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:

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 the authorial dilemma of either reflecting and repeating something that's unhealthy or destructive in the culture OR trying in some way to unmask and even redeem it. On the one hand we run the risk of condoning or even contributing to the suffering and on the other we might become didactic. But given the desperate state of our society and money, how we portray class, wealth, and poverty in our books is well worth considering.

Because a story is powerful, right? A single book can change or conserve a good or bad cultural practice. Like UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, it can actually revolutionize an entire society. That's why writers are in prison and books are banned. I love how Nadine Gordimer put it in her 1991 Nobel acceptance speech:
"... For this aesthetic venture of ours becomes subversive when the shameful secrets of our times are explored deeply, with the artist's rebellious integrity to the state of being manifest in life around her or him ..."
Maybe you're thinking, hey, it's just chick lit. Teen chick lit. It's like cotton candy for the soul. Do I have to be subversive or revolutionary? No, but consumerism, materialism, and even greed are sly masters. If you're not purposefully resisting them, you might be inadvertently campaigning on their behalf.

Photo courtesy of ATIS547 via Creative Commons.

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 Guthrie
Kathleen Benner Duble
Margaret Muirhead
Donna Spurlock
Maria Gianferrari
Karen Day
Kim Ablon Whitney
Larry from Rhode Island
Kara Schaff Dean
Laya Steinberg
Ellen Nichols
Jessica Dubois
Brittany Schlorff
Anna Staniszewski
Nandini Bajpai
John Bell
Emily from NESCBWI
Anne Broyles
Deborah Sloan
Janet Costa Bates
Livia Blackburne
Kate Narita
Amy Greenwald
Ammi-Joan Paquette
Lauren Macleod
Karen Kosko
Mara Berkeley
Anindita Basu Sempere
Mitali Perkins

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?

Sure. If the character spoke strongly to me and “told” me she should be White, definitely. The Lizzie character in my series is White and writing her was no different than writing Mina or Cinny. It’s weird. The race of the character isn’t really a conscious thought when I write. Maybe it’s because I’m African American that my protags end up being the same. But then that doesn’t explain why my WIP is about a bi-racial (Korean and African American) girl. The characters come to me however they come and I act on it.

Would you write a boy protagonist?

Yes, if he spoke strongly enough to me and I felt I could capture his spirit authentically. The good thing about writing my series was it was akin to writing an ensemble show. Michael and JZ were central characters and I felt I captured them well. And since the guys in the series took the stage for Flipping The Script, it’s pretty close to me writing a “boy” book. But my golden rule is – as long as I can feel that character in my head, I’ll write it. With the popularity of vamps and werewolves, I’ve often wondered if I could write that sort of book. There’s a part of me that feels I can’t but I know if such a story came to me strong enough I could.

Could you describe your path to publication of the Del Rio Bay series? Describe a “low” moment and a “high” moment.

I think my path was shorter than “average.” From final manuscript to Kensington acquiring it was only three years. I wrote So Not The Drama in about two months in 2003 and wrote Don’t Get It Twisted in one month, directly after.

Then I spent the next two years looking for an agent. A low was when I’d been working with this one agent for a year. He was trying to help me get the manuscript in publishable shape. There no promises to rep me. He was just being a great guiding source, but I felt like if I got it ready he’d take me on. After a year he admitted he still wasn’t passionate enough about my writing to rep it. He said my writing was too earnest for the YA market, at the time. It hurt because my style is my style. I knew he was thinking of his chances of selling it and that it wasn’t personal. But it was still very personal to me because that earnest edge is simply me. I took about four months off from writing and the agent search after that.

My current agent got my style and felt it was something we could use to our advantage. A high moment was getting the call from my agent when the first two books sold. It was funny. I still remember her telling me how much they were offering and I clearly remember thinking “thousand?” Because the number wasn’t something I was expecting because I’d heard that most first time authors were lucky to get $5,000. That was also my first real lesson in that any and every number touted in publishing is subjective!

If you had to give some “words of wisdom” to a young writer of color who wants to write books for teens and get published, what would they be?

