Friday, March 30, 2007

My Article in SLJ's Curriculum Connections

Editor Daryl Grabarek, who attended my Books Between Cultures presentation at ALA's convention in New Orleans, invited me to write an article for School Library Journal's Curriculum Connections spring 2007 issue that would be loosely based on that talk. Here it is: No Place Like Home: Books Can Create a Strong Sense of Place.

Cybils Middle Grade folks will no doubt recognize most of the titles I laud -- we were in the throes of the nominating process when I wrote the article.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sparrow and I Both Need Your Help

While you're in a voting mood, head over here to help pick the title of my novel coming from Dutton in 2008. And do me a big favor, will you, my fire escape friends? Sameera Righton, my fictional First Daughter, is going to be blogging throughout and about the 2008 presidential campaign. Check out the beta version of her sparrowblog site with a critical eye — I'd love your feedback before I launch it in a couple of weeks. All suggestions greatly appreciated, and the "vote the title" post will be deleted after I get enough people weighing in.

Sanjaya on SNL: The New Hotness of Brown

For all of my angst over Sanjaya Malakar's continued progress in American Idol, I do have to admit that it's lovely seeing tween girls across America going nuts over a brown boy. Especially when things like this are happening on our planet (Source: Sepia Mutiny). After you get depressed over that fiasco down under, see if you can find a clip of Saturday Night Live's recent parody of Sanjaya and his weeping fan base -- marking the first time, I think, that a South Asian American has ever attained that honored place in pop culture. (I had embedded the clip here from YouTube, but it seems to have disappeared from that site.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I Hated It! No, I Haven't READ it, but ...

I'm sometimes asked to mention or discuss books I haven't read and wonder whether I have the right to talk about them. Help me out. Read this quote from Jeffrey T. Iversen's Time magazine's February 8, 2007 article, Don't Read All About It:
So you haven’t read all the pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses? Actually, you haven’t read any of it, have you? No big deal, says Pierre Bayard, author of French bestseller How Do You Talk About Books You Haven’t Read?; neither has he. And that doesn’t stop him from sharing his “very positive” opinion about it. Bayard, a psychoanalyst and university professor, wants to reassure students and bibliophobes that just knowing about a book as opposed to having read it is no reason for shame. “Even the most cultivated among us have enormous gaps in their knowledge,” Bayard says. “Many great intellectuals—Paul Valery, Montaigne, Oscar Wilde—often spoke about books they hadn’t read, and didn’t feel guilty about it.”… Bayard argues that the real secret to knowledge, cultivation and passionate reading lies in avoiding the traditional, linear approach to books. “Books aren’t so much made to be read as they are to be lived with,” he says.
Do you discuss, recommend, ding, or write about books you haven't read (qualifying your comments, of course, by admitting your non-reader status)? Vote in the sidebar, please, and if you can't see it, widen your window -- good advice for life, too.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Children's Books: Passport to the Bilingual Life

My Thai teacher realized it was time for a radical intervention.

"Put away your textbook, and try this instead," she said, handing me the Thai translation of The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff.

I'd read that book about twelve times by the time I was six, way before I knew about politerary incorrectness — phrase coined by self, I think. My parents even have an old cassette recording of a wee version of me reading it when we lived in London, my British accent intact. (Note: I was interested to read in Alison Lurie's December 16, 2004 article in The New York Review of Books, The Royal Family, that "Laurent de Brunhoff has regretted his early drawings of African 'savages'; he decided years ago that Babar's Picnic will never be reprinted.")

By the end of Babar's story in Thai, my meager store of memorized vocabulary had quadrupled. I was starting to get the language — the way sentences were formed, the rhythm of conversation, the subtleties of Thai humor. Best of all, I was questioning my conviction about being a dunderhead when it came to learning another language as an adult.

