ... sigh.)

As soon as I learned about Bridget, I wrote McCain's office to tell them about the book, worried that I might be perceived as trying to capitalize on the hardships they've already faced as a mixed-race family. His "people" (an intern, I think) wrote back with warm encouragement, and even asked for a copy of the galleys. Dutton just sent a couple to Arizona, and I hope 15-year-old Bridget gets to read one; I'd LOVE to hear what she thinks.

Of course…

Pleasanton Library's Teen Fusion Night

Hey, Northern Californians! I'm heading your way this Saturday to talk about growing up between cultures at the Pleasanton Public Library. Apart from moi, it's going to be an adult-free event, so teens are welcome at 4 p.m. to join in on the conversation. After an hour or so, the library closes, I get kicked out, and the real fun begins -- movie, food, mendhi, and music. (Don't worry, I'll be relaxing in flannel jammies and drinking tea with my parents ... true bliss.)

First Reviews of Rickshaw Girl!

It's always exciting and a bit unnerving to read the first reviews of your book, and this week I got two for Rickshaw Girl. The first, written by Kelly Herold of big A little A fame, appears in this month's issue of the kid lit e-zine The Edge of the Forest. The second was from the awe-inspiring Dame Hazel Rochman for ALA's Booklist, and I danced a jig when I read words like "lively" and "moving" and "realistic with surprises that continue to the end." And Jamie Hogan's artwork is described as "bold" and "beautiful." Hooray!

Trick or What? Santa Who?

I went trick or treating only once. I was twelve and we had just moved to a California suburb. I borrowed one of my Dad's suits, stuffed a pillow down my front to simulate a beer belly, and headed out with my neighborhood buddies. But first, I had to make sure that Mom and Dad were stocked with candy, prepped to answer the doorbell promptly, and instructed about the proper method of doling out treats.

American holidays are challenging for immigrant kids. They underline how "foreign" your parents are, make you feel guilty for wanting to participate in the fun, and remind you of your status as an outsider, a stranger, a wannabe. Fusing the old and the new is hard work, but two picture books give kids like these -- and their parents -- hope that it's worth the effort.

In Shy Mama's Halloween (Tilbury House, 2000), by Anne Broyles, four Russian children long to go trick-or-treating, but their mother is hesitant. "But I don't know this -- this Halloween,"…

REALLY Good Web Surfing

If you got to the Fire Escape today via a google search, Welcome, Ni Hao, Namaste, Eid Mubarak, Shalom, Konichua, and Bonjour. I'm glad you're here and mi casa on the web es tu casa. But if you do a lot of web searching, like I do, why not redeem the time by simultaneously raising money for your favorite charity? Head over to and bookmark it. The site, which has been reviewed by the likes of CNN, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, is powered by Yahoo!, and fifty percent of the revenue generated from advertisers is shared with the charity, school or nonprofit organization of your choosing.

Nominate a Book for the Cybil Awards

If you haven't yet heard of the Cybil Awards, you're probably new to the crannies of cyberspace created by aficionados of literature for children and young adults. But don't worry. You can head over to the site right now to nominate your favorite book in the young adult novel, nonfiction, middle grade fiction, poetry, picture book, fantasy and science fiction, and graphic novel categories. Here are the rules in a nutshell (lifted verbatim from the site):

(1) The book must be published in 2006 in English. Translations and bilingual books are okay too.

(2) You can be anybody. You don't have to be a blogger to nominate a book. You can even be the author, the editor, the publicist, the next-door neighbor or best friend or just a random Googler.

(3) If a book you love has already been nominated by someone else, you don't need to second it. We're pretty smart. We'll see it. Promise.

(4) Please, pretty please, only nominate ONE book per category.

R U Published? "Yes!" Says The Class of 2k7

The Fire Escape is delighted to introduce the Class of 2k7, a group of 37 first-time children's and YA authors from 21 states and D.C. with debut books from different publishers coming out in 2007. Welcome, 2k7-ers, to the hard-earned but delightful place of nodding when the inevitable question comes after you introduce yourself as a writer. Let me know if there are any books between cultures on your list, and I'm looking forward to checking out your blog, too.

Gene Yang's Parents Get Interviewed!

It's not unusual for Asian parents to receive credit and admiration for an honor bestowed on their offspring. That's why I had to smile when I read Gene Yang's post about his National Book Award nomination. (Thanks, Fuse No. 8, for the link.) And here's something else to anticipate (from Publisher's Lunch Weekly): 2006 National Book Award nominee Gene Yang and collaborator Thien Pham's THREE ANGELS, a graphic novel in which a video game addict is visited by angels and discovers his true destiny: to become a doctor, to Mark Siegel at FirstSecond Books, by Judith Hansen at Hansen Literary Agency (world).

