Funny Books Featuring Multicultural Protagonists

The number one request from booksellers during our conversation last week about selling multicultural titles was for "less serious books that are more fun."

I put out a call on twitter for Kid/YA books featuring multicultural protagonists, and below are the responses. Feel free to add more suggestions of funny books in the comments and I'll update the list.

Younger Readers

NERDS by Michael Buckley
THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM by Christopher Paul Curtis
BINDI BABES by Narinder Dhami
OPERATION REDWOOD by S. Terrell French
YEAR OF THE DOG by Grace Lin
ALVIN HO by Lenore Look
RUBY LU by Lenore Look
LUV YA BUNCHES by Lauren Myracle
8TH GRADE SUPERZERO by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
DAVID MORTIMORE BAXTER series by Karen Tayleur
ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

Young Adult

DOES MY HEAD LOOK BIG IN THIS? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT ME by Randa Abdel-Fattah
FREAK MAGNET by Andrew Auseon
SHE'S SO MONEY by Cherry Cheva
WHALE TALK by Chris Crutcher
WE WERE HERE by Matt De La Peña
SOUL ENCHILADA by David Macinnis Gill
BORN CONFUSED by Tanuja Desai Hidier
MUCHACHO by Louanne Johnson
SKUNK GIRL by Sheba Karim
PERFECT SHOT by Debbie Rigaud
GOOD ENOUGH by Paula Yoo

Happy I Have A Dream Day

Listen to or watch Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving the "I Have a Dream" speech during the Civil Rights rally on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963.

Tips on Selling "Multicultural" Kid/YA Books

I posed this question last week here on the Fire Escape before enjoying a long conversation about the topic with Delacorte editors, Random House sales reps, and several stellar indie booksellers.

Based on that chat and some great comments, here are some practical ideas and encouragement for and from booksellers eager to sell books featuring non-white characters. Thanks to everybody who chimed in, and if you leave other helpful suggestions in the comments, I'll add them to the list.
A younger “global story section” has worked well, calling out titles to people who don’t normally see them.

An around the world display of YA/MG titles, not focused on one particular ethnicity, was popular in our store.

Point: Connecting an in-store display into a nationwide promotion like African American history month helped draw attention to certain books.

Counterpoint: Our display of African American books during that month never sold well. The books compete against each other, and if they were spread out throughout the store might each get more attention.

English-reading kids and adults are stuck all over the world on military bases that are technically U.S. land. Indies can make a point of promoting books and deals to military bases. Make it clear on your store's front page that you will ship to APO/AE, to embassies, etc. — anything that is technically U.S. soil. It costs the same to ship to a U.S. military base in Germany as it does to ship to, say, Kansas. And military kids are as diverse as diverse gets.

Indies can add categories that make it easy to do searches for diversity. Let readers be able to browse "Lead Characters—Hispanic or African-American or etc." and "Culture— Cherokee Nation or New Orleans or etc." and "Religious Lead Characters—Muslim or Amish or Mormon or Shinto." It's about organizing data so they can find it easily. Create standards and have an intern tag every book with categories according to those standards so readers can find it—online or off.

When doing a display of "good summer reads" or "great books about friendship" or whatever the display is, make sure each display has multicultural titles in it.

What about a book club that focuses on books by authors of color? Or books that take place in other countries?

It's very important that the books be on display. And not in their own section. If they are treated differently that's how customers will see them. An "If you like this, try this" display usually works.  Customers are more inclined to stop if they see a book they like. And the books should be blurbed if possible.
For sellers to make a deliberate effort to see that their displays are as diverse as possible is important and crucial.

List such titles in your store's databases or online under not just their genre, but under the race/religion/nationality of characters. There are times when a reader wants to explore the whole world, and times when they need characters they can identify with very closely. I don't like the idea of making all *displays* this way, or even shelving books this way, but I think it's really important for readers to be able to sort through books this way on their own or with the help of a store employee.
If they feel the book is a disguised sociology lesson they will flee from it. Don't sell it as "multicultural"—sell it as a darn good book about people facing problems on their journey to adulthood, just like the reader.
Send announcements/lists of available multicultural titles to schools in the area suggesting ways for their use in the classroom. Also send to organizations and clubs associated with the topic.
Offer teacher discounts, maybe with backing from the publishers. Host in-store or after hours discussion groups for teachers from the area to share ideas.
Got a blogger in your area? Get them to post store activities, announcements or reviews of multicultural books.

BAMBOO PEOPLE Book Launch Party!

