Colorful People in YA Lit

Thanks to a tip via the YALSA listserv and a quiet weekend, I visited the POC (People of Color) Carnival of YA Lit and followed the links there. (I'm sure how I feel about the label "People of Color," but that's for another day.)

Get yourself to the carnival, friends -- it's your gateway to thought-provoking posts about Jacob Black, the Quileute character in Stephenie Meyer's vampire novels, "beauty" thanks to Disney princesses, and how race can disappear when a story travels from book to screen.

A Keepsake For Rickshaw Girl

My Lupine Honor Book Award for Rickshaw Girl (Charlesbridge) arrived yesterday. It's a handmade stoneware platter crafted by Portland, Maine potter Toby Rosenberg. Thank you, Libraries of Maine!

A Blogger's Challenge: Privacy Vs. Authenticity

Out here on the Fire Escape, I strive to be authentic, a word defined by Merriam-Webster as "true to one's own personality, spirit, or character." We could use that definition to apply also to an author's voice, and I'm convinced that blogging should offer a sample of that voice.

In this blog, however, I don't share too many details about my private life. I almost never mention church, friends outside the children's book world, or family members (with two exceptions: pets and parents).

The dictionary goes on to discern a difference between authentic and genuine:
Authentic can also stress painstaking or faithful imitation of an original (an authentic reproduction, authentic Vietnamese cuisine). Genuine implies actual character not counterfeited, imitated, or adulterated.
The blogs of authors Meg Cabot and Laurie Halse Anderson resound with personality that can't be imitated, and they talk frequently about their families, inventing on-line nicknames for their children and husband. I'm wondering if sharing more of my day-to-day life might make my own blog voice more genuine.

But what happens when I face a time of suffering or grief? How do I blog about that? Last year author Grace Lin (YEAR OF THE RAT) walked that fine line with courage and grace (she was named well), serving as an example for the rest of us. Thank you, Grace.

So here's my question: how do you balance authenticity with privacy in an on-line journal?

Asian Pacific American Literature Awards

The Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) announced the winners of the 2007 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature, one of the few ethnic book awards that aren't based on the race of the author but on the content in the book. The prizes promote Asian/Pacific American culture and heritage and are awarded based on literary and artistic merit. The Fire Escape is pleased to present the winners for illustration in children's literature and young adult literature along with the committees' annotations.

Illustration in Children Literature Winner

Crowe, Ellie. Surfer of the Century. Illustrated by Richard Waldrep. New York: Lee and Low, 2007. This book tells the story of "the Father of Modern Surfing," Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, from his childhood on Waikiki Beach, to his participation in five Olympics, through his lifelong promotion and development of surfing, and to his becoming the official State of Hawai'i Ambassador of Aloha. Each page of text describing his life has an opposite full-page painting-style illustration that shows the progression of his successes in spite of discrimination and his achievements through his creed of Aloha. The final two pages in the book are a timeline of Duke Kahanamoku's life and legacy and a world map showing the major cities of his lifetime accomplishments. The author includes a bibliography of her sources on the back of the title page.

Illustration in Children Literature Honorable Mention

Barasch, Lynne. Hiromi's Hands. New York: Lee and Low, 2007. This first-person narrative tells the story of Hiromi's breaking away from the Japanese tradition in the male dominated sushi culinary and becoming an itamae san, professional sushi chef. The author vividly depicts two generations, beginning with her father's long and grueling training as an apprentice before emerging as a successful sushi chef in a Tokyo restaurant. Hiromi is very enthusiastic in learning about fish as she goes to the fish market with her father in New York. At thirteen, she wants to know how to make sushi. Her father, a man receptive to American ideas, says, "And this is America. Girls can do things here that they cannot do in Japan." So begins the sushi career for Hiromi. The story spans two cultures, Japanese and American. The quiet style of narration complemented by the soft ink and watercolor drawings of two fish markets in Tokyo and Manhattan, the New York subway, and an array of sushi convey authenticity.

Young Adult Literature Winner

Easton, Kelly. Hiroshima Dreams. New York: Dutton, 2007. Hiroshima Dreams portrays the family dynamics of three generations living under one roof: a grandmother adjusting to life in America, a mother who has let go of her roots, and two sisters, one quiet and shy, the other defiant. The struggles and joys of growing up in an interracial family and coping with loss are important issues in the book. The focus of the story is the relationship between the grandmother, Obaachan, and granddaughter, Lin. Both are resistant to change-Lin to her grandmother's presence at home and her grandmother with her longing for Japan-but they soon find themselves inseparable and share the gift of seeing the future. Obaachan's guidance allows Lin to apply Japanese beliefs and meditation to help her overcome her fears. Through touches of mysticism, careful observation, and reflection, Lin learns to accept and understand the changes and consequences of one's actions. The wisdom of Obaachan is explained with meaningful, descriptive examples that create a sense of calmness and security for Lin.