Don’t let anyone box you in. It would be easy for a young writer of color to look at the literary landscape and become very discouraged because still, much of what’s out there is somewhat “typical” of what authors of color are supposed to write. But never let that stop you. As challenging and frustrating as the market can be, never let it dampen the story you want to tell.

Go wild. Imagine a pinnacle achievement or dream that you’d love to see come true in your career as a writer. A Newbery award acceptance in a shimmery gown, a front page story in USA Today, a segment on Oprah ...?

Geez, my moment is going to come off so boring. But honestly, a pinnacle achievement for me would be success defined by making enough money from my novels to live comfortably, i.e. a little better than I currently live. That’s it. That’s all. All I want from my career is that I can do it full-time and actually sustain or enhance my current lifestyle. See, told you my answer would be a snoozer.

Au contraire, you're always spellbinding, Ms. Paula. I especially love following you on twitter. Thanks for chilling with us on the Fire Escape.

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 and promotion firm Deborah Sloan and Company, her Picnic Basket blog for teachers and librarians, and the newly created KidsBuzz.

For more information and registration Form, visit the New England Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators.

Hope to see you there!

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 lipstick, me don’t use perfume
Me don’t need TV or big living room
Me not a cowgirl, me eyes they not blue
No matter I try, me won’t ever be you.

Me want to go home, climb a coconut tree
Me want to eat mango, drink lemon-leaf tea.
Me hate this whole town, its shiny brick houses
Me hate wearing wool and me hate starched white blouses.

Me want to go fishing, pick pink and red flowers
And listen to Nana talk story for hours
Me want to be barefoot and swim in blue sea
Me want to see people who look just like me.

America’s promise, Land of the Free
Liberty shining from sea to sea
Be who you are, but learn how we be
Be who you are, but be just like we.

Me tired and sad, me have no friend
Me thinking it better if all this would end
And then through sorrow, eyes seeking mine
A friend understanding, quiet and kind.

Me now hears her voice of truth and of hope,
Freedom is ringing! Hope is springing!
Me lift my crying eyes and stand to see,
Waiting there for me, my Liberty.

Photo courtesy of satanaperkele via Creative Commons.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Becky Laney at Becky's Book Reviews.

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 rich, round sounds of the Bangla language took me from our cramped New York City apartment to a marble palace in ancient India.

Americans made fun of my father’s lilting accent and the strange grammatical twists his sentences took in English. What do they know? I thought, perching happily beside him.

In Bangla, he added his own creative flourishes to classic tales by Rabindranath Tagore or Sukumar Roy. He embellished folktales told by generations of ancestors, making me chuckle or catch my breath. “Tell another story, Dad,” I’d beg.

But then I learned to read. Greedy for stories, I devoured books in the children’s section of the library. In those days, it was easy to conclude that any tale worth publishing originated in the so-called West, was written in English, and featured North American or European characters.

Slowly, insidiously, I began to judge my heritage through colonial eyes. I asked my mother not to wear a sari, her traditional dress, when she visited me at school.

I avoided the sun so that the chocolate hue of my skin couldn’t darken. The nuances and cadences of my father’s Bangla began to grate on my ears. “Not THAT story again, Dad,” I’d say. “I’m reading right now.”

My father didn’t give up easily. He tried teaching me to read Bangla, but I wasn’t interested. Soon, I no longer came to sit beside him, and he stopped telling stories altogether.

As an adult, I’ve struggled to learn to read Bangla. I repudiate any definition of beauty linked to a certain skin color. I’ve even lived in Bangladesh to immerse myself in the culture.

These efforts help, but they can’t restore what I’ve lost. Once a child relinquishes her magic carpet, she and her descendants lose it forever.

My children, for example, understand only a word or two in Bangla. Their grandfather half-heartedly attempts to spin a tale for them in English, and they listen politely.

“Is it okay to go play?” they ask, as soon as he’s done. I sigh and nod, and they escape, their American accents sounding foreign inside my father’s house.

