Showing posts from November, 2008

My Great Thanksgiving OUTLIERS Giveaway

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie's main character shares how strange Thanksgiving is for descendants of America's only non-immigrants:I always think it's funny when Indians celebrate Thanksgiving. I mean, sure, the Indians and Pilgrims were best friends during that First Thanksgiving, but a few years later, the Pilgrims were shooting Indians.

So I'm never quite sure why we eat turkey like everybody else.

"Hey, Dad," I said. "What do Indians have to be so thankful for?"

"We should give thanks that they didn't kill all of us."

We laughed like crazy. It was a good day. Dad was sober. Mom was getting ready to nap. Grandma was already napping.(Source: Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children's Literature)I love good writing that's sad and funny at once, because the combination has a unique power to inspire cultural metanoia.

Alexie's words remind us that one task of survivors is to give thanks for…

I've Got The Royalty Statement Blues

It's an election year.

A couple of brown girls are heading to the White House.

I promoted as hard as I could (even hiring a publicist for the first time).

Reviewers said the books were "fast and funny" and sure to "grab teen readers," described Sameera as "savvy and appealing," and even compared them to the The Princess Diaries series.

My blog buddies did their best to get the buzz going, and readers still send me the nicest fan mail.

So here's my question for my Fire Escape visitors (okay, it's a bit of a whine): WHY AREN'T MY FIRST DAUGHTER BOOKS SELLING MORE COPIES?
They're okay, but honestly? Not your best books.

The covers sent out a "multicultural" vibe, not a "chick lit" vibe, which (I hate to say it) might have hurt sales.

You shouldn't have made Sparrow's Dad a Republican. What were you thinking?

The timing of release was wrong -- June 2007 was way too early for book one.

They should have been released in pap…

Poetry Friday: I'll Eat You, Winter Sun

It's that time of year in Boston when the sun sprints across the sky for the gold.

We've been talking about describing skin color with food metaphors, so it was interesting to note that poets also use that technique to describe the winter sun. Consider stanzas from these two poems, written about a century apart:

— by Robert Louis Stevenson

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

by Whitman McGowan
Outside Paris waterfalls retreated back into mountains.
God Himself became an irrelevant ice cream vendor
slowly scooping a ball of lemon sherbet
from horizon to painted horizon.

So there. I can't stop you, winter sun, but thanks to the power of a good simile, I can eat you. 
The round-up today for Poetry Friday is hosted by readergirlz diva Holly Cupala.
Photo credit: rsms via creative commons.

In Which I Try and Terrify Mother Reader

Writing is a lonely, angst-filled vocation, so when anyone cares -- and I mean really cares -- about your books, you feel so ... validated.

I got that warm and toasty Hallmark-cardish sensation as Pam Coughlan, a.k.a. Mother Reader, delved into the First Daughter books and my current writing projects.

But then I had to wreck it by threatening her life.

Told you writers were odd.

The stupendously massive Winter Blog Blast Tour continues today with Martin Miller at Chasing Ray, John Green at Writing and Ruminating, Beth Kephart at Hip Writer Mama, Emily Ecton at Bildungsroman, John David Anderson at Finding Wonderland, Brandon Mull at The YA YA YAs, and Lisa Papademetriou at Mother Reader.  Enjoy!

Drawing Asian Eyes

Which illustrated children's books portray Asian eyes in an accurate way?
A friend lauds Gene Yang’s AMERICAN BORN CHINESE as an example, saying that “the eyes of the Asian characters, even though drawn with so few lines, show a realistic variation from rather round-eyed to slightly-slanted.” 
Other suggestions? 
Note: SCBWI columnist Anne Sibley O'Brien's new blog, COLORING BETWEEN THE LINES, offers an author/illustrator's perspective on race and culture in children's books. Check it out!

Crossing the Boulevard: Immigrant Stories

The book by Warren Lehrer and Judith Sloan was published in 2003, but Crossing the Boulevard is still collecting stories of new immigrants who came to the U.S. after 1965. I added my story. Why not add yours, or encourage the newcomers in your community to tell the story of their big move?

