Padma's CLIMBING THE STAIRS Blog Tour Finale

Padma Venkatraman, author of CLIMBING THE STAIRS (Putnam, April 2008), has been on a whirlwind blog tour. Today she joins us on the Fire Escape where I'm honored to host her final stop. 

Before we start, though, I have to confess a bit of personal history related to this interview. Françoise Bui, editor of Secret Keeper, my forthcoming book from Random House, called recently. Just before we ended the conversation, she shared that she'd read a novel with some similar themes to my own. It was called CLIMBING THE STAIRS. Apparently, Padma and I had both featured an Indian girl who moves into her joint family's home, created a romantic interest with a boy upstairs, and delved into the loss of a father. "But they're very different stories," Françoise told me.

Despite those editorial reassurances, I began Padma's novel with trepidation, worried that our books might be too similar. And hers came out first, darn it. And got bundles of starred reviews, too. Would I have to convince the gatekeepers that my book was done and off to press before I read CLIMBING THE STAIRS? Would I become the next South Asian American writer accused of plagiarism? How similar were the two books, anyway?

I'm relieved to tell you that I (a) immediately forgot about comparisons as I lost myself in a superbly crafted story, and (b) was reminded anew that when it comes to fiction, even with some here-and-there similarities in plot, two authors can produce completely different novels thanks to the unique soul prints with which we mark characters, themes, and conflicts. I absolutely loved this brilliant novel, and would consider it high praise if people notice any similarities with mine. (I hope Padma agrees!)

Okay, now are you ready for some enlightening Q & A with Padma? Here goes.

You were born in India and lived there until you were 19 years old. Now you’ve lived here for __ years, and you’re becoming an American. So, tell us, Padma, where is “home” for you?

I am certainly American – as you can tell by my leaving that second blank blank…I’m a lot older than people guess when they see me! I became a citizen just over a year ago – when people ask me why, I tell them it’s because America has the best Public Library system in the world. I mean it, too. Where else can you find so many wonderful free libraries filled with friendly librarians?

Home…I told Betty Cotter of the South County Independent recently that I carry a lot of homes inside me, and I think that’s true. India is a home, but so is America. And at times I have felt “heimweh” for Kiel, in Northern Germany. And when I read Harry Potter, I remember my days at Brockwood Park School in England. So, Hampshire (in the UK) is one of my homes, too. And my accent is a hodgepodge. Right now, of course, Rhode Island is home most of all.

It's wonderful to have many homes and love them all. I love how the book provides a fresh take on WWII for teens -- not many people realize the turmoil and divisions taking place inside India during that time. Why do you think that it's important for young people to read stories set in other times and places?

I think it’s important for them, for all of us, really, to read stories set in other times and places so we can appreciate diversity – but also so we can come to an understanding of what we all share as human beings. So that we can be fascinated, entranced, even, by a location or time that seems exotic. So that we can see that however exotic the setting of a story is, there is a fundamental human thread that ties all our tightly stories together.

Amen, sister. Some of the perhaps unfamiliar (to many American teens) "isms" introduced so cogently in the novel include Mahatma Gandhi's view of pacifism, internal differences in Hinduism, and the impact of colonialism. Could you sum up for us the dream response of a reader who knows little or nothing about India’s history and culture?

Instead of summing up, I’m going to quote from a dream response I got from the first teen reviewer of CLIBMING THE STAIRS. She says:
Climbing the stairs by Padma Venkatraman is a novel about a teenage girl, Vidya, growing up in India during World War II. Vidya is very free spirited and does not act as a lady like her family would hope. She dreams of going to college, but when a family crisis hits, her future plans are jeopardized. Venkatraman portrays the highly individualized Vidya in a way that the reader can immediately connect to her.

The plot is thrilling and I found myself having a hard time putting the book down. I enjoyed how this book has a lot of very interesting historical and cultural information. At many points in the story I was left amazed at the cultural bridge between the United States and India. I could not believe what the treatment of women was like in India even as last as the mid 1900s. This book illustrates the struggles of India as a country and how war can tear families apart. While many families fought nonviolently against the British occupation that was going on at that time, others chose to fight alongside the British in the quest to defeat Hitler. Vidya finds herself in a family that is torn between the two. This is one of the best historical fiction novels I have read. The balance between plot and history makes it so enjoyable. I would most definitely recommend this book to any reader, especially one who loves historical fiction.
Now that review was and is a dream response come true!!!

So lovely. Now let's move to the journey of getting the novel published. What was a high point? A low point?

High point – the sunny summer day last July, right before our wedding, when my agent called to say “Putnam-Penguin bought your novel” and I yelled so loudly that our neighbor stopped pottering about in his yard to look up and see what was going on.

