Anisha Battles For Her School Librarian

A couple of years ago I visited Haggerty School in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the invitation of librarian Karen Kosko and met Anisha (left). Like many communities around our country, Cambridge is debating the relative value of school librarians given tight budgets. With Anisha's permission, I'm delighted to share her thoughts on the matter (emphasis mine.)

My name is Anisha N. I am an eighth grader in the Cambridge Public Schools. Thank you for giving me a chance to speak. I am concerned about the proposal to cut librarian positions in schools. I understand budget cuts are not easy because they have affected me personally. But I still feel that we need to have librarians in the school system because of the tremendous teaching role they play in the community and in the education of children.

Our librarians certainly enriched our curriculum. I have been inspired by authors such as Lois Lowry and Susan Cooper, who were among many influential people invited to the library. I will never forget my experience with the “From the Top” radio show, or the visitors from Young Audiences or the Actor's Shakespeare Project or the Nobel Peace Prize winners. These new exposures were helpful for us as we matured and developed academically into well-rounded citizens.

My librarian knew me since I was in kindergarten and has worked with all my teachers since then, whether it was to help with plays, to lead our reading group, help with research, or make presentations in class for different parts of the curriculum. Our librarian has probably read every book in the library, and knows just what I would like better than even I do. She also pushes me to try things that she knows I would not have touched otherwise! She knows all the other kids in school as well, and their likes and dislikes. She is one of the few who has watched us grow over the years and truly understands us.

I know that instead of librarians we would have 'support staff ' who would get trained to give us more information and technology. But don’t you see? We have access to more than enough information, we really need someone who can sift through all of it and give us what is best for each individual. We also have completely capable technology specialists. So why spend resources to train someone to do something that already works well? I think that we need to replicate in all schools what is working so well in some of them.

My librarian is my teacher. You cannot replace her with information and technology. I am saddened to think that my younger brother and other students will not have the same wonderful experiences that have helped me become who I am today.

In Which My Book Goes on Tour Without Me

On this rainy day in Boston, I'm loving being at home in my yoga pants and flip-flops. The best part is knowing that my novel Bamboo People is heading out on tour, thanks to my innovative friend Vivian Mahoney (otherwise known as blogger Hip Writer Mama.)

Here are the details according to Vivian:
  • COMMENT here and include what U.S. state you live in—no addresses please, just your state.
  • FIVE (5) people will be selected to participate in the BAMBOO PEOPLE ARC Road Trip. I'll map out the route and e-mail each person one address for mailing purposes.
  • READ the ARC and POST a review on your blog.
  • WRITE a message for Mitali in the ARC and MAIL it to the next person within 2 weeks. I haven't had a chance to get the book weighed at the post office, but it should cost less than $5.00 at book rate.
  • THE final reader will send the ARC directly to Mitali!
  • DEADLINE for commenting is Monday, April 5th at 11pm EST.
I'm so grateful to Vivian for organizing this (she is truly hip), and can't wait to read the comments in the book. Bon voyage, Bamboo People!

A Call for Best YA of the Decade

From Joan Kaywell, Membership Secretary for the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN):

Every decade, Dr. Ted Hipple would ask YA enthusiasts what their favorite YA books were for the last decade. He would compile the list and publish the results in THE ALAN REVIEW. Given that he was my mentor, I figured I'd follow the tradition. So, here's my request. Please e-mail me (Joan Kaywell, professor) at your response to this question:

In your opinion, what are the 10 best YA books published between 1999 and 2009 with 1 being your favorite and so on? Please list title and author and identify your primary role in how you made your selections as (choose only one) either a secondary teacher, a university professor, an author, a media specialist, or a parent.
The deadline for nominations is April 15, 2010. Please only respond one time. Thanks tons. I hope to have this published in the summer 2010 issue of THE ALAN REVIEW.

Talk About A Power Lunch

Seventeen students from King Middle School in Portland, Maine traveled with two teachers and their fabulous librarian, Kelley McDaniel, to lunch with me today at a Burmese restaurant in Boston.  What a memory! I love my job.