A thousand thanks to Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Ma and to my publisher Charlesbridge for hosting my Bamboo People book launch party. I always get nervous, so I greatly appreciated everybody who came and sent notes of encouragement from near and far. I've posted a few videos below, and here are some recaps from others who attended:

Arrived to find this gorgeous bamboo plant sent from Portland, Maine by Curious City's Kirsten Cappy, Jamie Hogan (who illustrated my book Rickshaw Girl), Annie Sibley O' Brien (After Gandhi), and King middle school librarian Kelley McDaniel. Thank you so much, ladies, for your love and support!
I loved watching people mingle and meet.
My buddy Deb Sloan is one of the best book cheerleaders on the planet.
Authors who write for adults don't get love like this.
Porter Square bookseller Nathan exuded hospitality. Thank you! I'm holding the bamboo bookmark giveaways I picked up a couple of weeks ago at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.

Introducing the book

Reading an excerpt of BAMBOO PEOPLE

Even More ... Yikes!

Ideas For Indies Who Want to Sell Multicultural Titles?

Random House has kindly arranged a brainstorm meeting tomorrow by phone for some of their staff, several great independent booksellers who want to sell "multicultural" children's and YA titles, and me.

I'm excited and a bit nervous. Seven or eight years ago, I couldn't have imagined being a part of such a conversation. In anticipation, I tweeted this yesterday:

"Chatting this Thursday with some great indies about how to sell books like mine—i.e., lacking paranormality, cleavage, white people. Ideas?"

@dosankodebbie said, "Target international school libraries. There are countless international schools all over the world with non-white and mixed-race kids."

@LisaLOwens tweeted, "You could mention little things like relatable characters, absorbing drama, exciting/fresh settings. Readers like all that!"

@PaulWHankins, a teacher, suggested this: "The stores can show content and curricular connections."

When it comes to a book like Bamboo People, for example, @emilytastic said, "I'd pitch it at teachers and librarians, and at boys reading war and political books."

How would you answer my question?

Hither, Thither, and Yon

I'm happy to share several recent interviews where I've spouted off on this and that:
I've also updated my list of reviews of Bamboo People with much gratitude, hoping to shine a light on Burma, because "in the ethnic areas there is suffering on a biblical scale, in every way comparable to Darfur." (Partners Relief)

And if you're in the Boston area, there's still time to plan to come to the launch party for the book this Thursday, 7 p.m., Porter Square Books, Cambridge. 

First Prize Fire Escape Poetry Contest 2010

I'm delighted to present the first prize winner in the Fire Escape's Eighth Annual Poetry Contest for teens between cultures.

CITY IN THE EAST AND CITY IN THE WEST was written by Mirette, who was born in Egypt. "The hardest thing about balancing two cultures is trying to be loyal to both of them simultaneously," she says. "It's hard to follow the traditions of two different cultures as they sometimes contradict each other. The best thing about being an immigrant is definitely the food--nothing beats Middle Eastern cuisine, and I'm glad I can still enjoy it even though I live in America."

City in the East and City in the West

Intolerance, boils under the crimson sun
Captivity, in the hearts of many
A lion's body with a woman's head sits boldly on hot, desert sand
what torture in the sting of a whip
to create such a monument

if you look left
a man wearing a linen gown and turban
becomes one with his doumbek drum
as he smokes tobacco from his hookah

if you look right
an oriental building bursts with the clacking of finger cymbals
elegant sounds and swaying hips
belly dancers in Cairo

if you look down
the stars are buried beneath the mysterious Nile
and the sand whispers ancient stories of
buried cities and buried kings
beneath your sandals

journey on an airplane across the sparkling seas...

Liberty, engraved in the pavements
Freedom, on the tongues of men
A beautiful lady's arm tires from holding a torch
what thoughtful ideas in the minds of the French
to create such a monument

if you look left
a man wearing a designer suit
cannot part from his iphone and ipod
as a little orange ember rests between his two fingers

if you look right
an expensive building explodes with sound and people
heavy beats and fancy lights
nightlife in New York City

if you look down
the stars cannot be seen on the cold asphalt
but the well-paved streets tell stories of
founding fathers and American pride
beneath your sneakers

and if you look up
the sky that carried me here
is the same in the east and in the west
as two cultures struggle to converge
into something harmonious and beautiful

Thank you, Mirette, for this beautiful poem! Please leave comments for the poet below, and you may enjoy past poetry winners here

Photo courtesy of Bracketing Life via Creative Commons.

Tigers and Frangipani: Oh, My!

We saw old friends during our two weeks in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but also made a new friend or two.

Here's the view of the Ping River from the old Thai house where I wrote the first draft of Bamboo People. Used to also be able to see Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai's signature mountain.

I love bamboo ...

Floating flower arrangements reminded me of Alpana art.

Fragrant frangipani in the rain.