Young Adult Literature Honorable Mention

Sheth, Kashmira. Keeping Corner. New York: Hyperion, 2007. Keeping Corner provides an enriching and eye-opening view of the cultural and social dynamics within a family and community in India during the early 20th century. As a daughter in a high-ranking Brahman family, Leela is overindulged and carefree of worries. Married at the age of nine, Leela, now twelve, prepares for her move to her husband's home. Her world is turned upside down when her husband dies, and instead of donning a silk wedding sari, she is given a chidri, a coarse widow's sari. She is confined to her house for a year, thus "keeping corner." Tradition holds her to having a shaved head, no hope of remarrying, and being viewed and shunned as a burden. Leela's growth and her frustrations of being a child-widow is portrayed in a heartfelt and realistic way. She is able to overcome her confinement by continuing her studies, reading, and journaling. The social reform ideologies of Gandhi and Narmad take hold in her heart, and with the help and permission of her family, she is determined to become a voice in society. The imagery and sensory perceptions are told so vividly that it creates in the reader a sense of familiarity and longing to be a part of that time period. Sheth's usage of Indian words flows well, and she provides good, short explanations and a glossary. This is definitely a fascinating read.

Six Questions To Ask About A Story: #2

As I watched CAMP ROCK, Disney Channel's smash hit made-for-television movie, I found myself asking Question Number Two in my on-going series of six questions. (Note to first time Fire Escape visitors: these relate to stuff I notice about a story, whether it comes via screen or in print, because of the strange between-cultures lenses I can't seem to take off.)

Question Two: Is ethnicity used to cue either a “good” or “bad” character trait?

Today's storytellers are spearheading a strange stage in the history of American culture. It strikes me as a correction to the historical overlooking of non-white people in books and movies. What's happening now is that if you're lazy with story, you'll use race, ethnicity, or class to inform a young audience how to feel about your characters. We're trying to train a whole generation to equate WHITE/RICH with BAD, and BROWN/BLACK/POOR with good -- although I'm not sure they're buying it. The problem is that as a storytelling mechanism, this new trick is as simple and stupid as the old one.

In CAMP ROCK, one can feel the careful casting and the intentionality of each actor's race. The villain is blonde (Meaghan Jette Martin) and the hero Latina (Demi Lovato). The antagonist's allies are an African-American girl who chooses emancipation to win the singing contest (Jasmine Richards) and a mixed-race ditzy chick (Anna Maria Perez de Tagle) who also ends up renouncing oppression and stepping out on her own.

Oh, quit whining, you might be thinking, at least they're including heroes who aren't white. That's good, right?

Yes, I'm glad Disney's come a long way from the days of African-American voices cast as human-wannabe monkeys or jobless crows. And peering over my between-cultures bifocals, CAMP ROCK was lively, good-hearted, and entertaining.

Still, I don't like it when storytellers are lazy. The filmmakers give us nothing related to character when it comes to rooting for the hero, Mitchie Torres. She starts her journey without any hint of inner strength and depth, or even of being mixed-up -- all we know before she's in the middle of her self-induced conflict is that (a) she's musical, (b) her family doesn't have money to send her to camp, and (c) that she's Latina thanks to her last name.

Is that enough to get us to root for her? Apparently so, according to Disney and many other storytellers -- including some of us in the book world.

Laurie Halse Anderson chats with readergirlz

Storyteller extraordinaire Laurie Halse Anderson joined us with characteristic energy and joy during her featured month at readergirlz. We discussed her wonderful novel PROM, reminisced about our own proms, and Laurie even posted her junior prom picture on her blog — in which she looked EXACTLY like she does today. Spooky.

Such youthful glam is probably why Laurie's also a movie star (apparently she made a cameo as a lunch lady spooning out mashed potatoes in the film version of SPEAK.) She just finished the draft of WINTERGIRLS, a novel coming out in 2009, and to celebrate and replenish, she did some jam'n, as they say in teenspeak (or used to say, can't keep up to speed.) By jam'n, I mean literally (see video posted below.)

Check out a few of the questions asked by teens, authors, divas, and other fans, along with Laurie's answers at the forum.

Q. What is the easiest thing about writing for teens? The hardest?

Easiest: getting into the mindset of teen humor. This is easy because I am an incredibly immature middle-aged woman. Hardest: some scenes really throw me for a loop (suicide contemplation in TWISTED, the rape in SPEAK, the death in CATALYST) and really hurt me. My next YA comes out in MAY 2009. It has been the most painful book I have written, so far.