My first stop was my ever-generous publisher Charlesbridge, where Donna Spurlock was waiting with books to give to the kids.

YoMa ("mountain") Burmese restaurant is owned by a Shan man who came to Boston in 1993 after receiving political asylum for his role in the 8/8/88 protests. Delicious food and gracious service.

The amazing Kelley McDaniel—a poster child for why we need school librarians—coordinated the entire event, including the signed bamboo stick they gave me as a gift.

Much to my amazement, three of the students were newly-arrived Karenni who came from a refugee camp like the one where my novel is set. They didn't speak much English, but they dressed up for the visit, and even mustered shy smiles for this photo. Find out more about Karenni refugees here.

Kelley had read aloud an ARC of my book, Bamboo People (and engaged them in some brilliant discussion questions), but the students were excited to get their own signed copies. And yes, that's my hero, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi watching us from the wall.

5 Indie Kid/YA Booksellers on Twitter

For those unconvinced about Twitter, why not see it as a place to listen to passionate aficionados of children's and YA books on the front lines—booksellers and librarians?

Here, for example, are five independent booksellers who specialize in Kid/YA books and share a wealth of information and excellent perspective with the rest of us:
In fact, I follow 90+ independent booksellers on Twitter who care about keeping our selection of books deep, wide, and diverse, and and am always on the hunt for more. Librarians, you're next.

An Editor Goes Cliff Jumping: The Story of Tu Books

As a social media user (addict?), I watched and cheered as unemployed editor Stacy Whitman broadcast her vision of publishing excellent multicultural science fiction and fantasy YA novels. She set up a blog, rallied us for startup funds through a Kickstarter campaign, and spread the news artfully through Twitter and Facebook.

It didn't take long for publisher Lee and Low to notice how much support Stacy was garnering. A few weeks ago, we got this good news:
Lee and Low Books, the respected independent children's book publisher specializing in diversity, has acquired Tu Publishing, an independent press focusing on multicultural fantasy and science fiction for middle grade and young adult readers.

“This is a natural fit for us,” says Lee and Low publisher Jason Low. “Our customers have been asking us for years to publish stories for older readers. Tu represents an excellent way for us to bring diversity to a whole new audience.”
Now Tu Books is up and running and Stacy's moved to New York. How did this happen so quickly? Blogger and bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith recently asked Stacy what she's learned through all this. "I have just been trying to make the best of an economy in the dumps--creating a job for myself and finding a hole to fill," Stacy said. "The main thing it's taught me is that it's worth it to follow the little niggling feeling that tells you to jump off a cliff. (Figuratively, of course.)"

Isn't that the spirit we're all going to need during these tight times? As the book industry morphs so fast it's hard to know what's coming around the corner, it could be exactly the right moment to take a creative risk.

Why not jump off your own cliff and think about writing and submitting a manuscript to Tu Books? Read these guidelines, and here are some resources that Stacy recommends:
For examples of the kinds of novels we're looking for, check out this list of multicultural science fiction and fantasy novels. Note that there is a gamut of historical, contemporary, futuristic, alternate-world, and other kinds of speculative fiction.

For writers who are writing from a perspective not their own, see Nisi Shawl's excellent article on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site about Transracial Writing for the Sincere.

For guidance on word counts and other requirements for middle grade and young adult novels, check out Harold Underdown's The Purple Crayon and, which should lead you to more information. Also keep an eye on the LEE and LOW blog and Tu Editorial Director Stacy Whitman's blog, and the Web sites and blogs we link to, because these experts have great advice for writers.
Bon voyage, Tu Books!

5 Great Picture Books About Water

Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease. Can you believe it? This horror must end, and thankfully many good people around the globe are engaged in the battle.

When it comes to those of us who care about books and kids, you've heard me say it before: books can play a part in shaping a child's heart to care and learn about this issue.

In honor of World Water Day, here are five tried-and-true picture books illuminating the life-giving power of water (please add more suggestions in the comments):

BRINGING THE RAIN TO KAPITI PLAIN (Dial, 1981) by Verna Aardema, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal

Based on a Kenyan folktale, this Reading Rainbow selection uses cumulative rhyme to show how Ki-pat ingeniously brings rain to the arid Kapiti Plain.

