Books That Make Readers Clash

"SECRET KEEPER had one of the most satisfying endings I've read in a long time," said one reviewer.

Meanwhile, on Goodreads, another reader disagreed: "I didn't really like the ending, but I loved the rest of it."

Of all my books, SECRET KEEPER seems to be evoking the widest range of gut responses.

Is there a particular book you've loved that another reader wanted to fling across the room? Or vice a versa, maybe: you wish you'd never read it because it left you sad, mad, or otherwise disturbed, but other people apparently adored it?

Poetry Friday: Border Dance

Enjoy the poem that won second prize this year in my annual poetry contest for teens between cultures.

Untitled by Selorm, Ghana/USA, Age 16

The drums sound,
and her village hands slap like thunder onto the
paved city streets and crumbling suburban sidewalks.
The baked gold dust of the Motherland has speckled the back of her hands,
though her blue jeans and sneakers are stained red, white and blue;
red, gold and green.
Her dance is backbreaking and classic,
though her spirit was born long before 1776.
Her soul resides with the Blackened Ones,
her body in the West.
But she is not torn nor troubled,
split nor shaken.
She dances fearlessly on the border of
two worlds.

Photo courtesy of Lieven SOETE via Creative Commons.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Kate Coombs at Book Aunt.

Editor For Hire: Polish Your Manuscript Before Submission

It's tough to get published these days. Before submitting to an editor or agent, you might consider spending some money on an expert consultation for your children's or YA book manuscript. Several topnotch professional editors have left the industry to set up their own freelancing businesses:
Laura Atkins Lee and Low / Children's Book Press
Deborah Brodie
Roaring Brook Press / Viking
Sarah Cloots
Kara LaReau Scholastic / Candlewick
Amy Lin Little Brown
Judy O'Malley Charlesbridge / Houghton Mifflin
Stacy L. Whitman Mirrorstone / Wizards of the Coast
Contact editor Alvina Ling for information about Sangeeta Mehta, who used to work for Little Brown. Summer Dawn Laurie, formerly with Tricycle, is also available for editorial input. Email her at sdledits(at)

Cynthia Leitich Smith maintains a full list of critique services including those offered by ex-editors. If you know of other freelancers who used to work as an editors in publishing houses, drop their names and URLs in the comments and I'll add them.

Getting Started on Twitter: A Quick Guide for Kid/YA Writers

Newbie to Twitter? Writing books for kids or young adults? Here are five easy steps to jumpstart your use of Twitter:

1. Join.

I recommend using a real name if possible. Or a pen name if you use one. It's your brand, right?

2. Personalize.

Write a snappy 160 character bio. Link to a website or blog. Use a photo of your real head. If published, upload a .jpg of your most recent book as your background. Don't tile if it gets headachey. If not published, upload a .jpg of something bookish, artsy, or representative of you, either from your own photos or something you find via Creative Commons.

3. Tweet.

Your first 140-character message will be what people see, so make it good. In fact, try to make every tweet good. Your writing is the best ad for your writing, and Twitter is a fabulous showcase. So don't say, "Oh, here I am on Twitter!" or something equally inane. Be witty, pithy, or sweet, but let this first tweet display a bit of who you are. Or who you want us to think you are, anyway.

4. Follow.

Start by following a few of the most active and informative Kid/YA people on twitter: @gregpincus, @inkyelbows, and @taralazar (additions? share them in the comments). They all post tips and links galore. Or track these five chats related to the industry: #askagent, #pubtip, #followreader, #writechat, and #kidlitchat. Consult Debbie Ridpath Oni's list of the best chats on twitter related to writing.

5. Learn the rules.

You communicate on Twitter in seven ways.
  • Tweet by composing messages that are 140 characters long. Better still, make them shorter in case somebody wants to forward your tweet along.

  • Reply to somebody else's tweet, so that your tweet starts with @mitaliperkins blah blah blah. People who follow you will only see this tweet if they follow you and the person to whom you're replying. Putting a "." before "@" in a reply beginning with someone's twitter name (.@mitaliperkins blah blah blah) lets all your followers see that reply instead of only those who follow both you and the person you're answering.

  • Re-tweet interesting stuff. If you quote someone exactly, start with RT @mitaliperkins blah blah blah. If you paraphrase, say it your way and then end with (via @mitaliperkins).

  • Direct message somebody, or DM. This is only seen by the recipient. You may only DM people who actually follow you, not everybody you follow.

  • Link to a web page or blog in your tweet. Shorten these links using I recommend signing up for an account as their statistics will tell you which of the links you've shared are the most popular or helpful. Feed links to your own blog posts using twitterfeed.

