In honor of the book's release, I sent Malia and Sasha Obama a signed copy of RICKSHAW GIRL just for the heck of it (they're a bit young for the FIRST DAUGHTER books, which I sent to Bridget McCain months ago).
Question Four: Who are the people affecting change in the story?
The book or flick might be set in another country or feature characters who aren't white, but are the problems solved by a Great White Knight or Messianic Foreigner?
Or, once again, as we wondered when we asked Question #1, is there a Magic Negro who saves the day?
Focusing on children's literature, authors like Joanne Harris and Meg Rosoff have shared their ten favorite kids' books with kick-ass heroines (Harris) or adult books for teens (Rosoff).
Does anybody know of a similar "authors' favorite children's books" resource here in the States that's more current than the (interesting) features at Salon, Great Schools, Cynsations, or Education World?
Then last week, I was approached by a first-time novelist to be quoted on her book. "I've got sweaty palms," she informed me in her email request, and I knew exactly how she felt. It was hard to ask.
Now I'm wondering -- can a validation from another author on the cover convince a reader to buy or borrow a book?
My biggest challenge was standing at the board struggling to explain economic principles to my increasingly befuddled students. If only I had known back then what I know now — that kid lit can be used to teach almost anything.
Yana Rodgers, director of the Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children, sent me this nice review of Rickshaw Girl published on EconKids, a rich (pun intended) site featuring children's books that teach economics. Here's the site's mission statement:
This website provides teachers, parents, and volunteers with ideas for using children's literature to introduce economics to children. This site also reviews new books from leading publishers and makes selections for Book of the Month and Top Five categories. Unlike many of the existing websites on economics education, EconKids focuses on younger students in elementary school.Did you know that children's books, for example, can teach the following economic concepts?
- Capital Resources
- Child Schooling and Work
- Human Resources
- Markets and Competition
- Natural Resources
- Opportunity Cost
Jay Asher (a.k.a. Disco Mermaid) will be chatting live at the readergirlz forum today, Thursday, July 24th, at 6 PM PST/9 PM EST. The chat will last for about an hour, and you don't even need to have read the book to join in. Check out the latest readergirlz issue, and we'll see you at the forum!
Hunt's childhood gives her a unique take on race and children's literature:
Her personal background—she was adopted and raised by a white family—plays a role in the books that interest her. “Fish-out-of-water and identity stories have special appeal to me,” she says. “Being [raised] in New Mexico and Colorado, where you do feel different a lot of times—there were things during my own childhood that I had to grapple with...”
Hunt believes that the biggest way in which her race affects her work is her ability to have frank discussions on the subject with authors.“We don't have to tiptoe around it,”she says, noting,“We still sometimes want to put writers in boxes, [but] I don't think about it that way. I just want to see just inventive stories.”
Question Three: Do the illustrations or cover art make the characters seem either more or less foreign than depicted in the story?
Nowhere in Cynthia Kadohata's book WEEDFLOWER does Sumiko wear a kimono. Why did the publisher feel they had to make her look more Japanese than American, especially when a girl in jeans behind barbed wire would be more historically accurate and powerful?
And listen to Ursula LeGuin's perspective before considering the advance release copy of her novel POWERS (cover art below to the left), which the publisher eventually changed to reflect the protagonist's Himalayan ancestry:
The characters are white. Even when they aren’t white in the text, they are white on the cover. I know, you don't have to tell me about sales! I have fought many cover departments on this issue, and mostly lost. But please consider that "what sells" or "doesn't sell" can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If black kids, Hispanics, Indians both Eastern and Western, don't buy fantasy -- which they mostly don’t -- could it be because they never see themselves on the cover?
I've enjoyed a few of Ishiguro's other novels, relishing the author's mastery of understatement and his description of non-verbals. I've also marveled that as an Asian-born immigrant writer, Ishiguro has managed to escape being classified as such. Are Brit writers given more freedom than Americans to create protagonists of many ethnicities, I've wondered?