If you want to get to the next step in a second language, why not try this yourself? Find one of your favorite children's books, one that you know because you've re-read it so many times, and read the translation. Here, for example, are Harry Potter's adventures in Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. (Note: these would also be great to add to a library collection serving bilingual immigrant kids.)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Kahani Young Illustrators Contest

There's still time for young artists to enter Kahani's Second Annual Young Illustrators Contest. The task is to illustrate the prize-winning stories penned by young writers Shivani, age 7, and Varun, age 11 (the story contests were judged by editor Sangeeta Mehta of Simon Pulse). Lara Lakshmi, the talented artist behind the upcoming picture book, A Friend by Any Other Name, will judge the illustrations.

The text for each story has already been laid out carefully and the illustration spots and sizes clearly marked. Download the template for Varun's story, "Hey! Is That A Yellow Crocodile?" here, and for Shivani's story, "The Clever Cousins," here. Entries for the art contest will be divided into the 6-8 and 9-11 age groups, but kids may illustrate either story, and don't need to be of South Asian origin to enter. Attach an entry form to the artwork and mail by Saturday, March 31, 2007.

The first 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. Third place finishers will each get a $25 Borders gift card. See last year's winners here: Age Group 6-8 | Age Group 9-11.

Revision Round #3: Mitali 1, Writer's Block 0


I got my message in lights with notcelebrity.co.uk ... and miraculously finished yet another revision of First Daughter: White House Rules, Dutton 2008.

Source: Fuse #8, of course.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Poetry Friday For Dummies ...

... which means, of course, I qualify to write this post. I've been researching public domain, fair use, and copyright in the hopes of using two Sara Teasdale poems in First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton 2008), and I thought I'd share a few excellent resources with other ignorant bloggers.

When it comes to fair use, public domain, and copyright issues, head straight to Stanford University's well-written, easy to understand summaries. Here's how to stay out of trouble when reproducing images, excerpts, and even linking to other sites and blogs. Law Professor Lawrence Lessig is the author behind the site, and his mission statement is to "free culture." Whether you agree or disagree, his vision is worth thinking about:
While new technologies always lead to new laws, never before have the big cultural monopolists used the fear created by new technologies, specifically the Internet, to shrink the public domain of ideas, even as the same corporations use the same technologies to control more and more what we can and can't do with culture. As more and more culture becomes digitized, more and more becomes controllable, even as laws are being toughened at the behest of the big media groups. What's at stake is our freedom--freedom to create, freedom to build, and ultimately, freedom to imagine.
I know there's controversy over how much of our creative output can or should be in the public domain, but I recommend three tools as the way to make sure you're in compliance if you want to reproduce other people's creations. To find works in the public domain (meaning you may reproduce them sans permission):
  • use the search engines at the Gutenberg Library (download over 20,000 books in the public domain);
  • try Creative Commons (goal: to build a layer of reasonable, flexible copyright in the face of increasingly restrictive default rules);
  • or do a search on Google Books, where if a work is presented in full view, it's in the public domain (select the button labeled "full view" before you do your search).
In short, you may publish a full work on your blog if it was published before 1923 in the United States. Other rules apply to works created between 1922-1978 (generally protected for 95 years from original publication date if proper copyright formalities were followed), and since 1978 (generally protected for the life of the author plus 70 years.)

As for excerpts or snippets, fair use allows you to copy small portions of a work for "certain purposes such as scholarship or commentary." There are no hard and fast rules as to the number of words you may reproduce, but four factors come into play, and "the less you take, the more likely that your copying will be excused as a fair use. However, even if you take a small portion of a work, your copying will not be a fair use if the portion taken is the 'heart' of the work. In other words, you are more likely to run into problems if you take the most memorable aspect of a work."

Bottom line: take the time to find out if you're violating copyright law. As St. Paul would say, I've been the "chief of sinners," so I'm going to wend my way through my archives and wrest the Fire Escape into compliance. Please let me know if any information in this post is faulty, and I'll fix accordingly.

Update: As for reproducing book covers on your site/blog, a question raised in the comments section, I'm (tentatively) going ahead with it. An article by Carrie Russell in the 7/1/06 issue of School Library Journal argues that covers are in the "fair use" category. Amazon was recently challenged on the book cover issue, and won. It seems, then, that it's legal for online booksellers to reproduce covers, so if we link to and derive the image from a bookseller, we may be safe. Of course, I have absolutely no legal qualifications, so if anybody wants to chime in, please do so ...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wanted: Mentor For Children's Book Writer

Lunch with the wonderful Dame Katherine Paterson was ... nothing short of inspirational (no, that's not us in the picture.) She made me feel safe enough to pose some of the questions that have been pestering me for years about this vocation, and responded with the honest, earthy take for which she's renowned.