The lowest point – when agent # 2 said almost exactly what agent # 1 had said “this novel is beautifully written. Your prose is poetic and the story is very moving. I especially love how you weave in timeless themes such as violence/nonviolence, gender equality and social justice together with the evocative descriptions of India and Indian spiritual traditions. And I learned so much from reading your book – I had no idea what the effect of World War II was on India or other parts of the world, and still less that there were Jews in India! However, I am sorry to say CLIMBING THE STAIRS is not for me, because I don’t think it will be appreciated by an American audience and I do not see a market for your book. I do regret that this is not for me and wish you success elsewhere.”

Looking back on it now, I suppose I could have been thrilled she liked the book, but I really wanted to publish the novel in America, my country of adoption, and not in India, where my previous work had been successful. And she was telling me in her opinion (which I greatly valued) it wouldn’t do well here because of what it was about. That was really tough because I wanted to tell Vidya’s story to people in this nation. And if the story wasn’t going to be heard but the writing was at least sort of okay, then what could I do? (As my dearest husband pointed out, I could send it to another agent).

What was the biggest change you made in response to an editorial suggestion?

Where the novel started. At first, the novel started with Vidya already in Madras, if I remember correctly. As my wonderful editor pointed out, I needed to describe what Vidya’s life was like before she moved – and the chapters I usually read aloud from nowadays didn’t exist in the first draft! I often compare my editor to my high-school and university athletic coaches – I used to participate in ‘high jump’ and, like a sports coach, my editor kept raising the bar (which I’m glad he did).

Could you describe a fear you have about this novel that can keep you up at night?

When I was writing it, the Protest March chapter used to keep me awake because it upset me so much and it was frightening to envision it. Now, I am kept awake at night because of the sadistic streak I have that I’ve come to be aware of because of the novel. At least two people have actually cried proper tears at two of my readings, and that fills me with such elation that I can’t sleep at night. And oh how wonderfully nice I feel toward these listeners/readers! Then, I write to my editor “hey, someone cried when appa was bashed up, yay, yay, yay!” After that, I feel pretty ashamed of myself and I keep awake thinking “Padma you have become a rotten, rotten person.” But I get up in the morning and laugh because it is all rather silly rubbish how you can go up and down like a roller coaster based on how people react to your work.

That scene was extremely moving. You wrote it with beautiful understatement that gives the reader space for his or her own emotions. Okay, next question. Finish the sentence twice, first from an idealistic "literature changes lives" point of view and then give the savvy marketer's takeCLIMBING THE STAIRS will be a successful novel if:

a) readers see the current relevance of the characters’ central conflicts while enjoying the dramatic setting – the unique contrast of a time and place when/where the world was experiencing World War II and a nonviolent liberation movement.

b) savvy marketer’s take…that I’d have to learn from more experienced authors such as yourself! I have so much to learn about marketing…I’m right on the bottom step there…a lot of stairs left to climb!

On a related note, I have to say that I’m deeply, deeply grateful for all the success we’ve had already with the novel, such as the starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and VOYA, and the great reviews in Kirkus and School Library Journal. There’s a lot to be thankful for during my debut novel’s “birthday” month – including this wonderful blog tour, hosted by so many dear author friends! I’m so honored to have the grand finale of this tour here on my blog guru’s site!

Wow. A blog guru is way better than a love guru, so take that, Mike Myers. Okay, here's my last question: What's next for Padma Venkatraman in the realm of children's books?

A picture book for elementary school children that I worked on a long time ago for August House, called The Cleverest Thief will be out this November. But that’s published under the name “T. V. Padma” because it’s for a younger readership - there’s my schizophrenia for you…I used to write for the younger audience, and my books for them, mostly published in India, were written as T. V. Padma.

So perhaps the correct answer to your question is that when she’s not learning how to climb the blogging stairs, Padma Venkatraman is revising her next YA novel, ISLAND'S END, which is slated for publication by G. P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin) in spring 2010.

Can't wait to read it. Thank you, Padma, for spending time with us on the Fire Escape, and for creating this lovely novel.

Authors Padma Venkatraman and Barbara O'Connor celebrate the release of CLIMBING THE STAIRS

Religious Authors and Children's Fiction

In response to yesterday's post about Stephenie Meyer and Mormonism, Pooja Makhijani asked an interesting question:
Don't you agree that an author's religious worldview MAY somehow shape his or her fiction and this is worth a critical--but non-offensive--discussion?
An author's religious worldview definitely shapes his or her fiction, but I worry about assumptions that drive such a discussion in the realm of children's literature. A story has always been a dialectic between a storyteller and the one who hears or reads it. When it comes to life-changing influence, I'd even make the case that the person on the receiving end has more power than the one who tells it -- even when the teller is an adult and the receiver is a child.

In the world of children's literature, a critical discussion about an author's faith tends to devalue the role of the child or teen reader. This can lead to talk of censorship. But a human being old enough for story is no tabula rasa. Even if a storyteller is trying to be powerful and didactic, the receiver of the story retains the right to interpret and synthesize it.

