2010 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature

I'm thrilled that Bamboo People has been named the Children's Literature Honor book by the APALA arm of the American Library Association. Here's the full list of winners—congratulations, one and all, and thanks to the librarians who selected the books:
Picture Book Winner
Malaspina, Ann. Yasmin’s Hammer. Illustrated by Doug Ghayka.  New York: Lee and Low, 2010.

Picture Book Honor
Thong, Roseanne. Fly Free! Illustrated by Eujin Kim Neilan.   Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2010

Children’s Literature Winner
Preus, Margi. Heart of a Samurai. New York: Amulet Books (Abrams), 2010.

Children’s Literature Honor
Perkins, Mitali. Bamboo People. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2010.

Young Adult Literature Winner
Senzai, N. H. Shooting Kabul. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010.

Young Adult Literature Honor
Bazaldua, Barbara. A Boy of Heart Mountain. Illustrated by Willie Ito.  Camarillo, CA: Yabitoon Books, 2010.  

Shubo Boi Jonmodin, THE SECRET KEEPER!

"Shubo Boi Jonmodin" means "happy book birthday" in my mother tongue, Bangla. Today I'm celebrating the release day in India of THE SECRET KEEPER, published by HarperCollins India.
It's fitting that I visited a school this morning in Concord, Massachusetts and drove past the home of Louisa May Alcott, since THE SECRET KEEPER was partly written in homage to LITTLE WOMEN. Godspeed in South Asia, my little book!
Orchard House, home of the Alcott family

Notable Books for a Global Society 2011

Curious about how to share books set in other countries or cultures with kids? This slideshow prepared by Karen Hildebrand of the Notable Books for a Global Society commitee demonstrates the rich resources available online to enrich the reading of these books (flip past the first two ad slides to get started.)

BAMBOO PEOPLE is a 2011 White Raven Book!

Each year, the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany selects noteworthy, newly-published books from around the world and compiles them into the annual White Ravens Catalogue, introduced each year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy.

This year's collection contains 250 titles in 36 languages from 52 countries, and I'm thrilled that Bamboo People is one of the titles representing the United States. Here are the eight 2011 White Raven books from the United States, with the IYL's annotations:

DiCamillo, Kate, McGhee, Alison, and Fucile, Tony
Bink and Gollie
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Small, wild-haired, vivacious peanut-butter addict Bink and tall, lean, neat pancake baker Gollie are an odd pair of friends. Yet, even if their opinions on lots of matters diverge considerably, e.g. on whether “outrageously bright socks” are great or on whether a fish can be a marvellous companion, the two girls always find some sort of compromise in the end. This enchanting cross between picture book and first reader chronicles three of their adventures together in short, witty, fast-paced dialogue. The entertaining cartoon-like digital illustrations are mostly black and white with only occasional splashes of colour. They admirably bring the two protagonists and their world to life and make it easy for young readers to identify with the girls (and discuss the meaning of friendship). (2011 Theodor-Seuss-Geisel-Award) (Age: 7+)

Lee, Suzy
San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
In this virtually wordless picture book in black and white and yellow, Korean artist Suzy Lee explores the boundaries between the real and the imaginary world. The pages in the unusual landscape-format book flip from bottom to top instead of right to left with the top page initially representing the real world and the bottom page the silhouette-like fantasy realm until they blur into each other. The story takes off with a vivacious little girl in an attic surrounded by a clutter of objects that cast mysterious shadows on the floor. Soon the shadows take on a life of their own. The small protagonist pirouettes and jumps through a magical jungle scenery, is pursued by a wolf-like demon, escapes by creating a ferocious jungle monster, and… is suddenly whizzed back to reality by her parents’ call to dinner. This exuberant and carefully designed treasure will be read again and again and inspire children to initiate their own imaginary shadow-play world. (Age: 3+)

Perkins, Mitali
Bamboo People
Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
The protagonists in this coming-of-age novel are two adolescent boys living in modern-day multi-ethnic Burma. Frail and timid Burmese boy Chiko, who loves nothing more than reading books and hates physical violence, is abducted and forced to train as a soldier while his doctor father serves a prison sentence for allegedly resisting the government. Angry and tough Tu Reh, however, is a member of the Karenni people, an oppressed ethnic minority. Since his family had to flee to a refugee camp when Burmese soldiers burned down their village home, he is eager to join the fight against their violent oppressors. The two first-person narrations of this thought-provoking novel plunge readers into a frightening conflict zone and make them witness how the budding friendship between these two unlikely friends changes their view of the war and of people from other cultures. (Age: 14+)

