Teens Between Cultures 2009 Writing Contests


POETRY Winners

CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who entered, and to the winners!

Special thanks to twitter buddies Ellen Hopkins and E. Kristin Anderson,
who helped me get unstuck in judging the poetry.

Children of War in the Congo

I'm launching a new series on the Fire Escape about children growing up with war, hoping to showcase books that inform, illuminate, and inspire us to get involved.

We start with the Congo. Listen to Bahati's story in the video, remembering that he's fourteen.

I couldn't find any children's or YA fiction set in the country (apart from the controversial TINTIN IN THE CONGO), perhaps because of the extent of brutality and terror experienced by Congolese children. My recommendation is a recent non-fiction book, ALL THINGS MUST FIGHT TO LIVE (Bloomsbury, May 2009), by Bryan Mealer. PW said, "Mealer’s book is a quiet paean to the courage he has witnessed, and its final salute to 'the many proud people of Congo' is as much eulogy as affirmation."

If you know of any books for kids or teens set in the Congo, please let me know. Otherwise, please write one.

Meet Neesha Meminger and Sheba Karim!

An Evening with Young Adult Authors
Neesha Meminger and Sheba Karim

Wednesday, July 29th, 7pm

Books and films for young adults have exploded onto the scene recently with the success of the Twilight series, Gossip Girl, Harry Potter, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. How do teens of color fare amidst this explosion? What is it like to try to publish works with multicultural characters or characters of color in an industry clamoring for the next Twilight?

Join SAWCC for a reading and discussion with young adult novelists Neesha Meminger (author of Shine, Coconut Moon) and Sheba Karim (author of Skunk Girl). Meminger and Karim deal with issues ranging from the Sikh experience post 9/11 and single parenthood to body image and Muslim American identity, while providing cohesive narratives of South Asian American adolescences and their growing pains. They'll read from their new novels and discuss their different paths to publication and writing for a teen audience. Book signing and reception to follow.

at The Asian American Writers’ Workshop
16 West 32nd Street, 10th Floor
(btwn 5th Ave and Broadway)
New York, New York

$5 suggested donation

Neesha Meminger

sheba karim
Sheba Karim

author photograph by Anjali Bhargava

YA Books, Xenophobia, and Global Poverty

It was a typical suburban corner bake sale fundraiser on a sunny summer afternoon, so I stopped to do my part.

"We're heading to India in 2010 to work at an orphanage," a cheerful high-schooler said as she handed me a packet of brownies.

Just the kind of girl who might read my books, I thought. "I actually wrote a novel about that," I said, forking over the cash. "It's called Monsoon Summer."

She took a step back. "No way. No way."

"I did. It's set in Indian orphanage."

"I read that book four times," she told me. "It's the whole reason I'm going on this trip."

Now that's why I write for young people. As I've said before, it's a window in life's journey when hearts are wide open.

Which books released in the last couple of years set in contemporary times can inspire teens to battle global poverty and xenophobia? Here's what I've gleaned from a quick look at the lists at YALSA's Best Books For Young Adults. Please add titles in the comments.

Alvarez, Julia. Return to Sender. Random House/Knopf. 2009. 978-0-375-85838-3. $16.99. Tyler learns that honesty, patriotism, and the line between right and wrong are not always black and white when his family must hire migrant workers to save their Vermont dairy farm.

Bondoux, Anne-Laure. The Killer's Tears. Tr. By Y. Maudet. 2006. Random House/Delacorte, $15.95. (ISBN-10, 0-385-73293-7; ISBN-13, 9780385732932). When murderer Angel Allegria kills young Paolo's parents, the killer and the orphan embark together on a journey of rebirth and redemption.

Budhos, Marina. Ask Me No Questions. 2006. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum/Ginee Seo, $16.95. (ISBN-10, 1-4169-0351-8; ISBN-13, 9781416903512). When their father is detained by U.S. Immigration, Nadira and Aisha must maintain an illusion of normality while they fight for his release.

Engle, Margarita. Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. Henry Holt. 2009. 978-0-8050-8936-3. $16.99. In 1939, Daniel leaves his family behind when he flees the horrors of holocaust Europe. Now a refugee in Cuba, he must find hope to make a life for himself.

Jansen, Hanna. Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You. Tr. by Elizabeth D. Crawford. 2006. Lerner/Carolrhoda, $16.95. (ISBN-10, 1-57505-927-4; ISBN-13, 9781575059273). Based on the experiences of the author's adopted daughter, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, this story provides a heart-wrenching perspective on the horrors of a modern holocaust.

