They focused on our characters instead of on our character.
Things have changed in the age of Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. Now readers can follow us and discover if we're naughty or nice. They can like us virtually and be disappointed in our books, or love our books and be annoyed with us on-line.
But what if teens or kids are following and friending us? Can we be candid out here about our joys and sorrows, failures and successes, passions and opinions? What if they turn to us for spiritual advice or send a desperate direct message that sounds suicidal?
All writers wield a certain measure of influence, but the difference in power between an adult author and a child or teen reader makes things even more tricky. I'd like to see some ethical guidelines for wired authors in the world of children's and teen books. Suggestions, anybody?
Photo Source: One Laptop Per Child via Creative Commons
The reality is that racial classification still exists in the minds of kids and teens. And North American kids who consider themselves African-American are still dealing with white majority default most of the time.
I remember the hordes of kids who browsed books at the Kennedy Center during the Multicultural Book Festival. For once, ALL the covers featured faces resembling theirs. They glanced up from the books to check out the authors, who also ALL mostly looked like them. For once, they were in the majority when it came to children's books.
That's why the CSK awards is still a wonderful vehicle for kids to (1) discover great stories featuring heroes they think of as being like them, and (2) meet awe-inspiring famous authors who they see as grownup versions of themselves.
That being said about WINNING the CSK award, I'll fight to the end for NO APARTHEID in WRITING.
Anyone who reads this should feel totally free to write a story about a Bengali-American girl sneaking out to a fire escape with her diary. Because I, too, plan to create characters, plots, and places without barriers or boundaries. In fact, look out for my novel starring a small-town Texas cowboy who dreams of winning Top Chef. Just kidding ... but wait ... that sounds kind of interesting ...
The characters are skillfully drafted, playing the requisite parts (domineering matriarch, displaced wife, gangly teenager) without becoming caricatures, and the setting is richly depicted. Offer this to fans of family drama as well as those who seek literary windows into other cultural or historical contexts.Blogger Jen Robinson's review was thrilling because she described my dream response from readers:
I read it two quick sittings, eager to know what would happen next. I could practically smell and taste Calcutta in the 1970's, and I loved the characters, especially Asha.Sherry Early at Semicolon picks it as her favorite among my novels:
Such a powerful story! Secret Keeper is a tale of love and loss, of traditional family and of new ways and mores creeping into and disrupting the old conventions ... I really think that this book is Ms. Perkins’ best book to date, an exploration of cultural norms and changing roles, of responsibility to self and to family, and of flawed but loving answers to difficult issues.When you write for teens, you cherish their kudos. Listen to Sarah Woodard at Sarah's Random Musings:
The characters drew a hole in my heart from how life-like they were and how the ending wasn't exactly what I wanted. It was still amazing. If you want to discover a book that will pull your heart strings and make you wonder: How much would you sacrifice to save someone that you loved?If you're in the Boston area, don't forget to RSVP for my East Coast Book Launch Party (mitaliperk at yahoo dot com) because I need to order enough samosas and chai. Would love to see you there!
Book Launch Party for SECRET KEEPER
Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009, 2 p.m.
296 Walnut St, Newton, MA 02460
Photo by Justina Chen Headley
There's more. PW children's book reviewer Elizabeth Devereaux lost her job in the cutbacks (she's reviewed for them since 1989!), Críticas, an English speaker's guide to the latest Spanish titles, was shut down (after 8 years!), and senior editor Aída Bardales laid off. Condolences to one and all. These are hard blows.
Trickling way down through the industry chain, what does this mean for authors already eyeing shrinking print review space? I asked Roger Sutton of the Horn Book this question on his blog, and he gave a reassuring answer about their continued feisty independence when it comes to reviews:
JLG sees books--manuscripts--probably six months to a year before we do. Whatever they choose goes automatically to their subscribers--if you subscribe, for example, to JLG's YA novel plan, you'll get a YA novel chosen by JLG every month. Reviews from HB and elsewhere have no effect on this process.Whew. Well, that's good news. As for PW, SLJ, and LJ, they're already part of the Reed family, but I'm keeping an eye on the editorial tier right below Brian Kenney. I want to know that reviewers at all three publications can still disagree wildly about the merits of a bestseller as well as continue to cover a wide range of titles.
