Today in Methuen, Friday in Portland

I'll be speaking today (3/31) at 4 o'clock at the Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen and at noon on April 4th in Portland, Maine with illustrator Jamie Hogan for that library's First Friday Author Talk. Stop by and say hi if you're in the vicinity!

Review Copies of White House Rules

Dutton just found and sent me a box of extra galleys of First Daughter: White House Rules, book two about First Daughter wannabe Sameera "Sparrow" Righton (ages 11-up). Interested in a review copy? Leave a comment below or contact mitaliperkatyahoodotcom with your snail mail address.

Poetry Friday: A Paper Tigers Celebration

If you're looking for poetry between cultures and more, head to one of my favorite sites in cyber world, Paper Tigers, where the celebration of poetry month is underway. To get started, check out the interview with poet Janet S. Wong and the essay called Pairing Poetry Across Cultures by professor Sylvia Vardell.

We Wanted Chikezie the Immigrant

Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times argues that Americans might not have dinged Idol's one remaining black male singer if he'd shown off his Nigerian roots. Mourning the loss of the rich R&B and soul contributions of African-American male singers, Ms. Powers is troubled by "white America's seeming reluctance to universally embrace a strong black male voice, unless it belongs to a rapper selling blaxploitation fantasies to teens." We're okay with African-American male singers, she says, but only if they're relatively fresh off the boat:
(Chikezie) should have taken a cue from the black male singer to find the greatest recent success -- Akon, who almost beat Daughtry for last year's top spot. Like Chikezie, Akon has African roots, and he's used his immigrant voice to shake up preconceived notions of what a soul singer should sound like. Chikezie kept talking about "Nigerian cultural music" during his interviews; he should have incorporated some into this performances.
I'll admit the temptation to babble my way through airport security, wielding my "American" accent to escape random spot checks. But as I read Powers' article, I realized sadly that there's one demographic in our society who might actually benefit by faking a foreign accent -- young black men.

The Mystery of the Children's Choice Awards

I was glad to see that When The Shadbush Blooms, the only "multicultural" book on IRA-CBC's list of nominees for the Children's Choice Awards, was lauded by Debbie Reese and Oyate.

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised by the list -- the books were donated by publishers and chosen in six cities of the country not particularly renowned for a diverse demographic: Chico, California, Middletown, Delaware, Crete, Illinois, Starkville, Mississippi, Bellevue, Nebraska, and Omaha, Nebraska (here's a .pdf describing the process.) Of course, I've only been to Chico, which does have a fair share of immigrants, so maybe the other cities are home to all sorts of kids.

Unfortunately, on the official Children's Book Choices site, there's no explanation of selection criteria to be found -- or maybe I'm missing it. The nominees are great, I'm sure, but this award reminds me that for kids and adults to venture outside the story comfort zone, we often need a nudge from a trusted source.

Sarah Dessen Lock And Key Party!

All Sarah Dessen fans are invited to participate in the live readergirlz Lock and Key Sneak Peak Party with the author this Thursday 3/27 at 3 o'clock EDT. Prizes and giveaways abound, and Sarah's ready to answer questions and talk about her new book via readergirlz' MySpace site. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find the chats. And check out this month's issue featuring Sarah.

Enid Blyton, Disney, and Kahani Magazine

Scholastic editor Sandhya Nankani is guest-blogging at the always stimulating Sepia Mutiny site this month, and tells us about Disney's plans to diversify and update Enid Blyton's beloved Famous Five characters.

Among other innovations, the Mouse Factory is inventing a hip anglo-Indian character named Jyoti who is the daughter of the original hero of the books. Mutineers' comments reveal the impact that Brit Kid Lit, and especially Ms. Blyton (who wrote 800 books in 40 years!), had on South Asia and mixed feelings about this new venture.

Sandhya ends her post with a quote about Kahani magazine, a children’s literary magazine illuminating the richness and diversity that South Asian cultures bring to North America:
I feel so lucky that we have publications like the South Asian children’s literary magazine Kahani which ... just won the highly respected 2008 Parents’ Choice Award for magazines for the second year in a row. That’s a huge deal. This is a prestigious award from the Parents’ Choice Foundation which has been reviewing mainstream children’s media since 1978.
Full disclosure: I'm on the editorial advisory board of Kahani, have been an ardent fan since the magazine launched, and believe that libraries everywhere should order a subscription immediately.