Q. Do you like writing under contract or does it add pressure?

It sucks either way. Without a contract, you have the luxury of time. With a contract, you have the luxury of an advance. We have four kids (just finished putting 2 of them through college), so I’ve been choosing contracts, because the bill collectors don’t like it when I say "But I’m blocked! Give me another month!"

Q. What was your defining moment in becoming a writer?

It happens every morning, about 5:30 am. I put my cereal bowl in the dishwasher, I pour a second mug of tea, and I sit down to write. The conscious, mindful decision to write every day makes me a writer.

Q. If you could meet anybody in the world, who would it be?

Mr. Barack Obama.

Q. What was your inspiration for CATALYST?

I was frustrated by the ungodly pressure put on gifted kids to succeed academically, often at the expense of their souls.

Q. In TWISTED, what made you decide to write about a guy? Was it harder than writing a female point of view?

I wanted to write from a male POV because I like a good challenge. It was harder, obviously, but I had a lot of fun with it. I came away with more respect for men and boys.

Q. What inspired you to write SPEAK?

SPEAK is 10% my life in high school, 90% fiction. I have a lot of experience with depression — that definitely went in the book ... Inspiration had a lot of threads — part was my own adolescent pain, part was my frustration with the world of high school, which seems uniquely tailored to damage children.

Q. What was it like having a movie be made of SPEAK? What kind of say (if any) in the process did you have? Were you happy with the end result?

They asked me to write the screenplay of SPEAK and I said no because I was busy with another book. I love the movie. I think the director did a great job and stayed very true to the story. Except the end of the movie which is it’s own story.

Q. Has anybody optioned PROM for a movie?

No — I wish!!! Feel free to pass it one to anyone you know in Hollywood!

Q. Are you writing any more picture books? I loved, loved, loved THANK YOU, SARAH!

I just published a new one with the same illustrator as THANK YOU, SARAH. The new one is called INDEPENDENT DAMES and features almost 90 kick-butt girls and women who participated in the American Revolution. And there will be more in the future!

Q. What about novels?

CHAINS is my next novel. It is historical fiction, set in 1776 in New York City. I have been working on it for a long time (pre-Octavian Nothing, I’d like to point out) and I can’t wait until the world gets to read it.


Which I guess is just about 4 months away.


Q. Does CHAINS feature a male or female protagonist?

CHAINS has a female protagonist named Isabel. S&S liked the book so much, they’ve asked me to do two more with the same characters. The next one will have a male protagonist, Isabel’s friend from CHAINS. His name is Curzon.

Q. Curzon ... ooooh!!! Which sounds like corazon ... which makes me wonder, is this a love interest?

All will be revealed in the fullness of time.

Q. Wow! That's fantastic. Then it will be a historical fiction trilogy. Did you have to do a lot more research for the subsequent books?

Oh, yeah! TONS! Our house is sinking into the ground under the weight of all these books, plus I have a bunch of research trips this summer. I am loving every minute of it!

Q. Are you enjoying the creation of far-reaching story arcs, both in time and over the course of multiple books?

Yes, actually, I am loving it. I have a little experience in this because I wrote the series for younger readers called VET VOLUNTEERS (originally published as WILD AT HEART). I loved figuring out the various arcs and making sure the story threads wove together properly.

Q. In CHAINS, I’m assuming you’re writing about African and African American characters. I am a strong believer in no apartheid in storytelling, but I know some people will wonder how a suburbanish white woman had the nerve to cross the racial divide in storytelling. How would you answer them?

Yep. Isabel in CHAINS is a slave from Rhode Island and the book looks at the plight of African Americans during the Revolution. (The PATRIOT movie is NOT good history.)

I have felt called to explore the sin of American racism and its roots in our slave-holding past, for decades. Particularly because I am a white woman who had benefited enormously from the color of her skin.

I finally decided that I could tell this story, not because I am white, but because I am American. This is an American story — our story. I believe that as an artist, I have the obligation and skills to empathize with people of all backgrounds, of all conditions, of all times.

The easiest characters for me to inhabit are those who are like me. And I owe it to my country and my readers to be obsessive and relentless about research. My editor is African American, and we had a number of historian of several ethnicities review the manuscript.

Think of it this way — if an artist/writer cannot figure out how to tell stories outside of her race, what hope is there for America? How will we ever learn to love, honor, and respect all of our peoples?

I have no doubt the issue will be raised often with me. I am looking forward to the discussions that can grow out of this. Not everyone will agree with my point of view, but that is one of the glories of this country; room at the table for all.