The possibility of collusion only comes in after the fact, where the Horn Book could give starred reviews to JLG selections, thus making them look good in some generalized kind of way. Media Source has assured me they have no interest in Horn Book doing this, I imagine because a), it would undermine our value with our subscribers and b) because it would be so transparent as to be worthless.
But the perception a few people have seems to be that a good Horn Book review could make people buy a given book from JLG when in fact this is simply not possible. JLG customers are not buying books--they are buying a service that pre-selects books for them.
And know, too, what I think this change of ownership does do for the Horn Book. Media Source has resources--financial and otherwise--we could only dream about, and they have deep experience with youth librarians in school and public libraries. They also have a sales force, something HB has never had before. This is a very good deal for us and has my complete enthusiasm.
Cutbacks and consolidation on the national level is yet another reason why not-so-famous (vs. infamous) authors should take my Kids Heart Authors collaborator and marketing guru Deborah Sloan's excellent advice: we have to court readers locally, regionally, and virtually.
We discussed the problem of ethnic book awards on the Fire Escape last January, but perhaps with our biracial President in office, it's worth revisiting the discussion. Start with author Esme Raj Codell's grievance over never being able to win the King award. Here's an excerpt:
I have a very hard time with an award that claims to “commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood,” and yet uses the author’s race as a criteria. I find this contradictory.In a culture that's blending and melding at a fast rate, are we ready to move beyond an award based on the storyteller's race? Or is Andrea David Pinckey's argument in the Horn Book in 2001 still valid eight years later?
Thank goodness there are awards such as the CSK and Pura Belpré, awards that shine a deserving spotlight on not only some of the best books of the year but the authors and illustrators of color who create them. For some of these young people just coming into the field, this will be as far as they seek to find the works of ethnic authors and illustrators. Fortunately, these awards give them a place to begin. Solid ground on which to stand.Even as I hear the cry for justice in Esme's words and respond with hope to double-King-honoree Carole Boston Weatherford's video-poem, "American Baptism" (see below; hat tip: cynsations), I can't forget teen filmmaker Kiri Davis' poignant depiction of how black kindergartners viewed themselves in Los Angeles in 2005. No easy answers, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Speaking as a black parent, I, of course, look for books that feature the works of black authors and illustrators. I want to expose my children to the achievements of women and men like themselves.
I sent a message right away. "Is it really you?" I asked.
Her answer winged back. "Yes, it's me, 'Sameera!'" she answered, and went on to tell me what she'd done since that photo shoot for Dutton Books.
I'd been merrily using her fake identity on Sparrowblog and in all kinds of promotional purposes for my FIRST DAUGHTER novels, but I hadn't realized how much that beautiful face had melded with Sameera's in my imagination.
When your own character turns up as a fan on Facebook, the line between fiction and real life feels blurry indeed.
"Tell me about your West Coast events," my buddy Karen Day (TALL TALES and NO CREAM PUFFS / Wendy Lamb Books) asked during our celebratory lunch today.
As I described my book parties in Palo Alto (about 30 in attendance?) and in Bellevue (40 or so?), two cities where I don't live, I was struck by how vital Facebook and Twitter have become in my writing career. I'd say 80% of the participants found my event via those social networks.
I remember the days when I'd sit pathetically at a signing, trying hard to smile as people passed by. Thanks to the power of FB and Twitter, writers who aren't Mo Willems or John Green can walk into an event knowing that at least a dozen people are coming. (I mentally third the number of acceptances to be on the safe side).
How did we used to gather a decent crowd? I can't remember. These days, even email feels old school.
Creative purists who scoff at social networks as a time-waster need to remember that a writer is only half the dialectic in this business. The other half is made up of readers, and these days young adults make calendaring and purchasing decisions via social networks.
So the next time we worry about frittering on Facebook, tweeting on Twitter, or blathering on Blogger, remember that it's about getting our stories into their hands, minds, and hearts.
My goal? Set a limit, have fun, and employ my writing skills in as many venues as excellently as possible, including out here on my precious Fire Escape.