Woburn Library Knows How To Do It

An author visit, that is. 

It was a miserable, sleety school night in March when I approached the gorgeous building built in 1877 by Henry Hobson Richardson, the architect who designed Trinity Church in Boston.

I was hearing that familiar internal pep talk that comes before potentially sparsely-attended appearances: "Listen, chickadee. If even two teens show up, you give your presentation with as much grace and effort as you would to a crowd of a thousand bookstore buyers."

But I didn't need the talk, because teen librarian Christi Showman Farrar had done her work. She'd publicized the event widely, including good signage as a final touch:

Christi also invited people personally, read First Daughter with a group of her teens, and coordinated with the schools to offer extra credit for attending author visits.

Every seat (pictured above before the talk) was full by the time I finished, book sales were brisk, and Christi (pictured below to the left with permission) had even baked oatmeal scotchies, just like the main character in my novel.

Thanks to the Friends of the Woburn Library for sponsoring the visit, to Book Ends in Winchester for providing the books, and to Christi and her tireless teen workers for hosting me so warmly.

Take Us Away, Driscoll Students

At Brookline's Driscoll School last week, I offered my Creating A Sense of Place in Fiction workshop, and once again the 8th graders took us to a myriad of places through the power of imaginative writing. Some samples excerpted below for your reading pleasure.
I sit in the car with the heated seats warming my insides. I look up through the roof at sky scrapers slowly passing by. A slight snow drifts down from the gray clouds. The car zig zags through traffic. The snow crunches under the tires and then we stop. The door opens and I step out, the umbrella shielding me from the snow.

The sun glinted off the freshly painted walls. The wind blew the curtains gently into the room. The mirror reflected the rays of sun so they fell across my bed lighting up the colorful stripes. The door hung open. Honey and fresh cut flowers spiraled up the the stairs and hung lingering in the air.

The tennis stadium filled with 70,000 people cheering, singing. My heart beating at an extreme level, my palms sweating. The whole world watching. The aroma of water, sweat and smoke in the air. The feel of the grass just cut. The taste of Gatorade bubbling in my stomach.

I strolled into the club and heard the loud music blaring. I could see the speakers bouncing. This was it alright. The largest Neptunian rager of all time. The club was huge, and I couldn't see the end of it. I could see people dancing for miles. I got a whiff of the scent of baby corn.

The night air was warm, the stars and moon smiling down on me ... Red and orange flames stained the darkness with color, and the black smoke shone in the dim patio lights. My shirt was flapping in the wind, the cool breeze wrapping around my arms ... I heard the laughing of my friends, my own laughter, and the faint popping of the wood as the flames squeezed the air out of it. I laughed again and threw another card into the bronze dish, only to have it become engulfed in flames. I smiled and backed up so my friend could throw his card.

The golden framed windows glared at me. The door was huge and made of glass and for one second I didn't want to go inside because the building seemed like an animal about to swallow me up. My knees were trembling as I walked towards the shiny golden elevator. My entire career would depend on the next half hour. My whole life, even. I had always wanted to be an actress. I loved the creak of the stage floor under my feet and the rustling of the curtains, but the best part was the applause ...

The officer pushes open the door; the cheap wood feels grainy and decrepit. As he steps onto the threshold, the reek of sewage and spoiled food makes him go to tears. The officer takes out his gun; he doesn't dare to go into the kitchen. He steps into the bedroom. To his dismay, he finds a man lying down with a knife in his back.

The soft, damp grass tickled the bottoms of my feet. A warm wind blew wrinkles in my hair ... The sun warmed the back of my legs as I let my ankles swish though the grass ... The smell of dandelions was sweet and pungent ...

Senator Obama's Speech, the R-word, and the Generational Divide

Senator Obama's recent speech about race was an Emperor's New Clothes moment for this nation. A lot of Americans had been feeling pretty darn good about our progress in racial reconciliation, embodied by our first viable biracial presidential candidate. But this speech and the split reaction to it revealed the true condition of race relations in America: generally, white people still don't get how black people see things, as Nick Kristof eloquently argues.

That is, if we're over twenty-five or so.

