OPEN MIC: Introducing Contributor Varian Johnson ...

I'm continuing to showcase the nine authors who collaborated with me on OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (an anthology published 9.10.13 by Candlewick Press). The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books recently had this to say about our book:
It’s often said that good literature for young people can act as a mirror to one’s own experiences and a window into others’—this anthology fills the bill, providing an accessible assessment of contemporary race relations, while also being as honest, refreshing, and frank as the titular open mic suggests.
Today I'm delighted to introduce you to my friend Varian Johnson, author of "Like Me," a short story that's sixth in the OPEN MIC lineup and is especially "honest, refreshing, and frank." Here are the first few paragraphs to lure you:
"Griff, snap out of it," Evan says, jabbing his elbow into my rib cage. "You're missing the newbies."
I glance at Evan—trying to ignore the scraggly reddish-brown "soul patch" on this chin—then turn to follow his gaze. A mob of girls, huddled together like starry-eyed lambs heading to the slaughter, make their way across the quad with Principal Greer herding them along. With their blinding-white blouses and heavily starched skirts, they look like rejects from an episode of Gossip Girl.
Of course, my blazer and slacks would fit in the show just fine. As Principal Greer says, we're all cut from the same cloth here.
Varian's award-winning books include Saving Maddie (Delacorte / Random House, 2010), My Life as a Rhombus (Flux / Llewellyn, 2008) and A Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid (Genesis Press, 2005). He was born and raised in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering.

Varian later attended the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. He's also the co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf, one of my favorite sites that highlights established and up-and-coming African-American authors of children’s and young adult literature. Today he lives and writes in Austin, Texas.

"I was the typical high-school geek," he says. "I played the baritone in the marching band, was a member of the Academic Challenge Team, and counted my Hewlett-Packard 48G as one of my most prized possessions."

Find out more about Varian and his work by following him on twitter or facebook (highly recommended — his engaging and delightful voice is showcased sweetly on social media).

Conversations about Race, Storytelling, and Authenticity

You're invited to two discussions, one virtual and one in real life. First, please read and comment on my guest post at the Children's Books Council Diversity Blog: "Is the Race Card Old School?" Here's an excerpt:
... Why does race trump in North America when it comes to a discussion about authenticity and fiction? My best guess is that we adults are stuck in that particular paradigm of identity. Race takes primacy when it comes to how we see others and how we see ourselves. In our minds, it still parallels the deeper question of power at the heart of this conversation, because the appropriation of story is a powerful act. And perhaps we’re (sort of) right ... 
If you'd like this kind of dialogue in real life, as well as some intimate, face-to-face time with editors Cheryl Klein (Scholastic) and Stacy Whitman (Tu Books | Lee and Low), agent Regina Griffin, and authors Sundee Frazier (BRENDAN BUCKLEY'S SIXTH-GRADE EXPERIMENT) and Eliot Shrefer (ENDANGERED), please join us at the Highlights Foundation workshop, "Writing Across Boundaries," this October 27-30. Scholarships are available!

Workshop Description

For any writer it’s a challenge to write across gender, culture, or race. You worry that you won’t know the subtleties of the language or the mannerisms of the characters. You wonder if it’s even your story to tell. This workshop will help you identify and address the difficulties and joys of writing across boundaries.
Join our award-winning faculty as they give you tips on research, tell you how to put yourself in the characters’ shoes, and discuss the issues to consider in language and milieu. Our special guest editor will give you insight into editorial questions considered with a novel written across boundaries. You’ll leave with a richer understanding of how to write an authentic voice that resounds for readers.
During the class, you’ll workshop the first ten pages, so please submit those pages two weeks prior to the workshop. Additionally, bring a summary and up to fifty pages of your novel to the workshop for reference and to use in workshop exercises.

Workshop Information

Begins with dinner on Sunday, October 27, and ends with lunch on Wednesday, October 30, followed by an optional tour of Highlights for Children and Boyds Mills Press at 1:30 p.m.

