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The author of Monsoon Summer, The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, Rickshaw Girl, Secret Keeper, and the First Daughter books, keeps an eye on reading, writing, and life between cultures.
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1. NCTE 2016: Charlotte Huck Honor Award and More


I'm heading to the National Council of Teachers of English Convention in Atlanta this weekend. Here's my schedule if you want to stop by and say hello:

SATURDAY, November 19
9:00 – 10:00 AM Autographing with Candlewick Press (OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES)
VENUE: Booth 606 
11:00 AM – 12:15 PM Panel: "Advocating for Immigrants and Refugees through the Use of Literature and Creative Non-Fiction: Two Authors (one is me!), a Librarian, and Teacher Educator Sharing Stories and Strategies.
VENUE: Room A412 
12:30 – 2:30 PM NCTE Awards luncheon, where Tiger Boy is receiving a Charlotte Huck Honor award and I give a *brief* speech.
VENUE: Thomas Murphy Ballroom 
2:45 – 5:30 PM "The 2016 Orbis Pictus and Charlotte Huck Honor Book Award-Winning Authors and Illustrators Share Their Stories and Insights."
VENUE: Room B2013
SUNDAY, November 20
10:00 – 11:00 AM Autographing with Charlesbridge Publishing (TIGER BOY)
VENUE: Booth 432

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2. You're Invited: South Asia Book Award Ceremony 12/2

2016 Award Ceremony

cropped-bookaward-e1444328281174.jpg

Friday, December 2, 2016
2016 Award Celebration and Presentations
Providence Community Center
3001 Vaden Drive, Fairfax, VA 22031
6:30 – 8:00 pm
Join us as we honor the achievements of award authors:
Mitali Perkins (Tiger Boy)

Mathangi Subramanian (Dear Mrs. Naidu)
and highly commended author:
Khadija Ejaz (My Friend is Hindu)
This event is free and open to the public! See information below about directions to the award venue!

Saturday, December 3, 2016
Meet the award authors Mitali Perkins and Mathangi Subramanian for book signings!
National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Exhibition Hall
Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C.
10:00 am – 12 Noon
Look for SABA’s Exhibition Booth #421

Directions to the Providence Community Center
Directions
7 min walk from Vienna/Fairfax-GMU Station
From I-495
Exit onto I-66 west and follow the directions from I-66 (listed below).
From I-66
Take Nutley Street towards Fairfax. Turn right onto Lee Highway (Route 29). Turn right at the second traffic signal (Vaden Drive). The Community Center is located about a quarter mile ahead on your left.
From Fairfax Circle
Take Lee Highway (Route 29) east toward I-495. Turn left onto Vaden Drive. The Community Center is located about a quarter mile ahead on your left.

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

I've been leading 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
  • KENNEDY'S BIG VISIT by Daphne Brooks
  • VISITING DAY by Jacqueline Woodson
Early Readers
  • NINE CANDLES by Maria Testa
  • THE SUNNY HOLIDAY SERIES by Coleen Paratore
Middle-Grade Novels
  • RUBY ON THE OUTSIDE by Nora Raleigh Baskin
  • QUEENIE PEAVY by Robert Burch
  • ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK by Leslie Connor
  • AN ANGEL FOR MARIQUA by Zetta Elliott
  • JAKEMAN by Deborah Ellis
  • THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
  • FLUSH by Carl Hiaasen
  • 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
Young Adult Novels
  • TERRELL by Coe Booth
  • LITTLE DORRITT by Charles Dickens (Classic)
  • THE ROW by J. R. Johansson
  • MEXICAN WHITE BOY by Matt De la Peña




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

In light of the racial strife related to criminal justice in our country, I've been leading 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
  • KENNEDY'S BIG VISIT by Daphne Brooks
  • VISITING DAY by Jacqueline Woodson
Early Readers
  • NINE CANDLES by Maria Testa
  • THE SUNNY HOLIDAY SERIES by Coleen Paratore
Middle-Grade Novels
  • RUBY ON THE OUTSIDE by Nora Raleigh Baskin
  • QUEENIE PEAVY by Robert Burch
  • ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK by Leslie Connor
  • 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
        Young Adult Novels
        • TERRELL 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

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            5. 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!


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            6. 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







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            7. 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!"

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            8. 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.

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            9. 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.










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            10. RICKSHAW GIRL the play premieres this April and May!