Ishiguro himself has said he doesn't write at all like Japanese novelists. In an interview with Allan Vorda and Kim Herzinger ("Stuck on the Margins: An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro," FACE TO FACE: INTERVIEWS WITH CONTEMPORARY NOVELISTS), Ishiguro said, "if I wrote under a pseudonym and got somebody else to pose for my jacket photographs, I'm sure nobody would think of saying, 'This guy reminds me of that Japanese writer.'"
After reading NEVER LET ME GO, which like THE REMAINS OF THE DAY features no Japanese characters, I found myself wondering how much Ishiguro's first five years in Japan informed his writing.
A theme in both novels is the stultifying power of duty. As a public-school educated Brit, Ishiguro is definitely challenging the unquestioning obedience of the oppressed in British history. His grasp of how honor can blind us to injustice, however, also reminds me of how Japanese culture can be caricatured.
Here's my question: did a life between cultures enhance the ability to see how duty can dull our humanity, perhaps giving Ishiguro a double-edged advantage when it comes to writing this theme?
Read Margaret Atwood's review of NEVER LET ME GO in Slate.
If a blonde or freckled American would attempt to communicate in Spanish, a guide would turn to me in bewilderment. I'd shrug and repeat the question, often word for word. Inevitably, the look of bewilderment on our host's face would disappear, and he'd rattle off an answer at full-speed.
Makes me wonder how preconceptions about appearance affect how I hear and understand voices. Do I tune in only when a person "looks" like they should be in the know? And do I ignore the words of those who don't?
When her father loses his job and leaves India to look for work in America, Asha Gupta, her older sister, Reet, and their mother must wait with Baba’s brother and his family, as well as their grandmother, in Calcutta. Uncle is welcoming, but in a country steeped in tradition, the three women must abide by his decisions. Asha knows this is temporary—just until Baba sends for them. But with scant savings and time passing, the tension builds: Ma, prone to spells of sadness, finds it hard to submit to her mother- and sister-in-law; Reet’s beauty attracts unwanted marriage proposals; and Asha's promise to take care of Ma and Reet leads to impulsive behavior. What follows is a firestorm of rebuke—and secrets revealed! Asha’s only solace is her rooftop hideaway, where she pours her heart out in her diary, and where she begins a clandestine friendship with Jay Sen, the boy next door. Asha can hardly believe that she, and not Reet, is the object of Jay’s attention. Then news arrives about Baba . . . and Asha must make a choice that will change their lives forever.
First Prize Fire Escape's 2008 Short Story Contest
Threads of Memory by Teresa, Vietnam/America, Age 19
It's a perfect memory, one told to me by my grandmother as she gazes at me from behind thick lenses that distort her wide brown eyes. She tells a tale that could easily be mistaken for a bedtime story, if I were still a child. But instead, my grandmother is the one tucked into a standard-issue hospital bed, frail against white sheets. The door is open and I can hear the squeaky shoes of the nurses. My grandmother lies back, and tells me a story of a life far removed from the scent of disinfectant and mass-produced meals.
I often tell stories about my grandparents, about how one chilly night, they leave the portable heater on for too long and burn through the carpet. It is a brush with death, one of the many examples of recklessness that have become increasingly frequent in their old age. But my grandmother tells a happier story.
Her story takes place on a sunny, Disney-perfect day. She is babysitting me, her pudgy pigtailed infant granddaughter.
Here my grandmother's story zooms into a world that I do not recall. She says that she carries me into the residential streets. In my childhood recollections, I do not see my grandmother ever venturing out onto the sidewalk. But her story continues. She carries me to the marketplace. It is filled with crowded stalls, where Vietnamese is the only language and haggling is a way of life.
"I took you to buy sweets," she tells me, the ghost of a smile on thin chapped lips.
No Grandma, I want to say. There is no marketplace near our home – just chain link fences and an old playground. You're remembering another time. Somewhere in Vietnam, you must have taken a child to buy candy. Back then you were not reliant on a walker or a wheelchair. A walk down the street reaped the greetings of familiar faces, scents and sounds. Do you remember the uneven roads, the baskets of steaming corn, the women swathed in silk making their way to morning mass? They are images from a world I've never seen.