Writer Gone Wild

Remember the exhilaration of turning in that final term paper, taking that last exam, and knowing that you were done, done, done, and now you could play, play, play ... for a little while, at least? Well, today, that's exactly how I feel, having just sent my completed draft of First Daughter: White House Rant (book two in a YA series) to Margaret Woollatt at Dutton Books. It's strange, but my first instinct is to head straight to my parents' house, get in my jammies, channel-surf, and consume massive amounts of potato and cauliflower curry. But that's happening next weekend, when I'm flying out to Pleasanton, California for this fab event. Anyway, here's my virtual primal scream of delight at being done: WAHAHAHAHAHAHAH-OOOOOOOOOOH!

Help Wanted: Teen, Female, Journalist

From Sandhya Nankani, editor of Weekly Reader's Writing magazine, comes this announcement:

The Asian American Writers' Workshop presents a new youth workshop:

51%: A Female Journalists Initiative
6 Saturdays, October 28th to December 16th

The Asian American Writers' Workshop is offering a new writing project for high school-age female journalists. We will learn about reporting and interviewing technique and touch on specialized areas of journalism — for example, ethnic media, opinion writing, feature writing, blogging, and radio — depending on students' interests. We'll also study how to pitch stories to publications and editors. The workshop meets for six classes in October, November, and December, and we'll hone our writing through exercises, peer critique, presentations, field trips, and guest speakers. Each student will complete a major project, a profile, by the final session. 51% is open to aspiring female journalists, grades 9 - 12, from all ethnicities and…

Muhammad Yunus and the Nobel Peace Prize

I'm thrilled to share the news that Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank have won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in eradicating poverty. Since you're reading this on my fire escape, here's the me connection: I got to meet (and introduce) Dr. Yunus in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when I emceed a book launch party for my friend Alex Counts and his book, Give Us Credit. Alex (now the President of the Grameen Foundation), is acknowledged with thanks in my forthcoming novel for middle readers, Rickshaw Girl (Charlesbridge), which is based on Grameen's work in rural Bangladesh. (In the book, I show how access to credit makes an immense difference for poor women, especially in the life of an eleven-year-old girl named Naima.) Okay, enough about me -- back to the real news. For more information on Grameen and how to get involved in serving the poor by providing credit, visit the Grameen Foundation's website.

White Madonna and African Child

Thanks to celebrities known to us on a first name basis, the controversy over white Americans adopting babies from African countries is in the news. An article in the Washington Post, African Adoptions Raise Big Questions, talks about being involuntarily displaced from your cultural roots: While some may see a great need being left unfilled, international adoptions are not "an easy option," said Jackie Schoeman, executive director of Cotlands, a South African organization that cares for children affected by HIV.

"For us, first prize is to place the kids locally or even regionally. If the only other option is for them to be in a long-term institutional then we would consider international adoption."

Schoeman said there were advantages to international adoptions. Recently one of the children for whom her organization cares was adopted by parents in the U.S. and now can receive medical care unavailable in South Africa.

However, Schoeman and others are concerned about the…

Great Books Published Outside North America

This list of Outstanding International Books for Children published in 2006 is a joint venture of the US Branch of the International Board on Books for Young People and the Children's Book Council.

Source: Selection Committee Member Micki S. Nevett of Westmere Elementary School in Albany, NY, via the adbooks listserv.

Writing Workshop: A Whole New World

I'm off to Edward Devotion School in Brookline, Massachusetts (alma mater of JFK) to present a workshop for the eighth graders called "A Whole New World: Creating A Sense of Place in Fiction." Can't wait to read their writing!

BTW, if any of you review books for young readers in print or in cyberspace and want an advance copy of Rickshaw Girl, please let me know.

Kiran Desai: Like Mother, Like Daughter

Kiran Desai has won the prestigious Booker Prize for her novel, The Inheritance of Loss. She's the daughter of Anita Desai, who was shortlisted thrice but never won. This novel is all about life between cultures, as Desai herself described in The Rediff Interview: (My) second book isn't a book that is set entirely in India, but one that tries to capture what it means to live between East and West and what it means to be an immigrant. On a deeper level, it explores what happens when a Western element is introduced into a country that is not of the West, which is what happened, of course, during colonial times and is happening again with India's new relationship with the States. I also wanted to write about what happens when you take people from a poor country and place them in a wealthy one. How does the imbalance between these two worlds change a person's thinking and feeling? How do these changes manifest themselves in a personal sphere, a political sphere, over time?

A Heroic Indian Accent?

During author visits to middle schools, I share how movies and television influenced the shame I used to feel over my parents' accents. For example, in Disney films where South Asian or Middle Eastern characters are heroes (i.e., Jungle Book, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Aladdin), the good guys have "American" accents. Meanwhile people who sound like my parents are either fodder for jokes (i.e., Apu in the Simpsons and his filthy mini-mart, taxi drivers in countless movies, etc.) or bad guys (i.e., Kal Penn in this season's 24 will make an appearance as ... surprise ... a terrorist).