Mr. Kristof's thesis might not hold as true for young Americans. Teens and twenty-somethings think and talk about race so differently that it's almost as if our country's divided by age instead of race. Granted, I live in Boston, which likes to think of itself as this society's hub but might actually be a strange little island unto itself. But tune in to the humor about race in youth culture, where people of all races are processing the pain in a raw, real way. Meanwhile the majority in my generation secretly tire of the word "tolerance," hoping it might be time to move "beyond the issue."

That's what Senator Obama tapped into when he told us earlier in the campaign that there's "no black America and no white America, only the United States of America." White people liked that, and black people accepted it because they know he gets their view of seeing things. But in this recent speech, the Senator told the truth: there are still two ways of viewing history in the past and history in the making.

Barack Obama with his maternal grandparents
Photo courtesy of the Munoz Family via Creative Commons

The pivotal moment in the speech was when he described his black church for the "untrained ear." The color of that ear is most likely white-cum-pink. Then he went on to talk about his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, pictured above, who is still alive and living in Hawaii:
[She is] a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
In his book Dreams From My Father, he also told of his paternal grandfather who "didn't want the Obama blood sullied by a white woman." Why not quote them equally? Because the heart of the speech was to show that he gets how blacks see things -- he talked about "our community" when he was speaking to blacks, but addressed whites as an outsider, despite painstaking diplomacy in the beginning and at the end.

Ending with a story about a twenty-three year old white woman and an older black man coming together around his campaign, Senator Obama repeated his hope that one day we might indeed move "beyond racism." But, as he eloquently reminded the nation, that day is not here yet. With new polls showing him falling behind Mrs. Clinton, I'm wondering if the risk was costly. Naming the naked Emperor makes an unseeing crowd feel foolish, and we typically take it out on the messenger.

Hey! Drop Those Books NOW!

Written a book for teens? Any book? Or got an extra one on your shelves to spare? The American Library Association's Young Adult Division, aka YALSA, and we at readergirlz are inviting you to participate in a fabulous opportunity.


We're starting our second joint teen literacy project, Operation Teen Book Drop (TBD) (the first was the 31 Flavorite Authors for Teens program last October.) To build awareness for April 17, 2008, Support Teen Literature Day, readergirlz and YALSA are organizing a massive, coordinated release of 10,000 publisher-donated YA books into the top pediatric hospitals across the country.

We now invite you to celebrate Support Teen Lit Day with us. How? Donate one or more of your books to your community and join an unprecedented online book bash: The TBD Post-Op Party!

Web-Based Stuff To Do

If you want to share a teen book you own and love, download a TBD bookplate here. Paste this bookplate into the book you plan to donate. If you're the author of the book, download this plate.

Blog about Operation TBD and your upcoming participation, and place the I Rock the Drop icon on your site. Pick up the code here and check mine out in the sidebar.

At the readergirlz MySpace group forum look for the thread TBD rgz and post a reply that you plan to “Rock the Drop.” Watch and participate in other readergirlz MySpace group forum threads as they're posted.

Drop a Book on April 17th

Leave your book, with a TBD bookplate pasted inside, in a teen gathering spot in your community. Place it where the book will be found, taken, and read. (i.e. a coffee shop, the park, school, a bus stop.)

Join the TBD Post-Op Party, April 17th

We invite everyone to join our online two-hour book party hosted at the readergirlz MySpace forum, on April 17th (Support Teen Literature Day), at 6-8pm Pacific/9-11pm Eastern. The chat will be in a thread titled "TBD Post-Op Party." The readergirlz divas will be giving away books and prizes!

We've invited so many authors, you just never know who you might end up meeting! This is the same day all 10,000 publisher-donated books will be dropped in pediatric hospitals across the country, and it is the same day authors and librarians themselves will have released their own favorite books into their communities as you have.

Operation TBD has special meaning to my fellow readergirlz divas. After researching pediatric oncology wards for her novel GIRL OVERBOARD, Justina Chen Headley spent a year purchasing autographed YA novels to donate to her local Children’s Hospital, specifically because most hospitals do not have comfort objects for teens. Lorie Ann Grover (ON POINTE) and Dia Calhoun (AVIELLE OF RHIA) personally know the healing power of stories during hospital stays, since they both live with chronic illness. In fact, it was after they described Operation Teen Book Drop to me that I decided to join the team.


May The Force Be With Your Book

Here are some nice mentions and reviews of First Daughter: White House Rules. Thank goodness for library and web love when it comes to books that don't get too much attention at big chain stores.