"Old buddies and new friends are coming to the events," I told my sister. "How can I possibly make each one feel loved in a five-minute interaction, especially when I'll be so distracted?"
"It's not about them this weekend, honey," my sister responded. "You have to let them love you."
And so I did.
First it was the guy at the rental car company who, upon hearing I'd escaped the Arctic front in Boston, upgraded me to a convertible so I could relish the Bay Area's seventy-degree weather.
Kepler's in Menlo Park invited me to take a tour and sign stock, which I did with pleasure, and then I drove around the campus of my alma mater with the top down, marveling at the changed and the unchanged.
Jennifer Laughran of Not Your Mother's Book Club brought samosas, bindis, lassis, and teens to my next event at Books, Inc. College buddies I hadn't seen in years and new friends from Facebook, Child_Lit, and Twitter came to celebrate my book launch party. Many stayed for the workshop on creating a sense of place in fiction.
Combining business with pleasure (although that's fairly common in this vocation), my sisters and I had a spa day, Ma cooked up a storm, and Baba beamed with pleasure at our presence.
Then it was off to Bellevue, Washington, where the mountains sparkled (just for me?) in the sunshine. The hospitality and savvy of Barnes and Noble's Brenda Gurung and the Aban Auntie's Rava made by rgz diva Holly Cupala ensured the success of my launch party up there.
Author Kirby Larson (HATTIE BIG SKY) brought
along her husband and a book tour goodie bag.
I raced to the bustling Bellevue Regional Library, where teen librarian Darcy Brixey had gathered a group of amazing teen writers for another workshop. More samosas, naan, and tamarind sauce. Not to mention bindis. And my rgz pack lined up along the back of the room, still cheering me on.
tried to squeeze me into the library's rgz READ poster
Do those readergirlz know how to party! After all the work was done, Dia Calhoun, Holly Cupala, Lorie Ann Grover, Justina Chen Headley, and Jackie Parker took me to dinner, lavishing me with gifts, laughter, and rgz love.
Thanks to one and all, and now ... sigh ... it's back to the real world.
Thanks to everybody who celebrated with me as SECRET KEEPER released on 1/13. You made it feel like a party even though I was cloistered in my writing nook most of the day. Check out the yummy soup that author Jama Rattigan concocted:
This week, I shared five hidden treasures that make life even more interesting for any children's book connoisseur in Newton.
#1 Kahani Magazine:
This award-winning magazine for children is edited by Newton's own Monika Jain and illuminates the richness and diversity that South Asian cultures bring to North America.
Completely ad-free, full of great stories, art, activities, and fun facts, Kahani is a must-have for any family, school, or library seeking to empower and educate global citizens.
Okay, full disclosure: I serve on the editorial advisory board, and it's a credential I wear with pride.
#2 The Foundation of Children's Books' events at Boston College:
The FCB hosts renowned authors like David Wiesner (TUESDAY), Brian Lies (BATS AT THE LIBRARY), and Jeff Kinney (DIARY OF A WIMPY KID) on the BC campus.
Here's what's coming next, so mark your calendars: on Thursday, Jan. 29, a panel of librarians and booksellers will discuss graphic novels in Walsh Hall. Are they comics or literature? Tune into this cutting-edge discussion right here in Newton.
You may also bid on original art by children's book author-illustrator Grace Lin, who is donating a painting a month to raise money for the FCB's efforts to bring authors to lower-income schools.
#3 Newton Schools' Creative Arts and Sciences Program:
Every performer who visits our schools is vetted by the widely respected Cheryl Nelson, the Newton Public Schools' Creative Arts Director, and a crew of parents with high standards. They preview the program and ask great questions. Does the program add value to the classroom? Will it serve the teachers in our schools? Will the children be engaged by this performer?
As an author or illustrator living in New England, it’s a dream to make it into the blue binder organized by the Newton Schools' Creative Arts and Sciences Department. Once you’re there, other school districts trust that your program will benefit their students.#4 NESCBWI's Newton-based Critique Groups:
I've been meeting with a group of fellow middle-grade and young adult authors for 8 years at the Newton Free Library. Without their red-penned suggestions, I doubt I'd have finished several of my novels, including SECRET KEEPER.