Ryan, Pam Muñoz and Sís, Peter
The Dreamer
New York, NY: Scholastic Press.
This absorbing fictional biography of renowned poet Pablo Neruda takes readers back to a small town in early twentieth-century Chile. Neftalí Reyes – which is Neruda’s real name – is a small and skinny boy, prone to daydreaming and fascinated by the wonderful things he discovers around him. His strict father, however, determined that his children work towards a successful career in a sensible profession, such as doctor or lawyer, forbids any imaginative or creative foraging and despises his son’s dreaminess. In a highly poetic text interspersed with philosophic questions and snippets of poetry imitating the style of the Nobel-prize-winning writer, Pam Muñoz Ryan reimagines Neruda’s childhood and youth; Peter Sís’s delicate pointillist illustrations in green and white perfectly capture the text’s atmosphere of magic realism.(Age: 10+)

Seibold, J, Otto
Other Goose Re-nurseried, Re-rhymed, Re-mothered, and Re-goosed
San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Mother Goose rhymes are probably the most widely-known nursery rhymes – not only in the English-speaking world. In his “Other Goose” collection, J.otto Seibold presents twenty-some of his favourite classics in awesomely illustrated new versions. From Humpty Dumpty and Little Bo Peep to the Cat with the Fiddle, Seibold’s “re-nurseried, re-rhymed, re-mothered, and re-goosed” variants include the same nursery-rhyme staff, but tell slightly twisted (or even completely mutated) tales compared to those with which readers may have grown up. The artist’s computer-generated, loudly coloured trademark illustrations show flat, goggle-eyed protagonists with distorted features. The pictures are brimming with witty allusions and amusing details that perfectly complement the quirky texts. (Age: 5+)

Shiga, Jason
New York, NY: Amulet Books.

Choose-your-own-adventure books are nothing new, but this CYOA-graphic novel is on a completely different scale: Claiming to offer 3,856 different story possibilities, the book keeps readers flipping back and forth as they follow the picture sequences from right to left, left to right, up, down, across, and along differently coloured tubes. Although the story starts fairly simple with young Jimmy treating himself to some ice cream (either vanilla or chocolate), the adventure gets increasingly challenging, apocalyptic, and outright crazy as Jimmy meets an inventor and tests his memory-transferring SQUID, his time machine, and the killitron, which can eliminate the entire Earth’s population. Readers will love the puzzling paths and may even learn something about quantum physics, parallel universes, and entropy along the way. (Age: 10+)

Sidman, Joyce and Prange, Beckie
Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
In their latest collaboration, Joyce Sidman and Beckie Prange continue the format of their award-winning “Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems” (2005). Delivering a combination of catchy poetry, informative science facts, and striking linocut illustrations, the author and illustrator let children in on the secret of successful survival on Earth during the past 4.6 billion years. Species as diverse as bacteria (3.8 billion years old), geckos (160 million years old), squirrels (36 million years old), and dandelions (5 millions years old) are gathered in this volume. Complemented by notes, a glossary, and a stunning timeline printed on the endpapers, texts and pictures provide readers with astonishing details about the most imperishable of our planet’s inhabitants. (Age: 5+)

Williams-Garcia, Rita
One Crazy Summer
New York: Amistad / HarperCollins.

When their father decides it is high time that his three little girls flew right across the country to Oakland (California) to visit their mother, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern have mixed feelings. Yet little do they expect such a cold-hearted and disinterested welcome from poetry-writing Cecile, who abandoned them seven years earlier. Instead of caring for her daughters, she insists they spend their days at the nearby summer camp, where the girls are introduced to the Black Panther Party’s ideology. Set in 1968 against the backdrop of the African-American revolutionary movement and narrated from eleven-year-old Delphine’s point of view, this book tells the touching story of an unusual summer holiday during which the vivacious sisters learn a lot about black identity, their mother, and themselves. (Age: 10+)

Tropes, Myths, and Racism in YA Books: What Can Be Done?

Don't miss this brilliant post by YA author Nicola K. Richardson in which she eloquently addresses some commonly held misconceptions about race in young adult literature. For example, when it comes to the claim that young white readers won't cross borders of race to read, Ms. Richardson has this to say:
Kids of color give white writers a chance all the time. But white kids won't do the same for a writer of color? The same kids that buy a CD cover with a black artist with no problems would hesitate over a book cover? The same kids that go to school with and have friends of all races would refuse to be diverse when it comes to reading? I firmly believe that this is just as wrong as the assumption that blacks only read urban fiction. Again, MANY believe this and it shows in the heinous whitewashing of book covers. It shows when bookstores won't carry books with characters of color on the cover. It shows when salespeople swear they can't sell these books. The problem with this is that it assumes an entire group will respond the way that a few do.
Read the rest over at YA Highway, including some world-changing advice for all of us in the industry. Writers, apparently we have to "go hard for our books." Ready for the challenge? I am. Thanks, Nicola.