THE WATER HOLE (Abrams, 2001) by Graeme Base

As one rhino gives way to two tigers, then three toucans, on up to 10 kangaroos, die-cut pages reveal the water hole in 10 different worldwide habitats, from African plains to Himalayan mountains to the Australian outback. But the water hole keeps shrinking, and with it the number of frolicking frogs. Can anything bring back the water that the animals all need to survive?

RATA PATA SCATA FATA (Little Brown, 1995) by Phyllis Gershator, illustrated by Holly Meade

Preferring to dream away the days on his Caribbean island, little Junjun tries saying magic words to get the chores done — including filling the rain barrel with much-needed water.

MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER'S GOURD (Orchard Books, 2000) by Cristina Kessler, illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop

Residents of a Sudanese village rejoice when a traditional water storage method is replaced by modern technology, but Fatima's grandmother knows there is no substitute for the reliability of the baobab tree.

MONSOON (FSG, 2003) by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib

Children play, birds call, and grownups go about their business during the hot days of summer in northern India. But in the bustle of street and marketplace, everyone is watching, waiting for those magical clouds to bring their gift of rain to the land. Through the observations of one young girl, the scents and sounds, the dazzling colors, and the breathless anticipation of a parched cityscape are vividly evoked during the final days before the welcome arrival of the monsoon.

Want to dig deeper with your kids? Check out these lesson plans from, and ways to get involved from charity: water.

Growing Up Biracial in America

"I have nightmares that half my body is getting beaten up."

Thanks to the wonderful Lee and Low blog (put it on your must-surf list), I'm posting this video as a follow-up to my thoughts about the Princeton lecture on race.

Children's Books and a Changing Definition of Race

Last week I was privileged to hear Princeton President Shirley Tilghman deliver the Center for African American Studies' James Baldwin lecture called Race In The Post-Genome Era (that's my birds'-eye view from the balcony). Several of Dr. Tilghman's ideas jumped out at me:

At the level of the genome we're 99.9% identical to one another.

Differences between individuals are significantly greater than differences between groups.

The classic view of race, based on physical characteristics such as skin color and facial structure, would have placed South Asians in a distinct racial group, yet the genome analysis identifies (us) as a genetic amalgam ... The biological, as opposed to the cultural, notion of race does not hold up to close scrutiny.

Genetic distinctions among individuals that we continue to define as members of different races based on physical and cultural characteristics are declining rapidly ... almost certainly because of intermarriage over the last 300 years.
    As always, I wondered how this applies in the Kid/YA book world.

    When it comes to writing books, as we imagine and pen our characters, doesn't this support a move away from using dated racial classifications in our third-person narrative voices? As I've said before, a character can get away with it in dialog or first person voice, but writer beware.

    When it comes to selling books, doesn't this signify it's time to get rid of the last-gen idea (check for it in the back of your mind) that black kids only want only stories about black kids and white kids only want stories about white kids?

    The scientific view of race is changing fast. Writing, packaging, and marketing, however, has to balance science's changing view of race with society's. Once again, we arrive at a familiar conclusion: our industry is going to require a new level of discussion, imagination, and flexibility to present books as mirrors and windows for a wide range of kids.

    Academic experts like Dr. Tilghman are hammering out the complexities of defining race traditionally, culturally, socially, and genetically. But we're in the business of creating stories that shape the minds and hearts of a new generation when it comes to race. Shouldn't we be inside the tent? Listening, at least?

    Here, for a start, is Dr. Tilghman's speech in its' entirety (it's long, but fascinating):

    You may also find Dr. Tilghman's speech here.

    You Bring Out The Blank In Me

    Sandra Cisneros' poem, You Bring Out The Mexican In Me (listen to the poet read it here), is inspiring other Americans to respond. Here's the poet Bao Phi performing his acclaimed version, "You Bring Out the Vietnamese In Me":

    What about you? What does Cisneros' poem bring out in you?

