Showing posts from October, 2010

Guidelines for a Fresh-Eyed Reading of Kid/YA Classics

We've started our Cuci Mata ("washing of the eyes" in Indonesian) read of classic children's books. Once a month, we'll read a standalone novel written by a beloved author and tap into the power of communal vision. Let's ask ourselves:
When it comes to race, ethnicity, gender, and class, what stands the test of time? I don't want this exercise to become a scathing critique of dead authors, so I'm going to focus on the positive and look for the universal, timeless aspects of a novel that qualify it as a classic. You, however, might also want to ask: "What might the author (if alive) wish to change for today's young readers?"

Post a link to your review below and I'll compile. Here's our discussion of EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY, for example.

Next up:

December 1-7An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

January 3-7The Well-Wishers by Edward Eager

An Angry Letter From "Burma"

I got a two-page letter in the mail recently, enclosed in a large manila envelope. Here's an excerpt:
Dear Mitali Perkins,

Through reading your novel Bamboo People, we have discovered that you included false accusations and stories of our government. These include purporting that children are "kidnapped," tortured or otherwise harmed by our government. After careful research, we find that these rumors are not true, not right, and a deliberate attack to our government. Your book has been placed under a censored list, and the current copy is banned as of 6/9/10.

As a result of you having tried to attack our government and deliberately cause harm and chaos to our people, the Foreign Affairs office of the government has revised your privileges in this country. Your current visa may be revoked, since if you do come to Burma, it will be for the purpose of distributing your book and tantalizing our people with false ideas. Be warned that the Government of Burma may pursue legal …

Poetry Friday: In Which I Ask Poet Mary Oliver My Pressing Question

"How can a poet serve the poor and powerless?" I asked.

"Man does not live by bread alone," answered Mary Oliver, one of my favorite living poets. She hesitated, then: "These days, different voices are speaking of their own cultures in poetry, and comfort is given by listening to them."

Lest you think we were having coffee somewhere on the Cape, just the two of us, let me set the scene: a packed chapel on the Wellesley campus, stuffed with Oliver fans (who tend to be mainly white, silver-haired, upper-middle-class women).

After reading a few of her poems, Ms. Oliver was taking a few questions written on cards by members of the audience. Mine was one, and I'm grateful it was presented because it's one of my struggles as a writer—the time taken in solitude, crafting words and stories, is time that could be given in service to the poor or spent fighting for justice.

Any answers or thoughts from my fire escape visitors? As you mull over the question, …


With sounds and colors that explode off the page, JIMI: SOUNDS LIKE A RAINBOW (written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe), is a glorious tribute to Seattle's multicultural creativity and the genius of Jimi Hendrix.

Kids and parents alike will be inspired by Hendrix's passion for music and art, and his single-minded vision to express that passion through the voice of an electric guitar. Golio's words sing and Steptoe's illustrations dance, making the reader want to put on some Hendrix (right now!) and whirl around the room.

Today, as part of his blog tour, I've invited Gary to share his thoughts about how race and racism affected Hendrix's music and music.

Jimi Hendrix: The Rainbow Vision

“An appreciation of pluralism nourishes attributes urgently needed in people today: psychological security, capacity for understanding, and appreciation of difference.” (Elaine Pinderhughes, Understanding Race, Ethnicity, and Power)

In many ways, Jimi Hendrix’ life …

From Coast to Coast, I'm Talking Books

Last week I visited the Pleasanton Library Bookleggers in California (an amazing program where trained volunteers present books in the schools), co-presented to educators with author Jennifer Holm at The Reading Bug Bookstore in San Carlos, California, and addressed the topic of social justice in fiction to an engaged audience as part of a Boston Book FestivalPanel. Here are some photos for your enjoyment:

Boston Book Festival 2010

I'm honored to be part of this year's Boston Book Festival. I'll be chatting on a panel tomorrow called Border Crossing: Social Justice in Fiction for Kids. Here's the full schedule of events and the description of our session, taking place from 11:30 to 12:30 at the Church of the Covenant on 67 Newbury Street:
Be transported to Burma, Cuba, Haiti and 1970s Boston and experience the challenges children just like you face every day. Mitali Perkins, author of Bamboo People, Christina Gonzalez, author of The Red Umbrella,Richard Michelson, author of Busing Brewster and Lionel Vital(inspiration for Youme Landowne’s Selavi) tell the stories and struggles of children around the world. Hosted by Bridgespan’sKatie Smith Milway, author of One Hen and The Good Garden.

