Author Visit Season / Spring 2008

This is my fourth year of visiting schools, and I'm learning that most want to book an author during the fall or the spring. Brookline, for example, invited me to be their Sakar Fund author this March and April in all eight of their elementary schools. The Town of Needham, too, wanted an author to visit every school during April and May so they won a grant and invited me to come.

Schools in my home state are unusually open to author bookings. Brookline and Needham are both twenty minutes away. I drove to Thoreau School in Concord, Massachusetts last Wednesday, and am day-tripping twice to the Pike School in Andover, Massachusetts next week. I do repeat performances every year in my own town of Newton, where you have to be approved by the Creative Arts and Sciences Division to visit schools. So I may be spoiled when comparing the options available to authors based in other states, but I think the school visit soil in most places may be arable if not as fertile.

How does an author get started? In 2005, I created and offered a few (horrible, I'm afraid) presentations for free, was previewed and reviewed, improved and adapted my shows to enhance the curriculum, and slowly word began to spread. I researched, asked other authors what they charged, and put some middlish-of-the-road fees on my site in an a la carte list along with descriptions of my presentations. Some authors don't mention money on their sites -- they prefer to negotiate individual offers or use an agent. I do my booking myself (I like the control and prefer the direct access to educators), figuring that publishing my fees online might deliver me from countless back and forth emails.

Why do school visits at all? For me, as an ex-teacher who hated grading but loves teaching, it's first and foremost fabulous to be back in a classroom. Second, I get paid to be silly (and to educate, don't worry). Third, it does get the word out about my books. Fourth, I connect to the culture of my readers. Fifth, I receive awesome fan mail. Sixth, I still have time in my week for revision and promotion (if I don't waste it all playing Scrabulous). And finally, school visits leave me with an uninterrupted six months of summer and winter for writing; a nice seasonal rhythm that is beginning to shape the fleeting years.

Unique to Books: Cogency and Privacy

The argument for us glass-half-full types is that literacy isn't tanking at all. No, these days stories are morphing away from the printed page and emerging from other vessels like screens, or entering our souls through the ear rather than the eye. And it's not just teens -- I do more and more of my reading online and my consumption of podcasts is rising exponentially. We're reading, I scoff at the doomsayers, just differently, that's all.

But then I left my computer for ten days and discovered the truth of Howard Gardner's two sad postscripts in an otherwise upbeat take on literacy:
Two aspects of the traditional book may be in jeopardy, however. One is the author's capacity to lay out a complex argument, which requires the reader to study and reread, following a circuitous course of reasoning. The Web's speedy browsing may make it difficult for digital natives to master Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" (not that it was ever easy).

The other is the book's special genius for allowing readers to enter a private world for hours or even days at a time. Nowadays young people seem to have a compulsion to stay in touch with one another all the time; one of the dividends of book reading may fade away.
The latter gift of extended privacy, which I think comes more from fiction while the gift of cogency from non-fiction, is exactly what I enjoyed during my recent reading extravaganza -- each novel was a journey to another place and time, vacations within a vacation, solitude my soul relished even while I was enjoying time with family.

So now I'm wondering how my digitally native sons are losing out. Will their click-here-and-there minds lose the capacity to understand long, complex arguments? Will their facebooked souls know what to do with extended solitude? Or in the future will those particular skills become as anachronistic as classical rhetoric or the art of courtly love?

Beach Reads

As usual, I read like a deprived addict while on hiatus, which is otherwise known as basking on my favorite Kona beach. Here's the list, not in order of consumption and unexpurgated (a word I've always wanted to use):

Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery (in honor of Anne's centennial) for the twentieth time
Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen
Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
Slam by Nick Hornby
Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman
Entertainment Weekly
Coastal Living
Christianity Today

the Bible
my own manuscript, The Secret Keeper

Paula Yoo on Writing Asian

A former writer for People magazine and the television series West Wing, Paula Yoo had never created an Asian character before penning her debut YA novel Good Enough (Harper Teen).