I have to confess that it's a guaranteed downer to visit one of those name-brand bookstores. Inevitably, even though I know I shouldn't, I wander over to the teen lit section and discover the place on the shelf where my First Daughter books coulda-shoulda have been, especially in an election year.

My hope, like that of many other authors, is in jedi indies with their handselling power, and in the force, a.k.a. net buzz, which might actually decide to be with us.

On Blogging: Tips For Newbies

Taylor Rogers, Publicity Assistant at Charlesbridge Books, interviewed me for a course she's taking on marketing at Emerson College. With her permission, I share my answers to her questions about promotion and blogging with my Fire Escape visitors.

1. Why did you decide to start blogging? What purpose does your blog serve?

I love to rant and rave about all kinds of things, and I've always kept a journal. I also wanted to ruminate on my way of seeing things as an immigrant writer in the children's book world. I started the Fire Escape for fun and continue to write it mostly because I love it.

My blog's goals are to (1) SERVE educators, parents, and young readers who might be interested in reading and writing "between cultures," (2) PROMOTE books by other authors trying to stay afloat in the huge sea that is publishing, (3) INFORM visitors about my own books and events, and (4) INTRODUCE readers to my voice and heart.

2. How often do you blog? How often do you think it's good to blog?

I blog 5 days a week, M-F, at least one post a day. Providing fresh content is important, and this frequency is quite easy for me to maintain. I take breaks during vactions and holidays, but always let visitors know when I'm returning. That being said, I don't think daily posts are a requirement for everybody. Regularity is, though, so if you post, maybe do it weekly -- every Monday, for example -- so your readers know when to come back for new content. If I were posting once a week, I'd call my blog something like Mondays with Mitali, to send a message to readers: "TUNE IN EVERY MONDAY!"

3. Do you receive galleys or review copies? If so, how many? How many do you blog about?

Yes. A lot. Probably 10 books a month. I blog about 2-3 of them; the books I love and feel are relevant to my niche.

4. How important do you think blogs are to publicizing a book and why?

For one particular title, I'm not sure a blog is helpful. It wouldn't hurt, I'm sure, but I think blogging at best is an avenue to promote yourself as a professional rather than pushing a particular title.

As an author trying to establish a "brand name" in the business, a blog is a way to present yourself as a trusted voice; to give readers insight into your life and dreams and writing and thinking. The culture is hungering for intimacy and authenticity, and a good author blog can provide both. You don't have to share too personally if you're a private person, but you can still be authentic or funny or insightful. After all, we're writers, right? That's what we're supposed to be doing with words.

5. How has your blog helped you in your career as an author?

I'm not a big name and was previously known only marginally as a "multicultural" author. The blog has given me a chance to introduce my humor (or so I call it), views, and vision more widely; I'm convinced it's brought down walls, erased preconceptions, and opened hearts and minds to my voice in fiction. I've also made lots of contacts in the industry via the Fire Escape with other bloggers, authors, editors, and librarians.

6. What do you suggest to authors who want to tap blogs as a publicity outlet?

First of all, you have to ENJOY it or it becomes the pet you never should have bought but still have to feed. If blogging sounds more like an onerous chore than something that might be fun, go back to writing your next great novel, which is perhaps an author's best publicity outlet.

Second, pick your blog title carefully. "MITALI'S AUTHOR BLOG" is not as interesting (I hope) as the Fire Escape theme I use to define my virtual presence, trying with that image to convey my perspective of life from the outside looking in, and to present myself and my books as a safe place from the heat.

Third, try to make it look as professional and snazzy as possible. Blogging tools are amazingly easy to use, but if you need to, why not pay a graphic design student a bit of a stipend and credit him/her on your blog?

Fourth, practice the habit of leaving comments on other blogs and try to make them as pithy and encouraging and relevant as you can on the fly (no pressure), linking back the comment to your blog. Remember, this platform is a showcase for your voice -- it's the perfect way to convince people that they should read your books because you're making them think, laugh, or feel something intensely via your blog. Comments, too, should be in line with your voice.

Fifth, always think about serving others -- the golden rule works as well in cyberworld as in the real world.

If all this sounds too intimidating, consider teaming up with a few other authors to create a group blog. The best group blogs have a unique niche or focus that brings readers back daily or weekly. Last but not least, as in all things, don't set the bar too high, keep it simple, throw perfectionism out the window, and pat yourself on the virtual shoulder like crazy.