            Every Saturday and Sunday at 11 and 2 from 4/2-5/22, you can 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.


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            11. 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?"



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            12. "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?

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            13. 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!)

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            14. 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.).

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

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

            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?

            Instead of recalling, Scholastic could seize this chance to get a dozen MORE books out there about the history of African-Americans in the United States. They could lead the way to avoid the danger of a single story. They could set a new goal to actively publish excellent books for and about African-American children told by many voices.

            But I fear they won't. It's too dangerous now.

            I hope we aren't veering towards banning, recalls, and censorship steered by social media because outcry can go many ways. 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. ‪

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            16. When You're Interviewed By A VERY Smart Fifth-Grader


            Thanks, Girls Leadership, for selecting RICKSHAW GIRL as a Parent / Daughter Book Club Pick, and for inviting me in to your offices to be interviewed by the brilliant Daliya.

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            17. Hunger in Fiction

            "Eat it," said Sara,
            "And you will not be so hungry.
            My Saint Mary's College of California Jan Term students are beginning to consider the consequences of growing up with food insecurity and poor nutrition in our neighboring City of Oakland. This class is a community engagement course, one of Saint Mary's core curriculum requirements, and a distinctive for the school. 

            When it comes to hunger, I plan to fill their minds with statistics, research, and facts, and they're using hands and hearts to work with children in the Oakland schools, but I still think there's nothing better than fiction to inform the imagination. I remember hating fictional hunger in the pit of my nine-year-old stomach when reading about the Pepper family in THE FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS, Sara Crewe in A LITTLE PRINCESS, the Hummel family in LITTLE WOMEN, the Brinker family in HANS BRINKER AND THE SILVER SKATES, and the Ingalls family in THE LONG WINTER. 

            What other children's books inform the imagination when it comes to the experience of hunger?

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            18. I Love You, Charlotte Huck

            Why do I love Dr. Huck? First, because of her commitment to children's literature. Here are excerpts from her 2005 obituary in the L.A. Times:
            The educator's 33-year effort to develop and enhance an academic program in children's literature at Ohio State University established her as a national authority on the subject. 
            Huck's reputation grew with the 1961 publication of her textbook, "Children's Literature in the Classroom," now in its seventh edition, and with her 1976 creation of the quarterly review Wonderfully Exciting Books, covering classroom use of children's books. 
            "Reading was part of my life, and I wanted children to have the same opportunity," Huck said in a 1981 appearance on television's "Good Morning America."

            A native of Evanston, Ill., Huck studied at Wellesley College and earned her bachelor's degree from Northwestern University. After teaching briefly in Midwestern elementary schools, she completed her master's and doctorate at Ohio State University and joined its faculty in 1955. 
            While she was teaching teachers how to boost children's reading, Huck earned Ohio State's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1972 and the Landau Award for Distinguished Service in teaching children's literature in 1979. 
            Huck also served on the American Library Association committees for the Newbery and Caldecott medals, awarded to outstanding writers of children's literature. 
            Huck retired from Ohio State in 1988. But she wasn't finished. 
            Relocating to Redlands, she wrote five children's books herself: "Princess Furball," "Secret Places," "Toads and Diamonds," "The Black Bull of Norroway" and "A Creepy Countdown." 
            Huck helped create an annual children's literature festival at the University of Redlands, similar to one she had developed at Ohio State. The Redlands festival was named for her in 2000. 
            "We must keep reading aloud to children," she advised teachers at the 1998 festival. "If you're not reading aloud to them, you're not teaching reading. The story is what motivates children to want to read."
            Now that's a children's literature champion.

            The second reason I love her is because of this award established in her honor by the National Council of Teachers of English. The award recognizes "fiction that has the potential to transform children’s lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder." What a glorious statement! And to my extreme delight, Tiger Boy has been selected as a 2016 NTCE Charlotte Huck Outstanding Fiction for Children Honor Book (in excellent company)!

            I've changed my vocational statement thanks to Dr. Huck. From now on it is to "invite compassion, imagination, and wonder" through my fiction. Congratulations to all the winners!

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            19. Announcing my Debut Picture Book: GIFTS FOR ABUELA

            Publishers Weekly makes it official!

