Showing posts from September, 2009

Fire Escape Fall Mini-Hiatus

October is a busy author visit month, so I'm on the road for the next couple of weeks and back on the Fire Escape 10/13. I'll be micro-blogging throughout my travels via twitter, so you may track me there if you'd like, but here's my in-real-life schedule:Wyoming Library Association pre-conference (9/30)Monarch Middle School, Superior, CO (10/1)Massachusetts School Library Association Conference (10/4)Loudoun County Schools and Library, Virginia (10/5-6)Montgomery County Educational Media Specialist Association (MCEMSA), Maryland (10/7)Devotion School, Brookline, MA (10/9)Willard School, Concord, MA (10/15-16)
Come say hello in person if you're able!

Even More Feasting and Books

Somehow I scored an invite to a lunch celebration at the Boston Public Library for THE DAY OF THE PELICAN, Katherine Paterson's new novel from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt about a Muslim Albanian family who begin their new life in a small Vermont town.

I've learned not to ask too many questions about how or why I'm at special events like these. I just show up, eat, make merry, and of course share my pictures with you here on the Fire Escape.

Stopped to savor the view from the steps of
the Boston Public Library at noon today

Name that New England indie children's bookseller

Roger Sutton of the Horn Book (far right) pretends
not to notice the iPhone aimed in his direction

unbeatable lunchtime swag —
thanks, houghton mifflin harcourt!

Consumerism and the YA Novel

I remember loving A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN partly because times were tight in my own immigrant family. I also might have connected our loss of property and wealth in Bengal with the Alcotts' downturn in LITTLE WOMEN, as Laurel Snyder points out in an invigorating discussion about YA books and socioeconomic class moderated by Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray.

But North American culture has gone crazy since I was young. We adults whine about the culture's obsession with sex and violence and ignore how societal greed, consumerism, and materialism is trashing the millennial generation (and us.) "Stuff" defines teens now more than it ever did when most of us were that age. It's a rare young person who can resist the pressure of the brand.

As I watched a couple of episodes of "My Super Sweet Sixteen" on MTV with my teens, for example, I wondered how "poor" kids celebrating that milestone birthday processed the excesses on that show.

Which brings us to th…

Boston Kid Lit Pie Night Redux

We schmoozed. We ate pie. We lifted our forks in the direction of the NY Kid Lit Drinks Night, where a Boston Cream Pie was being consumed in our honor. But best of all, we talked and celebrated Kid/YA Lit.

The Venue: Pie Bakery and Cafe, Newton Centre, MA

It was quiet until ...

... 40 or so Kid/YA book aficionados showed up

The conversation sparkled ...

... and Deborah Sloan said the pie was pretty good, too.

We tried an L.M. Montgomery postcard puzzle icebreaker, where each participant got a quarter of one of Montgomery's book covers. During the evening, the goal was to discover the people clutching the other three quarters and introduce yourself.

Thanks to the reassembled-with-tape cards, here's the list of attendees in no particular order (If I'm missing you, or spelled your name wrong, please add or fix in the comments and I'll update.)
Shoshana Flax
Emilie Boon
Anne Handley
Karen Jo Shapiro
Bev Chapman
Melissa Stewart
Katie Bayerl
Alyssa Pusey
Suchitra Mumford
Robert Gu…

Paula Chase Hyman: Extroverted, Earnest, and Earthy

Today I'm honored to host Paula Chase Hyman, author of the Del Rio Bay series of books and co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf, a site "designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers."

With humor and a clear eye, Maryland author Paula Chase sees straight to the heart of today's teen culture.—Washington Parent

Briefly describe Paula Chase Hyman at age fourteen.

It’s probably going to come as no surprise that I had a similar life to my character, Mina. I was a really active and outgoing teen, running track and cheerleading. My weekends were always full either hanging out with my parents, because I was an only child, or in most cases being with my best friend Nicki. We’d spend whole weekends at the mall actively boy chasing then get home and, for hours, get lost in exchanging stories about these characters we’d made up. I have no complaints about my teen years.

Would you ever write a book with a white protagonist? Why or why not?

Managing Your Online Presence SALON

Managing Your Online Presence:
Websites, Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and More
Speakers: Mitali Perkins and Deborah Sloan

A program for published authors and illustrators of books for children and teenagers.

Saturday, November 14, 2009, 10:00 - 2:30
Hartman Hall, Acton Congregational Church
12 Concord Rd., Acton, MA
Cost: $35.00 for SCBWI members, $45.00 for non-SCBWI members
Lunch included, limited to 50 participants

Worried your publisher can't do enough to get your work noticed? Feel constrained when it comes to time, money, or technological know-how? Learn some simple tips to streamline your use of websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, videos, and other online promotional tools.

Mitali Perkins is the author of RICKSHAW GIRL (Charlesbridge), SECRET KEEPER (Delacorte), and several other books for young readers. She has taught seminars on author branding and online promotion at various writers' conferences.