I've started to take seriously my call to invest in younger writers (and younger people in general; I've even been asked to serve on a panel at Wellesley college -- not officially sponsored by the institution -- called "Can a Wellesley Woman ... Stay At Home?") But driving home from Vermont, I realized my own continuing need for mentors who are a bit further along the path.

What about you? Is there a person a decade or two older to whom you can turn for advice and inspiration in your vocation? What about a person a decade or two younger who seems to be seeking your input?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sorry, I've Got Lunch Plans

I usually try and blog every weekday. This Tuesday and Wednesday, though, I won't be able to meet that goal. I'm taking a 24-hour writing retreat to finish a revision, followed by lunch with Katherine Paterson (she says casually). I'll be back on Thursday, the second day of Spring.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pippi Goes To Venezuela

The world's largest children's book award, the $710,000 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature, goes to Banco del Libro, a Venezuelan network that distributes books to children. Check out this slideshow if you're having a hard day (even if you don't speak una palabra of Spanish), as the photos of children reading across the villages and towns of Venezuela are sure to cheer you up.

Earth Day Issue of Paper Tigers

Check out the March/April 2007 edition of Paper Tigers, a wonderful website edited by Aline Pereira for librarians, teachers, publishers, and all those interested in young readers' books from and about the Pacific Rim and South Asia. This issue has a focus on children's books and the environment, and (full disclosure) a school visit my mother and I made to the Waldorf School in San Francisco is featured in the outreach section. That's my beautiful Mom, Madhusree Bose, teaching the children how to create alpana, traditional designs from Bengal.
Inspired by the Year of the Boar and the approaching Earth Day–and going beyond our regular regional scope–these bimonthly highlights focus on children's books about animals and the natural environment. Read the thought-provoking interviews and book of the month feature, browse the galleries, and make sure to explore the links below and share them with others. We hope they will inspire you to take meaningful action.

Personal Views:

Gaia Opens an Eye by author Diane Haynes talks about species' extinction, miracles and hope; Drawing from Eco-riches: Australia's Environment in Children's Books by author Chris Cheng, talks about his favorite titles on the subject.

Resources:

American Museum of Natural History's Young Naturalist Awards; Wilderness Society's Environment Award for Children's Literature, ALA's Sibert Medal for Informational Books for Children; Skipping Stones Youth Honor Awards; Institute for Global Environmental Strategies Art Contest...

Book Reviews:

From PaperTigers, and Resource Links, including: Crow Medicine by Diane Haynes; Rainforest Bird Rescue by Linda Kenyon; The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis; Dale Auger's Mwâkwa Talks to the Loon; Keltie Thomas' Bear Rescue: Changing the Future for Endangered Wildlife; Jan Thornhill's Folktails: Animal Legends from Around the World and more...

Reading Lists:

Children's Books about Nature; We're Planting the Seeds; Nature Links; Eco Books; Green Museum's Suggested Reading; Theme Park's Exploration.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

La Bloga and Authentic Latino Picture Books

I just discovered La Bloga, a group blog that features posts on "Chicana Chicano Literature, Chicana Chicano Writers, Chicana Chicano Fiction, Children's Literature, News, Views, and Reviews." Children's literature is covered by René Colato Laínez, author of bilingual picture books like I Am René, the Boy / Soy René, El Niño (Piñata Books), which won the International Latino Book Award for Best Bilingual Picture Book of 2006 and a special recognition in the 2006 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People, and a forthcoming book from Boyd's Mill Press called My Shoes and I. Here's an excerpt from his bio:
Colato Laínez is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults. He was born in El Salvador and was inspired to be a writer by his great uncle, Jorge Buenaventura Lainez, at whose house he first learned the word "escritor/writer." He has been a bilingual elementary teacher at Fernangeles Elementary School, where he is known by the students as "the teacher full of stories."
Laínez is beginning a series on La Bloga called Living To Tell The Story: The Authentic Latino Immigrant Experience in Picture Books. Tune in; I plan to.

