You're Invited: Bon Voyage, Rickshaw Girl!

I'm glad you stopped by. Please stay a while, find out more about my writing, or check out some other great sites in the "places to go" list of links in the sidebar. I'm madly revising book two of the First Daughter series, but I'll be back out on the fire escape to celebrate the launch of Rickshaw Girl on 2/1/07.

In the meantime, you're welcome to download a classroom discussion guide, an excerpt, and a Q&A about why I wrote Rickshaw Girl, as well as read a bunch of reviews. Also, if you're near Boston, Massachusetts or in the San Francisco Bay Area, you're cordially invited to one of my book launch events:
Saturday, February 3rd at 3 p.m. at Wellesley Booksmith, 82 Central Street, Wellesley, Ma (781) 431-1160.

Saturday, February 10th at 10:00 a.m. at Towne Center Books, 555 Main St., Pleasanton, Ca (925) 846-8826.

Sunday, February 11th at 4 p.m. at Cody's Books, 1730 4th St., Berkeley, Ca (510) 559-9500.
I’ll be reading from and signing copies of Rickshaw Girl at all three events. As a California-added bonus, my mother, Madhusree Bose, will be joining me for alpana drawing demonstrations. And in Wellesley, Charlesbridge is serving up chai and samosas, and you might get to draw your own alpanas with sidewalk chalk.

American Born Chinese Wins The Printz!
Higher Power of Lucky Wins the Newbery!

Had to come out of my seclusion to shout out the good news! Go, Gene Yang! And ... The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (which I loved) has won the Newbery!

ALA News: Notable Books For Children 2006

The American Library Association has just posted a list of (potentially) notable books for children published in 2006 that will be up for discussion during the upcoming ALA midwinter conference in Seattle January 19-24th: Notable Children's Books Discussion List - Midwinter 2007 (Excel file).

Authors of between-culture novels on the list include Grace Lin (The Year of the Dog), Jennie Lombard (Drita My Home Girl), Lenore Look (Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything), Mike Lupica (Heat), and Vandana Singh (Younguncle Comes To Town ).

The ALA will also provide a live webcast of the top children/teen literary awards announcements on January 22nd 8-9 a.m. PST. This includes the Newbery, Caldecott, Carnegie, King, Batchelder, Geisel, Sibert, and Wilder Awards.

Poetry Friday: Benediction

The ancient spruce in stately stillness receives it.
Flagstones glisten like copper platters, rinsed from a day's use.
Hostas, glossy and open-palmed, quiver in delight.
Weeping, a Japanese cherry bows even lower.

— Mitali Perkins

It's Mitali's Download Day!

Hot off the presses, here are some .pdf files for your reading pleasure:

1. A Q&A about how and why I wrote Rickshaw Girl (Charlesbridge, February 2007).

2. Page one and page two of an interview conducted by 11-year-old Emily (see photo) of G9 Girls Magazine.

3. Page 35 in Penguin/Putnam's Spring Catalog
featuring my forthcoming novel, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (Dutton, June 2007).

And please feel free to visit (and comment on) an early version of Sparrowblog, an on-line journal featuring posts from Sameera, the main character in this two-book series.

Ethnic Book Awards: Discriminatory or Necessary?

Maybe it's because of my involvement with the Cybils, or maybe it's just anticipating watching the Amazon sales rankings of the soon-to-be-announced Newbery books go nuts, but I've been thinking about the whole awards machine lately. That's why I was fascinated to read that in the UK, a watchdog group has threatened legal action against a book award that excludes white authors (source: Galleycat). Such ethnic book awards, like PEN USA's Beyond Margins awards, are designed to encourage writers from underrepresented communities and bring overlooked literary gems into the light. But do they accomplish their goal?

In the children's lit world, we have our fair share of ethnic book awards. We have the Pura Belpré medal and the Coretta Scott King award, for example, for which entries are limited by the racial heritage of the authors. We don't yet have an Asian-American children's book award that is awarded only to people of Asian descent. (The APALA award is given to books by or about Asian Americans just as the American Indian Youth Services Literature Award is given to books by or about American Indians.) I don't want a separate children's book award for books written just by those of us who come to the table with an Asian heritage because:
  1. The existence of such an award for Asian-Americans may inadvertently or sub-consciously knock books out of the running for prizes like the Newbery or the Prinz. ("Oh, that title's sure to be nominated for a Super Asian Writer Award ...," said the committee member to herself as she crossed Kira-Kira off her list of finalists.)
  2. Winning the Super Asian Writer Children's Book Award could reinforce your vocation as an "ethnic" writer, which in turn might relegate you and your book to a (short) list of obligatory "multicultural" reads in a book-buyer's blackberry. Your stories will then be forced on kids by adults like some sort of necessary vitamin pill for the soul. Yum.
  3. In an intermingling society where more and more of us are far from Malfoy-esque when it comes to "purity of blood," which books will qualify for an Asian-American identity-based award? Take the Coretta Scott King award, for example, which goes to "authors and illustrators of African descent whose distinguished books promote an understanding and appreciation of the American Dream." Is it enough for the author to be 1/4 black to enter, or is having one African-American great-grandmother enough? If so, get ready for a future press promo packet featuring a blue-eyed, blonde Coretta Scott King award winner.
  4. Bottom line: Most Asian-Americans don't face the same kind of squeeze out of the American mainstream that blacks and Hispanics do when affirmative action programs are eliminated.
Points one to three highlight problems with all identity-based awards. An alternative (put forth by Marc Aronson some years ago in Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes, published in the May/June 2000 issue of the Horn Book) is to shift restricted awards away from a focus on the ethnicity of the author. We could honor the best stories about war, friendship, homelessness, prejudice, humor, and romance, for example, completely ignoring the race of the author, like the Jane Addams awards, which feature books promoting peace and justice.

