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Showing posts from August, 2008

Mitali's Fall Writing Projects

I'll be gone until Tuesday after Labor Day, visiting my parents in California. When I return, I'm looking forward to putting my hand to the plow for an autumn of work. Besides an invigorating lineup of school, library, and conference appearances in Massachusetts, Tennessee, Connecticut, and Illinois, I'll be:
writing a commissioned 6000-word story about magic, dolls, and India.revising my novel BAMBOO PEOPLE with Yolanda Leroy of Charlesbridge.expanding this short story (published in the current issue of Kahani magazine) into a chapter book for early elementary readers.Speaking of which, if you're an educator and/or a parent, have you subscribed to that wonderful periodical yet? Like many "multicultural" resources, it's not just for the brown kids on the block.

2009 Batchelder Award Seeks Nominations

ALSC members (a.k.a. our local librarians) are invited to suggest titles and names for the 2009 Mildred L. Batchelder Award given to (deep breath) "an American publisher for a children's book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country and subsequently published in English in the United States during the preceding year." Only books from the 2008 publishing year are eligible for the award.

Summer 2008: Verklempt in Beijing

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As the 2008 Summer Olympics border-crossing extravaganza draws to a close, those of us who sofa-sit and get choked up over tales like these must move on to other pursuits. It's been a storyteller's dream, a feast of hero's journeys that will nourish us for months to come.

My proudest U.S.A. moments? The between-culture ones, of course, like watching athletes Lopez Lomong, originally of Sudan, and Khatuna Lorig, originally of Georgia, carry the Stars and Stripes into the Bird's Nest. And Henry Cejudo, the son of undocumented Mexican immigrants who had to work two jobs to keep food on the table, giving the U.S. its first Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling:
"I'm living the American dream right now, man," Cejudo, wrapped in an American flag, said moments after his win. "The United States is the land of opportunity. It's the best country in the world and I'm just glad to represent it."Photo Courtesy of Matt_O via Creative Commons

Picture Books on Global Poverty

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I want to compile a list of ten excellent fiction picture books set in ten different countries that inspire compassion and a desire for justice. So far I have the wonderful Four Feet Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammad, a lovely story about two friends in a Pakistani refugee camp, and One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Difference, a tale about microcredit set in Ghana, written by Katie Smith Milway. Any other suggestions?

Vampire Romances: Today's Girly Rebellion?

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Leonard Sax, author of Why Gender Matters and Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men, opines in the Washington Post about the fascination with Stephenie Meyers' bestselling novels. Sax argues that this widespread teen girl fixation on Bella's fate underscores the failure of our generation to change what is basic:
For more than three decades, political correctness has required that educators and parents pretend that gender doesn't really matter. The results of that policy are upon us: a growing cohort of young men who spend many hours each week playing video games and looking at pornography online, while their sisters and friends dream of gentle werewolves who are content to cuddle with them and dazzling vampires who will protect them from danger. In other words, ignoring gender differences is contributing to a growing gender divide.His description of the symptoms in youth culture may be accurate, but is t…

What Book Publishers Can Learn From Disney

In his article Generation Mix: Youth TV Takes the Lead in Diversity Casting, Edward Wyatt of the New York Times points out the difference between television for adults and television for kids when it comes to race and ethnicity:“One-third of the U.S. population is now nonwhite,” said Ms. Chase, one of a handful of prominent African-American producers in Hollywood. “That is reflected in the Disney Channel projects because they are committed to diversity. It has been a priority for them all along.”

None of which should be particularly surprising in the 21st century, except that television in general seems to be caught in one of a series of repeating cycles in which diversity all but disappears from the small screen.

Consider, as a contrast, what the red carpet will look like at next month’s Primetime Emmy awards ceremony. Of the 26 men nominated for Emmys for lead or supporting actor in a drama, comedy or mini-series, all are white, most of Anglo-Saxon descent.Casting aside, I'm wonde…

readergirlz on the Runway with Melissa Walker

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This month on readergirlz, we're hosting the lovely Melissa Walker, author of Violet on the Runway, Violet by Design, and Violet in Private. "It's a hard sell, asking readers to muster sympathy for the congenitally gorgeous whose job it is to wear designer clothes and walk," said a reviewer in the New York Times. "In Violet on the Runway, Melissa Walker pulls it off."