    Phi blogs for the Minnesota Star-Tribune, and his recent essay exploring the catch-22 of being a non-white Tolkien-loving geek, Nerds of Color, is worth a read. Here's an excerpt:
    ... I always chose to ignore the weird feeling I got when I realized that, in my dreams, I was always, literally, a white knight. When I dreamt I was a superhero, I was a white dude with superpowers and the Mary Jane to my Peter Parker was always white. Even though I had a nagging feeling about it, I thought I was justified in my dreams because, hey, none of King Arthur’s knights were Asian and therefore my dreams wouldn’t be real if I dreamt otherwise ...

    5 Outstanding Literacy Warriors

    One of my favorite aspects of Twitter is the chance to follow people and organizations who champion causes dear to my heart. For example, here are five great nonprofits fighting hard to get kids reading:

    Founded in 1966, RIF is the oldest and largest children's and family nonprofit literacy organization in the United States. RIF's highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth to age 8. Through community volunteers in every state and U.S. territory, RIF provided 4.4 million children with 15 million new, free books and literacy resources last year.

    The President's proposed budget cuts funding for this great program, so now is the time to contact your Senator and urge him/her to keep RIF alive.

    RIF is represented eloquently on Twitter by Carol Hampton Rasco, CEO of RIF.

    First Book

    First Book provides free and low cost new books to schools and libraries serving children in need, addressing one of the most important factors affecting literacy – access to books. First Book has already distributed more than 65 million free and low cost books in thousands of communities nationwide. Why not see if your school or library qualifies?

    Aesah, Nisha, Bonnie, Joan and Greg capably share tweeting responsibilities for First Book.

    Everybody Wins!

    Everybody Wins brings volunteer mentors into low-income schools for weekly one-on-one reading experiences. The equation is simple—one mentor, one child, one book at a time—through power lunches, story times, and book clubs.

    Rich Greif, National Executive Director, does a brilliant job tweeting for Everybody Wins.

    Reach Out and Read

    Pediatric healthcare providers (including pediatricians, family physicians, and pediatric nurse practitioners) are trained in the three-part ROR model to promote early literacy and school readiness. In the exam room, doctors and nurses speak with parents about the importance of reading aloud to their young children every day, and offer age-appropriate tips and encouragement. The pediatric primary care provider gives every child 6 months through 5 years old a new, developmentally-appropriate children's book to take home and keep. In the waiting room, displays, information, and books create a literacy-rich environment. Where possible, volunteer readers entertain the children, modeling for parents the pleasures— and techniques—of reading aloud.

    Reach out and Read is connected and engaged on Twitter.

    Reading Rockets

    Since 1965, the federal government has invested more than $100 million to find out why so many children have problems learning to read and what can be done. Thanks to that research, we now know how to identify children at risk and how to help them before they fail. Reading Rockets' mission is to take that research-based and best-practice information and make it available to as many people as possible through the power and reach of PBS television and online. 

    Reading Rockets is an active member of the literacy community on Twitter.

    I'm discovering many others who are passionate about getting kids to read via social media. You, too, may follow my growing list of literacy champions on Twitter. And if you have others to add, let me know.

    Road Trip: Princeton and Brooklyn

    One of the benefits of being a full-time children's book author is visiting schools, and receiving a host of surprises and serendipities when you're on the road. This week I spent three days in New Jersey and New York.

    Crossroads Middle School was ready. Not only had they set up a great author visit page, but the kids wrote essays about life between cultures, created three videos, and one of the librarians even painted a portrait of my book cover!

    Faculty and students were wearing these pins to welcome me. Thank you, Crossroads!

    Day one ended with a solitary, relaxing stroll along the Princeton Canal.

    Day two of school visits in New Jersey was followed by a late afternoon walk around the gorgeous Princeton campus.

    Day three included a reading of RICKSHAW GIRL plus Q and A at St. Ann's School in Brooklyn, and a visit to Word Brooklyn in Greenpoint, where I finally met Gbemi (left), author of 8th GRADE SUPERZERO, and Stephanie Anderson (right), manager of the bookstore.