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            20. Reviews in India for TIGER BOY

            "Tiger Boy is a story of hope; it’s about the splendour of the mangrove forests and islands, the magnificence of the tiger and its vulnerability, and human resilience in the face of adversity." — National Geographic Traveller India

            "Read the book to find out who finds the cub — and how. It will be time well-spent. The language is easy, the tale, gripping. Young (and adult) readers are bound to get caught in the suspense and the action that surrounds the siblings’ quest for the cub. I found myself racing toward the end in one satisfying read. On the surface, the story is simple. But what I liked about the book is the multiplicity and complexity of issues that the author weaves in, effortlessly, in the narrative: climate change, gender discrimination, the press of poverty and how it compels you to work against your conscience. — Indian Express

            "It’s only once a while that you get a book that manages to create a lump in your throat and at the same time makes you read as fast as you can because you want to know what happens next. Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins, published by Duckbill Books, is one such book." — Indian Moms Connect

            For more on the book, visit www.tigerboy.org.

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            21. My Furious Brown Girl Child Response and the Difficulties of the "Diversity" Umbrella

            Yesterday I spoke on a panel of all female young adult authors and editors. Our audience was a group of almost all female librarians. After our panel, a representative from Gender Spectrum shared his understanding of gender and children, and his organization's mission to serve transgendered children.

            As he spoke, I found myself getting more and more irritated. At the end, I raised my hand and fired off an aggressive question—I can hardly remember what I asked. Then, as he was answering diplomatically and politely, I cut him off, blurting out something like, “That’s a lot of powerful adults making a decision for a powerless child!”

            It got worse. I stormed out of the panel and leaped in my car. It took a few minutes for the a wave of shame to overwhelm me. I’m not usually that rude, am I? Maybe I’m turning into the wicked villain of western fairy tales: a curmudgeonly old woman, I thought. That’s it. I’ve become a crone.

            But as I drove to my parents’ house, I realized I was more than cranky and irritated. I was furious. But why?

            He was championing marginalized children. I’m all for that.

            He was encouraging us to create safe spaces for children in danger of bullying or self-harm. I’m definitely for that.

            He was telling us that children should be free to decide their own identities. I can advocate for that.

            Then why was I so ANGRY? I've been ruminating over the possible reasons for my rage, and here’s what I've realized.

            (1) In his portrayal of gender as three-fold—in biology, expression, and identity—he didn’t mention the unique capacity of women to become pregnant, sometimes against our will. Being born with a biological uterus brings a potential cost that doesn’t come with expressing yourself as a woman and identifying as a woman. Especially in villages where brown and black women suffer through fistula, female genital cutting, child marriage, and rape. Think about living in places where a girl can be shot in the face for speaking up (I love you, Malala.)

            (2) In his portrayal of gender as fluid, he didn’t mention the history of oppression that women have and continue to experience—especially brown and black women. Out of her suffering and marginalization, Sojourner Truth won the right to ask, “Ain’t I a Woman?” 
            (Take your time to watch the video below of Alfre Woodard re-enacting this landmark speech--it's beautiful.)

            To choose to be a woman is significantly different than to choose to be a man given the history and continued existence of pervasive misogyny. Maybe this is why we are seeing an odd rift between feminists and the trans community. We're all in favor of championing marginalized voices, but we can't nod our heads dumbly without exploring the nuances and tension within each particular situation. “Diversity” is complex, and rightfully so.

            (3) In his push to prove that gender is no longer binary (male and female), the Gender Spectrum speaker seemed to contradict himself: apparently, it’s no longer binary unless a child insistently, persistently, and consistently decides to be male or female. Why this particular statement was a punch in the gut didn’t come to me until this morning, when I realized it was an emotion akin to how I feel when I encounter cultural appropriation.

            It's a question of power.

            Here was a white, adult man telling me it was essentially the same thing for a girl to want to be a boy as for a boy to want to be a girl. It was all about the choice and desire of the child, he was saying. He was drawing squiggly lines here, there, and everywhere to show how anybody could choose to be anything. And this made the little brown girl in me furious, because the rights of powerless biological girls are consistently, persistently, and insistently overcome by the desires and intentions of powerful adults, usually men.

            I was born a third daughter in a culture that scorned my mother for producing me. In response, she dressed me as a boy in public. People would laud her for giving her husband such a chubby, healthy son. I knew how unhappy she was, and so I (insistently, persistently, and consistently) wanted to be a boy for years. I wanted to make my mother happy—what child doesn’t?