Thank you, Laurie, for your generous spirit and your unflinching courage in confronting suffering for the sake of your readers. Next month we're hosting author Jay Asher over at readergirlz, and featuring his New York Times bestseller THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. And don't forget — we're throwing a party on June 27th, at 6 PM PST / 9 PM EST at the forum. It's the rgz Summer Sizzle with E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle. Mark your calendars, rgz!

Poetry Friday: Driving Out The Loudmouths

Here's my goal for the summer -- silencing the raucous voices in my head that keep me from writing, as poet Ranier Maria Rilke put it so well:
She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully into a single cloth --
it's she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration,

where the one guest is you.
In the softness of the evening
it's you she receives.
Excerpted from Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy (New York: Riverhead, 1996), p. 64.

Chat with Laurie Halse Anderson Tomorrow!

Please spread the word that Laurie Halse Anderson will be chatting live on the MySpace readergirlz forum this Thursday, June 19th. The chat will start at 6 PM PST/9 PM EST and last for about an hour. We're featuring Laurie's book PROM (US cover on left, UK cover on right) in this month's issue but the discussion goes in every direction. To whet your appetite, here are a few things we've found out about Laurie:
On your nightstand: Flashlight, notebook, pen (all for middle of the night ideas) and my inhaler.

Favorite drink while you write: Tea or coffee

Favorite bookstore: River's End Bookstore, Oswego, NY

Favorite library: Mexico Public Library, Mexico, NY

Pet: Kezzie (my German Shepherd)

Place to write: The loft of our house

Inspiration: My readers

Dream book tour: One that includes Paris, Edinburgh, and Tokyo

Author-buddies: Sarah Dessen, Chris Crutcher, Holly Black

Cure for writer's block: Run 5 miles

Favorite outfit: Jeans and hoodie sweatshirt, sneakers

Long-hand or laptop? Laptop

Stilettos or Uggs? Uggs!!!

Author idol: Francesca Lia Block

Next up: Chains (Fall 2008), Wintergirls (Spring 2009)

The Art Versus Money Dilemma

I know I said I was done writing under contract. My agent's excited about my 2008-2009 goals to hone the craft and write a better story than I've ever written before -- I fear she's dreaming about an auction that makes headlines at Publisher's Weekly. In truth, though, we're both hoping I create a story that readers will check out of the library again and again, and the thought of climbing fresh literary heights is invigorating.

But now I've been asked to write a children's book by a start-up on-line company. They need a story that's a tie-in for merchandise they'll be selling, so they have definite plot parameters along with a deadline. The catch is that they've offered me a fairly sweet financial deal.

Suddenly, I've tumbled from the lofty peaks of art to the desert reality of money -- the two sides of my full-time vocation. What to do? Here's the strange self-talk running through my brain:
  • You're not in your twenties, girlfriend; when it comes to time left for storytelling the hourglass is upside down. 
  • If you pass on opportunities like this to free up time for "real art," do you even have what it takes to create a so-called "great story?" And what about your literary reputation?
  • Chill out, snob, who's to say a merchandise-related story can't be defined as "great?" Heck, it could give joy to kids who read it -- why is that a lesser achievement than a starred review in the Horn Book?
  • It's only 6000 words or so; you could probably write it in a couple of months starting in the fall after revising Bamboo People this summer.
  • But a story, any story, takes creative energy. Is that a renewable resource?
Any advice?

Why Are Children's Books Still So White?

When the Cooperative Children's Book Center released this year's Choices, I was curious to see if their data about diversity in children's literature revealed any changes in two years. In 2005, as we noted on the Fire Escape, the Center received 2800 books and discovered the following statistics:
By African or African/American authors 75
About Africans or African/Americans 149

By American Indian authors 4
About American Indians 34

By Latin American authors 50
About Latin Americans 76

By Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific authors 60
About Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific Americans 64
In 2007, the Center found the following results among the 3000 or so titles they received:
By African or African/American authors 77
About Africans or African/Americans 150

By American Indian authors 6
About American Indians 44

By Latin American authors 42
About Latin Americans 59

By Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific authors 56
About Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific Americans 68
In short, not much has changed. We note again that American Indian stories continue to be written mostly by outsiders. Last year, about 12% of Americans were African American, but only 5% of all children's literature featured African American characters. Once again the low numbers and even a decline in Latino books is striking, given that this demographic is the fastest growing and second largest segment of the population in the U.S.A. -- stories featuring Latino characters and themes make up about 2% of all children's books, while the population is more than 15% Latino.

