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Showing posts from July, 2008

FIRST DAUGHTER Paperback Release Day!

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Today I'm celebrating the release of affordable paperback copies of FIRST DAUGHTER: EXTREME AMERICAN MAKEOVER from Puffin/Speak books. I hope they sell well, because the fate of sequel FIRST DAUGHTER: WHITE HOUSE RULES in paperback form depends on it.

In honor of the book's release, I sent Malia and Sasha Obama a signed copy of RICKSHAW GIRL just for the heck of it (they're a bit young for the FIRST DAUGHTER books, which I sent to Bridget McCain months ago).

Six Questions To Ask About A Story: #4

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Here's the next installment in the Fire Escape's summer series of six questions to ask about a book.

Question Four: Who are the people affecting change in the story?

The book or flick might be set in another country or feature characters who aren't white, but are the problems solved by a Great White Knight or Messianic Foreigner?


Or, once again, as we wondered when we asked Question #1, is there a Magic Negro who saves the day?


Cartoon Source: Black Commentator

Are Brits More Into Blurbs?

Following up on yesterday's blurb discussion, I was struck by the Top Ten Series hosted across the Atlantic by the Guardian, where "authors choose their favourite books on their chosen theme."

Focusing on children's literature, authors like Joanne Harris and Meg Rosoff have shared their ten favorite kids' books with kick-ass heroines (Harris) or adult books for teens (Rosoff).

Does anybody know of a similar "authors' favorite children's books" resource here in the States that's more current than the (interesting) features at Salon, Great Schools, Cynsations, or Education World?

Blurb Power: Does it Work?

For the first time in my career, I hesitantly approached a couple of my favorite bestselling YA authors, asking if they'd consider reading SECRET KEEPER and, if they liked it, sending me a quote that could be printed on the cover. Neither accepted my invitation -- politely, for perfectly valid reasons -- so the book will be blurb-free.

Then last week, I was approached by a first-time novelist to be quoted on her book. "I've got sweaty palms," she informed me in her email request, and I knew exactly how she felt. It was hard to ask.

Now I'm wondering -- can a validation from another author on the cover convince a reader to buy or borrow a book?

Children's Books About Economics

Some of you Fire Escape visitors might not know that before I became a mommy-slash-writer, I taught political science and international relations as a visiting professor at Pepperdine University.

My biggest challenge was standing at the board struggling to explain economic principles to my increasingly befuddled students. If only I had known back then what I know now — that kid lit can be used to teach almost anything.

Yana Rodgers, director of the Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children, sent me this nice review of Rickshaw Girl published on EconKids, a rich (pun intended) site featuring children's books that teach economics. Here's the site's mission statement:This website provides teachers, parents, and volunteers with ideas for using children's literature to introduce economics to children. This site also reviews new books from leading publishers and makes selections for Book of the Month and Top Five categories. Unlike many of the existing websites on …

Jay Asher's readergirlz Chat is Tonight

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Want to get the scoop on the NYT bestseller 13 REASONS WHY? Discuss the book, the path to publication, and the aftermath of success with the author himself.

Jay Asher (a.k.a. Disco Mermaid) will be chatting live at the readergirlz forum today, Thursday, July 24th, at 6 PM PST/9 PM EST. The chat will last for about an hour, and you don't even need to have read the book to join in. Check out the latest readergirlz issue, and we'll see you at the forum!

Jennifer Hunt: Editor Between Cultures

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Check out the PWprofile of Jennifer Hunt, executive editor at Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, who has worked on several books nominated for the National Book Award, including The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, last year's winner.

Hunt's childhood gives her a unique take on race and children's literature: Her personal background—she was adopted and raised by a white family—plays a role in the books that interest her. “Fish-out-of-water and identity stories have special appeal to me,” she says. “Being [raised] in New Mexico and Colorado, where you do feel different a lot of times—there were things during my own childhood that I had to grapple with...”Hunt believes that the biggest way in which her race affects her work is her ability to have frank discussions on the subject with authors.“We don't have to tiptoe around it,”she says, noting,“We still sometimes want to put writers in boxes, [but] I don't think about it that way. I j…

Paper Tigers on Multicultural Literacy

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The must-link-to-and-visit Paper Tigers site is featuring an issue on multicultural literacy, offering up a fascinating interview with blogger and book advocate Jen Robinson and another with author Monica Brown, who discusses the links between literacy and culture and highlights the importance of bilingual books.