Jaramillo, Ann. La Linea. 2006. Roaring Brook/Deborah Brodie, $16.95. (ISBN-10, 1-59643-154-7; ISBN-13, 9781596431546). Mexican teen Miguel crosses la lĂ­nea to join his parents in the United States, but the journey is full of danger and hardship.

Lat. Kampung Boy. 2006. illus. Roaring Brook/First Second, $16.95. (ISBN-10, 1-59643-121-0; ISBN-13, 9781596431218). Mat’s Malaysian village comes alive in this graphic novel, showing a picture of life in a 1950s Muslim kampung. Western influences, however, threaten his familiar world.

McCormick, Patricia. Sold. 2006. Hyperion, $15.99. (ISBN-10, 0-7868-5171-6; ISBN-13, 9780786851713). In this startling, frank novel in free verse, a 13-year-old Nepalese girl is sold into prostitution by her stepfather after a monsoon leaves her family destitute.

Resau, Laura. Red Glass. Random House/Delacorte, 2007; ISBN13: 978-0-385-73466-0; $15.99.
Fear has ruled the life of 16-year-old Sophie until dehydrated, speechless Pablo, a 6-year-old survivor of an illegal border crossing, is brought to her home.

Take Me Away, Fiction

If you can't afford a lavish vacation this summer, here are some books that make you forget where you are by creating a great sense of place.

I haven't read all of these, so don't quote me as your travel agent -- they came in response to my call for YA/Kid novels that turn us into armchair travelers with their mastery of setting. Feel free to suggest other titles/authors/places in the comments, and let us know if they're historical, fantasy, or contemporary fiction.

I'm going on a holiday myself and will be back on the Fire Escape 7/28, so in the meantime, leave your suggestions in the comments or send them to mitaliperk@yahoo.com and I'll add them when I get back.

Real Places
  • FUNNY HOW THINGS CHANGE / Melissa Wyatt / rural West Virginia
  • BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE / Kate DeCamillo / rural Florida
  • WHAT HAPPENED HERE / Tara Altebrando / Las Vegas and Europe
  • HEART OF A SHEPHERD / Rosanne Parry / rural Eastern Oregon
  • BLOOMABILITY / Sharon Creech / Switzerland
Real Places Long Ago
  • LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY / Gary D. Schmidt / coastal Maine
  • THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY / Kathryn Fitzmaurice / San Juan Capistrano, California
  • A NORTHERN LIGHT / Jennifer Donnelly / rural New York
  • THE BOOK THIEF / Marcus Zusak / Nazi Germany
  • TEN CENTS A DANCE / Christine Fletcher / Chicago
  • HATTIE BIG SKY / Kirby Larson / Montana
Invented Places
  • HUNGER GAMES / Suzanne Collins
  • THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN / Michelle Knudsen
  • SAVVY / Ingrid Law
  • DREAMHOUSE KINGS / Robert Liparulo
  • MORTAL INSTRUMENTS / Cassie Clare (fantasy + NY)
  • NATION / Terry Pratchett
Photo courtesy of Richard Moross via Creative Commons

Book Covers and Race: WHY?

Think the cover girl of Justine Larbalestier's forthcoming YA thriller LIAR (Bloomsbury / October 2009) looks black? Because the novel features an African American protagonist.

Compare the North American (above) with the Australian (below) packaging of this book.

Some of you remember Straight Talk on Race, my article in School Library Journal's April 2009 issue where I cited examples to illustrate the problem with cover art. I might have to add this one to the list, and once again ask, "Why, Bloomsbury? Why?"

(hat tip: Bargain Librarian)

YA Novels that Create a Sense of Place

The best authors turn us into armchair travelers, whether in this world or into other ones. John Green took us to Orlando in PAPER TOWNS. Sarah Dessen makes me feel like I know the suburbs of North Carolina. Whichy YA novels have you read recently that took you to another place. Leave your answer in the comments to this post and I'll compile a list.

How To Launch a Book Online

Curious about how to throw a virtual book launch party? Stop by Grace Lin's launch of her enchanting new fantasy WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON (Little Brown). We're enjoying goodies, contests, giveaways, and the eternal hope of cupcakes.

Find out more about this lovely novel, which I want to read aloud to every upper elementary kid on the planet. Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist all starred it, and Booklist said, "Children will embrace this accessible, timeless story about the evil of greed and the joy of gratitude."

Happy Book Birthday, Grace!