In a recent Entertainment Weekly special report, Why Is Television So White?,  Jennifer Armstrong and Margeaux Watson noted a significant "paling" factor in the fall 2008 television lineup:
According to an Entertainment Weekly study of scripted-programming casts for the upcoming fall 2008 season, each of the five major broadcast networks is whiter than the Caucasian percentage (66.2 percent) of the United States population, as per the 2007 census estimate. And all of the networks are representing considerably lower than the Latino population percentage of 15.2 percent.
But television is doing something about it. Every major network has a high-level veep whose job description is lobbying fellow executives and producers to keep minorities in the game. And they seem to get that the next generation wants and expects to see us mix things up:
...Color-blind casting is something teen-focused networks seem to have down pat: Nary a show has passed through ABC Family or The N without an interracial coupling or a naturally integrated cast ... Those networks' execs say it's a simple matter of economics, that their Gen-Y viewers accept — nay, expect and demand — such a reflection of their multi-cultural lives. ''They're completely color-blind,'' ABC Family president Paul Lee says of younger viewers. ''We've done a lot of things wrong as a nation, but we've clearly done something right here. They embrace other cultures.''
So why aren't we facing up to that reality in the children's book world? Given the CCBC's statistics, it would seem that contemporary children's literature is even less reflective of America's changing demographics than the small screen. Let's face facts: our industry is behind the times when it comes to race and ethnicity, making us seem even more anachronistic than ever in the eyes of the young people we serve.

Six Questions To Ask About A Story: #1

I'm presenting "BOOKS BETWEEN CULTURES" to the Waltham librarians today, and as I looked over my notes, I thought my Fire Escape visitors might appreciate knowing the six questions I encourage readers or filmgoers to ask when they're consuming a story. (I'll post one at a time randomly through the summer, so check for the label/tag "Six Critical Questions.")

With my strange between-cultures lenses in place, here's a question that pops into my head while I'm reading a story or watching a flick:

Question One: Are the multicultural characters in the story one-dimensional (ie., only allowed to be noble, good, wise, etc.)?

Meghan McCain's Picture Book

Meghan McCain, First Daughter in Hoping, is trying to emulate incumbent First Daughter Jenna Bush by publishing a children's book of her own. A prolific blogger and Columbia-trained journalist, 23-year-old Meghan has written an illustrated biography of her father. Simon & Schuster will release the book in September, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (artist for American Girl's FELICITY and SAMANTHA along with many other children's books), and the idea originated in the fertile mind of editor Mark McVeigh.

Why is this bit of news on the Fire Escape, you might ask? Only because my fictional character Sparrow has been tracking Meghan along with the other First Kid wannabes, and sparrowblog is averaging about 400 unique visitors a day thanks to google power -- do a search on Sasha and Malia Obama for example. Now if only 10% of those people would buy First Daughter books ...

Outsourced: The Movie

Thanks to a tip from Little Willow, I'm hoping to see this film, which might serve as an antidote to the Love Guru:

I wrote to ask if I could help bring Outsourced to Boston, and of course I'll let you know if they respond.

Britain's Age Banding Brawl

Over 80 authors, editors, illustrators, booksellers, and librarians are protesting the decision to stamp book covers with a sign stating that the contents are for readers aged 5+, 7+, 9+, 11+ or 13+/teen.  Listen to their excellent reasoning:
Each child is unique, and so is each book. Accurate judgments about age suitability are impossible, and approximate ones are worse than useless.
Children easily feel stigmatized, and many will put aside books they might love because of the fear of being called babyish. Other children will feel dismayed that books of their ‘correct’ age-group are too challenging, and will be put off reading even more firmly than before.
Age-banding seeks to help adults choose books for children, and we're all in favour of that; but it does so by giving them the wrong information. It’s also likely to encourage over-prescriptive or anxious adults to limit a child's reading in ways that are unnecessary and even damaging.
Everything about a book is already rich with clues about the sort of reader it hopes to find – jacket design, typography, cover copy, prose style, illustrations. These are genuine connections with potential readers, because they appeal to individual preference. An age-guidance figure is a false one, because it implies that all children of that age are the same.
Children are now taught to look closely at book covers for all the information they convey. The hope that they will not notice the age-guidance figure, or think it unimportant, is unfounded.
Writers take great care not to limit their readership unnecessarily. To tell a story as well and inclusively as possible, and then find someone at the door turning readers away, is contrary to everything we value about books, and reading, and literature itself.
Reminds you of the nuances between our cultures when it comes to principles like the public good, individual liberties, and authority. I can't imagine the possibility of such a top-down decision being made by our publishers here, can you? At least, I hope not. You may declare your own dissension here -- it doesn't seem like UK citizenship is necessary.

Terry's World Café of Books

Check out and add to author Terry Farish's World Café of Books For Kids, a fascinating work-in-progress that's an annotated bibliography of immigrant books for kids and teens, and includes some folktales and stories set in different countries.