Six Questions To Ask About A Story: #3

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This summer I'm sharing a series of six questions which I encourage readers and educators to ask about a book. (BTW, I'll be offering my BOOKS BETWEEN CULTURES presentation at YALSA's YA Lit Symposium, where we'll be discussing these questions and more.)

Question Three: Do the illustrations or cover art make the characters seem either more or less foreign than depicted in the story?


Nowhere in Cynthia Kadohata's book WEEDFLOWER does Sumiko wear a kimono. Why did the publisher feel they had to make her look more Japanese than American, especially when a girl in jeans behind barbed wire would be more historically accurate and powerful?

And listen to Ursula LeGuin's perspective before considering the advance release copy of her novel POWERS (cover art below to the left), which the publisher eventually changed to reflect the protagonist's Himalayan ancestry:The characters are white. Even when they aren’t white in the text, they are white on the cover. I know, yo…

Is Kazuo Ishiguro a Hyphenated Writer?

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One of my indulgences during time away from the Fire Escape is voracious reading. I finally had the chance to devour NEVER LET ME GO by British author Kazuo Ishiguro, a gripping novel about cloning that was honored by YALSA with an Alex Award (given to "adult books that will appeal to young adult readers.")

I've enjoyed a few of Ishiguro's other novels, relishing the author's mastery of understatement and his description of non-verbals. I've also marveled that as an Asian-born immigrant writer, Ishiguro has managed to escape being classified as such. Are Brit writers given more freedom than Americans to create protagonists of many ethnicities, I've wondered?

Ishiguro himself has said he doesn't write at all like Japanese novelists. In an interview with Allan Vorda and Kim Herzinger ("Stuck on the Margins: An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro," FACE TO FACE: INTERVIEWS WITH CONTEMPORARY NOVELISTS), Ishiguro said, "if I wrote under a pseudonym …

Looking Like You Can Say It

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I put my high-school Spanish to test this past week South of the Border. During a bunch of tourist activities (yes, that's me hurtling into a canyon), I re-discovered the power of looking like you know a language.

If a blonde or freckled American would attempt to communicate in Spanish, a guide would turn to me in bewilderment. I'd shrug and repeat the question, often word for word. Inevitably, the look of bewilderment on our host's face would disappear, and he'd rattle off an answer at full-speed.

Makes me wonder how preconceptions about appearance affect how I hear and understand voices. Do I tune in only when a person "looks" like they should be in the know? And do I ignore the words of those who don't?

Secret Keeper Book Blurb

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I'll be back on the Fire Escape tomorrow. In the meantime, here's the blurb on the book jacket of SECRET KEEPER (Delacorte, January 13, 2009), composed by editor Françoise Bui:
When her father loses his job and leaves India to look for work in America, Asha Gupta, her older sister, Reet, and their mother must wait with Baba’s brother and his family, as well as their grandmother, in Calcutta. Uncle is welcoming, but in a country steeped in tradition, the three women must abide by his decisions. Asha knows this is temporary—just until Baba sends for them. But with scant savings and time passing, the tension builds: Ma, prone to spells of sadness, finds it hard to submit to her mother- and sister-in-law; Reet’s beauty attracts unwanted marriage proposals; and Asha's promise to take care of Ma and Reet leads to impulsive behavior. What follows is a firestorm of rebuke—and secrets revealed! Asha’s only solace is her rooftop hideaway, where she pours her heart out in her diary, a…

Fire Escape's 2008 Short Fiction First Prize Winner

First Prize Fire Escape's 2008 Short Story Contest
Threads of Memory by Teresa, Vietnam/America, Age 19It's a perfect memory, one told to me by my grandmother as she gazes at me from behind thick lenses that distort her wide brown eyes. She tells a tale that could easily be mistaken for a bedtime story, if I were still a child. But instead, my grandmother is the one tucked into a standard-issue hospital bed, frail against white sheets. The door is open and I can hear the squeaky shoes of the nurses. My grandmother lies back, and tells me a story of a life far removed from the scent of disinfectant and mass-produced meals.I often tell stories about my grandparents, about how one chilly night, they leave the portable heater on for too long and burn through the carpet. It is a brush with death, one of the many examples of recklessness that have become increasingly frequent in their old age. But my grandmother tells a happier story.Her story takes place on a sunny, Disney-perfect …

