2007's Top Five Children's Books Between Cultures

In 2007, five great stories featuring displaced protagonists captured attention in the children's book world (as measured by the Fire Escape's buzz radar).

A National Book Award nominee revealed the strange, lonely place a child inhabits after she leaves the land of her birth. M. Sindy Felin’s Touching Snow tells of Karina, a seventh-grader who moves from Haiti to a suburb in New York with her mother, sisters, and abusive stepfather.

Shaun Tan's wordless graphic novel, The Arrival, an achetypical immigrant's story, poignantly and masterfully depicted a young father escaping an unnamed war-torn country in search of a better life for his family in a new world.

A funny, fast read by a member of the Class of 2k7, Rose Kent, featured a likeable male protagonist. Kimchi & Calamari is the story of fourteen-year-old Korean adoptee Joseph Calderaro who sets out on a search for his birth family while enjoying close ties with his Italian-American parents and sisters.

Home of the Brave (my favorite readaloud of 2007) by Katherine Applegate is a lyrical novel told in the voice of brave, honest Kek, a refugee from a country in Africa starting a new life without his mother, father, and brother in wintry Minnesota.

And last but not least, Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah traveled from Australia to the US and made a big splash.  Amal, a 16-year-old Australian-born Muslim Palestinian, struggles with the hyphenated life as she decides to wear hijab at her prep school.

NOTE: Kids living on reservations cross cultural boundaries also, albeit in a different way, so I have to add that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie was perhaps the most touted novel of the year. Alexie introduced us to unforgettable Junior, a Spokane Indian who transfers from the reservation school to a white high school.

It's A Wonderful Life

I'll be back on 12/31 with my list of 2007's Top Five Buzz-Getting Books Between Cultures. Till then, here's a montage of flims featuring writers, my gift to you on the Fire Escape:

Source: Tanya Lee Stone via Cynsations

Sparrow Gets A Shout-Out

During one of those weeks where I crave some encouragement, Franklin Park teen librarians feature First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover as their pick of the week:
Sameera Righton (a.k.a. Sparrow) is used to staying on the sidelines. Sure she blogs for her friends about various issues and enjoys hanging with her crew buddies while ordering them about in her position as coxswain. But that invisibility is about to end: Sparrow's dad is running for presidents, and his campaign staff has decided it's time Sparrow is by his side. Sparrow is sure she's ready - she knows politics, and she wants to be made over into a glamorous First Daughter. But when she reaches campaign headquarters, Sparrow soon discovers the kind of makeover her dad's campaign staff plans to provide might not be quite what she had in mind. In short, the staff wants to downplay the fact that Sameera was born in Pakistan and turn her into "Sammy" - an everyday teenager without an intelligent thought in her head. Sparrow knows she wants her dad to win, but will it be at the cost of the "real" Sparrow?

YALSA's YA Lit Symposium

Just found out I'll be speaking at "How We Read Now," YALSA's first ever biennial YA Lit Symposium scheduled for November 2008. The venue is Nashville, Tennessee, a place I've always wanted to visit thanks to my strange affection for country music (hey, I'm a jute farmer's granddaughter).

The Phone Ladies of Bangladesh

I'm writing a short story for The Poverty Solution, a Scholastic anthology. My tale is set in rural Bangladesh (surprise, surprise), and my main character's life is changed by a cell phone. If that sounds far-fetched, check out this video (warning: not flashy, slightly too-long at just over 4 minutes, but informative and encouraging):

A Kirkus Review: The Uncut Version

Remember how I was whining about no sign of a pre-pub review from Kirkus for First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton, January 2007)? Well, I moaned too soon. My editor, Margaret Woollatt, sent the review yesterday. First, the good stuff:
Perkins, Mitali, FIRST DAUGHTER: White House Rules (Kirkus 12/15/07)

Fresh off the presidential campaign trail, Sparrow and her country cousin Miranda make themselves at home in the White House, enjoying movies in the private theatre and trying out the bowling alley in this second installment of the First Daughter series. Although continuing many of the same plot lines introduced in the lead text, like dealing with the pressures of the press, Sparrow's Pakistani heritage and her budding romance with Bobby, first-time readers are quickly brought up to speed and introduced to new twists. 
Sparrow's blog also continues to play a central role, especially as she begins to realize that as the first daughter her posts have a major worldwide impact. Throughout, Sparrow's actions and thoughtful blog posts paint her as a likable character and great role model.
Woo-hoo, right? Well, brace yourselves for the killler last two sentences, which I deliberately deliver in a tiny, tiny font: But since there is no real crisis and the story almost seems as though it's a guide to living as a teenager in the White House, it has the potential to bore readers who will find Sparrow and her tame adventures flat and predictable. Only for fans who want to know what happens next. (Fiction. 10-13)

Ouch. Margaret, as is her wont, tries to ease the sting: 
Your audience will love the details of life in the White House, as well as the realism of the plot - dealing with a new school, navigating a first relationship - precisely because they will be able to relate to Sparrow's adventure, and because, as the reviewer notes, Sparrow is thoughtful, likable, and a great role model.
Now that's the kind of cheerleading not in most editors' job descriptions, but absolutely required to soothe an author's delicate ego.