The grandmother I know was never strong enough to carry me. She does not know the streets where we lived, the corner drugstores blocks away. Grandma, you never left our home. You lived with us during my childhood and sat quiet and delicate at the dinner table. You called me into your room to thread needles when your eyesight dimmed.
Now in this room of dull linoleum tiling and decaying lives, dementia nibbles at the fabric of my grandmother's history. There are times when she does not remember my name, when she asks my twelve-year-old brother when his wedding is.
"Who is it?" she asks when I come to visit. I like to think that it is her eyesight that hinders her from recognizing her own granddaughter.
"It's me, Mai Linh," I say clearly, and most of the time she smiles in recognition.
At the nursing home, everything is cream colored. It is a dull existence, and I wonder if my grandmother replays these confused memories in her mind. The last time I visited, she was alert as she told me of her extravagant wedding and her youthful beauty. The memory seems right. Hearing fact from her mouth is rare nowadays.
I think of the story she told me, and the fact that she called me Mai Linh while she was speaking. In essence, it is nothing but the story of a grandmother who loves her granddaughter. And because of that, it is a real memory, tangled but true.
by Monika, Panama/USA, Age 17
I owe you an apology
many years in the making
I am sorry that you were always
last in line
That when my mother said
you look so much alike
I would scowl
I am sorry that I
loved Summer over you
that her blond hair
and green eyes
made me smile like
I never smiled at you
I am sorry that when my grandmother
made matching dresses
I never gave you one
that your thick dark hair
never was braided
never was brushed
I am sorry I pronounced your name
with a stiff and angry
I knew it was wrong
but most of all
I am so sorry
that I hated my
and that you
live in it
Second Prize Fire Escape's 2008 Short Story Contest
The Language of Smoke
by Laura, Brazil/America, Age 17
She spends her twelfth birthday in the corner of a large, white room, farthest from where pork-scented smoke cloaks charring meat with wide, slow strokes. She will smell thoroughly of the day soon. Already she feels like meat, prodded and passed, reduced to lukewarm, malleable flesh. Unknown cousins have touched her neck with smooth, dry hands, kissed her cheeks, stood close to her next to the salads, offered her Guaraná in murky English: You want… some…Guaraná?
And she has managed to turn her head to the left and to the right and up and down and to let one side of her mouth crease into an oval dimple; she has managed to shuffle, her back bent forward as if weighed down by her head, to the food and then to this corner.
She is ugly today. Especially here. Her cheeks are flecked with pimples that fatten as they near her hairline and her hair kinks uncertainly around her face, as if its shape is the result of several bad grooming decisions instead of its genetic prowess. The men and women surrounding her have skin in shades of caramel and mocha and their hair looks like thickened silk; their clothing is white and light and it hangs on their bodies, their long-legged, long-necked bodies, as if on tinted manikins.
"Você quer mais arroz?" her aunt asks, face fading from laughter at someone’s joke. More rice?
"No, obrigado," she whispers, and her aunt turns away. Portuguese sounds hard and cold off of her tongue, like she is trying to craft silk out of wound bits of plastic. She is ashamed to speak it in Brazil, to add her whittled efforts to the warm, pretty sea of it.
Her sister joins her, sits next to her on a plastic bench. "Did you try this?" She indicates something on her plate.
"No, I didn’t."
"It’s pretty awesome."
"It probably is."
How dead their American words are, dry as cut trees, charismatic as dust, blocky and pithy and stunted, each one stagnating in its place, all while the party is markedly Brazilian, all while everyone is swaying and clearing the tables to her cousin’s guitar, all while everyone looks lush and damp, all while everyone is speaking together, at once, part of the same musical note.
The party will last until after midnight. Her uncles and grandmother, her vovó, will get tipsy and will unabashedly dance with each other to clear, smooth bossa nova from the stereo they’ve set up, will sip champagne to her birth and have tears in their eyes, probably, from the drinks or because they love her. And she will sit and look down and smile politely, say thank you, feel shelved. Suddenly she wants so much to adhere to the perfume of the day and its voices, to get up and dance and feel warm, to be smoothed of her apprehension, to kiss her cousins’ cheeks with undaunted lips.