Here she is guest-blogging at YAYAYAs, explaining how the genre helped her to find her voice. She's the next-gen Asian American writer -- one who can succeed in creating stories within mainstream pop culture and yet also express the view from the margins, moving back and forth so fast the borders blur for all of us.

February Fire Escape Break

I'm taking my annual winter vacation hiatus and will be back 2/26. Peace be with you till we meet again.

I'm So Judgmental

Not only am I serving as a judge for the PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship and for the Cybils Fiction Picture Book Award (winner announced tomorrow!), now I've been asked to judge the Massachusetts School Library Association's Annual Bookmark Contest. Anyone else want to put my discernment skills to the test? Because they are becoming razor sharp with all this practice.

Raising Politically Engaged Kids

Here I am, guest-blogging at Moms Rising, with this post:

Raising Politically Engaged Kids

Posted February 12th, 2008 by Mitali Perkins

By the time the next President is in the third year of his or her term, my teenagers will be eligible for the draft. Believe me, we're watching the candidates' closely when it comes to their views on war -- and arguing about them. If your family's anything like ours, you're probably talking campaign, election, and issues around the dinner table, too.

It can be challenging to discuss politics across generations without someone melting down (usually you) or tuning out (usually them). Here are six tips for parents as we try and inspire our young adults to a lifetime of activism.

Tips 1-5: Habits For Good Conversations

Be teachable. A conversation isn't about one person sharing knowledge and information with another. That's better known as a lecture (or so I've been told). Listen to teens, allowing them and others to inform your opinions.

Be honorable. It's okay to take issue with a candidate's positions, but disparaging his or her character is a definite turnoff to teens and twenty-somethings. To everyone, in fact.

Be flexible. Your candidate isn't Jesus. Teens appreciate hearing how we disagree with the person we support. Give them the grace to do the same, and don't take differing opinions personally. Endorsing your candidate's opponent doesn't mean a young person is repudiating your authority. Although it might.

Be controversial. Surprise and provoke them once in a while by saying something radical, starting with "I totally disagree with _____" or "I 100% agree that ____."

Be passionate. Caring deeply about an election is contagious. Young people who watch us thinking deeply and talking freely about our opinions will be more likely to do the same. And they'll be more likely to vote now and in the future if they remember us faithfully trekking to the ballot box during primaries and elections.

Tip 6: Stories For Great Transformations

Last but not least, be literate. Why not inspire your teen to activism through the power of story? Through Readergirlz, our 5000-member on-line forum at MySpace and Facebook, we're seeing teens make the connection between great stories and world-changing action. As Woodrow Wilson used to say, the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

For readers, suggest a novel about politics, like Ellen Emerson White's riveting books about a girl whose mother becomes President, and First Boy by Newbery Honor author Gary Schmidt. Or visit, where the main character of my novels, fictional First Daughter Sparrow Righton, is blogging about the real First Kid wannabes. Elizabeth Edwards and Josh Romney have both left notes for Sparrow - why don't you try it, too? Sparrow always answers back.

If stories about life in the political limelight don't interest your teen, offer one about an issue that might speak to his or her heart. Try Patricia McCormack's Sold, for example, which personalizes the plight of human trafficking. Then call or email the candidates' campaign teams to find out whether he or she has taken a stand on that particular issue. To start, check out Hilary Clinton's views about trafficking here, written when she was First Lady.

If your son or daughter cares about AIDS or poverty, consider Ana's Story by Jenna Bush, and visit the ONE site to see what the candidates have to say about global want. If he or she is concerned about terrorism, read Paula Jolin's In the Name of God, a novel about a Syrian girl who considers becoming a suicide bomber. Then google news sites together to discover what the candidates have said about terrorism and about Islam.

Not all great stories come to us via the pages of a book, and you may not have a teen who likes to read. Politically-oriented films abound for family movie nights, ranging from funny to classic, or featuring a President as the central character. If your teen's curious about life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, here's a list of stories about the White House made for both the big and small screens .