Deborah Sloan connects books and readers through her marketing …

Poetry Friday: Coconut Cowgirl

Enjoy the poem that tied for third prize this year in my annual poetry contest for teens between cultures. Read it aloud for the rocking Fijian rhythm.

Coconut Cowgirl
by Hosanna, Fiji/USA, Age 16

Island princess, barefoot and brown
Classroom’s a forest, birds all around
Happy go lucky, no need for worry
Me go slow when me go, no reason to hurry.

But soldiers they come, and rebels they fight
Running to safety, run through the night
Get on an airplane, fly up so high
Over the dateline, me stubborn to cry

Land in a desert, tumbleweed brown
Mountains of purple, live in a town
Girls they be laughing, my shoes be too small
Boys they be jealous, I outrun them all

Lonely and weary, accent so strong
Teacher so phony, me don’t belong
“Hey! little girl, where you come from?
Looks like you cooked too long in the sun!”

“I’m not a racist! My best friends are brown,
Just don’t let my father see you hanging around.”
Me smile and pretend me don’t understand
Me choke back my shame, hide tears with my hand.

Me don’t wear l…

Magic Carpet: Books, Identity, and Assimilation

We've been talking about books as windows and mirrors this week on the Fire Escape. First off, I'm convinced that "mainstream" North American kids and teens can and will enjoy books as windows into other worlds. We should expect them to as much as we do adult readers.

But I also believe that younger teens and tweens especially need to see themselves in stories. Here's an essay I wrote several years ago about about how such books might have helped during the stage when I was rejecting my culture of origin. It was originally published in Teaching Tolerance, and comes with a discussion guide they created for use in the middle school classroom.(Note: In the photo, that's me to the left of Baba.)

Magic Carpet: Books, Identity, and Assimilation

by Mitali Perkins

I had a magic carpet once. It used to soar to a world of monsoon storms, princesses with black braids, ferocious dragons, and talking birds.

“Ek deen chilo akta choto rajkumar,” my father would begin, and the ri…

Teens, Tweens, and Secret Reading

After our discussion about books as mirrors or windows at different stages of life, I'm setting up a tentative hypothesis. Ready? Here it is:
Elementary-aged kids and upper high-schoolers are more open to fiction with protagonists who are markedly different than they are when it comes to race, class, or nationality.

During early adolescence, fifth through ninth grade, most young readers buzz about and share books featuring protagonists they hope to resemble. Also, if everybody's reading it, or watching it, or playing it, odds are they'll want to, also.If I'm right, a problem arises for tweens and young teens who aren't part of the mainstream nor bolstered by a strong community affirming their cultural or class identities. Because of a desire to fit in, do they fear reading books in public featuring heroes who resemble them ethnically or socially? Or even a "problem" book about one of their "problems"?

Picture an overweight seventh-grader reading a …

Five Good Twitter Gifts

I'll admit it. I'm a bit of a social media maniac. Why, Mitali, why? you might be asking. Let me share five sweet outcomes of my involvement with Twitter, moving from the sublime to the practical:
Getting to know a slew of fabulous New England independent booksellers as well as local authors and illustrators via Kids Heart Authors Day, not to mention making a good buddy and colleague in Deborah Sloan, marketing maven. (Now Publisher's Weekly is hosting a National Bookstore Day, and I'm not beyond thinking that imitation is a form of flattery.)

The chance to shift from a myopic stare at my own book promotion to a wider vision of connecting kids to many great stories via Twitter Book Parties.

Editor Pradipta Sarkar of HarperCollins India found me on Twitter, and we chatted back and forth about my books via 140-character tweets. Now three of them are going to be published in India (the books, not the tweets.)

Books galore, books a-plenty. For example, Jennifer Hart of Harper…

Are Books Windows or Mirrors?

Think of a novel you enjoyed recently. How did the protagonist remind you of yourself? On the other hand, what did you glean about living a different kind of life?

My guess is that you can answer both questions fairly well, because the best novels serve as windows and mirrors. Jhumpa Lahiri's books, for example, may be more of a mirror to me than you, but chances are you enjoy them as much as I do.

The publishing industry doesn't seem to expect adults to appreciate only those books that are mostly mirror-ish. Why, then, do we seem to hold that expectation for young readers? Here are a couple of phrases I overhear when people are talking about Kid/YA books:

"I just don't have that kind of population in my town. Nobody's going to want to read it."

"Hey, I'm going to need more multicultural books now. My community's changing."

But why should kids read differently than we do? Why should we expect white kids to want to see their own faces reflected…

9/11 Gift: 14 COWS FOR AMERICA

The phone was ringing when I returned from a walk on that sunny day. It was my Dad, weeping as he told me about the first tower falling.

We didn't have a television so I ran to my neighbor's and watched in horror as the second tower fell. Later that day, like so many of us, I sought solace during a prayer vigil at church.

As we remember how we longed for comfort and community eight years ago, I'd like to offer my Fire Escape visitors the gift of 14 COWS FOR AMERICA, a new picture book by Carmen Agra Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah.