I'm Feeling Cynsational!

Check out my interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Empress of Author Bloggers.

A Baker's Dozen of Father Daughter Books

Dad and I have always been tight. He taught me how to relish a habanero chili, hit a topspin lob, and tease Mom without getting in trouble. In my book Rickshaw Girl, one of the easiest parts to write was Naima's sweet relationship with her father.  

In honor of Dad and all the other fathers about to eat burned toast in bed on June 15th, here's a baker's dozen of books featuring the special relationship between fathers and daughters, ranging from picture books to middle readers to books for young adults.  Thanks for your suggestions, and feel free to add more titles in the comments below.


Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. Trixie, Daddy, and Knuffle Bunny take a trip to the neighborhood Laundromat. But the exciting adventure takes a dramatic turn when Trixie realizes somebunny was left behind.

A Place To Grow by Soyung Pak.  As a father and daughter work together in their garden, he explains what a seed needs to flourish and the reasons their family immigrated to a new country--looking for hope, like sunlight, and peace, like good earth.

Night Shift Daddy by Eileen Spinelli. When the narrator of this rhyming story is sleepy, her daddy reads to her, tucks her in, and switches off the light. Then he goes to work on the night shift. When he returns, the next morning, the same bedtime routine is repeated--but this time the daughter puts Daddy to bed.

Don't Let Go! by Jeanne Willis. Megan is nervous about learning to ride her bike. What if the bike goes too fast and she falls? Daddy is patient and encouraging, letting her know she can wait until she's ready. And then it's time -- Daddy lets go and Megan is off. Now Daddy is the nervous one. What if Megan doesn't come back?

My Father's Hands by Joanne Ryder. A father working in his garden finds a delicate worm, a beetle in shining armor, and a leaf-green mantis and shares these treasures with his daughter.

Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson. As a little girl and her grandmother get ready for visiting day, her father, who adores her, is getting ready, too. The community of families who take the long bus ride upstate to visit loved ones comfort each other.


Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket -- and comes out with a dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive.

Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown. When her mom runs away from home, Rachel is left behind with her father and many questions she cannot answer. Over time, she learns the truth about her mom. But, it's only when she learns the truth about her dad, the rock -- always there for her to lean on--that Rachel can move toward understanding.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. Ten-year-old Zoe Elias has perfect piano dreams. She can practically feel the keys under her flying fingers; she can hear the audience's applause. All she needs is a baby grand so she can start her lessons, and then she'll be well on her way to Carnegie Hall. But when Dad -- who is scared to leave the house -- ventures to the music store and ends up with a wheezy organ instead of a piano, Zoe's dreams hit a sour note.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate, and "father" her kittens.


Squashed by Joan Bauer. As sixteen-year-old Ellie pursues her two goals--growing the biggest pumpkin in Iowa and losing twenty pounds herself--she strengthens her relationship with her father and meets a young man with interests similar to her own.

Midnight Hour Encores by Bruce Brooks. When Sib asks her Dad to take her to meet her mother for the first time, she knows it might mean breaking away from the man who has raised her. Yet as she and her dad wind their way across the country to San Francisco, Sib learns more about the man she thought she knew, and finds out it's not simply her music that makes her special, but also the love from the parent she might have to leave behind.

Going for the Record by Julie Swanson. Seventeen-year-old Leah Weiczynkowski, about to begin her senior year of high school, is on the brink of realizing her dream — playing soccer for the under-eighteen national team, her gateway to the World Cup and the Olympics. She can't wait to tell her dad, her biggest fan and faithful chauffeur to games and practices. Unfortunately, her dad has news of his own. And it's not good.


I only gave myself room to offer a baker's dozen in the original post, but I'll add additional titles suggested by Fire Escape visitors as I receive them. Here they are: 
  • Owl Moon by Jane Yolen (Picture Book)
  • Monkey Soup by Louis Sachar (Picture Book)
  • Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban (Picture Book)
  • The Summer Night by Charlotte Zolotow (Picture Book)
  • Father Bear Comes Home by Else Holmelund Minarik (Easy Reader)
  • Ramona And Her Father by Beverly Cleary (Tween)
  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (Tween)
  • Beige by Cecil Castelluci (Teen)
And here's one last bonus -- a grownup non-fiction book showcasing the bond between dads and daughters:
Daughters of Men: Portraits of African-American Women and Their Fathers. Author Rachel Vassel has compiled dozens of photographs and personal essays about African-American women and their fathers. Whether it's a father who mentors his daughter's artistic eye by taking her to cultural events or one who unwaveringly supports a risky career move, the fathers in this book each had his own unique and successful style of parenting. Daughters of Men provides an intimate look at black fatherhood and the many ways fathers have a lasting impact on their daughters' lives.