Sparrow's Script For A Cool Rock The Vote Video

To prove that I'm indeed a political junkie, I'm sharing Sparrow's post for today, which sketches out a YouTube video that I'd dearly love to see.

(Meghan McCain saunters into an empty screen wearing a red t-shirt that pictures her Dad's face, jeans, and boots with stiletto heels. In the background, the Mission Impossible theme song is playing.)

Meghan: I could tell you to get out there and vote for my Dad in '08.

(Cate Edwards comes in and circles Meghan, ending up back to back with her, both of their hands on their hips. Lots of attitude. Cate's wearing a blue t-shirt that pictures her Dad's face, jeans, and high heels.)

Cate: Or I could tell you to get out there and vote for my Dad in '08.

(Both girls pivot slowly to face each other, eyes narrowed. After a minute, they shrug and fist-punch, and turn back to the camera. The background music changes to Alicia Keys, No One, instrumental only.)

Meghan: But we won't.

Cate: Nah. Not here. Not now.

(From off-screen someone tosses them purple hoodies. The girls catch them, put them on, and zip themselves up. Now both of them are wearing identical purple sweatshirts bearing the Rock the Vote logo.)

Meghan: So we'll just stop with ... (Turns to Cate and smiles)

Cate: (Smiles back) Get out there and vote.

Meghan: It's a free country, people.

Cate: Rock the Vote in '08.

Meghan: I'm Meghan McCain, and I approve this message.

Cate: I'm Cate Edwards, and I approve this message.

(They exit chatting side by side, like BFFs.)

Expand Your Horizons Challenge

Melissa over at Booknut has decided to read outside the lines, and she invites us to join her:
The Expanding Horizons Challenge will run January through April of 2008. The purpose of this challenge is to read works by authors of ethnicities other than your own. I have decided to omit works by Caucasian authors (since they're the biggest group in the English-language book world; I want to explore books by authors in less-well-represented ethnicities). I have debated about whether or not to focus entirely on authors or to include main character's ethnicity, too, and I've decided that for this challenge I want the focus to be on the nationality of the author, rather than the characters. The books can be fiction or nonfiction; adult or YA; and can cross over to as many other challenges as you want.

There are two ways to approach this challenge. Either read four books by authors in one of the six categories (you can read more than one category, but you must read four books; not two books in one category and two in another) OR read six books, one from each of the six categories. The categories are:
  1. African/African-American.
  2. Asian/Asian-American (This is not just East Asian -- Chinese, Korean and Japanese -- but also Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, and the Central Asian -Stans.)
  3. Hispanic/Latin American
  4. Indian/Indian-American (Again, books by Indian authors; not books by white authors set in India.)
  5. Middle Eastern (Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Turkey...)
  6. Native Peoples (Can include Native American, Inuit, Polynesian --Maori, Samoan, etc -- Siberian natives and Australian Aborigines.)

Vote Your Way But Keep An Eye On The Poor

Now and then my main character, Sameera Righton, publishes something on sparrowblog that I want to share with my Fire Escape readers, like this post (reprinted here with Sparrow's permission, of course):

I'm still not sure which candidate's for me, so I took this great quiz comparing my views with theirs over at Select Smart, and was SHOCKED, totally SHOCKED by the matchup (no, I'm not telling -- this blog stays nonpartisan until November '08, sorry). Fill in the bubbles over at the select smart site, skip the ads, and get your own results.

One issue the Select Smart people leave off is what the candidates think about world poverty and disease, so if you care about those biggies, head over to One Vote '08, pick three candidates and compare their views via video clip.

Is It Sequel Review Syndrome?

Ready for a writer's whine? First Daughter: White House Rules, the follow-up novel to First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (June 2007), releases next month.

At least I think it does.

To date, there have been no reviews of the second book anywhere, not in Kirkus, PW, SLJ, or any other pre-publication sources. Wait -- my friend Pooja Makhijani asked for a review copy to feature the book in our beloved Kahani magazine, but other than that, zilch. Okay, I haven't been out there yelling and picketing about the book like I did for the first one. But still.

I can see now how fortunate I've been with reviews, and taken them hideously for granted, so now I'm holding out a writer's empty rice bowl. If anybody wants a galley for review purposes, please let me know in the comments and I'll see what I can do.

Here's the blurb from Dutton:
This First Daughter makes her own rules.