“Tell another story, Dad,” I ask, pen in hand, and he obliges. My father’s tales still have the power to carry me to a faraway world. The Bangla words weave the same colorful patterns in my imagination.

My pen, however, like his own halting translation, is unable to soar with them. It scavenges in English for as evocative a phrase, as apt a metaphor, and falls short. I can understand enough Bangla to travel with my father but am not fluent enough to take English-speakers along on the journey.

My decision to leave mother tongue and culture behind might have been inevitable during the adolescent passage of rebellion and self-discovery. But I wonder if things could have turned out differently.

What if I’d stumbled across a translation of Tagore or Roy in the library, for example? “Here’s a story Dad told me!” I imagine myself thinking, leafing through the pages. “It doesn’t sound the same in English. Maybe I should try reading it in Bangla.”

Or, what if a teacher had handed me a book about a girl who ate curry with her fingers, like me? Except that this girl was in a hurry to grow up so she could wrap and tuck six yards of silk around herself, just like her mother did.

“Wear the blue sari to the parent-teacher meeting, Ma,” I might have urged.

Children growing up between cultures today have access to more stories than I did. A few tales originating in their languages have been translated, illustrated and published.

Characters who look and dress and eat like them fill the pages of some award-winning books. But it’s not enough. Many continue to give up proficiency in their mother tongues and cultures.

“Here’s a story from YOUR world,” I want to tell them. “See how valuable you are?”

“Here’s a book in YOUR language. See how precious it is?”

If we are convincing enough, a few of them might transport us someday to amazing destinations through the power of a well-woven tale.

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 book about a fat kid, for example. He or she might want, need, and love that book, but will only read it covertly, under the covers, with a flashlight. And definitely won't want to discuss it over dinner with Mom.

In middle school, when I was desperately trying to overcome the distance between myself and the all-white, all born-in-the-USA crowd around me, would I have wanted a teacher or librarian to hand me one of my own books? Would I have wanted a friend's parent to ask what I thought about a film like Cheetah Girls: One World, set in India? Not in front of everybody else, that's for sure. (Yes, that's me in those trendy high-waisted short shorts all the other girls were wearing. Remember: my mother never showed her legs in public.)

But if s/he got one of my books to the early teen version of me secretly, I'd like to think that The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen or the First Daughter books might have helped in the squeeze between cultures.

By the time I was a junior in high school, I was confident enough to engage an adult in a discussion about a film or book featuring something Indian in front of my peers. But in seventh grade? No way.

How do we connect tweens and young teens to stories that they can read covertly during that stage — stories they might love but skip thanks to the pressure to conform? Teachers, parents, librarians, booksellers, how do you do it?

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:
  1. 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.)

  2. 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.

  3. 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.)

  4. Books galore, books a-plenty. For example, Jennifer Hart of Harper Perennial and Harper paperbacks discovered I was a big Betsy-Tacy fan via my tweets, so she sent me copies of their re-issues. I got them today:

  5. Several speaking gigs, like this one at the California School Library Association Convention on November 20, 2009 (notice that's just when I start to get the winter blues here in Boston), were fully arranged via Twitter.
Got any examples of your own when it comes to how social media has enhanced your writing career? Share them here and I'll use them for fodder at an NESCBWI Salon Deborah Sloan and I are leading this November.

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 when it comes to race and ethnicity? Wouldn't it be great if we promoted novels that serve as windows and mirrors for the kids, teens, and tweens in our communities? Because with the right slant of light, every window becomes a mirror.

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 ­villagers request a visit from the American ambassador, who duly comes and is stunned to be met by hundreds of Maasai “in full tribal splendor,” with ­scarlet tunics and majestic beaded collars—and their unexpected gift (of 14 ­“sacred and healing” cows.)

The final pages show the grave face of a young tribesman. Reflected in his pupil we see the book’s only image of the burning Twin Towers; beside him we read (possibly through tears) the ­concluding words: “Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small that they cannot offer mighty comfort.”
I've experienced the hospitality of the Maasai people firsthand (that's me to the left in the photo), so this book is especially dear.