My Woo-Bin Author Visit

That's how you pronounce Woburn, Massachusetts if you're a member of Red Sox Nation. I'll be appearing at the Woburn Public Library this Wednesday evening, 3/19, at 7 p.m. You're welcome to come and have a peek if you're in the area or interested in sampling my author visits to schools and libraries. Here's what the local paper is saying about the event
Award-winning children’s and young adult author Mitali Perkins will be visiting the Woburn Public Library on Wednesday, March 19, at 7 p.m. for an evening presentation and discussion on what it means to “live between cultures.”

Presented by the Friends of the Woburn Public Library, Perkins’ appearance is free and open to the public. A book sale and book signing will take place after the presentation, with books provided by Book Ends of Winchester at a discount to attendees.
Wow, no pressure. I'd better be good.

The poster above is provided by the Pike School librarians, who have a wall of fake READ posters featuring visiting children's book authors reading favorite books -- which I thought was such a great idea I asked for permission to share it on my blog. I picked Edwidge Danticat's Behind the Mountains, by the way, a YA novel I loved.

Can You Say Mitali?

Want to talk about or introduce an author but not quite sure how to pronounce her name? Head over to Teaching Books' great pronunciation guide where gobs of authors and illustrators have phoned in and introduced themselves, offering mnemonic devices or little stories to help keep their names in mind. Here's mine for example.


Anybody catch Randy Jackson's America's Best Dance Crew this week? The show is down to fifteen great dancers, including eleven Asian Americans who are rocking Planet MTV. This type of fusion hip makes the embarrassment of William Hung a distant memory -- in fact Asian American teens today can hardly remember that American Idol contestant.

Times are definitely changing. That's why, in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month this May 2008, ten of us are launching FUSION STORIES, a menu of delectable next-gen hot-off-the-press novels for middle readers and teens.

A wave of middle grade novels (ages 7-11) featuring Asian American protagonists is catching the attention of readers, teachers, librarians, and parents – and not just within multicultural circles. Children’s literature experts are calling Grace Lin’s Year of the Rat (sequel to the popular Year of the Dog) a “classic in the making” along the lines of Besty-Tacy. Janet Wong’s forthcoming novel Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer explores the joys of vacation and friendship, with Jake divulging that he’s a “quarpa,” or one-quarter Korean. Winner of the Sid Fleischman humor award, author Lisa Yee makes kids (and adults) laugh out loud with bestselling stories like Millicent Min: Girl Genius and her newest title, Good Luck, Ivy. When it comes to books like these, as Newbery winner Linda Sue Park told author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Tantalize) during an on-line chat: “At last it seems we’re getting ready to go to stories where a person’s ethnicity is a part but not the sum of them.”

New releases for teens, too, aren’t mainly immigrant stories or traditional tales retold. These YA novels deal with universal themes such as a straight-A teen struggling with a cheating scandal at her school (She’s So Money by Cherry Cheva), a promising athlete coping with a snowboarding injury (Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley), and a Pakistani-born blogger whose father is about to become President (First Daughter: White House Rules by Mitali Perkins). An Na’s The Fold, a novel about a teen considering plastic surgery to change the shape of her eyelids, speaks to all who long to be beautiful, and art-loving teens far and wide will connect with Joyce Lee Wong’s novel-in-verse Seeing Emily. Paula Yoo, a one-time writer for People magazine and television hits like The West Wing, fuses her pop culture savvy and love of music in Good Enough, a novel about a violinist in rebellion. Her brother, David Yoo, connected with hormone-crazed nerds of every race in his funny novel Girls For Breakfast and is offering his fans the forthcoming Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before.

FUSION STORIES aims to be a helpful resource for parents, educators, and young readers, so if you know of a novel that (1) is for middle readers or teens, (2) was published in 2007-2008 by a traditional publishing house, (3) features an Asian American protagonist, and (4) is set primarily in contemporary America, please send a .jpg of the cover, a .jpg of the author, one or two reviews, and a brief description of the novel to We at FUSION STORIES would be delighted to add titles and authors to the site.

A press kit package (available at FUSION STORIES, includes downloads, bios of FUSION STORIES authors, information on the books, and a few conversations with experts about Asian American literature for young readers. For more information, review copies, or interview requests with any of the authors, please contact

Poetry Friday: Light By Tagore

Yesterday I sent my editor Françoise Bui of Delacorte a close-to-the-end revision of Secret Keeper (Random House, January 2009), so today I offer a brief excerpt of the draft that includes a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, Bengal's Nobel Laureate.