A wallflower in the spotlight can do one of two things: wilt or blossom. Shy and insecure, Violet Greenfield's life changes forever when a lady in giant Chanel shades tells her she could be IT, the next Kate Moss. Tall, skinny Violet, who's been P-L-A-I-N practically forever, ends up walking runways in New York City, Brazil, and Paris. Juggling her best friends, her agent's shrill demands, and the pressure of the fashion world to stay thin at any cost takes its toll on Violet. When she finally does choose college over modeling, will she be able to stick to her decision? After all, i…

The Truth About Dating Between Cultures

Author Terry Farish gets me to tell the truth about dating as the American child of an arranged marriage in an interview for Connections, a book discussion series for adult new readers sponsored by New Hampshire's Humanities Council.

Click here to listen.

Six Questions To Ask About A Story: #5

Here's the next installment in the Fire Escape's summer series of six questions to ask about a story. This time, let's talk about accents.

Question Five: Does a storyteller use accent to cue character traits?

How the popular storytellers of our day handle accent is an interesting way to measure a society's xenophobia (fear of stranger) versus our philoxenos (love of stranger). The Sophisticated Evil Genius with an upper class British accent is still rampant in American film, for example. Niko, the villain/protagonist in Rockstar's bestselling video game Grand Theft Auto, was cast carefully as an Eastern European. And as I watched the previews of forthcoming movies before Dark Knight, and then scrutinized the role of the blockbuster's Hong Kong money launderer played by Chin Han, I wondered about an emergent undercurrent of China-fear in our culture -- a trend that might have been fueled by American coverage of the opening ceremonies in Beijing.

Listen to writer/…

Biblical Themes in Children's Literature

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Presbyterians Today, the periodical of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is offering a new Bible study series by MaryAnn McKibben Dana focusing on children’s literature: This 10-part series explores biblical themes in familiar titles as well as some recent books "destined to be classics." Books marked with an asterisk (*) have been made into films and may be showing in theaters or available on DVD. September 2008: Prince Caspian,* by C.S. Lewis
In this second installment in the classic Chronicles of Narnia, the Pevensie children return to Narnia and take up the struggle to assist Caspian as he reclaims Narnia in the name of Aslan, a lion who serves as the Christ figure throughout the series.October 2008:Because of Winn-Dixie,* by Kate DiCamillo
A lonely preacher’s kid finds a sense of belonging through the companionship of a scruffy stray dog and various other colorful characters in her small Florida town.November 2008:Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,*

PW Clears Up The Mystery

If you're befuddled about getting a book published, join the crowd and consider attending PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY BOOK PUBLISHING 101, a one-day course for writers on "how publishing really works." One small catch: you have to be in Manhattan on September 23rd, underlining the geopraphical advantage of New Yorkers yet again. Stream it live for the rest of us, PW!

The Healing Power of Humor

"You're racist!"

Kids in North America learn fast how dangerous it is to do or say something to earn that judgment. Adults take racism seriously.

Consider the world's careful discussion about the Spanish basketball team's hand-to-eye maneuver. It's painful to watch journalists struggle to report the story with the "correct" expressions and words.

Thank goodness for those with the gift of enabling us to laugh at ourselves. Listen, for example, to Russell Peters' riff about the Indian accent (Warning: some potentially offensive content):



That's why we'll miss the likes of Bernie Mac, one of a host of honest storytellers unafraid to use humor to prod us along in the journey.

Our Candiates Are Dolls

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Only in America, land that esteems the celebrity and the entrepreneur, would someone invent and market books of Obama and McCain paper dolls. Included are cutouts of Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama, with wedding dresses and evening gowns, and the Obama girls in coats, knit shirts, and shorts. The McCain kids got shafted.