  • Hashtag to participate in a chat, topical discussion, or conference. If you were at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators National Conference in LA last month, for example, you'd tweet something related to the conference and end it with #scbwi09. You can even invent your own hashtag. Don't worry too much about this one, you'll get the hang of hashtags soon enough (along with other twitter extras).
Check your Twitter home page once a week, once a day, once an hour, whatever suits your fancy and schedule. Don't feel like you have to read it all nor respond to everything. Dip your toes in every now and then, read and tweet when you can, and you'll find this venture both fun and professionally enriching. I promise. Questions? Tweet them to me @mitaliperkins.

Burma's Bamboo People

I'm doing last-minute research on G3 and MA-series assault rifles used by the Tatmadaw Kyee in Burma for my novel BAMBOO PEOPLE, releasing Fall 2010 from Charlesbridge. The book features two boy protagonists—one a Burmese soldier and the other a Karenni refugee desperate to save his people hiding in the jungle.

Did you know that Myanmar has the most child soldiers of any army in the world? The UN is sending a team at the end of the month to try and stop this atrocity.

As for the displaced people and their struggle to survive, here's a recent call for help from a Karen woman who shares graphic details about her family's suffering.

It helps to listen to the hopeful voice of one of my heroes, Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's imprisoned leader of democracy:

She's been held under house arrest for nearly 14 of the past 20 years, and was recently sentenced again to 18 more months of house arrest.

iPhone apps for Picture Books

New technology can partner with (read: never replace) traditional books to inspire the next generation with the power of story and art. Here are three places to download digital books for wee ones on your iPhone:

International Children's Digital Library:

Apple App Store

Mobi Stories:

Active Image

Winged Chariot Press:

PicPocket Books:

Poetry Friday: The Child of a Stranger

Enjoy the poem that won first prize this year in my annual poetry contest for teens between cultures.

the child of a stranger by Wendy, China/USA, age 17

at birth I was offered up to this country, some
innocent and
crawling appeasement
subject to the laws and
dreams of its

but my body holds the lines of your
country and my
unevenly. I cannot melt the borders
into one. I am no melting
pot. these borders are edged with
barbed wire.

I cannot fuse these patches of
redwhiteandblue with
yellowstarsandred. I cannot blend
the statue of liberty and the
great wall into something
monumental. the lakes will not
coalesce together. I cannot move mountains.

were born under a plated sun and
I under the snow. born half a world away,

sew together these borders with
clumsy fingers,

hold my fingers steady.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy via Creative Commons.

Stuff That Intrigues My Tweeps

Here are five links I shared via twitter recently that have most interested my followers (according to metrics, and verbatim as I tweeted them):

Honing the Craft on the Cape

I'm taking a class taught by Deborah Kovacs, author of more than 30 books and editorial director at Walden Media. I'll be back on the Fire Escape on Wednesday. In the meantime, enjoy reading this article in Publisher's Weekly about our Twitter Book Parties.

How To Launch a Book Virtually: Q & A with Grace Lin

These days, even award-winning authors in our industry must invest time and energy to market a new book.

Last month, author and illustrator Grace Lin (WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON / Little Brown) tried some new strategies to launch her book online. I asked Grace a few questions about the experience, hoping that other authors and illustrators might glean a few ideas for their own virtual efforts.

Why did you decide to launch your book online?

This book, in particular, is really important to me so I really wanted to pull out all the stops to help it do well. Unfortunately, the book was launching at the end of June which I thought made it difficult to do many in-person events — almost everyone scatters for the summer around then. Doing something online seemed the most sensible route to take for this time; I'll probably start doing in-person events for it in the fall.

Could you sum up the elements of your online book launch?

Let's see:

1. Generated a book trailer

2. Created a "behind the story" movie.

3. Set up a personalized store at

4. Taped an audio of me reading an excerpt of the book.

5. Offered a one-day party favor of a special edition personalized autographed bookplate.

6. Promoted a 3-month contest where if you post a photo of yourself with my book on my Facebook Fan Page, you can win a $25 gift certificate for my store and the grand prize of your likeness in my next book.

7. Invented Facebook quizzes related to the book (see sidebar for a list of all the quizzes).

8. Created a book launch site and registered a customized domain name using the title of the book at

9. Offered a downloadable activity book.

10. Generated a music playlist at

11. Went on a blog tour.

12. Joined Twitter and imported my blog posts there using

How much time do you estimate you spent?

A lot. I can't even guess.

Who helped?

I have a friend who edited and put together the movie and trailer. I know that took him weeks. I hired Kirsten Cappy of Curious City to create the content for the activity book. And you, Mitali, helped me figure out how to organize it and get the word out!