Now that I'm a parent of Indian boys myself, I worry about the kinds of messages they're receiving from pop culture about their ethnicity. I blogged recently about the disconcerting presence of South Asians in movies based on of two my favorite children's books: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (creepy oompah-loompah) and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (evil dwarf). …

Stop The Genocide Day

Today's Boston Globeeditorializes about Columbus Day: Along with gunpowder and the other inventions that crossed the Eurasian plain, deadly microbes also made the trip from China to Europe -- plague, influenza, hepatitis, measles, and the other maladies of everyday life in Europe. The Americas were virgin territory for these microbes, and the Indians lacked immunity to any of them.The Globe points out that since disease was the primary cause of genocide, the argument continues about whether the decimation of entire peoples was the result of systematic biological warfare or simply the "unwitting" result of European expansion. In either case, history's cautionary tale should make us act to stop the genocides taking place right now -- like the one in Burma against the Karenni (the forgotten war that provides the setting for my forthcoming novel from Charlesbridge, The Bamboo People).

One City; 194 Countries

Photographer Danny Goldfield set out to photograph one child from every country on the planet. The only catch was that they all had to live in New York City. Goldfield's finished product proves that the Statue of Liberty is still in the right place:

Between Cultures in the U.K.

Check out the debate taking place on the other side of the Atlantic over Muslim women wearing naqib. It was sparked by Jack Straw, leader of the House of Commons, who asked his constituents to remove it for the purpose of face-to-face dialog. Also interesting are the comments submitted in response to Hannah Pool's editorial in the Guardian about Madonna's plans to adopt a baby from Africa. "It's arrogance for white westerners to assume that anything is better than growing up in Africa," she writes, but many of her British readers disagree.

These Days, Young Readers Want To Escape

Anita Silvey, in a School Library Journal article called "The Unreal Deal," makes the following case about the changing tastes of young readers: Move over, Holden Caulfield. There’s a new breed of teen heroes in town. In fact, there’s been such a shift in young adults’ reading tastes that all of us are scrambling to figure out what truly appeals to teens. Of one thing I’m certain: instead of craving realistic stories about people like themselves, today’s teens are crazy about characters (and scenarios) that have little in common with their own everyday lives. As one young reader put it, his peers are hunting for novels that will “take them away to another world, not like this one.”What with all the stress in their own lives, it's no wonder teens are reluctant to read "problem novels." Can this desire to be taken away be fulfilled by traveling via story to real destinations, or is it satisfied only by escaping to fantasy realms?

The Secret of a Brown Girl

I wrote (and puppied) all day yesterday, taking breaks to tune into the discussion at Fuse #8 about the benefits (and costs) of membership in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and the conversation over at Sepia Mutiny about a postcard sent to postsecret (interestingly, Amu, the sender/creator herself, started commenting):

200 Free Copies of Rickshaw Girl!

Want to make sure your
school library has a copy of
Rickshaw Girl, my forthcoming
novel for young readers ages 7-10?
Toodle on over to School
Library Journal's Autumn
Adventure Sweepstakes
, where
the first two hundred entrants
get a free advance hardcover
for their school.

Why I Write For Kids (Reason #8)

You get to meet heroes who slog away for years doing one of the most important jobs on the planet. Take this note I got yesterday from a teacher describing the place of her assignment:
... Our school is in a high-poverty neighborhood (80% of our students receive free school breakfast and lunch). We are also a corrective action school which needs to raise the standardized test scores for our ELL and special education students in order to meet our state annual yearly progress (AYP). I have been a teacher with the NYC Department of Education for 33 years ... We have not had a visiting author come to our school (tight budget) since 1999 ...
Her invitation was so full of enthusiasm and passion that even if I weren't already planning a trip to New York and New Jersey in May, I'd leap into my car and drive to Queens just because she asked. After all, this school isn't far from the school I attended in Flushing when we first came to America; I might just meet another newly-arrived …

Sneak Peek of Rickshaw Girl

You're cordially invited to download sample pages of my forthcoming novel Rickshaw Girl (ages 7-11) from the Charlesbridge website. The book will be released February 2007.

The Skinny on Children's Book Publishing

As a true bibliophile, you never judge a book by the cover. You pick it up and scan the detailed information on the book's jacket flap, right? The good news is that now we can do that for the entire children's book industry at a new(ish) site called
... What separates this resource from others is that in addition to contact information, the site continuously compiles valuable statistics about the publishers. As a result, contains up-to-date information on practically every children's book publisher in the business. At last count, there are more than 10,000 publishers in the database. Over 5,000 of these actively published books in 2005. There are publishers large and small in our database, and you can see where a publisher ranks on their publisher detail page. In addition to children's publisher statistics, the site contains contact information and submission guidelines for many of the publishers in the system. Best of all,…