OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES Now in Paperback!

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.

REVIEWS

"[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!)

RICKSHAW GIRL on Stage: Order Tickets Now!


My novel for elementary-aged readers, RICKSHAW GIRL (chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the best books for children over the past 100 years), is pedaling to the stage in a wonderful musical adaptation! The Bay Area Children's Theatre will put on shows at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday from April 12 to May 22, first in San Ramon's Front Row Theater, next at the San Francisco's Children's Creativity Museum, and last but not least in Berkeley at The Osher Studio.

Here's the ticket purchase information: http://bactheatre.org/shows/RickshawGirl. If you want to say hello and get a signed book, I plan to be there at the opening shows in San Francisco (Saturday, April 16 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.) and the closing shows in Berkeley (Sunday, May 22 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.).

WARNING: This Book Might Be Recalled. Read it Fast. Decry it Even Faster.

I'm all for truth and justice, but I question Scholastic's recent decision to recall a book.

First, the slope is too slippery when it comes to removing published books from our schools and libraries. What about books published last year? Ten years ago? A century ago? Should they be recalled also? Should we protect today's children from the positive depictions of colonialism in TINTIN IN THE CONGO and BABAR by recalling them? What about black Asia and Silas standing in the back of the room in LITTLE MEN and JO'S BOYS? I'm not defending the contents of A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON, but it was published. Shouldn't it stay in the pantheon of our shared intellectual content? I suppose this raises another question in an age of fuzzy publishing boundaries: is preventing a published book from being read different than stopping a pre-published book from being read? Librarians, defenders of intellectual content, please weigh in.

Second, instead of recalling, the publisher could move us forward in the representation of African-Americans in children's literature. For example, why doesn't Scholastic invite their wonderful editor, Andrea Davis Pinkney, long-time champion of books representing the African-American experience and one of the few African American editors in the industry, to call for great submissions telling Hercules' WHOLE story? Then the company can publish two more top-notch picture books about Hercules and Delia and encourage teachers and parents to read all three with children. This way, the next generation can learn to discern the differences themselves. Scholastic can underline the danger of a single story, support a great editor, encourage other authors and illustrators who care about telling the stories of African Americans, keep the memory of Hercules and Delia alive, and continue to remind all of us that our first President owned slaves.

But I fear this won't happen. It's too late. The shouts have been heard. The book is recalled. I hope we aren't veering towards recalls steered by social media because outcry can go many ways. But the outcry itself is all right by me. It's thrilling that depictions of kids on the margins, past and present, are now questioned and debated with passion and fury. That's the real victory, and the best modeling for the next generation. ‪


ADDENDUM: A CHALLENGE FOR WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS

Here's how I might adapt Hercules' and Delia's story, for example. My suggestions are rough and dumb, but I'll throw them out there. Maybe they'll get someone's juices flowing.

Scene one: Holding a big cat in her arms, Delia sneaks into the kitchen before sunrise.  She sees her father hurriedly handing a letter to someone who disappears into the pre-dawn darkness. "Who was that, Daddy?" Hercules takes her in his arms. She wipes away a flour smudge on his cheek. "Someone who might help us escape, sugar." Delia knows how much Daddy wants to be free. Three hundred slaves live on this estate with George Washington and his family, but nobody has managed to escape yet. Freedom! What would that be like? "I'll work hard, earn money, buy us a small house," Daddy says. "We'll get a kitten of our own to keep the mice away," adds Delia.

Scene two: The door bursts open. Delia scurries to hide behind her father. A kitchen slave overseer storms in. "It's Mr. Washington's birthday! Mrs. Washington wants the best cake you have ever baked for his party." "But there is no sugar," Hercules protests. "I don't care! That's your problem! Make that cake! And make it tasty!" The overseer slams the door on his way out.

Now tell the cake story, showing how Hercules met this challenge with strength and grace.

Scene somewhere in the middle: The same man we saw in the first panel is sneaking out of the kitchen again. Delia walks in to find her Daddy on his knees, praying. "Are we going to escape, Daddy?" Once again, she sees a flour smudge on his cheeks and wipes it away. The artist makes it clear that there's a tear there, too. "He has a plan for me, sugar, but not for you. So I said no." "But, Daddy—!" "No. I'm not leaving without you."

Last scene: (Hercules is sitting in candlelight in front of a huge platter with a only few cake crumbs on it. His posture and face are discouraged.) Delia takes his face in her hands. "You go, Daddy." He shakes his head. "What's a cake without sugar?" he asks sadly. "It's still a cake," Delia says. They look at each other for a long time, in silence, holding hands over the empty platter (one whole full panel illustration, wordless, sad.)

End notes: Hercules did escape, but Delia never found her way to freedom. She lived with Martha Washington as a slave her whole life, like .... (more information here.) End the book with a photograph of President Obama and a Delia-aged Sasha or Malia in the White House kitchen, tasting while a white chef looks on. Insert appropriate caption.

What do you think? How might you tell Hercules' and Delia's story?