Showing posts from February, 2010

Looking For Asian Guy Protagonists in YA Novels

I need a dozen good recent novels (2007-2010) featuring Asian or Asian American teen guy protagonists. Can you help? I've found five (three featuring adoptees, interestingly), and am on the hunt for seven more:

(Hyperion, 2008)

Before he met Mia, resigned loser Albert Kim was too busy dodging high school sociopaths to imagine having a girlfriend. Much less the adorable ex-girlfriend of alpha jerk Ryan Stackhouse. Yet somehow, by the end of a summer working at an inn together, Al and Mia are "something."

Then September arrives with a thud: Ryan has been diagnosed with cancer and needs Mia at his side. As the school year turns into one giant tribute to Ryan, Al can't help but notice that Ryan may not be quite who everyone--particularly Mia--thinks he is. Before his heart shatters completely, Al has just a few more things to point out...

(HarperCollins, 2007)

Kimchi and calamari. It…

Which Children's Novels Do You Re-Read?

As I consider Betsy Bird's posts of the top 100 children's books, I'm realizing that I categorize a novel as a favorite once I've read it at least five times with delight.

I tend to recycle my favorites during particular times of the year. Here are some examples that seem to fit with the seasons:


Chronicles of Narnia
by C.S. Lewis
Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott
Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace


Miracles on Maple Hill
by Virginia Sorensen
Secret Garden by Frances H. Burnett


Thimble Summer
by Elizabeth Enright
Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery


Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Which novels do you re-read?

Girls Under Pressure: Can a YA Book Help?

A new study in Scotland finds tween and teen girls crumbling under cultural pressure:
Over the two decades, (Helen) Sweeting found that, while the 15-year-old boys she spoke to had experienced a small increase in psychological distress, the number of girls of the same age reporting mental issues from mild anxiety to issues serious enough to justify hospital treatment, had jumped sharply ... "Girls are growing up schooled like no other in the fine art of dissatisfaction – with their lives, their possessions and their bodies."Assuming a growing global homogeneity of youth culture, I shared this article on twitter today and asked two questions:
Are there cultural sub-pockets where strong girls find shelter from the "be successful *and* sexy or else" stress storm?

When it comes to cultural pressure on teen girls, should YA writers try to mend, join the trend, or neither?
Theater, sports, Girl Scouts, fasting from media, and strong families were among the responses to the f…

February Reading Retreat

I'm taking an internet fast for eight days to read and warm up my icy bones in the sunshine. Be back on the Fire Escape with more reviews, interviews, and reflections next Tuesday, February 23rd. Peace be with you.

A Valentine's Day Twitter Short Story

In the spirit of the Authors game played at Camp Lawrence in LITTLE WOMEN, twenty of us—writers, librarians, teenagers, bloggers, booksellers, editors—attempted to write a short story together via Twitter on the evening of 2/11/10.  

Each author tweeted to be in the queue, and when his or her turn came, was allowed up to 132 characters with 8 for our hashtag #shortya to keep the story going. Here it is—enjoy, and Happy Valentine's Day!


by 20 tweeps in 20 tweets

He was sick of trudging to school through the snow behind her. Why couldn't he have the guts to say something? He thought of tossing a snowball, but that wasn't the right sentiment. He couldn't whistle. 

They passed the big oak tree. She paused at the old tree. He stopped, thinking he might say something. Then she bent down and began to dig under a root. He watched her long, pale fingers thrust deep into the forest mulch and held his breath. If only she'd touch his hair that way. …

Stuff To Know About Shen's Books: A Chat With Editor Renee Ting

I had the good fortune to meet Renee Ting, president and publisher of Shen's Books, at the California School Library Association Convention last fall and she graciously agreed to join me on the Fire Escape. Here's Shen's vision statement:
Shen’s Books is a publisher of multicultural children’s literature that emphasizes cultural diversity and tolerance, with a focus on introducing children to the cultures of Asia. Through books, we can share a world a stories, building greater understanding and tolerance within our increasingly diverse communities as well as throughout our continuously shrinking globe.Renee is a champion of children's literature, and I tune in regularly to the reflections and Multicultural Minute video series on her blog.  "Anyone has the right to tell any story," she said emphatically when I asked about authenticity in fiction. That's good news for writers, readers, and a free society. 

How did Shen's Books get started?

Shen's Boo…

2010 Notable Books For A Global Society

Each year the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association selects 25 outstanding trade books enhancing student understanding of people and cultures throughout the world. Winning titles include fiction, nonfiction, and poetry written for students in grades K-12. I'm thrilled that Secret Keeper is on this list in such good company!
Ajmera, Maya. Faith. Written by Maya Ajmera, Magda Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Baskin, Nora Raleigh. (2009). Anything But Typical. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Bausum, Ann. Denied, Detained, Deported: stories from the dark side of American immigration. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

Bryan, Ashley. Words to my Life’s Song. Photographs by Bill McGuinness. New York: Atheneum.