More: Read Critícas' interview with Laínez, and the Papertigers review of I am René, The Boy.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Fly, My Naima, Fly!

Publicity guru Donna Spurlock of Charlesbridge informs me that my beloved Naima's story (pronounced "Na-ee-mah's Stow-ree"), Rickshaw Girl, is getting a nice review in the April issue of School Library Journal. Good thing, as I'm partially responsible for the lead article in the next issue of SLJ's Curriculum Connections, which also comes out in April. And, according to an authoritative source, the book apparently gets a good review in the May/June issue of the Horn Book Magazine, too. Hooray for Naima!

Poetry Friday: Saint Patrick's Prayer

In honor of my friends with Irish heritage, and for those of us who need power to create, I offer this excerpt from the prayer inscribed on Saint Patrick's breastplate:

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Children's Books: Hobby or Profession?

"I write books for young readers."

"Oh, really? But do you have a job?"

This type of conversation has taken place one too many times since I started writing children's books as a career. That's why I'm delighted when a professional clarifies our vocation for the masses. Check out the trailer author Jackie Davies created for her next book, The Lemonade War (Houghton Mifflin, April 2007). Just when you were kvetching about how only big names get big bucks to promote their novels, a real pro goes out and makes it happen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Voice Of Disney's New Black Princess

By now (via Wonderland or Fuse) you've probably heard about the new animated movie coming from Disney in 2009 featuring Maddy, an African-American princess. I'm curious to see how they cast the film, and especially how they decide to voice this character. Will she sound Southern since the setting is New Orleans? Will she have an "articulate" voice? (If you're wondering why I put the word in quotes, read this wonderful article by Lynette Clemson in the February 4, 2007 issue of the New York Times called The Racial Politics of Speaking Well.)

Accents in animated films have always fascinated me. In Disney's Lion King, for example, while the child actor who portrayed Nala (Niketa Calame) and the singing voice of Simba (Jason Weaver) had African-American voices, the speaking Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) and the adult versions were white (Matthew Broderick and Moira Kelly, respectively). Anyone else think it strange that a black lioness grows up to be white, and that when the cub sings he switches races?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Page One-Two-Three Meme

Caught the wave of this meme at E. Lockhart's blog, where writers are asked to share the paragraph at the top of page 123 of a work-in-progress. So here's what comes first on that particular page in First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover:
The moment Sameera stepped outside to wash her hands, the photographers and reporters followed her, swarming around like wasps, the zoom of their lenses droning at her from every side. Jingle’s ferocious bark was the only thing that kept them from touching her. Sameera headed back to the house, remembering to wave and blow a kiss at her entourage before closing the kitchen door firmly on their faces.

Consider The Bechtel Prize

My blogging visitors might be interested in submitting an extended version of a great post for consideration in this year's Bechtel Prize (deadline 6/29/07):
The Bechtel Prize is awarded annually in recognition of an exemplary article or essay related to:
  • Creative writing education,
  • Literary studies, and/or
  • The profession of writing.
The winning essay appears in Teachers & Writers magazine, and the author receives a $3,500 honorarium. Possible topics include contemporary issues in classroom teaching, innovative approaches to teaching literary forms and genres, and the intersection between literature and imaginative writing.

A Library Can Be A Sick Crib

Last Sunday's Boston Globe ran an article by YA author Lauren Mechling, "Come For The Xbox, Stay For The Books," about the changing relationship between libraries and young adults. If you build it, apparently, they will come, and they just might read, too.
Melissa Jenvey, a young adult specialist at the Donnell Library in midtown Manhattan told me that after redoing the teen section four years ago, circulation of young adult titles rose 400 percent. "We just needed to have the merchandise that they wanted," she says. "It's like how they put the milk in the back of the supermarket to get you to buy all the other stuff."
In my visits here and there, I've been impressed with several strikingly teen-friendly libraries, like the ones in Reading, Massachusetts, Pleasanton, California, and Springfield, Massachusetts. But before spending huge amounts of time, money, and energy on an arcade-like decor, those communities pursued different priorities, like hiring librarians who love to chill with teens.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Edge Of The Forest: March Issue

They've done it again. A consummate feat. Go there now to feed your bibliomania.