Seven years after Aronson's article, however, non-white voices are still underrepresented in the children's book world, and it's hard to deny that who tells a story is important. But while an author's race is definitely one factor that matters, why is it considered the most definitive? I recently heard Jennifer Armstrong give a speech about her book, The American Story (Random House), for example, during which she told us, "I am a vegetarian, atheist, pro-choice, anti-war, organic-gardening blue state liberal, and I am a patriot." (This quote is also on Jennifer's blog, so I'm not betraying any secrets.) A history of America culled and written by an atheist (to pick one of J.A.'s labels), no matter how fair and gracious (which Jennifer is nothing but), is going to differ from, say, a history of America recounted by a practicing anabaptist, no matter how open-minded and tolerant. My point being: who you are does affect how you tell the story, but why should race be the only attribute we take into account? Why not identity-based awards designed to showcase voices from underrepresented creeds or socioeconomic classes, then?

Ideally, we'll get to the point where great storytellers will be limited neither by race, creed, nor class in serving a wide audience. But we're not there yet -- particularly when it comes to those ethnic groups who have suffered greatly in history. Andrea Davis Pinkney, in Awards that Stand on Solid Ground, her rebuttal to Marc Aronson published in the May/June 2001 issue of Horn Book, argued that we need race-based awards because kids of color still need to see our society celebrate the accomplishments of people of color. This need was evidenced in my sons' middle school recently, when all the African-American students in the auditorium rose spontaneously to their feet to recite the Pledge of Allegiance during Governor Deval Patrick's inauguration. It was a beautiful moment -- but Patrick wasn't elected the Coretta Scott King Governor of Massachusetts, now, was he?

For more on this theme, listen to a 44-minute panel discussion called "Literature of Color: Myth or Reality," read Cynthia Leitich Smith's reflection on segregation and shelf space, or consider Linda Sue Park's article on the Paper Tigers site, Life With A Hyphen: Reading and Writing as a Korean-American.

Title Poll Results

Over the last three weeks, I ran a title mini-poll on the Fire Escape for my young adult novel coming from Random House in 2008. Forty-one people chose between three possibilities without knowing anything about the subject matter of the book, and here are the results:

Answers Votes Percent
Asha Means Hope 20 49%
The Secret Keeper 16 39%
Family Secrets 5 12%

I've now eliminated Family Secrets, with apologies to the five who liked it (maybe one of you should write that book.) I'm toying with the idea of a series, with a first novel titled The Secret Keeper: Asha Means Hope, and the second one titled The Secret Keeper: Shanti Means Peace or something like that. But we'll see what happens. Anyway, thanks for voting! I was surprised by how many of you liked Asha Means Hope, and will pass that news on to my editor. There's still time, so feel free to opine if you're so moved ...

New Yahoo Group For Middle School Book Folk

If you tuned into last week's discussion about books for younger YAs, you might want to join a new group for people interested in focusing on lit for middle schoolers -- that's middle school, not middle grade -- intiated by former bookseller and teacher Richie Partington.

Poetry Friday: Wordsworth, Bengali-Style

Dinner party in our Flushing apartment. Six or seven heavy saucepans simmering on the stove; three rice cookers stuffed with biryani made the day before. Ma, bedecked in a banarasi saree and bejeweled in her bridal gold, stuffing tomato halves with egg salad. The apartment, spotless, chairs borrowed from a neighbor waiting in semi-circles for guests to claim. Baba, buzzing people into the lobby, throwing open the door and greeting friends with jokes and compliments.

Loud laughter fills the hallway as people wait to take off shoes and kids head into our bedroom to play Carrom, Scrabble, or 29 with cards. Inevitably, someone pulls out Ma's harmonium, and a Tagore song's sinuous, minor-key melody saddens my nine-year-old soul, even though I don't get the high Bangla lyrics.