Teen Fiction With Muslim Heroes

Here are four recent YA novels (not memoir) featuring Muslim protagonists, the first two set in the western world, the second two taking place overseas:
Does My Head Look Big in This?by Randa Abdel-Fattah(read a review in Muslimah Media Watch)
Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos (read a review in Muslimah Media Watch)
In The Name of God by Paula Jolin (read the Fire Escape's interview with the author)
Beneath My Mother's Feet by Amjed Qamar (read the Fire Escape's interview with the author)
When it comes to Muslim boys, I found two relatively recent novels I've not read, both featuring tweens and exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird and Dr. Sonia Nimr, and Samir and Yonatanby Daniella Carmi. 
I can't come up with even one contemporary fiction YA novel featuring an American, British, or North American teen guy hero of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin, Muslim or otherwise. (BTW, I'm glad to see another blogger ra…

PW's Sweet Review of SECRET KEEPER

The book's not out till January, but here are are few excerpts from Publisher Weekly's review of SECRET KEEPER (Delacorte, January 2009):In an intimate and absorbing drama about a displaced Indian family in the 1970s, Perkins (Monsoon Summer) vividly highlights the conflict between traditional Indian values and feminist ideals ... Readers may not always agree with Asha’s bold decisions, but they will admire her courage and selflessness as she puts her family’s needs before her own. Besides offering insight into Indian culture, Perkins offers a moving portrait of a rebellious teen who relies on ingenuity rather than charm to prove her worth. Ages 12–up"Intimate and absorbing," I've been murmuring under my breath as I go about my business. "A moving portrait." That helps to silence the bad voices in my head. Every author hears them, and they must be vanquished.

Winter Blog Blast Tour Starts Today

The power of blog buzz continues to change the industry, and thanks to Mother Reader I find myself in excellent company as the 2008 Winter Blog Blast Tour gets underway.

Lewis Buzbee at Chasing Ray
Louis Sachar at Fuse Number 8
Laurel Snyder at Miss Erin
Courtney Summers at Bildungsroman
Elizabeth Wein at Finding Wonderland
Susan Kuklin at The YA YA YAs
Ellen Dalow at Chasing Ray
Tony DiTerlizzi at Miss Erin
Melissa Walker at Hip Writer Mama
Luisa Plaja at Bildungsroman
DM Cornish at Finding Wonderland
LJ Smith at The YA YA YAs
Kathleen Duey at Bookshelves of Doom
Ellen Klages at Fuse Number 8
Emily Jenkins at Wrting and Ruminating
Ally Carter at Miss Erin
Mark Peter Hughes at Hip Writer Mama
Sarah Darer Littman at Bildungsroman
MT Anderson at Finding Wonderland
Mitali Perkins at Mother Reader

Martin Millar at Chasing Ray
John Green at Writing and Ruminating
Beth Kephart at Hip Writer Mama
Emily Ecton at Bildungsroman
John David Anderson at Finding Wonde…

AMADI'S SNOWMAN by Katia Novet Saint-Lot

Welcome to today's destination on the global tour for AMADI'S SNOWMAN, a picture book from Tilbury House by Katia Novet Saint-Lot, beautifully illustrated by Dimitrea Tokunbo.

One of my standard rants is about books set in Africa that don't name a particular culture or language. AMADI'S SNOWMAN is not one of those irritating stories. From the first sentence, we are taken to a particular village where we meet the one-and-only Amadi, a self-described "Igbo man of Nigeria."

In the first scene, our hero is “crouched in the shrubs, stalking a red-headed lizard." Talk about evoking a sense of place and conveying character with a single economical phrase!

Understandably, Amadi is wondering why in the world he would need to read if he plans on being a businessman like his father. But when he glimpses a snowman in an older boy's book, he's snared by curiosity about this foreign carrot-nosed creation and decides to learn to read.

Novet Saint-Lot has written a …

NOUGHTS AND CROSSES: A Look at Class and Race for UK Teens

Malorie Blackman

In today's Guardian, prolific UK author Malorie Blackman discusses the challenges faced by authors of color writing for young readers:
"Through my whole writing career it seems people have always been criticising me for not tackling racism. But things like even having black characters on covers when I first started was a bit of a political statement, because I've had more than one bookseller say to me 'that book would sell better if you didn't put black people on the cover'."For years she wrote children's books that had "nothing to do with race," where the characters "just happened to be black," but her YA trilogy NOUGHTS AND CROSSES explores power dynamics by creating an alternate Britain where black Crosses dominate the white noughts:"I wanted to play with people's preconceptions," she says, pointing to a scene where a nought child cuts herself and is forced to use a glaringly obvious brown plaster, b…

Books Between Cultures at YALSA's YA Lit Symposium

I've been presenting at conferences here and there over the past few years, but I've never seen anything like the eager crowd in my Books Between Cultures session at YALSA's YA Lit Symposium in Nashville last weekend.