Skokie and I Get Along

The Skokie, Illinois schools and libraries have invited me to visit this November; they're partnering with neighboring Schaumberg to bring me in from Boston. Skokie libraries also selected FIRST DAUGHTER: EXTREME AMERICAN MAKEOVER on their Voices of Youth Award list. Can't wait to get to know that community better.

The Olympics Between Cultures Dilemma

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Did you catch the amazing 400M swimming relay when the Americans barely beat the French? I'm one of those fanatics who shout at the screen as though athletes can hear through the barriers of space and time. The events are usually recorded on our DVR so I'm screaming my support while Cullen Jones and company are snoring in the Olympic Village.

But would I have been rooting as wildly for the country of my citizenship if France were the country of my origin? What if four Indians were swimming their hearts out against the Americans?

During the opening ceremonies, new Americans cheer when the stars and stripes enter the stadium. But most of us also watch eagerly for another flag. Is it possible to feel patriotic towards two nations at the same time, or is that oxymoronic?

WALL*E: Message in Story

My status update informed my Facebook Friends that I was wowed by WALL*E, and Sara Zarr sent me to Jeffrey Overstreet's interview with Andrew Stanton, writer and director of Pixar's newest wonder.

We're not a culture that tolerates much preaching. In WALL*E, a combination of strong characterization, pacing, and plot permitted the storyteller to proclaim a strong message without making us resent either him or the film. Overstreet asked Stanton how he pulled off that miracle:Overstreet: How do you approach the challenge of being meaningful in entertainment without preaching?

Stanton: I knew I was playing with fire by having elements that could [make people] accuse me of preaching, but frankly I figured that if I was always doing it from an honest place, that I was only using things in order to make the story clear and make the love story and the theme of the movie as rock-solid as I could, then the smart people would get it. So… that’s my only defense. I hate going to a movie …

Canadian Children's Literature Awards

The Canadian Children's Book Centre and TD Bank Financial Group have announced the finalists of the 2008 TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards for the most distinguished books of the year. This annual award recognizes excellence in Canadian children's literature with $20,000 for the most distinguished book written in English and $20,000 for the most distinguished book written in French.

All books, in any genre, written by a Canadian for children ages one through 12 were eligible for the awards. Entries were judged on the quality of the text and illustrations and the book's overall contribution to literature. The winner of the English-language award will be announced in Toronto on November 6, 2008. The winner of the French-language award will be announced in Montreal on October 29, 2008.

The English-language finalists for the 2008 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, with jury comments, are:

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting
By Hugh Brewster wi…

When Book Promotion Equals Groveling

After our interesting conversation about the value of author blurbs last week, Tadmack sent me to this Salonarticle. First-time novelist Rebecca Johnson describes perfectly the embarrassment of asking another author for a quote about your precious:My target was a midlevel, moderately successful novelist who wrote the kind of smart, sophisticated books I imagined my reader might enjoy. The daughter of a famous novelist herself, she had no idea what total obscurity looked like, but I'd known her vaguely for years and we shared at least one mutual friend. Fortified by a glass of white wine, I made my way toward her.

"Hi," I said a little too brightly. Was it my imagination, or was she already moving away from me? After a few forced pleasantries, I brought up the book and asked if she might be willing to read it. The expression on her face -- part horror, part sneer -- was exactly what I would have expected had I released a large fart and asked what she thought of it.

"I&…

Children's Authors Gone Wild!

Author Siân Pattenden went after a recent clause added to Random House contracts in the UK:If you act or behave in a way which damages your reputation as a person suitable to work with or be associated with children, and consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously diminished, and we may (at our option) take any of the following actions: Delay publication / Renegotiate advance / Terminate the agreement."Writers are not, and should never be, seen as role models," Ms. Pattenden states in her Guardian blog post.

Yet another example of how different we are in the States. I doubt if any of our publishers would consider a clause like this one, and yet I think there might be an unwritten expectation in the industry that we are supposed to be role models.

Most American children's book authors aren't known for DUI arrests, suicide attempts, or accusations of abusive behavior towards our mothers. Are creators of children's stories a happier, more stable (som…