We found each other through NESCBWI, the New England chapter of the national Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Joining this organization is a non-negotiable first step for anyone eager to write or draw for kids.
#5 Hospitable coffeeshops:
If you spot an Indian woman feverishly typing on a laptop and sipping a nonfat vanilla latte at Lincoln Street Coffee in Newton Highlands, Peet's in Newton Centre, or Pie Bakery and Café in Newton Centre, stop and say hello because it's probably me. I'd love to hear how your community celebrates children's books and their creators.
Reading tastes vary, so I know not everybody's going to love my story. But I can imagine a teenager receiving it somewhere out there, and feeling as if this novel was written just for her.
Bon Voyage, Secret Keeper!
Photo Source: Genista via Creative Commons
Deborah Sloan, who used to be the Director of Publicity at Candlewick, has been running her own consulting business for two years. She knows the business inside and out, and is dedicated to getting great children's and YA stories into the hands and hearts of readers.
I've been working closely with Deborah to plan Kids Heart Authors Day. While we were on the phone discussing the idea of a regional indie-author-illustrator love fest, she had to put me on hold for a minute to sign for a bouquet delivery from Laurie Halse Anderson. Deborah organized Laurie's recent Chains tour, which was a grand success.
Now Deborah's putting in hours and hours to organize and promote our Kids Heart Authors event, and I've been astounded by her relational skills, wit, and just plain smarts. And can you believe she's doing this FOR FREE?
You'd be crazy not to hire her. But you'd better line her up quickly -- I have a feeling Ms. Sloan's going to be busy for years to come.
Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles in New England, reserve this in your iPhones, blackberries, or desk calendars: pick up a signed literary Valentine for that beloved kid or teen on February 14, 2009, from 10-12 a.m., at a cozy bookstore near you.
Renaissance woman Grace Lin (Year of the Dog / Little Brown) is going to be auctioning off a painting a month to benefit The Foundation of Children's Books' program of bringing authors into low-income schools.
The first auction starts on Monday, Jan. 12th. (Proverb: "A smile will gain you ten more years of life." So true.) You may find out how to bid here, and please spread the word.
Okay, so your mind is racing to the complaints, cutbacks, and criticisms you've been hearing (or uttering) lately about the industry, but a New Year is a good time to take stock of the positives. I started a 12-week Tuesday blogging stint at Boston.com/yourtown yesterday, and here's my first stab at answering the question in the title of this post.
Admittedly, mine is an extremely lit-friendly town, but I'm fairly sure that every nook and cranny in the U.S.A. is home to someone who is dedicated to children's literature. I'd love to hear about some of your community's book champions, so leave them in the comments section and maybe I'll do a roundup post.
Our Hometown's a Hub of Children's Books
By Mitali Perkins
If you read Leonard Marcus' book Minders of Make Believe, you might start feeling wistful for the lost golden era of children's book publishing in Boston.
Gone is our heydey when Little Brown, Ticknor & Fields, and Dutton published the likes of Louisa May Alcott, Virginia Lee Burton, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Julia Ward Howe, and other local literary luminaries. It's 2009, and the heartbeat of the children's books industry is in Manhattan, not Massachusetts.
Lest you become too verklempt over this news, let me give you five reasons why those of us in Newton can still feel that we're on the A-list (okay, let's not get carried away, the B-list) when it comes to children's books.
Within the "kidlitosphere," a thriving circle of online hubbub, you'll find links to Newton-based J.L. Bell's posts on fantasy literature for children in his Oz and Ends blog. There's my own little web-based corner, Mitali's Fire Escape, where I ruminate about "books between cultures."
And if you broaden your map search five miles, you'll locate the source of Roger Sutton's feisty, funny Horn Book blog and bookseller Alison Morris' timely ShelfTalker posts for Publisher's Weekly. Anybody else in children's book cyberworld want to confess your Newton location? I'll be happy to share your URL here.
Newton is home to two fabulous independents recognized widely for their commitment to books and events: Newtonville Books on Walnut Street and New England Mobile Book Fair on Needham Street. Now that's richness. Oh, and we also have a Borders and a Barnes and Noble at Chestnut Hill. 84,000 people. Four bookstores with a wide selection of books for children and teens. Go ahead and brag about the ratio if you want, but better still, go buy a book or two.