"It's A Girl" are Three Deadly Words

Not many third daughters like me see the light of day in my native land. I'd like to see this film.

OPEN MIC: Introducing Contributor Cherry Cheva ...

I'm so proud of the nine authors who collaborated with me on OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (an anthology published 9.10.13 by Candlewick Press). I'll be featuring each of them in alphabetical order over the next month or so on the Fire Escape.

Today, I'm delighted to introduce you to the one and only Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (Cheva), author of "Talent Show," a short story that is third in the OPEN MIC lineup. Here's the first paragraph to whet your appetite:
Question: There are two high-school juniors in a room. They're waiting to audtion for the talent show. One is an Asian girl. The other is a white guy. One is tuning a violin. The other fiddles with a scrap of paper containing notes from a stand-up comedy act. 
Which one is which?
Yeah, I know what you'd say. That's what I'd say, too, except that I happened to be the guy. Holding the violin.
The Horn Book loved her contribution:  "In Cherry Cheva’s story, an Asian girl and Jewish boy take hilarious not-very-PC jabs at each other while nervously waiting to audition for a talent show.” And  Publisher’s Weekly said: "The edgy joke-flirting between a Jewish violinist and Asian comedian in Cherry Cheva’s ‘Talent Show’ and the hero of David Yoo’s ‘Becoming Henry Lee,’ who comically embraces Asian stereotypes in an effort to fit in, will leave readers thinking about the ways that humor can be a survival tool in a world that tends to put people in boxes.”

Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Cherry is the author of two novels, She's so Money and DupliKate, and the co-author, with Alex Borstein, of It Takes A Village Idiot, and I Married One. She lives in Los Angeles, California, and is a writer and producer for Family Guy. If you've never watched the show, here's what Fox had to say about it:
Entering its 11th season, FAMILY GUY continues to entertain fans with its shocking humor, infamous cutaway gags and epic episodes. Since its debut, the show has reached cult status among fans, and its breakout star, a talking baby, has become one of the greatest TV villains of all time. FAMILY GUY has racked up numerous awards, including an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series, only the second animated series in television history to be honored with such a distinction.
"A lot of people watching the Family Guy credits think my name is fake," says Cherry. "It's not. It's just Thai."

Contact or find out more about the marvelous Cherry Cheva:

Happy Book Birthday, OPEN MIC!

Today is launch day for OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (Candlewick Press)!  I'm so proud of the authors who contributed to this anthology that I'm featuring each of them, one per day, on the Fire Escape, starting tomorrow.

Happy Book Birthday to all of us! To celebrate with us, why not "like" our page on Facebook: Would love to hear your thoughts about the book if you get a chance to read it.


"[Open Mic] will leave readers thinking about the ways that humor can be a survival tool in a world that tends to put people in boxes." — Publishers Weekly

"Naomi Shihab Nye offers an eloquent poem about her Arab American dad, whose open friendliness made him 'Facebook before it existed.' David Yoo, Debbie Rigaud, Varian Johnson, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich also contribute stories to this noteworthy anthology, which robustly proves Perkins’ assertion that 'funny is powerful.'” — Horn Book Magazine

"Teachers will find some powerful material here about how the young can become discomfited and find solace in their multifaceted cultural communities." — School Library Journal

"...David Yoo’s excellent 'Becoming Henry Lee' is the one that will probably elicit the most laughs. But all invite sometimes rueful smiles or chuckles of recognition. And all demonstrate that in the specific we find the universal, and that borders are meant to be breached." — ALA Booklist

Teacher's Guide coming soon!

Rise, Dark Girls, Rise

Looking forward to Dark Girls, a documentary releasing 9.24.13. Shadeism/colorism is an important aspect of the conversation about race. South Asian girls hear the same stuff about dark skin, and it's sickening. We have another compelling argument about why good stories for and about all kinds of children are so crucial, and can reveal the truth about beauty.