The Namesake For Teens

I'm posting from KnowFat! restaurant in Bedford, Massachusetts, where I stopped on the way back from an author appearance in Carlisle. (I'm doing a flurry of school visits -- Wednesday, Wickford, RI, Friday, Andover, MA, etcetera -- don't panic, editors, if you're checking in, I'm still carving out time to write.)

On another note, here's a great review for teens of the movie Namesake from Word, the official blog of Weekly Reader's Writing Magazine, written by Sandhya Nankani. And check out this touching account of Ms. Lahiri's parents seeing the film.

Trivia
: Did you know that Jhumpa Lahiri officially uses her nickname because a kindergarten teacher opted not to call her "Neelanjana" or "Sudeshna," which were her two legal names? After this discussion, though, I've decided to veer away from a recent surge of cynicism and give people the benefit of the doubt, so perhaps the teacher was trying to ease the to-school transition by using the at-home pet name. And then it stuck.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Yo! Fire Escape Needs Xtreme Makeover!

With the forthcoming June launch of the first YA novel in my two-book series, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, I want to redecorate. Sweetly, Dutton has given me a bit of publicity money with which to play (I repeat, a bit), and I'd love to use it to make my site and this blog more hospitable. Anyone know a web designer/starving student/artist type who can usher the Fire Escape into 2007-2009?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Please Don't Vote For Sanjaya

I can't stand to see him suffer, and the potential for future pain seems great. Let him return home to safety. Are folks text-messaging from India? If so, stop immediately. Also, have you noticed how many biracial people were featured in this season's American Idol -- Sanjaya, Jordin, Jarret, Sabrina. Have I missed anybody? I don't know about you, but I enjoyed seeing so many black/brown/white combos of parents beaming proudly. I know that many minority groups, though, see the mixed-up files of the new America as a quiet genocide. BTW, why has Sanjaya's brown Baba disappeared?

Poetry Friday: Winter, Shakespeare's Way

It's 9 degrees here, with sidewalks like glass. A tropical girl gets frostbitten fast, so I'm staying on the Fire Escape just long enough to present an excerpt from Love's Labour Lost, Act V, Scene IV. Kindly replace the word "Marion" with "Mitali."
When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marion’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Are Cultural Outsiders Our Writers of Choice?

The Rutgers-based child_lit listserv is revisiting the question of authenticity, discussing once again who has the right to write about whom. One quote from a contributor (thanks, Ebony) jumped out at me:
We are biased in favor of stories that make us comfortable ... and that means that we are more likely to praise a book written by someone with our background and voice ABOUT a different culture, rather than a book written BY someone inside that culture with a different, but more authentic, voice. This is the way that insider voices get "silenced" -- they don't get published as often, or purchased as often, or talked about as often ... because we're a dramatically homogeneous group of people in this industry.
I'm not sure if I agree, but I want to hear what others think. Is there a demand for children's or teen books set in other countries but penned by westerners because the western reader (wallet in hand) resonates with that outside-looking-in perspective? With all the talk about "authenticity" going around the world of children's literature, is there still a need for a book about a particular place or culture written by an outsider for other outsiders?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Felicidades, Amigos Mios

A hearty shout-out from the Fire Escape to fellow bloggers:

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sunita Gains in Translation: Oo, La, La!

Now that Sunita's story has been translated into French, and I don't speak a word of French, I used Google's translation services to decipher a plot description from a Parisian bookseller's site. Here's what I got:
The life of Sunita is direction above below! Her grandparents come from India, Didu and Dadu, moved into the house of her parents, in California. Since then, all their practices are upset! Her mother exchanges her tailored suits against the Indian traditional costume, chicken curry and samosas replaces sushis and pizza pies, and, especially, Sunita does not have any more the right to invite buddies at the house! How to explain it to Michael, the boy who dissolves it? Between her family and her friends, the heart of Sunita balances…
Wow! I like that, don't you?