Last year, Sameera started a blog and helped her father win an election. Now she’s unpacking boxes and exploring her new house. The White House.

Between re-decorating Camp David and learning to waltz at State Dinners, being a First Daughter has lots of perks. But life in the White House may not turn out to be a fairy tale. The guy Sameera fell for on the campaign trail mysteriously stopped calling after her dad became Commander-in-Chief. And while her blog is popular, Sameera is struggling to find something real to write about. Her critics scoff that a pampered First Daughter knows nothing about real life. Cooped up in the Big House, under the watchful eyes of her tutor, the Secret Service, and a pack of paparazzi, Sameera thinks her critics might be right.

It’s time, she decides, to break out of the First Daughter bubble. Sameera just needs an escape plan – and a disguise – to shake things up. As it turns out, to make a fairy tale come true, a girl’s got to be willing to break a few rules . . .

Diversity in Children's Fantasy

Thanks to a Read Roger post, I've just read Deirdre F. Baker's thought-provoking essay, Musings on Diverse Worlds, published in the January issue of the Horn Book. My favorite quote was her challenging concluding sentence:
The very absence of diversity in imagery as well as in lead characters indicates that as readers — perhaps even as writers — our "desire for otherness" is limited and that ... many of us aren't able or willing to go very far to feel, truly, "with those entirely other than ourselves."

Jen Robinson's Growing Bookworms

If you're a parent or educator who cares about raising readers, why not subscribe to the content-filled, easy-to-read Growing Bookworms Newsletter put out by Jen Robinson? Each issue is a handy aggregation of information and reviews to "help you inspire the children in your life to love books." Now there's a worthwhile mission statement if I've ever heard one.

Latino Life

Lisa Linsday of the Fresno County Library in California recently compiled a list of teen books featuring main characters who are Mexican American, Cuban American, Puerto Rican etc. for the YALSA-BK listserv that she's titled "Latino Life." I post it here with permission. Anyone want to add a title or two?

Alegría, Malín
Estrella doesn’t want a gaudy quinceañera but her mom still gets carried away.

Alegría, Malín
Sofi goes to a weekend party in Tijuana and now the border patrol won’t let her return to San Diego.

Cofer, Judith Ortiz
Fifteen-year-old Maria leaves Puerto Rico to live with her father in the barrio of New York City.

Ferrer, Caridad
Ali might become the next “Latin superstar.”

Hart, Elva Treviño
Chronicles the life of a child growing up in a family of Mexican-American migrant farm workers.

Herrera, Juan Felipe
Sixteen-year-old Cesar struggles through high school after his father leaves town.

Jaramillo, Ann
Miguel is set to leave his Mexican village to join his parents in California but his little sister is determined to join him.

López, Lorraine M.
Henri has big dreams for his future but first he’s got to get his school to let him take French instead of ESL.

Martinez, Victor
Manny relates his coming of age experiences as a member of a lower-income Mexican-American family.

Osa, Nancy
Violet Paz prepares for her upcoming “quince.”

Parra, Kelly
Artistic Angel expresses herself through street art.

Rodriguez, Luis
A former L.A. gang member describes his experiences.

Rodriguez, Luis
A collection of short stories about life in East L.A.

Sáenz, Benjamin Alire
Sammy faces the challenges of “gringo” racism, in 1969.

Saldaña, René
A collection of short stories depicting life growing up Hispanic in America.

Soto, Gary
A senior at East Fresno High School lives on as a ghost after his brutal murder.

Soto, Gary
Eddie leaves college to return to his violence-infested home in Fresno.

Soto, Gary
Short stories about young Mexican Americans.

Triana, Gaby
Isabel escapes her overprotective mother for a job at a summer camp.

Photo Source: Quinceñaera by Nathan Gibbs via Creative Commons

Retreating To Write

If you're a writer, reading this post may result in some envy, so don't say I didn't warn you. Last week I spent four days in silence writing here:

I brewed fresh coffee and ate breakfast in my cottage, but at noon and in the evenings, I walked to fresh monk-cooked meals (served and relished in silence while listening to music) along this path:

Best of all, I spent 10-12 hours a day with my characters here:

The results? Renewed hope that I might be able to write something other than crap. Alleluia.

Writing With The Monks

I'm off to my favorite monastery for a few days to shut up and write. Be back on the Fire Escape Monday, December 10th. Peace be with you.

Disney's Big Mistakes

Ben Joseph over at Cracked makes me feel better about my recent Enchanted rant, providing clips and commentary on nine racist Disney characters. We are not alone.

Source: Cartoon Brew

The Mysteries Of Cover Art

Sometimes, but not always, a publishing house decides to commission a new cover for a paperback issue. Here are the two versions of my First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (Dutton), for example. Does the first strike you as more "paperbackish" than the second? If so, why?