Does that mean I'd let my eleven-year-old (hypothetical) daughter read the Clique novels or Gossip Girls (which also reveal the authors' religious world views)? Or Stephenie Meyers' Twilight for that matter? If my darling, grazing here and there during her weekly library visit, ends up clutching those novels, so be it. She might hate them. Or find them boring. But if she re-reads a story or craves the next book from a particular author, I'd definitely hope to engage her in a conversation about the themes, issues, and world views possibly driving the stories and shaping the author. A reading of Twilight, for example, sounds like good material for a long car-ride discussion about femininity, masculinity, romantic relationships, and even religion.

Let's face it -- in the parent-child dialectic, or even between teacher and student, the power swings to the adult end of the relationship. Children love stories because for once they sense equality in a relationship with a grownup. It's rare to seek therapy because an author forced a world view on us through fiction.

The Stephenie Meyer Controversy

Has anybody been tracking the discussion over at YALSA-BK listserv, where librarians and authors alike are weighing in on this negative review of Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT, and the argument that Meyer's faith (Mormonism) influenced the creation of her "submissive" female protagonist?

I've not read the books yet, but the proposition that an author's religious worldview MUST somehow shape his or her fiction is provocative. Are we talking about the faith practiced in our family of origin during our formative years? Or the convictions that define us now?

Fusion Stories Buzz and Events

Photo of Asian Week taken by Lisa Yee

During this year's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I want to thank my fellow Fusion Stories authors for our joint whirlwind of events, articles, interviews, and reviews: Cherry Cheva, Justina Chen Headley, Grace Lin, An Na, Joyce Lee Wong, Janet Wong, Lisa Yee, Paula Yoo, and David Yoo. We had fun collaborating, as Lisa Yee recently discovered.

Two future events include an evening panel (7 p.m.) at the Asian American Writer's Workshop on June 5, 2008 in New York City and another one at the New England Conference on Multicultural Education, Wednesday, October 8, 2008 in Hartford, Connecticut.

Jama Rattigan Shares My Dal Recipe ...

... along with a nice review of my First Daughter books. Jama's Asian Pacific Heritage Month recipes from a variety of authors are keepers. If anybody tries mine, which is vegetarian and bursting with fiber, let me know how it goes. Oh, and if you want something other than basmati rice, get some yummy frozen garlic naan from Trader Joe's, pop them in the toaster oven for several minutes, and serve up as a nice carb accompaniment.

James Patterson loves readergirlz!

... or at least his people called our people, because readergirlz just won a $2,500 PageTurner Grant from author James Patterson:
New York, NY, April 28, 2008: James Patterson announced today the 34 U.S. winners and 3 Canadian winners of the 3rd annual James Patterson PageTurner Awards. Winners will receive cash prizes totaling $250,000. Among them are libraries, schools, bookstores, and innovative individuals and organizations that go to extraordinary lengths to spread the FUN of books and reading across the country.

Patterson says: ’This year’s winners are doing great work and at a time when getting people excited about reading and books is especially important. I’m thrilled to help them do what they do so well.’ The winners truly embody the spirit and energy of the PageTurner Awards — to spread the excitement of books and reading as far and wide as is humanly possible. And for that, we salute them all!"
Thanks to the whole crew over at readergirlz, we’ll be using this grant to bring teens even more rewarding reading experiences.

Shannon Hale TONIGHT on readergirlz!

Chat live with author Shannon Hale (BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS) on the readergirlz forum tonight at 6 p.m. PDT and 9 p.m. EDT. The chat will last about an hour. Shannon has been her usual funny, articulate, and honest self as our featured author this month, so we're expecting a lively discussion. Next month we'll be talking all about PROM with Laurie Halse Anderson, so stay tuned ...

Is Protagonist Pride Permissible?

When one of my novels receives praise of any kind, whether it be a sweet fan letter, a good review, or an award, I feel strangely and secretly proud of my main character. Why? Because they are the daughters I never had, the friends I wanted when I was their age, the girls who are partly the me I was and the me I hope to be. 

Today I'm happy for Naima, Jazz, and Sameera (aka Sparrow). Naima's Rickshaw Girl was nominated for the 2008-2009 Massachusetts Children's Book Awards, Jazz's Monsoon Summer for the State of Minnesota's Maud Hart Lovelace Award, and Sameera's First Daughter: White House Rules is getting lovely reviews here and there

Karen Day's Book Launch Party!

Authors Laya Steinberg (THESAURUS REX) and Karen Day (TALL TALES) celebrate the publication of Karen's NO CREAM PUFFS at Wellesley Booksmith

Karen Day successfully launched her newest book, NO CREAM PUFFS (Wendy Lamb Books), at Wellesley Booksmith last Sunday, even though we discovered hours before the party that most of the town's roads would be closed thanks to a parade and (free) Beach Boys' concert. 

Undaunted, friends and fans made it to the store and packed into the cellar to hear Karen's witty, articulate presentation, chomp on cookies, and leave with signed copies in hand along with the author's gift of mood rings (the book is set in 1980). 