But the rest was all my sweat.

If you had to pick one, which one was the easiest to do and why?

The easiest thing to do was to start a Facebook Fan Page. Once I found the links on how to do it on Facebook, it was a breeze. And it's been a great way to keep in contact with fans.

The most challenging?

Making the interview/movie was challenging. I am horrible on camera and I tend to stutter and talk a mile a minute. Not to mention all the technical problems — microphone issues, lighting, etc. To make that 4 minute movie we shot at least 2 hours!

But getting the word out, having people actually COME to the party — that is the trickiest and most challenging thing. Because, you don't really know — you just hope the word spread and people show up.

The most fun?

I got a big kick out of making my Facebook quizzes. They are just goofy fun. I still send them to my friends to take.

What did you do in person (offline) to promote the book?

I did one big launch party in June at the Porter Square bookstore.

I like to think of launch parties like birthday parties; I try not to think what would be the most effective marketing but what would make the guests have the most fun. So, compared to some it might have seemed a bit lavish. But, to me, it was a party I was hosting and I wanted to make sure everyone had a nice time.

So, for my launch, I gave a little speech, signed book and I gave elaborate goodie bags. The bags had a poster, an activity page, a paper flower and a boxed cupcake. On the bottom of 8 of those cupcakes, I taped a Chinese coin. If you got a cupcake with a coin, you got your likeness in my next book. The kids were thrilled and it was a lot of fun.

Would you do anything differently next time?

I would have started my Facebook Fan Page a lot earlier. I think it's a great communication tool that I've only just begun to understand. Also, I would've started twittering earlier too, I still have not really grasped it — I imagine if I had mastered it before my launch it would've been helpful.

Thank you, Grace, for sharing your creativity and energy. Not all of us are as talented as you, but I know you'll inspire others to take some risks for their next book launch.

YA Historical Fiction about India and the Indian Diaspora

Editor and author Sandhya Nankani writes a brilliant article in the August issue of Multicultural Review about five new young adult novels covering the history of India and Indians in the diaspora:
  • Anila's Journey by Mary Finn (late 18th century) / Candlewick
  • Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth (1920s, the rise of Gandhi) / Hyperion
  • Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman (1940s, India's Independence) / Penguin
  • Child of Dandelions by Shenaaz Nanji (1970s, ethnic cleansing in Uganda) / Front Street
  • Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins (1970s, Indira Gandhi era) / Random House
Full disclosure: Sandhya liked my Secret Keeper. She also asked Fran├žoise Bui, my editor at Delacorte, why we cut an entire half of the first draft of novel, and got a very interesting answer.

Rising Tide: The Boom in Historical Fiction About India and the Indian Diaspora

Mitali of Green Gables

As an oft-displaced child, I borrowed roots from my favorite authors. L.M. Montgomery's novels made Prince Edward Island one of my many homes. Just got back from a recent sojourn to "Avonlea," Montgomery's pseudonym for her beloved Cavendish, and savored a few of her books all over again.

the shoreline

rainbow valley

shining waters

birch trees in the haunted woods

mrs. lynde's house?

L. M. Montgomery

the view from Lucy's room

anne's room in green gables

ice cream at green gables

Representing Kid Lit

Who shall be our next National Ambassador for Young People's Literature?

Vote in my sidebar for the names most commonly suggested on Read Roger, the blog of Roger Sutton, editor-in-chief of the Horn Book.

Mr. Sutton was invited to help choose a successor for the current ambassador, Jon Scieszka. In a nutshell, the selection committee wants a person like this:
An author or illustrator of fiction or nonfiction books

U.S. citizen, living in the U.S.

Excellent and facile communicator

Dynamic and engaging personality

Known ability to relate to children; communicates well and regularly with them

Someone who has made a substantial contribution to young people’s literature

Stature; someone who is revered by children and who has earned the respect and admiration of his or her peers
I'm traveling again but I'll be checking in to see your votes. For the poll, I gleaned the names most often suggested in response to the blog post at Read Roger and listed them in no particular order. (Not only is this poll unauthorized, it's unscientific, too! But fun, right?)

There's no guarantee that any of these people would accept the job even if offered it. I left off Shannon Hale and Cynthia Rylant, for example, because commenters mentioned they didn't travel, and Daniel Pinkwater opted himself out. Am I missing anyone else? Let me know and I'll add them.

Vote, steal/copy/modify the poll and put it on your blog, and head to Roger Sutton's blog to add a new name or echo somebody else's choice. I'll be back out on the Fire Escape on 8/13. Enjoy the fleeting days of summer 2009!