            Guess which one wanted to be a boy?
            If powerful adults want to change the gender of a powerless child (which means, given the reality of this world, typically a child biologically born as a girl), and we provide the means and technology for them to do so from infancy on, won’t this further skew cultures away from a 50-50 ratio of biological men and women?

            Even if son-desiring parents wait until the child can express her gender and her identity, as this speaker was advocating, couldn’t a desire for adult approval and cultural power lead to this child passionately expressing a desire to become a boy?

            My rage came to a head when I arrived at my parents’ house. Sixty years ago my mother was given in marriage to a man she didn’t know. The dowry was good. She was a teenager without voice or choice. (My great-grandmother was nine when she was married off, so I guess it wasn’t so bad for Ma—everything’s relative, right? No pun intended.) Now my mother is tenderly caring for a man she didn’t choose to marry, and she's doing it with grace and joy. If she could have looked ahead to the miscarriages, traumatic childbirths, shame, abuse, onerous maternal duties, and lack of power she experienced ALL THROUGHOUT her life as a woman, would the child version of her have chosen to identify and express herself as a man? Wouldn’t she have changed the biology of her daughters in the womb if science had given her the capacity?

            Maybe we all would. Who doesn’t want their child to be powerful? That’s why children have eyelid surgery and babies sit in tubs of chickpea flour to lighten their skin. Meanwhile, gender selection is already happening for parents with the money and power to make it happen.

            I’m grateful for a sisterhood of suffering brown women around the globe, and the chance to speak up on their behalf. Here’s what I want to say to the folks at Gender Spectrum before they make their next presentation: Step outside of North American borders, please, and exit modern time for a moment. Set your discussion about gender in the context of history as well as while acknowledging the present-day oppression of women. The biology of being born a girl, and especially a brown girl, launches you on a different hero’s journey. If you're not convinced, come over, have a cup of tea with my mother, and listen to her stories. 

            In the meantime, I’m casting my vote for Malala as woman of the decade.


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            22. Exciting News About BORDERLINES, My Next YA Novel

            From Publishers Weekly Nov. 2, 2015 issue:

            FSG Crosses the ‘Borderline’ With Perkins
            After winning a multiple-round auction, Grace Kendall at Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers took world rights, for six figures, to Mitali Perkins’s YA novel Borderlines. The book, which is set for a fall 2017 release, was sold by Laura Rennert at the Andrea Brown Agency. Perkins has written nine books for children and won multiple literary awards, including the E.B. White Young Adult Honor. Rennert said Borderlines, which links 15 stories about a Bengali family in Queens, features “the literary charm of The House on Mango Street and the bittersweet poignancy of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent.” Perkins was born in Kolkata, India, and the novel, Rennert noted, is “inspired by [the author’s] own experience as the youngest of three sisters who arrived in America with a wave of immigrants in the 1970s.”

            0 Comments on Exciting News About BORDERLINES, My Next YA Novel as of 10/30/2015 9:15:00 PM
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            23. All My World's a Stage: RICKSHAW GIRL Pedals to the Theater

            Last night I had a magical experience. I was invited to attend a workshopping of RICKSHAW GIRL, the stage version, by the Bay Area Children's Theater (BACT). Playwright Aditi Kapil was in town from Minnesota to work with director Vidhu Singh, and our evening started with dinner at Toast in Oakland.

            From L to R: Me, Vidhu Singh, Water Bottle, BACT's Ben Hanna, and Aditi Kapil
            After dinner, we headed to BACT headquarters in Montclair, Oakland, and the talented team of actors, director, producer, and playwright began to work through the script. When you create a story in your head and people it with characters who exist only in your imagination, it is otherworldly to see them come to life. As I listened in wonder, I found myself moved by the plight of a young Bangladeshi girl who wants so desperately to help her family. I had written the darn thing, but last night Naima's story was presented to me in a fresh and sweet form. It was the same; it was completely different. It was magic.

            Aditi's amazing script adds song, dance, staging, character depth, pacing, and emotional resonance to the story.
            The actors who play the main characters, Naima and Saleem, are as adorable in real life as they are in this picture.
            "What is scansion?" wondered the theatrical neophyte. In silence, of course.
            Here's the first read-through of the rickshaw crash scene.
            The RICKSHAW GIRL team: actors, director, author, and playwright. 
            Order your tickets now!