If our dream is to raise lifelong activists, we can use this election to jumpstart healthy conversations at home. We can connect our children to great stories that change minds, hearts, and lives. And of course, last but not least, we have to remember the age-old practice of parental modeling and head out to vote in every election, rain or shine.


Mitali Perkins ( studied Political Science at Stanford University and Public Policy at UC Berkeley. She's a Readergirlz diva and the author of two novels about a candidate's daughter, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover and First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton). Her main character, Sameera Righton, described by Publishers Weekly as "an intelligent, witty and prepossessed heroine," is keeping track of the hype around the REAL First Kid wannabes at To learn more about the novels, visit


Will REAL sparrowblogger stand up?

Help! I'm having one of those existential "who am I?" moments. Here's the scoop. 

So in First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, a middle-aged marketing guru writes a fake blog for Sameera, and she reasserts her voice by going public with a real blog called sparrowblog.

For campaign '08, I've been tracking the real candidates' kids through, which is basically me (a middle-aged marketing guru wannabe) pretending to be Sparrow. One of Sparrow's fans apparently didn't like that much, so she set up another blog with Sparrow's real blog entries from the book. It's called THE REAL SAMEERA SPARROW RIGHTON.  

I have no idea who this wonderful person is, but I love her spirit.  The problem is that Sparrow's "real" blog entries were also written by, er, me.

My conclusion: we're all characters in a story; nobody is real.

Kid Questions and Brain Pings

I love answering questions during author visits. What I've learned, though, is that most questions reveal more about the people asking them (i.e., the kids) than about the person going on and on up front (i.e., me).

After years of fielding questions during my presentations at schools and libraries, I'm finding myself getting pinged by a variety of odd thoughts. Sometimes it's worth listening to those internal noises before I answer. Here are three questions I was asked during a visit with fourth, fifth, and sixth graders last Wednesday, for example, and the corresponding muttering in the strange place called my brain:

Q. Do you feel more at home in the California house you grew up in or in your house here in Massachusetts?

Brain Ping: This kid looks a bit wistful. She might have two homes herself. Divorce? A recent move? Tread carefully.

A. Both feel like home. That's the amazing thing. You can feel at home in many places if you're willing to be flexible and enjoy the best things about all of them.

Q. If you could go back in your life and change something that happened, what would it be?

Brain Ping: Shy kid. Boy. Took guts to ask such a deep question. Maybe has a regret?

A. I've learned that the hardest things I've gone through have made me the person I am, so I wouldn't change them, no. Now that I've survived them, I find I'm most thankful for the challenges in my life. When I regret something I've done, I try to ask for forgiveness, but there's no use letting it haunt me forever, right?

Q. How do you stand living so far away from your parents?

Brain Ping: This girl's from Bangladesh. She gets the intensity of my South Asian filial ties, even though I'm middle-aged. I can give it to her straight.

A. I can't. I hate it. I miss them every day, every moment.

I stick to the truth because the pings aren't always right, but I like listening because they remind me that it's never about me -- it's about the kids with the courage to raise a hand and ask a question from the heart.

28 Days On The Brown Bookshelf

The Fire Escape gets frequent queries from educators wondering where to find non-white authors and illustrators in the children's book world. "Is there an updated list of African-American authors and illustrators anywhere on the web?" they ask, and I can hear the frustration in their cyber voices. Well, my good librarians, teachers, and parents, whinge no more.

In celebration of Black History Month 2008, the Brown Bookshelf has gone way beyond a list. They're presenting us with the gift of 28 days later, featuring a different author and illustrator every day in February. Here's the schedule of luminaries and award-winners discussing their work (I've linked to the interviews that took place before today):

Feb 1 — Christopher Paul Curtis - Elijah of Buxton

Feb 2 — Michelle Meadows – The Way The Storm Stops

Feb 3 — Dana Davidson - Played

Feb 4 — Rita Williams-Garcia – No Laughter Here

Feb 5 — G. Neri – Chess Rumble & Sean Qualls - Phillis’s Big Test

Feb 6 — Janice N. Harrington – The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