    Via Twitter, I was commissioned by author Laurie Halse Anderson to deliver a Mom hug by proxy to Stephanie (her daughter), which I gladly did.

    The Danger of a Single Story

    As we cross borders to read with children, let's heed this warning issued by novelist Chimamanda Adichie about the dangers of listening to only one story about another culture. I especially appreciated her thoughts on power and storytelling.

    In the comments, Pittsburgh librarian Sarah Louise posed some great questions as a follow-up to this video:
    What is YOUR single story? What is the one *facepalm* question you get asked again and again because of the color of your skin, your accent, the state you are from, the country you are from, the school you went to?

    How can your writing, or teaching, or suggestion of books to read, change someone's single story into a faceted story?

    A Dozen YA Novels With Asian Guy Protagonists

    Last week, I issued a call for YA novels published in 2007-2010 with Asian or Asian American guys as main characters. I got great suggestions, but didn't include any middle-grade titles, those published before 2007, or novels in which the Asian guy was a sidekick, romantic interest, or one of several protagonists.

    It was tough coming up with a dozen books within those parameters. I haven't read all of them--in fact, I've only read three. The descriptions are publisher annotations.

    Three of the titles have adopted heroes, three are graphic novels, and four are historical fiction. Half have Asian American main characters, with the rest of the books set completely in Asia. Note the lack of recent titles featuring teen guys with South Asian roots. And—apart from Lawrence Yep's and Laura Manivong's novels—there's not a whole, not-squashed Asian guy face on any cover (which is okay with me, as frequent Fire Escape visitors may recall.)

    Here's the final list in alphabetical order by author:

    1. YEAR OF THE HORSE by Justin Allen
    (Overlook 2009)

    When Yen Tzu-lu (nicknamed Lu) hears his grandfather speaking in Chinese with a mysterious white man named Jack Straw about some kind of mission, he never dreams that he will be plucked from his Mississippi River hometown to join it. Jack, a legendary gunslinger, is leading a group of roughnecks that includes a former slave who fought in the Union army, a Mexican outlaw and ex-Confederate John MacLemore and his daughter. They're out to reclaim a gold mine that MacLemore says belongs to him, and Lu has been hired as an explosives expert. (He's not, but only Jack knows that.)

    2. ALL THE BROKEN PIECES by Ann Burg
    (Scholastic 2009)

    Two years after being airlifted out of war-torn Vietnam, Matt Pin is haunted: by bombs that fell like dead crows, by the family—and the terrible secret—he left behind.

    Now, inside a caring adoptive home in the United States, a series of profound events force him to choose between silence and candor, blame and forgiveness, fear and freedom.

    (Hyperion 2009)

    For fifteen-year-old, adopted Vietnamese orphan Dixie Nguyen, high school is one long string of hard-to-swallow humiliations. He shares a locker with a nudist linebacker, his teachers are incompetent, and he's stuck doing fluff pieces for the school newspaper. But Dixie's luck takes a turn when he stumbles across one of the jocks using drugs in the locker room; not only does he finally have something newsworthy to write, but the chance to strike a blow against his tormentors at the  school as well.

    However, when his editor insists he drop the story and cover homecoming events instead, Dixie sets off on his own unconventional-and often misguided-investigation. He soon discovers that the scandal extends beyond the football team to something far bigger and more sinister than he ever thought possible. Once he follows the guidelines of his hero, Mel Nichols (journalism professor at Fresno State University and author of the textbook Elementary Journalism) this high school reporter just might save the world. That is, of course, if Dixie can stay out of juvenile hall, the hospital, and new age therapy long enough to piece it all together.

    4. KIMCHI AND CALAMARI by Rose Kent
    (HarperCollins, 2007)

    Kimchi and calamari. It sounds like a quirky food fusion of Korean and Italian cuisine, and it's exactly how Joseph Calderaro feels about himself. Why wouldn't an adopted Korean drummer—comic book junkie feel like a combo platter given:
    (1) his face in the mirror
    (2) his proud Italian family.
    And now Joseph has to write an essay about his ancestors for social studies. All he knows is that his birth family shipped his diapered butt on a plane to the USA. End of story. But what he writes leads to a catastrophe messier than a table of shattered dishes—and self-discovery that Joseph never could have imagined.