My Writers for the Red Cross Auction Item

Today's Writers for the Red Cross Auction swag bag is from me. It includes a signed hardcover of Bamboo People, a bamboo bookmark with pewter elephant from Thailand, a signed hardcover of Secret Keeper, and an alabaster candle holder from India. Browse the other items up for bidding—there are some generous donations.

Meanwhile, let's keep praying for Japan. In 1948, Nobel prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck published a children's book about a tsunami in Japan called The Big Wave. In 2005, NPR's Jacki Lyden read an excerpt from that "famous story of a Japanese boy who must face life after escaping the tidal wave destruction of his family and village." Has anybody read it since the recent tragedy? What are your thoughts?

I Grew Up Maple Sugaring in March

The title of this blog post isn't true. Not really, anyway. I grew up as an immigrant kid in New York City and wouldn't taste maple syrup until college. But thanks to the power of fiction and my imagination, every spring I escaped by book to the countryside and went sugaring. Maybe that's why this time of year in New England always feels like a homecoming. Here are three of my favorite reads (and re-reads) about maple sugaring.

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen. In the Spring 2007 Curriculum Connections edition of School Library Journal, I wrote an article called "No Place Like Home" that included a description of this all-about-sugaring Newbery Award winner:
(A journey to sugaring country) in winter parallels (the characters') bleak emotional landscape, and when their car wheels spin uselessly on a snowy hill, we intuit how stuck the family has been feeling. Eventually, the flowing of the sap and the excitement of sugaring brings spring to the land and healing to Marly's family. Sorenson's descriptions of spring, summer, fall, and winter always mirror the gradual changes taking place inside her characters.
Did you know that one of the characters in Miracles on Maple Hill is an immigrant? He's one of the keys to the transformation of the family.

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Here's an excerpt about sugaring from chapter ten:
Almanzo loved trudging through the frozen wild woods.  He walked on snow that had never been walked on before, and only his own tracks followed behind him. Busily he emptied the little pails into the buckets, and whenever he was thirsty he drank some of the thin, sweet, icy-cold sap.
My favorite of the Little House books because there's no denigration of Indians, Farmer Boy also features a cross-cultural relationship that saves Almanzo's life. Do you remember that scene?

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Sugaring isn't the main part of this story about transformation in rural Vermont, but I love this description:
She found a clean white snow-bank under a pine-tree, and, setting her cup of syrup down in a safe place, began to pat the snow down hard to make the right bed for the waxing of the syrup. The sun, very hot for that late March day, brought out strongly the tarry perfume of the big pine-tree. Near her the sap dripped musically into a bucket, already half full, hung on a maple-tree. A blue-jay rushed suddenly through the upper branches of the wood, his  screaming and chattering voice sounding like noisy children at play.
Elizabeth Ann took up her cup and poured some of the thick, hot syrup out on the hard snow, making loops and curves as she poured. It stiffened and hardened at once, and she lifted up a great coil of it, threw her head back, and let it drop into her mouth. Concentrated sweetness of summer days was in that mouthful, part of it still hot and aromatic, part of it icy and wet with melting snow. She crunched it all together with her strong, child's teeth into a delicious, big lump and sucked on it dreamily, her eyes on the rim of Hemlock Mountain, high above her there, the snow on it bright golden in the sunlight.
I'm about to re-read this classic as I head up to Vermont this weekend to teach a class for the League of Vermont Writers. Mrs. Fisher was one of the founders of the League, spoke five languages fluently, and championed refugee French children. Do you have any favorite maple sugaring titles?

Looking for Funny YA About Race? Here's One.

No, this is not oxymoronic: I recently enjoyed a humorous contemporary YA novel that adeptly handles race. Latte Rebellion (Flux, January 2011) by Sara Jamila Stevenson is a funny, poignant debut novel narrated by a protagonist you'd love to meet for coffee and conversation in real life. I loved the window this novel gives into growing up "latte" amidst the craziness of racial politics in America. But thanks to witty dialog, vivid characters, and a spot-on depiction of bittersweet endings and beginnings, Latte Rebellion is also a mirror for anyone who remembers or anticipates the roller coaster ride of senior year.