I shouldn't have been surprised by the attendance because teen librarians get the importance of race and culture in the generation they serve. 
The comments and questions from the audience were inspiring and enriching, and afterwards many librarians like Lalitha Nataraj of Chula Vista (pictured to the left) came up to share their own between cultures experiences.

One of my favorite responses came from a young African-American librarian. "I arrived at the conference fighting back that same old feeling of invisibility," she told me. "But I left this session feeling heard and welcomed by everyone in the room." 
Her words alone made the trip worthwhile, but other connections and conversations, as well as the rich content in the sessions I att…

Top Children's Lit Blog Posts of the Day

If you're way too busy to surf the blogs, why not tune into Jon Bard's short, entertaining daily roundup of top children's lit posts at Write4Kids' Children's Book Insider? Full disclosure: my post yesterday made the first edition:

My Epitaph: Suh-weet TY Note

Came home from Nashville (at 1:30 in the morning!) to find a pile of notes from 8th graders. I treasure each thank you, but the ones from boys who'd been dreading my visit are the best:I'd have to admit, at first I wasn't so excited when I heard we had a guest author, because the previous guest authors blab on about this and that and it's not much fun to listen to. But you were not that kind of guest speaker, because you allowed us to interact with writing, personal stories, all sorts of stuff. Also, seriously, what other guest author has a slideshow about her life and writing with the "Thriller" in it? That was pretty awesome. Then the writing workshop was a lot of fun, too. I wrote the last one that you read aloud, about the confused character in the disco club. It was fun to learn the steps you use in writing and apply them all at the same time. I found your "five step" strategy very helpful, and am looking forward to using it in my writing. I wa…

Parents: Evil Book-Banners or Teen Advocates?

I'm at the last day of the YA Lit Symposium listening to "Hit List or Hot List: How Teens Read Now," and Barry Lyga (BOY TOY), Julie Anne Peters (LUNA), and Coe Booth (KENDRA) are discussing the censorship of their books. 
When it comes to "edgy" novels, I'm struck by a growing tension between authors, librarians, publishers, and parents -- all in the name of getting good stories into the hands of teens. The fear of extremism on both sides is limiting even the start of what could be reconciling conversations. 
Instead of tearing down community, couldn't "controversial" novels be a vehicle to strengthen relationships between everyone who cares about teens, including the young people we're trying to protect and empower? 
To do this, though, we can't deal with parents as adversaries. Apart from the age-banding suggestion that's coming from across the Atlantic, how might YA librarians, publishers, and authors earn the trust of the silent …

Author Party at YALSA's YA Lit Symposium

Woo-hoo, I'm done with my last author presentation of 2008! Before I head to downtown Nashville to see Josh Turner, Randy Travis, and Kevin Costner (Country music? Really?) at the Grand Ole Opry, here are a few pictures I took at the author party at the Symposium.  Fun!

Authors Coe Booth (KENDRA) and  Margaret Peterson Haddix (THE HIDDEN)
SLJ's Diane Chen and Luann Toth

Author Crissa-Jean Chappell  (TOTAL CONSTANT ORDER)

Buh-Bye, Illinois. Helloooooo, Nashville!

I spent two days in the communities of Skokie and Schaumburg, Illinois, visiting a variety of schools and libraries, and was amazed by the diversity in these two suburbs of Chicago. 

Between presentations, Linda Zeilstra-Sawyer of  Skokie Library welcomed me  to a lavish lunch
The librarians of Schaumburg personalize a cake for every visiting author

I also squeezed in an afternoon tour of the two-year-old Center of Teaching Through Children's Books at National-Louis University. Directed by Professors Gail Bush and Junko Yokota, the Center is dedicated to excellence in teaching with quality literature for children and adolescents. Translations abound in their growing, colorful collections, as do displays of award-winning books celebrating a world of cultures and social justice. It's well worth a visit if you're in the Chicago area.