Sal Bose getting choked up as he watches
daughter Mitali during her television debut.
Photo taken by his grandson ... on the sly.

Costco Rocks My World

Just was cc'ed on this message to Ingram from the assistant buyer of Costco:
Can you work on getting a buy placed on (the First Daughter Books) for DC, Virginia and Maryland? Once we see sales in those areas, we can review to see if we should expand.
I'd go leaping through the aisles of my local Costco, but I know that so much depends on how they sell. I'd hate for Dutton to get boxes and boxes of returns. Aw, heck. This is amazing news. Let's throw caution to the wind -- anyone want to meet me for a celebratory boogie near the rotisserie chicken in the Waltham store?

Library Thing Is So Into Me

I was amazed by the cloud of tags automatically generated on my Library Thing author page. I'm honored to be defined by this cyber stream of consciousness:
acculturation adoption american ar art artists Bangladesh blogging campaign chapter book charity chick lit children's children's literature christianity daughter daughters election elections family fiction friendship fun gender gender roles girl girls grade 4 grade 5 grade 6 identity immigrants india Indian integrity jfic love multicultural new fiction painting politics poverty presidents read realistic realistic fiction responsibility romance social responsibility South Asian tbr teen teen fiction tween Washington DC white house ya young adult young adult fiction

Fusion Stories in Manhattan

News from the Asian American Writer's Workshop:
Next-Gen Asian American Books for Young Readers
Thursday, June 5, 7 pm

Parents and teachers, having trouble finding Young Adult novels that speak to you and your kids? Fusion Stories is a new website that aims to tell Asian American stories for this generation of young readers. These aren't traditional tales set in Asia or stories of hard-scrabbling immigrants. Instead, Fusion Stories offers fun, relatable stories about teen-dating, growing up biracial, eyelid surgery, and just feeling like you don't fit in. Fusion novelists Grace Lin, An Na, Janet Wong and David Yoo talk about the next generation of young adult literature featuring Asian American characters. Bring your kids for treats from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory!

Grace Lin is the author and illustrator of Year of The Dog (Little, Brown Young Readers, 2005) and over a dozen books such as The Ugly Vegetables (Charlesbridge Publishing, 1999) and Dim Sum For Everyone! (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2001). While Grace's books cover the Asian-American experience, she believes that "books erase bias, they make the uncommon everyday, and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal." Year of The Rat (Little, Brown Young Readers) continues the story of Grace, a Taiwanese American girl, as she navigates the challenges of growing up "different" in an upstate New York community.

An Na was born in Korea and grew up in Southern California. She is the author of Wait For Me (Penguin, 2006) and A Step From Heaven (Penguin, 2001), a Michael L. Printz Award winner and National Book Award Finalist. In her latest, The Fold (Penguin, 2008), Joyce Kang never felt pretty enough especially when compared to her older sister, but when her plastic surgery crazed aunt offers her the chance of a lifetime - to change her eyes forever - Joyce must decide what she believes is beautiful.

Janet Wong is the author of eighteen books for children, mainly picture books and poetry collections, including The Dumpster Diver (Candlewick Press, 2007) and TWIST: Yoga Poems (McElderry/Simon and Schuster, 2007). A former lawyer, she chose to write because she wanted to "do something important - and couldn't think of anything more important than working with children." In Minn and Jakes Almost Terrible Summer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), we learn that Jake has a Korean grandmother, which makes him one-quarter Korean, or "Quarpa," as he likes to call it.

David Yoo is the author of Girls For Breakfast (Random House, 2005), which was named a NYPL Best Book for Teens and a Booksense Pick, and Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before (Hyperion, Sept 2008). In Stop Me a resigned loser Albert Kim captures the affection of his dream girl Mia, only to get bumped to the sidelines when Mia's uber-popular ex, Ryan, gets cancer. David teaches adult fiction workshops at the Gotham Writers Workshop and writes a monthly column in Korean Journal.

@ The Workshop
16 West 32nd Street, 10th Floor
(btwn Broadway & 5th Avenue)
New York City

Co-sponsored by the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
$5 suggested donation; open to the public

First Daughter Interview and Review

Apparently teens are reading American YA lit in Quezon City, Philippines, and First Daughter: White House Rules was recently reviewed at a hospitable blog called "Into The Wardrobe," where I was also asked to give an interview. Maraming Salamat, Tarie!