She closes her eyes.
When she opens them her vovó’s hand is hot on her back and her lips are on her forehead. "Meu amor," she says, smiling, holding her hand now. "Meu amor."
by J. Javier, El Salvador/USA Age 17
Heavy snoring at night after a long day's work,
you soldier on through the quagmires of life.
Cries of children all day, teenage tantrums at night,
you swim your deep dark oceans,
force painful new strokes into the water,
no man to appreciate your agony,
burden of your beauty.
Arthritic legs from weeks of caring for strange babies,
yet you run through sword sharp fields of elephant grass, unharmed.
Dirty-diapered mornings, dirty-dished nights,
yet you carry our family on your embracing wings,
flying through green-back storms,
no man to understand your struggle,
a selfless burden.
Puffy, red eyes after years of working every day of the week,
yet you guide my hands to the lighted door in life's dark caves.
steps missed at sunrise; sunset meals unprepared,
yet you gallantly dance through burning forests,
avoiding the rain walking in the fire,
no man to respect your virtue,
a mother's burden, your life.
Third Prize 2008 Fire Escape Short Story Contest
Pancakes or Porathas
by Naureen, Bangladesh/America, Age 15
Existing as a blend of two different heritages does not necessarily imply that you are a harmonious blend. Some people coo that you are "so lucky to be able to experience two cultures," to live the American lifestyle at school and go home to the smell of Bengali home-cooking. Others, however, notice the oddly shaped edges of your piece of the puzzle. You don't quite fit in anywhere. You notice it on a daily basis.
Your mother asks if you would like pancakes or porathas for breakfast – in Bengali. You reply in clear English, "Neither, I want cereal." Your mom clucks her tongue, a subtle reminder that makes you freshly aware of how fortunate you are to live in a land of wealth and opportunity, an infamous land called America. In Bangladesh, nearly every breakfast would consist of porathas, fried squares of dough used to hug vegetables so you can enjoy two food groups in one sitting. The only variety breakfast allots is meat or sughee instead of the redundant dose of vegetables.
You shuttle to and from school by bus each day because your parents are steadfast on taking full advantage of the free education transportation system. However much of a hybrid being you feel like, the clothes you wear to school are uniquely American. A cotton tee, as breezy and light as the selwar kameze your mom urges you to wear to weekend dinner parties, clings to your ethnic love handles. You sport jeans that you have found to be so comfy you've suggested them to your father on more than one occasion. Why he continues to wear a flimsy, plaid, wrap-around lunghi on his waist with such accessibility to good Levi's is beyond you. Unlike your father, mother, and friends at school, you do not dangle by the rules of one book, know loyalty to just one set of customs. Today you chose to have cereal; tomorrow it may be porathas.
After school an American friend with honey-colored hair asks if you want to hit up a movie this weekend, something new at the box office, or just hang out at her house. Without thinking, you politely decline the invitation, regardless of how appealing it sounds. You know your parents have already made plans for you, as they have virtually every weekend of your life. There are always Bengali parties on weekends. Birthday bashes, house warmings, baby showers, and casual gatherings for cups of chai when simply no other occasion presents itself. To each of these parties you are expected to wear a selwar kameze, a billowy, knee-length top with matching pants of equal fluidity. The outfit hides your curves under a mass of sequined fabric so you can stuff yourself with laddoos and payesh without revealing the fact outwardly.
Sometimes the weekend get-togethers spill over into Monday night as well. On rare occasions like this weekend, however, you are grateful to discover that there is only one party to attend. This gives you the chance to call your friend back and RSVP with good news!
Even carefree hang-outs with friends are not entirely blithe. You are always on tiptoe, conscious that your habits do not coincide with those of your American buddies. On your honey-haired friend's doorstep, you inquire into whether you should take off your shoes before stepping inside the house. At a Bengali household, this is not debatable. You would slip off your Bata sandals immediately. Your friend says her mother doesn't care if you take off your shoes.