Diversity Discussion for Share A Story | Shape a Future

Tanita Davis with Mare's War
Bloggers and children's literature advocates here, there, and everywhere are promoting the powerful connection between books and kids in an effort called Share a Story | Shape a Future. This week, from March 7-11, we focus on "Unwrapping the Gift of Literacy."

Miriam Newman, me, and Hannah
Ehrlich in front of Lee & Low's
proud display of diverse books
As part of the conversation, Terry Doherty of The Reading Tub is hosting a roundtable discussion of diversity in children's books, inviting award-winning author Tanita Davis (MARE'S WAR), Hannah Ehrlich of Lee and Low Books, and me to share our thoughts.

Here's an excerpt from Tanita's contribution:
Play and romance and the trivialities that form everyone’s life have to be written about by YA authors, otherwise we fall prey to that 'single story' trap, as if minorities and immigrants have only one facet, and only one experience to offer.
Read the rest here, and please leave comments.

3 Excellent Border-Crossing MG/YA Books for 2011

In a poignant, funny, and unforgettable middle-grade novel called Inside Out and Back Again (HarperCollins, March 2011), Thanhha Lai remembers how her family escaped Vietnam before the fall of Saigon. American and Vietnamese characters alike leap to life through the voice and eyes of a ten-year-old girl—a protagonist so strong, loving, and vivid I longed to hand her a wedge of freshly cut papaya. This tenderly told tale transports readers to the time immediately after the Vietnam War and  sheds light on the life of young people displaced by war.

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy (Scholastic, January 2011) is the perfect example of why we can't set up apartheid-like rules in the realm of fiction. The author is a white guy writing from the point of view of an Afhani girl, crossing fairly significant borders of race and power to tell this story. But thanks to the diligent use of an empathetic imagination and an ability to listen, Reedy's middle-grade novel opens windows into a world we can't visit otherwise. As Katherine Paterson puts it in her introduction to this heartwrenching debut novel, you'll never read the news about contemporary Afghanistan again without remembering that you have a friend there—a girl named Zulaikha with whom you hoped and suffered and rejoiced and prayed.

Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams (Little Brown, July 2011) is a gripping page-turner, a tribute to the unifying power of sport, and a heart-stirring window into the life of a teen refugee in South Africa. Even reluctant readers will tear through this book, worrying about Deo, cheering for him, and hoping that he'll find a way to survive. This young adult novel will inspire hospitality for the alien and stranger in the heart of every reader. I couldn't wait until it comes out to start spreading the buzz.

In Which Skype Takes Me To School Without Walls

I've been enjoying an increasing number of Skype visits into classrooms and libraries this year, during which I sit in my study and chat with students hailing from all corners of the country ... and sometimes the world.

For example, here are some thank-you notes from exchange students studying at the School Without Walls in D.C. (published with permission, sic). When do adult writers of fiction get to (a) converse virtually with such a savvy, global group of readers, and (b) receive fabulous notes like these? If you wonder why I prefer writing for young people, read on.

Dear Mitali,

I wanted to thank you for the Skype conversation. It was amazing to talk with the author of the book that we had to read. Thank for gave us a little bit of your time, it was such a great experience.

I really liked the book and the story. I have learned a lot about Burma, a country that I absolutely did not know before, and what is going on over there. The story was well imagined and I really enjoyed reading Bamboo People.

So, I hope you will have another book soon, and hopefully we could have another skype conversation. Thank you.


Loots L. (Belgium)

Dear Mitali,

I would like to thank you for taking the time to Skype with me and answer the questions I had about your book. It was really a unique chance to talk to the author of a book.

I really enjoyed reading the book, especially because you wrote the book from two points of view. It gave a good look on how the two boys crossed each other’s path, how they hated each other but changed their mind in the end. I look forward to read more of your books and hope I can talk to you again.

Yours truly,

Jef (Belgium)

Dear Mitali,

First of all, I will like to Thank you for the Skype chat, for give me part of your time to interview you and to get to know you more. You are a very outgoing person and also really nice.

Thank you too for create this amazing book—Bamboo People—because like you say, this book have some parts of your life and that's what it makes it interesting for us too. You are a great writer because me, like an exchange student, I understand every word in your book, what also make it really good for international distribution. Congratulations for that and I'm so happy and excited waiting for your next book, in that way I won't stop the contact with you in any moment.

For closing, because I think I'm writing to much; I say thank you again for give me your precious time and for respond my questions about your amazing book. I hope don't lose the contact with you and also keep reading your creations.