Fire Escape's 2008 Poetry First Prize Winner

First Prize Fire Escape 2008 Poetry Contest

Doll Skin
by Monika, Panama/USA, Age 17 Dear Josephina, I owe you an apology
many years in the making
I am sorry that you were always
last in line
That when my mother said
you look so much alike
I would scowl
I am sorry that I
loved Summer over you
that her blond hair
and green eyes
made me smile like
I never smiled at you
I am sorry that when my grandmother
made matching dresses
I never gave you one
that your thick dark hair
never was braided
never was brushed
I am sorry I pronounced your name
with a stiff and angry
J
Josephina
I knew it was wrong
but most of all
I am so sorry
that I hated my
own skin
and that you
had to
live in it

Fire Escape's 2008 Short Fiction Second Prize Winner

Second Prize Fire Escape's 2008 Short Story Contest
The Language of Smoke
by Laura, Brazil/America, Age 17She spends her twelfth birthday in the corner of a large, white room, farthest from where pork-scented smoke cloaks charring meat with wide, slow strokes. She will smell thoroughly of the day soon. Already she feels like meat, prodded and passed, reduced to lukewarm, malleable flesh. Unknown cousins have touched her neck with smooth, dry hands, kissed her cheeks, stood close to her next to the salads, offered her Guaraná in murky English: You want… some…Guaraná?And she has managed to turn her head to the left and to the right and up and down and to let one side of her mouth crease into an oval dimple; she has managed to shuffle, her back bent forward as if weighed down by her head, to the food and then to this corner.

She is ugly today. Especially here. Her cheeks are flecked with pimples that fatten as they near her hairline and her hair kinks uncertainly around her face, as if…

Fire Escape's 2008 Poetry Second Prize Winner

Second Prize Fire Escape's 2008 Poetry Contest

Mother's Burden
by J. Javier, El Salvador/USA Age 17Heavy snoring at night after a long day's work,
you soldier on through the quagmires of life.
Cries of children all day, teenage tantrums at night,
you swim your deep dark oceans,
force painful new strokes into the water,
no man to appreciate your agony,
burden of your beauty.

Arthritic legs from weeks of caring for strange babies,
yet you run through sword sharp fields of elephant grass, unharmed.
Dirty-diapered mornings, dirty-dished nights,
yet you carry our family on your embracing wings,
flying through green-back storms,
no man to understand your struggle,
a selfless burden.

Puffy, red eyes after years of working every day of the week,
yet you guide my hands to the lighted door in life's dark caves.
steps missed at sunrise; sunset meals unprepared,
yet you gallantly dance through burning forests,
avoiding the rain walking in the fire,
no man t…

Fire Escape's 2008 Short Fiction Third Prize Winner

Third Prize 2008 Fire Escape Short Story Contest
Pancakes or Porathas
by Naureen, Bangladesh/America, Age 15 Existing as a blend of two different heritages does not necessarily imply that you are a harmonious blend. Some people coo that you are "so lucky to be able to experience two cultures," to live the American lifestyle at school and go home to the smell of Bengali home-cooking. Others, however, notice the oddly shaped edges of your piece of the puzzle. You don't quite fit in anywhere. You notice it on a daily basis.Your mother asks if you would like pancakes or porathas for breakfast – in Bengali. You reply in clear English, "Neither, I want cereal." Your mom clucks her tongue, a subtle reminder that makes you freshly aware of how fortunate you are to live in a land of wealth and opportunity, an infamous land called America. In Bangladesh, nearly every breakfast would consist of porathas, fried squares of dough used to hug vegetables so you can enjoy two f…

Fire Escape's 2008 Poetry Third Prize Winner

Third Prize Fire Escape 2008 Poetry Contest

For Your Pathos
by Miranda, China/USA, Age 17you will pound mettle into me
before our years are over—
I sometimes wonder
if this is your intent, or
perhaps
you have failed even yourself.

at one time
yours were my only margins,
and I fit snugly
between the lines of your page.

your stark nakedness of mind
was protected only
by the thin threads that bound us.

but soon, you snapped and were felled
by your own
thin daggers.

I resent you
because you remind me
of what is impossible.

Fire Escape's 2008 Short Fiction Third Prize Winner

While I'm away on a short holiday, I'm pleased to present the winners of the Fire Escape's sixth annual teen poetry and short fiction contests. Today we'll begin with one of the third prize winners in the short fiction category (two entries came so close I had to award a tie.)

