I was honored this November to serve as one of the pep talkers for the National Novel Writing Month Young Writers Program. Here's the start of my piece (read it in entirety at NANOWRIMOYP):
Dear Writers,
By now your hair needs a trim, your room's a mess, and your Facebook friends are worried you're dead or in a monastery. At this point in a story, voices in our heads whisper that we're wasting time.We should be doing something more valuable, right? Why are we spending hours alone in front of our computers? How does that help a hurting planet?
Don't listen. Storytelling is a powerful act. Stories have the mysterious power to widen hearts and change minds. The human psyche is never quite the same after receiving a story.
In some ways, novelists have even more storytelling power than the best Hollywood directors. Unlike Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson, we share the direction of our story with our readers' imaginations. Together, an author and a reader cast the characters, create setting, and decide on pacing. Because written and oral stories require more audience participation from story consumers, I think they embed more deeply into the psyche.
We novelists also get access to all five human senses. Moviemakers can provide a top-notch experience of sight and sound, but that's as far as they go. Since our co-director, the imagination, resides within the reader's mind, we also can engage the senses of taste, smell, and touch.
As you're writing, here are three tips to empower your co-director ...

"My Characters are Better Versions of Me," I Said

The lovely Isha Roy of Global India Newswire interviewed me recently while I was in D.C. attending the South Asian Literary and Theater Festival. I talked about the benefits of growing up between cultures, what Americans think of India these days, my gratitude for other South Asian American writers, and a bunch of other stuff, including my forthcoming projects.

Wisconsin International Outreach Children's and Young Adult Literature Celebration

Last weekend, I was privileged to speak at the tenth annual Wisconsin International Outreach Children's and Young Adult Literature Celebration. Here's my summary of the event on twitter via hashtag #wioc, followed by some photos.
K. T. Horning taking us "Around the World in 80 Days."
K. T. Horning discusses initial discomfort with Chinese-Americans sending kids to China in ONLY ONE YEAR | Andrea Cheng | @LeeandLow

Now that she understands the practice, she can share her love of ONLY ONE YEAR @LeeandLow

K. T. Horning raving about Francisco Stork's LAST SUMMER OF THE DEATH WARRIORS, a Don Quixote retelling.

Two picture books that sound great: THE MANGROVE TREE by Susan Roth set in Eritrea and RAIN SCHOOL by James Rumford set in Chad.

New multicultural fantasy for ages 11-14 set in Nigeria: AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor (Viking 2011).

Atinuke's THE NO. 1 CAR SPOTTER is a new chapter book series featuring a Nigerian boy. (The author, who is adorable, is here.)

K.T. Horning ends with praise for WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING by Durga Bernhard @charlesbridge, a book that travels the whole world.

Now storyteller Anne Pellowski is telling us a traditional tale from Turkey.

Pellowski mentions Bunko home-based libraries, apparently one of the finest social institutions in Japan. Anyone heard of it?

Drawing stories, where the teller draws and tells at the same time, ending with a surprise twist, are found throughout the world.

Another universal story genre is the "string story," told throughout the planet with a loop of string.

Sand stories are told by aboriginal women in Australia, a "mysterious and beautiful way to tell a story."

Handkerchief stories were told by old folks in Europe.

Atinuke reading from her chapter book set in Nigeria, NUMBER ONE CAR SPOTTER:

My turn to speak at #wioc11. Yikes. Here goes.

The Conference was held in the gorgeous Memorial Union building at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. My visit was hosted and coordinated by Rachel Weiss, Assistant Director of the Center for South Asia. Thanks, Rachel!
K. T. Horning started the conference with an astounding presentation featuring 80 great books that span the globe. I was mesmerized. As soon as it's posted on the CCBC site, I'll share the link, I promise.

Anne Pellowski spoke next, demonstrating several different genres of global storytelling, including drawing stories, string stories, and handkerchief stories. She also introduced her passion — offering IBBY-affiliated workshops around the planet that empower local storytellers to create cloth storybooks in marginalized minority languages with no picture books.
Atinuke and I were the speakers during the afternoon sessions. I was entranced by Atinkuke's work and voice(s), and  already posted a review of her newest series here on the Fire Escape.
Last but certainly not least, my friend Kashmira Sheth (BOYS WITHOUT NAMES) attended the conference and graciously hosted me to a delicious Afghani meal on State Street. Madison is a stimulating University town, and Kashmira's hospitality made it feel like a home away from home.

Highly Recommended: THE NO. 1 CAR SPOTTER by Atinuke

Used to be that you'd look far and wide in vain to find a funny, heartfelt chapter book set in another continent, especially one featuring a boy. That's why I'm so excited to recommend THE NO. 1 CAR SPOTTER series by Atinuke, the story of a delightful lad growing up in a small African village. First published by Walker Books in the UK, these early readers and fantastic read-alouds are published in the U.S. by Kane Miller.

Oluwalase Babatunde Benson is known as "No.1 car spotter" by friends and family because he can identify every make of car that goes by on the busy road that passes the village. Divided into four self-contained chapters, this first in a series by Atinuke (author of the Horn Book honoree ANNA HIBISCUS series) chronicles No. 1's everyday adventures, from serving customers at Mama Coca-Cola's roadside stand to (unwittingly) helping his father find a new job.