Professors Gail Bush and Junko Yokota of the Center for Teaching through Children's Books love to share their vision

Today I'm off to Nashville …

rgz LIVE! with Joseph Bruchac and Cynthia Leitich Smith

November is National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, and we're celebrating it over at readergirlz by welcoming two of our favorite authors: Cynthia Leititch Smith (RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME, TANTALIZE) and Joseph Bruchac (SACAJAWEA). Chat with Cynthia and Joseph at our MySpace group forum TONIGHT, November 6th, 6 p.m. PDT, 9 p.m. EDT.

Art and the Informed Outsider: Interview with Susanna Reich

Joining us today is Susanna Reich, award-winning author of the magnificent PAINTING THE WILD FRONTIER: THE ART AND ADVENTURES OF GEORGE CATLIN (Clarion), a book that reminded me why I loved well-told biographies as a child and still do.

Susanna's story has the power to make a chunk of American history absolutely unforgettable. "A great introduction to Catlin's work and an excellent title to use in social studies, history, and art classes," said ALA's Booklist in a starred review. School Library Journal agreed, giving the book another big star: "This is an excellent choice for libraries looking for good biographies, either for reports or pleasure reading."

I asked the author some tough questions about writing and painting as an "outsider," and about the limits and possibilities of biography. She answered thoughtfully, as is her wont, and I've bolded a few phrases that I especially mulled over, so once again, emphasis mine. Pour yourself a ho…

Here's the Story of a Lovely Lady

On this historic Election Day, I want to offer a tribute to one of the most inspiring women in our nation. She's a champion of freedom, unyielding in her position, and best of all, I think she's wearing a saree.

Yes, I'm talking about the Statue of Liberty, and if you haven't bought your copy of her biography, what are you waiting for? Today's the perfect day to give or get this beautiful book published by Candlewick Press (and download the fabulous free teacher's guide, too).

Written by Doreen Rappaport, the granddaughter of a Latvian immigrant, and magnificently illustrated by Matt Tavares, the grandson of a Portuguese immigrant, LADY LIBERTY describes how our country's symbol of hospitality was built against all odds.

Thanks to a medley of first-person voices, including an engineer, a plasterer, a carpenter, a poet, a coppersmith, a journalist, and even a farmer's daughter, this story of the Statue reads like a song that makes you want to place your han…

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I'm voting tomorrow morning here in Massachusetts and then flying to Illinois for three days, followed by a trip to Nashville, Tennessee this weekend to present at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium.

Here's an invite blurb for those who live in the Chicago area. Feel free to post and email it right and left -- I'd love to get a good turnout for the faithful librarians who have worked so hard to make this author visit happen.
Mitali Perkins (author of MONSOON SUMMER and the FIRST DAUGHTER books) is coming to the Chicago area for author visits to the Skokie and Schaumburg communities.

On Wednesday, November 5 from 7-8:30 p.m., she'll present a workshop for adults, BOOKS BETWEEN CULTURES, in the Skokie Library's Mary Radmacher Meeting Room. This free event is open to the public, and is similar to the workshop she'll be giving at YALSA's YA Lit Symposium in Nashville on Saturday, November 7th.

On Thursday, November 6 from 7-8 p.m., she'll offer STORIES ON THE …

I Get Choked Up When I Vote

I remember singing MY COUNTRY 'TIS OF THEE as a new American. I'd shut up for one line: "Land where my fathers died," because that wasn't true for me. But when it came to "Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing," I BELTED it out, and still do.

I don't want to take for granted rights that people are willing to die for in other parts of the world. As I head to the polls on November 4, 2008, I remember two freedoms I cherish as an American by choice.

1. I can speak my mind.

Nobody's going to drag me off to prison if I stand on the street declaring my allegiance to either Barack Obama or John McCain. I can denounce the current administration in front of the White House day and night and the police would have to protect me.

It's not like that everywhere. In Burma, for example, I'd be hauled off to prison if I wrote or spoke my support of Aung San Suu Kyi, a leader chosen by the people but sentenced to silence and house arrest by the government fo…