    5. BLOOD NINJA by Nick Lake
    (Simon and Schuster 2009)

    Is Taro, a fisherman's son, destined for greatness? In the course of a day, Taro's entire life changes: His father is murdered before his eyes, and Taro is taken by a mysterious ninja on a perilous journey toward safety. Someone wants Taro dead, but who—and why?

    With his best friend, Hiro, and their ninja guide Shusaku, Taro gets caught in the crossfire of a bitter conflict between rival lords for control of imperial Japan. As Taro trains to become a ninja himself, he's less and less sure that he wants to be one. But when his real identity is revealed, it becomes impossible for Taro to turn his back on his fate.

    6. TOWN BOY by Lat
    (First Second Books 2007)

    Malaysian teenager Mat makes a life-changing move from the quiet kampung where he was born to Ipoh, the rapidly industrializing nearby town.

    Living far from his rural roots at a boarding school, he discovers bustling streets, modern music, heady literature, budding romance, and through it all his growing passion for art.

    7. ESCAPING THE TIGER by Laura Manivong
    (HarperCollins 2010)

    Twelve-year-old Vonlai knows that soldiers who guard the Mekong River shoot at anything that moves, but in oppressive Communist Laos, there’s nothing left for him, his spirited sister, Dalah, and his desperate parents. Their only hope is a refugee camp in Thailand—on the other side of the river.

    When they reach camp, their struggles are far from over. Na Pho is a forgotten place where life consists of squalid huts, stifling heat, and rationed food. Still, Vonlai tries to carry on as if everything is normal. He pays attention in school, a dusty barrack overcrowded with kids too hungry to learn. And he plays soccer in a field full of rocks to forget his empty stomach.

    But when someone inside the camp threatens his family, Vonlai calls on a forbidden skill to protect their future, a future he’s sure is full of promise, if only they can make it out of Na Pho alive.

    8. ZEN AND THE ART OF FAKING IT by Jordan Sonnenblick
    (Scholastic Press 2007)

    When eighth-grader San Lee moves to yet another new school, he plans to be totally different.

    Then he accidentally answers too many questions in World History on Zen and all heads turn as San has his answer: He's a Zen Master.

    And just when he thinks everyone is on to him, everyone believes him—in a major Zen way.

    9. AMERICAN-BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang
    (First Second Books 2007)

    All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he's the only Chinese-American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl...

    Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn't want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god...

    Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he's ruining his cousin Danny's life. Danny's a basketball player, a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse...


    There's this guy we know--quiet, unassuming, black hair and thick glasses. He's doing his best to fit in, in a world far away from the land of his birth. He knows he's different and that his differences make him alien, an outsider--but they also make him special. Yet he finds himself unable to reveal his true self to the world . . .

    For many Asian Americans, this chronicle sounds familiar because many of us have lived it. But it also happens to be the tale of mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, better known as Superman. And the parallels between those stories help explain why Asian Americans have become such a driving force in the contemporary comics renaissance as artists and writers—and fans.

    But there's one place where Asians are still underrepresented in comics: between the four-color covers themselves. That's why, in Secret Identities, top Asian American writers, artists, and comics professionals have come together to create twenty-six original stories centered around Asian American superheroes—stories set in a shadow history of our country, exploring ordinary Asian American life from a decidedly extraordinary perspective.

    (HarperCollins 2008)

    Best friends Cal and Barney are down and out in Chinatown. In the America of 1939, they are trapped by invisible barriers created by racial prejudice. With no jobs and no real homes, it's only their wizardry with a basketball that's let them survive this long.

    That same skill suddenly flings a door open to fame and fortune when a professional basketball team, the Dragons, invites them to join the team. Soon they're barnstorming across America and taking on all comers—from local amateurs to other professional teams like the Harlem Globetrotters.

    On that long, difficult road, they must battle rowdy teams and their even rougher fans on makeshift courts. Cal, aka Flash, and the team must also overcome terrible weather, crumbling highways, and their own disintegrating car. As the tour starts to fall apart, the tension between Cal and the team's jealous captain comes to a head. Suddenly Cal must choose between loyalty to his teammates and the pursuit of his own celebrity.