The scene is set on a train, and Asha's mother is telling her daughters about how she met their father:
"We were visiting relatives in Calcutta,” Ma started, keeping her eyes fixed on the blur of rice paddies outside. “One afternoon, I was on the veranda combing out my hair. It was long then, down to my knees, and thick as a shawl. I was singing; I remember the song still, it was a Tagore love song I’d learned only weeks before.”

She began to hum, and then sing in her low, rich voice: “Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye-kissing light, heart-sweetening light! Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the center of my life; the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love; the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth …”
The poem “Light” is reprinted from Gitanjali: Song Offerings by Rabindranath Tagore. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1912.

My SORMAG Interview

I'm today's featured author interview over at SORMAG, an online magazine for readers and writers of multicultural literature.

Simon and Schuster Pulse Blogfest

Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing is about to launch the first annual Simon Pulse Blogfest, a two-week event taking place March 14-27th, 2008. The event will bring together over one-hundred top teen authors and their fans to one online destination. Readers are submitting questions for the authors in advance via MySpace, and fourteen final questions will be selected -- one for each day of Blogfest. Simon & Schuster authors will answer the "question of the day," which will be posted on the Simon Pulse Blogfest. Teens will be able to post their own thoughts about the question and respond to the authors' answers.

Does this idea sound vaguely familiar? We at readergirlz realize imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and are thrilled that divas Lorie Ann Grover and Janet Lee Carey are participating, along with (deep breath) Kim Antieau, Marc Aronson, Avi, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Lauren Barnholdt, Hilari Bell, Phi Bildner, Franny Billingsley, Holly Black, Jennifer Bradbury, Kate Brian, Linda Buckley-Archer, Marina Budhos, Christian Burch, Deb Caletti, Cassandra Clare, Rachel Cohn, Rhody Cohon, Susan Cooper, Melissa de la Cruz, Stacia Deutsch, Allison van Diepen, Frances Dowell, Erin Downing, Sharon M. Draper, Kathleen Benner Duble, Kathleen Duey, Clare B. Dunkle, Jennifer Echols, Thomas Fahy, Susan Fletcher, E.R. Frank, Randi Hacker , Margaret Peterson Haddix, Pete Hautman, Julie Hearn, Nancy Holder, Ellen Hopkins, James Howe, Jeffry W. Johnston, Cynthia Kadohata, Ronald Kidd, Annette Curtis Klause , Chris Krovatin, Nancy Krulik, Evan Kuhlman, Dakota Lane, Hope Larson, Richard Lewis, Julie Linker, Greg Logsted, D. Anne Love, Whitney Lyles, D.J. MacHale, Eric Marcus, Amanda Marrone , Kelly McClymer, Lisa McMann, Kai Meyer, Annabel Monaghan, Kate Morgenroth , Sarah Mussi, Donna Jo Napoli, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Ken Oppel, James A. Owen, Bronwen Pardes, Staton Rabin, Randi Reisfeld, Ashley Rhodes-Courter, Paul Ruditis, Alex Sanchez, Elizabeth Scott, Gloria Skurzynski, Brian Sloan, Tom Sniegoski, Sonya Sones, Todd Strasser, Wendy Toliver, Roderick Townley, Kristen Tracy, Adrienne Maria Vrettos, Judy Waite, Robin Wasserman, Scott Westerfeld, Matt Whyman, Elisabeth Wolfe, Bil Wright, Janet Ruth Young.

The Pen Is Mightier Than A Prison

When I'm done writing this post, I will hit the "publish" button. Then I will go fearlessly about my day without a second thought. I could have denounced google and the blogger platform. I could have ranted about the government. It doesn't matter -- my words will still fly freely into cyberspace.

Not so in many parts of the world.

Take China, for example, where 40 journalists are in prison for the crime of expression. Why not join PEN in advocating for their release before the Beijing games by signing this petition?

My Books Float Across The Atlantic

Yes, that's my little Rickshaw Girl, the French edition, aka De père en fille, releasing this month from Flammarion.

Meanwhile, at the Irish Society For The Study of Children's Literature Conference last month, here was a session presented by Shehrazade Emmambokus:
How children’s literature of the South Asian diaspora responds to the media’s vilification of South Asian minority groups following the 11 September attacks.