Here's an excerpt of the fabulous review NO CREAM PUFFS got from Kirkus:
... Coming-of-age themes emerge naturally at home and on the field ... (Madison's) feelings and choices ring true as do her teammates’ complex reactions. Since controversy still surrounds girls playing football, this fine sports story is fresh and relevant. (Fiction. 10-14)
Congratulations, Karen!

Summer Blog Blast Tour 2008!

Check out the interviews and authors featured in this year's Summer Blog Blast Tour:

SBBT 2008 Schedule
(schedule created by Colleen Ray; links gathered and coded by Kelly Fineman and Little Willow)

Monday, May 19th
Adam Rex at Fuse #8
David Almond at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
R.L. LaFevers at Finding Wonderland
Dave Schwartz at Shaken & Stirred
Elizabeth Scott at Bookshelves of Doom
Laurie Halse Anderson at Writing & Ruminating
Susan Beth Pfeffer at Interactive Reader

Tuesday, May 20th
Ben Towle at Chasing Ray
Sean Qualls at Fuse #8
Susane Colasanti at Bildungsroman
Robin Brande at HipWriterMama
Susan Beth Pfeffer at The YA YA YAs
Debby Garfinkle at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy
Jennifer Lynn Barnes at Writing & Ruminating

Wednesday, May 21st
Delia Sherman at Chasing Ray
Ingrid Law at Fuse #8
Polly Dunbar at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Tera Lynn Childs at Bildungsroman
Siena Cherson Siegel at Miss Erin
Barry Lyga at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy

Thursday, May 22nd
Elisha Cooper at Chasing Ray
Dar Williams at Fuse #8
Jennifer Bradbury at Bildungsroman
E. Lockhart at The YA YA YAs
Mary Hooper at Miss Erin
Charles R. Smith, Jr. at Writing & Ruminating
Mary E. Pearson at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy

Friday, May 23rd
Varian Johnson at Finding Wonderland
Jincy Willet at Shaken & Stirred
John Grandits at Writing & Ruminating
Meg Burden at Bookshelves of Doom
Gary D. Schmidt at Miss Erin
Javaka Steptoe at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Manhattan Dinner With Kid Lit Legends

After the awards ceremony at Lincoln Center last night, the gracious folks at Simon & Schuster, including Emma Dryden, veep-cum-publisher-cum-editor, invited several of us to Josephina's to celebrate Theresa Nelson's win.

I had the privilege of sitting across from Richard Jackson, who has edited books for 46 years (including Susan Patron's The Higher Power of Lucky), and next to Phyllis Naylor (of Alice and Shiloh fame), who sponsored the PEN work-in-progress award and walked hand-in-hand to the restaurant with her husband of 48 years.

Before the evening ended, I asked the witty and easygoing Mr. Jackson about his dreams for the publishing industry. He thought for a minute. "I'd give five hardcover books to every registered voter in the country," he said. We'd spent a good chunk of the conversation mourning the loss of relationships and manners in the industry, as well as the the waning place of books as artifacts in our society.

Of course the star dinner companion from a teen guys' perspective was Kevin Cooney, Theresa's husband, whose impressive resume includes roles in two Austin Powers' flicks and appearances on Will Smith's Fresh Prince of Bel-Air -- I can hardly wait till they come home from school so I can say I had dinner with "Whitey." Wow.

PEN Literary Awards Ceremony

I'm doing a school visit in Eastchester, New York today (I'm on lunch break right now - two sessions to go), and then heading down to Lincoln Center tonight to present the PEN Phyllis Naylor Award to Theresa Nelson (JULIA DELANEY, Simon & Schuster) on behalf of our judging committee. I'm actually as nervous about my brief laudatory intro as I would be if I were an honoree and had to give a real speech. The point, though, is that while all the entries were amazingly good, the character of Julia and her funny, heartfelt story captured me from the start. Congratulations, Theresa, and thanks to Christopher Paul Curtis and Sid Fleischman, the other two judges.

My First Daughter Fairy Tale

A couple of reviewers have applied the phrase "fairy tale" to my First Daughter books. Homeschool teacher and former librarian Sherry Early laments that the real world can't be like Sameera's, nonetheless giving First Daughter: White House Rules a lovely review and ending with a question one hopes many story consumers will ask:
It’s well-written teenage romance and adventure with a subtle, understated message of anti-racism, acceptance and respect for other cultures. What’s not to like?

Wanted: Excellent Father-Daughter Books

I'm hoping to compile a list of a dozen or so children's books that celebrate a daughter's relationship with her Dad. I'm looking for fiction picture books as well as novels. Any suggestions?

Six Words on Love and Heartache

My six-word autobiography was in the first book. Now they're publishing a second one. Can you sum up your story of love and heartache in six words? Here's my attempt (submitted with image of my parents, circa 1956):

Proposal. Dowry. Betrothal. Marriage. Children. Love.