    (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...

    YA Novels With Girl Heroes that Guys Read ... And Like

    Which young adult novels featuring girl protagonists do guys like to read? I asked the question on Twitter, and we came up with this list (books have to feature only one protagonist who is female), which is up for discussion:

    Science Fiction / Fantasy
    • GRACELING and FIRE by Kristin Cashore
    • MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series by Cassandra Clare
    • HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins
    • INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher
    • CRY OF THE ICEMARK series by Stuart Hill
    • DUST OF 100 DOGS by A.S. King
    • GONE series by Lisa McMann
    • TWILIGHT series by Stephenie Meyer
    • MAXIMUM RIDE series by James Patterson
    • LIFE AS WE KNEW IT: THE WORLD WE LIVE IN by Susan Beth Pfeffer
    • HIS DARK MATERIALS series by Philip Pullman
    • MORIBITO by Nahoko Uehashi (Graphic Novel)
    • RUNAWAYS by Brian K. Vaughan (Graphic Novel)
    • UGLIES series by Scott Westerfeld
    • THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak
    Contemporary Fiction
    • SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson
    • HEIST SOCIETY by Ally Carter
    • CRANK and other books by Ellen Hopkins 
    • LIAR by Justina Larbalestier
    • THE COMEBACK SEASON by Jennifer E. Smith
    • STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr
    Historical Fiction
    • CHAINS by Laurie Halse Anderson
    • FEVER, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
    • PERSEPOLIS by Marjane Satrapi (Graphic Novel)
      Middle Grade Science Fiction / Fantasy
      • TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt
      • WILD THINGS by Clay Carmichael
      • CORALINE by Neil Gaiman (Graphic Novel)
      • EON: DRAGONEYE REBORN by Alison Goodman 
      • THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN by Michelle Knudsen
      • GATHERING BLUE by Lois Lowry
      • TIFFANY ACHING books by Terry Pratchett
      • ROSE by Jeff Smith (prequel to BONE) (Graphic Novel)
      Classics (published before 1970)
      • WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum
      • A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'Engle
      • HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh
      • TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

      Can't help help noticing the abundance of titles in the fantasy and science fiction genres, as well as the number of graphic novels. I'm also curious about how many main character names and book covers on the list are "gender-neutral."

      Disagree that a particular book should be on the list? Got a title to add? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments, and I'll update.

      Rally for Massachusetts Libraries March 9th

      Massachusetts readers, writers, students, and parents, here's an important call for support from our friends at the Massachusetts Library Association and the Massachusetts Shool Library Association:
      Massachusetts library supporters will gather at the State House at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 to rally against the impact of drastic funding reductions to the Commonwealth’s libraries.

      The Governor’s proposed FY11 budget for the state library budget is a 37.2% cut from FY2009. Services that are threatened by budget cuts include:
      • Regional Library Systems, which coordinate the delivery of millions of library books, CDs and DVDS to residents and school libraries of the Commonwealth, and provide electronic research materials integral to learning and scholarship. 
      • Access to technology that is used more now than ever as so many residents have lost jobs and cannot afford computer and Internet resources. Schools also rely heavily on the informational databases provided by MBLC. 
      • Literacy programs that empower immigrants through language instruction along with strong school and academic libraries that foster learning, support curriculum, and materials for a growing English as a Second Language population. Library sponsored Homework Centers for students of all ages and abilities. Story hours for toddlers and children, summer reading programs and educational programs for residents of all ages. 
      • The Commonwealth’s Talking Book Libraries are the “public” libraries for 22,000 active users who are legally blind, or physically unable to use printed books. The Talking Book Library in Worcester and the Perkins Talking Book and Machine Lending Agency are in the midst of a historic transition of talking books from cassette tape to the new digital talking books.
      Use of our libraries is at an all time high, with public library borrowing of materials increasing for the 10th consecutive year in 2009, with more than 57 million items transported across the state through regional delivery services.