Paulina (Chile)

Dear Mitali Perkins:

I really want to tell you the book you make was a really good book, but the same time was hard for me to understand. I was really interested thanks for making this book.

i really am the person who doesn't like to read at all. My mom pays me to read books but when i start to read your book everything changed, so be proud of this book you made. I think am going to by one and bring the book to my country. Well, thanks for talk to us I really appreciate that, don't lose your contact. Love you.

From: your best Dominican friend, Tracy lol

Dear Ms. Mitali Perkins:

I hope you remember me, I am Adrian from Paraguay, I met you in the Skype chat days ago, I just felt inside me that I have to write an thanks e-mail to thank you for the time that you spent with us answering our questions and doubts last day. It was a real pleasure, that I never had, the experience of meeting an author of a book that I really like.I will be waiting for a new release of a book, I can say that you won a fan.

Best regards,

Adrian (Paraguay)

Dear Mitali,

Hello. This is Na from South Korea. I was glad to meet you on Skype chat discussing about your amazing book Bamboo People. You were so kind and friendly that I felt like we had met before. Thank you for sharing your precious lunch time with us. It would be one of the unforgettable moments I spent in United States of America as an exchange student.

Now I am regretting of not being brave enough to ask every single question I wanted to ask. My favorite part of the book was the connection between two boys from opposite sides of the country politically and geographically. Showing both points of view makes me understand what is going on in Burma(Myanmar) much easier. Also, the touching stories of two boys love for their family and friends made me unable to stop reading the book. Enjoying my first American Thanksgiving day eating cookies with reading the book was fun! If I had chance, I would love to ask you about who is your favorite character and what is your favorite part of your book. Tureh? Chiko? Both characters were too charming to choose one for me. How about you as the creator of these amazing boys? In addition, you mentioned the Lord of the Rings as one of the motivations of Chiko. Lord of the ring was one of my favorite fantasy stories. Is there any personal reason of using that book as a source for Chiko? When I read the part about it, I was so excited to read that part.

Reading the book thinking about what I would want to ask the actual author was very unique and valuable experience. Thank you again for giving me this kind of incredible moment. I have never imagined about actually talking with the author in my life. When will you start your next book? As a lover of your previous book Bamboo People, I am already looking forward to reading your new book!! It was extremely nice to see you. Bye.


Na (South Korea)

Dear Ms. Perkins,

I want to thank you for the skype chat, I really appreciate it, it was really cool to talk to an author of a book that I read. I really enjoyed the book.

It was really nice of you, that you could talk to us about your book and that you could answer our questions. That just shows that you are a nice person and that you are willing to talk to you readers!

Best wishes,

Thor (Iceland)

Dear Mitali,

It was good talk with you in Skype and in the same time enjoy that together, i hope that you are enjoyed the time with us and also thanks for explain us a little bit about your amazing book.

The Book is very good, it's fun, nice and in the same time interesting . For example i learn about Burma in the book ,because i never listen before talk about that, but now i fell like i know everything, and Chiko, he is a fantastic guy he has a lot of adventures and how he live the life. And how he can compare the life with other guy, how is older than him and he nows more than him, i mean is fantastic.

Well thank you for give us your time to answer our questions and i hope talk with you soon, and enjoy your other book's together.


Andrea (Bolivia)

Dear Mitali,

I am very happy that I had the opportunity to talk to you via Skype about your incredible book Bamboo People. I want to share with you that it was the first English language book that I read in the United States. I enjoyed your enthusiasm and the attention that you gave to our group. I appreciated the fact that you were patient and answered all of my questions.

I felt that your book was well written and tells a fascinating story between the two boys in Burma, you show how people can unify and come together to have a happy ending. For sure I will suggest it to my friends and I will be waiting anxiously for your next book.

Thank you for sharing a little bit of your life with me and telling me about your trips and the fun things that you did and want to do. I hope in the future we will be able to talk again and you write more great books like Bamboo People.


Brisa (Brazil)

Thank You, Independent Booksellers!

Returned home from winter break to delightful news: Bamboo People is shortlisted as a Book of the Year finalist in the Young Adult Novel category of the 2011 Indies Choice Awards. Here are the nominees (in alphabetical order):

And, as if that's not enough, I'm a finalist in the "Most Engaging Author" category, given to an "author who is an in-store star with a strong sense of the importance of indie booksellers to the community."

Don't know about the first part of the description, but the second is certainly true: I'd be nowhere as an author were it not for my indies. Being in the company of the other nominees is a huge part of this honor: Laurie Halse Anderson, Jonathan Evison, Kevin Henkes, Richard Russo, and Terry Tempest Williams.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, independent booksellers, a national treasure. May you live long and prosper!