Good News For The Kid Lit World

Editor Judy O'Malley (who deserves much of the credit for Rickshaw Girl) is back on the scene with an update. We are grateful for you, Judy!

Soirée at the Boston Public Library

Seems like we're talking a lot about awards on the Fire Escape lately, doesn't it? Well, I'm not complaining. Today I'll be at the Boston Public Library where the Boston Authors Club is hosting the 11th Annual Boston Authors Club Award Luncheon. The 2008 Young Reader Award Recipients are:


Mark Peter Hughes, LEMONADE MOUTH
Highly recommended titles include:
Loree Griffin Burns, TRACKING TRASH

Ralph Fletcher, THE ONE O’CLOCK CHOP 


Peter Johnson, WHAT HAPPENED

Mitali Perkins, RICKSHAW GIRL (yippee!)

Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris, THE ROGUES
Here's a complete list of the Boston Author Club 2008 Awards as well as details on today's award luncheon. The library itself, founded in 1848 and hosting over 2.2 million patrons a year, is a definite destination when you come to Boston.

The 2008 Skipping Stones Honor Awards

From Skipping Stones Magazine comes an announcement about their annual awards, bringing more good news for Rickshaw Girl:
The 15th Annual Skipping Stones Honor Awards recognize 26 exceptional books and teaching resources. Together, they encourage an understanding of the world's diverse cultures, as well as nature and ecological richness. The selection promotes cooperation, nonviolence, respect for differing viewpoints, and close relationships in human societies. We present these great books to you as the summer season stretches before us. It's a time of year when many travel to explore new places in the world, or to revisit meaningful ones. Reading books is another way you can explore cultures, places and even other time periods. The winners are featured in our summer issue. Welcome to the wonderful world of words!

Download the official
press release here

Multicultural & International Awareness Books:

One City, Two Brothers by Chris Smith, illustr. Aurélia Fronty. Barefoot Books; Picture Book. ISBN: 978-1-84686-042-3

When The Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger with Susan Katz, illustr. David Kanietakeron Fadden. Tricycle. Picture Book. ISBN: 978-1-58246-192-2

Armando and the Blue Tarp School by Edith Hope Fine and Judith Pinkerton Josephson, illustr. Hernán Sosa. Lee & Low; Picture Book. ISBN: 978-1-58430-278-0

I Remember Abuelito: A Day of the Dead Story / Yo Recuerdo a Abuelito: Un Cuento del Dia de los Muertos by Janice Levy, illustr. Loretta Lopez. Albert Whitman; Picture Book. ISBN: 978-0-8075-3516-5

The Best Eid Ever by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustr. Laura Jacobsen. Boyds Mills Press Picture Book. ISBN: 978-1-59078-431-0

Romina's Rangoli by Malathi Michelle Iyengar, illustr. Jennifer Wanardi. Shen's Books; Picture Book. ISBN: 978-1-885008-32-9

Sky Sweeper by Phillis Gershator, illustr. Holly Meade. Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Picture Book. ISBN: 978-0-374-37007-7

One Hen by Katie Smith Milway, illustr. Eugenie Fernandes. Kids Can Press; Picture Book. Ages 7 and up. ISBN: 978-1-55453-028-1

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, illustr. Jamie Hogan. Charlesbridge; Ages 7-10. ISBN: 978-1-58089-308-4

Great Peacemakers: True Stories from Around the World (Teacher's guide available) by Ken Beller & Heather Chase. LTS Press; Ages 12-80. ISBN: 978-0-9801382-0-7

We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin by Larry Dane Brimner. Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills Press; Ages 10-15. ISBN: 978-1-59078-498-3

Chess Rumble by G. Neri, illustr. Jesse Joshua Watson. Lee and Low; Ages 11-15. ISBN: 978-1-58430-279-7

Jeannette Rankin: Political Pioneer, a biography by Gretchen Woelfle. Calkins Creek/ Boyds Mills Press; Ages 11-17. ISBN: 978-1-59078-437-2

Tasting The Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, a memoir by Ibtisam Barakat. Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Ages 11-15. ISBN: 978-0374-35733-7

The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with others to Create Social Change by Barbara A. Lewis. Free Spirit; Ages 12-17. ISBN: 978-1-57542-266-4

A Shout in the Sunshine, a novel by Mara W. Cohen Ioannides. Jewish Publication Society; Ages 12-17. ISBN: 978-0-8276-0838-2

Windows into My World: Latino Youth Write Their Lives, ed. by Sarah Cortez. Piñata Books; Ages 13-18. ISBN: 978-1-55885-482-6

The Ocean in the Closet, a debut novel by Yuko Taniguchi. Coffee House Press; Ages 15 to adults. ISBN: 978-1-56689-194-3

Nature and Ecology Books:

Nature's Yucky! 2: The Desert Southwest by Lee Ann Landstrom & Karen I. Schragg, illustr. Rachel Rogge. Mountain Press; ISBN: 978-0-87842-529-7