You manage a smile as you stroke the massive dog that bounds toward you, licking your calves and jumping psychotically. You have never known the presence of other creatures in your house. Even without allergies, your parents would never allow pets. Your mother would be utterly perturbed knowing that you are eating dinner tonight without first disinfecting your hands. You have a great time with your friends, watching TV at a record high volume and spilling popcorn in the couch crevices. You go home without the familiarly heavy belly laden with rich desserts.Every day your actions remind you that you are isolated in viewpoint. While you do some things that are Bengali and some that are American, you are not strictly defined by either culture. This idea nestles in the back of your mind but is constantly provoked – from the early morning decision between pancakes and porathas to your persistent suggestion of denim pants to your father. Some say you cannot be identified, that you have taken to falling between the cracks just like the popcorn in the sofa. But really you are more identifiable than not. You are two identities wrapped in a warm, crisp poratha and served with a side of vegetables.
For Your Pathos
by Miranda, China/USA, Age 17
you will pound mettle into me
before our years are over—
I sometimes wonder
if this is your intent, or
you have failed even yourself.
at one time
yours were my only margins,
and I fit snugly
between the lines of your page.
your stark nakedness of mind
was protected only
by the thin threads that bound us.
but soon, you snapped and were felled
by your own
I resent you
because you remind me
of what is impossible.
Third Prize 2008 Short Story Contest
A Cultural Chasm by Kenneth, China/America, Age 17
To Lee, culture entailed addition, not subtraction.
Yet, he could never seem to maximize his equation --
the world would forbid it. Living in America, he
inadvertently formed a cultural chasm with his Chinese
relatives. However, the same would happen no matter
where he lived.
His Chinese grandmother would call -- her broken
English wishing him well and urging him to succeed.
When Lee passed the phone to his mother, he could
faintly hear that broken English morphing into a
stream of fluid Mandarin, expressing untold,
unnumbered ideas and beautiful, complex emotions. He
just couldn't understand.
This fact was clarified many years ago, when he had
visited his grandmother with his Pennsylvanian father
and Chinese mother. Looking back, Lee realized that
every facet of him, from his clothes to his lack of a
skill with a bike, screamed "tourist." Visiting the
Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, he had not
understood their true significance only their
beauty. Of all the words he had learned, one stood out
in his mind. It meant "American person." He had heard
Yet, in the United States, many people did the same
thing. Most quickly labeled him as "Asian." and some
even told him that it was in his face. It was in his
birth -- something he could never change. No matter
which country he chose, Lee could never completely
identify with it.
Many of his friends knew Lee's pain. They held the
same problem. Thus, they increasingly leaned on each
other for guidance widening the chasm, leaving a
beautiful and stunning culture on the far ledge. Lee
could stand on one side or the other, but not both.
This was a rule forged by geography, by style, by
language, and by time. Choosing a side was like
choosing between the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall,
like choosing between forks and chopsticks, like
choosing between everything. No one pressured him to
decide; rather, he pressured himself.
As Lee passed through high school, meeting new friends
and growing into a man, a small, nagging part of him
knew that his Chinese family would not realize how he
Taking standardized tests, one section always stood
out: a block in the introduction asking him to
identify his race. There was a circle for "Asian" and
a circle for "Caucasian." Lee could mark neither: he
quietly shaded the circle for "Other."
The committee considered "works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for students in grades K-12 that encourage readers to understand, accept, and celebrate cultural differences as well as recognize shared aspects of the human experience across time and space."