            0 Comments on All My World's a Stage: RICKSHAW GIRL Pedals to the Theater as of 11/5/2015 12:50:00 AM
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            24. The Danger of a Single Story, Once Again

            Flashback to me as young parent: I'm taking our two brown boys to the library on a weekly outing that never fails to delight. They tug me into the children's section, drop my hands, and race off to wander freely through aisles of beautiful picture books. (I browse, too, but keep an eye on them and the public bathrooms. I've heard my mother's stern warnings about her grandchildren's safety even though I roll my eyes when she issues them.)

            Tim picks his usual fairy tales and adventures. Jim finds the scary stories and funny books. I look for good historical fiction to add to the pile. I also am on a constant hunt for brown faces in all kinds of stories. Ezra Jack Keats (A SNOWY DAY) comes home with us, along with Vera Williams (MORE, MORE, MORE SAID THE BABY). Trina Schart Hyman's illustrations of brown princesses and Chinese princes catch my eye.

            There weren't any picture books I could find back then about the Indian-American experience and/or our colonial heritage, but today, I could have added CHACHAJI'S CUP by Uma Krishnaswami, for example, and GRANDFATHER GANDHI by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus to our pile.

            But what if the ONE BOOK I could find featuring an Indian child was a sweetly-told tale about food? In one panel, a sari-clad mother and her brown child are standing around a table of feasting Brits, serving them during the Raj period. The Indian mother and daughter are smiling and looked safe, but later they subversively and courageously claim part of the meal while hiding in a closet.

            Our boys were four; they colored self-portraits at school with dark brown crayon. They knew they were Indian. Their grandmother wore a sari. They knew who they resembled physically and ethnically on big and small screens, as well as on the pages of books. If the story I described in the preceding paragraph had been the ONLY BOOK—the single story—reflecting their emerging ethnic identity, I might have hesitated to take it home. How could I use this ONE BOOK to explain to the boys why Indians had been forced to serve the British for so many years? How would I underline the suffering of colonial oppression that our ancestors had endured?

            But what if I'd also had access to both of the picture books I listed earlier, and more? What if there were multiple stories around which we could gather as a family that represented the uniqueness (windows) and normalcy (mirrors) of Indian people, both past and present? Then my decision about that ONE BOOK would have changed. I would have loved to take it home, because we had a wide collection of stories and images in which to place it. I could have said, "Remember in CHACHAJI'S CUP when we read about how Britain ruled India? This story takes place in that time. This is before GRANDFATHER GANDHI led the Indian people to freedom."

            Given the current discussion about the representation of slavery in picture books, I'm posting my favorite TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie below. My hope is that even during this racially-charged season of history as a nation, we remember not to outsource the entirety of the black experience to a single story. Let's take stock of the emerging and existing collection of stories we offer children around the storytelling fire. Are we creating, publishing, sharing, compiling, buying, featuring, and promoting MANY excellent stories all year around about black lives, past and present, offering a plethora of windows and mirrors?

            And then, writers and illustrators, get to work! Let's hone our craft, pursue excellence, and tell a whole bunch of great stories in creative freedom. We're going to make even more mistakes than we already do if our books are forced to bear the burden of serving as that ONE STORY. If you relied on me and my books alone to represent the South Asian experience, I'd crumble under the pressure. I've made too many mistakes already.

            Editors, publishers, booksellers, prize committees, and reviewers, I love that you are producing and celebrating MANY STORIES about MANY CHILDREN! Keep it up! MORE, MORE, MORE, say the babies!

            Teachers, parents, librarians, booksellers, as you display, handsell, promote, and read MANY STORIES aloud, maybe we won't need this heated and difficult discussion about ONE BOOK. Although part of me is glad that we're talking about it so widely. Because back when our boys were four and I was leading them through a library, it felt like I was the only one keeping an eye out for brown and black faces in books. Now I have you guys, thanks be to God.

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            25. Girls Leadership November Read: RICKSHAW GIRL

            I'm thrilled that parents and kids are reading Rickshaw Girl together this month, thanks to a recommendation from Girls' Leadership, a wonderful organization with this mission:

            Girls Leadership teaches girls the skills to know who they are, what they believe, and how to express it, empowering them to create change in their world.

            Please join us on December 2nd (8 p.m. EDT, 5 p.m. PDT) for a live video chat about the book.


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