ONE MILLION MEN AND ME: A Visit From Kelly Starling Lyons

Today I'm pleased to shut up and invite you to listen to Kelly Starling Lyons, author of ONE MILLION MEN AND ME. Kelly and I met at the Multicultural Book Festival in Washington D.C., an encouraging, enthralling experience for both of us.
When I wrote One Million Men and Me (illustrated by Peter Ambush, published by Just Us Books), one of my dreams was to share it in Washington, D.C. I wanted to go back to the city where the Million Man March happened and celebrate the story with kids.

I got my chance the year it debuted. I was part of the Multicultural Children’s Book Festival at the Kennedy Center. As I rode from the airport to the hotel, I thought back to that amazing event. I remembered walking through a sea of black men, seeing strangers embrace like brothers, watching people — young and old, rich and poor — praying and laughing together. I remembered a little girl I saw that day clutching her daddy’s hand. Her eyes glistened and sparkled at the sight of men everywhere.

My de…

EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY, meet my friends!

I'm thrilled to announce that today is the publication date for EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY by Maud Hart Lovelace, re-issued with love from Harper Perennial. You might remember how I felt about editor Jennifer Hart's invitation to write the foreword to this novel. Here are the first two paragraphs of that foreword:
One Saturday morning when we were new to America, my sister and I walked to the Flushing Public Library, two miles from our apartment. It was my first visit to a library. I wandered through the stacks wide-eyed, fingering spines of unread books like a beggar in a bakery. I could take seven of them home with me! I chose carefully, knowing I'd savor them later on the fire escape, my secret reading sanctuary.

It didn't take long to find Maud Hart Lovelace's concoctions. Her classic novels served as a superb orientation for a newcomer eager to understand the history and heritage of a new world. They took me back to the early 1900s, a time when America shared many of…

You're Invited! A Cuci Mata Read of Classic Children's Books

I recently learned from Karen Lotz, publisher of Candlewick, that the Indonesian phrase Cuci Mata means a "washing of the eyes." Aha! I thought. The perfect metaphor for my new feature on Mitali's Fire Escape.

While we may not want to bowdlerize the classics of the past, we are eager to grow in our ability to discern both anachronistic and universal attitudes in stories (even, and perhaps especially, in our own). Every month, we'll choose a novel written by a now-dead—no hurt feelings that way—children's book author and explore attitudes towards race, class, gender, and culture as revealed in that story. What stands the test of time in this novel?

Our goal is not to critique and condemn these beloved authors with arrogant "we-know-better-than-you" twenty-first century eyes. We will wash our eyes, see in a fresh way, and find elements in these stories to celebrate as universally relevant. But we also want to notice what the authors themselves might have…

Culture, Justice, and Kid/YA Books: A Chat between Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Mitali Perkins, and Susanna Reich

During the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival, Susanna Reich moderated a conversation in the PEN American booth between Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (8th GRADE SUPERZERO) and me. We chatted about writing characters who are social misfits, how writing biographies is similar to writing across cultures, raising questions of faith in fiction, writing to learn, and ... zombies along the Thai-Burma border? But wow, I don't remember talking quite so much ...
Download the mp3

Selling Color in a White World: Notes From NEIBA

"Look around the room," said bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle (pictured left), introducing our New England Independent Booksellers Association panel, Selling Color in a White World. "Our industry is still dominated by white people, and honestly, we get lazy handselling books featuring people of color."

After she introduced the panelists, I kicked things off with my usual windows and mirrors spiel and gave two examples of how indies can make a huge difference: my visits to Titcomb's Bookstore in Sandwich, MA and Aaron's Bookstore in Lititz, PA. 

Next came Karen Lotz, President and Publisher of Candlewick. "We feel relatively free from the pressure of gatekeepers," she said. "We're a creatively-led house."

She shared a story about Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who asked to meet with her at a recent BEA. The legendary basketball player came with one request: please package books for and about black kids with the same bling as books for the mainstrea…