I'm proud to be part of the 2008 NBGS book list:
1. Bae, Hyun-Joo. New Clothes for New Year's Day. La Jolla, CA: Kane-Miller
2. Bryan, Ashley. Let It Shine. NY: Atheneum
3. Fleischman, Paul. Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella. Illustrated by Julie Paschkis. NY: Henry Holt
4. Judge, Lita. One Thousand Tracings. NY: Hyperion
5. Levine, Ellen. Henry's Freedom Box. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. NY: Scholastic
6. Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. NY: Farrar Straus & Giroux
7. Stanton, Karen. Papi's Gift. Illustrated by Rene King Moreno. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press
8. Strauss, Rochelle. One Well: The Story of Water on Earth. Illustrated by Rosemary Woods. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press
9. Tan, Shaun. The Arrival. NY: Scholastic
10. Thompson, Lauren. Ballerina Dreams: A True Story. Photographs by James Estrin. NY: Holtzbrink
11. Williams, Karen Lynn & Mohammed, Khadra. Four Feet, Two Sandals. Illustrated by Doug Chayka. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company
12. Wise, Bill. Louis Sockalexis: Native American Baseball Pioneer. Illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. NY: Lee & Low
13. Compestine, Ying Chang. Revolution is Not a Dinner Party. NY: Henry Holt
14. Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton. NY: Scholastic
15. Myers, Walter Dean. Harlem Summer. NY: Scholastic
16. Sheth, Kashmira. Keeping Corner. NY: Hyperion
17. Toksvis, Sandi. Hitler's Canary. NY: Roaring Brook Press
18. Wells, Rosemary. Red Moon at Sharpsburg. NY: Penguin
19. Barakat, Ibtisam. Tasting the Sky. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
20. Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier . NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
21. Greenwood, Barbara. Factory Girl. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press
22. Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Art by Ellen Forney. Boston: Little, Brown Young Readers
23. Marsden, Carolyn. When Heaven Fell. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick
24. O'Connor, Barbara. How to Steal a Dog. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
25. Perkins, Mitali. Rickshaw Girl. Illustrated by Jamie Hogan. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge
We're talking about NYT bestseller 13 REASONS WHY on readergirlz this month, and welcoming author Jay Asher. Here are a few things you might not know about Jay:
On his nightstand: A really thick biography of Charles Schulz
Favorite drink while he writes: Coffee with cream and sugar
Favorite bookstore: Vroman's
Favorite library: San Luis Obispo Public Library (and not just because I work there)
Pet: I haven't owned a pet since Dodger (a beagle)
Place to write: Linnaea's Café
Inspiration: People watching
Writer-buddies: Robin Mellom & Eve Porinchak (we blog together as The Disco Mermaids)
Cures for writer's block: Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream (it solves nothing, but it makes me forget there was a problem)
Favorite outfit: Pajama bottoms and a T-shirt
Long-hand or laptop? Laptop (but I often brainstorm long-hand)
Stilettos or Uggs? If it counts, I've worn stilettos for a costume
Author idols: Stephen King & Ray Bradbury
YA novels he recommends:
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
Vegan, Virgin, Valentine by Carolyn Mackler
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I love this magazine. I am not a kid, I do not have kids, and I do not have any kind of South Asian heritage (Germany is as close as it gets), but I LOVE getting this mag (and passing it on to local kids/schools when I finish). It's beautifully illustrated, well-conceived and often contains little gems of stories from familiar Child Lit names — all at a totally reasonable subscription price.The magazine runs a wonderful contest for young writers and illustrators, and provides a community for those of us who share a South Asian heritage in the children's book world. (On a side note, two other children's bookish types were mentioned in India New England, Padma Venkatraman, author of CLIMBING THE STAIRS, and myself.)
Congratulations, Monika and Sunitha! And if you aren't already subscribing to Kahani, why wait?
Yesterday Ypulse.com announced the launch of Ypulse Books, a blog and newsletter that covers books for children and young adults, providing insight on what children and young adults read, the latest trends in how books are marketed to youth, and efforts to increase youth literacy.
And if you're planning to be in the Bay Area on July 14th, don't miss the Ypulse Books/Publishing Preconference at the 2008 Ypulse National Mashup conference.
"For a lot of us, we eat, sleep, and breath, young adult literature, but we know it's changing every day," said Alli Decker, Editor of Ypulse Books. "It will be so exciting to exchange information, resources and especially ideas about the new developments on the YA horizon."