Besty Bird reviewed the book recently on her School Library Journal blog, and provides a superb roundup of other coverage on the book, and Meghan Cox Gurdon encapsulated the story well at the Wall Street Journal:
As the tribe gathers under an acacia tree, Kimeli describes the horror that struck so far away: “With growing disbelief, men, women, and children listen. Buildings so tall they can touch the sky? Fires so hot they can melt iron?”

... The ­…

AMREEKA: Flicks Between Cultures

My favorite part of the preview for Amreeka is when the daughter says, "Here's a shocker, Mom, we live in America! We're Americans!" The mother answers with a phrase most teens between cultures hear, with the last word changing according to the culture of origin: "As long as you live in THIS house, you live in Palestine!"

It's coming to Boston 9/25. Looking forward to seeing this one (thanks, Tricia, for the tip).

Pair a Book with a Fair Trade Toy

Looking for a gift for that kid who seems to have everything? Make a book come to life by pairing it with a fair trade toy or other goodie. Here are three suggestions, followed by a list of places to find toys that battle poverty:

Beaded Necklace / KENYA

14 Cows for America by Carmen A. Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah

An American diplomat is surrounded by hundreds of Maasai people. A gift is about to be bestowed on the American men, women, and children, and he is there to accept it. A mere nine months have passed since the September 11 attacks, and hearts are raw. Tears flow freely from American and Maasai as these legendary warriors offer their gift to a grieving people half a world away.

Soccer Ball / MOROCCO

The Butter Man by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou

As young Nora waits impatiently for her mother to come home from work and for her father to serve the long-simmering couscous that smells so delicious, her father tells her about his childhood in Morocco. During a famine, when Nora…

Poetry Friday: Rooftop Fireworks

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

Untitled by Bea, Moldova/USA, Age 19

Imagine the coincidental unison
From a distance.
We sat on the rooftop
Watching fireworks explode
From all ends of the city
It's the most alluring thing to watch
From a rooftop.
As one firework sprang up
And died,
Another one
Miles away,
Would do the same.

Photo courtesy of Tomhe via Creative Commons.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Kelly Herold at Crossover.

Kid Lit Pie Night!

In the Boston area? Tired of missing the fabulous NYC-based Kid Lit Drink Nights hosted by the likes of Besty Bird and Cheryl Klein? Well, now you don't have to feel like a wallflower ever again, because ....

You're cordially invited to our
First-Ever Kid Lit Pie Night!

(a plan concocted during a twitter chat between Anindita Basu Sempere, Melissa Stewart, John L. Bell, and me).

When: Monday, 9/21/09 (in solidarity with the Kid Lit Drink Night, we decided to go for concurrency), 6-8 p.m., stop by any time.

Where: Pie Bakery and Café, Newton Centre, Newton, MA, near the Newton Centre T-stop and plenty of area parking.

Who: Writers, illustrators, editors, agents, booksellers, librarians, readers -- anybody who wants to get great stories into the hands and hearts of young readers.

Why: Because face-to-face is still the best way to connect. And over pie? Come on.

Please RSVP in the comments, by email, or via tweet so we get an idea of how many might show up.

Photo courtesy of TheBittenW…

Notes to a Young Immigrant

It's been a while since I wrote this essay on the bittersweet experience of growing up between cultures, but I stumbled across it in Teaching Tolerance and wanted to offer it again here on the Fire Escape as we begin another school year.

Notes to a Young Immigrant
by Mitali Perkins

Be ready: You lose a lot once you're tossed into the mainstream. You lose a place that feels like home, a community where the basics are understood, where conversations can begin at a deeper level. No easy havens await you, no places to slip into with a sigh of relief, saying, "At last, a place where everybody is like me." In the neighborhood, you're like a pinch of chili tossed into a creamy pot. You lose the sharpness of your ethnic flavor quickly but find that you can never fully dissolve.

You lose the ability to forget about race. You're aware of it everywhere in town, like a woman aware of her gender in a roomful of men. You dodge stereotypes at school by underperforming or overac…

The Mysterious Google Book Settlement

I'm hoping some of you might be as confused as I am by the Google Book Settlement, because if it's just me who doesn't get it, I'm in trouble. In any case, the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators sums it up nicely as does the Author's Guild.

Since the deadline for authors to opt out is 9/4, I posed this question yesterday on Twitter and Facebook: "Should I opt out of the Google Books Settlement? Did you?" Answers came from a few people:
@jlbellwriter: I opted in with Google Books. I use that service about every two hours, so I figure I don't really have a case against it.

@jlbellwriter: Plus, Google Books is free marketing. And I don't plan to sue a company with billions of dollars over micro-royalties.

@juliadevillers: My agency (Wm Morris Endeavor) very publicly suggested we opt out. Articles were written, debate ensued. I did opt out.

@juliadevillers: William Morris Endeavor stance and followup Publisher's Weekly story.