Peachtree is offering three copies of 14 COWS FOR AMERICA as a gift of remembrance today. For the rest of the day and through this weekend, drop a comment below and we'll put your name in a hat to see who gets them. Here's the book trailer:

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's grandfather had to travel far to find work and bring food for the family, her father learned the valuable life lessons of patience, perseverance, and hope.

Mermaid Doll / HAITI

Selavi: That is Life by Youme Landowne

Selavi is befriended by other children living on the streets in Haiti. They look out for one another, sharing food and companionship. Together they find the voice to express the needs of Timoun Lari, the children who live in the streets.

Places to Shop

The Fair Trade Federation lists 126 organizations selling toys made by the poor (go here, click on "toys" and "do search" to see them), but here are few recommended by my faithful twitter and facebook friends (if you know of more, please add them in the comments):

10,000 Villages

Gifts With Humanity

Global Exchange

Handcrafting Justice

Inca Kids

Planet Happy Toys

Shima Boutique

Trade as One

Yellow Label Kids

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 TheBittenWord via Creative Commons.

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 overachieving. You wonder if you're invisible to the opposite sex because you're foreign or because you're unattractive.

You lose a language. You still speak your parents' language, but it will soon begin to feel foreign to lips, pen and mind. Your heart won't forget as quickly; it will reserve a space for this mother tongue, your instructor of emotion, whispered in love and hurled in anger. Your heart language will speak words that tremble through tears; it will join you with others in the camaraderie of uncontrollable laughter. In your new language, English, you enjoy the lyrical cadence of poetry and glimpse the depth of ancient epics, but your heart will remain insatiable.

You lose the advantage of parents who can interpret the secrets of society. Your friends learn the art of conversation, the habits of mealtimes, the nuances of relationships, even the basics of bathroom behavior, from their parents. Your own parents' social etiquette sometimes leads to confusion or embarrassment in the outside world. You begin to take on the responsibility of buffering your parents from a culture that is even more foreign to them. You translate this new world's secrets for them.

You lose the stabilizing power of traditions. The year is not punctuated by rituals your grandmother and great-grandmother celebrated. Holidays in this new place lack the power to evoke nostalgia and renew childlike wonder. Your parents' feasts of celebration fall on days when you have to go to school.

You lose the chance to disappear into the majority anywhere in your new world. In the new neighborhood, you draw reactions common to minorities — outright racism, patronizing tokenism, enthusiasm from curious culture-seekers. If you travel across the seas to neighborhoods where your parents grew up, you're greeted with curious, appraising stares. You're too tall or too short; you move your arms and hips differently when you walk; you smile too often or not often enough; you employ the confusing nonverbal gestures from another world.

But don't get discouraged. In fact, you should feel quite the opposite. There is good news about life in the melting pot. There are gains to offset the losses, if you manage not to melt away altogether. You're boiled down, refined to your own distinctiveness. You realize early that virtues are not the property of one heritage; you discover a self powerful enough to balance the best of many worlds.

A part of you rises above the steamy confusion of diversity to glimpse the common and universal. You recognize the ache that makes us all feel like strangers, even in the middle of comfortable homogeneity. You understand the soul's craving for a real home because yours is never sated with a counterfeit version.

So take time to mourn your losses, but remember to revel in the gains. Learn to embrace a litany of genuine labels — words like stranger, pilgrim, sojourner, wayfarer. Stride past the lure of false destinations, intent on traveling to a place where, at last, everyone can feel at home.

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.

: 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.

@kdueykduey: I haven't, but I have been so busy, I am underinformed. But they have, like 150 pages of Skin Hunger up. With gaps, but 150!

@Bonnie Adamson
: If you want to retain your right to sue individually, you should opt out. Not a feasible option for me, so I registered.

Alexandra Finn:
Having done products liability for years, I can say that usually, the only reason to opt out of a class action is because you are going to sue on your own. So you have to ask yourself: Are you really? Is it worth it? In this case, probably not. It's not worth your time and effort.
So what did I do? I didn't opt out, but I did claim my books. Chime in below with your decision. Now if only I could figure out what to do about that Google Adsense Settlement ...