Shannon Hale chats with readergirlz

We were treated to the humor and heart of Shannon Hale, author of BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS, during her featured month at readergirlz. Here are a few questions from teens, authors, divas, and other fans, along with Shannon's answers during her chat at the forum:

Q. Was BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS based on a specific fairy tale?

(It's) based on Maid Maleen, and obscure but (to me) fascinating Grimms brothers tale ... The story is so strange and yet has such amazing detail and depth, but it was the maid that caught me. After spending 7 years in a tower, she’s dropped from the narrative entirely half way through. That neglect really bothered me. I wanted to hear her voice, loud and strong, speaking up from the dust. I also chose it because of its similarity to The Goose Girl but very profound differences. I loved the dialog the two tales created with each other.

Q. Do you think of BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS as fiction or as sci-fi/fantasy?

I think of all my books as fantasy, and I think of them all as realism. And I’m slightly kooky.

Q. You donated a part of the profits to - what was it - the Heifer Foundation?

I didn’t want to mention that in the acknowledgments because it seemed so self-congratulatory, but then I thought it would give that wonderful organization more attention. My only regret is that you can’t buy people a yak. But water buffaloes are cool, too.

Q. Will there be a sequel to BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS?

I have a book outlined that takes place in the Eight Realms after B1000, though it’s not technically a sequel. That said, I have notes on lots of books. And so little time lately...I hope you’ll enjoy it in 2018.

Q. Do you plan on writing a sequel for PRINCESS ACADEMY?

I had considered doing a PA sequel. I know what happens next, but I decided against it for lots of reasons. Other stories were (and still are) more insistent in my brain I kept getting emails requesting a sequel and then describing to me what should happen in it--and it was almost always exactly what I’d intended to write. Which tells me if a reader can already imagine a sequel, it’s better left in her brain without having the author come in and intrude. I really like that particular story standing alone.

And yes, after I’d decided not to, PA did extremely well in paperback and I had the thought, "I could make some good money if I wrote a sequel." So now I won’t. If I think about the money a book could make, I’m dooming the project. It’s not really superstition so much as practicality. If I’m doing it for the money, then the story is bound to be less good than if I’m doing it because I can’t bear not to tell that story.

Q. What is it like being stunningly beautiful? ;)

It’s really, really hard. But I get by. [ ... :) ] Too bad we’re not doing video chat ... because I look FAB today. Mascara smeared under eyes, hair fleeing a rubber band, no shower in two days. I’ve swept the kitchen floor three times today and I still have to brush stuff off the bottom of my bare feet whenever I walk across it. LIFE OF GLAMOR, that’s me.

Q. Would you ever write a novel in collaboration with another author? One you aren’t related to? Like Libba Bray? ’Cause your two woman (book tour) was quite awesome.

I talked to Libba about that! And I’ve talked to Stephenie (Meyer) too. And we’re all so busy. Co-writing is more work than writing alone. But maybe someday...

Q. Read anything great lately?

Right now I’m reading THE HOST. Just read Richard Peck’s fantastic A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO. The TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY was so funny. BIG FAT MANIFESTO was a great read and really thought provoking.

Q. I heard a rumor that you might be writing a YA sci-fi trilogy. Is this true?

The rumor is true, though I’m mortally afraid of revealing anything before I’ve begun to write it. I think I can say that it’s called Daisy Danger Brown, it’s contemporary, first person, and superhero/scifi. I’m very eager to start on it. Especially right now when Bayern 4 isn’t cooperating.

Q. Does it feel strange stepping out of the fairy tale world into sci-fi?

I get bored easily, so I love to move around to new places and new kinds of storytelling. My adult books and graphic novels have been a wonderful stretch for me, too.

Q. When do you find the time to write (especially now that you’re a mum)?

I find very little time, but I’ve got a babysitter coming over three mornings a week this summer! Wahoo!

Q. Would you share your writing process?

I think about a book for at least a year, often more, taking notes whenever they occur to me. If I don’t write it down, it’s gone. Then I organize the notes and start in on a first draft of whichever story is yelling at me the loudest ... I ABHOR first drafts. Actually, more accurately, I fear them with great tremblings ... I rewrite about a dozen times over about a year and a half. And I weep and declare that I’ve lost it, I can’t be a writer anymore, I’m washed up, it’s over. And my husband rolls his eyes.

Q. What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Finding that perfect sentence. And meeting people who didn’t like to read until they read one of my books, and have gone on to read many books. I don’t feel like it was me who did either of those things, but they both rock.

Thank you, Shannon! This month we're hosting author Laurie Halse Anderson over at readergirlz, and featuring (it's June, people, so what else?) her novel PROM. Stay tuned for more ...

Fire Escape's 2008 Teen Contests Closed

The Fire Escape's sixth annual teen short story and poetry competitions are now closed. I've had a record number of entries in both categories, so please check back on July 1, 2008 for the winners.