Burg, Ann E. All the Broken Pieces. New York: Scholastic.

Combres, √Člisabeth. Broken Memory: a Novel of Rwanda. Translated by Shelley Tanaka. Toronto, ON: Groundwood.

Deedy, Carmen Agra. 14 Cows…

An Accurate Definition of "Push"

Last week we discovered that for some white teens, it takes "push" from a gatekeeper to read a book featuring a main character who isn't white. No surprise there, right?

Does that mean we sit back and wait a few decades until young North Americans move beyond the primacy of racial self-identification?

Not if we believe that good stories are for all readers.

Not if we notice that with a bit of push, white teens are buying books about teens who aren't white.

Why put the push onus on parents, educators, and librarians? Isn't "push" another word for marketing? That's a vocation people study in graduate school so they can do it well and hopefully earn six-figure salaries working for successful companies.

Colleen Mondor makes the point that other products of youth culture (music, movies, television shows) cross racial boundaries better than books. Not surprisingly, the buzz for these products begins with a great marketing/sales plan within the companies. …

Spirit of PaperTigers Project

As a big fan of PaperTigers, I'm delighted to share the news about the recently launched Spirit of PaperTigers Project, an initiative to promote literacy and books that encourage empathy and understanding.

The Project will select a set of books, donate them to schools and libraries in areas of need, and report responses of children from all around the globe. (For details on how to get a set, visit the PaperTigers site.)

The 2010 Book Set is fantastic. Check it out:

First Come the Zebra Written and illustrated by Lynne Barasch. Lee & Low, 2009. Ages 4-8.

Little Leap Forward
Written by Guo Yue and Clare Farrow, illustrated by Helen Cann. Barefoot Books, 2008. Ages 9-12.

My Little Round House Written and illustrated by Bolormaa Baasansuren. Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press, 2009. Ages 4-8.
One Hen
Written by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes. Kids Can Press, 2008. Ages 7+.

THE WAGER by Mitali Perkins

I wrote an original short story for Scholastic's Expert21 Program, and they commissioned my mother, Madhusree Bose, to create alpana art for the background design of the pages in the story. Having secured permission to share the first two pages with you, I'm proud to introduce THE WAGER, a story about how the Grameen Bank has changed lives in Bangladesh through the power of microcredit.

The Wager by Mitali Perkins

A Chat with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Author of 8TH GRADE SUPERZERO

I'm delighted to welcome the author of one of my favorite recent reads, 8TH GRADE SUPERZERO, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, better known in the kidlitosphere as Gbemi.

Pour yourself a cup of tea and join us as we find out more about the author (who is lighting up the Fire Escape with her beautiful smile, no?) and her funny, inspiring middle-grade book featuring an unforgettable guy protagonist.

Describe Gbemi at age fourteen.
Yikes! Trying to set a record for number of after-school activities. Obsessed with "A+"s. Tired of people suggesting that she change her name to something easier when she gets older. Certain she'd be a playwright and live in a very modern Central Park West apartment with lots of windows and stainless steel appliances. Lots of rubber bracelets, large and mismatched earrings, off-the-shoulder fashion, mini skirts and patterned tights. Enthusiastic participant in lip-sync competitions, and secret member of the math and debate teams. Voracious reader…

Faces and YA Book Covers: A Proposal

After taking a poll, issuing this call, and listening to various comments here and there, I've come up with three hypotheses about covers for children's and teen books.

Hypothesis #1

It doesn't make much of a difference in sales or circulation when characters of color grace the covers of children's picture books and middle grade novels. 

Why? Perhaps because typically adults buy and borrow these books. Another possibility is that developmentally, children (vs. teens) aren't looking to identify or connect as much with a protagonist and/or to "look cool" with a book. They're more open to books as windows instead of on the hunt for mirrors.

If this is true, let's keep diversity flowing on the covers of picture books and middle grade books and in stories written for all ages. The main problem in our industry are face-adorned covers on YA books.

Hypothesis #2

YA books sell or circulate better among teen guys when they DON'T have faces on the cover.


PoC Faces on Book Covers: Poll Results

138 librarians and booksellers responded to my unscientific but informative poll last week, and here are the results:
25% said, "A Kid/YA book with a brown, black, or Asian face on the cover is RARELY bought or borrowed by white kids unless I push it."

37% said, "A Kid/YA book with a brown, black, or Asian face on the cover  is SOMETIMES bought or borrowed by white kids unless I push it."

38% said, "A Kid/YA book with a brown, black, or Asian face on the cover circulates or sells THE SAME as other books, depending on buzz and reviews." Discouraging at first glance, isn't it?  No wonder people with an eye on the bottom line are tempted to whitewash. But after listening to the conversation, I have several theories, further questions (i.e, do we need fewer or more faces on covers?), and ideas I'll share tomorrow. For now I invite you to leave your thoughts and reactions in the comments.