River Song with the Banana Slug String Band by Steve Van Zandt, illustr. Katherine Zecca. Dawn Publications; Picture Book. ISBN: 978-1-58469-093-1

The Bee Tree by Stephen Buchmann and Diana Cohn, illustr. Paul Mirocha. Cinco Puntos Press; Picture Book. ISBN: 978-0-938317-98-2

The Inuit Thought Of It: Amazing Arctic Innovations by Alootook Ipellie with David MacDonald. Annick Press; Ages 9-12. ISBN 978-1-55451-087-0

The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon. Scholastic Inc.; Ages 8-13. ISBN: 978-0-439-02494-5

Teaching and Parenting Resources:

2008 World Diversity Calendar, Orison Publishers; This interfaith, multilingual calendar belongs on every classroom wall! ISBN: 978-0-9763800-5-4.

What Kids REALLY Want to Ask: Using Movies to Start Meaningful Conversations -- A Guidebook for Parents and Children Ages 10-14 by Rhonda A. Richardson, Ph.D. and A. Margaret Pevec, M.A. VanderWyk & Burnham; ISBN: 978-1-889242-31-6

My Imaginary Friend by Shirley Ann Povondra and Kathryn Andrew. Llumina Kids; For parents and educators to read with children. ISBN: 978-1-59526-669-9


Today is book launch day for author and fellow writing group member Karen Day (TALL TALES / Wendy Lamb Books). Like the first novel, her second (NO CREAM PUFFS / Wendy Lamb Books), features an unforgettable twelve-year-old protagonist growing up in the Midwest. While the stories are quite different, a fan of Meg in TALL TALES (a Texas Bluebonnet book) is sure to enjoy befriending Madison, the down-to-earth hero of NO CREAM PUFFS. Karen's on the Fire Escape today to answer a couple of quick questions about NO CREAM PUFFS, a book about baseball that's also a universal tale about leaving girlhood to join a circle of strong women -- a circle that surprisingly includes a girl's own sometimes bewildering, often irritating mother.

Q. NO CREAM PUFFS is set in 1980, yet a Kirkus reviewer (who raved about the book) recently said that "this fine sports story is fresh and relevant." How do you think a twelve-year-old reader in 2008 will relate to Madison's story?

Girls today have so many sporting opportunities and they may find the hoopla surrounding Madison's debut in an all-boys' baseball league surprising. But there is much more to Madison’s story. I use baseball as a way to address timeless issues – how awful it can feel when your friends are ready to move on and you aren’t; how girls often worry that “beating” boys will make boys not like them anymore. This is essentially a story about a mother and daughter and how difficult it can be to listen to that “voice” inside. These are the same issues girls face today!

Q. Tell us about the title. What does it signify?

When I was growing up in Indiana and playing baseball we sometimes threw easy pitches that we called “cream puffs.” You know, they were pitches that allowed the batter to belt the ball to the fence! During practice Madison throws one of these pitches to the cute boy she likes. Her catcher, Brett, has a fit and tells her, “no cream puffs!” I like this as a title because it addresses one of the prominent themes in the book. Do you throw a cream puff to a boy because you want him to like you? Or do you try to strike him out?

Thanks, Karen, and congratulations on another wonderful story about girl power. 

Children's Book Week Begins Today

According to the Children's Book Council, a week dedicated to children's books was established in 1919 by several venerable partners including the American Booksellers' Association, the Boy Scouts, Publishers Weekly, the New York Public Library, and the American Library Association. Frederic Melcher, who at different times in his career served as PW editor and the secretary of the ABA, articulated a vision for Book Week that still holds true 89 years later:
(It) brings us together to talk about books and reading and, out of our knowledge and love of books, to put the cause of children's reading squarely before the whole community and, community by community, across the whole nation. For a great nation is a reading nation.

Américas Book Award Winners

The 2008 Américas Awards for Children's and Young Adult Literature, sponsored by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, are given each year in recognition of U.S. works of fiction, poetry, folklore, or selected nonfiction published in the previous year in English or Spanish that "authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States."

This years winners are Red Glass by Laura Resau (Delacorte) and Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Que Rico!: America's Sproutings by Pat Mora, illustrated by Rafael López (Lee & Low). Honorable mentions went to Nochecita/Little Night by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook/Porter) and Raining Sardines by Enrique Flores-Galbis (Roaring Brook).