Feb 7 — Eleanora E. Tate – Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance

Feb 8 — Patricia McKissack – The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll

Feb 9 — M. Sindy Felin – Touching Snow

Feb 10 — Jabari Asim – Daddy Goes To Work

Feb 11 — Mildred D. Taylor – The Road To Memphis

Feb 12 — Nina Crews - The Neighborhood Mother Goose & Leonard Jenkins – Sweet Land of Liberty

Feb 13 — Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu – The Shadow Speaker

Feb 14 — Allison Whittenberg – Sweet Thang

Feb 15 — Walter Dean Myers - Game

Feb 16 — Tonya Bolden – George Washington Carver

Feb 17 — Troy Cle – The Marvelous Effect

Feb 18 — Eloise Greenfield – The Friendly Four

Feb 19 — Sundee T. Frazier – Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything In It & John Holyfield - Bessie Smith & the Night Riders

Feb 20 — Carole Boston Weatherford – I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer

Feb 21 — Karen English - Nikki & Deja

Feb 22 — Coe Booth - Tyrell

Feb 23 — Irene Smalls – My Pop Pop and Me

Feb 24 — Stephanie Perry Moore – Prayed Up: Perry Skky Jr. #4

Feb 25 — Kyra E. Hicks, Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria

Feb 26 — Celise Downs – Dance Jam Productions & Shane Evans- When Harriet Met Sojourner

Feb 27 — Valerie Wilson Wesley – Willimena Rules!: 23 Ways to mess up Valentine’s Day

Feb 28 — Sherri L. Smith - Sparrow

Bunches of Book Trailers

Here's a list of YA book trailers compiled by Jonathan Hunt of adbooks:

AIRMAN by Eoin Colfer

INTO THE WILD by Sarah Beth Durst


LEONARDO'S SHADOW by Christopher Grey



I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME by Lisa Schroeder

MEGIDDO'S SHADOW by Arthur Slade

THE HARROWING by Alexandra Solokoff

PROJECT 17 by Laurie Stolarz

HALLOWMERE by Tiffany Trent

PARROTFISH by Ellen Wittlinger

Wonder how many of them, besides mine, were completely homemade and cost nothing. Well, at least you can compare the amateurs with the pros.

Super First Daughter Book Launch Party: The Abridged Version

If you didn't make it to my book launch party on 2/3/08 at Wellesley Booksmith, here's a 3-minute snippet (to explain my wardrobe, it was Super Bowl Sunday and the Pats hadn't yet crashed and burned):

Attendees included authors Karen Day (Tall Tales, No Cream Puffs) and Anne Broyles (Priscilla and the Hollyhocks), bloggers J. L. Bell, HipWriterMama, and Sarah Rettger of ABA Omnibus fame, Monika Jain, editor of Kahani Magazine, Gail Hedges of the Foundation of Children's Books, a reporter from New Moon Magazine's exciting new online zine aimed at teens, orb28 (scheduled to launch in March), and other friends and faithful family members.

The hospitality at Wellesley Booksmith is unmatched, and I highly recommend it as a venue for any author's book party, along with my other favorite local indie, Newtonville Books.

Don't Know How You'll Vote?

Geeks are jamming the web with tools to inform us about the candidates and their positions. Five websites in particular can help even the most undecided voter make a choice. These are nonpartisan resources, and user-friendly for teens and adults alike.

Expert Voter: Provides a handy-dandy one page matrix of clips with the candidates sharing views on Iraq, immigration, energy, nuclear proliferation, healthcare, education, social security, taxes, and campaign reform.

Fact Check: Monitors the truth of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.

Match-O-Matic: Developed by ABC and USA Today, this interactive site quizzes you on your views to see how you match up on the hot issues with the candidates.

Ask Your Lawmaker: Users submit questions and vote on them, and then journalists track down lawmakers in Congress and on the campaign trail to get those questions answered.