Immediately following the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attacks on 11 September 2001, the international news media was gripped by the events that took place. However, not only did the news media respond to these events, but other forms of cultural media did too: the music industry, the film industry, the books and literature industry which also includes children’s literature.

Examples of children’s books which engage with these events include, amongst others, Jeanette Winter’s September Roses (2004), Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Does My Head Look Big In This? (2007), and Brian Mandabach’s Or Not (2007). But more specifically from the South Asian literary sub-genre of children’s literature: Anjali Banerjee’s Looking for Bapu (2006), Marina Budhos’s Ask Me No Questions (2006) and Mitali Perkins’ First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (2007).

Engaging with media theory and the representations of South Asian minorities since the events of 11 September, this paper will focus predominantly on Perkins’ First Daughter and Budhos’ Ask Me No Questions. Through the characters, this paper will look at whether or not they internalise the stereotypical images and messages purported in the news media, and will ask, firstly, if there is an internalisation of the media stereotypes, why is this possible? And secondly, if there is a resistance towards these media stereotypes, what do these literatures say about young developing ethnic identities and subsequently the individual’s right to negotiate their own ethnic identities?

By focussing on these questions, this paper will argue that although these texts present their readers with characters who are confronted by the media and its use of stereotype during its coverage of the 11 September attacks, these characters’ ethnic identities are not compromised, in fact, they are able to remain culturally neutral. Subsequently, through the characters’ experiences, these books are able to offer South Asian diasporic children and teenagers a form of bibliotherapy as these books demonstrate how the characters deal with the negative media pressures.
Now that's nice, especially with Boston already greening up for St. Patty's Day.

What Makes Ethnic Humor Funny?

Try, if you can, to see this movie trailer of Mike Myers' forthcoming flick The Love Guru through the eyes of an Indian-American teen with Hindu parents:

I'm a bit befuddled by my own responses to ethnic humor. Why does the Love Guru trailer strike me as not-so-funny and racially offensive, while bits of this trailer (warning: iffy content) of Harold and Kumar at Guantanamo Bay made me smile (although I'm pretty sure I'd find a lot in this flick offensive for other reasons)?

In Which We Create A Sense of Place

I spent two days last week doing assemblies and workshops on writing place at Pike School in Andover, Massachusetts.

When I arrived, I was totally intimidated to learn I was the second author they'd invited to come, with the first being the hilarious Jack Gantos. The librarians were extremely hospitable, though, and the kids so kind that I managed to get over myself quickly.

Here are a few excerpts from the students' (fifth and seventh graders) excellent writing during the creating a sense of place workshops, with the first-person voice being my requirement:
...The door swings open and my brother is on the floor licking a bottle of coke, my twin sisters fighting over a doll, my scared brother hugging a bear in the corner, the bathroom door ajar with the dog drinking from the toilet, and the cat skipping across the piano playing her own tune. I drop my bag and grab a mop to clean up the puke on the rug ... The twins are scribbling on each other now, I take the markers and throw them away .. From the other room, I hear the t.v. moaning as it turns on, the computer loading up to check e-mails, and the phone ringing off the hook. "Lucy, what is 2 + 4?" "6," I scream ...

...As I look out across the dark blue river, I hear the whine of the oncoming water plane. I try to peek over the snow-covered bristly trees. As the plane comes into sight a flock of bright brown Canadian geese fly from where they are roosting. The calm water instantly erupts as the water plane lands ...

The murky damp air smelled of car exhaust. The street lights were dim, barely breaking through the pitch black sky. In the distance I could hear the siren of a police car. I checked each alleyway to make sure that nothing was there ...

The DJ was playing a pathetic mix of incomprehensible raps and scratching electronic beeps ... that shook the crowded room. Strangers around me were failing in their attempts to sway their bodies in matching rhythm. The glitter of sequin tank tops blurred my eyes. I could feel sweaty arms rubbing against the small of my back, and I recognized the too-strong scent of Macy's perfume swirling in the air ...

... Lawn mowers thwacked and roller skates glided and spun. Car engines roared and gasoline hung in the air. ... I plucked a juicy red cherry tomato form the garden, popped it into my mouth, and let the taste of summer wash over my tongue ...

