Showing posts from September, 2010

A Chat With Jessica Leader, Author of NICE AND MEAN

I've been challenging my author friends—and myself—to take risks in crossing borders of class and race in fiction, but to do it wisely and carefully, respecting the inherent power of storytelling. It's lovely to find an example or two to showcase, like NICE AND MEAN, one of my favorite middle-school reads of 2010.

Sparkling with creativity and humor, this tween novel features two protagonists, Marina ("Mean") and Sachi ("Nice"), who is Indian-American. A pet peeve of mine is the insertion of a nonwhite character into a story whose sole purpose is to serve as a sinless foil for a main white character.  Sachi, in contrast, is a flawed but sympathetic middle-schooler. Author Jessica Leader gives her a first-person voice that's funny and true, and pays attention to cultural details as she invites us into Sachi's home. I asked Jessica to chat with us on the Fire Escape, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the conversation.

Briefly describe Jessica in middle scho…

Selling Color in a White World

Please answer this call from Elizabeth Bluemle, bookseller and blogger at Publishers Weekly, for input on how to "sell color in a white world."
At the New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show next week, the Children’s Bookselling Advisory Council is holding a panel discussion on this topic. I’d love for booksellers, authors, publishers and editors, sales reps and publicists to attend and share their successful strategies for getting past reluctant or stymied gatekeepers and reaching across color lines to share wonderful, diverse books with kids. I’ll be posting a follow-up in ShelfTalker after the panel. Here’s the description:Friday, October 1, 10:15-11:45 amMulticultural Kids Books: Selling Color in a White WorldWe all want to support and sell wonderful multicultural books, but many of us live in areas with fairly homogenous populations. How do we get past unconscious color barriers, both our own and our customers’, and put great books featuring characters…

Reprise: Should We Bowdlerize Classic Children's Books For Racism?

When classic children's books strike us as racist today, Philip Nel raises an interesting question. Even if we amend them to tone down the racism, do we "simply dress up racial and colonial ideologies in different costumes?"

Nel says that if we answer affirmatively, we face a choice:
(1) Discourage children from reading them.
(2) Permit children to read only the bowdlerized versions.
(3) Allow children to read any version, original or bowdlerized.I took a poll about this issue last summer, so I thought I'd re-post my findings given the resurgence of this issue, raised today by Nel and by Monica Edinger.

I asked visitors to the Fire Escape when, if ever, it would be okay to update a classic children's book to reflect changing mores about race. The results (152 votes) were almost equally split between those who thought some changes might be in order, while the rest arguing that a book must stand as is.
Slightly more than half of you (83 votes, or 54%) said neve…

Second Prize Fire Escape Poetry Contest 2010

I'm delighted to present the second prize winner in theFire Escape's Eighth Annual Poetry Contest for teens between cultures, MISMATCHED SOCKS, by Lucia, born in China.

"The hardest thing about balancing two cultures is...well...dealing with the fact that they can't be balanced," says Lucia. "The scale is always tipping one way or the other as you try to satisfy both cultures' vastly different customs and beliefs. But being thrown about as the scale goes topsy turvy is also one of the most exciting things about being an immigrant. That, and the food of course."

It can feel like a roller-coaster ride, Lucia, and I certainly agree with you about the food. Enjoy her poignant poem, Fire Escape visitors.
Mismatched Socks
by Lucia, China/USA Age 16

Two socks.
Two worlds.
Estranged by an ocean,
Brought together under the same untainted sky.

I pull both socks on,
An eruption of yellow stars circling my left ankle,
A wave of white ones crashing at my …

Brooklyn Book Festival 2010 ... with an NYPL Postscript

I was invited to present on a panel at Brooklyn Book Festival 2010, so I traveled to New York aftera lovely couple of days in Lititz, PA. I promised to take you along, so here we go ...

Lititz Kid Lit Festival 2010

A thousand thanks to the incomparable indie bookseller Aaron's Books and the town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, including the fabulous Lititz Bed and Breakfast, for a weekend of hospitality and just plain fun. Here are some highlights:
We also visited the oldest girls' school in the USA, Linden Hall School, where an astute audience of teens and adults interacted with Josh Berk, Laurel Snyder, and myself in a discussion about diversity in children's books. Last but not least, I gave a brief keynote at a dinner fundraiser for the local chapter of Reach Out and Read at the General Sutter Inn. Altogether fun and inspiring. Tomorrow I'll post  highlights of the Brooklyn Book Festival, so stay tuned ...

The Little Indie That Could

“I love your work!  I only wish I had more African American students so that I could use your books.”

"HUH?" asks NYT bestselling author Nikki Grimes in the current issue of Hunger Mountain, and many of us echo her incredulous response.

As an antidote to discouraging words from such gatekeepers, may I present—TA DA!—Aaron's Books Lititz 2010 Kid Lit Festival.

2010 Lititz Kid-Lit Festival
Focuses on Diversity in Children’s Literature
If you traveled to the small town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, you'd probably notice that it's not quite a hotbed of ethnic diversity. As you strolled down South Broad Street, though, you'd discover one indie bookseller who's passionate about offering all kinds of books to the community.

Sam Droke-Dickinson contacted me months ago to see if I was available, she's paying my train ticket and has booked me a room at the supportiveLititz Bed and Breakfast, and best of all, she's been championing my books all …

A Dozen Great Multicultural Blogs

I follow some great blogs, as you can see by the list in my sidebar, but here are a few that focus specifically on ethnic and cultural diversity in the Kid/YA book world.
A Wrung SpongeAmerican Indians in Children's LiteratureBrown BookshelfBrown PaperColor OnlineCrazy QuiltsHappy Nappy BooksellerLee and Low PaperTigersReading in ColorShen's Books Smithsonian's Book DragonAre there others you would add to this list? Please leave them in the comments.