Vote Smart: Volunteer citizens provide biographical information, voting records, issue positions, interest group ratings, public statements, and campaign finance information so you can find out who your candidates are really representing. With a wealth of information a point and click away, and computers in homes, offices, and in almost every public library, American voters have more power than ever before.

Mitali Perkins ( is the author of two novels for teens about a candidate’s daughter, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover and First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton). Her main character, Sameera Righton, described by Publishers Weekly as “an intelligent, witty and prepossessed heroine,” is keeping track of the hype around the REAL First Kid wannabes at To learn more about the books, visit


The Thighs of a Sherpa: SuperBowl Ads

Although I prefer last year's ad, Carlos Mencia and his gang of endearing immigrant geeks managed to pull off another one that comes near to but not quite crosses the line:

Meanwhile, another racist ad angered Asians everywhere. Check out the combo of Chinese accented English, anthropomorphized immigrants eating bamboo, and psychic savior with the "American" voice:

The crazy news is that the ads were designed to be racist. They were conceptualized and written by Vin Gupta, the founder and chairman of the company, in an effort to create the worst ads of the year and gain the company some name recognition. Gupta, born and educated in India before settling in the USA, once served as the ambassador to Fiji.

Since most viewers didn't know that the ads were purposely bad, how did they react to it? Some might not have even noticed the racism while others immediately and publicly berated it, thus fulfilling the company's hopes of spreading their brand. And then there's the group I'm concerned about -- first gen kids who winced at the thought of their classmates, most of whom aren't savvy enough to recognize a marketing ploy, watching it. 

Next year, if the company wants to pull this stunt again, why not add an honest last frame pointing viewers to a url like Wouldn't that be slightly more ... should we say diplomatic, Mr. Gupta?

Boston Globe Love

Susan Chaityn Lebovitz of the Boston Globe recently wrote a story about me and my buddy Karen Day (author of Tall Tales and No Cream Puffs, both from Wendy Lamb Books). And today, the paper's Jan Gardner included the First Daughter books and sparrowblog in her weekly Shelf Life column. The hometown rag's been good to me.

Super Tuesday For Teens and Tweens

John Sellers of PW's Childrens Bookshelf recently compiled a list of books for kids of all ages related to the election in Children's Publishers Stuff The Ballot Box. I culled the list for tween and teen appropriate fiction (you'll notice a couple of familiar titles on the list if you're a Fire Escape regular):
  • First Boy by Gary Schmidt (Square Fish, ages 12-up).
I'm not quite sure how the powers that be figure out the age appropriateness of novels (my two books differ, for example, and I have no idea why).  Any additions to the list?

SLJ February Reviews

School Library Journal's February issue is chock full of reviews, including a nice one about my First Daughter: White House Rules:
... Sameera's world is one of diverse political persuasions, faiths, and ethnicities, where kindness and understanding allow all people to get along. In a genuine online blog, as well as a MySpace profile, Perkins has created a life for Sameera that extends beyond the book. Readers who enjoy Meg Cabot's "Princess Diaries" (HarperCollins) and others of the same ilk will enjoy reading about Sameera.

ReaderGirlz: Featuring Nikki Grimes

The February issue of Readergirlz is up, featuring the incomparable Nikki Grimes, who describes her writing discipline in an interview: 
I set aside time every morning, six days a week, to work on a project. Usually, it is a work-in-progress: a collection of poetry, a novel, a chapter book, an essay for a magazine or journal, etc. I lay out whatever materials I'm going to need for that project, so that they are handy. (Notes, journals, books I want to quote from, etc.) I try to go for a 3-mile walk every day, so I'll read my notes for a passage or a poem that I want to work on, go for my walk, and work out that piece in my head as I go. When I get back to the house, I grab a pad and jot down whatever I’ve come up with before I forget it. Then, for the remainder of the morning, I continue working on that piece. The work is sometimes dry when I begin, but that's to be expected. That’s what rewrites are for. The early draft is just to get the basic idea down on paper, so that you have something to work with. My final version takes several drafts. Thank God for computers with cut and paste!
Amen, Nikki.