"Atinuke has a Beverly Cleary–esque gift for depicting daily-life details with both humor and authenticity," says the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. "A great, almost necessary book and one that you’ll be delighted to discover," says librarian Betsy Bird, blogger for School Library Journal. I wholeheartedly agree. Betsy also adequately defends Atinuke's decision to set the books in a village somewhere in "Amazing Africa," instead of specifically in Nigeria.

I had the pleasure of hearing Atinuke read from the book at the Wisconsin International Outreach Children's and Young Adult Literature Celebration this past weekend and it was candy for the ears. Here's a clip of the author, in case you're not yet convinced that you need to buy this book and read it pronto with the nearest and dearest children in your life:

INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai wins National Book Award!

INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN takes the NBA! I'm so delighted about this win—nice work, National Book Award judges!

When Thanhha Lai was about to debut this, her first novel,  HarperCollins editor Sarah Sevier asked me to write a blurb for the book. Here's what I said after reading the advance reader's copy:
"In this poignant, funny, and unforgettable novel, Thanhha Lai shares in verse 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 also opens hearts to newcomers displaced by war today."
Don't miss this beautiful story!

Top Five Children's Picture Books: Your Picks?

What are the top five children’s picture books that you enjoy sharing with children? 

Your choices can help create the United States’ top ten list for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Libraries for Children and Young Adults Committee. The goal of the project is to create a list of picture books from around the world that have been selected and recommended by librarians. These can then be used:
  • As a way of celebrating and promoting the language, cultures and quality of children’s book publishing from each country.
  • By countries wishing to purchase books from other countries and are looking for ‘favorite’ titles to help build and develop their collections.
  • By “Sister Libraries” as a way of exploring the children’s literature of their ”Sister Library” country.
  • As an opportunity to encourage interaction and growth within IFLA.
  • To develop the list into an exhibition with supporting catalogue that can be exhibited at the IBBY  and IFLA conferences in 2012.
  • excellent for reading aloud to and with children
  • suitable for any age between 0 – 11 years
  • able to last the test of time
  • published first in the United States
  • written originally in English
  • of good quality and a high standard of publishing
  • exemplary in demonstrating partnership between text and art
  • characterized by a positive message 
  • in print (and therefore available for purchase) 
Ready to enter your choices? Start the survey here.

Dining with Madam Ambassador (thanks to SALTAF)

Back from an exciting visit in D.C. for the South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival, hosted by the Smithsonian Institution. I'm grateful to the Smithsonian, the host of volunteers who took such good care of us, and my fellow presenters. My weekend started at the National Zoo and culminated with a feast at the Embassy of India.
My hotel room wasn't ready, so I walked to the zoo on Friday afternoon to hang out with this dude.
As the Festival began, novelist Aatish Taneer (NOON) was interviewed by the executive producer of NPR's Morning Edition, Madhulika Sikka.
I spoke on a panel with Nina Godiwalla (SUITS: A WOMAN ON WALL STREET), moderated by Sriram Gopal of DCist fame.
Gandhiji and I outside the Embassy of India.
Isha Roy of Global Newswire India, author Nina Godiwalla, and I enjoyed our chat at the reception.
Ambassador Rao descended the staircase in a gorgeous black and gold sari and encouraged us to pursue literary excellence with Mother India cheering us forward.
We were entertained by Bharat Natyam dancers and a Bollywood singer.
Last but not least, nobody feasts like Indians.

Belly-Banding TINTIN IN THE CONGO with a Warning

With Steven Spielberg's adaptation of THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, the classic graphic novel written and illustrated by George Remi (Hergé), Egmont UK is releasing TINTIN IN THE CONGO for a new audience. This time, instead of letting "colonial" content stand as is or bowdlerizing it, they've decided to pursue a new strategy:
“We took the unusual step of placing a protective band around the book with a warning about the content and also included an introduction inside the book by the original translators explaining the historical context."
Already, UK booksellers typically move the novels out of children's areas into the adult graphic novel sections of their stores.

We've discussed the option of bowdlerizing content on the Fire Escape before, and I took a poll, asking 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 never.

Among those who felt it might be worth it to change a classic book, we see a strong belief that an author alone retains the right to change the story. Fifty-nine voters (38%) thought it would be appropriate to update if the author were still alive and wanted the changes.

Twenty-eight (18%) thought it would be permissible to revise a classic children's book if the publisher included a note in the re-issue explaining the reasoning behind the change.

Fifteen of you (9%) thought it would be okay to update if the changes made were incidental rather than integral to the plot, and fifteen (9%) more were amenable if the copyright holder (a descendant) were still alive and authorized the changes.
What do you think about Egmont UK's belly-banding move? And if you're interested, here's how I weighed in on the issue. Enjoy the trailer for the film, scheduled for release December 21st:



by me

Boredom slithers into the psyche,
hissing demi-truths about decay to come.
I fight, then give way, listening, loathing the source.
Where is a champion with raised hammer,
swooping down to smash the skull of anomie?
Who will shout defiance into the dullness?
Too dreary for defense, I doze, blind to the dagger on my lap.
Double-edged, diamond-studded, it’s sharpened to kill.