      Please join us at the State House on March 9th to rally for the survival of libraries! 
      Krista McLeod and Jackie Rafferty, Co-Chairs MLA Legislative Committee
      Judi Paradis and Sandy Kelly, MSLA Legislative and Advocacy Chairs
      I'll be there in spirit, as I'm at a school visit in New Jersey Tuesday, so this is my virtual loud HOORAY for our wonderful Massachusetts libraries!

      Yep. Me. That's Right.

      Since PW just tweeted it, I guess it's okay to share: I'll be speaking at BookExpo America's children's breakfast this May.

      For those who don't know why I'm desperately trying to lose five pounds for this event, the other speakers were just announced: Richard Peck and Cory Doctorow.

      And guess who'll be serving as Master of Ceremonies? Sarah Ferguson. I'll be in the green room with the Duchess of York.

      Stay tuned for more, plus obviously I'll need you to weigh in on a vital question: WHAT DO I WEAR?!?

      5 Tips For Middle School Author Visits

      I'm visiting a bunch of middle schools this month, and they can be a tough crowd. Masters of the eye-roll, an 8th-grade audience prepares to be bored by any visiting adult who isn't Will Smith or Jay-Z. If an ancient angst returns in full measure when you're facing a room of early teens, try these tips:
      1. Engage as many of their senses as you can. Get them to smell, touch, hear, and see with engaging props and slides. For example, you could pass around the hard-as-a-rock Teddy Bear that you secretly slept with in seventh grade as you share a life-changing memory from that time.

      2. Use self-deprecatory humor. Make fun of your foibles, and especially of your generation's. For example, hold up a pair of your favorite bell-bottom high-school jeans as an example of fashion faux pas from back in the day.

      3. Refer to icons from their culture. If you're out of it, stalk high school relatives on Facebook to find out what's hot and what's not (middle-schoolers prefer older teen trends to their own.) Watch a couple of hours of the newest Call of Duty game or Fresh Prince of Bel Air re-runs, for example, and drop a name or detail from either one to illustrate a point in your presentation.

      4. Seek their expertise. Middle-schoolers, hyper-sensitive to the balance of power, are turned off by adults who loom over them with advice and authority. Give them a chance to teach you—ask which books they've been loving,  what movie to see this weekend, which Mexican food joint in their town to visit tonight.

      5. Heap them with praise. It's an affirmation-hungry time of life. When they answer or ask questions, be astounded by their acuity. If they're listening well, tell them how delighted you are with their courtesy. Keep an eye out for the marginalized—rely on your middle-school-shaped intuition to identify them—and especially feature their contributions.
      A balance of these strategies should open ears, hearts, and minds to the educational content of your talk. Above all, be authentic. They know you're old, so be old. But if you have fun, they probably will, too.

      Got other tips? I'm heading to Monmouth Junction, New Jersey and Brooklyn, NY to visit middle schools next week, so I could use them.

      Photo courtesy of the pain of fleeting joy via Creative Commons.

      5 Quick, Free Ways to Buzz Your Book

      Take an hour or so this week to get the word out about your book through one of these free online services:

      1. Goodreads: Set up an author page, because passionate members recommend books, compare what they're reading, review, discuss, debate, and join book clubs. Tip: Offer a free giveaway for the book.

      2. Indiebound: This American Booksellers Association site allows you to make lists of your titles and other favorites, "fan" your favorite indies, and sign up for an affiliate account to generate links to books. Tip: Create a free book widget to post on your website or blog.

      3. Amazon: The Author Central program makes it easy to view and edit your bibliography, add a photo and biography to a personal profile, and upload missing book cover images. Tip: Import your blog posts to your Amazon author page.

      4. GetGlue: Glue serves as a web-based concierge to help people find books (and other entertainment). Their techie folk create free book widgets for authors. Tip: Submit your book for a Guru Giveaway.

      5. Twitter Book Parties (I'm biased, but it's fun): If you've written a traditionally-published children's or YA book, sign up for a party to share the news of your release via Twitter. Tip: You can celebrate new books even if you haven't written one.