The Nam-a-Sake Opens on Friday


Check out this hilarious interview conducted by Jorma Taccone and SNL's Andy Samberg with actor Kal Penn, who plays Gogol in the adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's novel, The Namesake, opening this Friday. (Blogger Literary Safari previewed the film and provides a more accurate review.)



(Source:
Sepia Mutiny, of course.)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Mondor's Coming of Age Books

Colleen Mondor, book reviewer for Booklist, Bookslut, and Eclectica, has compiled a list of YA titles on her blog called Everybody's Favorite Coming-of-Age Novels, Including Many You May Not Have Heard Of. As an added bonus, she points out which books on the list feature a non-Caucasian protagonist.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Four Faces Of Sunita


My first book has been around now for years, which means the cover's been renovated for a new generation -- and now a new culture -- of readers. Try matching the covers to the edition (the first one's a bit facile, but I just got my copies in the mail so I'm too excited to care.)
  1. French edition, 2007.
  2. Little Brown reissue, 2005.
  3. Hyperion paperback, 1994.
  4. Little Brown original, 1993.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Poetry Friday: Fire Escape Poetry Contests

Did you know that the Fire Escape is accepting entries for the fourth annual poetry and short fiction contests? Writers must be teens "between cultures" (find more about the rules here), and I'm delighted to present the winning poems and stories from the past three years. Please spread the word, as this year's contest closes by the first of June and (cash) prizes are sent out by the Fourth of July.

For this week's Poetry Friday, I offer the winning poem from the 2006 contest, written by Amelia, age 15:



Mel?

an onion dome of gold
defies the pale blue sky
and glitters like a Christmas card
the small Orthodox church, a time machine beckoning
to a place lost but remembered in dreams
a genetic gift
as tangible as eyes the color of the Baltic sea

American Idol is on
and i should be watching it
but instead i find myself
lighting a candle
and breathing in incense so pungent
it makes my nose bleed

instead i find myself
in the remnant of a world
that smells of boiled cabbage
and feels like velvet
because it is lent
even in New York
and my Russianness clings to me
like soot on a humid city morning

i would like to tell you that i feel out of place
surrounded by old women dressed in black
whose prayers sound like chickens cackling softly
my ears not attuned to a choir singing in Old Church Slavonic
a language nobody seems to understand

born Yemelia Nikolayevna
i am now Mel
just Mel
Mel who wears birthday-cake lipgloss and lavendar flip-flops
who takes hip-hop on Thursday night
and knows pizza is far superior
to paper-thin pancakes stuffed with fish eggs

but somehow the deep, gold smell of the incense
and the glow of fragile white candles
and the walls filled with sad, dark saints
tell me otherwise

for when the fates were weaving my future
they used a memory yarn
that keeps stretching back
to its original shape

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Why Teens Need Memoir: Left To Tell

I'm doing a chunk of school visits over these next couple of weeks, during which I mostly tell tales from my ancient past. I'm slowly coming to see that this generation of young people is starved for the stories of older survivors. They've been cheated. They've had no equivalent of the village gathering around a fire to recount fearsome accounts of fighting off lions. Most don't live near extended family, so they don't get to relax on front porches with icy glasses of lemonade to laugh with uncles or grandmothers recalling younger versions of themselves back in the day.

The film Freedom Writers beautifully depicts the power of memoir as urban teens separated by ethnic rivalries responded to Anne Frank's diary entries. That's why I want to recommend Left To Tell, Immaculee Ilibagiza's memoir of survival and devastation during the Rwandan holocaust in 1994. The power of this starkly honest story is that it doesn't leave the reader fearful and devastated. As Immaculee's tender, tough voice recounts her suffering, teens will realize that they, too, can confront and endure evil without succumbing to it.

In a culture where vengeance, violence, and suffering can devastate a high school or middle school community, and where lifestyles of self-indulgence and entitlement are flaunted and celebrated, teens need true stories of forgiveness, sacrifice, courage, and survival. Show your high schoolers the movie Hotel Rwanda. Get them a copy of Deogratias by J.P. Stassen. And let them read this story that Imaculee believes she was Left To Tell.