...The court was quiet and still. I could hear my own thoughts. The leather ball felt like an extension of my hand. I shot it. "Swish." The sound was as smooth as silk ...

The cold gray wind sliced through my thin jacket as I stumbled back home. My hands were raw and red from washing dishes all night. As I flipped my collar up and rubbed my chapped hands, hoping to get a little warmth, the wind roared and whistled instead my ears leaving a hollow echo. An empty coffee cup bounced and clattered across the dirty road ... I kicked it, watching it bounce against the grimy walls of an abandoned factory. Shoving my hands in my pickets I trudged back to the place I was forced to call home...

I rushed through the heavy iron doors and right at that second I knew crispy golden brown chicken burgers were on the grill. Sweat dripped off my face as I struggled to pull the Fudds Signature hat and apron over my curly hair. "Ahem! I would like the fajita roll with a jumbo oreo milkshake." I had forgotten to ask the grey-haired, hefty man what he would like and his clenched fists told me he wasn't about to wait ...

...Cars were jammed in a row, all I could hear was honking, and none of the noisy cars were moving. People were chasing, bouncing, laughing on the bumpy sidewalk while I tried to find a way to get through ...
I've been receiving some lovely thank you notes, like this one:
Thank you for coming to our school. I have improved my writing already. All thanks to you. I know you are a busy person, so you don't have to e-mail me back. Thanks again.
Now that's courtesy, and don't worry, I wrote him back.

Poetry Friday: And The Oscar Went To

And The Oscar Went To
by Mitali Perkins

At the end, your name hovers
like a half-orb on the horizon.

It's not aflame like the noonday name,
dazzling with glare and heat and drama.

Once it was new on the scene,
fêted with an ovation of birdsong.

Now you can barely hear the sizzle as it melts into the water.

People glance at their wrists and move on.

© Mitali Perkins 2008, all rights reserved

Photo courtesy of cybertoad via Creative Commons. Find today's Poetry Friday Roundup at Simple and Ordinary.

I Have Eerie Powers

I am freaking myself out. Not to mention the librarians at Cincinnati Public Library.

In 2006, when I wrote First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, nobody was running for president and the election seemed far in the future.

Thanks to my between cultures fixation, I decided it would be fun to put a Muslim-background person in the White House, so I created a main character who was adopted from Pakistan.

Given my techno-geekiness and love of blogging, I made my first daughter wannabe a popular blogger who has an impact on the campaign.

Dutton told me to pick a party, so I thought, what the heck, I'll make her Dad a Republican and wrote her mom as a tall blonde.

Flash forward two years.

John McCain, married to tall blonde Cindy McCain, clinches the Republican race.

His daughter Bridget was adopted from a Muslim country (I had NO idea when I wrote the books, I promise!)

His daughter Meghan is blogging the campaign to much acclaim.

Did I cause these events to happen in that mystical, powerful place called fiction? Maybe, my loves, so beware. If I get in a bad mood I might write a novel about an evil blogger who writes html code with the power to poison people who read her posts. MWAHAHA!!!!!

In The News And On The Web

The Boston Globe and the Providence Journal gave their readers the scoop on sparrowblog and my First Daughter Books, as did the Stanford Magazine and India New England.

On the web, bloggers Teen Book Review and Jessica Burkhart hosted me for interviews, and Harmony and Bookworm both loved First Daughter.

Paper Tigers' blog celebrated International Mother Language Day by featuring my novel Rickshaw Girl, saying it "would make a great readaloud, especially for a mother and daughter to share."

Librarian-blogger Cloudscome agreed, "highly recommend(ing) it for middle grade (8-10 year old) readers, as a read aloud, or a kid's book club book."

Sarah Dessen at readergirlz!

We're celebrating our one year anniversary over at readergirlz with a makeover and a March Sarah Dessen extravaganza, including a Sneak Peek Lock and Key (her forthcoming wonderful novel) Party on Thursday, March 27th at 12:00 PM PST / 3:00 PM EST at the readergirlz forum.

The readergirlz divas -- Dia Calhoun, Lorie Ann Grover, Justina Chen Headley, and moi -- also invite you to join us, YALSA, and publishers in a never-done-before book release program, Operation Teen Book Drop (TBD). We're putting new and amazing books into the hands of over 10,000 teen patients in Children's Hospitals across the country in April. More details to come, so get in touch with us over there to find out how you can read and release a book with us!