Commended Titles:

ABUELITA FULL OF LIFE / LLENA DE VIDA by Amy Costales. Illustrated by Martha Avilés. Flagstaff: Luna Rising, 2007. 32 pgs. ISBN 978-0-87358-914-7

Argueta. Illustrated by Luis Garay. Toronto: Groundwood, 2007. 36 pgs. ISBN 978-0-88899-
586-5 Spanish / ISBN 978-0-88899-585-8 English (simultaneous editions)

ANGELINA'S ISLAND By Jeanette Winter. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Frances
Foster Books, 2007. 32 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-374-30349-5

CAPOEIRA: GAME! DANCE! MARTIAL ART! by George Ancona. New York: Lee &
Low, 2007. 48 pgs. ISBN 978-1-58430-268-1

HAPPENED TO Z by Mario Picayo. Illustrated by Earleen Griswold. New York: Campanita,
2007. 64 pgs. ISBN 978-0-9725611-8-1

COME LOOK WITH ME: LATIN AMERICAN ART by Kimberly Lane. Watertown:
Charlesbridge, 2007. 32 pgs. ISBN 978-1-890674-20-5

FRIDA: ¡VIVA LA VIDA! / LONG LIVE LIFE! by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. Tarrytown:
Marshall Cavendish, 2007. 64 pgs. ISBN 978-0-7614-5336-9

Roni Rivera-Ashford. Illustrated by Richard Johnsen. Tucson: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Press, 2007. 42 pgs. ISBN 1-886679-36-8 (bilingual)

Illustrated by Michael Austin. Atlanta: Peachtree, 2007. 32 pgs. ISBN 978-1-56145-399-3
English / ISBN 978-1-56145-425-9 Spanish (simultaneous editions)

MY COLORS, MY WORLD / MIS COLORES, MI MUNDO by Maya Christina González.
San Francisco: Children’s Book Press, 2007. 24 pgs. ISBN 978-0-89239-221-6 (bilingual)

MY NAME IS GABITO / ME LLAMO GABITO: THE LIFE OF GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ/LA VIDA DE GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ by Monica Brown. Illustrated by Raúl Colón. Flagstaff: Luna Rising, 2007. 32 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-87358-908-6 (bilingual)

N IS FOR NAVIDAD by Susan Middleton Elya and Merry Banks. Illustrated by Joe Cepeda. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2007. 40 pgs. ISBN 978-0-8118-5205-0

NANA’S BIG SURPRISE / NANA, ¡QUE SORPRESA! by Amada Irma Pérez. Illustrated by Maya Christina González. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press, 2007. 32 pgs. ISBN 978-0-89239-190-5 (bilingual)

OLD DOG by Teresa Cárdenas. Translated by David Unger. Toronto: Groundwood, 2007. 104 pgs. ISBN 978-0-88899-757-9 (First published in Cuba as Perro Viejo, 2006)

SACRED LEAF by Deborah Ellis. Toronto: Groundwood, 2007. 206 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-88899-751-7

A SMALL NATIVITY by Aquiles Nazoa. Illustrated by Ana Palmero Cáceres. Translated by Hugh Hazelton. Toronto: Groundwood, 2007. 32 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-88899-839-2

TOUCHING SNOW by M. Sindy Felin. New York: Atheneum, 2007. 234 pgs. ISBN 978-1-4169-1795-3

TRICYCLE by Elisa Amado and Alfonso Ruano. Toronto: Groundwood, 2007. 32 pgs. ISBN 978-0-88899-614-5

Asian Pacific Heritage Month May 2008

Celebrate the month with the Asia Society

Foundation For Children's Book Event in Boston

New England Voices:
Three Area Authors Read from their New Books
Free & Open to the Public

Tuesday, May 20, 2008, 7:30 p.m.
Barbara O'Connor will read from her latest middle-grade novel Greetings from Nowhere. Barbara has written 14 novels and biographies for children and her books have won the Massachusetts Book Award and the Parents' Choice Award. "O'Connor's knack for well-developed characters and feisty protagonists is evident, as is her signature Southern charm."- School Library Journal
Susan Goodman will read from See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes and the Race to the White House. Susan is the author of dozens of non-fiction books for kids. Using witty anecdotes and clear explanations, Goodman takes readers from the birth of democracy to the Electoral College; from front-porch campaigning to hanging chads. Illustrated by Ellwood Smith.
Lita Judge will read from One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II, a 2008 ALA Notable Children's Book, which she wrote and illustrated. "Based on a true story of the author's grandmother and mother, this touching bit of history humanizes war and demonstrates the difference a few people can make."- Kirkus
This event includes book sales from the Children's Book Shop and signing, as well as refreshments. Free and Open to the Public. No registration necessary. Bring your friends and colleagues to introduce them to the FCB!
The Foundation for Children's Books
P.O.Box 320284
21 Stratford Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02132-0003

The Foundation for Children's Books (FCB), a nonprofit, educational organization, was founded in 1983 to assist the professionals who most directly influence young readers: teachers, librarians, and parents. We achieve this through professional development programs, including a dynamic speaker series, innovative conferences and workshops, as well as through author visits and residencies in under-served schools.

Jama's Recipes From Authors and Illustrators

Author Jama Rattigan (DUMPLING SOUP) is presenting a wonderful series on her blog (which is appropriately titled Alphabet Soup), featuring recipes from children's book authors and illustrators. Check out this enlightening interview with Fusion Stories author Grace Lin (YEAR OF THE RAT), who shares her recipe for gingerbread cupcakes with candied ginger icing. YUM!