The Newton Free Library. Our home away from homes. Browsing the new books section alone can make you pity those in other towns, and the children's section is a literary feast for families. I took our kids every Saturday when they were small, and now that they're teenagers they still love to come along (full disclosure: they head straight upstairs to check out the generous DVD collection).
During a long JetBlue flight from Boston to Oakland, I tried to convince the person sitting next to me to write a teen novel. She was Newton-based Anita Diamant, author of the Red Tent, an adult book which many young adults have enjoyed.
But we already have several bona fide authors of children's books. Award-winning author Karen Day (Tall Tales and No Cream Puffs, middle grade novels published by Wendy Lamb Books/Random House) lives in Newton. And so do Sydney Taylor Honor Winner Sarah Lamstein (Letter on the Wind: A Chanukah Tale, Boyds Mill Press) and Laya Steinberg, author of the bestselling picture book Thesaurus Rex (Barefoot Books). I'm sure there are other children's book writers and illustrators in town, so chime in and let us know of your/their existence.
Charlesbridge is still publishing books across the river in Watertown, thank goodness. A bit further, but still within biking distance, are Somerville's Candlewick, Cambridge's Barefoot Books, and Boston's Houghton-Mifflin.
But that's only a taste of why I'm glad I write, read, review, facebook, blog, and twitter from my writing nook in Newton, Massachusetts. Stay tuned over the next few Tuesdays as I share my thoughts on books and book-related events for children and teens, all from a one-and-only Newtonian's perspective.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, I'm delighted to present a one-minute book trailer produced by Bethany Macleod for SECRET KEEPER.
The trailer stars Sejal, the daughter of my good friend Monika Jain, editor of the award-winning Kahani Magazine. The voiceover is moi. Enjoy.
Bear with me for a bit as my novel releases January 13th, and enjoy the gorgeous posters designed by Jennifer Laughran of Not Your Mother's Bookshop and Brenda Gurung of Barnes & Noble announcing my Bay Area and Seattle events.
And don't worry, I'll be keeping an eye on great posts about books between cultures, like this one,"All A-Twitter About Newbery Diversity," where librarian Liz Burns responds to an in-the-news study that lamented the lack of diverse characters in Newbery-winning novels. Definitely worth a read.
For me, 2009 kicks off with massive renovations on Mitali's Fire Escape. I'd love to hear what you think, or if you have any suggestions to make the new site more user-friendly.
We're up to 23 bookstores and 85 authors/illustrators over at our New England indie-author Valentine's Day event, Kids Heart Authors Day. Only two weeks left to sign up!
Last but not least, I'm busy fine-tuning my mini-tour for the launch of Secret Keeper on January 13th. I'll be reading, signing books, and offering writing workshops in the San Francisco and Seattle areas, as well as just plain partying in Bellevue, Palo Alto, and Newtonville. I'd love to see you there. Feel free to sign up for the book giveaway over at Goodreads, too.
SF BAY AREA:
Book Signing and Chai, Thursday Jan. 15, 2009, 6:00 - 7:00 pm, Not Your Mother's Book Club, Books Inc., Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real #74, Palo Alto, CA. Phone: 650-321-0600.
Free Writing Workshop, Thursday Jan. 15, 2009, 7:00 - 8:00 pm, Not Your Mother's Book Club, Books Inc., Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real #74, Palo Alto, CA. Phone: 650-321-0600.
Book Launch Party, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009, 2 p.m., Bellevue Barnes and Noble, 626 106th Ave. NE, Bellevue, WA. Phone: 425-453-7958. (ALL the readergirlz divas have put this on their calendar, bless their hearts, so here's your chance to meet them!)
Teen Writing Workshop, Chai, Naan, and Samosas, Sunday, January 18, 5:00 p.m., Bellevue Regional Library, 1111 110th Ave NE, Bellevue, WA 98004. Phone: 425-450-1765.
Book Launch Party, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009, 2 p.m., Newtonville Books, 296 Walnut St, Newton, MA 02460. Phone: 617-244-6619.