Then Baba calls for quiet. It's time to recite the poems he's been helping us memorize over the past several weeks. He picked a Tagore poem for Sonali, Have You Not Heard His Silent Steps?, and she delivers it flawlessly in Bangla and English. Rupali produces I Remember, I Remember by Thomas Hood and the room murmurs with the sentiment of gazing back at a childhood home. When it's my turn, I clasp my hands behind my back, gaze up at the ceiling just as Baba taught us, and launch into William Wordsworth's Daffodils:

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: --
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

Baba is listening with eyes closed, holding the tape recorder's mike in front of my mouth. I have no idea what "pensive" or "jocund" or "sprightly" mean, I've never seen daffodils, and I can't know that this very poem will leap into mind intact every April in New England decades down the road. But when I'm done, my eyes go immediately to Baba's face, and judging by the pleasure I see there, I know we've succeeded once again in giving our guests the incomparable gift of a poem.

Hey! A Librarian's Being Meme To Me!

Thanks to Librarian Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy, I get to share five surprising things about myself on the Fire Escape today. So gather around, my precious, it's time to tell some secrets (which reminds me, if you haven't voted in my book title poll yet, please contribute your opinion in the sidebar to the right as it's neck and neck between two of the possibilities).

1. Once upon a time (the sixties), in a galaxy far, far away (India), a globular baby reluctantly entered the atmosphere three weeks past her due date, shattering the hospital's weight record at almost eleven pounds.

2. That baby just didn't like being hurried. She finally "bloomed" at age fourteen, lost her last baby tooth at age eighteen, and crept into the children's section of the Palo Alto Library every college final exam week for a kid read stress reliever.

3. Still plodding along as a writer, she published her second book twelve years after the first.

4. The doctor measures her blood pressure twice because it's so unbelievably low; her blood has been described as "thick" because it chugs so slowly through her veins. While "jogging" around a local pond, she's lapped frequently by children too small to be upright and tiny dogs with three-inch legs.

5. She doesn't like tag or hide-and-seek; playing them makes her feel rushed and like she has to go pee.

This is my third year of blogging and the first time ever I'm participating in a meme (see -- I'm still delayed), but I guess you're supposed to say "you're it" to some other blogging types. Okay, I'm going to tag two buddies in my Newton Free Library writers' group, J.L. Bell (of Oz and Ends fame) and Karen Day (a classof2k7-er, Tall Tales/Wendy Lamb Books/Spring 2007), and then I'm heading to the bathroom.

A South Asian Cab Driver? Surprise, Surprise!

Will someone puh-leeze write a South Asian part for the small-screen that doesn't involve wielding a gun or driving a cab? I already griped about this in my post about Heroes, but obviously the terrorist-or-taxi motif isn't irritating anybody else but me, as it's happening again tonight in a new show called The Knights of Prosperity:
Back home in India, Gourishankar "Gary" Subramaniam (Maz Jobrani) was a superstar lawyer, but here in New York City he drives a cab to make ends meet. Reluctant to join the group at first, Gary has a change in heart when Eugene reminds him that, although he was a winner at home, here he chauffeurs old ladies to Broadway matinees. (Source: SAJA)
Jobrani's not even Indian to begin with, so now we have an Iranian-American actor forced to fake a generic Indian accent. Yippee. Meanwhile, my son's just used part of his iTunes gift card to download The Office's Diwali episode. I'm hoping that watching with him might help me lighten up and ignore the omnipresent life-in-the-margins commentary that goes on in my head. That inner voice reminds me of a certain type of tweedy guy you date only once -- they're both politically aware but relentlessly mirthless.

Is a Sixth Grader a Young Adult?

Here's my peeve about writing for middle schoolers (ages 10-14): when it comes to library budgets, review space, and award competitions, our books have to compete with hefty (thematically and word-count-wise) reads targeted for high schoolers. You gotta wonder if adult gatekeepers favor older YA novels because they read more like adult literature, as evidenced by the interesting discussion on author Justine Labarlestier's blog (source: Chicken Spaghetti) and the adbooks listerv.

Exceptions abound of course, but there's a big difference between an eleven-year-old and a seventeen-year-old when it comes to literary appetite, maturity, and attention span. I thought the books nominated for the Cybils in the middle reader category, for example, were perfect for most 8-12 year olds. But in the YA category, it seems odd that Hattie Big Sky (classified by School Library Journal as a middle school read) has to compete with Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (which Booklist considers appropriate for grades 10-12) and The Book Thief, which is causing some of the fuss in the YA vs. adult lit debate.

Cybils Finalists Announced!

Our job as a nominating committee is done, and the lists of possible Cybil winners have been narrowed to five finalists in each category. Congratulations to the final five middle grade novels, and many thanks to all the authors who were nominated -- I've been reveling in good reads over the holidays thanks to you!