Third Prize 2008 Short Story Contest
A Cultural Chasm by Kenneth, China/America, Age 17

To Lee, culture entailed addition, not subtraction.
Yet, he could never seem to maximize his equation --
the world would forbid it. Living in America, he
inadvertently formed a cultural chasm with his Chinese
relatives. However, the same would happen no matter
where he lived.His Chinese grandmother would call -- her broken
English wishing him well and urging him to succeed.
When Lee passed the phone to his mother, he could
faintly hear that broken English morphing into a
stream of fluid Mandarin, expressing untold,
unnumbered ideas and beautiful, complex emotions. He
just couldn't understand.This fact was clarified man…

Notable Books For A Global Society

The Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association came up with a list of 25 Notable Books for a Global Society.

The committee considered "works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for students in grades K-12 that encourage readers to understand, accept, and celebrate cultural differences as well as recognize shared aspects of the human experience across time and space."

I'm proud to be part of the 2008 NBGS book list:

Picture Books

1. Bae, Hyun-Joo. New Clothes for New Year's Day. La Jolla, CA: Kane-Miller 2. Bryan, Ashley. Let It Shine. NY: Atheneum 3. Fleischman, Paul. Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella. Illustrated by Julie Paschkis. NY: Henry Holt 4. Judge, Lita. One Thousand Tracings. NY: Hyperion 5. Levine, Ellen. Henry's Freedom Box. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. NY: Scholastic 6. Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. NY: Farrar Straus & Giroux 7. Stanton, Karen. Pap…

Jay Asher at readergirlz in July

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We're talking about NYT bestseller 13 REASONS WHY on readergirlz this month, and welcoming author Jay Asher.  Here are a few things you might not know about Jay:
On his nightstand: A really thick biography of Charles Schulz

Favorite drink while he writes: Coffee with cream and sugar

Favorite bookstore: Vroman's

Favorite library: San Luis Obispo Public Library (and not just because I work there)

Pet: I haven't owned a pet since Dodger (a beagle)

Place to write: Linnaea's Café

Inspiration: People watching

Writer-buddies: Robin Mellom & Eve Porinchak (we blog together as The Disco Mermaids)

Cures for writer's block: Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream (it solves nothing, but it makes me forget there was a problem)

Favorite outfit: Pajama bottoms and a T-shirt

Long-hand or laptop? Laptop (but I often brainstorm long-hand)

Stilettos or Uggs? If it counts, I've worn stilettos for a costume

Author idols: Stephen King & Ray Bradbury

YA novels he recommends:
Stargirl …

Kahani Magazine Shines From New England

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Every year India New England showcases women who are "contributing to future generations." Award-winning Kahani magazine's Monika Jain and Sunitha Das were especially honored this year, and rightfully so. 
A quarterly for kids that "illuminates the richness and diversity that South Asian cultures bring to North America," Kahani was recently lauded by a member of the Child_Lit listserv: I love this magazine. I am not a kid, I do not have kids, and I do not have any kind of South Asian heritage (Germany is as close as it gets), but I LOVE getting this mag (and passing it on to local kids/schools when I finish). It's beautifully illustrated, well-conceived and often contains little gems of stories from familiar Child Lit names — all at a totally reasonable subscription price. The magazine runs a wonderful contest for young writers and illustrators, and provides a community for those of us who share a South Asian heritage in the children's book world. (On a…

Ypulse Gets Bookish

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Ypulse.com, a rich online resource and one of my regular must-read blogs, was founded by Anastasia Goodstein, author of TOTALLY WIRED and nationally renowned expert on American tweens, teens and early twentysomethings.

Yesterday Ypulse.com announced the launch of Ypulse Books, a blog and newsletter that covers books for children and young adults, providing insight on what children and young adults read, the latest trends in how books are marketed to youth, and efforts to increase youth literacy.

And if you're planning to be in the Bay Area on July 14th, don't miss the Ypulse Books/Publishing Preconference at the 2008 Ypulse National Mashup conference.

"For a lot of us, we eat, sleep, and breath, young adult literature, but we know it's changing every day," said Alli Decker, Editor of Ypulse Books. "It will be so exciting to exchange information, resources and especially ideas about the new developments on the YA horizon."