Children's and Young Adult Fiction Featuring a Child with an Incarcerated Parent

Some of you know I'm part of a Facebook read-to-change book group. We finished Michele Alexander's THE NEW JIM CROW: MASS INCARCERATION IN THE AGE OF COLORBLINDNESS and are about to start Bryan Stevenson's JUST MERCY. It's not to late to join us as we begin this round of reading next week.

As I'm reading, I find myself wondering which children's and young adult novels feature a main character with an incarcerated parent. I put the question out on twitter, and here are the results (please leave other titles in the comments section and I will add.)

Picture Books
  • KNOCK KNOCK by Daniel Beaty 
  • KENNEDY'S BIG VISIT by Daphne Brooks
  • VISITING DAY by Jacqueline Woodson
Early Readers
  • THE SUNNY HOLIDAY SERIES by Coleen Paratore
  • NINE CANDLES by Maria Testa 
Middle-Grade Novels
  • RUBY ON THE OUTSIDE by Nora Raleigh Baskin
  • QUEENIE PEAVY by Robert Burch
  • AN ANGEL FOR MARIQUA by Zetta Elliott
    • JAKEMAN by Deborah Ellis
    • THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY by Kathryn Fitzmaurice 
    • HIDDEN by Helen Frost 
    • PIECES OF WHY by K.L. Going  
      • FLUSH by Carl Hiaasen 
      • JUNEBUG IN TROUBLE by Alice Mead 
        • THE RAILWAY CHILDREN by E. Nesbit (Classic)
        • THE SAME STUFF AS STARS by Katherine Paterson
        • THE GIRL IN THE WELL IS ME by Karen Rivers 
        • DOG YEARS and SOME FRIEND by Sally Warner 
        Young Adult Novels
        • TYRELL by Coe Booth 
        • MEXICAN WHITE BOY by Matt De la Peña
          • LITTLE DORRIT by Charles Dickens (Classic) 
          • KEESHA'S HOUSE by Helen Frost 
            • THE ROW by J. R. Johansson
            • CHASING FORGIVENESS by Neal Shusterman
            Author Francesca Forrest (PEN PAL) has a brilliant suggestion: why not buy a few of these titles and then donate them to a prison library? Fantastic! Here's the American Library Association's page on how and which libraries serve prisons

            TIGER BOY in the Language of Love

            The Rageot Editeur version of TIGER BOY, translated by Ariane Bataille and illustrated by Aline Bureau, releases this month in France. To see a story created in your imagination translated into another language for kids across borders? One of the best moments in a writer's life. Merci, mon ami!


            I'm excited to announce that Candlewick Press has just released the paperback version of OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES!

            Open Mic | Candlewick | 12 years and up

            Download a Classroom or Book Club Guide

            Listen in as ten YA authors—some familiar, some new—use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. This collection of fiction and nonfiction embraces a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poignant, in prose, poetry, and comic form. With contributions by Cherry Cheva, Varian Johnson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mitali Perkins, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Debby Rigaud, Francisco X. Stork, Gene Luen Yang, and David Yoo.

            "Open Mic: Riffs On Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices" by Mitali Perkins, created by Ali, a student at The Bubbler.


            "[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

            RICKSHAW GIRL the Play Pedals to the Finish Line

            Last Sunday was the closing show of the Bay Area Children's Theater's adaptation of RICKSHAW GIRL. I was sad to bid farewell to the cast and crew, but the memories of their artistry bringing my story to life will uplift and sustain me for years to come. My thanks to one and all, with deep gratitude for this marvelous privilege. I know it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a writer.
            From left to right: Amit Sharma (Cast/Tabla), Emily Alvarado (Naima), Director Vidhu Singh, Salim Razawi (Saleem), Ariel Irula (Mother), Pankaj Jha (Father), Sonali Bhattacharya (Music), and me. Missing: too many to list, but I must mention Radhika Rao (Rashida/Rickshaw Painter) and Aditi Kapil (Playwright). 
            Meeting an author is kind of scary.
            I found a Facebook status written by someone I didn't know who took her daughter to the show. Her words were encouraging as my friends and family can't really be trusted for an impartial response.
            "Was amazed today at Bay Area Children's Theatre's production of RICKSHAW GIRL. I think it was my absolute favorite show of the season which is hard to say when I loved them all! We had not read the book before and didn't know the story so it was beautiful to discover such a treasure! It was so nice to see Holly engaged with a story so unfamiliar, and we loved the Bangla songs and the Tabla music! We were lucky to be blessed to meet the author of the book who was in attendance at this final Berkeley performance ... We are looking forward to next season already!"

            Poetry Friday: I Have Them, and You, and This

            I Have Them, and You, and This

            by Mitali Perkins

            Lilacs greet us on our morning walk. "Consider," they urge.

            We do. We see it. Neon suits the showy poppies. Lupine dance in purple chiffon. Queen Anne's lace is a stately bride.

            Songbirds swaying on stalks trill a welcome, too. "Attend," they sing.

            We do. We see them. Hummingbird sips crabapple nectar. Eagle swoops to a rabbit. Pelican hoards a smelly catch. Sparrow's last breath is seen.