On readergirlz: Book of a Thousand Days

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years for Saren's refusal to marry a man she despises, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment. The arrival outside the tower of Saren's two suitors - one welcome, and the other decidedly less so - brings both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.

With Shannon Hale's lyrical language, this forgotten but classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm is reimagined and reset on the central Asian steppes.

download this month's poster

Shannon Hale

Discuss the book with the author herself! Shannon Hale will be chattinglive at the readergirlz forum on Thursday, May 22nd at 6 PM PST/9 PM EST.

The chat will last for about an hour.

Cyclone in Burma: How to Help

With the death toll rising in Burma, I thought I'd pass on one way to help -- through World Vision:
World Vision is airlifting emergency supplies to survivors of the devastating cyclone that struck Myanmar over the weekend. Right now, more than 20,000 people are feared dead. Thousands more have been left homeless and desperately need food, shelter, and fresh, clean water. World Vision is delivering emergency supplies to the children and families who've lost their homes in the cyclone. Some of the most important items include emergency food, survival kits, water purifiers, tarps and shelters, and mosquito nets for survivors.
Help Now

World Vision's National Director in Myanmar, James Tumbuan, described a chaotic scene: "Yangon totally collapsed. All the roads were blocked with fallen trees ... Getting drinking water is a real problem. We need water purification units like those that were used in the tsunami. It could take days to get the electricity back."
If you know of other ways to help, feel free to leave the information in the comments.

Got A Minute? Express Yourself!

Here's a chance for young people to share their voices with a wider audience by making a one-minute video and submitting it by May 15, 2008 here:
What are oneminutesjr videos?
They are sixty-second videos made by young people (between the ages of 12 and 20) from all over the world. Time may be limited in a oneminutesjr video (this challenges the youngsters to form their ideas clearly), but not the freedom to express oneself creatively, which is the basic right of every person.

What is the oneminutesjr network?

It is a non-commercial community without any set political belief or ideology. The network gives young people -- especially those who are underprivileged or marginalized -- the opportunity to have their voices heard by a broad audience, to share with the world their ideas, dreams, fascinations, anxieties, and viewpoints.

What does the network consist of?
It consists of the interactive oneminutesjr website, a yearly festival competition, workshops across the world, video broadcasting on ten European public TV channels, and screenings at festivals and events. And this is only for now... As we involve more partners and explore new ways of getting the oneminutesjr videos "out there," the network will continue to expand. If your organization might be interested in joining, then contact Tommi Laitio ( or Raya Ribbius (

Day Six of My School Visit Marathon

For some reason 8 straight days of school visits sounded like a good idea last year when I booked them. Last Monday through Thursday I started my townwide tour of Needham by visiting oodles of fifth graders, then stopped by Barbieri Elementary School's annual author day on Friday (along with Jackie Davies, Jarret Krosoczka and Barbara Macgrath, among others), and am beginning this week with two more days in Needham and Wednesday in Newton at Underwood Elementary School. As my Dad asked today in amazement: "You tell the same jokes in every show?" Yes, Dad, I do. And thankfully the kids are still laughing (at me? with me?), so I must be making some sense.

May is Latino Books Month!

Tipped off by Little Willow, I'm now aware that May is not only about Fusion Stories and Asian Pacific Heritage Month, it's also Latino Books Month. Here's the announcement along with an interesting list of books pulled together by the Association of American Publishers Publishing Latino Voices for America (PLVA) Task Force:
Throughout the month of May, booksellers, librarians, and others in the book industry are encouraged to promote reading among Latinos in their communities, and to raise awareness of the rich variety of books authored by Latinos that are available, in both English and Spanish. For a copy of the summer recommended reading list for 2008 in celebration of Latino Books Month, click here. LBM List - May 08

So How's My Book Doing?

Authors like to tease each other about checking Amazon sales rankings three times a day. But it's no joke. When you're stuck alone in a chair slogging along word by painful word, and royalty statements come twice a year, it's a quick adrenaline fix to see the numbers jump on The Big Lady. If it's your first book (or your seventh), your heart might actually beat a bit faster once you realize that someone hit that 1-click button and bought your book.

Okay, so it's not the most exciting profession in the world.

But what if your Amazon rankings plummet, day in and day out, falling inexorably into the six digits and perhaps even nearing that dreaded SEVEN DIGIT number?

Well, that's when you stop by your favorite indie, where faces light up at the sight of you, your books are featured in a nice display, and they tell you that sales are brisk because of a local "fan base" (a.k.a., your faithful church buddies).

Or else you turn to Worldcat, where the libraries are, and your spirits soar when you see the words "Checked Out" beside your title.

Because it's not really about the sales, right? After all, you could wait tables at a nice joint and earn more than the average children's book advance. No, you insist, vowing to abstain from Amazon visits, it's about connecting your story to the reader. Hey, does anyone know a five-star restaurant in Boston that's hiring? (Just playin' with you, people. Really.)