            We are alone, together, with You. As Water shapes stone. As Light dazzles water. As Stone guards the spring.

            RICKSHAW GIRL: THE PLAY (I saw it!)

            On Sunday we surprised the cast and crew of Rickshaw Girl by showing up for their last performance in San Ramon before the show heads to San Francisco. This Bay Area Children's Theatre performance of Aditi Kapil's well-paced, poignant script, directed masterfully by Vidhu Singh, surpassed my wildest dreams. Beauty abounded — spilling over from the set design, through the music and dancing, via the actors, until it filled the faces of the rapt audience.

            I especially enjoyed hearing whispered comments from young theatergoers that revealed a deep engagement with the story and affection for the characters. Thanks to one and all involved for the gift of this show to me and my family. (If you want to see it during the next few weekends in S.F. or in Berkeley, you may order tickets here.)
            The stage design transports you to a village in Bangladesh.
            Ma and I quietly took our seats. Can you spot us?
            Afterwards, we greeted the actors in the lobby.
            My Ma with Naima's Ma (Ariel Irula) and Baba (Pankaj Jha)
            Aren't they adorable?
            Even seeing the tickets was thrilling.
            Here's the official video from the Bay Area Children's Theater, followed by some professional shots taken during the show by Joshua Posamentier.

            RICKSHAW GIRL the play premieres this April and May!

            Every Saturday and Sunday at 11 and 2 from 4/2-5/22, you may catch the Bay Area Children's Theater's beautiful adaptation of my novel Rickshaw Girl. GET TICKETS HERE! 

            And if you want to get a signed copy, come to the show when I'll be there (see below). Thanks for supporting this story of a brave girl who finds a way to honor her family.

            Mind the Gap: Questions about Power for Storytellers

            I'm an advocate of safe spaces. I like creating them, especially for children. I also like creating in them. In my years as a writer of children's stories, it feels to me like the tension and hostility about issues such as appropriation and authenticity is growing. Sometimes this exhausts me, and I'm tempted to crawl off the fire escape and hide. But there's too much at stake (i.e., the well-being of children). So, in order to keep pressing on in my mission, I offer these questions as a checklist for fellow authors and illustrators, perhaps as fodder for discussion in critique groups and conferences, or for your private journaling pleasure.

            As always, conversation is encouraged as we pass the tea and biscuits.
            1. "How big is the power gap between me and my main character?"
            2. "What kinds of power gaps exist between me and my characters in the time and place of their story?" (i.e., class, culture, education...)
            3. "How do these gaps matter in the time and place of potential receivers of my story?"
            4. "How have I crossed those gaps in real life?"
            5. "Given my answers to 1-4, should I begin the work of listening, learning, and loving needed to tell this story? Or should I leave it for another to tell?"

            "Should White Authors Avoid Writing ... Blah, Blah, Blah?"

            I'm scheduled to be a Highlights Foundation mentor this summer, and so was recently interviewed by author Barbara Dee on a blog called "From The Mixed Up Files ... of Middle-Grade Authors." She asked me about middle-grade fiction and mentoring, and then added a question about whether or not white authors can write main characters of color. I want to share my answer to that here.

            Do you feel white authors should avoid writing from the POV of a character of color?

            No. I’m alarmed that this question is increasingly asked. As adults who write for and about children, ALL of us have to confront the intersections of our privilege before telling a story. As we explore how we are crossing different kinds of power borders to tell a certain character's story, it should become more clear to us whether or not we should proceed with that story. For example, take my RICKSHAW GIRL. Naima, my main character, and I do share the same cultural origin, skin color, and gender — we are both brown-skinned Bengali girls. But she is an uneducated daughter of a Muslim rickshaw puller while I am the overeducated daughter of a Hindu engineer. Do Naima and I REALLY have the same POV, as some readers might reverentially gush? It’s tricky, though, as some power differentials shriek with pain in our culture thanks to the realities of American history while others are more muted. Tread carefully, friends, as all of us must in this powerful, mind-shaping vocation, but don’t set up some crazy apartheid system in the realm of stories. Ethnicity is a social construct: in a world where we are mixing and melding more than ever, are you going to decide who is a Muggle and who is Pureblood enough to tell a story?

            Viva L'Italia! BAMBOO PEOPLE is up for a prize!

            Bamboo People is one of five finalists for the Mare di Libri Prize (Sea of Books) for best Young Adult fiction of 2015. The winner will be chosen by a jury of 10 dedicated (strong) readers in the 14-15 year old range, garnered from all parts of Italy. The five finalists were chosen by seasoned librarians, booksellers, editors and teachers.

            The prize, in its third year, was created because young adult boy and girl readers have become the true judges of literature geared toward them. The announcement of the five finalists is the first important stage of the Mare di Libri Festival, the first and only festival in Italy dedicated exclusively to teenagers. The ninth edition of the festival will take place from June 17-19 in Rimini.

            The other finalists are The Secrets of Heap House, Edward Carey; Tinder by Sally Gardner; Escape Crime by Christophe Leon; and Tell Me About a Perfect Day by Jennifer Niven.

            (As translated by my former next-door neighbor and friend, Lory Zottola Dix — Grazie, Lory!)